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Premiums as a Branding Strategy? January 17, 2011

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Local Brand Development.
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I have the same dream often.  I’m at a tradeshow and as I go to each booth, I find that there are no premiums for me to scarf up.  Nobody has any of those glo pens or squeezable stress balls that come in every shape imagined by mankind.  Nobody trying to shove another bag at me so I can carry all the plastic promotional items I suck up at each booth.  I wonder.  Is this a nightmare or is this a dream come true?  It depends on which side of the premium business your on.

Let me be the first here to say that I’m not against the use of premium items for tradeshows.  If you can afford it, go for it.  If you expect that a premium is going to help you get more business or, as the premium sellers will tell you, it can extend your brand, you’ll be sorely disappointed.  You’ll be staring at the phone, hoping one of your thousands of premiums you’ve distributed makes the phone ring.  It could happen but the odds are against you.

When was the last time you heard anyone say, “Oh my God.  Those premiums are making the phone ring off the hook!” or “Thanks to my premiums, my small business is now a huge brand in my market!”.  The answer is, you haven’t.  And there’s good reason for that.

In the context of small business enterprises, premiums are a luxury item.  And it doesn’t matter how inexpensive they are either.  It isn’t inexpensive if it doesn’t directly drive business.  When was the last time you called a business using the phone number on their premium pencil.

The problem is, we’ve been so brainwashed that premiums are a ‘must have’ item when you’re looking to promote your business.  If your booth doesn’t offer a premium, you look, well, lame.  How could we have a tradeshow booth without some kind of premium with our name slapped on it?

Large companies, which drive the entire premium market with their huge, annual premium purchases, have the ‘fat’ available to burn.  Small business are generally not in that category.

The other challenge is that the premium industry as created a who army of people who are nothing less than premium freaks.  They come to tradeshows with the goal of getting every free premium they can fit into their premium bags.  I call them ‘tradeshow groupies’. They visit your booth, not even remotely interested in your product or service, only to open their bag wide enough so they can fit your premiums in it.

Do you know where most of those premiums end up after a time?  Shoved in some drawer or thrown out with the trash.

I received a note from a premium vendor the other day who called the use of premiums as a strategy for extending a brand.  Are you serious?  Sure, if you sell premiums, you have to say that.

Here’s another strategy:  Invest your time and money instead on improving your website/blog SEO…that will do much more to further you business than buying inexpensive premiums.

So, the premiums industry goes on its merry way.  Tradeshows will continue to shovel out tons of premiums.  Booth vendors will be pleased, if only because they got rid of the final box of premiums, avoiding having to schlep them back to the office.

Of course, the happiest people are the tradeshow groupies.  They continue to collect their share of the loot.  They’ll get their fix every time.  It’s guaranteed.

In the meantime, the real winners are the vendors who sell premium items.

Do what you will.  Bow to the pressure, either self-inflicted or peer-driven, and buy them if it makes you feel better.  Premiums are in most cases, a ‘nice-to-do’ but when it comes down to it, rarely drive business or branding.

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Your Own Web-based Radio Show July 28, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in Buzz Marketing: Lowest Cost/Highest Payoff, Local Brand Development, Marketing Buzz, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Sales Tactics.
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David DirksIf you follow this blog, you know that I’m a big fan of leveraging web-based resources like blogs, podcasts, vodcasts, and social/business networks (like Linkedin and Facebook).  I also want to introduce your business to web-based radio.

Imagine if you will, that you could host your own daily or weekly radio show and do it LIVE each time?  You can even do it for free.  If you understand that one of the keys to business growth and success is to continually find ways to give your business a ‘voice’ that allow you to find new customers (and add-value to those that are already your customers), then radio webcasting is for you.

BlogTalkRadio.com is a great example of this kind of service.  Within about 10 minutes, you can start hosting your own radio show on the web in live format.  Sharing your expertise and that of others in a weekly show is in addition to using a blog and your website to do the same.

