Attitude and Success, Blogging, E-mail Marketing

What the Future Holds

No Comments 12 May 2011

From time to time, I update the readers of this blog on the goings on of the blog and our other business interests. It’s been quite some time since I’ve made such a post, so here goes…

This morning I was considering that next year (2012) will be the 10-year anniversary of my blogging on this URL (some of the original content has long-ago been eaten by the interwebs as a result of my learning curve back near the beginning in doing things such as this…). That seems noteworthy to me in a world of often changing technologies, the blog has held its own and continues to drive an immense amount of business our way – and also to our clients who blog on their own domains. It’s a powerful tool, and one worthy of more attention in the coming months.

One-Year Ago

In March of 2010, we introduced the new logo on this blog, and what ensued was the most successful year of this blog’s history in terms of traffic, reader engagement, and social sharing. At the same time, we launched an effort to get small business owners to connect with one another in more of a community format, free of charge. We provided a free business directory listing exclusively for locally owned and operated small businesses (the sorts that don’t get marketing assistance from an outside power and really make 100% of their decisions at the local level). That part of the experiment didn’t go as well. We learned, as I think some other major bloggers and business people are learning as we speak… small business owners don’t have time for extracurricular networking online. I was reminded that this happens on a local level – where they are pressured more to participate in Chambers and business development groups – and so they do. Over the year, we’ve backed off of wishing business owners would spend more time using us as a networking center and have been happy that they’ve increasingly relied on us for information and ideas.

Promotional Ideas via Email

As such, we’re pursuing more ways to get more information and ideas out to small business owners in a way that they can digest it. Saving you steps saves you time, so just two months ago, we launched Promo Ideas that Work in This Economy – a weekly e-letter delivered directly to your Inbox. For only $27 a month, you don’t have to think about what sales or promotions you’re going to have, we cover it for you and make the ideas easy to implement. And we do NOT focus on discounting: four out of every five-promo ideas is for selling in a way other than discounting. If you haven’t yet signed up for this, may I recommend that you do – it’s a long, beefy letter every single week, delivered to your Inbox.

Some Things Always Stay the Same

I have been reminded that in more than a decade of being self-employed, technology and marketing tools have changed a LOT, but the lifestyle of a local small business owner has NOT changed much at all. The obstacles of limited time, limited know-how when it comes to technology, and limited ability to maintain consistent, effective marketing are all still in place. And these are the challenges that we must help you overcome.

What the Future Holds

As such, the future holds more “on the ground” services that will be bundled and made ridiculously affordable for small business owners AND save you time, save you having to know about technology at all, and save you from the emotional and financial roller coaster that results from inconsistent marketing. The blog will carry on, and it will be a supplement to new business models that will bring services to your door (yes, with a real live person). It will bring expertise to your community. And it will bring even more ideas and information to your Inbox and to this blog. I’m not ready to make any formal announcements yet, but suffice it to say, we’re very excited about the iteration of our relationship with you. I hope you’ll stay in touch and continue to help us learn how to help you better as we go along this path together.

If you don’t get our blog posts delivered to your Inbox, now might be a great time to subscribe, so you don’t miss any opportunities for you or your community as we announce them in the coming months. I welcome your feedback. Our passion is to help you succeed.

Image by: By ▌ÇP▐

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Being Human in Business… Works

Attitude and Success, Blogging, Customer Retention, Customer Service, Employees, Facebook, Inspiration, Retail, Twitter

Being Human in Business… Works

1 Comment 11 May 2011

It’s funny. It seems like the posts you (my readers) like the best are the ones where I give a more personal insight into the work I’m doing, or the thoughts I’m thinking as it relates to business. Not to take all the warm and fuzzies out of it, but I’ve got stats to prove this. The web analytics, Facebook insights and Twitter re-tweets – they all tell the story. My readers…my customers…they like knowing the real me and hearing that inside my brain, emotional, thoughtful type stuff.

Which got me thinking… maybe your customers would like the same thing.

Customers Are Humans, Too.

