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Marketing Monday: Ignore the Box Entirely

24th August 2015

Marketing Monday: Ignore the Box Entirely

thinking inside the boxOne of the pieces of advice that is now so overused it’s cliche is the advice to “think outside the box”.   What this means is to think outside the conventional boundaries that surround whatever it is you’re considering.   It is hoped that the result of this outside the box thinking will bring you to new solutions which will allow you to solve problems and use products in new ways.   The problem with this advice is that it acknowledges there are a conventional set of thoughts regarding whatever you’re thinking about,  and those boundaries can still limit you,  even when you’re trying to think beyond them.

At EnMart,  we don’t just try to think outside the box,  we refuse to acknowledge the box even exists.   Our goal is to create new uses for “old” products,  and to help our customers find ways to use our new ideas to increase their profits.   I’ll give you a few examples, so you can see how the process works.

The first example is one of EnMart’s newest products,  embroiderable stuffed animals.   Most people,  when asked about these stuffed cuties,  would say they’re primarily for children,  mostly used as a stuffed toy or a birth announcement.   The people who would say that aren’t wrong,  that is the traditional box in which those animals have been placed,  but there are lots of other ways they can be used.   A embroiderable stuffed animal can be a souvenir,  an advertisement,   a gift bag,  an expression of love (Happy Birthday/Valentine’s Day/Anniversary) and a wide variety of other things we just haven’t thought of yet.   The only limits on what can be done with these animals are those of the construction of the animals themselves and the method used to decorate them. The potential markets for embroidery stuffed animals are practically limitless.   How about one embroidered with the high school or college name and graduation date for a new graduate?   What about a Greek version of the animals,  with house and induction date for new pledges to a sorority or fraternity?  Whatever your corner of the market and customer base,  there is most likely some new use that can be found for these versatile animals.

As a second example – let’s consider a simple countertop display for large cones of thread.   Most displays holding large thread aren’t designed to sit on a countertop and,  if they are,  they’re generally boxy and unattractive or phenomenally expensive.    When we were looking at options for a countertop display for our Iris poly and cotton quilting thread  we knew we wanted something with a reasonable price,  that was easy to set up and easily portable.   We also wanted something that maximized the use of the real estate it took up in a store.    When we couldn’t find anything that met our needs through traditional sources,  we started looking elsewhere,  and hit paydirt.   The result is our rotating countertop disply,   which holds 54 king cones,  rotates for easy access to both sides,  is easily portable so it can be taken to trade or craft shows,   and is easily assembled.  It’s a new use for a basic rotating display that any quilt shop will be sure to love.

It is always easier,  I suppose,  to stick with conventional wisdom and acknowledge the box,   but the problem with acknowledging the box,  whether you’re thinking inside or outside of it,  is that acknowledging the box won’t get you where you need to go.    It’s often harder,  but in the end far more rewarding,  to forget the box entirely and start with a clean slate and a world of possibilities.   The only limits are the ones dictated by the product and your own mind.

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9th July 2015

Generating Word of Mouth Advertising

telling secretsEvery once in a while,  during an otherwise ordinary conversation,   something that really makes you think will be said.   That’s what happened to me this morning during a conversation with one of our West Coast customers.   We were chatting a bit after he placed his order and he told me he was amazingly busy,  pretty much running to capacity.   Then he told me that the only advertising he has or does is word of mouth.   Satisfied customers tell other potential customers about him,  and when those that have received recommendations come to him,  he provides such great service and product that they don’t want to go anywhere else.  The new customers become satisfied customers and,  in their turn,  tell other people about him and his business.   The cycle just keeps rolling on and on.

