Monday, December 21, 2009

Airlines fall victim to their own arrogance

The federal government recently passed new regulations aimed at eliminating the practice of stranding passengers on runways for hours at a time. The new regulations impose steep fines of up to $27,500 per passenger if passengers are delayed on the tarmac for more than three hours.

I'm not a big fan of government regulation, and this will likely cost the airlines dearly in canceled flights and longer delays. However, this is not a new problem. The airlines have exhibited the same brand of arrogance that doctors had before they started losing lawsuits. Namely, that their time is solid gold, and your time isn't worth squat. Airlines and airports could have researched and addressed this problem on their own. Maybe they could have arranged stand-by "hospitality RV's" or something, so that passengers could at least get off the plane, stretch their legs, get a snack and check their email for a while, rather than being held hostage in an uncomfortable chair for who knows how long.

The fact that they didn't come up with their own solution shows just how disconnected they have become from their customers. Evidently, they expected the flying public to simply accept that spending 7, 8, 10 hours sitting on a tarmac with no idea when they might take off, was just a part of flying. The powers that be within the industry found that acceptable because it was more convenient for them.

Consider this a wake-up call for the "too big to care".

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tax increase marketing lessons

The City of Fountain’s recent sales tax increase of .75% to pay for certain infrastructure projects, took a lot of people by surprise when it passed. After all, we’re in the midst of a major recession and tax increase proposals generally don’t sell well around here. So how were proponents able to eek out a victory on this one?

I should point out, in the interest of full disclosure, that Easy Street Designs, the publishers of this paper, did the printing for Moving Fountain Forward, the group that was advocating for the tax increase. However, we were neither advocates for or opponents of the measure.

I believe this was a case where proponents put together an effective marketing strategy early, and opponents simply didn’t believe citizens would vote in favor of a tax increase. First, proponents put together the organization; Moving Fountain Forward. They hired a PR firm; Gain-Stovall. Mayor Jeri Howells submitted an article, which we published, several months ago supporting the measure. A public hearing was held. Signs were posted at intersections and railroad crossings (items on the wish list) and flyers were passed out door to door.

I think more importantly, the campaign didn’t contain the threatening tone of similar proposals by municipalities such as Colorado Springs. There was no implication that police or fire or other public safety spending would be cut if the tax increase did not pass. There was a “wish-list” of intersection and street improvements that the tax increase was specifically requested for. It gave the impression that you were getting something for your extra money, rather than threatening to give you less if you didn’t pay up.

There was also a total lack of organized resistance. Again, I believe opponents just took for granted that most people would vote no. Then Fountain Valley Chamber of Commerce president, Scott Turner, did submit an article, which we published, which didn’t take sides on the issue, but did point out to local business people that this was an issue that will directly effect them and their customers and something they should be aware of and be involved in. We did not receive any submissions opposing the measure.

Some have questioned the fact that TV reports showed the measure failing by 7 votes initially, showing 100% of precincts reporting, but when the final tally was reported the next morning, it had passed. Liz Olson of El Paso County explained that the results reported at closing included all ballots which had been counted by 5pm. Results were updated again at 9:30pm and again at 3:10 am. When the additional 488 mail-in ballots and 9 in-person ballots were added, the measure had passed. Any ballots received within 8 days after the election which were post marked by election day and received no later than 8 days after the election from uniformed services electors serving overseas were also counted. Results were not official until cerified by the canvassing board, in this case, on Monday, 11/16. For more details on the election results, see

Lessons learned? If you’re a ballot initiative proponent, a positive message is more effective than threats. If you’re an opponent, take nothing for granted.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sometimes, the economy isn't the problem

I recently had the opportunity to patronize not one, but two local computer stores. Both owners mentioned to me that times were tough, business was slow and they hoped things would pick up very soon. If my experience with them was typical, they'd be in trouble in any economy.

All I wanted to do is bump up the RAM in my old PC. I could have just bought the chips online, but I wanted to do my little bit to support local businesses. I started with the closest one, about 5 miles away and an occasional customer of mine. I went to his shop, picked up a couple of 1 gig sticks that he assured me would work fine. They didn't. I went back, got some different ones. They didn't work either. Finally I brought the computer in. He decided that it was a speed issue and he ordered some different ones for me. When I got back to my shop I started thinking that I'd already wasted a lot of time on what was supposed to be a 20 minute errand. I called the computer store again and asked him if he needed the complete model number of my motherboard so he could ensure he was getting compatible RAM. "Oh no," he said "I know these ones will be fine." Five days later, the RAM arrived. It didn't work. Finally, I did some research on my own (it took all of about 5 minutes on the web) and discovered that this particular motherboard required single sided RAM and all the ones he had ordered were double sided. Not only did he not have a supplier for the RAM I needed he informed me that there would be a 15% "restocking fee" for the RAM HE HAD INCORRECTLY ORDERED!

