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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.

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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.

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.

Free-Analysis Marketing April 28, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Increasing Your Profitability, Recession: How to Beat It!, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Sales Tactics.
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David DirksThe Big Dogz always know how to keep applying what works in almost any market or economy.  They’ll take advantage of marketing opportunities that  other businesses either miss entirely or just sit on the sidelines wishing they had.

Take Scotts LawnService, which is a well-branded and nationally known entity established by the Scotts Company (yes, those same people who make the fertilizer and weed killers you use on your lawns each year).  The local Scotts LawnService in my area sent out a mailer with one simple offer: A FREE lawn analysis.  I believe I get one every year from them.

Their deal is simple.  They come to your home and conduct soil samples that allow them to test for the ph levels of your soil and for other key ingredients that should be a part of a healthy lawn.  That’s the part they do for free.  The analysis is detailed and tells you what you need to do (with Scotts or without them) to improve the health of your lawn.

But there is another key part.  They also include a price quote to provide the service necessary on your lawn to bring it up to snuff (if it needs it).  That doesn’t cost you anything either.  I’m not obligated to do anything with them and they know it.

Here’s the deal:  they know that they’ll be enough people who also take advantage of their price quote to more than make up for those who don’t (and the expense of mailing them).  The old true & tried ‘free analysis’ works time and again…as long as the analysis has some depth to it and isn’t shoddy.

Scotts has many competitors in this field of lawn care.  Anyone with a truck, lawnmower, rake, weed whacker, leaf blower, and some ambition can get into this business.  Whether they are good at it or not is another story.

I’m going to take a wild guess that many of the lawn care & service operators are having a tough time of it right now.  How many of them do you think are coming up with ways like this to improve their chances of survival?

Oh, one more thing.  Scotts also offers a ‘satisfaction guaranteed’ policy.  “…we guarantee you’ll be thrilled.  And if not, we’ll do what it takes to make it right.”

That’s another way to insure you survive.  Guarantee your work.  Between that and the free analysis, it’s no wonder Scotts LawnService remains in business year after year. The Big Dogz always know how to apply the right pressure and do it assured that their competitors won’t.

Promotion 101: Educate Your Customers March 18, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Buzz Marketing: Lowest Cost/Highest Payoff, Marketing Buzz, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies.
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David DirksI always like to review my local paper to see how businesses are handling their display advertising.  I almost all cases, most ads are of the plain vanilla type that your eyes just gloss over.  However, there was one ad that caught my attention.  It caught my attention because it was offering to do something more than sell me something.

What was this ad?  It was from a local paint store called Gervic Paints (www.gervicpaints.com).  They were promoting a seminar called “2009 Colors for Your Home”.   They were promoting something other than the ‘sale of the week’.  They offered door prizes and refreshments.  I later found out that my wife and one of her friends had already signed up for this event.

I’m willing to bet that there will be many interested customers (and potential customers) there and many will walk away with some great insights and ideas for painting their homes.  That’s the idea.  We’ve been telling this story in this blog for a while now.  Sell your expertise in a way that is meaningful and valuable and people will buy your product.

It’s refreshing to see a local business actually promoting itself by promoting it’s expertise.

Beating A Recession – 12: Blow Up the Brick & Mortar! February 23, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, e-Small Business Resources, Increasing Your Profitability, Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz, Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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David DirksWant to save a significant amount of annual expense and increase your profitability…and lower your cost of goods and services so you can remain competitive?  Sure you do.  However, many of us are still married to the concept of having a retail or service space to conduct business. I’m challenging that right here and now.

First, instead of investing dollars in ‘brick and mortar’ retail or service space, invest heavily in transferring your ‘place of business assets’ to your website and create an intranet that allows your employees to work remotely.

The growing trend is for businesses to move their infrastructure investments into creating a better user experience on the web and being able to conduct their business via the web.  Invest and make your website so customer-friendly and seamless to use (navigation and purchase-orientations) that you no longer relay on a ‘physical’ presence in order to be able to conduct business.

