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Roberta Guise advises small business owners and professionals who want to build a profitable stable of customers, save money on ineffective promotions, and through precision marketing, branding, or placements in the media be visible and get known.

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Saturday
Jan022010

How to kick your competitors in the !@#$%*, nicely

There's a nifty marketing technique for telling the world who you are, what you do, how you're different, who you do it for, and why the heck they should care ("they" being your prospects).

I'm talking of course about positioning, and if you've been in business for more than five minutes you've crafted some kind of a positioning statement for your business.

In their classic book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, Al Ries and Jack Trout tell us that "positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect." Put another way, it's about getting the prospect to think differently about your company.

And it so happens that there's another nifty marketing technique for getting the prospect to think differently about you that's less well known. It's called de-positioning.

Whereas positioning is about getting prospects to trust that your company can make their lives better, de-positioning presents the competition in an unfavorable light while showing that yours is the company to buy from.

It's an advertising game that a few Fortune 500 companies have recently been playing (and having fun with) on TV. Take a look at Apple bashing MicrosoftVerizon hitting on the iPhoneApple returning the punches,

 Verizon bullying AT&T, and General Motors taking swipes at Honda .

You don't need to be a big firm to apply the de-positioning principles of big companies when marketing your small business, and it doesn't matter if you don't have bottomless pockets to advertise like them. Instead, you can integrate "us" versus "them" messages into your promotions.

Whether your customers are other businesses or consumers, whether you offer services or own a retail store, you can adapt my de-positioning example to knock the competition without specifically naming them.

To de-position: create a checklist of items that your company does and your competition doesn't. The example I created works for an accounting firm:


Compare us to your current accountant

US

THEM

Free quarterly tax consultations

Yes

No

Free training on bookkeeping software

Yes

No

"House calls" as needed

Yes

No

Free financial planning

Yes

No

Large database of resources, free access

Yes

No

 

You can use this format to compare product features or, as I've shown here, for services.

So when you're ready to redo or create new marketing materials, remember that along with your regular positioning statement, de-positioning can be an effective technique to attract more people to buy from you. And when you do it, play nice.

Roberta Guise works with experts, small business owners and professionals who want to be extraordinarily visible and sharpen their marketing edge. A small business marketing consultant and speaker, she is the founder of San Francisco-based Guise Marketing & PR. If you'd like to know how to apply these concepts to your situation, call for a free 1/2 hour consultation. 415-979-0611. www.guisemarketing.com

Wednesday
Dec022009

Do your services pass the sniff test?

Sometimes it’s little things that trip up a business. Small business owners aren’t aware of seemingly inconsequential defects that affect a customer’s satisfaction, and therefore his/her resistance to buy more or even return.

For example, as a diehard tea drinker I’m often left out in the cold. This is a nation of coffee drinkers, and when I’m at hotels and coffee shops I frequently find a hidden message: leave your tea-loving habit at home.

These places provide a good selection of teas — no issue with that. The problem is with the water.

Too frequently it smells and tastes of coffee. Tea bags — especially herbal — are humble affairs, and I’ve not found one strong enough to overpower coffee-tainted water.

I’m guessing that the water gets run through the same system that filters coffee and you end up with coffee-smelling tea water. I’ve asked for “clean” hot water, but the kitchen is rarely set up to provide it.

The problem is so common that I bring a thermos filled with my favorite tea to meetings. But while that lets me enjoy my tea, it doesn’t fix the underlying problem: the hotel or restaurant is selling a defective service.

Think about the services your customers buy. When was the last time you did a quality check? Are you continuing to deliver on the promise, or has a problem or two crept in? How do you know if quality has inched down? If customers don’t give you unsolicited feedback, I suggest that now and then you ask them how you’re doing. They’ll let you know if you’re lagging.

