Why low tech, traditional marketing methods still work

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve read that ‘traditional’ marketing techniques are dead. It would seem that if you don’t have an app, mobile website and a presence in every form of social media channel you must be doing something wrong. Last week I came across a company proving that simple, low tech marketing techniques are still very much alive.

I had arrived early for a meeting and, having a few minutes to kill, opted for a bit of window shopping. I was approached by lady carrying a tray of freshly baked cinnamon and sugar pretzels and, naturally, stopped to taste one. As I exclaimed: ‘ummm, it’s lovely’ the lady simply smiled, pointed in the direction of the outlet and handed me a sheet of discount coupons.

I didn’t give this a second thought until I emerged from my meeting feeling a little peckish. I fished out the sheet of coupons, selected the offer that was most appropriate, and duly went off to buy a pretzel.

From product sampling to buying in the space of 90 minutes – what would you give for a response like that?

Whilst this is a very specific example, the principles behind why this particular promotion worked are well worth exploring for your business:

  • Timing – when are your potential customers most receptive to trying or buying your particular product?
  • Opportunity – how can you get in front of your potential customers and give them the opportunity to trial your product?
  • Incentive – what can you do to encourage your customers to buy after they have tried your product?

If you can think through these questions, you may well be on the road to finding a simple marketing approach that will work wonders for your business.

Is sponsorship a viable marketing option for small businesses?

I was with a client last week brainstorming low-cost marketing ideas when I stumbled across the fact that they had a long-standing sponsorship arrangement with a local golf club. I use the term ‘sponsorship’ loosely; it actually consisted of a rather faded board with a logo on it somewhere around the course. Clearly there was potential to make much more of the arrangement and, by the end of the discussion, we had come up with an exciting plan to really leverage the deal.

Like any other tactical marketing activity, the use of sponsorship must fit into, and work with, your overall strategy. It must, of course, be relevant; there is probably no point sponsoring a basketball team  if your target market is mum’s with pre-school aged children for example.

Another key element to a good sponsorship arrangement is the opportunity for ‘activation’. Simply put, activation refers to how you  use the elements of your sponsorship deal beyond simply slapping a logo on a sports kit or putting up a billboard at a venue.  It is imperative that you put time and money into developing an activation plan to get the best out of your sponsorship opportunity.

There are no end of creative ways to activate your sponsorship deal; here are just a few to think about:

  • PR – make sure that you take advantage of every opportunity to  create a positive association between your brand and the team/individual or event that you are sponsoring. Include online media such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs as well as the more traditional methods.
  • Sales promotions – can you offer free samples or special offers to supporters and participants via a database, e-newsletter or fanzine?
  • Hospitality – reward loyal customers, staff or potential new customers with VIP tickets to events.
  • Signage/logo placement – create positive awareness and reinforcement of your brand among your target market.
  • Marketing campaigns – develop marketing campaigns around your sponsorship to gain maximum value.

When most people think about sponsorship they imagine big brands and even bigger bucks. I believe that, with a great deal of focus and a good measure of creativity and commitment, small businesses can implement sponsorship arrangements that can be highly effective in building awareness.

Image: www.freedigitalphotos.net

Tell it straight: why clear communication is so important

I have had cause to seek ‘help’ from various quarters in the last few weeks and have encountered varied levels of, shall we say, customer service.

It all started with a trip to A&E; nothing too serious thankfully but stressful all the same. Despite the lengthy wait (which we are all programmed to expect), it was a generally good customer experienced due, in no small part, to the interaction with the staff and their ability and willingness to explain the process to me.

Unfortunately the trip to A&E necessitated rearranging summer holiday plans, which is when the communication all started to fall apart. Tens of calls, several emails and one letter later, I am left wondering why I can’t seem to get a straight answer from anyone!

As consumers few of us read the small print until we have to; how often have you simply clicked ‘agree’ to the terms and conditions without a second thought? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not moaning about the terms themselves; but now I do need to refer to them, it would be good if someone could actually explain what they mean. What is a ‘minor’ change to the holiday for example, and how do I get hold of ‘the manager’ who is able to ‘use his discretion’ to issue a credit note.

Small print, terms & conditions, customer agreements, whatever you call them, are a necessary part of running any business. It seems pretty obvious that they should be clear and unambiguous; but they also need to be supported by processes and procedures so that your staff know exactly what to do when it is necessary to use them.