In general, humans are emotional beings, created to live in community with other humans and to interact with on a personal level. There’s way more to every business transaction than some logical need – there is an emotional connection that takes place – yes, even in the most shrewd business situations. So, how can you use this fact to connect on a deeper level (which creates immense customer loyalty, by the way) with your customers today?

Here are a few ideas I had… But I’d also love to hear your ideas, so fire away in the comments sections to help all of us do a better job at using our “humanness” as a marketing tactic to grow our businesses.

1. Use a picture of a human (you, the business owner, the manager, a key employee, an employee of the month, even a customer testimonial with photo) on your outgoing messages (that includes email, web site pages, traditional advertisements, posts on Facebook and your Twitter profile pic for your business).

2. Have all owners and employees name tags in your business, so that customers can connect with a name, not just a face.

3. Have all owners and employees introduce themselves personally and shake hands or hug customers when they enter (depending on the level of familiarity, of course). Physical contact in this professional way will deepen relationships and leave a more lasting positive impression.

4. Have your owner and employees become a source of valuable ideas instead of marketing gimmicks. For example, instead of greeting a customer with a sales gimmick when they walk in the store, have them demonstrate what to do with a certain item, how to use it, etc.

5. Place signs around the store with photos of employees or owners that provide personalized advice through signage. For example:

Mary’s Top 10 Graduation Gift Ideas Under $50

Mary’s Favorite Pair of Jeans for Summer – White Bootcut Delta Blues

Mary Recommends… Mixing your grandmother’s antique china with this Gail Pittman ivory pottery plate for a bright spring luncheon

6. Use your blog, email, Facebook and Twitter as a place to circulate more of these types of ideas, to reach out to others who are asking questions or making comments that you can engage in conversation about (i.e. be human and join conversations in a normal human way, but on behalf of your business).

7. Use your blog to explain more about the ideas you’ve shared on the signs in-store. For example, you can create a blog post “written by” the person who made the tip on the store sign, include their photo on the blog post as well, include some additional sample pictures of products (include price and official name of product in the caption), and explain in more detail what you presented on the store sign. For instance, if you were saying more about Mary’s favorite pair of summer jeans, you might show some outfit ideas, tell why they are her favorite from her perspective (does she have a certain body type that they fit well, are they lighter weight for hot Southern summers, is there an event that she looks forward to that she plans to wear the jeans to?), and even share a bit of the story behind the brand (a brand created in the South to fit Southern women, etc.). This extends the customer’s in-store experience, and it gives you a lot of content to post on social media, which will in turn also create new sales. And it’s all done from a human, personal perspective, which will lead to tighter emotional connections, higher per-ticket sales averages, and a more loyal customer base.

Trust me… we all really do like it when people are more human in how they do business. The numbers prove it.

Image by: brewbooks

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How to Identify Your Niche Customers

Advertising, Attitude and Success, Customer Demographics, Customer Retention, Local Business Marketing, Marketing, Restaurant & Food Service, Restaurant Marketing, Retail, Small Business, Small Business Goals, Small Business Marketing, Small Retail Business, Success in this Economy

How to Identify Your Niche Customers

2 Comments 04 March 2011

As we explained in a previous article , the key to locally owned businesses surviving and thriving in a competitive, online marketplace and tight economy is to find and dominate a niche of their own.

Small businesses can’t compete with the advertising dollars and inventory numbers of huge national chains; they can establish themselves by finding a specialty and being the best in it.

You Can’t Please All the People

The toughest part of becoming a successful niche business is realizing that you simply won’t be able to make everybody happy. If you choose to specialize your small business in science fiction, for example, then you won’t gain a following of classic literature lovers. But you will gain science fiction fans. If you choose to specialize your locally owned restaurant in a specific type of cuisine, perhaps Italian, then you’ll lose the people who don’t like pasta. But you’ll have fervent and loyal customers in the pasta lovers.