Case in point.  I have a friend of mine who recently decided to close down her retail shop that sold hiking and camping equipment.  It wasn’t too long ago that she had expanded her ‘brick and mortar’ presence to increase her retail space.  Then the economy took a hit and gas prices jumped.  She then decided to close the retail business.  However, she didn’t give up.  She had maintained that retail space for over 10 years and had built up relationships with her customers, who were both local and national.  She already had a pretty good website that contained excellent information of value to her customer base.  On top of that, she and her husband have a gigantic amount of expertise (intellectual capital) built up based on years of experience in the outdoors.  Why waste those assets just because the retail space was bleeding the business?

So she decided to invest time into expanding their website so that customers were still able to come and tap into their expertise and knowledge but also make purchases on the web. She is in the process of transforming her business onto the web and creating a customer experience that made them popular for many years.  Note: She’s still refining the website to her satisfaction so I promised her that I wouldn’t reveal it.  Once she is operational, you’ll hear about it via this blog.

Before you say, “So what? Isn’t everybody doing that?”…the answer is no, few local business invest in creating a robust and powerful web vehicle to sell their expertise and products.

Sure, most businesses have a website (and there are a bunch that still don’t!) but the website was usually built as cheaply as possible.  Some are just awful and look like they were pasted on construction paper then slapped on the web (I wouldn’t bother then).

Here are a few things I want you to consider, even though it might creep you out to think of operating your business from your website:

1.  Can I sell what I’m selling now without having to carry the burden of a retail or office space? The common reaction is, “what?  and have no place for my customers to touch and feel the product?”.  Yup…that’s exactly right.

Let’s say you own a health food store.  Banishing the ‘brick and mortar’ seems like a trick, right?  I’m mean, customers are used to coming in and asking you what you recommend for this or that issue that affects them, right?  People like the personal service and the expertise you might have in the area of health foods and herbs that are designed to help with an ailment of some kind.

What if you could create that same personalized experience on your website?  What if you had the ability for people to ask you the same questions in realtime…both online and the phone?  You could ‘chat’ with them and make a few product recommendations.  Then they can purchase your goods either right from your easy to use and super secure website or via phone order.

2. Let’s take a shot at a service based business. No products but selling services.  Let’s say you are a CPA and have a few partners with some additional specialty accountants on the staff.  Most firms of this description would rather jump in front of a moving bus before giving up the office space.  What are they spending on space?  $3,000…$5,000 a month? Whatever it is, it’s a pretty hefty sum and doesn’t include the utility bills, liability insurance, etc.  that tack on additional expense.

Who said you have to carry expensive office space?  You do.  However, I’ll bet most of your business is conducted by phone and you probably meet them at their place of business for the face-to-face meetings that are needed (and sometimes necessary).  But what if you invested instead on the infrastructure that allowed your partners and other expert staff to work from the comfort of their own homes?  Shocking, huh?  I understand that nervous twitch you just got from the thought but I have to tell you that this kind of transfer of ‘conduct of business’ is already underway.

Listen folks, the technology is already here that allows you to work remotely and securely from any location that has access to high-speed internet.

What I’m suggesting here is that you close down your offices and work from a distributive environment.  Need to house files?  Sure.  You could still maintain some dramatically limited office space if you need to house phyisical files?  But what if you optically scanned those docs and made them available on a securely-accessed site, so you peeps could still work?  Yes you can.

I’m hard pressed to find too many businesses that couldn’t make this change from ‘brick and mortar’ retail or office space to a web-based, distributive work environment.

Let’s take a quick look at just a few of the key advantage:

1.  Dramatically reduced expenses (after an initial investment for upgrading your distributive work environment and your website experience) means you have more capital to work.  Freeing up cashflow is critical in any economy, let alone this one we’re in now.

2.  Lower operating expenses means you can re-direct those funds to build up cash reserves, lower you cost of goods/services, hire more people, and expand your product/service offerings without worrying about the cost of doing these same expansions with the limitations of the usual retail or office space.  Note: unless you can arrange drop shipping directly from the manufacturer or distributor of your products, you will of course need to access some physical storage space for warehousing and distribution of product to customers.  Usually that kind of space requirement is far less expensive to maintain than a premium retail space.