The best way to get honest feedback is to hire a small business marketing consultant to do your survey. Once you’ve settled on your researcher, let your customers know that you want to ask them a few questions about your services and the value they’re getting. Tell them that they can be completely honest, and that they should expect a call from your interviewer.

When you get the results, look for patterns in the responses. Obvious as this may seem, the response that repeats could be tripping up your business: it could be causing your customers to leave or to buy less from you.

In one customer survey I provided for a client the refrain was: doesn’t communicate well; hard to reach. After getting over the shock that something was seriously wrong, my client quickly set about repairing the two broken issues.

So don’t assume that if you don’t hear about a problem with your services that a problem doesn’t exist. Do the sniff test: if it doesn’t smell right, get out and fix it.

Roberta Guise works with experts, small business owners and professionals who want to be extraordinarily visible and sharpen their marketing edge. A small business marketing consultant and speaker, she is the founder of San Francisco-based Guise Marketing & PR. If you'd like to know how to apply these concepts to your situation, call for a free 1/2 hour consultation. 415-979-0611. www.guisemarketing.com

Thursday
Oct292009

Make Them Jump

I was mesmerized by a recent performance of Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony, The Pathétique.

This brilliant piece of work - Tchaikovsky's last, and befitting the title - has a lot of subtle texture to it, with long periods of string instruments that are smooth, brooding and dark.

Except for a few sections: periodically, the music erupts with the loud, crashing of cymbals.

At the performance I attended, when the cymbals exploded  the woman sitting next to me jumped in her seat.

It got her attention.

In marketing, it's your job to get the attention of your prospects and customers.

So take a long hard look at how you "show up" - do you see how people see you?

Could you be lulling people into a trance, or do they pay attention and want to know more (and become more interested in buying from you)?

A few tips for getting more attention:

Look at your logo, Web site, blog, business card, print materials, and other media.

Make sure that your company's personality shines through. Do this through careful selection of colors, images, layout, audio/video, and the written "messages" about you or your company.

Make your writing pop:

  • Use the active voice; don't say "the active voice should be used" (which is the passive voice).
  • Vary the length of your sentences. Short is strong. It's attention-getting. Balance the short with slightly longer sentences. When a sentence gets much longer, it has a tendency to get more complex, and complexity leads to confusion, which can lead to reader apathy, and you know what that leads to, which is something none of us wants to happen.
  • Write one-sentence paragraphs.
  • Or keep your paragraphs short. Reading on computer monitors, the eye can scan and read more easily with small text blocks.
  • Use words with few syllables. Words with more syllables, or parts, slow the reader down. Fewer parts, faster read.

For a more exhaustive list of ideas for making your identity, brand and messages get anyone's attention, read my article, "How to create knockout marketing materials that get you noticed every time."

Roberta Guise works with experts, small business owners and professionals who want to be extraordinarily visible and sharpen their marketing edge. A marketing consultant and speaker, she's the founder of San Francisco-based Guise Marketing & PR. If you'd like to know how to apply these concepts to your situation, call for a free 1/2 hour consultation. 415-979-0611. www.guisemarketing.com

Thursday
Aug272009

Play with fire if you dare

In the old world order, companies were like fortresses.

In that old world, before the Internet, blogs, and social media such as YouTube, Yelp! and Twitter, your complaints about a big company would echo only in your head.

Today, you or your company’s reputation can go up in flames in a flash, with negative messages echoing across the Internet faster than a lightning strike.

An early sign that technology was giving people a voice came in June 2005, when tech writer and author Jeff Jarvis wrote a post to his blog under the title, “Dell sucks.” Dell dissed Jarvis, he got mad and he blogged about it.

Thousands of people left comments of support on his blog, and word spread. His blog posts ranked increasingly higher on Google.

In August, just two months after his first Dell post, Business Week ran a story about Jarvis’s Dell experience. Dell got the message, and made the needed changes to its customer service practices.

2009 brought us David Carroll’s song about United Airlines breaking his guitar – the song went viral on YouTube. United Airlines also made the needed changes to its customer service practices.