What got me thinking is the fact that most business owners would probably kill to have achieved that sort of customer recognition.  For many business owners, word of mouth is the holy grail of ways to bring in business.    On the surface,  it doesn’t cost anything.    There are no magazine ads to design,  no flyers to print,   no product displays to create and hang on the wall.   Word of mouth does not require worrying about hits on a website,  or landing pages for banner ads  or maintaining social media accounts.   All you have to do to generate word of mouth advertising is to provide a product and service that is so inspiring that your customers are compelled to talk about your business.   It’s that simple.   Really,  what could be easier?

Sadly, pretty much anything.

Like the marketing and social media “gurus” who say they can make your video “go viral”,   there are those out there who will sell you a lot of tips and tricks for generating “buzz” or taking your company “viral”.   It’s tempting to think there is an easy way to generate positive word of mouth,   but that isn’t really the case.   If you want people to talk about your company for the right reasons,   you have to do a lot of things right.     Generating positive word of mouth is an ongoing process,  one that may take years to provide full benefit,  and it can easily be destroyed by the surly counter person who provides a customer with a bad experience,  or the production employee who doesn’t pay attention one day when creating embroidered polos.

If you’re looking to generate word of mouth for your business,  the first fact with which you need to make peace is the fact that you can’t force anyone to talk about you.   People generally talk about something for one of two reasons,   either they’re amazed and astonished by the experience they just had or something about the experience has made them annoyed and angry.    Obviously,  most business owners are shooting for amazed and astonished,  but many often miss and score a bullseye in angry and annoyed.  You don’t want people talking about you for the wrong reasons,  so one of the first things you need to do if you want to generate positive word of mouth is to make sure your customer service and production processes are as good as they can possibly be.

Another thing to keep in mind when working to generate word of mouth for your business is the fact that you can’t force people to talk about you positively,  but you can ask them to do so.   It might be as simple as a sentence on the end of an invoice “If you like our work,  please tell your friends”.    You could simply ask current customers for referrals to new customers,  which can be as easy as saying “Do you know anyone who could use our services?”.  You might also consider offering a discount or a rebate to those who recommend you to others.   If you are already providing an experience that amazes and delights,  there’s nothing wrong with asking people to talk about it.   Just be very sure that they are amazed and delighted before making your request.

Finally,   you need to remember that generating positive word of mouth is a marathon,  not a sprint.   It isn’t about providing great product and a stellar experience one time,  it’s about providing great product and a stellar experience time and time again.   Yes,  one good experience may make a customer talk about your positively,   but a consistent string of positive experiences will generate the kind of recommendations and buzz that will keep your shop humming for years.

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7th July 2015

How Do I: Provide Good Customer Service

customer service blocksSome people might think this post should be presented on a Monday,  as customer service generally is thought to fall under the Marketing umbrella,  and they wouldn’t be wrong,  just a bit incomplete.   When done correctly,   customer service is about marketing your business,   but it’s also about a lot more than that.   Providing good customer service requires being part swami,  part teacher,  part disciplinarian,   and part butler.    Your goal is to provide not what your customer wants,  but what they really need which requires the swami to read minds,   the teacher to educate,  the disciplinarian to steer them away from things that won’t do what they need,   and to be firm about why they don’t need them,   and the butler to provide that little extra touch of luxury that allows your customer to walk away feeling pampered and appreciated.   Providing good customer service is a lot about being aware and alert,  and much less about mouthing some tired platitudes about “how your business matters to us”.  Good customer service doesn’t tell your customers they matter to your business,  it shows them they matter.

Peter Shankman,  who gets a lot of things right when he talks about customer service,  says that these days,  great customer service doesn’t require being stunningly awesome every second.   Being better than the rest just requires elevating your game a little bit.   Sadly,  most people are so accustomed to being treated like an inconvenience and enduring terrible customer service that they’ll react to even a modest effort like you’ve offered them a Godiva chocolate in a solid gold box strapped to the cutest puppy in the universe.   Even being seen to make an effort while being unable to deliver can win you points.   We’re all so beaten down these days by companies that basically treat us like ATMs that simply being treated like a human is a refreshing change of pace.

