Can Your Business Afford to Stand Still This Year?

Chantal Cornelius, Appletree MarketingIf your business is standing still – always doing the same things, the same ways, for the same people – then you could be missing out on new opportunities and new business. Your competitors will be innovating – looking for different ways of making money – which means that you could be losing business to them.

Every year your competition becomes fiercer, more pressure is put on margins and new products or technologies come along and nibble away at your market. This means that just doing what you’ve always done is a recipe for eventual failure. You need to innovate and improve your offer continuously, or someone else will either steal your market or leave you working harder for less money.

So how do you innovate? Where do the new ideas come from?

Steve Jobs from Apple said “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat.”

Innovations happen most frequently when you need to solve a problem. You may not know which one thing about your service niggles your customers most, because it might be very small. And yet when you find out what it is, it could open the way making huge improvements. So you need to make a point of asking your clients what it is about your service that they don’t like.

Towards the end of 2011 we decided to run a workshop, to help service based businesses to get more from their marketing. In the run up to the event, I realised that there was only so much help and advice I could give the delegates in one day. This was a problem for me, because I didn’t want my delegates to get all fired up and then not be able to carry on marketing their businesses. After a bit of thinking I came up with the idea of an ongoing mentoring programme, to provide a regular top up of marketing ideas and momentum. And hey presto – a new service was created! The clients who have joined the programme are making great progress already!

Innovative Marketing

You don’t have to restrict innovation to developing new services. You’ll also find a lot of scope for applying new ideas in sales and marketing. I recently started working with a new client because he’d been using the same marketing tactics for the last year. While they used to work, bringing in a steady flow of new clients, over the last six months he’d noticed that flow almost completely dry up and he didn’t know what to do. He wanted some ideas on what could be done differently with his marketing. There are so many marketing channels now available to you that you’re almost spoilt for choice!

Innovative Pricing

You can also be innovative in the way you charge for your service. Experiment with a mix of incentives, or price test your new services, to see what response you get. Don’t think that cheaper is better – some clients won’t take you seriously if they think you’re too cheap; and offering endless discounts can devalue your service and expertise. Look at ways in which you can add value to what you provide, without adding to the cost of delivery.

Can your business afford to stand still this year? What will you do differently this year?

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Where is your business?

Chantal Cornelius, Appletree MarketingWhen you first set out on a journey with a map, you need to know where you are. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, you can’t work out the best route to your destination and you can’t determine how long it’s going to take you to get there.

The first thing you need to think about when you’re creating a Marketing Plan for your business is where your business is now. Knowing where you are at the start of this journey will help you plan the best route to your goals. It will also help you set your goals so that you can see the distance you’ve got to travel between where you are now and where you want to be. You might think that you’d like to take on 100 new clients in the next twelve months, charging each one £1000 per day for consulting or coaching. However, if you’ve only got two clients right now and you’re only charging £300 per day, you’ll have a lot of work to do to reach your goal. (Of course, if that’s the goal you really want to aim for, that’s great and knowing your starting point will help you plan the most effective way of getting there.)

So what is your business? What resources do you have at your disposal, to deliver your services to your clients? How long have you been doing what you do and what sort of reputation and experience do you have?

You also need to think about the products and services that you currently provide and be clear on what you offer, to help you decide the best direction to take. Are you delivering what your clients actually want and are you doing what you really want to do? Is there a demand for what you want to offer or are you doing something you only think people might want?

Who are your clients? What sort of people and businesses do you work for? Where are they and why do they need your help?

Finally, what about your competitors? Do you know who your main competitors are and what they do? How much do they charge and what makes you different from them?

Take the time to think about all these questions and the answers as they apply to your business and make sure you know the starting point of your business journey.

This is an excerpt from my new book about Marketing Planning, which will be published on 16 November 2011.  Pre-launch orders now being taken – click here to reserve your copy.

Do you really fit the best with Everest?