That’s two individuals who had monumental impact on two gigantic companies.

No business is too small to be the subject of negative comments or reviews that spread like wildfire.

Conventional wisdom decrees that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, that all visibility is good. If you believe this, ask yourself how much it could cost your business if disgruntled customers started writing about their experience, and word spread?

In this new world order, don’t wait till fire strikes to take preventive measures. As long as your shingle is hanging out for all to see, do whatever it takes to have happy customers.

That means learning what gets customers upset, understanding how to avoid upsetting them in the first place, knowing what they want, and “calming them right away with words that defuse anger and defensiveness,” says Rebecca Morgan, CSP, CMC, author of the business bestseller, Calming Upset Customers: Staying Effective During Unpleasant Situations.

Customers are a business’s crown jewels. Take good care of them, and they’ll last an eternity.

Roberta Guise works with experts, small business owners and professionals who want to be extraordinarily visible and sharpen their marketing edge. A marketing consultant and speaker, she owns San Francisco-based Guise Marketing & PR. If you'd like to know how to apply these concepts to your situation, call for a free 1/2 hour consultation. 415-979-0611. www.guisemarketing.com

Tuesday
Jul072009

Good things come to those who persevere…eventually.

On Friday the 13th of February, my husband and I were on I-5, traveling from San Francisco for a weekend of birding in Klamath Falls, Oregon. It was the weekend of the big snowstorm of the season that eventually closed this main north-south artery.

And on this day, the California State Automobile Association shamed itself when one of its customer service agents refused to send a tow truck to pull my car from a deep snow bank -- we'd skidded on an icy freeway off-ramp into a 5-foot high pile of snow.

After the car came to its snow-engulfed stop, I called the emergency roadside number. When I asked the customer service person whether we should leave the car running or turn it off, she said she'd need to ask someone. She put me on hold and didn't come back to the phone.

I waited on hold five minutes before I hung up and redialed the emergency roadside number.

The next service rep told me that CSAA doesn't tow out of snow. When I asked what my options were, she told me that I'd need to "wait until the snow melts."

You can't make this stuff up.

After this Orwellian-like brush-off, I called 911. They told me that a passing car had already called them, that they had called the local police, and the local police had contacted the local CSAA technician, and that all of them were on their way to us on the exit ramp.

The CSAA technician was dumbfounded when I relayed to him the service person's claim that his organization doesn't tow out of snow. "I've been towing cars out of snow for triple A for 20 years," he declared.

And of course he had our car towed within a few minutes.

The final insult came when he called in to report the service: The CSAA agent told him that I had cancelled the service request call.

Right: I was going to sit in my car and wait until the snow melted.

I sent three letters by FedEx to each of the three top people at CSAA, to let them know what happened. A member relations person called, and offered me one year's membership for the inconvenience.

When the check arrived, it was accompanied by a letter that called the check a "token."

I called the member relations person to express my disappointment -- did she think that being abandoned in extreme conditions, in my car, in a snow bank, in a snowstorm warranted a "token," I protested?

To my surprise, she agreed that the "token" was inadequate, and asked what would make me happy. Three years membership I said with conviction. She promised to put in the request.

About four weeks later I received another check from CSAA -- this time for almost 3 years' worth of membership.

I give this organization top marks for recognizing that it had a potential customer relations disaster on its hands. They ultimately treated me like I mattered.

Best of all, I was assured that some serious training would be instituted. They had audio recordings of my two calls; as such they were able to locate the two agents who so badly misrepresented their employer and wronged this customer.

Roberta Guise works with experts, small business owners and professionals who want to be extraordinarily visible and sharpen their marketing edge. A small business marketing consultant and speaker, she is the founder of San Francisco-based Guise Marketing & PR. If you'd like to know how to apply these concepts to your situation, call for a free 1/2 hour consultation. 415-979-0611. www.guisemarketing.com

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