I probably sent this genius 6 or 7 customers over the previous 12 months. Rather than make a great big deal over the $12 he wanted to steal from me, I simply told him how I felt about it and that he should make good use of it, because he'll never see me or anyone I can stop from going there again.

Okay, it wasn't an emergency upgrade, so it was a couple of weeks before I called another computer store. I had been introduced to the owner of that store when they first opened. He too was now worried about being able to keep his doors open. I told him I had a small order, but I guess it's better than nothing. This time I handed him a paper with the complete motherboard specs and told him to make absolutely sure that the RAM they got was compatible with it. After not hearing from them for several days, I called to check on my RAM order. The associate who answered was pleased to inform me that they had the RAM in stock. I told him about my previous experience and again asked if he was sure this was the right RAM. "Oh yes" he said "But bring your computer in and, if it's not, you wont have to pay a restocking fee." I pressed him on the issue again, because the time it would take to disconnect my PC and make the 15 mile round trip, through heavy traffic, was not insignificant to me. He was certain he had the right product. Just to be sure, I again got on the web and looked up the specs. This time I found what I was looking for in two minutes. I called the shop back and asked him if the RAM he was ready to have me drive up and install was one sided or two sided. "Two-sided" he said.

I'm pretty sure a computer repair shop has internet access. Further, the "experts" there should already know where to get the information they need to ensure compatibility. Yet, in their mind, it was better to waste an hour of my time, as well as a gallon of gas, than to spend a minute or so of their own time looking up the information they needed to ensure they were selling me the right product.

Ultimately, I ordered my RAM online...again. It was cheaper, it works, and in purchasing it elsewhere, I'm not supporting bad business practices in the local market.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Easy Street Designs now carries MacVan maps

Easy Street Designs at 109 Kiva Rd in Security, CO is pleased to announce we now carry MacVan street maps of Colorado Springs, as well as their Colorado map book.

Regular maps retail for just $4.95, the laminated version is $7.95 and the big map book is just $24.85. Other MacVan maps also available upon request.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

20 Cent Color Copies or Prints

Easy Street Designs' 20 cent color copy sale starts Monday! Two-sided, 39 cents. Upgrade to gloss just 3 cents more!

Customer provided file or hard copy, no full bleed.

$7.50 flat rate shipping anywhere in the continental U.S.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Traditional Values can Make For Happy Holidays

Many businesses count on the fourth quarter holiday season to make their year. With unemployment nearing 10% nationwide and an uncertain economy still with us, this holiday season will likely not be a blockbuster. However, that doesn't mean you can’t make it a jolly one.

Owning and operating a successful small business is not all about piling up cash. It’s about freedom, rising to challenges, meeting and exceeding people’s needs and expectations and generally making people’s day a little brighter and having fun doing it.

Whether you’re a religious person or not, the holidays are a time to focus on the real values in your life; family, friends, remembering good times past and creating new ones. Perhaps it’s because the days are shorter and the weather is colder that we have come to see this season as a time to concentrate on the warm and the bright side of life. Whatever the motivation, this is a good year to really take it to heart.

How does this relate to your holiday business strategy? Well, money may be tight for consumers this year, but they still want to reinforce personal connections and traditions. If you don’t currently carry greeting cards, maybe you should start. Unique, custom cards are particularly popular, but if you aren't the artsy-crafty type, a service like Leanin’ Tree can provide both the displays and the stock.

You may carry fewer of any given high end item, but don’t bail on them entirely. Many families will still choose to make high end purchases, just not as many of them. On the other end, you’ll want to offer low priced alternatives, but don’t go low quality. An inexpensive gift that lasts can be appreciated for years to come. A cheap trinket that breaks within a week might just foster disdain. Ornaments make a great low cost gift item. Whether it be a wreath, a wall hanging or something for the tree, it’s something that most everyone can afford and may even be passed along to future generations.

Don’t be afraid to deck the halls. Despite what you may have heard on the news, a festive atmosphere is not going to offend enough people to worry about, unless your business model is strategically targeted at killjoys. You don’t have to be a born again Christian to appreciate a good light show, even if it does involve a manger. You can also include Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Santa Claus...go nuts.

A great in-store promotion, especially in tough economic times, is drawing for free gifts or stuffed stockings for the kids. This year, rather than one big one, consider several smaller ones. Make the drawing at least a week in advance of Christmas. Kid’s love to unwrap surprises. It doesn’t have to be a new car or a PlayStation. Just something fun. A gift card or certificate to a local restaurant can provide an evening of family fun for your customers while also helping out a fellow local business owner.