3.  No geographic limitations anymore.  Wow.  This is my favorite one of all.  The infrastructure investments you make to create a website that is customer-centric, user-friendly and seamlessly allows people to buy from you means you can do business any where in the world.  Think of that kind of website married to a distributive work environment takes the shackles off your ‘local’ business.  You’re not local anymore.

4.  You can now take the infrastructure savings of reduced or eliminated reliance on ‘brick and mortar’ and apply that to a powerful and robust marketing budget to expand both your ‘local’ and web-wide ability to sell products and services.

Take a white sheet paper out and begin thinking through how you could design a way to conduct business without the ‘brick and mortar’.  Force yourself to think it through with the attitude of “How can I do this” versus “How many excuses for not doing it can I come up with?”.

In succeeding postings we’ll take a look at some businesses that have been doing just this…and doing it well.

Beating a Recession -11 February 18, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Buzz Marketing: Lowest Cost/Highest Payoff, Public Relations Strategies, Recession: How to Beat It!, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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David DirksWhat if you could develop a product that could create excitement in your business and elevate your status as an expert in your field?  What if that product could be profitable and help you to get into the door for new business?  And, what if I told you that most of your competition, bar none, might think about it but never really execute on it.  Would you be interested in that?

You should be.  I don’t care if you’re a retailer or service-based provider, you can do more with that stuff that’s in your head.

Are you ready for the product?  Here it is:  write and publish a book. I can’t think of a better way to promote your and your business than by sharing it with customers and future customers.  I know and you know plenty of people who have a great body of knowledge but it’s all locked up in their heads.  In 99.9 percent of the time, it will never see the light of day in a book.  That’s completely your advantage if you commit  and invest the time to write and publish one.

“But I don’t know how or have the time to write a book”, someone might say.  From my perspective, you can’t afford NOT to do it.  In most cases, you can self-publish your book without spending a fortune on it.  As a matter of fact, with print-on-demand publishing capabilities today, almost anyone can publish a book.  I suggest you look at POD publishers like BookSurge (www.booksurge.com).

Let’s get one thing clear here: writing a book is not easy at all.  It takes a commitment of time and intellectual capital from you.  I know because I’ve already written three books and have more on the way.  It takes time and effort to produce a product you’ll be proud to showcase.

The rewards for the effort you make to publish your expertise are excellent.  First, I can almost guarantee that most business owners will never publish a book.  Might talk a good game but won’t do it.  A few might even atttempt it but never finish it.

A book that shares your expertise is a market differentiator.  If you’re looking for a way to survive in the long run and create some separation from you and your competition, write and publish a book.

I have a good friend of mine who is in the herbal business.  He’s already written two books that he sells at an amazing profit margin and he has created for himself a recognition for his expertise.  He promotes his business and his expertise everywhere he goes.  It clearly separates him from the crowd.

I don’t care what business you are in…you can do this.  Landscaping business?  Write a book about tips for keeping your yard looking like a million dollars.  CPA advisory firm?  If you haven’t written a book on a multiple number of topics to help your customers already, shame on you.  Own a resturant?  Share your favorite recipes and tricks/tips for making meals at home that are “5 Star Quality” but economical.  Own a heating business?  Graphic artist?  Whatever business, you need to consider writing and publishing a book.

“But I don’t know how to write”.  Then find someone who can write and help you develop an outline and draft.  If you want to do it bad enough, you’ll find someone who will help.  There are too many tools available out there to help you publish a book (and most are free).

Differentiate yourself from the crowd by sharing and selling your expertise.  I know it won’t solve your immediate problem of dealing with a slowdown in business but the investment of time will pay off in the long run.  Trust me on this, your competition isn’t going to do it.

Beating a Recession – 10 February 17, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in Recession: How to Beat It!, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Small Business Advertising.
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David DirksI’ve written quite a bit about the fact that now is the time to keep some marketing and promotional steam instead of slashing and burning your marketing budget.  This time I thought we’d take a stab at how to bring some discipline to a marketing spend.  I would never advocate spending valuable dollars willy-nilly on just whatever strikes our fancy.