Chantal

At the weekend we ordered some double glazing for our house, to replace the drafty windows that let the heat out in the winter. We called Everest on the Friday and got an appointment with a salesman the following day. He turned up with lots of samples and talked us through all the options. He showed us a press release from a few years ago, when Everest was taken to court over their strap line – Fit the Best. A slightly disgruntled customer accused them of not actually being ‘the best’ and the Advertising Standards Authority got involved.

So they went out to prove that they are the best! How do you do that? Well in the case of Everest, they spent a lot of time and money sending their products to independent labs, to be compared against those of their competitors. And the results came back to say that yes, they are the best! Impressive!

Our friendly salesman didn’t have one sample that we really wanted to look at, so he arranged to collect the sample and bring it back the next day – a Sunday. He put in a lot of effort to talk us through the options and in the end, we decided to order our new windows from Everest. We know that they’re not the cheapest, so why have we decided to spend more money? The main reason is due to the reputation of Everest. The company has been around for over 40 years and they’re showing no sign of packing up over night. They train their fitters very highly and check up on them on a regular basis.

And the day after we placed our order, we had a call from the customer service department, asking for feedback on the lovely salesman. That’s what you pay for when you pay for ‘the best’!

Have you noticed how Gillett no longer advertise their products as “the best a man can get”?

How can you prove that you’re the best?

What gaps are in your communication strategy?

Alice

The fourth assignment for my CIM Professional Certificate in Marketing involves creating a communications audit on the organisation I have based my assignment upon. After I had fathomed exactly what was required, I started to enjoy analysing every aspect of communication the organisation did, including the ‘external’ stakeholders involved, such as the media and pressure groups, the community and those involved in corporate social responsiblity.

This may all sound complicated, but there is no need to get apprehensive (unless you haven’t done much about communications in your business). First you need to work out all the different aspects of communication: websites, social media, blogs, PR, newspaper reports, articles written online and paper published, recommendations, networking (off and online), participation in events in the local social diary, corporate social responsibility and involvement in local groups. There are probably more you can think of, depending on your kind of business.

Go on the web and find out what other companies, especially your competitors, are doing to publicise the communication strategies they have in place. Sometimes a little light secondary research can reveal a lot about them, as well as yourself. How visible are you, both off and online? How much information do you make available about your company and the things that you do? How easy is it to find?

Then you need to work out the impact your communication strategy has on your business and your stakeholders, which includes past, present and potential customers, your competitors and suppliers, as well as the general public. How well do you communicate with them on the areas that are relevant to them? What kind of things do you need to tell them? How frequently do you perform this and what have the results been? Have you achieved your objectives from these ventures? What strategies do you have in place to continue, improve and achieve success in your future endeavours?

I have only just scratched the surface on this subject, but hopefully to get the strategic juices flowing. Being visible to the appropriate stakeholders could make a real difference to your business, not only to publicise what has been going on and any future projects, but to increase awareness, explain more succinctly exactly what you do and what you are aiming to achieve, increase networking opportunities and relationships that could evolve into joint ventures and other likely connections, and much more besides.

Let us know what you are doing within your communication strategy – it would be exciting to find out how successful you’ve been and what tactics you have thought up to set the communication wheels moving as smoothly as possible!

How important are your competitors?

Alice

All businesses, whether large or small, should always be aware of their competitors.

But this doesn’t mean you should be frightened of them, or even ignore them. Competitor awareness should become part of your marketing strategies, to analyse what they are selling, what processes they have in place – even down to what suppliers they are using and their distribution methods.

Of course it wouldn’t be wise to exactly copy your competitors or you might have a law suit on your hands. It is your company’s differences that make dealing with competitors exciting, worthwhile, innovative and forward-looking.

So it boils down to each of your USPs (unique selling points). What is it that makes you different? Are your differences more productive and profitable, provide a better service for your customers, more efficient and therefore cost-worthy? Do you occupy a better share in the market and have better visibility where your customers ‘hang out’?

