Your Competitors Are a Bad Influence

It’s always a great idea to pay attention to what your competitors are up to, including their marketing – especially since you’re trying to win the same customers.  But all too often, companies become reactive, basing their own marketing on what their rivals are doing.

In 2019, try this.  Look closely at your prospects.  Now look at companies outside your industry who target that same audience.  What strategies are they using?  How do they differ from the way your own industry approaches the same audience?  What’s working for them?

Most of all, how can you adapt some of these ideas or tactics from other industries to create a new path forward in your own?  Doing so would instantly help your marketing and your message stand out from your competitors, and help you gain top of mind awareness.

Let’s get you started.  This evening, settle into your favorite chair with a laptop and beverage of choice, put your feet up and follow this simple three-step process to get the ball rolling:

1. Identify three industries who share your audience.

2. Identify the local, regional or national leaders in those industries.

3. Find out as much as you can about their marketing approaches:

    a. Visit their websites.

    b. Sign up for and read their emails.

    c. Dissect their advertising.

    d. Check out their social media.

You’ll end up with really good information – and at least a few ideas for bringing a fresh approach to your marketing for 2019.  Good luck!

(If you’ve enjoyed your Marketing Minute in 2018, we hope you’ll consider forwarding this to one marketer or business owner / leader who you believe might benefit from the insights we share throughout the year.  And Happy New Year!)

Winter Wonderbrand

You know the words, right?  “Later on, we’ll conspire, as we dream by the fire, to face, unafraid, the plans that we made…”  It all sounds so lovely, bathed in that warm holiday glow.  But…

It’s one thing to be fearless when you’re comfy and cozy, making plans for the future.  But it’s something else entirely to put your feet on the ground and put those plans into action when there’s skin in the game.

Why?  Because that’s when fear really kicks in.  All the hurdles suddenly rise up to their full height.  Naysayers crawl out of the woodwork to predict doom and gloom.  Second guessers slow things down to a crawl.  Perhaps worst of all, those inner voices sound off, reminding you of all the ways your plans can go south.

Everybody wants a powerful brand.  But nobody wants to step away from the herd and be discernibly different.  Nobody.  It’s uncomfortable.  It leaves you completely exposed and vulnerable.  No one is fearless about this; by its very nature, it’s a fearful proposition.

But some companies are courageous.  They muster up the determination to face those fears, quiet their doubts and move forward with a bold brand even when it’s terrifying.  Don’t believe it?  Read a few biographies of the visionaries who launched lasting brands.  Every last one of them was afraid.

To quote writer Greil Marcus, “yes, fear eats the soul…but not if the soul eats it first.”  It’s unlikely that you can face truly bold plans unafraid in the harsh light of 2019.  That’s okay.  You can still stare down your reservations with courage and conviction, and transform your brand into something remarkable.

(“Winter Wonderland” ©1934, Felix Bernard, music and Richard B. Smith, lyrics)

Open After 5:00

Ever stop by a business at the end of the day, only to find that they’re closed?  Or skipped lunch to do something because that business closes at 5?  Of course you have.  Probably more than once.

Here’s the irony.  If you went to the websites for those businesses, they all talk about great service and putting the customer first.  Except that they’re not.

Now think about your own company.  Is it really designed with the customer in mind?  Think about everything.  Your hours.  Locations.  Products or services.  Processes.  Purchase options.

Chances are, most of those decisions were based on what was most convenient or most profitable for your company rather than your customers.  But those decisions, while they seem smart in the short term, actually hurt you over time.

When you create something for the convenience of customers first, something both predictable and profitable happens.  You get more customers.  And those customers do more business with you, because you’ve made it easy.  They talk you up more, too.

Take something as simple as your website.  Was yours designed to tell visitors everything you want them to know?  Or was it built to give them the shortest possible path to purchase — or the easiest access to existing and new accounts?

This is marketing at its most fundamental.  And it represents a huge opportunity.  Why?  Because if you’re not doing it right, there’s a good chance your competition isn’t either.

Try this.  Imagine you’re starting your company from scratch today.  Put the customer at the front of every single decision you make.  What would look different?  Products?  Processes?  Delivery channels?  What is the smallest possible number of steps between interest and purchase, or between call and service?  Make a list.

If you were really serious, how many of those changes could you put in place today?  How many could you phase in over the coming year?  And how much fun could you have telling your customers — and your competitors’ customers — about it all?