The Trade Off

For a business to succeed in a specialty or niche, it has to make a trade-off. You trade the complacent, so-so, average customers for the fervent, dedicated, enthusiastic ones. Sounds like a good trade, right? It is, because a few enthusiastic customers will give you more in lifetime value and passionate referrals to their peers than many average customers.

Finding Your Enthusiastic Fans

The first step to identifying those customers you want to find and keep for the life of your business is to clearly define your specialty. What are you offering that’s different, better, or more unique than your competitors? Once you’ve identified your own niche – your special offering – you’re in the right position to find the people who will be interested in what you have to offer.

The second step is just a bit of simple brainstorming: who is going to be the most interested and the most enthusiastic about your specialty, your niche? Don’t focus on the people who might be interested. Focus on the people who will love what you offer. If you’re selling science fiction books, you need to be at the sci-fi gatherings, clubs, and conferences, and partnering up with the local theater when the next sci-fi movie opens. Market yourself to the most passionate people in the particular niche; they, in turn, will market you to the people they know. When you find and convert enthusiastic customers, they do the advertising for you.

Places to Look for your Niche Customers

  • Specialized online communities and groups
  • Local clubs and meetings
  • Conferences
  • Meet-up groups
  • Fan clubs
  • Organizations and associations
  • Trade shows

Note: If your “niche” is too big to define and go find in groups like these… then your “niche” isn’t a niche at all – and you need to work harder to find your small business’ niche – a truly narrow scope or specialty that will create a winning formula for your business in a difficult economic time.

Where would your ideal customers hang out? Where do they gather? That’s where you need to be.

Image by Rachel Voorhees.

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Plan for the New Economy with the Niche Model

Attitude and Success, Customer Retention, Local Business Marketing, Main Street, Main Street & Small Business Web Sites, Restaurant Marketing, Retail, Small Business, Small Business Marketing, Small Retail Business, Success in this Economy, Web Sites

Plan for the New Economy with the Niche Model

1 Comment 03 March 2011

Note: I got an e-mail a while back that challenged me on my inclusion of an Amazon link in one of my e-mail campaigns. This and the following post (and probably a few more beyond that into the future) will be my long-considered answer to the seeming “crisis” presenting itself to local brick-and-mortars… the invasion of big boxes and big-box style on-line competition. Here’s my first stab at how small businesses can beat Goliath.

Small businesses face a double challenge in the new economy; not only are we in the midst of recession like times, with everybody tightening belts and spending less, we’re also transitioning from store-front shopping on Main Street to isolated shopping via the Internet. Location is not the factor it used to be in shopping choices; anyone with Internet access (which seems to be practically everyone) can shop at any store online. The options have opened up, and for the most part, consumers seem to love the choices.

Locally owned small businesses can thrive in the new economy – and love it – but it requires a different approach. When your competition expands from being the other small retail shop two streets over to being the biggest national box stores plus the on-line retailers… it’s time to think of a new angle.

Independent bookstores are a good example, because the ones that have survived and thrive despite competition from Amazon.com have learned to work the new economic angle successfully.

The angle is this: you must create your own niche position and dominate it in order to compete with huge brands and online options.

It’s not enough to be an average bookstore, or an average retail shop, or an average restaurant. When customers have limitless options, average is not going to bring them back.

But you can bring them back.

Niche Examples from Independent Bookstores

An article in the New York Times highlighted how the niche angle has helped independent bookstores to survive. “Being a specialty store gave us something that would distinguish us,” said Alan Beatts, owner of Borderlands, which focuses on science fiction. “We are serving a special demographic, and we receive customer loyalty in return” For a locally owned bookstore, a niche could include

  • Selling signed first edition books (and holding regular author events)
  • Selling, trading, and assisting customers in rare books
  • Covering niche topics (stocking and special-ordering specialized books, magazines, newspapers, and trade journals)
  • Establishing expert status in book-related topics or specialized topics
  • Engaging an active online community and having stellar e-commerce options

So, if you’re a bookstore, a retail store, a service-oriented business, or a restaurant, how can you find your niche, establish yourself in it, and thrive in this new economy?

