What are you really selling?

table for 2 in a seaside setting

Businesses that know exactly who they are and what they provide have a leg up on the competition. They have a deeper understanding of their value. Smart business owners incorporate this into a positioning statement or brand positioning statement.

If your marketing is looking a little dull or you don’t have a positioning statement, here’s an exercise that might help. Ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. What are you known for?
  2. Why do customers come back? 
  3. What do they say?

Then add a 4th: Are you satisfied with who and where you are? 

If the answer is no, keep reading. 

Let’s say you’re a (fill in the blank) company. Maybe a service provider. Or a manufacturer. Or perhaps you have a retail location or e-commerce website where you sell products. So that part is clear.

But what you’re really selling is probably far more. Let’s look at some examples.

Suppose you own a restaurant – one that’s upscale, sophisticated, and pricey. Maybe a prix fixe tasting (or degustation) menu. The kind of place you’d go to celebrate an occasion……or WILL once the pandemic has passed.

Alinea comes to mind. In fact on their home page, it doesn’t say “make a reservation”, it says “book your experience”.

Or Everest offering “exquisite wine and cuisine.” I’ve been to neither but from their marketing copy and website, I know these are very special places.

What Alinea and Everest are providing is far more than just food. They’re offering an experience, in this case, a fine dining experience….white linen on the tables, heavy gleaming flatware, subdued lighting, candles, gracious and attentive service. Designed to impress the diners. And hopefully have you recommend them to your friends or share on social media.

In another instance, you might be a service provider. Maybe a health and wellness business. COVID-19 seems to have launched a bevy of them as we struggle to stay fit and sane. Some are doing well. Others are, no doubt, struggling.

Let’s look at Peloton – as in “super success.”

Peloton took a product — a stationary exercise bike, made it state-of-the art and set off on a mission to “bring the community and excitement of boutique fitness into the home”. In eight years, they’ve added “addictive” real-time classes and morphed into a lifestyle, a platform, an app, and a way of life.

Peloton is providing far more than an ability to exercise at home. They’ve created a fitness platform and community that has transformed the way people exercise. Of course, a pandemic helped them become the success they are. But they knew when they launched that they were providing something different. And they made sure their marketing made it clear.

The examples above are not typical success stories. They’re the crème de la crème. The exceptions. So how does this relate to your small business?

Build Your Brand

Simple. If you want to build your brand, really make an impression on potential clients and become more successful, you need to focus on exactly who you are and what you provide.

And to do that, why not learn from the best – the companies that are knocking it out of the park. Yes, you’re probably on a much smaller scale, but so what? Most of us are.

Which takes us back to the beginning of this post and the question: What are you really selling?

Whatever product or service you offer needs to positively impact the potential customer. It needs to add value to someone’s business, bottom line or life.

We think one of our clients does this really well. (Full disclosure: we had something to do with that ;)

Tulip Tree CBD is an e-commerce company with product distribution in some brick and mortar retail shops. Their positioning is clearly stated on their website home page:

Founded by a nurse with decades of clinical experience in critical care, hospice, cardiology, and natural medicine, Tulip Tree is the culmination of a lifelong passion to help people relieve pain and suffering.

The value? The support of a knowledgeable and experienced healthcare provider in helping to relieve pain and suffering. The opportunity to live pain-free. To ease anxiety, stress, PTSD and insomnia.

So while Tulip Tree sells premium quality hemp-based CBD,  that’s not what they really do. What they really do is enable people to live better lives.

If you’re not happy with your company’s positioning, go back to the start of this blog and work on the questions we shared. If you come up with a positioning statement you’re happy with, share it with us. We’d love to see what you really do.

Read more about positioning and branding:

Branding News: 6 examples of brand positioning to inspire

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7 Things You Can Do Now to Get A Jumpstart On 2021

5 professionals jumping up in the air with joy

2020 has been a difficult and crazy year. Understatement ;).

