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Betterment…Is A Strategy July 12, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, marketing, Marketing Buzz, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Sales Tactics.
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DirksProPhoto Why do people buy your products or services?  Are they forced to buy them out of necessity? Do you have a monopoly? Probably not. But understanding why people buy – and it’s often not on price – is one key to business longevity.

If you sell products or services that can easily be obtained elsewhere, why should they buy from you?  Think about yourself as a consumer for moment.  When you make a purchase – are you making it to contribute to a life of mediocrity?  No.  We buy things because of one basic reason: betterment.  I buy milk as a staple but the place I buy my milk is the place that offers me the best tasting milk at a fair price.  I don’t buy my milk anywhere else because I feel the milk I buy there is better for me and my family.

Betterment.  It’s a word…a noun to be exact.  Websters defines it as “becoming better” and “an improvement that adds value to property…”  Consider yourself “property” as a consumer.

As a business owner, your job is to convince the rest of the world (or at least your wedge of it) that your product or service offers someone a way to better themselves…their lives…their families.  In a world where everything seems like a commodity, your edge is communicating how your company delivers on improving something in the life of your customer and, most importantly, your prospective customers.  The success of your business model depends on it.

That said, if betterment was easy to define, everyone would be doing it but few are – just look around you.  Most business owners are stuck on price or try to differentiate based on product or service features or benefits.

Apple has long been a master at parlaying great technology and wrapping it around betterment.  Apple marketing and sales messaging is almost centrally focused on how Apple products enhance or better a life.  And they are able to deliver on that promise to (if you are a pc head, you don’t get this but we’re ok with that).

If you follow a blog, perhaps this one – you have the expectation that spending time here will better your life or business in some way, shape or form.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t spend you time on any blog that didn’t offer and deliver on that.  The most popular blogs are followed because people get something out of them (entertainment value, economic value, etc.) that they can’t find easily elsewhere.

The first step on the path of a message of betterment is to translate what your product or service does to get a customer there.  The destination is betterment.  For example, a landscaper cuts the grass and makes the property look great each week.  Where’s the betterment? How about the time it frees you from having to do it and spend more time on things you want to do instead – like spending more time with family.  By making your property look like an estate, you feel that your property and the quality of your life are enhanced (as opposed to looking at tall grass and weeds).

In other words, a betterment message is thinking of your product beyond the standard features and benefits it offers.  How does it translate – tangibly or intangibly – into a path to making some aspects of a customers life better?

The second step is making sure all of your marketing and sales messaging is zeroed in on the elements of betterment…clearly…concisely…and consistently.  You have to be able to draw a picture in the mind of the customer so they don’t need an algorithm to figure out why your product is the one they should buy.  They should “get” betterment.

Never easy to do but clearly worth the investment of time and effort to get there.  Betterment – it’s a strategy.

Congratulations. You’ve been promoted. December 20, 2011

Posted by David Dirks in marketing, Strategy.
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The title of my post today is not mine really.  It’s from an ad that really caught my attention.  As I go through my daily reading routine, I am intent on finding information that suits my interests, needs, or wants at the time.  Of course, I scan the ads and am rarely stopped by them.  However, this ad drew me in.  Here’s the rest of the copy of this ad:

You’re now the boss of your own life.  That’s right, today you officially become your own Chief Life Officer.  At Lincoln Financial, we’re here to help all Chief Life Officers take charge no matter where you are in life.  So here’s to long weekends and longer retirements, 14-year-olds and 401(k)s, and to passing on wisdom and opportunities.  Of course, this job doesn’t require you to punch any clock, or fill out any time sheets, because life isn’t just about what you make, but what you make of it.  And while your boardroom is more likely filled with family photos than mahogany, we’d be honored to join your inner circle to help you make important decisions with confidence.  After all, the future success of any organization comes down to the one making decisions today.  Let Lincoln Financial help you take charge.

Calling all Chief Life Officers.

I don’t know about you but that call to “all Chief Life Officers” really appealed to me.  Born at the tail end of the baby boom generation, I can appreciate the appeal to my deeply rooted “need to achieve”.

I’m sure if I was in the room at the time this ad campaign was conceived, I’m sure they were aiming for baby boomers just like me.   Chief Life Officer…yup…that’s me   (and many of my fellow baby boomers too).

Great strategy.  Great ad.