“It’s entirely possible that you will choose a niche that’s too small. It’s much more likely you’ll shoot for something too big and become overwhelmed. When in doubt, overwhelm a small niche.” -Seth Godin, business & marketing expert.

Want more ideas from the local book store angle? Here’s a post from USA Today on a similar subject showcasing ways that small local brick and mortar bookstores are competing with the Kindle, Nook and similar book technology…

Image by ReneS.

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Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Marketing Ideas

Advertising, Attitude and Success, Curb Appeal, Customer Demographics, Customer Retention, Customer Service, Event Marketing, Events & Schedule, Local Business Marketing, Marketing, Restaurant & Food Service, Restaurant Marketing, Retail, Small Business Goals, Small Business Marketing, Small Retail Business

Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Marketing Ideas

3 Comments 10 February 2011

The good news for retailers this Valentine’s Day is that consumer spending is on the rise. An annual Valentine’s Day survey, conducted by the National Retail Federation, suggests an 11% increase in spending on Valentine’s Day purchases. The expected total spending on all the romance is in the neighborhood of $15 billion dollars.

If you’re a retail store or restaurant owner, you should definitely be reaping some of those benefits from increased consumer spending.

And if you’re a retail store or restaurant owner, you should definitely be planning how you will attract those sales. Throwing a few paper hearts in the window is great, but come on: you can do better than that.

Even though we are less than one week to V-Day, you can still make the time count.

10 Last-Minute V-Day Marketing Ideas

1. Market to the ladies! Though men traditionally spend more on their Valentines than the other way around, women still comprise a large chunk of Valentine’s change, with the average female consumer expecting to spend around $80 on Valentine’s purchases this year. So clear out some of that lacey, heart-shaped stuff and put together some gift packages and product promotions that any red-blooded male would be happy to receive as a gift.

2. Put together a last-minute shopper’s package. Or several. There will be many who delay shopping until the last minute, and if you can present options that are thoughtful, creative, beautifully packaged, and good for several price points, you can get their business.

3. Hold extended hours on the weekend before Valentine’s Day. If you’re not usually open on the weekend, make an exception. Stay open late on Saturday night. Open up for a few hours on Sunday afternoon. Advertise your additional hours, of course, as a special time for Valentine’s shoppers.

4. Offer Early Bird Specials on V-Day itself. This year Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday; open up a couple of hours early for those wanting to grab a gift on their way to work. Put together a special discount for the Early Bird Shoppers. Have some piping hot coffee available, too. Donuts wouldn’t hurt.

5. Offer free delivery. Of course, not every business is set up for this, but if you are, then capitalize on it. Restaurants could offer pre-made romantic dinners to be delivered the day of (or a day ahead) with instructions on cooking or reheating as needed. Retail shops (beyond florists!) could offer beautiful wrapping and timely delivery of any Valentine’s gift purchased. It doesn’t have to be free, either.

6. Offer a custom shopping service. If you have some talented sales staff, offer to assist shoppers; uncertain or time-crunched spouses can call in with a price point, a few details about their significant other’s tastes, and then have you pick out, wrap (and deliver?) and charge them for a great, custom-selected gift.

7. Appeal to the rebels and creatives. Break out of the traditional Valentine’s Day flowers-candy-chocolates-dining gift list. What do you have that is quirky, funny, creative, off the cuff, special in a non-sappy way? There are plenty of people who are tired of the same old options. Give them something refreshing for a change.

8. Go with a red-and-white color theme. Help yourself think out of the box by promoting anything that fits into your red-and-white criteria as potential Valentine’s material. You could even offer a discount on any red or white items purchased between now and February 14th.

9. Offer an incentive with a future deal. Give a coupon towards 20% off future purchases with any purchase made for Valentine’s Day. Designate amounts if you want. Or make it for a specific product or service.

10. Extend your great offers through “Valentine’s Week.” Offer deals for the dudes in the doghouse (“Forgot Valentine’s Day? We can help!”) or the gals who didn’t get what they wanted (“Not loving your Valentine’s gift? Come pick out your own!”). Hey, when love is in the air, don’t just leave it hanging!