So,  given that we know most companies are providing rock bottom customer service,  and realizing that it only takes a little to be a lot better than average,   the next step is to harness your inner swami,  teacher,  disciplinarian and butler and take your customer service to the next level.   Here’s how that works:

The Swami – You don’t have to read minds,  you just have to listen and be observant.   Customers aren’t always the best at expressing what they need, so you’ll need to read between the lines on occasion.   Being a swami also requires thinking about the orders that come to you and paying attention to what’s being ordered.   If you have a customer who orders consistently,  and their orders are generally the same type of thing,  and then they order something completely different,  it’s worth checking to make sure the order was placed correctly.   Even if they did order properly,  they’ll still appreciate that you knew them well enough to know this wasn’t their usual order.

The Teacher – Teachers educate,  and many of us in the industry talk often about what customers don’t know and how it’s our responsibility to teach them.   Your customers don’t expect and probably don’t want a college level seminar,  but explaining a few basic details can help them better understand what you can and can’t do and why.   Educating customers about the value of what you do,  both in creativity and in dollars and cents is also worthwhile.     You don’t have to lecture,  but taking advantage of a teaching moment is always a good thing.

The Disciplinarian – Anyone who has ever been around a child has probably had the experience of telling them no,  or stopping the kid from doing something they really wanted to do but which was dangerous or not good for them.    I’m not saying customers are children,  or should be treated as such,  but there are times when you,  as the expert,  will know better than they do.   At those times,  it’s your job to provide information that will allow them to make the correct choice,  and to steer them away from the wrong choices.   Sometimes that requires being firm.   The traditional rule is that the customer is always right,  but that doesn’t mean they always make the right choices.   Your job is to help them see where they’ve made an error and to provide them with good choices that will help achieve their final goal.

The Butler –  We can’t all be Jeeves,  but we can provide that little extra touch that makes our customers feel spoiled and pampered.  Whether it’s a handwritten note to say thank you for an order,  or a little extra something thrown in with finished garments,  letting your customer know you appreciate their business doesn’t have to be fancy,  it just needs to be sincere.

Sincerity is probably,  in the end,  what matters most.   If you genuinely appreciate your customers, truly want to provide them with the best products and service you can,   and are willing to put some effort into doing so,  it’s likely that your customer service will be way above average.   It’s also likely that your customers will recognize that,  and continue to be customers for years to come.

posted in Making Your Business Grow, Marketing Monday | 2 Comments

29th June 2015

Marketing Monday: Big Events and Social Media

marketing monday 1Whenever a disaster or a major event happens,  every company that participates in social media has to make a decision about two things.   The first is whether or not they comment at all.   The second,  if they decide to comment,  is in what form they will comment.   They also need to do try and make some predictions about what the potential fallout from their posts might be.   The potential for negative consequences does,  of course,  rise if the event is controversial in some way.    A comment on Mother’s Day reminding everyone to celebrate mothers is probably not going to generate any negative consequences at all,   as the majority of people would agree that celebrating motherhood is a good thing to do.   A comment on something like the historic Supreme Court decision  last Friday can lead into much murkier waters.

Posting about something controversial is always more of a minefield than posting about something on which everyone agrees.   That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t comment,  it just means there might need to be a little more calculation before the comment is made.   Here are some things to consider before posting about a controversial issue on social media.

How passionate are you about this issue or event?  Does it impact you personally in some way?   Does it impact a large portion of your customer base?  Does this issue or event have relevance to you or your company or are you just chiming in because everyone is mentioning it?

What negative consequences could result from posting about this event?   As I explained in the seminar I did at the DAX Show last year,  it only takes a moment to shoot yourself in the foot on social media.   Whether it’s trivializing a storm that caused billions of dollars in damage,   or using a day when thousands died to sell yoga classes or holes of golf,  saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can cause a huge wave of bad publicity.     If you’re going to post about controversial or sensitive events,  you need to be prepared to experience backlash,  and have a plan to deal with that backlash should it happen.

