Posts Tagged ‘Branding’


Using Adventure, Even Danger, To Improve The Customer Experience

Adveturer man sitting on a rock with his feet dangling on natural landscape. Adventure travelCustomers of all ages, from older “bucket-listers” to the young and increasingly important Millennial generation of customers, crave adventures and discoveries, whether epic or everyday. The more stimulating and surprising an environment, an experience, a “movie” you can create for your customers to engage with, the more your customers will want to text, Facebook, and talk about your business.

Virgin America: Consciously Creating a Tweetworthy Airline

This is a powerful phenomenon.  Think about how much people love to tell/tweet/FB their friends that they’re flying Virgin America, because the airline is intentionally providing an experience that’s worth talking about.

The details crafted by Virgin America offer a story that people want to retell: purple lighting, wildly catchy dance-based safety videos, abundant TV options, leather seats, great waiting rooms and the “Here on Biz” app that lets you meet other passengers with similar interests. These details make people talk, tweet, post and write about Virgin, because of the distinction and immersion of the experience the airline has created for them.

Smart Hospitality Operators Are Learning This Lesson

The more forward-thinking operators in the hospitality and travel industries have, perhaps not surprisingly, embraced this message more quickly than have other industries. For example, Dove Mountain Resort, a new and relaxed Ritz-Carlton property in the Sonoran desert outside Tucson, where adventures range from those you can engage in while seated to those that challenge all of your muscle groups and mental acuity. 

The adventure starts, in a sense, with the design of the hotel, a conscious effort to bring guests outdoors through large windows and doors that invite them to wander everywhere without interruption from visible and obtrusive barriers.

As the sun starts to set, guests hear a Native American musician playing wooden flute on a nearby hill, playing modal melodies that echo off the surrounding mountains in a way that gives you an auditory impression of the unique landscape in which the hotel is sited.      

In the morning, guests are challenged to pick their adventure: trail riding or Addle Addle lessons (addle addle is an ancient form of projecting arrows that predates the invention of bows) or a hike to learn about the prehistoric petroglyphs in the land trust property through which the resort and its guests have a protected right of way.

Maybe this doesn’t sound like it applies directly to your business, your entrepreneurial pursuits, but I suspect you’re wrong.  This craving for adventure, even for “danger” (more about that in a moment) can be made use of in many, if not most, industries and business niches.

When shopping, for example, many customers (including the majority of younger customers — the millennial generation) prefer what’s known as an “experiential lifestyle environment”_ (a retail environment where shopping is not just a transaction and the pleasure of being in the store isn’t limited to the goods customers take home). And when dining out, more people than ever before are looking for something exotic, adventuresome, memorable or new to explore during their dining experience. Especially among younger food enthusiasts, this has helped transform cuisine searches (“tastespotting”) into an adventure—and food truck-following (a concept sure to evoke fears of stomachache in some of their elders) into its own culture. 

Many customers — primarily younger — even say that they are are willing “to encounter danger in pursuit of excitement,” according to research by Barkley. This may sound irrelevant to you as a businessperson if you don’t sell bungee ropes or the like, but consider the idea of “danger” more broadly than actual risk to life or limb. For a customer, “embracing danger” can mean traveling across the city for artisanal cupcakes, knowing that there’s a high risk of disappointment since the bakery famously sells out each day before 10 a.m., or shopping, as a lark, at a popup store with no history and nothing but word of mouth to recommend it.


Why Entrepreneurs Should Fake It Until They Make It

Young Businessman Using a Digital TabletWith the increasing popularity of business-casual attire, a great business suit is not as effective as it used to be in creating an impression of success. But projecting a successful appearance is still important when you want your business to attract customers and clients, as it creates a feeling of higher comfort and less risk in your potential customers’ minds.  I mean, who doesn’t want to be associated with a successful entrepreneur?

Even if your business doesn’t yet have mountains of cash, you can appear prosperous without breaking your bank. Here are a few ways to economically enhance your professional image without misrepresenting your business or yourself.