Turning conversations into sales

I had yet another telesales call this week that reminded me why some of the basic sales training I undertook in my early days is still valid today. It went something like this…

  • Telesales guy : Can I speak to the business owner?
  • Me: Yes, that’s me.
  • Telesales guy: Oh good. Do you have an epos machine?
  • Me: No
  • Telesales guy: Would you like to have an epos machine if the monthly charges were lower?
  • Me: No
  • Telesales guy: Oh. Wouldn’t it help your business to have an epos machine?
  • Me: No
  • Telesales guy: Oh. OK. Bye then.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that you won’t get very far by asking a series of closed questions, yet we all fall into the trap from time to time. I watched an experienced newsreader just last night trying to interview an eight year old boy using closed questions. It was painful. The boy, who was clearly dying to tell his story, was prevented from doing so by the interviewers ineptitude.

Closed questions do have their place of course, and they are great for:

  • Gaining factual information, as in: Am I speaking to the business owner?
  • Clarifying that you have understood a situation, as in:  So am I right in thinking that you don’t currently have a marketing plan?
  • Getting a desired positive answer, as in: Would you like to generate more business?
  • Seeking to close a deal or teasing out an objection, as in: Would you sign today if I were able to deliver next Tuesday?

If ultimately you are trying to sell something, you will need to use a mix of open and closed questions to really develop the conversation. The good news is that most of us do this naturally in a social situation, which is perhaps why people who are genuinely interested in others often make good sales people. With a little self awareness and preparation you can hone the questioning techniques that you are probably already using and start to turn your conversations into natural sales opportunities.

‘Old’ doesn’t have to mean out of date

A highlight of my recent trip to Paris was stumbling across an amazing shop selling a stunning array of traditional kitchen ware. It looked like a museum piece;  jammed full of every conceivable item from copper pots to pastry cutters. The stock levels were immense, the pricing system idiosyncratic, the staff plentiful and the trade brisk.  But I found myself wondering how successful the business was.

Granted, the shop was  aimed at the serious chef and restaurateur, yet they tolerated our presence good-naturedly despite the fact that we were obviously tourists. Have they just cleverly found their niche in a city that puts so much emphasis on good food and eating? Or are they simply living in the past?

On my return home I googled ‘Restaurant suppliers in Paris’ and up popped: E.Dehillerin  Le specialiste du materiel de cuisine; I recognised the shop in an instant. OK, so their website could be better and the on-line ordering is a little basic, but somehow the business has survived from 1820 – 2012. Not bad going.

I wonder if E. Dehillerin have a social media strategy or are planning on launching an app any day soon? Probably not. Yet they do seem to have an enviable reputation amongst their target market and I found plenty of enthusiastic blog posts about them. They have clearly found their niche and are obviously supplying the right product range and service to keep generations of restauranteurs returning.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m happy to see that applying the basic foundations of marketing – knowing your customer, supplying the right product and providing good customer service – can still sustain a business in our high-tech world. Yes of course marketing methods have changed over the years, and will continue to do so at a rapid pace, yet the fundamental principles are still relevant.

Can social media level the playing field?

I came across a brilliant example of how  a focused social media strategy really can create results that, in the past,  only an enormous marketing budget could have hoped to achieve.

The ‘product’ in question is football…women’s football to be precise. Women’s football, though supported by the FA to some degree, suffers from a lack of recognition despite the numbers of girls and women now involved in the sport. With a modest marketing budget, teams in the Women’s Super League (WSL), are turning to social media to develop their fan base.

The use of Twitter has been a key part of their strategy with each team in the League nominating an ambassador who engages with fans on a regular basis. Team members display their Twitter account name on their kit to further promote engagement.

The results to date have been encouraging, with social media channels attracting around 80,000 followers. The Fifa Women’s World Cup in July 2011 reportedly attracted over 7,000 tweets per second at its peak; making it one of the most tweeted about events. The real measure of success, attendance of WSL matches, is said to be up by 600%. What other media can boast that kind of success on a relatively low-budget?

Why entering awards is good for business

I went to a FSB Business Awards ‘meet the judges’ event on behalf of a client a few months ago …and ended up entering the awards myself! Why?

The benefits of actually winning an award are pretty obvious, and I have to admit that my eyes were definitely on the prize, as I visualised  myself at a glittering ceremony with the champagne flowing! However, as I began  to put my submission together, I realised the  inherent value of simply going through the entry process. 

