I Couldn’t Do This Without You!

500The strangest thing happened at last week’s chamber networking event.

Introducing myself to two women, one said to the other “I know Rob. He’s a celebrity, and very well known around these parts.”

Actually, I’m an incredibly minor celebrity, but appreciated the recognition.

In fact I’m always surprised when strangers greet me. I guess these things happen after 500 columns.

Eleven years after we started our dialogue I’ve apparently developed a following. For this I’m both grateful and nonplussed.

When asked why they read my column, folks typically explain “You make marketing accessible to people who know nothing about it.”

My bride keeps my head from swelling; One can’t have an inflated ego when emptying the trash.

While still unsure why you’re reading this, I do know marketing impacts everyone. It persuades us to try this soap or vote for that candidate.

We’re all increasingly manipulated, and I want to help educate those around me.

And the dialogue has been two-ways. A steady stream of ideas flow from well-meaning readers.

These conversations oftentimes begin with “You should write a column about…” followed by suggestions like vampires, sex, whipped cream, or (yesterday) all three simultaneously.

Which provided a great idea for a novel, but didn’t give me a message for this week.

So how about this: Thanks for your help.

Thanks for the guidance about ideas you’d like explored, researched, and explained.

And thanks for expanding my comfort zone.

Because when you say “Write about Donald Trump,” I know:

1)     I don’t write a political column

2)     I must find marketing angles or a new subject

3)     I can’t portray my personal feelings if I’m going to be honest and fair

So if there’s an issue you’d like to see examined, send in the idea and your thoughts how it relates to marketing, communications, or sales.

Between us, perhaps we can interest others in the community.

Naturally I can’t just write to help promote your business unless you’re doing something really different, marketing-wise.

Unless you’re promoting Panama hats, of course. Then…let’s talk.

But whatever the subject, odds are excellent there’s a marketing angle to it. If you submit it and I write about it, you’ll get full credit.

After all, I’m obviously not THAT brilliant all the time!

With that said, I wish you a week of profitable marketing.

____________________

Submit your ideas at www.askmrmarketing.com.

Learning from others’ mistakes

Toyota’s cars accelerated accidentally. Volkswagen cheated on emissions tests. protest signApple’s phones bent, while Samsung’s exploded.

With the exception of Samsung, these debacles have all been largely forgotten, thanks to time and supplemented marketing budgets.

Stocks and sales have all recovered nicely. While we hope they’ve learned something, business at these companies has largely gone back to normal.

Joining this select group recently was United. Their invitation for the Chicago police to be their public relations representatives on an overbooked flight didn’t go unnoticed.

The video of Dr. David Dao being dragged off the flight was seen by millions around the world. The airline did give him an upgrade, though, with a free broken nose, concussion and removal of two teeth that this passenger hadn’t even requested.

What, no peanuts?

Dao was one of four customers who were “voluntold” to give up their seat after refusing an offer of $800 apiece. He obviously wanted to be on that flight and the criteria for choosing him is unclear. However, it could have legitimately included him purchasing a discounted seat or not having enough frequent flier miles.

Those four seats were given to crewmembers needed in Louisville (325 miles away) for another flight. Apparently renting a car wasn’t an option for those employees.

The airline’s since settled with Dr. Dao, rather than getting dragged into court. They’ll also now offer up to $10,000 for volunteers relinquishing their seats.

But their reputation as “The Friendly Skies” airline is shot.

Meanwhile, Southwest has stopped overbooking their flights, learning from United’s mistakes.

On April 9 United clearly broadcast that their employees matter more than paying customers do.

They simultaneously provided these lessons for the rest of us:

With video cameras everyplace, nothing is secret anymore

Your reputation can be damaged in an instant

Customers don’t care what your problems are. Anyone with a business can adopt these lessons to improve service, sales and profits by not promising more than can be delivered. If you do over-promise, handle it delicately. Finally, trying to shift your problems to customers guarantees you’ll lose business and reputation.

The immediate issue may go away, but is sure to be replaced by bigger headaches.

United has (hopefully) learned that. You should also learn from its screw-up.

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THIS is the right way to treat customers!

