Should you offer new products or services?

graphic image of a rocket that crashed

Recently, we’ve been privy to a lot of conversation from small business owners who are trying to come up with new products or services…. some even considering startups.

No surprise.  The ongoing disruption small businesses are experiencing (Thanks, Covid) has left owners looking for new income streams to replace those that haven’t come back.

An obvious example is restaurants and bars. But any business catering to a downtown corporate market…. or convention trade…. or travel and hospitality industries…. is also scrambling to replace lost income as many workers continue to work remotely.

Over the years, we’ve seen more than a few startups crash and burn before they even got started. Since offering new products or services is not all that different than starting a new business, we want to share what we’ve learned.

Why do businesses fail?

Usually, there’s a simple reason behind a business failure and it’s generally one or more of these 3 things:

You haven’t identified your target market.

I always cringe when someone tells me “everyone” is their target market. Rarely is that the case.

OK, maybe for something like toilet paper…..or water. Necessities that all humans need. And even then, the target market for pricey high-end bottled water like FIJI is not the same as that of generic brands in the flimsy plastic that you pick up in the grocery store. FIJI customers are willing to lay out far more money than someone who shops by price.

For most ventures, there’s a specific audience. Luxury products are geared to different audiences than mass market offerings. Think Versace vs Walmart or Tesla vs Ford. Whole Foods vs Aldi.

The marketing you develop to sell your products —  the language, design and messaging — will change based on who you’re marketing to. That’s why FIJI’s water is “artisan” and comes in a sleek, beautifully designed square bottle. It’s aimed at customers who are willing to pay up for a premium product, not someone looking to save money.

You haven’t verified the need for your product or service.

This reason always makes me sad because I see it far too often and it’s so easy to avoid. You come up with a “great” small business idea — an idea, not a concept because a concept usually involves significant reasoning — and an idea…..not so much.

A doomed-from-the-start startup, on the other hand, usually is the result of someone falling in love with their idea. They’re so sure that everyone will love their product that they neglect to do market research.

The most egregious example I’ve seen was someone who quit a well -paying job (with benefits) to launch a business selling something that not only did not fill a need but few people would buy.

I was astonished.

Had I been able to say something……which I couldn’t because it was a personal relationship and my feedback was not requested….. I would have opened my (rather big) mouth because it pains me to see an eager entrepreneur fail.

But I had to keep quiet while the startup launched, burned and crashed….taking thousands of dollars with it. A pricey lesson that didn’t have to happen.

You haven’t set aside a marketing budget.

We’re website design and developers. We love creating custom sites, and nothing makes us happier than happy clients. But every once in a while, we turn down a project because while the potential client might be able to pay for a custom website, they hadn’t set aside any money for marketing.

Long ago when the internet was in its infancy, you could launch a new business on a website and get away with word-of-mouth marketing or a small public relations campaign to promote your company.

But today there’s no way in hell that can happen. There’s far too much noise….. online and off. We’re bombarded with advertising from a multitude of channels.

That’s why there are influencers on TikTok and Instagram and social media experts to manage your campaigns. Add in email marketing, blogs, podcasts, newsletters, trade shows (yes, they’re coming back!) and other content development and you’re looking at a marketing campaign. And campaigns cost money!

If you stand still and stop promoting, you can be sure your competitors will be waiting in the wings to overtake you. So putting all your money into a website is a really awful idea.

Recently. we turned down a lucrative prospect for reasons 1 and 2. So even though there was a marketing budget, we just couldn’t stomach the idea of participating in a project that was doomed to fail.

Instead, we suggested that they hire us for a few hours of consulting to review their idea and see if we could help create a more feasible option. Because as much as we like making money, we also want to help our clients succeed. 

Next time a colleague or friend tells you about an idea for a new product or service and you’re feeling iffy about it, do them a favor. Share this blog post with them. They might be very grateful.

Resources

Some interesting post-Covid business opportunities.  13 Post-Pandemic Businesses You Can Start Now

Here’s a book to read for more prep work. So when you come to us to build a new website, you’ve already qualified your business concept. 5 Books to Read Before Starting Your Business by Ken Dunn.

5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Help Your Clients.

Read this if  you’re already in failing mode. 5 Tough Steps to Save Your Failing Business by Doug and Polly White.

And if you’ve had to close up shop. Before you beat yourself up, see  what good company you’re in.

One failure does not make you a failure.  It makes you a little bit wiser for the next opportunity. Just ask Mark Cuban.  13 Business Leaders Who Failed Before They Succeeded by Lynn Truong.

If you’ve been mulling over starting a new business or launching a new product and having second thoughts, call us. We’re happy to brainstorm with you. Maybe we can save you some money. And grief.

 

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 5 reasons why you should add visuals to your marketing.

woman pointing to the 5th of 5 yellow stars to signify successful marketing

We know that social media posts with visuals outperform text-only posts. 

But visuals enhance other forms of marketing as well. As visual creatures, we enjoy reading or skimming material which contains graphics and images.

In fact, according to this post in Polls Everywhere, visuals increase the desire to read content by 80%. With a reach like that, can you afford NOT to use visuals in your marketing? Hardly.

Get Creative.

Smart marketers employ a variety of different types of visuals to spice up content — photos, graphics, banners, Infographics, charts, videos, clips or gifs.

