Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Price of Friendship

September 26, 2014

Over the years, I have been approached by family and friends to loan money.  Being generous in nature, I usually have made the loan.  Typically there was a signed legal document. In rare circumstances, I relied solely on the personal integrity of the borrower.  To date, not a single one of those people has ever repaid the loan made.  

Most recently, and the prompt of this post, is the story of J’Amy Owens.  If you Google her name, you will find countless hits noting her as a “retail guru”, a “Diva of Retail” and currently a “Meat Activist” and the CEO of a publicly traded company, Bill the Butcher.  She once graced the cover of Inc. Magazine under the headline “Sales Guru to the Stars”.  Even such illustrious credentials does not preclude one from being a deadbeat.

With the same Google search you will also find numerous mentions of her name in association with lawsuits between business partners, former business partners and former spouses.  There is even a lengthy report on RipoffReport from a retail consulting customer who describes being “ripped off” by J’Amy Owens.

The fact that past and ongoing relationships with J’Amy Owens seem to result in some sort of legal action being taken against her should have been a warning to me.  However, my relationship and loan to J’Amy predates her string of legal troubles.  In fact, it was at the start of these many legal battles that she called me pleading for a loan to pay her attorneys.  I viewed her as both a friend and someone who has always managed to earn a good living and therefore likely to be able to repay the debt.  So I foolishly wrote 2 checks, each in the amount of $25,000 to her law firm for her benefit.

To be fair, she did repay a total of $10,000 of the $50,000 loaned.  She has never failed to acknowledge the debt, in fact, I have dozens of effusive emails with expressions of gratitude and indebtedness such as these:

Everyone got paid (783k!) before you, my gracious highness of patience.

I want you to make money on this loan, and not feel bad, so please do NOT think I am going to do anyrhing but pay you WHATEVER YOU WANT.”

“I am seriously past due with you on all accounts and would like to meet over a bottle of something wonderful (my treat) and give you an update.

Your investment (loan of grace and mercy) is ridiculously embarrassingly- in- the- rears at this point but you should know that even though it is diliquent, it is NOT something needing writng off…….as I am occassionally pitiful but NOT a diliquent.”

Yes, she lives in a lovely apartment according to this Jolkona article.  Yes, she is proudly the CEO of a publicly traded company, Bill the Butcher, as you can see in this YouTube video– yet despite these emails and many more in the same vein, she still owes me $40,000 plus reasonable interest totally about $66,000.  When I actively began contacting her to set up a repayment plan, her silence has been deafening.  Emails ignored.  Facebook messages ignored.  LinkedIn message ignored.  Phone calls to her cell phone ignored.  Snail mail letter ignored.  Letter hand delivered via a process server from my attorney also ignored.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy reason for sharing this is to serve as a warning to others – NEVER loan money to family or friends.  You are not doing them a favor, no matter how much it seems true in the immediate.  No matter how grateful they seem at the time, repaying a debt is never a high priority and from my experience – it doesn’t happen.  Even if you have a signed, legal agreement; do you want to be in the position of suing a loved one?  Even a good job and a so called ethical reputation are no guarantee of repayment.  If you feel moved to “loan” money to those you love and value, consider it a gift.  Make it clear up front that it is a gift and never mention it again.  That’s the only hope of preserving a relationship.

As for me, I’ve learned all too well the high price of friendship. 

Social Media Marketing

August 14, 2013

Everyone says “Use social media for marketing.”  Most business people ask “How?”.  Here’s a great “case study” to help you see both the power of social media marketing AND how to tap into it.

My friend, Anthony is known as “Sunshine” at the 6th & Union Starbucks in downtown Seattle where he is a regular.   He was delighted to stop in one morning in June and see he was the “customer of the week”.  He took a picture of the chalkboard and posted it on Facebook.

Sunshine Starbucks 2

Most recently, he posted a photo and a thank you shout out to Sarah at the same Starbucks for the custom drink carrier she had made for him.  Of course that was proudly shown around his office – the largest hotel in downtown Seattle!   No one at the Starbucks knew that though.  Nor did they know it would make the rounds on Facebook and be featured in my business blog.

Custom Drink Carrier

Did I mention that “Sunshine” has over 600 Facebook friends?  When you start doing the math exponentially of all the friends friends, well, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that some mega word-of-mouth advertising.

So how do YOU tap into this sort of social media promotion for your business?  First, you have to WOW the customer.   Making a personalized drink carrier certainly qualifies.  But so does giving recognition to regular customers in the form of the “Customer of the Week” chalkboard.  Such a tool encourages team members to get to know customers well enough to feature them.  Any time you can make a customer feel “special” they will tell their friends.  In today’s world, that usually includes social media.