Event marketing on a budget

It seems every week there’s a fundraising event aimed at generating support event marketingfor a local non-profit.

Golf tournaments, soccer games, bazaars … spring is the busy fundraising season. You name it, you’ll find it.

All seek to maximize turnout and dollars raised. Most face similar challenges, including:

• Competition from other events

• Miniscule budgets

• Volunteers doing the bulk of the work

Sadly, many volunteers lack basic marketing knowledge. This inhibits effectively spreading the word about their event, helping to conspire against success.

So, as a public service, I’d like to analyze the May 7 Jewish Food Festival at Poway’s Temple Adat Shalom.

This event offers everything you’d expect: food, music, dancing, educational materials, crafts … the works.

Since December, a team of eight volunteers (including me) has implemented a marketing plan aimed at delivering solid results without many resources.

Hey, it’s a non-profit fundraiser. Of course, the marketing budget’s skimpy. Despite that they’ve worked wonders, developing:

• A snappy tagline

• A revitalized web site

• Online event calendar postings

• A twice-weekly campaign encouraging Facebook connections to share news and invite their friends

• Printed signs for placement in area store windows

• Print ads targeting specific local communities

• Publicity appearing throughout San Diego County

• Promotional postcards mailing to homes within two miles of Temple Adad Shalom.

The team also coordinated a food drive with Interfaith Community Services.

Then sales promotions were used judiciously to increase awareness, attendance and participation, with fliers placed in hotels to attract regional visitors.

A mailing campaign was also done to potential sponsors, and in-house publications maintained a steady drumbeat to the most obvious audiences.

Every marketing tool used consistent designs and language. Combining good organization, a desirable destination and comprehensive marketing, current projections show double the turnout from the last Jewish Food Festival.

Has it been perfect? Hardly. Business cards should have been made for those selling program ads and a budget for radio, billboards and TV would have tied it all together nicely.

Then again, they’d probably have had so many visitors that they’d run out of food.

The only disappointment: Someone being reluctant to co-sponsor light pole banners out of fear of associating his company’s name with the word “Jewish” due to rising societal anti-Semitism.

Despite such setbacks, food festival organizers anticipate great results, setting an excellent example for other non-profit fundraisers.

Get more information about this great event at http://www.sdjewishfoodfest.com

Her Quick Thinking Saved My Life!

For years I’ve proclaimed to everyone how wonderful my bride is.two hearts as one

She’s saved me from loneliness, destitution, hunger, the East Coast and memories of countless failed relationships.

Last week she saved me again, with the Heimlich maneuver.

You see, after a pretzel left a dusty trail in my throat, I drank a club soda.

Whoom! The bubbles, reacting with the dust, created a thousand tiny sponges simultaneously expanding in my throat.

I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even choke.

In my mind I was already writing the police report concluding with “Stupid way to die.”

My bride had other plans, acting fast and saving my life.

During his lifetime, Dr. Henry Heimlich’s signature move saved 100,000+ lives. Mine’s now on the list.

Today I joke about laughing at death, but I’ll admit to being scared.

My bride asked me not to tell this story, but this is unquestionably a teachable moment.

Choking can happen to anyone, anytime.

Cliché? Maybe, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

So how does this tie into a marketing column? Obviously, I can’t just celebrate my life partner’s accomplishment and be done with it.

So consider this scenario: You’re having lunch at work tomorrow and a piece of sandwich catches in your throat. Older readers will remember this is how Mama Cass Elliott purportedly died in 1974 (not true!)

A co-worker with whom you’ve clashed sees you turning blue, your hand at your throat. He steps behind you, performs the Heimlich maneuver, and saves your life.

Your associate wasn’t looking for applause, but to you he is now a hero. Your opinion of this person has gone up several notches. Past disagreements suddenly seem trivial.

The message sent and received was that common decency overcame company politics.

Today we’re swimming through a sea of disagreements, with former friends consistently at each other’s throats over every twitch and tweet coming from the nation’s capital.

And perhaps I’m fantasizing to believe that we’re all decent enough to save the next guy, even if we radically oppose whatever he stands for.