Now imagine one more thing.  What if you did this instead of strategic planning this year?  Is it possible that this could have a game-changing impact on your company?  (Here’s a hint: the answer is “yes.”)

You can continue to make customers dance to your tune, and hope no one comes along like Amazon did to change everything.  Or you can start to insulate yourself right now by adopting the customer’s point of view, and become the change your customers crave — and your competition fears.

Are You Missing Christmas?

A few years ago, something changed in the business world…and probably not for the better.  Companies stopped sending Christmas cards to customers or clients or associates.  And while this has meant a little less holiday cheer to go around, there’s a much bigger issue at stake.

Think of it from a marketing perspective.  Once a year, at the end of the year, when most people are receptive to the holiday spirit, you send them a card that acknowledges your relationship, that thanks them for being part of your success, and that wishes them the best for the year ahead.

Think about what happened when those cards arrived — what still happens in many places.  Unlike other mail, which gets read and discarded, Christmas cards are often kept and displayed, at least through the holiday season.

If you were a smart company, you wouldn’t order “generic” cards that would blend in with all the rest.  You’d have your own cards designed and printed so they would stand out and help your message — and your brand — stay top of mind for a month.

On top of all that, your card was an additional “touch,” one that could help solidify your existing customer relationships or move prospects one step closer to becoming clients.

When you think of it in those terms, that Christmas card can be seen for what it is — or at least what it once was — an important element of your sales and marketing plan.  In that light, it seems almost absurd that it’s gone away.

That’s another big argument in favor of doing one.  If there are far fewer holiday cards in your customer’s mailbox, the ones they receive have an outsized impact.  All those good things we mentioned earlier are amplified.

“But wait,” you say, “we send out a holiday email!  Same impact for a fraction of the cost!”  Of course, that’s not even remotely true.  Email is far less personal, and gets deleted as soon as it’s read — assuming that the subject line doesn’t send it right into the trash.  It practically screams “minimal effort.”

Beyond all that, of course, is the reason you send season’s greetings in the first place: you genuinely want to spread good feelings and holiday cheer.  But if you can do that, and at the same time, make a thoughtful marketing decision, Christmas may indeed come early for your business.

Seven Steps to More Engaging Social Media

If social media is part of your marketing mix, here are seven steps to higher engagement.

1. Choose Wisely.

LinkedIn and Twitter work well for B2B companies, while Facebook and Instagram lead for consumers (with Snapchat a close third). There are plenty of other options for both, of course, but just make sure that each platform you choose makes sense for both your audience and your product or service.

2. Be Shareable

The biggest advantage of social media is that your followers can share your content – which is also the fastest way to grab new likes and more followers. So as you create each post, ask yourself if you would share this content if it showed up in your feed. If not, keep working.

3. Leave ‘em Laughing

Humor gets shared – and remembered. So consider how to build humor into your content. And that doesn’t mean simply posting jokes or funny memes. You can talk about serious things, but in a fun or lighthearted way. Humor makes your business more relatable, and your content more shareable.

4. Get the Picture.

Social media is visual, and the images that accompany posts are often what grab someone’s attention. So use photos and videos. And avoid the same tired visual clichés everyone uses. Find or create an image or video that reinforces your point in a different way – especially one that’s amusing (see #3 above).

5. Stop Selling.

Nobody needs another sales pitch. So don’t use social media as a blunt instrument to push products or services. Instead, using all of the aforementioned techniques, find a fun way to show benefits. As the old saying goes, no one wants a 1/4” drill bit; they just want a 1/4” hole. Make the benefit the star. Sales will follow.

6. Hire Well.

Don’t just hand social media off to someone in your office who already has a lot on their plate. If it’s going to be a big part of your marketing push, hire someone for this role. But ask a lot of questions before you do. Just because someone is active on their own social media does not automatically mean they can do social media well for your company. Can they create content? Are they funny? Do they think visually? Can they write well? Are they quick? If not, outsource social to a person or company that is all those things.

7. Track It.
 
If you’re going to use social media, measure it. Look at likes and shares to see which content gets the highest engagement. Create posts that link to your website, and measure that traffic. Notice which time of day gets the most attention for your posts, and post then. Most of all, work to connect sales directly to social media.

Do You Know Your Competition?