A Successful First Impression

After a failed attempt at an acting career, Beanie Babies founder Ty Warner became a billionaire by selling stuffed animals. According to legend, he rented a Rolls Royce to drive to sales calls to project a wildly successful image. While we don’t recommend following Ty Warner’s cues on all of his faking- (Warner is still trying to stay out of jail after admitting to tax fraud), you can borrow his moxy for creating a successful impression.

Creating a successful impression extends not only to your car, but also to your business office. Your business may involve two people working in your basement, but unless your basement resembles the Taj Mahal, you will not impress prospective clients by holding meetings there. Until you have a high-profile address where you can meet with clients, a flexible office solution, such as the choices offered by companies like Regus, can enhance your office image while providing services that you need.

You may decide that a virtual office gives you a prestigious address (complete with a phone number and receptionist support) without having to make a big financial commitment.

One extra word of advice, though: make sure that your impression matches your target customers. If you want to attract eco-friendly customers, don’t show up in a Humvee or if you are attracting clients in the pet care industry, showing up in your fur coat is probably counterproductive.

Consider a Website Upgrade

Clients will not flock to your door if your website has a similar production value to a late-night auto insurance commercial. Your website needs to convey a professional image with content that makes search engines place your company toward the top of a search list.

Only you can decide how much help your website needs, but you do not have to spend a fortune to head in the right direction toward a slick website. You can use templates, like those that coordinate with WordPress, to look modern and professional.  And of course, don’t forget to make your website mobile-friendly, as more and more customers are accessing information from their smartphones.

Do your homework by talking to a number of web development firms. Look for those that use words like “SEO,” “interface design” and “regular maintenance.” If you hear the word “cool” too often, head for the hills.

Establish Credibility with a Quick PR Blitz

One way to boost your profile is to be featured in the press.  Having appeared in print or online publications, television shows and/or on the radio can make you seem bigger than you are.

Leverage any relationships that you have to get some PR placements.  If you don’t have connections, one cost-efficient strategy is to hire a “pay-to-play” PR firm, which may cost a bit more for a placement, but guarantees their services, instead of you rolling the dice on a monthly retainer fee.

I did precisely this when I was starting out. I hired a firm that put me on a radio tour.  Within 45 days’ time, I had between 20 and 30 radio appearances that I had made.  Since I only listed the appearances (not the dates of) on my website’s “press” page, that list looked like I had been a go-to press expert for years.

To get the most out of your PR, highlight where you have been featured on your website, in your marketing materials and even in your email signature line.

Work Pro Bono for the Right Clients

Working for free will not generally add to your success. But there’s an exception to this rule: high-profile clients. When you add a big name to your client list, your work is repaid when other big-name clients buy your goods or services. They see your business as a legitimate industry player.

As a bonus, high-profile clients do not have to remain pro bono forever. Do a great job for them the first time, get to know their key decision makers, and you can develop a valuable business relationship in the future.

So, before you hit the big time, act like you are already there and you will be there in no time at all!


Improve Your Company’s Customer Experience – By Thinking Like Steve Jobs

“You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.”

2-26 customer experience smallThis is a message that Steve Jobs would repeat, over and over and over. It means that the technology sold by Apple, or used by Apple in support of the customer experience, doesn't have to be invented at Apple. And the technology Apple has lying around at its disposal doesn’t have to end up being used.

A company like Apple, and perhaps yours, suffers from almost a surplus of technologically adept employees.  But Apple, when it is at its best (which isn't always, unfortunately), refuses to let technological capability drive the customer experience.  Siri, to pick just one small example, wasn’t developed at Apple.  It was envisioned at Apple after which Apple went on a hunt to see how their vision could be brought to life.

The Apple Store, to pick another example, was envisioned as the best customer experience anywhere (not just the best electronics retailing experience).  So Apple benchmarked its customer service not against Best Buy, not against Radio Shack.