Marketing & Positioning the “Second Look” September 30, 2010

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, marketing.
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Talk about making lemonade from lemons, this is just pure marketing genius.  Banks, under pressure to expand lending, especially to small businesses who’ve seen their lending resources just about dry up the recession, have created the ‘second look’ option.  The second look option allows either the bank or the borrower to ask for another review of their loan request after the first time it is turned down.

Ok, let me see if I get this straight.  I ask you for a business loan and you say ‘no’.  Then, if I want, I can say, ‘hey, look a this loan request again, I think you made a mistake’.  On the surface, it seems that this ‘second chance’ on a loan makes sense.  I mean people who work in banks can perhaps overlook something or calculate a ratio wrong, or interpret an underwriting policy wrong, and on and on.

Of course, what borrower, after getting their loan request rejected, wouldn’t want to take a chance on another look from the bank?  They might get lucky.

Of course, the banks are not stupid.  They see the political pressure they are under to lend more and so they realize they can market this ‘second look’ and look like champs.  Wait a minute.  The bank reviews a loan, says ‘no’ and we should be grateful for the ‘second look’?

It just begs the question:  Why didn’t you work to get my loan underwritten and reviewed right the first time?  Why don’t you build the ‘second look’ into the ‘first look’ as a process?

Is the ‘second look’ just a substitute process for trying to get it right the first time?  I believe so.

In the meantime, the banks have brilliantly positioned the ‘second look’ in print ads as the white knight to help turn ‘no’ into a ‘yes’.  It reminds me of the Champion lending ads of years ago:  “When Your Bank Says No, Champion Says Yes”.  Remember that gem?  It built quite a lending empire on the backs of a lot of bank ‘no’.

The marketing of the ‘second look’ is excellent marketing by any standard.  When you can take a broken lending process and thread it into gold, you’re one smart banker.

Online Forums Give Small Businesses Leverage February 20, 2010

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, e-Small Business Resources, marketing.
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Consumer research from the web gives small businesses leverage they’ve never had before.  You name the area of interest, and I’ll be you’ll find any number of places online where people can ‘chat’ about it.  Savvy marketers and business owners have found chat rooms and public forums to be great places to sift though and find  information than can be of significant benefit to their businesses.  Investing some time each week or at least on a monthly basis researching what people are saying in your community of interest is well worth it.  Sure, there’s a good amount of mundane drivel coming out of chat rooms but you can eliminate those fairly quickly during the scanning process.

Online chat rooms are for the most part, unedited conversations of those who have some level of interest (usually deep) in subject at hand.  In between the unvarnished and silly things that people will say, you’ll find a healthy percentage of people who have substantial points or information to impart to others with the same interests.  If you’re in business (and I don’t really care what business it is), you should find enough online chat rooms or forums to keep your interest.

This is especially true if you are a small business owner.  Most small businesses don’t have the resources or capacity to undertake market and consumer research.  The advent of online forums and chat rooms has offered the small business owner the ability to tap into consumer thoughts without having to spend very much money.  In most cases, you only need an investment of time and web access.

What kinds of things can you learn from chat rooms?  First, you can get a sense of what the key ‘hot topics’ of that time are.  What are people talking mostly about?  What seems to make them mad or excitedly happy?  Are they focusing on a specific competitor?  Are they discussing specific products or services?  Are they talking about challenges they face and looking for input?  What are they not talking about?

How can you make this kind of information work for your business?  Here’s how:

1.  Given the large number of online forums where people can discuss any manner of things on any specific topic these days, narrow your scope.  In most cases, the best forums (with the most amount of participation) are the larger ones.  How to find these forums?  Easy.  Just Bing or Google the specific type of forum you are looking for.

For example, if I’m in the fly fishing business, I’d search under “fly fishing forums”.  When I do that, I can find 4,860,000 results.  Stick to the first 20 results and scan those to see which ones have regular participation and have some quality in the depth of the online conversations you see.

2. Social media sites have a tremendous amount of information.  On Facebook, do a search for fan pages that are in your area of interest.  On LinkedIn it’s easy to search for groups and join them to get regular updates on online discussions.

3. Scanning forums becomes easier and faster with practice.  No one wants to sit for hours reading sometimes eye-poking drivel.  Scan each comment looking for key words that you might be interested in.

4. When you find a comments that you feel are worthy of further thought, copy and paste them onto a document and save them.  In one sitting, you might accumulate several pages of commentary.  Copy and paste at will!  In a day or two, go back and review the comments to see if you can spot trends or information that you could incorporate into your business directly or indirectly.