Image: Samantha Marx.

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Marketing Strategy: Customer Rewards for Social Networking

Attitude and Success, Customer Demographics, Customer Retention, Customer Service, Getting Results, Local Business Marketing, Restaurant & Food Service, Restaurant Marketing, Small Business

Marketing Strategy: Customer Rewards for Social Networking

No Comments 17 January 2011

In this week’s marketing strategy, we’re going to explore how to give customer rewards (customer loyalty rewards) in return for customers sharing your business on popular social media sites.

iMingle is a fairly new player in the social networking scene, and it brings in an element most people don’t associate with social networking: insurance. It works by rewarding people for networking and purchasing insurance; when individuals network, and get a group together to purchase insurance, they can get a multi-policy deal and garner big discounts that otherwise they’d have no way to access. The insurance companies get more customers, and the purchasers get a better bargain on what they pay.

So far it’s working pretty well, and it’s a new concept that small businesses can grab onto and use in their own way. Here’s how:

Putting the Strategy to Work in Your Locally-Owned Business

To apply this strategy to your own small business, ask yourself two questions: what do customers want most from you (what can you provide) and how can you give your customers what they want with your social networks? Let’s break that down a little bit by looking at a hypothetical case: a small-town restaurant owner with a good business and the desire to expand with online sales.

So our restaurant owner – let’s call him Jerry – thinks about what his customers want most from him. That means both his local customers and his (potential) online customers. Jerry wants to use his online presence to connect with local people and to increase his customer base for Internet sales of his packaged gourmet foods. He knows what his local customers want: they want to get great deals and discounts on meals at the restaurant. He’s asked them in various ways, and that’s always the most popular response.

Jerry’s not so sure about his Internet customers, because he’s still getting into that world of online sales. So he takes a guess that they probably want great deals on the stuff they’re going to buy from him, too. They want high-quality, unique gourmet food items and they want to get deals and discounts on those items.

In both cases, what Jerry needs to provide is a better deal or the opportunity for a discount: a way for his customers to get an insider’s bargain on his meals and gourmet items. The second question he thinks about is this: how can he use his online presence to give his customers what they want, in a way that rewards them for interacting with him (i.e. his restaurant) online?

Jerry comes up with these ideas:

  • He can give a coupon every time someone refers a friend who becomes a fan of the restaurant’s Facebook page or a follower of the restaurant on Twitter.
  • He can offer group discounts; when a fan or follower gets X number of people to make a purchase (in the restaurant or via the online store) they all get a certain discount. He can use coupon codes for this.
  • He can give a coupon for any type of social interaction online which promotes his restaurant; customers can “earn” a discount by sharing a link to his webpage, his Facebook page, or his Twitter account, or by blogging about his restaurant, reviewing his products, or getting a friend to sign up for his e-newsletter.

What ideas do you have for your business to expand your reach to new customers while rewarding the loyalty of existing customers?

Image: One Laptop per Child

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My Three Words for 2011

Attitude and Success, Planning & Goal Setting

My Three Words for 2011

No Comments 12 January 2011

Last October, Chris Brogan generously bought our breakfast at a little downtown Mobile, Alabama cafe – which really wasn’t playing fair after he had already spent so much more of his time investing in our ideas… Andy and I got a lot of value that morning – so much that thanks doesn’t begin to cover it. (On second thought, maybe I can pay him back by exporting grits to New England?).

Beyond what happened that day, there is one concept that I think Chris originated that has really encouraged me a lot – it’s his idea about “three words.”

Embedded Words

Last year I toyed with the “three words” concept a lot, and I just took some time to get my sea legs under me on this idea. My take is that the three words are like a short term mission statement for me, and as such and not wanting to be flippant about it, I literally took a year to think about this and when the clock rolled over to 2011, my three words for 2011 were already concretely etched in my mind and have been driving my work everyday of this year (and okay, for a wee bit before). I talk about them, and I frame my business and life around them… at least for this year… until a new season comes around.