Instead, in preparing to open the first Apple Store, Apple chose to benchmark a company in an entirely different industry, hospitality: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. From their study of the Ritz-Carlton, they developed the Genius Bar (a repurposing of the concierge station in the lobby of hotel: just like concierges at the Ritz, the Apple Genius Bar is staffed with empathetic, knowledgeable people who will, so to speak, help you get to where you want to go), as well as their very specific approach to greeting customers as they enter the Apple Store.

Apply this to your own business situation

Obviously, Apple is a unique company, with a unique historical and financial position.  But there is a practical entrepreneurial lesson here: Think about how different your customer experience could be if you channeled Steve Jobs’ "first things first" attitude and made it integral to your customer experience approach.  A couple examples that might apply to your business:

  • What if you didn’t force customers to suffer through your use of the (probably obsolete) CRM technology you have in house, but instead reconsidered what it would take to actually create the experience you want to provide for customers?
  • What if you didn’t surrender responsibility for your social media interactions with customers to those in your company who are most technically adept at social media, but instead kept it firmly under the reins of the people who are truly your long-time customer service experts, with, of course, the helpful support of the above-mentioned technocrats?
  • What if you picked up the doggone phone and called your customer (telephones are fantastic technology, albeit often poorly used by business) when that's the most direct way to resolve a customer issue, rather than thinking you need to sit back and hopelessly watch a simple customer issue escalate via twitter, email, and live chat?

Refreshing Your Customer Service Experience (Without Losing Your Core Identity)

2-12 hotel guest checking in small

Once you've initially succeeded in interesting your customers in your brand, once you've succeeded in pleasing them with your customer experience and customer service, you need to work on keeping their interest by adding clues and cues to the plot.

Any meaningful service, any meaning customer experience will start to grow stale over time. Service signatures, scripted interactions, and product offerings that delighted customers at first will get copied, replicated, and bastardized over time. They'll lose their intended meaning (Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company's signature phrase, “My pleasure,” for instance, has lost some of its freshness now that you can get a $2.99 rendition of it from a server at —I kid you not—Chik Fil A. This has led Ritz-Carlton to  change up its language of late to keep it fresh and authentic, authenticity being a key attribute that Ritz-Carlton is striving for in its revamped modern-day hotel brand.)

And, of course, design and product offerings will get stale and tired. What's fabulous to a customer on visit one will be "fine but nothing new" on visit five.  And, especially in this era of intensive and friction-free social sharing, you need something fresh, something, literally, to write or tweet home about, to tantalize your customer.

Retelling a story too many times

Retail is perhaps the most ruthless of businesses in the extent that customers are expecting change–regular seasonal changes and special holiday revamps. Restaurants can also feel stale after a few visits and need new menu items, a fresh cocktail list, or new art on the wall to keep customers engaged and coming back from visit to visit, and after three-ish years, most restaurants need a major overhaul to stay successful. The same is true to only a slightly lesser extent for many other service businesses.

For a business to stay relevant, it needs to be relentlessly reinventing itself, including its once cutting-edge practices. A friend of mine described to me his reaction to the practice at Nordstrom of coming from behind the counter to hand you your shopping bag. “This was pretty cool the first five times or so. Around the sixth time, it became annoying; it just seemed like they were slowing me down for the sake of their internal ceremony.” And I’ve seen a similar loss of love for the once-fresh idea of printing a guest’s name on a menu at a destination restaurant. The first time you see this by your plate, you're undoubtedly amazed. The third time, you’re bored and ready for a new trick.

Businesses need to realize the shelf life of any such scripted or quickly-expected service interactions and change it when the expiration date hits. To keep today’s customers coming back a business needs to constantly improve, update, and appropriately add to its line of products or services –on a schedule faster than ever before.

"Freshen the guest experience without changing its core identity"–Patrick O'Connell

On the other hand, change for change's  sake is very, very hazardous.  Because the goal of customer service and the customer experience isn't buzz–it's loyalty; it's repeat business that keeps you alive. So while it's true that customers seek innovation from the companies they frequent, if a company only invests in change, then how can a customer remain loyal–what, to put it bluntly, is left for them to be loyal to? So there’s a tension to navigate between innovation and maintaining quality through tradition.

