Small Business Marketing in the Throes of a Pandemic

an image of the world wearing a protective mask

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.

The Good, The Bad & The Clueless

I’ve been watching way too much television since the shelter-in-place 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.

Adage 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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Why your presentations suck and what to do about that.

people falling asleep in an office

Ever wonder how effective your PowerPoint presentations are? What if you discover that the format you’ve been using is all wrong?

Inc Magazine recently published an intriguing article by Geoffrey James claiming that PowerPoint is “worse than useless”.

It brings to mind a presentation I received several years ago when I was lining up speakers for some seminars I was leading. I didn’t know what to do when a speaker submitted a 50-page PowerPoint deck for her 30-minute slot. My eyes glazed over as I scanned through it. Most of it text and bullet points, not images.people falling asleep in an office

I could see heads nodding just thinking about it. We had the speaker condense it as much as we could, but it was not one of the highlights of the seminar.

Rather, the talk that received the best rating was one where the wifi went out a few minutes into it (every speaker’s nightmare). This speaker used extensive knowledge of his topic and a warm, engaging personality to capture everyone’s attention.

So how do you ensure that your presentation is well received? I present bullet points 2 and 9 in this smart article from Presentation Prep titled “10 Most Common Presentation Mistakes”. Supported by this quick read from Inc Magazine contributor Jessica Stillman titled “A TED Coach’s 5 Best Tips for PowerPoint Slides That Won’t Put Your Audience to Sleep.” #5 is particularly appealing.

If you’ve been using slides in your presentations and notice heads nodding, what can you do?

Think about the best presentations you’ve attended. They’re probably the ones you remember. What stands out in your mind? Pretty slides? Probably not.

I’m not suggesting that you never use slides. In some cases….like a talk on photography….. they can be used very effectively. But I am suggesting that you use them sparingly — as support for what you’re saying rather than something to read from. Blah blah blah……

The best presentations are those where the speaker knows how to engage her audience. The ones you leave thinking “that was terrific” or “I want to hear more from this person”. Followed by feeling you need to:

  • Visit their website
  • Follow them on social media
  • Set up a coffee date.

In other words, the best presentations are teasers. They leave you wanting more. They’re new business drivers — the best kind of marketing tools you can find.

Next time you’re preparing for a presentation, try these 7 tips:

  1. Focus on how you can engage your audience. This might depend on who you’re speaking to. Men respond differently than women. Professions and type of industry also impact your presentation style. If you’re speaking to a group of brain surgeons, your tone and demeanor will be much different than a talk to event planners or yoga instructors.
  2. See how quickly you can get their attention. Think about what your audience needs. What can you give them that will help them work better, smarter, faster?Some speakers start with a question or two asking exactly that. Statements like “did you know?” or “have you ever tried….?” or “you know how you feel when…..?” come to mind. Why? Because they speak to problems you’ve had or entice you with a better way to solve something that’s always driven you a bit crazy.
  3. Ask your audience to take notes. You don’t just want them to listen. You want them to participate. With paper and pen, not digitally. The brain/hand connection has been well documented. Studies suggest that “Writing by hand strengthens the learning process”.
  4. Be authentic and likeable. We’re generally more engaged when we feel that we like the person we’re listening to.
  5.  Use humor (assuming the topic isn’t a very serious one). Laughing or smiling warms up a room and helps people relax. When we’re relaxed, we’re more receptive to listening – even if we don’t necessarily agree with the person speaking.
  6. Use handouts.  Preferably have them on the seats or tables at the start of your talk. That way, the audience can get an idea of what you’re going to be talking about. And they can use the handout to take notes.You might also include a “how’d I do?” form for people to rate your presentation. That lets them know you give a damn and want them to come away having learned something new or at least thought provoking.
  7. Close with a thank you. And a call-to-action for next steps.
    For example:
  • Feel free to call, text, email me with any questions you may have
  •  Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram
  • Sign up for my newsletter, podcast, etc.