But since at the moment I’m still believing in miracles, give me this one. And if you don’t know how to do the Heimlich maneuver, learn.

Because you could easily save a life tomorrow.

With that said, I wish you a week of stress-free marketing.

Reach the newly optimistic Mr. Marketing at www.askmrmarketing.com.

You’re calling it WHAT?

Driving through CoPerformanceUtilitySupply_Underground-Utilities-Home1rona I spotted a roadside sign reading PUS.

Having a twisted sense of humor, I wondered who would want to buy the stuff.

The sign was attached to a company named Performance Utility Supply. They sell hardware to the power and lighting industries.

I’m guessing most of their customers are “manly” men in construction. Their website photo of an unshaven guy wearing his PUS gear reinforces my suspicion.

The company also has a sexually suggestive line emblazoned on their trucks. And if this strategy works for them, who am I to argue?

Still, one has to wonder about the long-term wisdom of this type of gender-based marketing. While today women only make up 9% of construction workers, change is inevitable.

Over the past 50 years, women have achieved parity in one industry after another. In the current political climate, their numbers can only be expected to increase.

All suggesting the eventuality of more women buyers in one of the last bastions of male domination: construction.

It’s no surprise that women oftentimes view the world differently than men. Historically, professional women are less likely to engage in sophomoric hijinks than their male counterparts.

Which all points to women buyers in construction and related trades who will want to be taken seriously and/or be offended by the PUS name and marketing strategy.

Naming a business can be tricky, easily going down the wrong path. Things to consider when you’re naming your business include:

  • How will your audience receive it?
  • How will your acronym read?
  • Is the name exciting, or a compromise reached to satisfy a committee?
  • Does the name say something, or is it just feeding someone’s ego?
  • Are you just mashing words together in hopes of being clever?
  • Do you stand out of the crowd in a good way?
  • Are you merely naming the business after the town you live in?
  • Are you using clichés or obscure words?
  • Is your spelling funky?
  • Can you get a domain to match your company name?
  • Are you budgeting enough to brand your name to customers?
  • Can you admit if the company name is just wrong?

Company names should bring value to the table. The last thing you want is for customers to be offended when they see your business’ name.

Social media never disappears

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Willful ignorance doesn’t help your cause

Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media outlets have become the predominant way of communicating and establishing commercial and personal brands.

Wearing my hat, for example, exposes me to a targeted audience. Blasting its image via six social media accounts increases my visibility exponentially.

However, once something’s published online it’s impossible to erase. So I’m VERY careful what I publish so it doesn’t come back to haunt me later.

Consider this recent item on LinkedIn:

“Damn…the NFL been around longer than our government. We’ve had 50 Super Bowls and only 45 presidents. I didn’t know that.”

She wasn’t kidding!

Her millennial friends agreed with her, while others provided unsuccessful civics lessons.

Logically, someday this woman will want a job. Potential employers will GOOGLE her name and discover today’s conversation.

Meaning today’s willful ignorance could easily endanger tomorrow’s opportunity.

This judgmental attitude isn’t just mine. Business owners following the feed said “WOW!!!”; “The scariest thing is…they vote.”; and “Your education is what you make it, Princess.”

This subject’s appropriateness for business-oriented LinkedIn also raised temperatures. One executive observed “Actually it’s perfect…helps with candidate vetting.”

Here’s reality for you: Anonymity no longer exists in today’s world.

Meaning if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Whether you’re branding a business, non-profit, or yourself, be sure your marketing plan includes a healthy dose of social media.

But remember potential bosses, clients and partners will not only examine your recent postings, but everything you’ve ever written.

And those lurid pictures of you getting drunk, while funny now, will haunt you in 20 years with questions about your character, judgment, and intelligence.

So some unrequested advice for my young friend on LinkedIn: Poor communication skills don’t bode well for being able to market yourself in the future.

Because even though Millennials grew up comfortably sharing their every move with the world at-large, with many not recognizing the importance of privacy, their bosses probably feel differently.

There are six generations sharing the workplace today, and older generations control much of the employment and financing opportunities.