5.  “So might all this information I’m accumulating mean to me and my business?”  Fair question.  Like any other research, you never know what you are going to find exactly.  Surely, you are trying to find information that could lead you to perhaps product or service innovations; new processes for running your business; and who knows what else.  You have to get in the habit of scanning on a regular and disciplined basis and over time, you will see trends.  You will get kernels of ideas that can have an impact on how you manage yourself and/or your business.

Investing time in researching and scanning commentary generated in public forums gives you the opportunity for those “Aha” moments.  “Aha” moments are moments of discovery and confirmation.  Just stick with it and sooner than you think, you’ll be both inspired and challenged by the feedback you’ll see on forums.  It’s time well spent and time that most of your competitors are leaving on the table.

Weatherproof Marketing with President Obama January 21, 2010

Posted by David Dirks in marketing, Marketing Buzz, Public Relations Strategies.
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Take a look at this photo, which I took on a recent trip to Manhattan.  This billboard was placed in one of the busiest areas in Manhattan and it was hard not to catch this one.  It’s actually two billboards with one canted one way and another facing a slightly different direction.

This billboard has stirred up some contraversey but you can’t be surprised at that.  When was the last time you saw a sitting United States President in an ad for a product?  Of course, the President didn’t wear the Weatherproof jacket just to get a posed shot at the Great Wall of China during his fall 2009 trip there.  Former President’s Clinton and Bush could have been seen using any number of products as well.  Clinton was a runner of sorts, so perhaps the running shoe he used or the running suit he wore was fair game.  Bush (W) likes to mountain bike and surely he likes certain brand of bike for that adventure.

President’s photographed using common products is not a surprise here.   The real surprise is that someone had the guts to make it into a very memorable and media-notable billboard ad.  By ‘media-notable’ I mean ‘viral’.  This caused quite a stir and was noted across the country by all media channels.   And that my friends, is just what the NYC-based jacket company wanted to happen.  Apparently, they are pretty good at creating PR ‘events’ (they are too high profile to call ‘stunts’) in order to garner an amazing amount of free advertising and attention on themselves.

This use of the President in their ad was, from a purely marketing standpoint, perfectly executed.  Even if they knew (which they probably did) that they’d have to take this billboard ad down, they won.  More people heard about this billboard, the jacket, President Obama, and of course, Weatherproof itself.

Of course, this kind of media ‘event’  is not everyone’s cup of tea nor am I recommending that any go out and do this same thing based on the brand of shoes he might be wearing.  What I am pointing out is that this combination of advertising and PR event is very powerful.  The billboard is the advertising and the media storm it created was the PR half.  Just Google or Bing this event and you’ll find a trail of material a mile long.  Just what the marketing doctor ordered.

When Weatherproof got the call from the White House, which asked them to take it down, Weatherproof figured out a way to keep their billboard up for another two weeks.  How did they do that?  They pleaded their case that it would take at least two weeks to put up a new billboard to replace it.  Brillant.  Another two weeks of exposure.

The lesson here:  thinking outside of the box on ways to create media-friendly events that draw attention to your business (in a somewhat positive way of course!) is the name of the game.  For whatever money they spent on that billboard in the middle of mid-town Manhattan, Weatherproof received many times more exposure for its jackets on a NATIONAL basis.  I can only guess that their website generated a lot of activity and will for some time.

Weatherproof Jacket: $599.  Billboard featuring President Obama wearing a Weatherproof Jacket:  Priceless.

Shifting Your Business Strategy – 2 August 20, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, marketing, Recession: How to Beat It!, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Solving Business Problems.
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David DirksIt would be the understatement of the year to say that the auto industry has been literally crushed under the weight of too much production for too little demand.  The auto industry problems are not just isolated to demand issues.  Despite being the worst car buying market than we’ve seen in a few decades, there is one car company that seems to be profiting from the ravaged auto market.  It’s also a car company that few would have thought would make it and it’s called Hyundai.

My first introduction to Hyundai was back in the early 1990’s when Hyundai was still a brash newcomer to the American buyers.  It’s appeal to me back then was the same appeal it has today:  cars available at a great price.  There was only one problem.  I saw the problem first hand at a Hyundai dealership when the salesman started the engine and smoke began pouring out the the engine.  The salesman wasn’t fazed but my wife and I were aghast.  Where is the smoke coming from and why?  Without missing a beat, the salesman told us that there was some paint from the factory that had to sometimes burn itself off the engine block.  Yeah, right.  We left and never looked at a Hyundai since then.  That was a long time ago.