Try these tips as you prepare for your next presentation and we’re betting you’ll have an engaged and smiling audience.

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Are you wasting your time sending emails?

your email campaign was a bustYou’ve decided it’s time to do an email campaign. So you buy a list, craft what you believe to be a good email letter and send it out. But when you look at the stats, you’re less than thrilled. Minimal opens. A lousy click through rate. ZERO conversions. What happened?

Let’s look at some possibilities:

  1. The list you purchased is ineffective.
  2. Your subject line is….yawn…..boring. Delete. Delete. Delete.
  3. You buried the lead. Get to the point before the reader drags your message to the trash.
  4. The tone of your letter is too formal.
  5. The tone of your letter is too casual.
  6. You missed some typos.
  7. There’s no call to action.

Any of these seem relevant? If so, here’s what you can do so your next email campaign isn’t a bust.

  • Save your moneyAccording to Hubspot, good email lists aren’t for sale. They suggest creating your own email list (we heartily agree) and this article gives you some good tips on how to do that.
  • Come up with subject lines that beg to be opened.  Pay attention to the emails you open. What are the subject lines that you simply must click on? That’s what you’re aiming for.

If you’re not a good writer, hire a copywriter. Your subject line should be enticing. It should either speak directly to your target market’s pain point or be clever enough that a prospect is curious to read more.   

For example:
Are cash flow worries keeping you up at night?
Do you know why your competitors are stealing away your clients?
3 things potential customers want that your company isn’t providing

  • Don’t waste a reader’s time. Everyone’s busy. Get to the point quickly. And make it easy to read by writing short paragraphs and breaking content up with subheads. Think of what you can do so the recipient can easily scan the entire letter. That increases the chances of being read.
  • Lose the formal language and infuse some warmth into your copy. The beauty of emails is that they are efficient direct marketing tools. You are speaking one-to-one with the reader. Actually, “you’re speaking one-to-one” is appropriate. It’s the perfect opportunity to write as though you were speaking face-to-face. 
  • Don’t be overly casual. Here’s an exception to the bullet above.  If the email is going to a recipient in a market where casual language is inappropriate (i.e. the FBI or legal entities), your copy should be straightforward. But not stuffy. You can still be human in your writing.
  • Make sure there are no typos. Typos are sloppy. They make an immediate bad impression. That’s why smart job seekers have multiple people review their resumes. It’s not just spelling errors, or the wrong word (e.g., “their / they’re / there”) but punctuation mistakes as well.

We make sure that three sets of eyes proof copy before anything goes out or gets published. Even then, we’ve had a few instances where we missed something. Believe me, you’ll be more careful the next time.

  • Call-to-action. If you’ve done a good job and your email gets read, be sure to lead the recipient to the next step.  Add a call-to-action so she knows what you want her to do. Or a “this is what we will do next”.

For example:

Let me know which of these dates/times work best for you to talk.
Which of our 3 free whitepapers would you like me to send you?
I’ll give you a call next week to set up a meeting.

I’ll add a few more tips:

  • Make sure your email speaks to the needs/wants/hopes of the recipient. That requires truly understanding their pain point.
  • Include backup. Use testimonials from happy clients to support your claims about how you can help this prospect.
  • Use color, white space and/or a graphic to make emails more visually appealing. Big chunks of copy are intimidating which means they probably won’t get read.

Who said email campaigns were easy?

Email campaigns can be challenging to pull off.  A 2018 Mailchimp survey showed the average email open rate was less than 21%. This was across the board for all industries they looked at.

That’s a whole lot of wasted effort as far as we’re concerned.  Our average open rate is 32%. That’s well above the average but we’re still aiming for higher.

Call us if your emails aren’t getting opened. We’d love to help you!  

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ever feel like you’re pretending to know more than you do?

Recently, we’ve noticed an interesting term bandied about in networking circles. It’s called imposter syndrome. We don’t like to miss anything, so we decided to do a little research.