We’re all looking forward to a fresh and hopefully healthier year in 2021. So rather than waiting to do a goals list for January, let’s get a jumpstart on 2021 now.

Here are 7 things you can start implementing in your small business right now.

  1. Finalize your 2021 marketing plan.  Don’t wait til year end. Do it now so you’re ready to rock’n’roll on January 1.
  2. Shake up your marketing. Try something new.  If your tactics-to-date have been soft sell, try being more forceful. This article from Click Z has some good hot-to tips.
  3. Focus on relationship building with your clients.  One way to do that is committing to being more authentic and being relatable. Let customers know there are real people behind your brand.
  4.  If you have products or services that have been sorely affected in our Covid-impacted world (think restaurant buffets, movie theaters or anything that doesn’t allow us to social distance), replace them if you can. Or pivot. There are certainly enough examples of companies doing that successfully. Like these three small business success stories in Inc Magazine.
  5. Cut yourself some slack. Most of us are too hard on ourselves. Learn to lighten up and appreciate the things you’re good at. This article in Medium has some smart advice to help you.
  6. Hire a business coach or a sales development consultant to help build your business. Getting fresh input can be the difference between blah sales and soaring numbers. If you need some suggestions, call us. We’re happy to recommend someone.
  7. If you don’t already have a robust email program, put your database to work.  Ramp up your email marketing with fresh offerings and enticing copy. Read this article from Campaign Monitor for some great tips on how to build a cult following.

Hopefully, these tips resonate with you and give you some ideas on how to jumpstart your own marketing.

The small businesses that will survive these shaky times are the ones that are being proactive about moving forward.

We think that’s a really good group to be part of.

 

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If your website isn’t functional & secure, you’re losing business.

happy website client

September signals the start of fall. A time of new beginnings — change of season, a new school year, for some companies a new fiscal year.

For small business owners, fall is often the time to think about ramping up business. Maybe you need to refresh dated marketing material. Or spruce up your website with fresh content.

It’s also the perfect time for a digital tune-up to ensure that your website is performing efficiently. Is your site’s backend functionality where it should be? Is current content? Are plugins up-to-date?

To help you assess your site’s performance, we present 5 ways to make sure your website is functioning efficiently right now.

  1. Keep your SEO (search engine optimization) up-to-date. If you’ve been writing blog posts or adding new content without optimizing that material, it’s like forgetting to tell customers you’ve got new merchandise they’ll be interested in. They won’t know if you don’t tell them.
  2. Check that all images have an alt tag or alt text. Aside from helping with SEO, this enables visually handicapped visitors to “read” images via screen readers. Learn more about alt tags here.
  3. Is your content current? Dated content not only makes it look like your business may be suffering (not surprising in this time of COVID-10 closures, but also something you want to avoid). Keep your content fresh and compelling if you want visitors to return regularly and refer your site to colleagues and friends.  Here are some quick and easy content development tips.
  4.  Is your site loading quickly? There are several things that make sites sluggish and slow to load — overly large or high rez images, plugins that are no longer being used but are bloating your site, or your ISP (internet service provider) to name a few reasons. Whatever the cause, the result is not one you want. Slow loading sites mean lost visitors. When we’re so used to speedy connections and quick downloads, few people want to wait more than a few seconds for a site to load.
  5.  Is your site secure? If your website url starts with https://, it’s secure. If it still says http://, it’s not. And it’s not SSL (Secure Sockets Layered) encrypted so it may be vulnerable to hackers. Something you definitely don’t want! Getting an SSL certificate is something your developer or IT person should do. It’s something we handle for all the sites we build.

Of course, there are other things you can do to keep your website secure and functioning smoothly. We’ve just highlighted the “musts”. Most of these are best left to professionals who work with websites on a daily basis.

We’re happy to chat with you about whatever’s keeping you up at night keeping — whether it’s making sure your website is secure, how to give your site a fresh new look…..or any marketing issues you might be having.

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Smart small businesses come up with solutions.

graphic image of the word create

Many thanks to Lum3n for use of this Pexels image.