To enter a business award you will probably be asked in-depth questions about your business plan, customers, products, marketing methods and financial success; giving you the opportunity to cast a critical eye over your own plans. How often do you give yourself ‘permission’ to spend time simply thinking about your business?

In my view, even if you don’t make it to the shortlist, entering an award is time well spent. If however, your business is chosen as a finalist, here are some of the benefits you will enjoy given a little effort and a good publicity plan:

  • Having your business reviewed by an independent panel of judges adds credibility which in turn helps to cement relationships with existing customers and build alliances with new ones
  • Being a finalist gives your business a point of difference
  • You can use the award to raise awareness of your business with your target market
  • Being a finalist is great for staff morale as well as your own motivation.

Competitions like the FSB Business Awards are obviously designed to give small business a platform on which to promote themselves, so why not make the most of them?

PS. I’m delighted that I’ve been shortlisted in two categories and, if nothing else, have an excuse to buy a new outfit for the Gala Dinner next month!

How much would you pay for a cup of tea?

On a recent trip to Paris I was staggered to discover the huge variation in the price of a humble cup of tea. Who would have thought that a pot of boiling water and a handful of tea leaves could command a price of almost 5 Euros?

What pricing strategy are Parisienne restauranteurs and bar owners subscribing to? Is it simply the obvious ‘rip off the tourist’ strategy or something altogether more sophisticated?

I was particularly taken by one establishment that displayed no less than three separate prices for a cup of tea. The price got progressively higher the closer you sat to the main road. To enjoy your beverage taking in the full ‘Parisienne pavement experience’ you could pay almost twice as much as sipping your tea at the bar. I have to admit to being impressed by the use of micro location as a price differentiator; clearly Parisienne restauranteurs know their customer base well and are  cleverly commanding a premium price for a commodity product.

Secretly though I was pleased that it was a cold day; I was more than happy to sit at the bar and take advantage of the minimum price of a cup of tea. Now, perhaps if they really thought it through they would take their pricing strategy to a whole new level by reversing the structure on a cold rainy day. Or perhaps there aren’t that many sad British tourists who can’t survive more than an hour without a cup of Rosy Lee, to make using the weather as  a pricing factor  worth while!

You’ll find more in-depth information on pricing strategy at thepricingjournal.com or get in touch if you’d like to discuss your pricing strategy over a cup of tea!

Don’t waste your money on advertising

I saw an, almost perfect, advert in a local magazine the other day. So, almost perfect in fact, that I contacted the advertiser  immediately and almost purchased!

This is why I think the advert worked:

  • It had a great headline which promised to solve a problem for me
  • The text was backed up by simple and relevant images which told me, at a glance, what the service was
  • It had a strong call to action
  • It was perfectly targeted; the adverts was appropriate for the publication and was extremely relevant for the target readership
  • Not only was it relevant but it was also well timed.

So why did I only almost purchase off the back of a seemingly well thought through piece of marketing? You guessed it… lack of follow through.

I googled the company in question, sent them an email enquiry littered with buying signals …and then…heard nothing. A couple of days later I phoned the number in the advert and got the response ‘ what advert is that then love?’

Will I buy from this company? Unlikely. Don’t waste your money on advertsing, however good, if you can’t get the rest of the sales process right.

Does your business model support your pricing?

Recently I have had a number of conversations with business owners who are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a reasonable rate for the service they offer.  They report that more and more contracts are being won or lost on price. Yet others seem to have no problem earning what they are worth.

Sure, we are in pretty tough economic times and price will always play its part in business decisions. In my experience though,  price is rarely the most important factor when it comes to a clients list of requirements. If you find yourself having to discount heavily to win business here are some of the questions you should be asking yourself:

  • Are you attracting the right target market? Can your particular market segment afford the service you offer or do you need to look at new segments?
  • Are you providing value for money? How much value can you add to your client  and what is the net benefit of using your services?
  • Are you communicating the value of the service that you offer? Are you focussing too heavily on the price you charge at the expense of the benefits you are offering?
  • Is price the real reason you are not winning  business or is there something more fundamental, like your service level, holding you back?
  • Do you discount as a matter or policy? Discounting can give a client the impression and you don’t think your services are worth the full price.

It may be worth taking a closer look at your business model before blaming the  fact that you can’t charge what you would like on the economic climate.