Here’s what we learned.

Impostor syndrome is “the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications.” (Yes, Imposter Syndrome Is Real. Here’s How to Deal With It. Abigail Adams, Time Magazine, June 20, 2018).

While it smacks of insecurity, it’s not very unusual. According to Melody Wilder In her Fast Company article “The Five Types of Impostor Syndrome and How to Beat Them”, “70% of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their career.”

If these figures are accurate, 7 out of 10 people feel they put on a good show. They’ve internalized the negative connotation that the word imposter implies – fraud, charlatan, cheat. Actually, Fake It Til You Make It sounds a whole lot better. So does Act As If. But they’re all the same — Act Confident Til You Really Know What You’re Doing — Pretend and Hope No One Notices.

The idea that 7 out of every 10 people you know believe they’ve achieved success or recognition due to luck is hard to fathom. Especially if you fall into the 7. Maybe we need to rethink how we’re thinking.

The fact is that insecurity comes quite naturally to many of us when faced with something unfamiliar — particularly if you’re a perfectionist or micromanager.

Any time you learn something new, there’s a learning curve. The more you learn, the more you understand, the more your confidence grows.

One day you realize you know this topic pretty damn well. You may not fashion yourself an expert or a specialist, but you know you can deliver a product you’re proud of.  Imposter no more!

If you’re starting a business or beginning a new career, you will face hurdles. Odds are, you’ll also need to stretch and learn on the fly.

Technology changes at a maddening pace. You can’t be expected to be on top of everything in your field. But you can learn. You can attend seminars and workshops or take classes. You can network with people in your industry who may specialize in areas you don’t or who’ve found a smarter way to handle a problem. And you can ask for advice. Or help. Yes, it’s what smart people do!

For example, a web developer might belong to a developer’s forum where members share common problems, discuss solutions and evaluate themes, upgrades and plugins. A newcomer to the group might feel intimidated by members who’ve been around for a while. This can lead to the they-know-more, they’re-experts – I’m not mindset. Their advice to you? Do your best and learn as much as you can. In the meantime, act as if you know what you’re doing. It’s probably what they did starting out.

How to beat the imposter blues.

If you’re not 100% comfortable with your knowledge on a particular topic or issue, you may find yourself faking it till you are. Or you may BELIEVE you are faking it while actually knowing a lot more than you give yourself credit for (never end a sentence with preposition…apologies to my English professors).

See if this make you feel any better:

  • No one starts out as an expert. It’s something you achieve with study, effort and time.
  • Just because someone calls themselves an expert doesn’t make it so. Don’t let a label make you feel insecure.
  • Everything we learn is new. That’s what learning is all about. Becoming knowledgeable on a topic — whether your goal is to be an expert or simply good, really good — takes work.
  • Unless you feel you know something inside and out, you may still doubt your expertise.
    Perfectionists often feel like imposters. This comes from never being satisfied. But you can learn how to lighten up.

Maybe it’s time to work on your self-confidence and stop worrying about what you don’t know. Glass half full time.

Jeff Atwood, who blogs at codinghorror.com, “If I’ve learned anything in my career, it is that approaching software development as an expert, as someone who has already discovered everything there is to know about a given topic, is the one surest way to fail.”

I like Atwood’s attitude. It’s humble and honest and celebrates all there is left to learn rather than getting stuck on what you don’t know.

On that note, I think this is a good place to stop.

For some excellent tips on dealing with imposter syndrome, read Abigail Adams’ Time Magazine article, ”Yes, Impostor Syndrome Is Real. Here’s How to Deal With It.”

Feel free to share any comments if imposter syndrome is something you’ve dealt with. We might use it for a follow-up post on getting ahead.

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How mindful is your marketing?

Aware. Engaged. In the moment. All words and phrases affiliated with mindfulness. It’s all about a sense of “now”. No distracting thoughts about the future or the past. Just here and now and present and in the moment.

mindfulness can make your marketing more effective

Since mindfulness is good for the soul (thank you, HuffPo), we figured it must be good for other things as well. Like marketing.