A recent headline in the Wall Street Journal jumped out: Target Posts Record Quarter.

Really? Month 6 of a pandemic. Life is anything but normal. Shops still closed. Restaurants going out of business. And Target can’t get out of their own way.

What’s Target doing that others aren’t?  It’s simple, really. They’ve listened to their target market. And provided solutions.

Their customers want to be safe. They want to shop from home and pick up purchases without getting out of their cars. Or get deliveries. They also want convenience and to save time.

Smart small businesses come up with solutions.

Target ramped up their online presence and made it easy to shop their website. Don’t want to go into stores to browse back-to-school items? Their robust website has everything your kids need online. So you can easily shop from home, then pick up at a dedicated pickup location or get your items delivered.

No, it’s not the same back-to-school experience we knew. No browsing the aisles so your kiddos can find the right color glittery folders. No picking that perfect pencil case and backpack. No trying on new clothes.

But this is a new school year unlike any we’ve seen before. And these are the realities. The retailers who GET it……like Target….are seeing sales soar. And they’re not alone.

What can you, a small business owner or an entrepreneur, take away from Target’s example?

Here are five things you can do right now:

  1. Pay attention to what keeps your customers up at night. Then find a solution that you can offer them.
  2. Let them know. Share those solutions/new services on your website, in emails and newsletters and on social media. And ask people to retweet, reshare and tell their friends.
  3. Reach out. As soon as you’re aware that your clients are having trouble, let them know you’re there to help.
  4. Make it easy for them to contact you. Everyone has different ways they like to connect. Give them options — phone, email, text, Facebook Messenger.
  5. Research new products or services you might provide. Can you offer free delivery? Extended payment terms? (Be careful about that one). You might discover some new income streams, and that would be a win-win for you and your customers.

These are challenging times but that doesn’t mean your business can’t survive…..or even thrive. These are conditions that smart entrepreneurs look for.

What opportunities for growth do you see?

Now is the time to figure out exactly what you can do to move forward. Need more inspiration?

Read about some companies that are household names that successfully launched during wretched economic times:  13 Massive Companies That Started During a Recession by Kelly Bertog. You might be surprised. You’ll probably be inspired.

And if you end up coming up with some ideas, let us know. We love small business success stories!

Read some of our other articles to help you market smarter:

Small Business Marketing in the Throes of a Pandemic

Why Marketing Matters More Than Ever

Marketing Morsels: How Clear is Your Brand Voice?

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Small Business Shoutouts #2

Super Small Business Service Providers

Last month, we shouted about some fun things to do during this odd Chicago summer.

This month, we’re focusing on three small businesses offering services that can help you grow your business.

Video Production
Robb Emmett is the owner of WinWin Productions, Inc. and an excellent small business pivot story. When Covid-19 hit and he couldn’t shoot videos on location anymore, he put his videography skills to use virtually. Today, he patiently guides clients through the production process to create professional quality video for small business budgets. We’ve worked with him on four and couldn’t be happier with his attention to detail and easy manner.

Business Development
Big companies have in-house sales teams. Small businesses need a Reid & Co. Owner Nancy Reid has 30 years of experience in business development and sales training for clients in a variety of industries. She does the things you don’t have time for (or can’t do) — identifying new markets, finding potential clients, reaching decision makers and closing deals. She’s tenacious, smart and well-connected. I’ve seen her work. You want her on your team! Find Nancy on LinkedIn.

Public Relations
You might be the best in your field but if no one knows about you, it won’t help pay the mortgage. Flanagan Communications to the rescue! Dyana Flanagan is a Chicago-based public relations expert with solid media contacts in a variety of industries and super pitching skills. She’ll help get your message out where it needs to be seen and heard. And she’s a delight to work with — which is why some of her clients have been with her for years.

Strong business relationships are one of the best ways to build your businesses. We’ve culled many through networking including Robb, Nancy and Dyana, all of whom we trust to do what you need them to do.