Do you care if people disapprove of what you post?  This circles back somewhat to how passionate you are about the issue –  if it impacts you personally,  or impacts your customer base,  you may feel that the disapproval of some is worth supporting a cause about which you feel strongly.   In some cases you may feel that voicing your support is so important that it doesn’t matter if you lose customers as a result.

The main thing to remember is that the decision to post or not to post should be arrived at in a thoughtful manner,  after you’ve considered all the consequences.   Yes,  in the first heat of happiness or disgust or whatever emotion you’re feeling,  the urge might be to throw something on your company pages,  but don’t give in to that urge.    Take the time to rationally examine your choices,   looking at both the positives and the negatives and then decide whether or not you will comment.   Running through a decision process like this may only take a couple of minutes,   but those few minutes could save you hours of grief.

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4th August 2008

Monograms and Accessories

One thing every business owner should know is the art of the upsell. If you want your business to succeed you not only need to convince your potential customer that they want to buy from you in the first place, you also need to help them see that they have a need for something they may not have even considered. Getting an order for a bunch of shirts is nice. Getting that order plus an order for hats to go with the shirts is even better.

Bags are one big category of accessories that almost everyone needs. If your client is doing a summer t-shirt promotion, you can suggest that they add beach bags as well. If the promotion if for a library or grocery store, bags are a great add on, and one that people will use again and again. Embroidering the bag with your customer’s logo also means that logo will be seen every time someone uses the bag. This is a great way to advertise.

Hats are another great way to upsell an order, and they don’t necessarily have to be baseball caps. There are lots of cute and trendy hat styles that also lend themselves well to monogramming and embroidery. Hats are making a comeback in a lot of areas and some of the more trendy styles are popular with younger wearers.

Scarves and ties are another great way to give your customers a little something extra. Scarves in school colors can be very popular Christmas gift. Ties are a great way to express corporate or organizational unity. Both options are a relatively inexpensive way to upgrade and add some personality to an order.

Another great way to upgrade an order and to add some personalization at the same time is a monogram. The practice of monogramming has been around forever, but seems to change a bit with each generation. Today’s young people seem to like monograms in brighter colors and non-traditional fonts. Monograms are also still popular on linens, towels, and wedding gifts.

Upselling doesn’t require being pushy or trying to get customers to buy something they don’t really need. All that is necessary is to understand the products and processes you have available, as well as how those products and processes can benefit your customers.

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19th May 2008

Marketing Monday: What’s Your Elevator Speech?

Here at EnMart we’re not generally fans of marketing buzzwords.  We are fans, however, of anything that allows us to get our message about our company across simply and easily.  That’s why we’re particularly fond of elevator speeches. 

An elevator speech, for those who may not know, is a short speech that can be made in the time it takes an elevator to get from the top floor to the ground floor of a building.  Usually elevator speeches are just a few sentences long.  The goal of such a speech is to sum up what your business is about in as few words as possible, while still making a intriguing pitch for your business.

Think about it, if asked, could you sum up your business in just a few sentences and still make it interesting.  When asked what you do, is there more you can say beyond “We do embroidery” without saying so much that your listener tunes out halfway through your explanation?  What are the qualities or areas of expertise that make your business stand out, and what would you want potential clients to know about your business if you only had a short time to speak to those clients? What’s the most important thing you would want to say?

When developing an elevator speech, the biggest thing to remember is to make it all about what your business can do for your customer.  Saying “We create embroidered garments” probably won’t capture anyone’s interest.  Try saying “We help our customers publicize their businesses with our premium embroidered garments”.   The first version simply says what you do.  The second version shows your customer what the value of working with your business is for them. 