A stretch, perhaps? Not if you think of it in terms of benefits — in this case, success.

If you were to apply the same techniques to marketing that you do to mindfulness, here’s what you might expect:

  • Improved focus.
    In this case, getting right to the point of what you want your marketing to accomplish. Honing in on the benefits your service provides, the problems your product fixes, the positive results of working with your company.
  • Less stress.
    We all know people who seem to live in a constant state of stress. They complain a lot, probably have high blood pressure and never dial down and relax. I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound appealing. When your mind is racing, it’s hard to think clearly. Using mindfulness can help you slow down, allowing you to be more creative and making you more receptive to new ideas. New ideas can drive your marketing in fresh, distinctive ways.
  • Clarity of message.
    The clearer you are about what makes your product or service unique, the clearer your marketing message. We’re all overprogrammed and far too busy. The simplest messages have the best chance of breaking through the clutter. It’s the old KISS adage: Keep it simple, Stupid.
  • The beauty of balance.
    Mindfulness helps you get in touch with you feelings, your mind and your body. Why not apply it to making sure your business is healthy? Sort of a checks and balance tune-up. Doing an assessment of how your business is performing should be done regularly, long before the balance sheet looks bad. If the numbers aren’t where you need them to be, use the results of your assessment to create and drive new marketing messages.
  • Thoughtful decision making.
    At one time or another, we all make bad decisions. The more mindful we are, the less chance there is of this happening. When we slow down enough to look at all sides of an argument, we make better choices.
  • Learning to nurture.
    Mindfulness teaches us to find inner peace. Taking the time to think about what’s important in our lives is a nurturing first step. Incorporating that into our lives takes work. The same is true for your business. A successful business requires nurturing if it is to stay successful. Staying on top of the competition. Responding to your audience and your clients in a timely fashion. Keeping up-to-date on the technology that drives or supports your business. Hiring the best employees you can find, then keeping them happy.
  • Gratitude.
    If you’re a business owner who’s doing well, that’s certainly something to be grateful for. Share that gratitude. Let customers know you appreciate their business. Tell them – in correspondence, on social media, in content development, in every touch point with your company.

Be mindful about customer relationships and they’ll continue to do business with you. After all, who doesn’t like doing business with people we trust and like?

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Is your website marketing-driven or driving visitors away?

A website is a marketing tool.

Probably one of the priciest in your communications arsenal aside from digital advertising. But digital advertising…..and any other marketing you do….is directed at sending potential new business to your website where, hopefully, you’ll either intrigue the visitor to learn more or make a sale.

What’s your goal for your new website?
This is one of the first questions we ask when working with a new client. Another is: how do you envision this site will build your business? And more importantly, have your figured out how your business will solve a problem for potential customers?

Before we write a single line of code, we need to answer these questions. As specifically as possible.

If you haven’t established clear goals for your website and identified your target market’s pain point, good luck creating content that converts.

You need a better mousetrap.
Let’s suppose you’re a startup. You’ve designed a new and better product than what’s currently on the market. How are you going to convince potential customers that your product really IS better? What are you going to say?

A few things to consider first:

  • Is your marketing plan complete?
  • Do you know who your competition is, what their price points are and where they sell?
  • Do you know their USP (unique selling proposition) – what makes them different and better than the rest of the players?
  • Have you defined your USP? Why should buyers consider your product? How will it solve a problem for your (potential) customer?
  • Do you have a budget?
  • Have you allocated that budget across all your marketing tools? The ones that will help drive business to your website?

You can see where we’re heading. These are important questions that your web development team should ask at your first planning meeting. If they don’t, you may not be happy with the end result.

Developing a website doesn’t happen in a vacuum. A marketing-driven website…the kind you want….is informed by a marketing strategy.

make it easy for visitors to find what they're looking for on your website.
Make it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for.