You can only build a strong brand if you set yourself apart from your competition. But you can’t do that if you don’t really know what the competition is doing. Too many marketers ignore this – and weaken their own brands in the process.

Luckily, this is an easy problem to solve. Start by visiting your competitors’ websites. How’s their content? Are they blogging or posting videos? Is the site updated regularly or out of date. How’s their SEO?

Next, follow them. Download and read their whitepapers. Subscribe to and read their emails. Watch the videos they post. Follow them on social media and pay attention to their audience and their social success.

Set up Google alerts about their companies and their key products and people. You’ll know every time they’re in the news – and why.

(By the way, this is perfect work for an intern. It’s meaningful and valuable to your organization, and it helps them learn quickly about your industry.)

What are the benefits of all this effort? Not only will you know what your competition is doing, but you’ll be able to see how you stack up. Where are you ahead of the curve? Where are you falling behind? What are the opportunities you’re missing?
 
Most of all, you’ll have a much better idea of how to successfully position yourself against everyone else. That’s the essence of brand-building, and the ticket to making your marketing more effective.
 
(Don’t have time to do all this? Idealogy can help. Engage us to take a close look at your competitors – and you – and let you know how you compare, and where the opportunities are. Reply to this email to get details.)

5 Ways Websites Undermine Brands

Is your website working for or against you? Here are five telltale signs that your website may be killing your brand instead of building it.
 
A Starving Newsfeed.
 
No news is not good news…at least on your website. If you have an “In the News” tab with no recent posts, it’s actually doing the opposite of what you think. It’s telling people that you’ve been out of the spotlight for some time – that you haven’t done anything newsworthy. There are two fixes. Use the “News” tab to share your own news about products, people, etc. Or simply drop the tab from your site.
 
A Bare Blog
 
Everyone begins with great intentions about blogging. And a blog is good for SEO. But without committed, consistent content generation, it can be months or more between posts. That makes site visitors think you’re not very relevant – and undermines claims of expertise or thought leadership. Make the hard call. Use it or lose it.
 
Broken Links
 
Nothing screams “apathy” like website links that don’t work, or images that are missing. And if those links are supposed to go to the pages most site visitors come to see, the damage is far worse. So practice preventative maintenance. Once a week, go through your site from top to bottom, and click every link to make sure things still work.
 
Flash? Seriously?
 
Back in the day, websites that used Flash were all the rage. Back in the day. Now, Flash is gone, and most devices no longer support sites that use it. So all visitors see is that something’s missing. Time to refresh the design without Flash, and give visitors an experience consistent with your brand.
 
Dated Design
 
Your website is like your closet. Every so often, you need to say goodbye to what’s gone out of style and freshen up your look. Websites with a dark background and white type are the worst offenders. What else should go? Stock photos that now look dated. Buttons that look like gel caps. Clutter. And every variety of cheese.
 
First Things First
 
Is your website responsive (the content rearranges itself based on the size of the viewer’s browser window)? Is it mobile (looks great on a smartphone, rather than just looking like a tiny version of itself)? Since most sites, and especially consumer sites, are viewed on mobile devices, this needs to be fixed first.
 
For first time visitors, your website is you. So bring it up to date, and make the impression you want.
 
(Need a fresh pair of eyes on your site? Reply to this email to ask about our website audit. You’ll get a thorough to-do list of everything your site needs to be on-brand and up to speed.)

Where Sales Meets Marketing

Anyone who’s been successful at sales will tell you that listening is a lot more important than talking. What you hear has at least as much impact than what you say.
 
Great salespeople ask open-ended questions, then listen to the answers. Only then do they think about whether they can solve the prospect’s problem, and what the solution might be.
 
This should be the rule for marketers, too. But it’s not, is it? Mostly, marketers think about what to say, how to say it and who to say it to. Yet there have never been more ways to listen before you market. And when you do, you spend smarter.
 
Take social media. It’s all about content. Except that it isn’t. It’s about engagement. That’s a two-way street. Which means marketers should think less about pushing product information and PR in the social sphere, and more about asking questions that get fans and followers commenting and sharing.
 
What questions should you ask? Start with two. What do they love? And what do they hate? Find out what drives customers in or drives them away – or just what drives them crazy. Then you earn the right to talk about how you fit into that picture.
 