Their discomfort with a “Let it all hang out” attitude may encourage them to penalize anyone unable or unwilling to be “professional.”

It isn’t necessarily fair. But as a business owner, I know it’s a realistic view of today’s world.

Delivering Savings Until Closing Time Today

A man walks into the post office…WONDERUSPS2

Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn’t it?

But there I was waiting to buy postage and I discovered a coupon jointly issued by Hallmark and the U.S. Postal Service.

In truth I shouldn’t have been surprised. For the past few years the Postal Service has been getting increasingly commercial in an effort to overcome an annual $5 billion deficit. And because the USPS is a quasi-governmental agency receiving zero tax dollars, that money obviously has to come from someplace.

So, a few years back they started selling ancillary items like packing supplies and greeting cards.

Then they struck deals to feature animated characters on postage stamps, including Bambi, Big Bird and Daffy Duck.

Today, stamps featuring Wonder Woman can be affixed to Snoopy greeting cards, both purchased at the postal counter.

The tie-in between postage stamps and Hallmark greeting cards is a logical one.

Post offices have a built-in customer traffic flow. Most cards get mailed and need stamps.

What better place to tie the stamps, card, and customers together than there?

Furthermore, free email graphics have been the source of headaches for Hallmark executives for a long time.

If they can sell more cards and pay the USPS a sales commission, everyone wins, right?

Their plan is obvious;

  • Customer chooses a card from the multiple displays in the postal store lobby;
  • Coupon offers $1 off 3 cards if purchased before Feb. 17, 2017 (That’s TODAY, in case you hadn’t noticed!);
  • Customer buys two additional cards and stamps for mailing them

The promotion’s demise date screams “Valentine’s Day,” though any cards sold there qualify for the discount.

Now let’s examine your business. Odds are good there’s a potential partner for you, regardless of what you sell.

Car dealerships can join forces with area gas stations. Bakeries can work with exercise studios, which, in turn, can partner with beverage companies.

The USPS isn’t collecting buyers’ contact information, but there’s no reason you can’t. A list of buyers is incredibly valuable, since:

  • They like what you and your partner sell
  • You have an established relationship
  • They’re likely to buy from you again

Partnerships must be carefully thought out and planned, but can be very successful if done right. Learn from the USPS and develop one today.

How much would you charge?

breakfast sandwichI just flew in from Sacramento, and BOY are my arms tired!

Sorry…I’ve always wanted to say that.

At the airport my bride purchased a “substandard” bagel and “okay” coffee for $6.04. The same counter was selling breakfast sandwiches for $11.

Realizing I’m in the wrong business, I pondered how anyone has the nerve to charge such exorbitant prices.

First thought: Greed. Airport dining options are limited and most vacationers, feeling expansive, don’t bring their own food.

Plus with millions of guaranteed customers, a “Take it or leave it” attitude is almost understandable.

Especially since airport meals typically fade from memory before the next suitcase is packed.

Then I considered my neighborhood’s gas stations. One at the freeway entrance consistently charges 80 cents more per gallon than the place across the street lacking ramp access.

Given the minor differences from one brand of gasoline to another, the price differential must be caused by the convenience factor; the station’s location.

Economics 101 dictates something is worth only what customers believe its value to be.

A bottle of cold water selling for 25 cents at Costco is worth $3 when sold on a hot day inside a football stadium. Customers willingly throw money for the same item due to its increased perceived value.

Meaning we’re witnessing the law of supply and demand in action. The gas stations, airport restaurants, and water vendors are all charging as much as their particular customers are willing to pay.

You too should be looking to bestow some form of additional perceived value on your business. Like the airport, gas station, and football stadium, you may have location as an advantage.

Carrying hard-to-find products, providing amazing service, or making something of significantly higher quality than the competition also helps.

Or just making the experience more pleasant than the competition does might make the difference.

Greeting customers with a cheery “Hello friends!” and playing classical background music for those enjoying a morning cup of coffee, for example.

Of course, the answer to business success changes based on industry, geography, customer demographics, and your definition of success.

But if you can find that one thing that makes both you and your customers happy, you may suddenly find you’ve become quite popular.