I don’t expect that all my readers will be able to cut and paste this case study instantly into their businesses.  My goal in sharing it though is to get you thinking about ways you can WOW your customers and encourage natural social media sharing.  

New HaircutCan you take pictures of customers in their new cars,  post them on your dealership’s Facebook business page and send them the link to share?  What about in front of the new home you just sold them?  The garden you just planted at their home?  The new haircut you just gave them?

Are you getting some ideas?  Great!  Now get busy creating some buzz!

If Only I had Known

July 10, 2013

If you are in business, there is simply no excuse for not addressing negative comments posted on the internet regarding your products, services or company.  When I recently said this in a speech I was giving to a professional group it prompted the question:  “How are we supposed to know the negative feedback was posted?” and “Who has time to monitor all the possible sites where feedback can be posted?”

ImageBoth very good questions I answered there and am answering here for those who weren’t in the audience.  

There is a simple tool called a “Google Alert”.  When set, it will notify you in your email that the words you entered appear in a blog, article or feedback forum.  There is also a link so you can click right through to read the comment in full and reply as necessary.

First visit the Google Alerts Home Page.  Then in the “Search Query” field, enter your business name, your personal name, key products you sell – whatever you want to be notified of .  Next is “Result Type”.  Select “Everything” using the drop down menu.  Then “How Often” – Once a day is probably sufficient.  “How Many” is the next question.  I select “All results”.   Lastly, designate the email address you want the alerts to be sent to.  If it is a Gmail account, you won’t have to “verify” the address.  If it’s another address, look in your inbox to confirm your email address as valid.  You will need to set multiple alerts – one for each key word or name you want to monitor.

sc-blog-google-alerts-screen1

This is the same “home page” you would go to to adjust alerts, add a new one, delete one or change the settings.

In the beginning, I think the senior person should receive and monitor these alerts to get a sense of what is being said about your business on line.  Later, if there is a person you want to be tasked with replying on behalf of the company, you can put their email address on the alert.

Should you reply to all negative feedback?  YES!!!!  Even if all you say is “I’m sorry for your experience and we will strive to do better in the future.”  Negatives reviews left unanswered imply not only are you providing less than stellar service, but that you don’t care!  If you missed the recent guest blog I posted on this topic, you can read it here.

Beyond the name of my business,  why would I set an alert for anything else?  Your personal name should have an alert along with any key employees.  Products you sell or represent would also be useful.  Perhaps even a competitor…

If you are not a manager or business owner, you still should set an alert for your personal name.  If you are in sales, knowing what is being said on line about products you offer and even your competition, could prove advantageous.

You may also find that all that is posted is not negative!  You may find positive articles about your products, companies you represent or even your own company.  These gems can then be linked to your company’s website, Facebook business page or just used in conversation with customers and potential customers.

Word of mouth is still the single greatest form of advertising and on line reviews have become an extension of this valuable asset. With such an easy to use tool at your disposal – and a FREE one at that, there is simply NO REASON to NOT know what is being said about your business on line.     

Creative Business

November 28, 2012

Many artists have not yet realized they are also a business.  If you are in a creative field and want to be more than a starving artist, its important to know how to woo and keep customers.

Every year the Women’s Board of the Arizona Kidney Foundation  hosts an Authors Luncheon.  A thousand women (my sister and I included) fill the ballroom at the Biltmore in Scottsdale.  Each of the invited authors has about 10 minutes to speak.  Both before and after the lunch, a bookstore is open to sell books and the authors are available to sign them.

Could you maximize the opportunity described if presented?  Would you be comfortable talking about what you do for 10 minutes?  Sharing what inspires you?  Amusing stories of your struggle?  Most artists not in one of the performing arts,  find these interactions challenging.

Just as you can perfect your craft, you can perfect your interpersonal skills too.  Enlist a friend or pay a  speaking coach to help you if needed.  Whether at a podium in a ballroom, a gallery during a showing or at a dinner party- sharing these tidbits is the secret to wooing customers.

Most of us would love to be able do to what you do but God gave us all different talents.  Let us peak behind the curtain of your world and we will enthusiastically sing your praises. In the business world that’s word of mouth advertising and nothing is more powerful.

That is true whether the word is positive or negative.  Three years ago, one of my favorite authors was featured at the charity luncheon. I was so excited!  While getting my armful of books signed as holiday gifts for family and friends I gushed that I really loved his work and  looked forward to each new adventure.