Since then and now more than ever, Hyundai has been growing its market share here and in Europe.  How did they do that?  How did they come from laughing stock of the auto world to respected car manufacturer?  How did they manage to introduce a luxury car, Genesis, that actually won the Car of the Year award?

They did it by shifting their business strategies.  Notice the emphasis on ‘strategies’ in the plural.  Over the years, Hyundai recognized that it needed to be more than a car company that built & sold cars at low price points.

The first issue they attacked was quality.  Their manufacturing processes caused them a huge amount of grief and consumer distrust of the their brand.  Over time, they dramatically improved quality in their manufacturing processes.  Then, to attract buyers back to their showrooms, Hyundai did the unthinkable at the time: offering a 10-year, bumper-to-bumper warranty on every car they sold.  In effect, they basically guaranteed the quality of their cars for the life of the car.  This when the industry standard was 36,000 miles.  This strategy went a long way towards getting their customers back into the showrooms and buying cars again.

More recently, to encourage buyers back into their showrooms during the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, Hyundai brought out another big gun and shift in strategy.  Many took the Hyundai Assurance Program as a marketing gimmick but that soon proved to be untrue.  By assuring buyers that it would take back a leased or purchased vehicle in the event of the customers job loss, Hyundai took another big step towards growing marketing share.

Here are some of my takeaways based this continuing success story:

1.  Acknowledge your weaknesses and actually fix them.  Hyundai suffered initially with awful quality problems that make their cars the butt end of late-night comic routines.  While offering cars at some of the lowest price points in the market was their basic strategy, they had to shift emphasis on quality.  That meant shifting large amounts of resources within Hyundai to insure that quality was more than job #1.  Hyundai gets great credit for recognizing a key weakness in their strategy and fixed it.

2. Create market differentiation by communicating your strategy shift clearly and loudly.  Hyundai introduced its ground breaking ’10 year, 100,000 miles’ warranty to insure people understood it was serious about quality.  It set a new bar on auto quality and Hyundai wasn’t afraid to put serious marketing muscle behind it.

3. Business strategies can always be fine-tuned.  Staying true to its mantra of offering lower priced cars versus almost any other manufacturer, it entered the luxury market with it’s now highly acclaimed Genesis.  The Genesis is a true luxury automobile but offered at one of the lowest price points on the market compared to similar luxury models from competitors.

4. Do more than your competitors to differentiate and strengthen your market position.  When economic hard times hit, Hyundai hit back with its Hyundai Assurance Program.  That kind of groundbreaking marketing strategy was just what the Doctor ordered to bring more buyers into the showroom.

Hyundai stayed the course on its purpose to build cars and sell them at low price points.  It shifted it’s business strategy to insure that it could deliver on that promise and sell cars to satisfied customers.  That’s a long way from its charred introduction more than 20 years ago here in the U.S.

How to Position Your Business in a Recession May 29, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, marketing, Marketing Buzz, Recession: How to Beat It!.
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David DirksIf you want some great examples of marketing into the headwinds of a recession, look no further than the states of Michigan and Texas.  Michigan, a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country because of a devastating hit in the car industry which is still unraveling as we speak, is marketing itself with gusto.  Have you seen the TV ads touting Michigan as a place to expand your business?  Or the full page ads in leading business publications like Inc. magazine?  I have and I’m impressed.

Texas is undertaking the same type of marketing campaign to spur economic development in the state.  So, while the world seems to be reeling from the brink of a complete economic meltdown (it isn’t over yet), these two states are spending some serious coin promoting their economic development opportunities.  Are they crazy?  Yes, crazy like a fox as the saying goes.

If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know that my strategy is to maintain a marketing investment in your business no matter what the economic times.  What Michigan and Texas are doing is taking advantage of the fact that they are about the only two states that are investing in marketing at this time.  This at at time when both states are facing major budget deficits.   The investment that these two states are making is an investment into their future.  Here’s what will happen.  When the economy eventually returns to the positive, Michigan and Texas will be what we call ‘top of mind’ in the minds of businesses who are looking to expand their facilities and operations.  They are literally planting seeds of future economic development in their states when everyone else is holding back.

Planting seeds of future business through a consistent marketing investment is much like a farmer planting seeds for his next crop.  After planting the seed, nothing much seems to be happening on the surface.  Days will go by and you won’t see anything coming up through the soil after the seeds have been planted.  Does the farmer worry?  Nope.  The farmer knows that underneath, where the naked eye cannot see, the seeds are germinating and beginning to expand.  Soon, when the time is right, the seeds transform into plants.  In time, these plants produce the material which can be harvested.