Another great thing is that you don’t need any special equipment.  You can conduct your show from the comfort of your own computer.  All you need is high-speed access to the web from any location of your choosing.  Talk about portability!

The BlogTalkRadio format is also easy to set up and use.  It also has a revenue sharing component that allows you to split the revenues from ads placed on your radio site with BlogTalkRadio (you need an active PayPayl account to do so).

Like anything else, if you decided to host your own show, remember these things:

1.  Promote, promote, promote.  It will do you little good to host a show and then not promote it well.  Let everyone you know spread the word about your show.

2.  Keep to a regular schedule of shows.  It will serve you well if you pick a day & time to broadcast your show.

3.  Spend a little time planning your show.  Pick a topic within your business realm that is newsworthy, valuable, timely, and interesting to potential listeners.  You don’t have to sound like a professional broadcaster but it helps to sound like you spend more than a minute on planning your show format.

4.  Keep it short.  A 30 to 60 minute show is a fine.  Anything longer is a bore.  Remember, most people have the attention span of a gnat these days.

5.  Promote yourself on the show.  While your show shouldn’t sound like an infomercial, you should carefully plan to promote your business.  Have a blog?  Website?  Podcast?  Special event?  Promote it…it’s your show!

Radio webcasting in a live format is just another excellent way to differentiate your business from your competitors.  Like Nike says, just do it.

Don’t Do this In Your Business! December 23, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in Local Brand Development.
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David DirksMy furnace needs to be looked at because it’s not operating well.  So I do what I usually find helpful and call a friend who told me a while ago that they found a great furnace guy.   He is local, very good technically, reasonable, and “very nice”.  So far so good.  I called and was told that he may or may not be taking on new clients.  A couple hours later I get a call from his office saying, “he’s too busy and can’t help you”.   That’s it?  Ok, I know it’s winter and he’s bound to be busy…probably a one-person furnace repair show.  However, he and his business missed an opportunity.

What was his opportunity?  For starters, he didn’t even try to take on a new account.  He could have very easily asked me if I could wait a few days.  But even if he is booked solid from now until 2020, he missed an opportunity to build some local goodwill and improved his ‘local brand’ appeal.  Gee, I’m OK if you can’t do it, but how about giving me a name or two of someone else I could call?  Wow!  He would have improved his average with me by 150% if he’d just had made a referral to another furnace repair place.

I understand that if you’re in a small business, it’s often hard to see the forest of opportunities when you can only see through the trees.

Here are some lessons learned from todays episode:

  • Try to save the sale and make it work if you can.
  • Don’t leave your potential customer without options.  Make an effort to steer them to another solution, even if it means giving business away to a competitor.  They’ll remember you for it and probably be very thankful.
  • Think bigger.  If this guy is so booked that he can afford to turn down business, then he might want to think about expanding his business.  Maybe hiring someone to pick up the business he can’t cover?  Think. Think. Think.

Of course, I did ask if they could recommend anyone else.  “Nope”.  Great.  Not only do you NOT want my business, you don’t want anyone else to have it either.  Like the American General during the WWII Battle of the Bulge said in his reply to the German General who asked for his surrender: NUTS.

I feel better now.

Beating a Recession – 7 November 28, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Keeping Your Customers, Local Brand Development, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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David DirksHere’s a question for you:  When you made your last major purchase (car, truck, appliances, etc.) from a retailer/vendor (local or otherwise), how often have you heard from them since?  I’m willing to bet that it’s about zilch.  Zero.  None of the above.  Perhaps you have received some form of communication from a local retailer (phone, email, direct mail, etc.) on a fairly regular basis but that would be the exception and not the rule.  The rule for most locally owned businesses is, “yes, we communicate with our customer’s when they come into our store.”

Really?  Well good for you but not good when you’re trying to create more sales from your existing customer base and create new customers at the same time.  The failure to create even a simple communication strategy that provides some level of ‘touch’ to your customer base is a prescription for going out of business in time.