As well as examining your customer services and processes, what added value can you provide? It is usually the little things (for you) that make a big difference (for your customers) that can tip the balance. It has been likened that promotional freebies can stimulate a similar desirable experience as to sex, and we all know how much sex sells!

So going back to basics, incorporate competitor awareness and analysis into your earliest objectives and strategy making, and be mindful of your marketing message and how it compares and contrasts with your competitors.  Examine any gaps in the market, and with your knowledge of your competitors’ activities, either steal a march and get in there first, or understand their methodology and adapt your business to capture the customers they might miss, or work alongside to effectively and efficiently use the same target market within each of your capabilities.

It is that last concept of competitor awareness that can possibly help your business to grow. Sometime in the future there may be a possibility of a merger, but until then encouraging good relations with your competitors could benefit in ideas and considerations that could be good for all concerned – whereas waging war could be detrimental, expensive and even unprofitable.

20 uses of the hash tag in Twitter

Alice

If you’re prolific in using Twitter you’ll notice that some tweets include a hash key (#) before certain words. This makes these words become hash tags, or specialised keywords that can be tracked.

Why would you want to use hash tags within your twittering activities? Here are 20 reasons:

  1. to focus on particular keywords that are relevant to your business
  2. to segregate your posts into specialised topics
  3. to track posts that contain those hash tags
  4. to create and follow streams that use that hash tag
  5. to create specific columns in TweetDeck or Hootsuite to follow those hash tags
  6. to find out who else is tweeting about that subject
  7. to draw your attention to other Twitterers who use that hash tag
  8. to follow your competitors on Twitter
  9. to develop your expertise within the hash tag’s subject
  10. to gain more information about that subject
  11. to see who else is twittering about that subject
  12. to find suitable tweeple to follow
  13. to gather feedback, complaints or testimonial
  14. to become part of the conversation using that hash tag
  15. to gain more followers relevant to your industry
  16. to pinpoint a particular audience within Twitter
  17. to use them within marketing campaigns
  18. to track particular conversations within your industry
  19. to track particular links to external resources relevant to your business
  20. to draw attention to your business

Can you think of any more reasons why to use hash tags? What are your experiences? Were they useful and what did you gain from them? Did you use them in measuring your Twitter usage? Have they provided good results?

Is tweeting a waste of time?

Alice

To the uninitiated Twitter may be considered a useless pursuit. The idea of reading these little ‘messages’ that rapidly zip past your eyes, all seemingly unconnected with each other, blathering on about nothing in particular, would seem like a waste of time.

Until you analyse why people do twitter. Social networking is about being sociable, and forming relationships with each other. It’s about spreading news, sharing information, meeting new people, learning what’s happening, finding out what others are doing or have achieved, reading what others have written – all enabling you to engage without the expectation of gaining.

You could trundle along with your business totally unaware of what is happening outside your doors, or you could, from the comfort of your computer chair, be alive to all that activity online. It can be focused within certain areas: local issues, your niche, a particular subject, your competitors, your friends or enemies, your hobbies, political news, the latest gossip – and you aren’t expected to be able to follow everything, or it will drive you mad!

So how does it help your business? Of course raising your company’s awareness online is always good, and you can feed your blog posts onto Twitter to reach a larger audience, link up to your website to bring in more traffic, and connect from your other social networking sites (Facebook, LinkedIn) where you can write more than 140 characters. You can undertake market research by asking questions or following trends and topics, tweet your problems to receive immediate solutions or a link to relevant resources, find out the latest news before it breaks, and learn about other people’s thoughts and aspirations on particular subjects.

But all this twittering would be a waste of time if you didn’t have a focus (this is true for all marketing activity). Are you using it for brand awareness, or for research purposes? Do you want more visitors to your website, or to increase the subscriptions to your blog or newsletter? Are you curious enough to keep an eye on your followers, or just chancing on interesting conversations? Many networking meetings have been arranged through Twitter, with business formed from the results. Many conferences and workshops have gained increased attendances through focused twittering, and skills and expert statuses raised from poignant and relevant tweets.

So who now says tweeting is a waste of time?