In uncertain times, people often look to the past for comfort and for grounding. Think nostalgia. Traditional holiday books, albums and the toys and games you grew up with could be good sellers this year. On the “new stuff” end, think communication. While you may not want to go head to head in the cell phone sales arena, you could offer accessories like colorful cases and head phones. Flash drives are inexpensive and handy items as well. Speaking of comfort, maybe an assortment of chocolates on display near the register?

None of these things are going to lead you to record breaking sales this year. There will be some businesses that achieve that, but they will be the exception, not the rule. Adding some inexpensive, thoughtful items to your inventory may help at the margins however. More importantly you want to show your customers, and yourself, that a tough year is not going to bring you down. Remember what’s really important to you. It’s the fundamentals that will bring us through this economic fog, ready to move ahead in the right direction. Now is the time to reflect upon and celebrate them.

Penny Pinching Marketing

Times are tough. Budgets are tight. But you’ve still got to keep yourself out there in terms of marketing. There are some time-tested marketing techniques that require a bit more time and less cash than what you might focus on when cash flow is healthier.

If delivery of your product involves any kind of packaging, consider full color labels. A box of 100 - 2” x 4” Avery type labels can be had for less than $30. You can buy and print yourself, or your friendly neighborhood print shop can provide labels and full color printing for about $2/sheet (10 labels). At 20 cents a pop, it’s a cost effective way to create a bit more awareness among your customers and the people they deal with. It’s also a good idea to include samples and/or promotional items along with packaged or shipped items. Toss in some extras, so they can share.

If you’re sending out invoices, including a flyer, update, magnet or a couple of business cards likely wont cost you any more in postage and makes it easy for your existing customers to refer you to friends and associates.

If direct mail is no longer in your budget, consider door hangers. They don’t cost any more than postcards and even if you don’t have time to distribute yourself, it shouldn’t take long to find some enterprising individuals willing to do the job at 10 cents/piece. You may even be able to enlist your favorite non-profit to provide the footwork in exchange for donating what you would have paid hired help. Another distribution alternative is inserts in local, regional papers. Most charge about 5 cents per piece (not including printing). It’s not quite as direct as a mailing list, but at just over 10% of the cost of first class mail, it’s a great value.

Banners can be a great value as well. They can be used many times over and they’re portable. You can display them on your site and/or, for a small fee, many youth sports organizations and community events organizers will let you display them at games and other activities. Many new cars are not conducive to car magnets, due to the contours of the doors. But, if yours is, you might want to put your vehicle to work. Even if you only put them on while parked in a conspicuous location during business hours, it’s extremely cost effective. Just be sure to store them flat when you take them off.

Business card and calendar magnets are a perennial favorite as well. Again, if you want your current customers to remember and refer you, make it easy. What’s easier than walking over and looking at the fridge or the side of the filing cabinet or microwave while you’re talking on the phone?

Above all, don’t let fretting over a tight budget cause your execution to suffer. The customers you already have are your number one priority. Take good care of them and they will bring you others. If you run into a problem, be up front and communicate. Most will forgive a mistake. But if they feel like they’re being ignored or misled, they’ll take it personally. There are too many people competing for the same business for you to lose a good customer because you didn’t want to make a potentially awkward phone call.

These are not revolutionary new ideas. But they may be ideas that got brushed aside when you could afford to try other things. The key, when money is tight, is to focus not on what you can’t do, but on what you can do.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Press Release - Another powerful marketing tool

You see company press releases every day. How do companies get access to this kind of free publicity? How can you get in on the action? How do you write a press release that will catch the attention of a publisher, and more importantly, the reader? How should you submit a press release? Well, I can't speak for all publishers, but I can tell you what I look I for in submissions to our monthly business paper, The South Side Business News.

The first thing to understand is that a press release is not an ad. When creating an ad, being bold, in your face, loud and blatantly self-promotional can be perfectly appropriate. But when you're presenting something as news, readers want news. It needs to be informative, accurate, entertaining, interesting and hopefully, memorable.

That doesn't mean your press release needs to announce a cure for cancer. It can still be as seemingly mundane as the purchase of a new piece of equipment or the introduction of a new product or service. You just have to make it interesting, and your connection to it needs to be much more subtle than an ad, almost incidental.