This concept is one that almost universally is met with applause.  Everyone can ‘get’ this concept on an intellectual level.  It makes perfectly good sense.  The truth though, again, is that few do it at all and even fewer get it right when they at least attempt to do it.

Here are my thoughts on this subject of reaching out to customers on a regular basis.  This is the stuff which Big Dogz do and do well.

  • This is a low budget item that offers high-payoff results.  You don’t need a huge marketing budget to create a simple and basic customer communication plan.  Email, direct mail, and the old-fashioned telephone offer a great way to stay in touch with customers.
  • Set some basic goals for your customer communication plan.  Helping customers get the most out of their purchases; educating them on how to do things that create value from the products or services you sell them; advising them on special buying opportunities that are exclusive to them, are just a few basic goals.
  • Once your start, don’t stop.  If you and I can agree that most businesses don’t have a customer communications plan, then we can probably also agree that the few that are willing to try, don’t stick with it long enough to see results.  Executing on your communications plan when you can remember to do it is like not doing it at all.
  • Get their contact information on every sale.  You should sell every customer on the idea that by giving you their contact info, (address, phone, and email), you can help them beyond the immediate sale.  If your communications strategy for your customers creates more value (i.e. teaches, educates, informs, and in some way creates real value for them that they will appreciate) and keeps the sales pitch to a minimum, it’s not a tough sell.  Just be sure to ask every customer or even those who come in to comparison shop, to join the list.  If your pitch sounds hollow, they’ll say no.
  • Results are long term. Yes, I know.  You’re in the fight for your life to keep sales and profits moving along through this current economic debacle (what else can you call this?  ‘recession’ seems too light a term).  You need sales to stabilize NOW.  Today.  This minute.  However, that’s no excuse for not creating a customer communications plan and implementing TODAY.
  • Ok.  There are some short term benefits.  For one, if you implement a customer communications plan and are consistent with it, you will see some uptick in sales from your current and devoted customer base.  For customers who have been buying your products and/or services over time (loyal base), you always want to be looking to expand their purchases (getting a greater share of their wallet).  If an existing customer purchases an average of $50.00 per month, you want to set the goal high, say to $65.00 per month.  Incremental increases of a share of your customers wallet is what wins the day.  Don’t expect customers to go from $50.00 to $100.00 overnight.
  • This process will cost you in terms of your TIME.  It doesn’t cost much money to create and implement a regular plan for communicating with your customer base.  However, it will cost you in terms of the time you will need to invest to create and implement it.  I believe that this is the one point that holds people back from either doing it or keep doing it.  When you where multiple hats in a business or resources are just tight, it’s tough.  However, the cost of NOT doing it is the most painful price to pay of all.  Find the time.  Keep yourself organized and on a regular schedule when implementing your plan.
  • Another immediate benefit:  word-of-mouth customer referrals.  Customers who receive the royal treatment with a solid array of customer communication vehicles are usually so positively stunned, that they just have to tell others about it.  Creating a customer experience beyond the sale is so rare these days that you’ll benefit from the effort as the word about your business gets out.
  • Timing is everything.  How often should you communicate with your customers?  Good question.  First, you need to decide what the goals of your communications plan are.  Second, you need to create the pieces (newsletter, phone calls, direct mail, email, blogs, website, etc.) and decide what the frequency of each piece is within the framework of your customer communications plan.  For instance, your newsletter might be quarterly.  Your phone check in might be twice a year.  Your email might be bi-monthly.  You can set the tone and pace of your communications plan and tweek it as you learn more about your customers needs and wants.  For example, you may find that your customers enjoy getting your newsletter that your increase the frequency to bi-monthly or monthly.  Test different formats and try new tools.

Want to survive a recession and build a business that has deep and healthy roots for longevity?  Then do this.  Trust me, chances are that your competition, large or small, isn’t.  The opportunity is all yours.