Then there’s digital. Use all that targeting technology and tracking data to talk with prospects. Did they find what they were looking for? Why did they abandon that purchase? What could have gone better? Click here to help us get better – and you could win.
 
Email works this way, too. Instead of impressing recipients with what you’ve done or what you’re selling, think about asking a question or three. Maybe even invite them to get together in the real world to share their experiences, expectations and disappointments.
 
This works across all media. Sponsor a call-in session on the radio to let people vent about your industry. Throw an opinion hotline up on a billboard. The possibilities are nearly endless. And so is the wealth of information you could harvest.
 
And here’s the biggest benefit. When you’re a good listener, you broaden and deepen your appeal. That’s what brand-building is for. As a truly great salesperson once said, to make your sales go up, shut up and listen up.

How Low Can You Go?

There’s a paradox that plagues every marketer. People are reading both more and less.
 
They’re reading web content and whitepapers. Blogs and tweets. Reviews and articles. Billboards and emails. Magazines and Facebook posts. In fact, people are spending more time reading than ever.
 
But they’re also reading less – or trying to. Shorter attention spans demand shorter copy. So if you want to make your point and make a sale, make it faster. Here are four ways to lower your word count without losing impact.
 
First, lose the clichés. Each and every one of them. (See what we did there? Slipped in a cliché. Don’t do that.) Instead, print out the copy you need to trim. Now grab a highlighter.
 
Highlight every cliché. Every overused word or generic expression. Every phrase that takes up space without adding depth. All of them. Now delete those and read the copy again. Then repeat. You’ll find that you’ve lost empty words and regained readers’ attention.
 
Second, make every sentence shorter. Every one. Trim words away until each is as short as possible. Be especially ruthless with industry jargon and technical terms. You may feel better including them, but they rarely help readership.
 
Third, make every paragraph shorter. What’s the key point? Drive it home. Get in, hit it and get out. Add spaces between paragraphs. Add subheads to add clarity.
 
Finally, strategically ignore what your English teachers told you. Or at least some of it. Write closer to the way people talk. Use contractions. Punch things up with sentence fragments. Lots of them. End a sentence with a preposition if it makes sense. And start with conjunctions. Write to be read.
 
One note about SEO. Yes, your website needs to include search terms and key words. But that doesn’t mean you should bury them in long sentences.
 
Now go get short. And make some more money.
 
(Need a hand? Idealogy can help. Just give us a shout.)

Printing Money with Your Marketing

What if there was a marketing tactic that was proven to boost recall of your brand?  One that caused prospects to spend more time with your message?  One that led to increased sales?

There is.  But there’s a problem.  Even though it’s scientifically proven to move the needle in big ways, there’s a good chance you won’t take advantage of it.

Why?  Because it’s not the newest, coolest, sexiest tech.  In fact, it’s almost the opposite.  It’s print.  And it works better than you imagine.

According to Scientific American, “People understand and remember what they read on paper better than what they read onscreen.”  Go ahead.  Read that again.  Better yet, print this out and read the hard copy.

Here’s some proof.  Many retailers who switched to online catalogs watched their sales plummet.  That’s why you’re seeing catalogs in your mailbox again.  Magazine readership is up, too, as are book sales, as people rediscover the joy of a literal page turner.  Sales literature is in demand as well, especially for complex products or services.  And the ROI for targeted mail is as strong as ever – or stronger.

Best of all, you can crank up your ROI with a few tactics that make print work even harder.

For example, you can inexpensively add augmented reality and turn any print piece, from a sales brochure or direct mail piece to a magazine ad or sales tag, into an interactive marketing machine.  It takes your message off the page and brings it to life on the viewer’s phone, in the form of video or an alternate view.  It can even take them to a web page, where you can capture their device for retargeting.

Using variable data printing, you can personalize direct mail using all kinds of information from your own database or a purchased list — not just names, but age, gender, neighborhood, college, likes, dislikes, past purchases and future interests.

You can easily choose from a jaw-dropping variety of textures and special effects during the printing process.  The added tactile dimension will boost the amount of time a reader spends with your piece — and even get them to pass it around.

Of course, none of this matters if your print piece is poorly designed or off message.  So be sure you’ve got an offer that’s hard to resist, and that the design of your print pitch is one your prospects will find appealing.  Then use some of the many approaches available to add elements of interactivity, and watch your return soar.