His response?  “What do you want written in these?”. No acknowledgement of my comments and a “didn’t want to be bothered” tone. I was so disillusioned and, while I still read his work, I wait for paperbacks rather than buying hard covers as soon as they come out.  I don’t give his books as gifts and don’t recommend his books to friends who ask what I’m reading.  It also makes me a little sad each time.
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Contrast that with Brad Thor at this year’s event.  I gushed, talked too fast,too much and generally made a fool of myself.  His response? He listened, laughed, talked, posed for a picture with me and most important – he thanked me!  How many people do you think saw the picture and heard the story?  Friends have been texting, emailing and posting that they picked up a copy of his new book, Black List and are loving it!

Authors, painters – artists of all types,  practice simply make eye contact, smiling and saying “thank you” when we compliment your work. Once you master that, feel free to add “People like you make it possible for me to do what I love.” Acknowledging the valuable role your customer plays is a sure way to earn their loyalty and their referrals which will allow you to  do what you love for many years to come.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

September 26, 2012

We all get asked to do a million things.  Personally you get asked to host a direct selling party, chauffeur the youth soccer team or watch your neighbor’s child.  Professionally you may get asked to be on the committee planning the holiday party or to walk as part of a team for a charity event.  As a business owner you likely get asked for donations for school auctions, local charities and more.

I won’t begin to try to offer guidance on the personal front, but I will weigh in on the professional and business owner matters.

If you work for a company and get asked to do anything that is not illegal, immoral, dangerous to your health or takes place on your spouse/child’s birthday – accept!   It’s always good to be seen as a “team player” and the opportunity to network outside your immediate work circle has many career benefits.  Few companies have so many of these extra-curricular activities that it will be a huge imposition and the investment of time and energy will be noted by those in positions of authority within the organization.

As a business owner, it’s a trickier question.  Because you are not on anyone’s payroll, time is money – if you aren’t working, you likely are not making money.  When asked to do something that takes your time, you have to weigh the cost.  How big is the time commitment?  Is it during your peak period or can you volunteer during a slow time?  How could this time investment pay off in terms of future business?  Will you be exposed to potential new customers?

The same is true for all the requests to donate to both charity and local school auctions.  When asked, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the attendees to the event as the event itself.  Are the attendees your target customer?  

My husband and I once bought an introduction to ballroom dancing package at a the JDRF silent auction, enjoyed the experience so much we paid for lessons for the next 3 years.  In that case, the donation was certainly worth the cost!

If  the potential customer base is a good fit but your services are too expensive to give away, can you offer an “introductory” item?  Perhaps a brief consultation and then discount for services?  How about an hour of work or credit of an hour towards a package purchased?

If it’s not feasible to give your exact goods or services away – is there a related item you can offer instead?  At Sleep Country USA we couldn’t possibly give away a mattress to every group that asked, but we purchased quantities of king-sized sheets to donate along with a logo mug with our Gosanko logo chocolate bars.

Whenever you donate your time or merchandise – make the most of the exposure opportunity.  If you work for a company and participate in an event, be sure to introduce yourself to everyone there you don’t yet know.  If you are a business owner who provided the floral centerpieces for an event, have the group give you a ticket to attend and then network like crazy!

As with the dance lessons, if the new customer comes to you from a charity auction donation – give them a “wow” experience.  Thank them for supporting the community with their purchase (they did spend $$ to buy your service even if you didn’t get the cash).

Also, don’t hesitate to say “no” when the situation doesn’t fit for you.  Explaining that you get a lot of requests and allocate only so much each year for donation is a graceful way to decline.  Remember, no one can solve all the world’s ills.  If the cause is near and dear to your heart – go for it.  If not, weigh the cost to your business and make a business decision about where, when and how much to give or you may not be around to give again next year!

Subtle Selling

August 22, 2012

There are a lot of not-too-subtle forms of selling in the world.  I’ve even been accused of being one of those in the past (smile).  As much as you claim to “hate” advertising, in fact, we like it when it’s done well and in reality, we respond even when it’s not!

When we like it?  Think Super Bowl ads.  Think clever ads you have shared and posted.  Think jingles and slogans that have become part of our culture, “can you hear me now?”

There are also a lot of more subtle forms of selling that any business can do because they are not as costly as the production and airtime of those other forms of advertising.

Here’s a great example:  I was recently shopping in Marshalls, a discount store, I was impressed by the revamp they had done on their fitting rooms.  Not only were they clean and bright, they had some GREAT subtle selling features!

First thing I noticed, over the mirror was this great signage.  Positive reinforcement of a consumer’s choice is always a good way to sell!  