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28th April 2008

Marketing Monday: Your Business Logo

Most of us are well aware of the importance of a business logo.  It is the identifying mark of your business, so you want something that is recognizable and attractive and usable in a variety of different formats.  This logo is, after all, going to be the identifying mark of your business for years to come, so you want to create something that stands out, reflects the character of your business and which looks professional and unique.

A business logo is especially important for anyone who is the design or embroidery business, since this logo may be the first glimpse anyone has of your work.  Not everyone who embroiderers and prints t-shirts is also a graphic designer, but most customers will probably assume that you have some level of artistic expertise.  Your logo is one way to convince your customers that their designs and artwork will be safe in your hands. 

If you have some artistic talent,  you may be able to design your logo yourself.  If not, you are much better off paying someone to design a logo for you.    If you do have someone design your logo for you, make sure you are included in the design process.  Your logo is, after all for your business, so you want it to reflect your views of what your business is, not the views of some designer who may not know you. 

Once you have a logo, you should also make sure to have your business cards and letterhead professionally printed.  The only exception to this rule, and this is in regard to letterhead,  would be if you have access to an extremely high quality color printer and high quality paper.   There is almost never a situation where professionally printed business cards can be replaced by cards printed on your home or business printer.  Most home printers are not able to handle the heavy stock necessary for substantial looking business cards.  If you are looking for reasonably priced professionally printed business cards, you might try Overnight Prints or Print Place.   Both these places also do letterhead as well.

There are a lot of things to remember when starting and running a small business.  While you’re concentrating on filling orders, and managing your money and ordering supplies,  you should also make sure that your business is presenting its best face to the world. Your business logo may be the first interaction a customer has with your business.  Make sure you take the time to make that interaction as positive as possible. 

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21st April 2008

Marketing Monday: Branding vs. Marketing

Many people, even many who are marketing professionals, are often confused by the terms marketing and branding.  If asked, some people would tell you that marketing and branding are virtually the same thing.  In reality, marketing and branding are quite different activities. 

Branding is really comprised of two things.  One half is the artwork, the pictures, logos and other ways in which your product is visually presented.  Think of the Nike swoosh or the Coca-Cola name written on a can or bottle.  Those images are part of the brand those products have.  Even if you were to place the Nike swoosh on another product, or write another word in the Coca-Cola font, most people would probably still think of Nike and Coca-Cola.  Those companies have done an excellent job with developing the visual brand of their products.

The other half of a brand is the emotional tie that consumers form with the brand.  Volvos are safe cars.  Allstate Insurance will treat you well, because you’re in good hands.  Kentucky Fried Chicken will bring your family together by providing a full course dinner.  This part of the brand may never be stated in actual words, but every peice of marketing that a company puts out will do its best to reinforce this brand.  As all marketers know, a customers emotional relationship with a brand can be very important.

Marketing, the other activity we’re discussing today, is the act of presenting your brand to the world.  It involves advertising and how your logo looks on your storefront and too whom and where you sell your work.  Marketers have the job of selling their product’s brand to the public, and of reinforcing that brand in every communication the company has with the public.  If you don’t have a solid brand, your marketing message can get very fragmented.  If you don’t have good marketing, you could have the greatest brand in the world, but you won’t be very effective when you try to tell people about it.

Although marketing and branding are not the same thing, they do go hand in hand.  Before you can tell anyone who you are or what you business is, you have to figure that out for yourself.  That’s where branding comes in.  Once your brand has been determined, and the visual symbols of that brand assigned, then it’s time to introduce that brand and your company to the public through marketing.

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14th April 2008

Marketing Monday: Do You Know Your Demo?

When a business is first starting out, one of the main things on the business-owner’s mind may be how to get publicity.   Some people subscribe to the theory that any publicity is good publicity, but that isn’t always the case.  Good publicity is the kind that reaches your target market.   After all the people at whom your product is aimed can’t buy what you’re selling if they don’t know it exists. 