Please help us spread the word about these excellent Chicago-area small businesses. And if you know of any exceptional providers, let us know. You can’t have too many outstanding contacts.

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Supporting Our Small Business Colleagues & Friends

Every once in a while, I like to look back to what we were doing a year ago.

In July 2019, life was radically different. We were busily blogging about branding. We also  roamed freely in our cities and networked face-to-face. Summer was filled with beach time,  boat rides, biking and concerts and festivals. A typical wonderful Chicago summer.

A lot has happened in this year. A lot of really difficult days as small business owners struggle  to survive…..or just to not have to shut down.

More than ever, we need to support one another. Our business community is stronger when  it’s healthy. So we’ve come up with something called Small Business Shoutouts. We want to  help our small business colleagues, clients and friends who are facing huge challenges. We  want to celebrate the grit, hard work and determination it takes to start a business and stick  with it through difficult times. Like now.

The goal of Small Business Shoutouts is to spread the word. Maybe you don’t know these  businesses or organizations. Maybe they offer something you’d love or a friend or colleague  would love. We’d love if you could share them with friends. Because we think that’s what a  healthy small business community does.

Here’s who we’re shouting out this month:

Shoutout #1 goes to Free Spirit Yacht Cruises, a family-owned private luxury yacht charter  Owners Angela and Joe Donofrio operate two of the most inviting private yachts on Lake  Michigan. Many of their corporate and private clients come back year after year to entertain  and celebrate happy occasions. But this year has been rough with almost three months lost  due to COVID-19. When your season is only six months long, it’s devastating to lose half of it.

free spirit private yachtA private yacht offers excellent entertaining opportunities despite the virus. And it definitely is  a spirit booster. You’re outside in fresh air and the yachts are large enough for easy social  distancing. You can still enjoy great food and drinks. The yachts are spotless and every  precaution is taken to keep you and your guests safe. So if you’re looking for a way to  celebrate summer, a private yacht charter might be just what you need. The season doesn’t  end till early October. Just sayin……

Full disclosure: I worked with Free Spirit on their marketing and PR from the time they first  bought the company ten years ago until 2018. We also designed several website iterations  (although not the current one).

Shoutout #2  is for 360 Chicago, the observation deck at the top of 875 N. Michigan Ave  (formerly called the John Hancock Building).
360 CHICAGO
Another near casualty of the virus, it just  reopened on July 1st and offers one of our town’s most amazing views. Whether you’re up for Tilt, billed as Chicago’s highest thrill ride, or just want to experience the oohs and ahs of our  city 94 floors below, it’s a treat for the whole family. They’ve taken all sorts of COVID-related  safety precautions? so you can feel perfectly comfortable visiting.  Full disclosure: Iris does their  graphic design branding work.

Shoutout #3 is not a small business but an organization that advocates for small businesses  in Illinois. The SBAC (Small Business Advocacy Council) is a non-partisan, member-driven  organization that promotes the success of small business through political advocacy, support  services and educational programs.

the sbac website home pageIf your small business has benefited from Illinois’s reduced LLC filing fees or from bills that make it  easier for small businesses to compete with large companies in the same arena, you can thank the  SBAC. Aside from advocacy, it offers a wealth of resources including educational programs and  networking opportunities to all its members. We are active members.

We are also active in the SBAC Women In Business Group. And Iris is on the board of SBAC  Empower, an SBAC affiliate which promotes entrepreneurship and small business development in  economically-challenged communities with education and mentorship. Full disclosure: we did the  SBAC Empower website.

If you know of a Chicago area small business that could use a Shoutout, leave a comment and tell  us why. In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy the summer we’ve been dealt. It beats Chicago winter,  right?

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Small Business Marketing in the Throes of a Pandemic

When the world does a 360, everything you thought you knew becomes questionable.

In the grips of a frightening pandemic, advertising might be the last thing you’re thinking about. But businesses still need to be on their toes.

You simply can’t ignore campaigns you’ve been running because, odds are, the messaging needs adjusting. And if you don’t acknowledge the new normal, you’re going to look bad. Really bad.