Let's suppose ABC Corp is announcing a new product offering. The headline, and perhaps the first sentence could be something like "ABC Corp adds cat toys to its product mix". Now the reader is asking him or herself "So what?". This is not the time to launch into a bunch of accolades about how great ABC Corp is. That wasn't the question. Why do I care about increased access to cat toys? Every solution needs a problem. You've told me about your solution. Now tell me about the problem. Maybe surveys show that happy cats live longer healthier lives. Maybe studies show that cats play with these particular toys more than other toys on the market. Maybe those same cats outlive cats who don't have those toys and have fewer health problems. Now I care about your cat toys.

Now you can go into blatant self promotion, right? Wrong. Again, you've presented this as a news story. If you slide into infomercial mode, you're going to lose the reader. The reader probably does want to know when these toys will be available, how much they're going to cost, where you're located and what your hours are. But you should present this information in a matter-of-fact manner, not a Crazy Eddie's Discount Cat Toys Emporium commercial manner.

The whole story can be just a paragraph or two, but you have provided the reader with a nugget of useful information they didn't have before. It's something they may pass along to others. They'll remember who provided it, even if you don't beat them over the head with it. If they don't, no worries. You'll catch them next time.

Creating urgency in the mind of the reader or viewer is a legitimate goal in display advertising. Displaying urgency in a press release smacks of desperation. To quote from "Bonfire of the Vanities", "A desperate salesman is a dead salesman.".

Now on to the submission. DO NOT send a pdf, jpg or fax. My favorite press releases are simply text in the body of an email. Why? Because it makes it very easy to cut and paste into whatever format I want. It also makes it easy to edit. The number one rule of press release submission: Make It Easy for the publisher. Sending a picture or graphic along as an attachment is a great idea too.

Don't get discouraged if your release isn't printed. Publications have limited space and lots of other people are submitting releases as well. It's okay to follow up and ask why your release wasn't printed, but if the answer is "there wasn't room" or "I didn't find it interesting" or "I didn't find it appropriate for my venue" or whatever it may be, do not get defensive. Ask for advice, pointers, deadlines, format preferences, but don't suggest the publisher did you wrong by not giving you free exposure just because you asked for it. If the venue was right and your timing was wrong, just keep submitting. Writing makes you think. Whether it gets published or not, that's a good thing.

Again I can only speak for myself, but I greatly appreciate even the submissions I don't run. More options makes my job much easier. This is one reason I've created several blogs to which I can post stories that don't make the paper. I want to spotlight the small business community to the greatest extent that I'm able. I'm a big fan of small business. I think there is a misguided perception among a lot of people that businesses are comprised of buildings and equipment and products and logos and paperwork. That's a perception I'd like to try to correct. As we all know, the best businesses are good people sharing their best ideas, and that's a story worth telling.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Getting the most from Facebook, Twitter and other onlines social networking sites

So you've decided to find out what all the fuss is about and get yourself a Twitter or Facebook account for you business. Now what? What can you expect? How do you make the most of it?

When the internet first became wildly popular, way back around 1998, many were under the impression that all you had to do is post a website and suddenly you'd have an audience of millions. Posting a new website inspired the kind of excitement expressed by Steve Martin's character in The Jerk, when he first got listed in the phone book. As it turned out, of course, a website is a nice addition to your communication tool box, but not a total marketing solution. Online social networks are the same. The value you get from them depends on how you use them.

Your online social network sites can help you reach and stay in touch with more people, but don't expect all of your "followers" to hang on your every word, or even read every post. They're likely following hundreds of other people as well. Don't use your online networks to replace your face to face contacts. They can compliment your other forms of communication, but a handshake is still worth a thousand "tweets".

If you have a business based Facebook or Twitter account, keep it focused on the business. If I'm "following" Bob's Hardware store, I'm looking for updates regarding Bob's Hardware store. I'm not interested in how Bob's cat is doing. Save that for your personal page.

Value quality contacts over quantity of contacts. Networking as a science is still in its infancy. There is a popular formula that puts the value of a network at the square of it's number of members. This is not accurate. Bill Gates recently quit Facebook because he was overwhelmed with "friend" requests and updates. You can only process so much information in a given period of time. Do your best to ensure you're getting valuable input. Connect with people who are really interested in what you're trying to communicate.

Don't "over-tweet". I have dropped several people that I had been following on Twitter because they felt compelled to send an update 5, 6, 10 times a day, or more. When I check my Twitter or Facebook page, I want to be able to scroll down a page or so and see messages from a variety of people. If you're taking up half my page, you've gotta go. If you really have that much critical information to put out every day, perhaps you should hold a press conference. Limiting yourself to 1 or 2 short messages a day will also help ensure that you're making quality, meaningful posts, and your "followers" will be more likely to continue to read them.

Don't fall for services that claim to "get you lots of followers". First of all, randomly collecting meaningless followers will only fill your network with clutter and actually reduce its value. Second, these services require you to follow others who have also signed up for their scam and they broadcast spam through your account, further diminishing its value.