Right this way, Mr. Squinty

In September I found myself at a branch of my bank awaiting a receipt. My sd-sdreyer-1485458125-snap-phototime was spent perusing brochures, people-watching, and staring into space. Then the monitor behind the counter caught my eye.

As a marketing professional I’m naturally curious about every company’s messaging. So I watched their video presentation. Twice.

Finally I realized the problem. “The picture’s fuzzy,” I told the teller, who smiled noncommittally.

Last week I visited another branch of the same bank and determined the problem wasn’t my eyes, but the presentation itself.

This time the teller acknowledged the issue. “We said something to headquarters weeks ago and they promised they’d fix it,” she said.

Yet here we are, months later, and the problem persists.

When I started in business, my father advised me to be sensitive to customers’ needs. “People’s eyes start playing tricks on them around age 40,” he warned.

Truer words were never spoken! Shortly after I hit 40 my eyes started acting up, and they’ve only gotten worse with age.

So here I was observing a marketing presentation that was unfocused and giving me a headache.

And the bank’s marketing department apparently wasn’t very concerned about it.

Meaning the message meant to reinforce my warm fuzzy feelings for this bank instead irritated me.

Counter-productive? You bet!

Even if the bank eventually gets its act together, it’ll be quite a while before I’m watching that video again.

Translation: beyond the annoyance factor, they’ve lost a very visible, very cost-effective tool for communicating with me.

And a measure of good will has also been lost because they didn’t pay attention to my needs.

Now let’s consider your business. Do you:

• Know your customer’s profile and their preferred ways of being communicated with?

• Understand their needs to ensure they receive your message?

• Listen to your staff when they tell you there’s a marketing issue requiring attention?

Admittedly I’m not so annoyed that I’m moving my business elsewhere…yet.

Still, I’m now wondering which other concerns of mine they’re ignoring.

And should the competition hit me with the right offer, benefits, and messaging on the right day, I might be persuaded to switch.

All because some faceless person didn’t take the time to ensure quality control at the point of sale.

Tell me a story

Early in October 2007, Mike Miller resigned from the RB Sunrise Rotary Club.aaeaaqaaaaaaaagbaaaajgmxmjrlzjrlltzkntgtndlhyi05nwuwlwy5otrjogfmntixza

President of RB Financial in San Diego, Miller said he was “tired of being nickel and dimed,” with fines for his birthday, wedding anniversary, etc.

Club members wished him well and assumed he’d never attend another meeting.

Two weeks later the Witch Creek fire swept through town. Mike and Teresa Miller escaped from their burning house with 10 minutes notice.

Word went around the Rotary club like…well, like wildfire. And the following Saturday 40 Rotarians and spouses appeared at the Miller property to search for any surviving valuables.

Lunchtime brought one of our members carrying a dozen pizzas, salad and sodas. Mike watched in amazement as a table and checkered tablecloth were set before him.

“Why are you all here?” he asked. “You were in trouble, Mike. We came because you were in trouble,” was the answer.

“But…I resigned from this organization two weeks ago,” he protested. The response; “Yeah…we didn’t accept your resignation.”

Not another word was said on the subject and we spent several more hours helping before going on our way.

Nobody was terribly surprised when Mike returned to Rotary’s 7am meeting the following Tuesday. Crying, he announced “You will NEVER get rid of me; I’m in this organization for life!”

I recount this story whenever someone asks me what Rotary’s about. It explains our philosophy of “Service Above Self” far better than discussing the 1.25 million members in 34,000 clubs throughout 200 countries.

Consider this whenever you’re explaining your own organization. Remember that anyone can quote facts and figures about real estate, but only you can tell the tearjerker about the couple you helped move cross-country to be with their only grandchild.

Stories about larger goals and customer successes you aided are an important differentiator in today’s business world. They show your depth, character, and humanity.

Such an approach multiplies reasons for someone to buy from you. You’re obviously not just about trying to make that extra dollar.

As we careen into a new year and a new reality, remember how much competition you’ve got for every customer.

Now, more than ever, it’s critical to develop strategies for connecting with your clientele. Mike Miller has shown us the way.