Next, the hooks each had a plastic, printed plate behind them like that said “Definitely” “Probably” and “Tomorrow”.

Notice all of the sorting options are positive – even the “NO” is framed as “Tomorrow”.  The “maybe” was worded as “Probably”.  Subtle differences but selling differences none the less.

Even the number card they give you as part of security when you enter the fitting rooms was a subtle sales tool!  Sure, we all know the number is there to reduce shoplifting – 4 items in means 4 items out or we call store security.  They didn’t give up the numbered system, but look at the wording on the card!  In addition to a number, they added a few unique words of subtle selling.

In reality, other than what they likely paid for the creative genius to come up with this, what was their actual investment?  The decal at the top of the mirror? Some plastic printed plates to put behind the hooks?  A few words on the number cards?

Who could utilize these great ideas immediately?  Of course, any clothing or specialty store but what about gyms, yoga studios – places where people are not always looking their best in an effort to be their best?  Positive reinforcements here could generate both referrals and renewals.  How about on the ceiling over the dental chair?  Any place we’d really rather NOT be could probably benefit from some positive reinforcements.

Where in your business could you introduce a little subtle selling?  Is the wording on all your materials positive and sales inducing?  What about your website, social media, emails?  Is everything worded to encourage and reinforce the wisdom of customers to do business with you?

Have someone not as familiar with your materials look them over for a candid review.  Create your own “focus group” of disinterested parties to give you feedback – not necessarily on what you are offering – but HOW you word what you are offering.  Be sure to ask the critical question, “How did it make you feel?”

Say it – Own it

April 25, 2012

A long time ago, a marketing genius taught me that what you say, you own.  Meaning if you “say” in your advertising that you offer same day service, pick your own time deliveries, a price match guarantee, recycle to area charities – whatever – you will “own” that feature in consumers’ minds.  Doesn’t matter that 10 other competitors may already do the same things, it’s what you “say” that you “own”.  Even if others later point out they do it as well – or have always done so, it makes them look like “me too”.

So what do you offer customers that would entice them to do business with you?  On a recent call to Citibank to activate my new American Airlines Mastercard, the phone was answered with: “Thank you for calling Citibank Card Services, this is Aaron in Kentucky, how may I help you?”

Yes, you read that right – a call center – in the United States – and they said it as they answered the phone!  Say it – own it!

Off continent phone centers have been an irritation to customers to the point of becoming joke fodder for comedians.  Citibank didn’t just address it, they make sure we KNOW they addressed it.  Before I got off the phone I commented to the service agent how pleased I.  Not just because they were US based and providing jobs right here at home but because they said it up front.  I pointed out that this is a tremendous competitive advantage which is exactly what the employees were told when given the new phone greeting script.

Have you done something to eliminate a pet peeve of customers?  Do you tailor a service to their needs?  Do they know it?  Is it prominent in your marketing – print, on line, electronic, social media and more?  Do all your team members know and articulate it clearly at every opportunity?  Do they understand WHY?   Why you do what you do and why you talk about it?  Not just salespeople – but everyone?  

Pick one unique benefit and make it your focus for the next 30 days.  Then move on to another.  After you’ve done 3, rotate back through the first 3 to insure you continue to own that territory in the minds of your customers and to attract new customers as they come into the market.  Say it – own it.

Lowering the Flag

April 18, 2012

Flying the Flag at half-staff is a recognized way of showing respect for the loss of life of those serving the public.  In March, Governor Gregoire of Washington State ordered flags to be flown at half mast on the day of the memorial service for slain Washington State Patrol trooper Tony Radulescu.

One of my friends, a businessman on his way to the service at the Kent ShoWare Center drove past a popular fast-food restaurant and noticed the flag was not lowered.  The outlet was directly on the route of the service and only a couple of blocks from the memorial.

When my friend called, it became clear no one in the restaurant had any clue that they SHOULD have lowered the flag, didn’t know HOW to lower it and weren’t empowered to do so.

Obviously this was a corporate issue so my friend contacted the headquarters of this national fast-food chain.  Another frustrating conversation ensued with more “clueless” employees.

My friend has now written a letter to the President of this fast-food chain and has personally boycotted the restaurant from that moment.  He told the story at the Easter Brunch we shared with a group of friends and we are all waiting to hear the outcome of his correspondence with the top executive.

I applaud and encourage every business in the United States to proudly fly the flag at your place of business.  I’ve not named the fast-food chain because I don’t want to discourage them from flying the flag.