Promote your network partners. I've never been a fan of networks that require you to promote your fellow members. I have no desire to be a 24/7 salesman, but when the opportunity presents itself, I try to recognize it and get in a plug for friend when I can. Making quality referrals as opposed to large quantities of referrals maintains your credibility and makes your referrals more effective. If you're trying to think of a good "tweet" for today, consider simply mentioning that you worked on a project with "Gino's Jewelry Repair" today. Gino gets a little exposure and your followers get a little insight into what you do and the type and variety of businesses you work with.

While others may disagree, I don't see online social networking accounts as a great mass marketing tool (although paid ads on the site can be a great value, but that's another story.) I see them as a great tool for expanding and maintaining a personal, wide-spread and powerful network of contacts. It allows you to communicate directly and regularly with individuals from across the street and across the planet. It's a better tool for sharing ideas than for making sales.

Monday, July 20, 2009


A Breckenridge, Colorado Company has come up with a kind of co-op, opt-in email service for local markets.

Blirp allows local businesses to register for a free basic package that enables them to send "unadvertised" special offers to their local subscribers. Blirp sends an email message to the subscriber with some random offers from local businesses, along with a link to the complete list of local offers.

Subscribers can choose to receive emails daily or weekly.

How is this different from Twitter? It's zip code targeted and subscribed to by people looking specifically for offers from local businesses.

The model has potential. I could see the host company (in this case Blirp), offering premium services, covering multiple and more targeted lists, as well as things like tracking services and access to data they develop as a consequence of offering the service.

The tricky part is creating demand on the part of the consumer. If someone is going to use something on a regular basis, they have to derive real value from it. A big part of the success of this experiment will be the quality of the offers and the merchants making them.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Could 2d barcodes bring new life to print media?

Quick Response (QR) or 2d barcodes have been big in Japan for years. They look like random ink blots but are actually symbols for encoded text and they just might bring print media into the 21st century.

The code generation software is available free from many sites on the web, as is reader software. When you use your cell phone's camera to "snap" one of these codes it can take you to a website or display text messages. So far this technology has been vastly underused in this country.

What this has the potential to enable is hard copy text with hyperlinks. If you've got a web enabled cell phone, you can be reading a paper, magazine, catalog or any printed material and point and click your way to more information, related sites, updates or even purchase a product. Advertisers could place them within their print ads, postcards, brochures, etc.. You could put one on the back of your business card that could take people directly to your website or blog. You could put one on a concert or event poster to give people access to immediate online ticket purchase. Newspapers could drive traffic to their websites for the latest continuous updates on stories.

Unlike links on a webpage, 2D links are always there, always on. You don't turn off a poster when you leave the room, and you don't have to navigate to it when you come back. They could even be placed on buildings and landmarks to link to information about them and the businesses within them. Imagine a reader embedded in a car windshield that could be used to read a code from a sign on the side of the road and display a roadmap centered on your location. That site could further link to area business directories and other locally relevant information (for the passenger to read of course). The technology is already here and it's inexpensive. We just haven't made widespread use of it to date.

It's not rocket science. It's a fairly simple solution to a nagging inconvenience; having to type in a search term or URL on a tiny little keypad. It doesn't require any transmission other than the light rays that bounce off from everything, all the time. It can be deployed as fast as you can print and post.

Cell phones alone were not enough to make anywhere/anytime internet surfing as effortless as it needs to be for widespread acceptance. These little inkblots combine the permanence and convenience of hard copy with the fluidity and utility of the web. The print industry may well be revived by enhancing the medium many thought would destroy it.

For free qr code generation visit:

For links to free QR code reader software:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Six degrees, It's not just for Kevin Bacon anymore

I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking about networking, both in the IT sense and the social/business sense. There have been many studies performed that actually seem to confirm that nearly every person on the planet can be linked to every other person on the planet with six or seven connections between people each know personally (a friend of a friend of a friend....).

The emerging science of networks has also discovered that a similar pattern exists in randomly generated networks like the internet and the power grid. They feature clusters or groups that share information with each other on a regular basis, connected to other clusters through randomly generated, but critical connections. Clusters with unusually large numbers of connections to other clusters serve as hubs. A system with millions of clusters can enable a connection between any two through a small number of hubs. Direct connections between hubs make the trip much shorter.

Another pattern that has emerged is that most people have about 5 or fewer really close relationships (strong connections) with other individuals. Before you start thinking about your 527 "friends" on Facebook, consider only those people with whom you engage in direct two way conversation on a daily basis. Now eliminate those you converse with because it's part of your job. Consider only those you contact daily simply because you want to. I'm guessing the number is quite a bit smaller than 527. If I had to take another guess (and I do), I'd wager that the number is not coincidence, but a natural optimization.