In an interview I just did with the celebrated restaurateur and innkeeper Patrick O'Connell – proprietor of the Inn At Little Washington and President of Relais And Chateaux – Chef O'Connell puts this well: “Cultivating loyalty is a tricky business. It requires maintaining a rigorous level of consistency while constantly adding newness and a little surprise—freshening the guest experience without changing its core identity.”


Marketing 101: 5 Key Marketing Terms to Know

2-4 Mktg 101 smallWhen you start a business, it is extremely important to have a marketing plan. A marketing plan is essential in helping you develop an understanding of what actions you can take to bring success. When people look at statistics about small businesses and see that only about half of all small businesses make it to their fifth birthday, it can be daunting to jump into such cold waters.

However, if you take the steps to prepare for entrepreneurship, you have given yourself a boost over the hurdles that plague the small business owners who become just another statistic. Your marketing plan establishes how and to whom you promote your product or service. Before your write your marketing plan, let’s review some crucial marketing terms to help you have a clear idea of what this approach entails.

1. Marketing

The term marketing encompasses a large range of behaviors undertaken by businesses to communicate their brand message with their customers. In a nutshell, marketing presents products or services in ways that make them desirable. Your advertising, website, social media profiles, and newsletter are all part of your marketing efforts, and are the efforts you undertake to persuade potential customers to become paying customers. Marketing uses both emotional and rational appeals to attract customers and encompasses a wide variety of actions and components. Creativity in your marketing is vital, and the returns can be enormous.

2. Market Research

The term market research may seem overly dry or academic, but it is extremely important. In short, market research tells you who is your customer and why they could buy form you. It also can tell you how many potential customers exist for your market. You may think that everyone will want what you offer, but your market research will tell how likely that scenario is.

For example, the cost of your product may eliminate much of the potential market, or your product may be too specialized to attract enough customers to support your costs. It is important to not just examine the current market, but look ahead to the long-term as technological or cultural changes might transform the market. Good market research gives you solid ground on which to begin your endeavor.

3. Advertising

Advertising is another broad category of marketing focused on bringing attention to a product or service in order to create a sale or build awareness. Product placement in movies is a form of paid advertising, as are pay-per-click ads online. Branding is a key component of advertising. You can use advertising to build brand awareness via media, such as a placing a Facebook ad. Your market research will tell you where, how, and when you should be advertising.

4. Sales

The culmination of all your efforts is sales — that moment when you have convinced your audience to take action and bring out that plastic to make a purchase. Sales is the goal where your marketing, market research, and advertising all lead. Sales activities include direct marketing, selling (including in person, via the Internet, phone, or networking) and trade shows. Any action that results in an exchange of goods or services for money or an equivalent is a sale. How much you sell and when you sell all factor into your bottom line.

5. Profit

Profit is how you measure your success in purely economic terms. It is the amount of money you’ve made after you deduct all your costs of doing business, such as direct and indirect expenditures. Pricing directly impacts your profit! A completed business plan gives you insight in how your specific profit model works. Remember, if you are prepared from the outset, you have strengthened your chances of success in the future.

Understanding these key terms and applying them in your marketing plan ensures that you have a solid plan for what you are selling, how you will sell it, and to whom you will sell. Marketing is the umbrella under which you will execute your marketing research, plan your advertising, make your sales, and calculate your profit. Social media — and media in general — is the means by which you take your message to you audience, but a tight marketing plan is meant to guide your messaging and help you identify the best channels for it.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Personalize Your Customer Service

2-3 personalized customer service small2015 has barely begun, but already personalization has emerged as one of the hottest buzzwords in customer service this year. How can you take advantage of this trend and make your customer service more personal?