Driving Retail Sales: Groo’s Shoes October 22, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in Building Foot Traffic, Local Brand Development, Marketing Buzz, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Small Business Advertising.
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If you read this blog long enough, you’ll get the hint that creating a growing and profitable business comes down to creating a business that can differentiate itself from the competition.  If I had one key word to describe the process of marketing and selling, ‘differentiate’ would be all the word I’d need.  The Big Dogz know how imperative it is to keep creating and refining the ways you can differentiate your business from the crowd.  The only crowd you want is the one that will beat a path to your door.

I make it a habit to scan my local paper, The Times Herald-Record (www.recordonline.com) to see what kinds of advertising creative and marketing campaigns are out there.  Just today, I found a local shoe retailer who’s been in the business for many, many years with their latest ad.  When I saw it, I immediately said to myself, “That’s the kind of event that helps to position a local store like Groo’s Shoes in a different light with its customers.”  And create new ones.

Like many local hometown stores, Groo’s has to compete successfully against giants like Kohl’s and Target.  Groo’s probably knows that it cannot compete soley on price against the giant chains.  What the ad below shows is clearly an effort to create the kind of shopping experience that you can’t find in the big boxes.

Groo's Creates an unique event designed to attract female shoppers

Groo's creates a unique event designed to pull the female shoppers in!

So here is a local store that gets it.  As I scanned the pages of the newspaper, this ad just naturally popped out.  It was located in a sea of similar sized ads but stood out and looks to be a great event that might just create traffic to their store.  The point is, they are making the right effort to create differentiation in a tough retail market.

While that is all good, there are a few things missing here.  The website doesn’t promote the event!  To get the most mileage from your advertising, you’ve got to integrate all of your marketing together.  Your ads promote not only the event, but should push customers and prospects to the website for more information.  Maybe a special offer only available on the website but connected to the “Girl’s Night Out” would have been a great way to leverage the marketing tools that Groo’s already has available.

Other than that, this is a classic example of creating unique events to drive store traffic.  The enticement of free High School Musical 3 movie tickets is a great tie-in.  If they keep on track and continue to create events like these (not like the usual ‘sales days’ crap you see most often), they will continue to build their local brand.  Good stuff.

Developing a Local Brand – 1 September 30, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Local Brand Development, Marketing Buzz.
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If you want to find a local business that has found the gold that lies in branding a business effectively, just look around you.  Do you know of a business that has been around for a long time and is still very successful?  I’ll bet you do.  It could be your local deli or maybe a local tailor who’s been around for what seems like forever.  Local businesses with a strong brand appeal are businesses who have seen all kinds of economic conditions and still keep going.  The people who build these kinds of strong local brands have the ability to keep their eye on the branding ball.

The Big Dogz have long understood that building a lasting business requires laying a foundation of branding the endures because it endears customers to their products and/or services.

What are they doing that most businesses are not?  Here are a few of my observations:

  • They pay attention to the details.  They take no customer for granted and extend themselves to the point that customers instantly recognize the value they get from purchasing their products or services.  They not only know your name but they learn more about your likes and dislikes over time.  If they make a mistake, they attend to it immediately and make the customer whole or better.  They are not in the transaction business; they are in the relationship business.
  • They provide an ‘buying experience’ that is well-above the norm.  People don’t just go there to shop, they go there with the intent to ‘live’ through the experience of shopping.  Have you ever been to Stew Leonards?  Grocery shopping there is an ‘experience’ that reinforces their local brand.  Started in 1969, it has revenues over $300mm with just four stores!  Most importantly, they have done exceedingly well despite the growth of mega-grocery stores and severe competition from national chains.  Why?  Because customers value the ‘experience’ that Stew Leonard provides them each time they come.  It’s a local brand that stands for more than just a place to buy groceries.  Oh, and they aren’t the cheapest place in town either but they continue to thrive just the same.  Want to learn more about Stew Leonards?  Go to www.stewleonards.com

Local brand development is another way to create lasting market differentiation and beat your competition into the ground.  Stay tuned for more on local brand development!