What are the take-aways for business networking. First and foremost, always keep in mind that every person you interact with is likely just 6 handshakes away from the most important person in your universe (besides yourself). You don't know who they talk to or who the people they talk to talk to. Make sure, to the greatest extent possible, that the encounter is something that will be relayed in a good light. In other words, do the right thing, every time. There are no insignificant people.

Another possible take-away is that if my hypothesis is correct, that an element within a network can most efficiently deal with a limited number of strong connections, make the most of them. If your most frequent contacts are all in the same field, your only connecting to one cluster. You may want to consider making time for developing other relationships in more tangential fields. For example, most mortgage brokers like to make connections with realtors. This makes good sense. The fields are very closely related. But what if our mortgage broker somehow established a strong working relationship with a grocer? Grocers come in contact with a wide variety of people every day. What kind of cooperative marketing opportunities might arise? How many more people might be reached? What if you established some sort of working relationship with the manager of the Safeway in the neighborhood in which you'd like do more business. Odds are, the staff at the local Safeway are among the most familiar people to those who reside in the area.

Although the number of strong connections in our business and personal lives may be fairly small, we also have a great deal of lesser connections; acquaintances, business associates, suppliers, clients, customers, neighbors, etc. During the infrequent and possibly very brief periods that you come in contact with any one of these individuals, it would behoove you to really listen to what they are saying. The more you know about someone, the more you know about who they might know. I'm not suggesting invading anyone's privacy, but if information is being offered, be receptive and attentive.

Establishing a good working network is about more than receiving information though. You make good connections, in part, by being a good connection. Be alert for opportunities to put people in touch with others who can help them, or who may be willing and able to work with them for their mutual benefit. Even if you are not directly involved in the ensuing transaction, you have proven yourself a valuable link to both parties and that has value in and of itself. If you establish and maintain yourself as a sought after hub, you don't have to ask for favors, they'll come looking for you. It's how we reinforce connections.

Of course, all these connections aren't worth very much unless you have the ability and confidence to communicate with them effectively and efficiently. Communication with people you don't know very well can be awkward and intimidating. There's no magic bullet for getting over this apprehension. The only thing for it is practice. Engage, evaluate, adjust, repeat. Ultimately, you don't become proficient at networking by attending seminars, reading books, watching videos, or even from great blogs. You learn by doing.

Making time for new connections may mean taking time away from others. But, as the most successful CEO's know, you don't have to know everyone or everything, you just have to know who knows who and develop the ability and the wisdom to recognize, nurture and make the most of your network.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lessons from Billy Mays

Billy Mays was a television presence one couldn't ignore. His booming voice is quite memorable to say the least. But I think the most valuable take-away from the example set by Bill Mays is "keep the focus on value".

Mays and company didn't just go out and sell every goofy idea that came across the table. They took the time to test the product and test the market. If you've ever seen his show "Pitchmen", you've seen it in action.

The goal was to find products that solve an every day problem at a price people were willing to pay for the solution. The meticulous attention to results and focus groups was not an altruistic endeavor. It protected Mays' reputation as well as protecting both the inventor and the public.

No matter how good a presentation you're capable of, you can't do high profile sales of worthless crap and maintain a lucrative career. Eventually the trust factor catches up to you. Mays understood this. He knew his reputation was his most valuable asset and he protected it accordingly.

You don't do an inventor any favors by convincing him or her to invest thousands of dollars and man hours into a product promotion that's not going to fly. By weeding out those with little chance of success, consumers are not subjected to disappointing products and investors don't waste their own resources on something that's not quite ready. Better to go back to the drawing board and try again.

It's clear that Billy Mays did not unconsciously let us in on these insights. The "Pitchmen" show unveiled the entire process for the world to see. He could have chosen to withhold his experience and wisdom as kind of a barrier to entry for newcomers. Instead, we saw the successes and the failures, and more importantly, the thought process that went into whether or not to proceed with a particular promotion. Billy Mays died to soon, but he did so with his integrity intact.

Discovery Channel's "Pitchmen"

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Applied Irrationality

The first in a series of articles examining the marketing aspect of insights presented by Dan Ariely in his book "Predictably Irrational"

Give them something to not choose.

Dan Ariely's research, expressed in his book "Predictably Irrational", reveals some very interesting tendencies in how people, in general, value things.

One is that, given three choices, people will be more likely to choose the middle option.