Kings, Diplomacy, Advocacy

Kings. This is one of Chris’ 2010 words. And while I’m getting bored with him having all of the good ideas first, I have to say that this one really gelled with me, and I can’t escape having it on my list this year. Kings have kingdoms. Kings can find other kingdoms with which to partner, kings wear crowns and kings conduct diplomacy and advocacy. Kings meet with other kings and support them. Sometimes they even help create other kingdoms. I want us to act more kingly (or queenly as the case must be for me). I want to be a servant king without wasting time – mine or anyone elses. I want to be wise. I want to meet other kings and create kingdoms and train new kings. Kings have authority, confidence… good kings are trusted, valued, and are ultimately – servants of their kingdom. I want to be about all of that – and we are on that path with the infancy of new business models (new kingdoms) that will support local businesses and specific geographic areas in new ways during 2011.

Diplomacy.  Competition is out; diplomacy is in. Webster’s says (among other things) that “in an informal or social sense, diplomacy is the employment of tact to gain strategic advantage or to find mutually acceptable solutions to a common challenge, one set of tools being the phrasing of statements in a non-confrontational, or polite manner.” Diplomacy is, at its core, about partnerships and trust. It’s about relationships, respect, and mutual benefit. Diplomacy is equal opportunity: with superiors, equals and up-and-comers. Diplomacy should stretch us and our ideas to better places and benefit lots of people beyond ourselves.

Advocacy. I want to stand up for those that need help. In some way of late, that is why my passion for local business has only grown – not weakened. As I’ve seen government efforts largely fail and small business owners grope for new ways to find success, I’ve sought to not just help – but become an advocate in various ways. My heart is to put myself aside and pour out my life in service to others – my family, my friends, those who can’t help themselves (the homeless, unemployed, orphaned) and on a work front: local businesses. Advocates go to bat for someone that needs help and stands in the gap to make a way for things to get better. Advocates fill a need and reinforce another’s position. I encourage and will pursue customer advocacy a lot this year to help businesses and my own projects provide remarkable customer experiences, to build customer loyalty, to grow customer communities and reach new kingdoms of customers. I want to serve how our kingdoms need us to serve – not continue to serve in the way that we always have – that seems like an advocate sort of thing to do.

Lastly, I can’t help but throw this out there…. After a year of simmering on the idea of three words, I also narrowed down a bigger theme that I instituting as my personal and business purpose statement. It’s not a word so much as a short phrase – but it’s about a concept that we all struggle with at one time or another. It’s about going the distance – not fading in the last inning. It’s about finding completeness and pursuing things to the end. It’s about doing my best until it’s done – and nothing short. It’s about never looking backwards and being defeated by past mistakes – and about looking forward to what I can do now – and in the future. My fourth word (well, phrase) of the year will last well beyond 2011. “Finish well.”

More “Three Words”

Following are some other blog posts out there following this same theme using the “three words” for guiding their year. These are some ideas that might guide you – and encouraged me to read. I hope you find them encouraging, too.

Chris Penn’s three words do not disappoint. He is always a genius and makes everyone think harder.

Beth Kanter’s three words post includes a nice chart and some cool references… She’s a smart thinker.

Michelle Wolverton challenged me with her choice of “fearlessness.” Plus, I hear she’s from the South, so she must be awesome.

Susan Murphy has three great ideas in her three words – but I like the concept of “intersections” the best – kinda fits well with some of my words as well… good stuff.

What three words will guide your business this year?

Photo credit: 24oranges

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About Marianna Chapman

For the past 15 years, Marianna Chapman has been creating game-changing big ideas resulting in big returns for dozens of businesses and communities across the U.S.

Today, Marianna and her team help business and non-profit clients at Big Idea Company, Inc., writes the Results Revolution blog, serves as Executive Editor for Eat Cities, LLC media outlets, and is a frequent speaker to national and regional conferences.

Marianna is a professional problem solver and rainmaker for hire.

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