Of course, small businesses have always had an edge in that their smaller size inherently makes them more personal. But today, with huge companies using automation to personalize the customer service experience (how ironic, right?), your small business needs a combination of the human touch and automated systems to stay ahead of the pack.

Here are some suggestions for how customer service reps can personalize their interactions with customers:

  • Human touch: Always find out and use the customer’s name, whether addressing him or her over the phone, in an online chat or by email. People love to hear their own names—it makes them feel “heard.”
  • Automated system: Give customer service reps access to appropriate tools, such as customer relationship management (CRM) software, so they can quickly review a customer’s history with your business. For example, being able to see order history and details of the most recent order placed enables ecommerce sales reps to dive right into solving problems (“I see that your order placed two weeks ago still hasn’t shipped. Let’s see how I can expedite that for you…”) without the customer having to provide a lengthy explanation.
  • Human touch: Humanize reps by using their names in communications and conversations. Getting a response from Tracy.Wilson@yourcompany.com in response to an email complaint feels much more personal than getting an email from customerservice@yourcompany.com. It also makes customers feel someone is taking ownership of their issue.
  • Automated system: Have reps input details of their interactions into your customer service or CRM system. This enables new reps to pick up where the original rep left off if the customer is “handed off” or has to re-contact the company later on.
  • Human touch: If possible, have the same rep deal with an issue from beginning to end. If not, humanize the handoff, too. Don’t just transfer the customer to another rep and hang up; instead, say something like “Mrs. Smith, I have Joe from Accounting on the line, and he is going to help you resolve this billing issue,” or CC the new rep on an email to the customer so that the two get introduced.

As you can see, a few simple steps can make the difference between treating customers like cogs and treating them personally. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Are You Ignoring Your Returning Customers?

1-20-15 customer rewards smallHave you ever had this experience: You see an ad or offer for some amazing deal for a company of which you’re a longtime customer—something big, like “50% off a year’s membership.” Wow, you want to take advantage of that! But you can’t because there’s only one catch: The offer is for new customers only. “Hmph,” you think. “What am I, chopped liver?”

Many small businesses make the mistake of ignoring their biggest source of income: recurring customers. OK, maybe not “ignoring” them completely, but giving them the short end of the stick when it comes to attention, special offers and prime treatment.

It’s natural that getting new customers should be a key part of your business strategy. After all, every company needs new business in the pipeline to survive and grow. But the bulk of your time and attention should go to your existing customers. Why? Here are just a few reasons:

  • They’re already loyal customers.
  • It costs less to keep them satisfied (and buying) than it does to replace them.
  • Keep them happy and they’ll tell friends about your business.

What can you do to provide better treatment for your returning customers? Here are some ideas:

  • Hold special sales or events just for loyal customers.
  • Offer them early access to new merchandise or services.
  • Give them the chance to lock in current prices for the coming year or when they renew.
  • Use automation tools such as a CRM system to track details about your customers so you can personalize your customer service, offers and interactions. You can even greet them appropriately when they call your business!
  • Use technology that creates a record of customer service interactions so that when recurring customers contact you with problems, you can quickly access their histories.
  • Investigate loyalty programs for small businesses. There are many affordable options that integrate with your marketing, enabling more targeted outreach to returning customers.

It’s OK to create special offers and deals for new customers only—just be sure you provide equivalent or better rewards for customers who have shown their loyalty to your business. 


How to Kickstart Your Marketing Efforts in 2015

1-14 Kickstart Mktg smallMarketing is the engine that feeds your small business.  As we jump into the new year, it’s time to kickstart your marketing and public relations activities. You want to divide your activities by those that engage prospect customers and those that keep your existing customer.  Here are five ways to kickstart your marketing machine in your small business:

  1. Send a Note to Existing Customers to Check-In: To keep your business top of mind, send an email to check-in and see what’s going on with your existing customers. Don’t make it about any kinds of hard sell, just call to say happy new year.  Be sure to put your business phone number, address, website, social media contacts in your email signature, so they can give you a quick call or note back.
  2. Organize Your Calendar: Look at your 2015 calendar and mark down any special dates that are relevant in your industry. Think of creative ways to share information that will bring customers in especially on key holidays. If you’re a retailer, you can run promotions for President’s Day, Valentine’s Day, 4th of July or Halloween. Holidays are opportunities to make sales on related products. Take advantage of it.
  3. Build a New Partnership: One of the fastest ways to find new customers is by partnering with a business that already has complimentary clients or relationships you’re looking for.  By leveraging the credibility of a partner they can pave the way for their clients to trust your business much faster.  Also be willing to present yourself as a white label solution. Remember, 20% of a deal you would have never had is great profit.
  4. Create a new free offer: Everyone loves free stuff. A great way to get potential customers to give you their contact email is to create a free download offer. If you are a financial planner, offer a free report or ebook with tips for “How to Retire RICH Before 50.”  Once you get their contact information use email to nurture the relationship.
  5. Get More Social: This year look for opportunities to boost your social media marketing efforts. Look at ways to build more engagement on your social accounts. Consider kicking it up on your  Facebook page, Instagram account, in your LinkedIn Groups, Pinterest boards and Twitter account. Try venturing out the one new social media site this year. Try Searching popular topics or hashtags that people are engaged in so you can join the conversation.

You can use a combination of these methods to kickstart your marketing efforts this year to keep your business top of mind with your target customers.  


5 Must-Know Mobile Marketing Tips

free wifi cafeThe mobile market keeps growing and flourishing, and the best of it may still be ahead of us. As more people rely on their smartphones throughout the day, these devices become veritable marketing tools. Just as with any emerging technology, using mobile early in the game can be a major benefit to marketing to your customers. That being said, not all small businesses know where to begin in using mobile marketing. There are several things you should keep in mind as you explore this latest and exciting frontier:

1. Your web presence must be mobile friendly

Both your emails and your website should be optimized for mobile. It’s not enough to just design your page and then release it. Test it on as many platforms as you can and make it easy for people to report problems. Yahoo has some good advice on the topic. Even if none that technical information means much to you, the bottom line is that your page or newsletter needs to render quickly (<4 secs), be legible, and easy to navigate.

2. Get to know your mobile customers

Metrics are important. It is vital for you to know what works for your company. How do you keep track of that data? Google Analytics is one place to start. Pay attention to the pages that attract a mobile audience and focus your efforts there at first. Notice what campaigns attract mobile traffic over desktop traffic. Mobile customers have different priorities than traditional traffic, and conversion rates are very different. Pay attention to their needs and make it easy for them to find what they need. Mobile is growing, and as a business owner, it is better to be in front of your customer rather than chasing her from behind.

3. Mobile marketing is not just advertising on a smartphone

Mobile customers require a different method of communication. There is no consensus on the baseline of what works with mobile customers. We are at the leading edge of mobile marketing and no one quite knows where we are headed, but there are some best practices that you can play with to see what works best for you. Retailers should be thinking about how to deploy mobile engagement either through in-store posters or even QR codes. Other businesses may want to use text messaging to engage their audience. Social media definitely dovetails here, but the specifics will differ depending on your industry.

4. Exploit location-based services

Because so much of mobile web traffic is related to search, now is the time to make sure you have claimed your page on the various sites, such as Google Pages, Facebook Pages, Yelp, and Foursquare. This is an easy and relatively low effort task that may offer a payout later on. It also demonstrates that you are paying attention to the emerging trends, and are open to communicating with your audience on different networks and sites. You simply never know where a referral will come from, and you never know when or where your company will get in front of your next customer.

5. Respect your audience

This goes without saying, but the reality is that the temptation is there to use exploitative tactics to get extra facetime with your audience. Mobile’s relevance may be undercut if your audience feels manipulated, so tread carefully as you probe this new technology. It may be tempting to repeat verbatim what you’ve said on social media page or newsletter, but mobile is its own medium, so consider mobile a new channel and program accordingly.




 
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