Another is that in a group of three objects or images, people are more likely to pick one that is similar to, but better than one of the others. For example, if you had three hammers, two red and one blue, one red hammer has a cheap looking handle, the blue and other red hammer have nice looking, comfort grip handles. You can expect the red, nice handled hammer to be the best seller of the three, all else being equal.

We are also vulnerable to the power of suggestion. Baselines can be set for us. For example, you are in a restaurant where the steak costs $45. You may opt for the hamburger, but you see the $14 price tag as a bargain.

So what's the marketing take-away?

Giving people choices is not just good for them, it's good for you. Having more than one variation of an item gives the consumer something upon which to base a comparison.

Without such a basis they might be more comfortable not making a choice at all, since you gave them an ultimatum "it's this hammer or no hammer". You may sell very few low end hammers, but if they increase sales of higher end hammers just by their presence, it's worth the shelf space.

The same dynamic is true on the higher end. Having a high priced, top of the line choice may not result in lots of high end sales, but it just might increase the mid-priced sales.

You have to consider each section of your product or service mix to be an integrated display. Look at total sales at least as closely as individual item sales. To what extent are the products that aren't selling driving sales of those that are? Removing a particular product due to slow turnover may end up costing you sales.

Making the most of it:

It's important to recognize that market behavior is what it is. It's not what you think it is. It's not what you think it should be. It's not about what you think you would do in a given situation. The stats don't lie. Behavioral trends change with the market place. The more people are wary of a particular quirk, the less it expresses itself. What works today may not work so well in 5 years. That's what continuing research is for and that's what keeps it fun.

For more insights into the irrational, visit

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Marketing Strategy - Slow and Steady or Fast and Furious?

Should you be looking for an instant return on your advertising dollars or a gradual building of awareness and customer base over the long term? The answer depends on your budget, your customers, your product mix, your goals and the nature of your business. You don't necessarily have to engage in one style or the other. Both have their time and place.

I think most business owners, especially rookies, look for the instant return. This can be achieved, but it's not as easy as simply placing an ad. For the "fast and furious" campaign you have to go big and you have to go wide. You want to get your ad in front of a lot of people and if you're going to spend the money on distribution, it only makes sense to take the time to make the piece itself attractive and effective. It also takes research, trial and error. You have to test different approaches, keep meticulous stats and see what generates the best return. This type of marketing requires both time and cash. You have to do your homework and you have to be able to afford to be wrong from time to time. You will try very expensive things that wont work, and an approach that works this month, may not work six months from now. That's part of the challenge, and the fun. The "fast and furious" approach is appropriate if you have the cash flow and the desire to put in the time to do the research and track the results. It also makes sense if you are in a commodity type business. That is, when your product or service really isn't that different from your competitors. For example, if you're selling cow manure. You might claim that you can differentiate yourself based on service, but let's face it, service after the sale is not a big factor in cow manure purchasing decisions. Clever, flashy, frequent advertising could be.

The slow and steady approach is mainly a matter of making and keeping people aware of your existence. This could entail regular advertising on a smaller scale. It could be as simple as putting your logo on an event poster, sending out a quarterly newsletter, occasional door hanging, putting labels on your products or packaging or other local and regional, relatively inexpensive advertising. This type of advertising can add leverage to word of mouth and it can be cumulative. When a customer recommends you or your company to a friend or associate it will carry much more weight if that friend or associate has heard of you before. Also, if someone sees your business card on a bulletin board, it will have more impact if they've seen your logo or company name somewhere before. It doesn't even matter if they remember where they've seen it. One downside is that the "slow and steady" approach is much more difficult to track. Someone may decide to give you a try after seeing your ads in 6 different venues on 10 different occasions. Which one pushed them over the edge? It's also important to remember that the "slow and steady" approach must be accompanied by quality product and service. If you want to enhance word of mouth, it better be good word of mouth.

Both approaches can be employed by the same business. You might want to do a big campaign a couple of times or even once a year and "awareness" advertising the rest of the time. If you're in a highly competitive field, like real estate or insurance, you have to do bit a both. You want to stay in touch with your current and past clients while constantly looking for new ones. Just bear in mind that if you're going to go for the "big score" you don't want to bet the farm on it. Every campaign, large or small, will generate some awareness, but you don't want to put yourself in a position where the success or failure of a single campaign will make or break you.

Effective marketing is a combination of strategy, imagination and execution. The execution applies not only to the advertising campaign, but to delivering on the promise. The marketplace is fluid, so you have to be nimble and attentive. Know your goals. Know your budget. Know your product Know your customers. Expect to make mistakes and be prepared to learn from them.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More marketing lessons from Washington D.C.

Politics is not pretty. But it can provide valuable insights into marketing. Everybody is selling something, whether it be a bill, an agenda or an election campaign. The most heated marketing campaign recently has been for the stimulus bill and the newest version of the Treasury's bail out plan.