See our latest video about companies that are thriving despite Covid-19.

The Good, The Bad & The Clueless

I’ve been watching way too much television since the pandemic.started.. But part of it is marketing research. I’m curious as to how businesses are handling messaging during the pandemic. Some are ignoring it and doing advertising as usual. Others are either creating new ads or tweaking existing ad campaigns to reflect what’s going on in the world at the moment.

Ad Age took a look at 7 brands whose ads coincided with Covid-19.

Norwegian Cruise Lines stands out for horrendous timing. There’s not much else to say about it ……other than I’ll never take another cruise. Will you?

Here are a few companies doing a great job of adapting their messaging to fit the current climate:

Ford
Their commercials are reassuring, offering payment relief for Ford Credit customers. The director of U.S. marketing for Ford Motor Co. said: “It’s important to be reassuring right now and not trying to say to people ‘Rush into your car dealership for a sales event.’ ”

Nike
Nike’s new campaign focuses on social distancing and staying inside. Play inside, play for the world.” Perfect.

Hyundai
Hyundai  replaced their previously scheduled campaign with new spots touting the Hyundai Assurance Job Loss Protection program which defers payments for people who recently bought or leased a car and lost their job during a certain timeframe.

Toyota
Toyota’s new campaign reassures viewers that they’re “here for you now and in all the better days ahead .”

The examples above show how smart marketing teams pivot and respond during a crisis. They’re proactive and they speak to the fears and needs of viewers.

In return, we feel like these brands really give a damn. And when life returns to normal, these brands will be top of mind.

Look to the Businesses that are Marketing Smart

So what can small businesses learn from how big firms are handling their advertising campaigns during a crisis? Here are 4 key takeaways:

  1. Be compassionate. Don’t try to do business as usual when nothing is as usual. Empathize with your audience. Let them know you understand (and share) their fears.
  2. Be authentic. If you want customer loyalty, give them a reason to be loyal. People can usually see through phoniness. If your company has run some ads that ignored the tragic state of the world, acknowledge the error. Apologize and move on. We’re a very forgiving people. You’ll have another chance.
  3. Be trustworthy. Can customers depend on your company’s products or services? Make sure you give them a reason to trust you. This does more for brand loyalty than almost anything else. ‘
  4. Be creative. What can you do to help customers and potential customers notice you, and hopefully, want to give you business down the road? Start by letting them know you’re here to help. Whatever it is they’re going through, be a resource.

Sadly, many small businesses will not survive the coronavirus. So while we’re all stuck inside, now is the perfect time to do what you can to make sure yours is one that does.

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How to Market During Troubling Times

Building a business is challenging enough when the economy is strong. But we’re currently in the throes of a pandemic and on the brink of a recession and this is something none of us have ever seen before.

Small business owners don’t know if they’ll be able to survive the next few months. So what can you do when you can’t open your retail business or restaurant or office where you meet with customers face-to-face?

This is a time to be super proactive. Sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to turn around is not an option. Rather, use this forced quarantine as a time to get creative with your marketing.

Here are eight easy-to-implement tips designed to stay in touch with customers so you don’t lose them.

  1.  Market consistently. You want to maintain visibility. It’s important to keep your name out in the marketplace – even if it’s only virtual. Never give your customers a chance to forget about you.
  2.  Focus on your customers’ needs. Some of them are obvious now – food, shelter, business support, and the personal services we can no longer get (anyone need a haircut?). But never assume. Ask your customers what they need and how you can help. Let them know you’re still there for them.
  3. Make customer care a priority. A positive customer experience may be the difference between keeping a customer or losing her to a competitor. Vow to make every customer experience a positive one.
  4. Keep your marketing message consistent. Don’t keep changing who you are. Not only does that muddy your brand, but it confuses your customers.
  5. Don’t ignore what’s going on and pretend it’s business as usual. Nothing is as usual right now. Acknowledge that. If you’re a brick & mortar shop and can offer e-commerce, do it. Some sales are better than no sales. If you can’t sell online, what CAN you do? Could you offer online seminars or webinars? What about coaching? Get creative about alternative ways to bring in money.
  6. Find a WOW” about your business. If you can’t find one, create one. It’s the reason customers talk about your shop or your services. One-of-a-kind products. Custom designs. Styles that are always a few steps ahead of the current trends. Consistently outstanding customer service. What makes your company special?
  7. Read Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill. It’s a great book that explains what triggers peoples’ “need that” button.
  8. Don’t get discouraged. Well, try not to. Our economy is cyclical. The stock market always comes back. Yes, even from devastating losses like we’re seeing now.