The same goes for what Michigan and Texas are doing now with their marketing campaigns.  They are planting the seeds of their own future success and, like the farmer, are doing so because they know that they know the seeds will eventually produce a fruitful harvest.  In the meantime, most other states are holding back on the planting of any seed and not able to look beyond today’s dire budget crisis.

My own state if New York, with its own budget crisis, has taken the other road and has disappeared from the economic development map.  They’ve even cut back on the amount of personnel focused on growing its business base in the state.  On the surface, it looks like New York has no choice but to cut its own marketing investment in economic development because of a huge budget deficit.  What will really happen is that yes, the state will save a few bucks today but pay a larger price in the future when the economy starts to roar back (I’m an eternal optimist!).  New York state will be trying to play catch up but will find itself behind the curve and behind states like Michigan and Texas in terms of attracting businesses to their states.

Michigan and Texas do what the Big Dogz of top performing companies do as a routine: they invest in themselves regardless of what the economy is doing knowing they will reap a larger reward in the near future.  It’s a lesson that all other states should heed.

PS:  Another thing about Michigan and its current marketing campaign.  They use actual success stories in their ads to validate their positioning that Michigan really gives businesses “the upper hand”.   That’s another feather in their cap.

Webinars: The Ugly, the Bad, and the Good May 15, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in marketing, Marketing Buzz, Recession: How to Beat It!, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Sales Tactics.
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David DirksAs a marketer, I just love the internet for the power that it allows us to harness and leverage.  It allows us to conduct market research, design market strategies  and tactics, create products & services, interact with our customers, check up on our competitors…and more.  All this in a collaborative package that allows us to share and exchange ideas freely and across the world.  The impact of the internet on marketing alone is just breathtaking.

One outgrowth of web marketing is the webinar.  It comes in all kinds of flavors but after having sat through more webinars than I can count over the past two years, they only come in three basic flavors.  The ugly, the bad, and the good.  And yes, I reversed the old cliche!

The ugly webinar is ugly because it’s execution is ugly.  The presentation is enough to make your eyes bleed.  The facilitator sounds like they just pulled a stranger off the street and gave him the controls.  Ugly webinars are ugly but I won’t necessarily hang up.  Being the optimist that I am, I’m always hoping that I’ll be able to find enough kernals of insight and knowledge that it is worth sitting through this thing.  It’s a risky proposition but sometimes I get lucky.  Even if I attend a really ugly in-person seminar, I’ll work hard to find information I can put to good use.

That brings us to the bad webinar.  These webinars are bad because they oversell the benefits of what you’ll ‘learn’ and package it in a very well design webinar.  The only problem is that there’s no ‘meat’ in this webinar.  It was put together by some marketing and sales people who said to themselves, “hey, we can take our sales brochure and turn it into a webinar.”  These guys want to ride the wave of webinar popularity and get in on this thing too.  For those of us listening and watching this webinar, we smell a rat.  They’ll tell you there is meat in this webinar but all you’ll get is processed cheese.  After about 30-60 seconds of the bad webinar, you can safely hang up.  The bad webinar is bad not because it doesn’t look good or the facilitator isn’t professional, it’s because they created the Gordon Gecko of webinars.  All grease, well-dressed, slick, and very thin on character.

I’ve saved the best for last.  The good seminar is good because it delivers a meaty presentation that is full of excellent insights and information.  Makes you think about things differently.  The good webinar delivers on what they promised in their email pitch.  I feel like they actually went above and beyond that.  I could pay for the good webinar because it over-delivers and blows my expectations out of the water.  The good webinar is well designed and presented in a concise and well facilitated manner.  A really good webinar gives me a nicely designed workbook that I can keep as well.  Although there is a timeframe for the good webinar, nobody seems too worried and they answer almost all the questions that we listeners have.  Do they sell?  Sometimes yes and sometimes no.  If they do sell during the webinar, the % of information to sales pitch is about 90%/10%.

If I was to put a number on where I think all the webinars I’ve attended fall into it would look like this:

Ugly Webinars: 40%

Bad Webinars: 50%

Good Webinars: 10%

Yup.  That’s about where they stand.  As usual, there are only a few who really understand that we, the participants, are not as stupid as we look.  We can smell when something is bad and we can see when something is ugly.  That makes those who have good webinars stand out from the crowd.  That’s called differentiation.