The stimulus bill will pass on mostly party lines, but less than half the American public is convinced it will do any good. Wall Street greeted the bailout plan with a 400 point sell off.

Regardless of what you think of the merits of the measures, there's no doubt that the marketing of them has fallen flat. They have not inspired confidence or positive buzz. I think a key mistake that was made in promoting both was "couching". That is, forewarning the buyer that the product may not actually work as advertised.

Both the Vice President and the President made a point of saying that there's a good chance that many of the things they're going to do aren't going to work out the way they would have liked. Treasury Secretary Geitner repeated the sentiment when asked why he couldn't provide more details on the bailout proposals. He said they're going to wait and see how things work out, then decide how to proceed.

How can you expect someone to have confidence in what you're selling when you don't express confidence in it yourself? I understand the misguided motivation. They're trying very hard not to be wrong. If things don't work out they can say "Well, I told you it might not." The fact they're missing is that whether they warned us or not, they will be held accountable for the result.

What's an entrepreneur to take away from this? If you don't believe in what you're selling, don't sell it. If you do, stick your neck out and make me believe that you believe. If you have two job applicants with similar resumes and you ask each "Are you the right person for this job?" and one says "Absolutely" and the other says "I think so, but there's a good chance I'm not." Which one are you going to hire?

If you can't confidently recommend your product or service to your best friend or family members at your regular asking price, you need to reevaluate your product and service mix, your pricing, or both. Confidence is contagious and so is uncertainty. Nobody wants to buy uncertainty.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

De Ja Vu 1982

A recent trip to the local Office Max took me back in time to the recession of the early '80s. I went there shopping for a thermal laminator, some labels and rubber bands. I expected the prices would be a bit higher, but what I found was ridiculous. The labels I had been paying just over $20 a pack for just 6 months ago were $46. The thermal laminator I had bought 18 months ago for under $37 was now $119. Even the rubber bands had gone from $4 and some change to $6.95. I had a $10 off coupon so I went ahead and got the labels and the rubber bands. Of course when I got home, I discovered I could get the same labels online from another source for $10.95 and the laminater for $40.

It took me back because I remember the recession of the '80s and how companies attempted to make up for lost revenue by raising prices. It didn't work then and it wont work now. I had planned on spending about $75 or so on this particular trip. Instead I spent about $40 and left with less than I was shopping for. They made a bigger margin on what I did buy, but I wont bother shopping there again. I know I can still find value elsewhere. It's just going to take a little more research.

That's what happened in the '80s. While most companies were offering less for more, some found ways to cut costs and keep prices low. The latter survived and thrived. The former did not. You may be tempted to follow the herd and try to slip price increases by your own customers. It may be unavoidable in some cases, but remember, your customers are also looking for ways to make ends meet. They are looking for value and they will be looking harder now than ever before. A 10% price increase will not result in more revenue if it causes sales to drop by 20% or more.

I was working at Dominos pizza when a franshisee came up with the idea for the "Mega Deal". The offer was for a large, unlimited topping pizza for $7.99. Corporate hated the idea. They just knew that lowering the average ticket price was a recipe for disaster. It couldn't possibly work. Not only did it work, other franchisees copied the model and before long it went nationwide. Profits in most areas that ran the promotion tripled.

When credit was easy people weren't as value conscious as they are right now. With internet, cable and cell phones, it's easier now than ever for word of real values to get around by word of mouth. Take care of your customers. Bite the bullet. Take the lower margin for a while. Look for value and pass it on to your customers. They will reward you for it in the long run.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I do not like green eggs or pizza

Going green has been all the rage in marketing for the past year or so. But it doesn't work for everything. The new Pizza Hut ad campaign is a prime example. The Pizza Hut "Natural" commercial sure doesn't get my taste buds excited. First they show a crust, that looks just like the box. Then they tell you they use "all natural pepperoni" which just makes you wonder what their regular pepperoni is made of. Basically, they make it sound like you'd be doing the planet a favor by buying one of these pizzas, but it sure doesn't sound appetizing.

Trucks are another realm where "green" doesn't play well. Fuel efficient means my v8 extended cab gets 20mpg. Don't try to sell a dainty carbon footprint to truck buyers. They aren't interested.

If I see "green" on an ad or bug or weed killer, that tells me one thing; they don't work. The same is true for shower heads, sprinklers and low-flush toilets.

"Green" can be an effective marketing tool if it is perceived to add value. If you have a product that is more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, while at the same time providing top quality and performance, you've got something. If you're simply giving me less in the name of saving the planet, know what they say about my back and the rain.