However, this should serve as a reminder that it’s important to have a simple policy regarding the flag.  It should include replacement when the flag becomes worn, proper disposal of the tattered flag along with guidelines for lowering the flag.  Certainly a national chain can’t stay on top of the mandates of every municipality but local management can and should.   In Washington State, you can sign up to receive an email when the Governor orders flags to be flown at half-staff using this link.

In those situations where an edict or occasion is missed, please train all your supervisors and managers how to lower the Flag and when you get NOT ONE, but SEVERAL calls from customers pointing out the need to lower it – DO IT!  It’s a simple way to show your commitment to the community, honor those who make it possible for you to be in business and bond with your customers.

Mixed Messages

March 7, 2012

Let me say up front that I LOVE Starbucks.   They have mastered not only the perfect glass of iced tea but the consistent delivery of same.  In foreign lands or my own town, I’m always happy to see the familiar green letters.

At airports I determine which security check point to use based on the location of a Starbucks on the other side.  That was the case at SeaTac airport last week.  There I visited the recently redecorated Starbucks near the “A” gates enroute to South Satellite – a no-Starbucks zone.

Have you noticed your Starbucks getting a facelift in the past year?  There’s a lot more use of wood and less of the wall mural type graphics.  Same is now true of the airport location.

Above the condiment counter was a message reflecting the Starbucks mission of sustainability.   One line encouraged the purchase and use of their reusable cups and mugs.   Now anyone who knows me is aware that I have enough of the Starbucks travel cups to coordinate with my wardrobe and rarely am I without one so obviously the suggestion would not offend me.

However, the rest of the sentence says to think about how many trees we can saveDid I mention it was CARVED IN WOOD?  if you are going to talk about saving trees, let’s not mix the message by carving it in a tree!

I was so taken aback by the contradiction that I went over and touched an exposed edge of the board to see if in fact it was wood or some wood lookalike.   It had the same layers you would see in plywood and nothing indicated the materials used were from reclaimed wood.

Then it got me thinking about all the facelifts given to all the Starbucks locations and how much wood was used not to construct but merely to decorate.   Isn’t that a mixed message for a company that tauts sustainability and wise use of natural resources?  I keep thinking that they are pretty savvy folks at Starbucks so all this wood must be recycled in some way but I really don’t know.

It never crossed my mind until I read the copy on the WOOD wall.  Is this really something Starbucks wants me thinking about rather than just how great my iced tea tastes?

What about YOUR business?   Are there mixed messages you send to your customers?   Do you taut customer service and yet not return calls promptly?   Do you sell the latest technology but your sales team are still hand writing orders?

These mixed messages dilute the power of your brand.  They shift the focus off your products onto the contradiction.   You strive for consistency in delivery of your goods and services,  it’s important to have the same consistency of message as well.

Toot Your Own Horn

February 1, 2012

We are raised to be modest, to not toot our own horn but for millions of small businesses, effective self-promotion is the secret to success.

There are estimated to be over 600 ski resorts in North America competing for the winter vacation dollar.  When we went in to pick up our season pass at Deer Valley, we were given embroidered hats touting the recognition bestowed by Ski Magazine as “Best Resort in North America” for the 5th consecutive year.  The award has always been prominent on their website, but this year, they are letting us, the loyal customers, bask in the wisdom of our choice as well.

Consumers have long been willing to serve as billboards for brands.  Lacoste takes credit for being the first brand logo sewn on the outside of clothing with their green crocodile.  Calvin Klein is acknowledged as the industry leader who first put his name on the back pocket of our jeans.  Rabid fans line up by the thousands at the opening of new Apple stores to snag one of the limited edition t-shirts given out as part of the grand opening.

The award you receive as a business is validation by outside sources that by spending our money with you, we are making a wise decision.  It gives consumers confidence and helps you stand out from your competitors.  The related publicity can also expose your business to a larger pool of new customers.  

Positive publicity surrounding awards such as the Nobel Peace Prize are credited with keeping alive political dissidents even if it has not succeeded in freeing them.

Have you won an award?  Received industry recognition for your expertise?  Has your business been favorably reviewed in the local newspaper?  On a website such as UrbanSpoon, Open Table, Trip Advisor or Angie’s List?

If so, those reviews, accomodations and certifications need to be prominently displayed EVERYWHERE – in your physical locations if you have them, on your website, your Facebook business page, your LinkedIn page, in your newsletter, even as part of your email signature.

Shameless self-promotion is essential for the success of your small business.  Framed as a “Thank you     for the recognition” you can toot your own horn without overpowering the message that YOU are a great place to do business!


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