A successful website does far more than look good.

Just looking good won’t cut it. A successful website has to hit all the bullets on your to-do list. And on ours.

A few of those “musts”. Your website has to:

  • be a spot-on representation of your brand
  • be visually appealing
  • speak in your brand voice
  • engage the visitor
  • immediately address your visitor’s problem, need or pain point
  • be very easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for (UX or user-friendly)
  • speak in authentic and conversational language.

Is your company website marketing-driven and engaging visitors…or driving visitors away?

If you’re not sure, here’s a really good article we found on Harvard Business Review by Mark Bonchek and Vivek Bapat on why you should focus on potential buyers.

It’s well worth your time to read.  Then, if you need help, call us. We’re happy to talk about how we can help you.

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Why Marketing Matters More Than Ever

It happens often. We meet with a business owner who’s struggling to build sales but won’t commit….or hasn’t set aside…. any money for marketing.

How does that work, you ask? Well, it doesn’t.

Our main business is building websites. But we approach web design and development with a marketing mindset because our team has a marketing background.

So before we start building anything, we sit down and talk to you about goals for your business and what you want your new site to accomplish. We’re building a big beautiful online marketing tool for you. It just happens to be called a website.

For people to find your website, a few things need to happen:

  1. It needs to be optimized for search (SEO) so that Google brings your site up when someone searches for your product or service.
  2. You also need to send people to your site.
    You can do this through social media, advertising (print or digital or both), PR, flyers, brochures or handouts, newsletters, emails, direct mail (like postcards), signage, premiums, business cards that you pass out at networking events, etc.

All of the suggestions in item #2 fall under the marketing umbrella. It’s what drives your business and builds your sales. No marketing = not much business.

why you need to market your business
marketing matters

So back to the “no money for marketing” scenarios.

A few examples stand out. One was a man who hired us to build a website for a small gym he had purchased and was renovating. His target market was personal trainers who would use the gym to work with private clients or people who weren’t comfortable at a big gym but needed some sort of coaching. That idea sounded solid and well thought out.

We built a drop dead gorgeous site (OK, so we’re a little biased). But it was sleek and sexy and did everything it was supposed to do. It was easy for visitors to get the info they needed and the messaging was clear and concise.

This was not your one-size-fits-all super gym. It was a small facility — a former house with a beautiful river view, where you could train relatively privately, and then go out in the back yard to relax after your workout. We loved the whole concept. This gym was a little gem.

Until the business model changed.

Classes were added, a few at first, then a lot. Yoga and bar work and meditation. Then floor work and Zumba. Now the “small gym for serious workouts” took on a “me too” slant. Fearing he was missing out on another market (women), the owner modified the original positioning.

Bad move.

Not only were there a bunch of hot new boutique-y gyms in the area, but the larger gyms like FFC, CrossTown Fitness and Equinox were doing great marketing and had huge name recognition. Not to mention swimming pools, running tracks and lots of classes at convenient times.

Our client had not allocated any money for marketing. There was no money for signage which made it difficult to find the place. There was no money for social media (he attempted to do some himself but since he had no idea about how social media worked, that never went anywhere). There was no money for publicity or promotions of any kind. 7 months after we completed the website, he sold the business.

We were bummed because we couldn’t show this gorgeous site in our portfolio. But the client was happy to get out without losing his total investment.

We hate to see this happen. Our goal with each project is to give clients a solid marketing tool that will help grow their business. Seeing a client fail makes us sad.

We use examples like this when talking to new business owners to make sure they’re budgeting wisely and not putting the proverbial “all their eggs in one basket”. Your website can be the most important marketing tool in your arsenal. But don’t let it be the only one.

SEO competition gets tougher every day. Unless you’re able to do considerable digital advertising (as in spending big bucks), you need to stand out any way you can. Good marketing can always help you stand out.

If you’ve got marketing chops and can handle it on your own, run with it. If not, make sure there’s money set aside to hire the experts you need.

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