Here are my thoughts on marketing spend:

In-store merchandising: For most retailers, this is worth spending some money on but only if you are committed to keeping it fresh.  Stale merchandising signage is a quick way to see your sales go stale too.  If you have foot-traffic, make sure your in-store merchandising catches the eye and helps to create a sale. Keep it fresh but don’t go crazy and think you have to change it everyday or every week. Change up your merchandising schematic to keep your store looking fresh and a bit different for customers.

Promotional Items: Depending upon your business, most promotional items, which includes everything from branded pens to elaborate tool-like items, are not worth the money you spend on them.  I recently read an article written by someone who owns a promotional items firm.  The title of the article was something about ‘getting an ROI from promotional items’ or words to that effect.  I read the article and was left empty.  The article could give you all kinds of reason for buying promo items for your business but not one way to measure the “ROI”.  You know why?  You can’t very well measure the ROI of promotional items.

Look, here’s the deal: people will decide to do business with you because you offer them something they want or need at a price they are willing to pay…not because you gave them a pen.  When was the last time you bought something and could even remotely connect your purchase to the premium your received?  That’s what I thought.

Instead of buying premiums to ‘promote’ your business or brand, how about investing that money in more advertising or targeted direct mail instead?

Trade-shows: Whether you continue to invest in trade shows is really dependent on two things:  1) the type of business your are in and 2) whether you are able to track the results.  Some businesses, especially business who sell products or services to other businesses, trade shows are very important.

Here are my rules on tradeshows:

1.  It has to be a well-attended, well-promoted tradeshow.  Well-attended as defined as both currrent and potential customers.  Only do the best tradeshows and leave the marginal ones to everyone else.

2. Have a booth that is a magnet for data.  Design your booth so that people will be interested to stop by.  I don’t care if you have a gimmicky game they can play to win a prize or what.  What you’d better do is collect name, email, phone numbers, etc. from everyone you meet.  It works like this: Want to play our great game or win the iPod Nano?  Then give me your information please.

Advertising:  If you’ve been advertising for some time, you should have a good record of which media (print, radio, local TV, etc.) are the most effective for you.  Cut out everything else that isn’t effective.  If you haven’t kept records on your advertising performance, I can’t help you.

Here are my rules for advertising:

1.  If you can’t maintain a reasonable amount of frequency, don’t bother.  If you think running 2 ads a month in your daily paper will help, you’re wrong.

2. Every ad is trackable (in print in particular).  Make sure you offer the customer something in it and they have to bring the ad into the store to get the offer.

3.  Focus on the benefits of doing business with you, not the features.  In my area, there is one indoor shooting range.  The seem to be doing things right buy maintaining a very good frequency in their advertising and sometimes taking premium (like front page) positions.  Good except that they missed the boat to a degree.  Outside of explaining how nice and big their range is, they are flat.  How about a special offer to first time customers?  Or a coupon for X% off on your first purchase?  Maybe a special intro class for those interested in the shooting sports?

4.  Avoid free circulation media.  Everybody seems to like the paper that offers those great ad sizes for almost nothing.  You know why it’s almost nothing?  Because they can’t guarantee anyone is reading the thing.  If a publication has free circulation, run away.  It’s a mass-market rag that is more expensive than it sounds.   Why?  Because the sound you hear in the background are the crickets, not sales.

There’s more to advertising than this but this is a good start.

Direct mail: Do you capture the name, email, and mailing addresses of every customer for every purchase?  No?  Why?  Takes too much time?  Most retailers and other businesses fail this test miserably.  If you want to keep your current customers, one of the best ways is to communicate with them frequently enough where they remember you.

Here’s a case in point.  I recently purhased some furniture at a local store near my home.  It happens to be the place where we have purchased almost everything we own from them over time.  Yes, we check everyone else out but we come back to this store and end up getting better quality at a better price.  We’ve spent literally thousands of dollars there over the years and you know what?  They don’t know us.  They know where we live and have our address but don’t do anything with it?  How about a quarterly newsletter that had tips and ideas on room decoration and furniture care?  Some smart-aleck will say:  they don’t need a newsletter if you’re already coming back to buy from them?  Sure, that’s me but what about the customer sales they lose because they weren’t ‘top of mind’ when it came to a purchase?