Hopefully, your business will come back as well. But in the current economy, you need to hustle to make that happen.

If we can help, let us know. In the meantime, stay safe.

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Our small business community can beat this!

The coronavirus has impacted how we live and work.

Schools are closed. Restaurants and bars, too, except for delivery or pickup (at least in Illinois). Appointments that aren’t critical are being postponed. Our world is getting much smaller.

It seems the entire country is working from home for the next few weeks. Savvy companies like Google and Zoho are making that easier to do with free productivity tools. Remotely from Zoho was developed in just one week. Google is offering access to their advanced Hangouts Meet feature to all Education and G Suite customers until July 1st. 

Since it’s  not going to be business as usual for a while, we’ve been thinking about how companies can put this quarantine to good use. Cause we’re going to beat this!

 If you’re a small business owner or a solopreneur, this might be the perfect time to catch up on your marketing. Updating email lists. Creating an inventory of blog posts. Checking in with customers to see how they’re managing. And updating your website, which seems to be a stumbling block for many overwhelmed small business owners who never seem to be able to catch up. Here’s your chance. 

A Robust Marketing Tool
Your website should be your most robust marketing tool. According to Blue Corona, here are two reason why:   

  1.  97% of consumers go online to find a local business or local services.
  2.  Studies show that between 70-80% of people research a company online BEFORE visiting the small business or making a purchase with them.

Think about it. If your website hasn’t been updated with fresh content, new products and security fixes, you’re probably giving away business at a time when more and more people are online working remotely. Especially when we’re quarantined and looking for things to buy.

Amazon just announced that they’re hiring 100,000 workers to keep up with online deliveries. Give you any ideas?

What can you do?

Keeping a website fresh is actually not very difficult if you know what to do. It’s time consuming, however. So why not use this forced stay-at-home time to work on it.

Here’s a checklist of four things you need to do keep your website working for you:

  1.  Add new content regularly.
    Blogging is a great way to keep content fresh. A regular blogging schedule lets Google know to crawl your site on an ongoing basis.
  2.  Keep your site secure.
    Think only large companies fall prey to cyberattacks? Think again.According to Accenture, 43% of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses. And of that number, only 14% are prepared to defend themselves.Cyberattacks now cost companies $200,000 on average, putting many out of business. Make sure you install ongoing security updates. It’s not enough to just do it when your site is new. Hackers are constantly finding new ways to break in. So it’s critical that your site is protected with the latest technology.
  3. Keep your site optimized.
    Much like the security issues, algorithm changes affect search functionality.  So your keywords and phrases should be refreshed regularly. Don’t let your competition push you to the bottom of a search page.
  4. Never assume.
    As a business owner, you can’t afford to take things for granted. Periodically check your website to see how it appears on different size screens. A site that looks great on a desktop may look wonky on a cell phone.If there’s a problem with responsiveness, you want to be the first one to find it. You don’t want to hear it from  a client.

If you’re reading this and feeling that bringing your website up-to-speed is still not something you have time (or the interest) to do, contact us. We can handle your website management so you can spend your time doing something else to drive business. 

Because as scary as the current business outlook appears at the moment, eventually the coronavirus will be knocked out and life will resume. 

Hopefully, we will all come out of this experience safe and sound…… and wiser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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