One of the first things any business-owner needs to do is figure out to whom they are selling.  It is easy enough to say, “I embroider clothes anyone could wear”, but that’s not really helpful when it comes to aiming your marketing dollars and efforts.  There probably are embroidery businesses out there which do and can cater to anyone, but even those sorts of businesses need to make decisions as to where they will aim their advertising and publicity efforts.  “Everyone” is just too broad a demographic.  It needs to be narrowed down.

 Let’s suppose, for the sake of this post, that you embroider really adorable and unique baby clothes.  If you gave it just a little thought, you might suppose that your target demographic would be new parents.  You’d be right about that, and so you could target your marketing and advertising efforts on parenting magazines, local parenting groups and other venues where you know new parents can be found.  This would be a great start on marketing to your preferred customer, and you might go quite far even if you don’t drill any further down.

If you did drill further down into your demographic heap, you might realize that not only are new parents a potential gold mine, but that the relatives and friends of all the new parents, those looking for a unique baby gift, are also a potential profit center.  With that realization, your demographic widens, so that you can reach this additional target group and hopefully boost your sales.

If you want to market successfully, you need to know and understand your target demographic.  This will help you decide where to advertise as well as how to advertise your business.  If you’re offering cute, whimsical baby clothes, you probably wouldn’t advertise in Popular Mechanics magazine.  Knowing who your demographic is, what they like and where they can be found will make it easier to apportion your advertising dollars, allowing you to get the biggest bang for your advertising buck.

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7th April 2008

Marketing Monday: Getting Noticed by Local Media

One of the best sorts of free publicity for many small businesses may be the local news media.  Every town has at least one local television station.  Most have at least one local newspaper.  Bigger towns and cities may also have magazines that cover the local scene, or newspapers devoted to local business.  If local business owners take a moment to look around, they can probably find several publicity outlets for their business.  Once these outlets are identified, however, the question becomes how to get those local newspapers, news stations and magazines to focus on your business.  Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Tip 1:  Send good press releases:  Some businesses think that the way to get publicity is to bombard a publication with press releases.  In most cases, that’s the worst thing you can do.  As a general rule, you should only do a release when something of note happens.  Signing a big client, expanding your business, or adding new executive staff will probably be considered newsworthy.  Celebrating your six month anniversary, or promoting someone from second assistant to first assistant probably won’t be of as much interest.  Also, publications that get bombed with useless press releases from the same source will often simply discard the release as soon as they see it carries a certain name.  You want your releases to stand out, and one way to do that is to only send them when you have something newsworthy to say.

Tip #2:  The Media is always looking for an angle:  Say you don’t have anything press release worthy happening, but you do know that the local news station has a morning show.  Come up with three or four ideas for segments about your business specialty and pitch them to the director of the show.  It may take a few tries, but local news shows, particularly morning shows, have a lot of time to fill.  If you can make a good pitch for your ideas, there is a decent chance they’ll make the air.   The same thing is true for newspapers and magazines. 

Tip #3:  Networking Always Pays:  Getting to know the local media can pay off big, particularly when a reporter is searching for a story idea or a source.  Even being quoted briefly in a news story can bring new business your way.  If you build up enough of those quotes, you start to become the local expert.  Spend the time getting to know your local media representatives, and make sure you’re meeting the reporters, not just the advertising sales people. 

Tip #4: Local flavor can find local favor:  The local news media, television especially, is very much invested in forming ties with the local community.  Many television stations will run segments on local communities which often feature local businesses.  Regional magazines may do the same.  When you watch the local news or read a regional magazine,  look for those sorts of stories, and make note of how you can submit your business to be included. 

If you keep your eyes open for new opportunities and invest a little time and effort, you can find many ways within your community to publicize your business.  Just remember that local reporters are looking for new angles on old stories and, like everyone else, they like things to be easy.  If you can supply good information and a fresh way of looking at the same old story, you have a very good chance of getting some publicity, which will certainly give your business a better chance at being noticed.

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