So, do this:

1. Capture your customer data at the point of sale.  Most businesses I know miss this one completely.

2. Send them something that keeps your  name in front of them with enough frequency to stick.  I like newsletters (mailed or emailed) but you could do well with a simple postcard with some special messaging sent out once every quarter.

3. Work with a good graphic designer who can help you design direct mail items that are professional looking.  Unless your are a graphic designer, don’t try to save a few bucks here.

4.  Make your direct mail efforts trackable.  If you can’t track it, don’t do it.

Innovation in the Newspaper Business – 1 February 7, 2009

Posted by David Dirks in Increasing Your Profitability, Innovation: Not Just for the Big Dogz, Recession: How to Beat It!, Sales Strategy/Tactics.
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David DirksFor quite some time now, I’ve been watching and musing over the struggle that the newspaper publishing business is going through.  Craigslist has usurped the leading role  of providing classified advertising that the newspaper once held.  They’ve done that by providing free classified ads that actually work.  They are geographically specific and apparently people read them…online that is.

Is online the answer?  Well, I’m not so sure about that in the sense that newsprint websites haven’t solved the revenue and profitability issues…at least not yet.  I was talking to a friend of mine recently who was on the mark when he said: newspapers had a huge window of opportunity to get into the web business years ago but they by and large left it behind.  It was a big window of opportunity that has since been taken over by blogs and other free portals to news like CNN, CNBC, and the like with their online websites.

What’s left?  Well, I think the win in publishing is this: don’t look for a big hit to bring revenues and profitability home.  Everybody seems bent in the industry to find the holy grail that will revitalize the publishing business model.  I have news for you: there is no such thing as a ‘big hit’ here.  The victory in the newspaper business I believe will come from incremental successes.  The victory will be many pieces of the revenue puzzle all coming together to create a healthier publishing model for the newspaper business.

What incremental pieces?  Already in play is the newspaper website that is tightly integrated with the print version and produces some level of revenues.  The cost to publish online should in fact be quite minimal compared to the infrastructure necessary to print a paper.  Selling advertising on both platforms has been well underway for a while now.  Not enough to rebuild the business model but important nonetheless.

What else can you sell if you’re in the newspaper business?  Try this one on for size: CONTENT.  Newspapers produce a ton of content daily, weekly, etc.  The current business model is publish today and forget tomorrow. 

There is always some excellent journalism that gets forgotten and never reused in any purposeful way as soon as the next edition hits the newstands.

Purposefully repackaging selected content is another way to create increment revenues and profits.  You already paid for journalists to create the copy that drives the content.  Why not get additional mileage from it?

How?  How about creating and selling special hard and softcover editions of specialized topics?  What editions?  How about “The HS Sports Year in Review 2008”?  Or “The Year in Review 2009 for (name your town/city here)”?  You could probably find many other specialized areas of interest that could be repackaged and sold in another format.  People like to see and hear about themselves, their local sports team,  in the newspaper?  What kid or parent wouldn’t want to buy the the “The Hudson Valley Sports Review 2008?” as a momento or gift?  With print-on-demand technology today, you don’t even need to keep a large inventory of these specialized editions.

I like the local sports repackaging.  You have basically 365 days of sports content and surely you can find enough great stories to fill a book.

You could also produce other digital products.  Many newspapers today use video to record special events and newsworthy items.  That content is repurposed mostly for the newspaper website.  But who says you can’t produce a ‘year in review’ dvd?  Same concept as the book only this time your adding live footage of sports and news events of the year…couple with some great photography.  What a great way to repackage video footage and digital photographs?  I’ll bet you could create a great ‘year in review’ just based on photography alone!

Yes, it’s the ‘Time-Life” version of repackaging great content to sell another day!

Repurpose your content.  Newspapers are great researching and writing it.  Let’s not waste the work of the excellent journalists who toil to create it.  Repackage and repurpose everything!

What do you think?  Am I crazy?  Let me know your thoughts!