The type of product or service you’re selling will generally inform the type of visuals you use. But as long as it helps clarify your copy and grab the reader’s eye, there’s no reason why you can’t get creative and try a type of visual you haven’t used before. Play with colors and shading. Do something none of your competitors are doing.

Head over to Content Marketing Institute to see some excellent examples of companies that have nailed visual content.

Since we also like material laid out in an easy-to-scroll format, here are 5 reasons why you should add visuals to your marketing.

  1. Readability.
    Blocks of text are not only boring, they’re intimidating. Not the reaction you’re looking for when you publish a new article or blog post or launch a new website.Blocks of text are not only boring, they’re intimidating. Not the reaction you’re looking for when you publish a new article or blog post or launch a new website. Your content might be groundbreaking, but that’s irrelevant if people don’t read what you’ve written. Adding visuals breaks up copy making it more compelling to read and easier to scroll.“Every aspect of your website must account for each user’s wants and needs at a given moment in time.” Alan Smith, Usability Geek
  2. Reach.
    Some people really don’t like to read. And with the success of YouTube, they don’t have to. They prefer to learn via video. Others respond better to visuals than to text.What to do? “People are 80% more likely to read content if it’s paired with colorful visuals.” Tara Johnson, “How Visual Marketing Works”.So if you want to reach the broadest audience you can, make sure you incorporate visuals (and videos where appropriate) into your copy.
  3. Retention.
    According to this post titled “7 tips for using visual content marketing,” from Social Media Today, people remember visual information 6x better than the information they have read or heard. Since you’ve taken the time to write your content, why not make it as easy as possible for people to absorb it.
  4. Impact.
    Ideally, you want your copy to have an impact on your readers. You want them to follow you, refer you, quote you, or  hire you. Or share how terrific you are on social media.  Adding visuals to your content helps make that happen.In this article from eLearning Industry titled “Visual Learning: 6 Reasons Why Visuals Are The Most Powerful Aspect of eLearning,”  author Dana Jandhyala states ““Powerful images and visual metaphors create strong impressions and lasting memories in learners.”
  5. Interest.
    Illustrations or photos support your content and enhance copy so it’s more interesting.  From PR Daily, “visual content gets viewed 94% times more than content without any visuals” according to a 2018 Social Media Examiner report. May 24, 2018

    Ready to mix up your marketing?

If your marketing efforts haven’t resulted in sufficient new business, try putting some of these tips into play.  And start to pay attention to how and what YOU read (and react to). Odds are that visually void content is not something you’re really reading either.

Learn more about how to make your website compelling.

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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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How to Market During Troubling Times

man sitting at computer with his head in his hands

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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Marketing Morsel: How clear is your brand voice?

Are you satisfied with your brand voice?

Not sure? Ask yourself these 5 questions:is your brand voice clear?

  1. Does your brand voice accurately reflect your business?
  2. Does the personality of your business come through clearly in your marketing?
  3. Does your marketing message define what’s unique about your business?
  4. Can potential customers tell exactly what you do from your website home page?
  5. Are you proud of the way your brand voice presents (and represents) your company?

If you answered no to any of the above, it’s time to buff up your brand voice. Because a compelling brand voice can be the difference between being memorable or mediocre.

 

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How to stay relevant in a quickly changing market.

Keeping up in the business world is becoming more and more challenging. Because the very nature of the internet nurtures change. There’s always something newer, faster, cooler, brighter.

On the flip side, if you don’t like the way your product or service looks next to the competition, you can revamp your digital marketing quickly. Often in a day.

Falling behind in market share?

Change your marketing message in a snap. No need to wait months to get feedback. Results start showing up immediately.

Not convinced? See what some savvy retailers have done to refresh their marketing and revamp their messaging.

A Cappella Books
The Wall Street Journal recently profiled this small independent Atlanta bookstore that watched sales drop for ten years. Faced with huge competition from Amazon, the owner figured he’d have to close.

But then he came up with an idea. Focus less on selling  books — where he couldn’t compete with Amazon’s prices — and more on appealing to customers who loved independent bookstores and would support a local business.

He started hosting author events — book signings and readings, then added events at other venues. What do you know? Business started to turn around. Because his customers were more interested in the bookstore experience and supporting a local business than saving a few dollars.

Think this is an isolated example? Hardly. According to a CBS segment titled “Independent bookstores thrive” that aired on April 23, 2018, “Between 2009 and 2015, more than 570 independent bookstores opened in the U.S., bringing the total to more than 2,200; that’s about a 35 percent jump after more than a decade of decline.”

What’s driving this small market segment’s success? Shop Local campaigns, selections curated for the community and lots of events. It’s about book-related experiences rather than buying as cheaply as possible. And it’s really a small business success story.

Booksellers aren’t the only retailers thriving despite the growth of e-commerce.

Ever hear of Warby Parker?

Established as a hip online-only retailer selling stylish glasses at affordable prices, Warby Parker’s marketing message focused on their mission to give back — “Buy a pair, give a pair” was what they thought would appeal to their customers. But in reality, their customers didn’t pay much attention to the mission statement. Instead, they were drawn in by the cool styles and the ease of buying glasses online.

So Warby focused less on its mission and more on the Warby Parker cool factor and the ease of purchasing. Next, they opened a few brick & mortar locations where they honed the shopping experience even more. Tiny shops that looked like cozy little libraries. Each eyeglass frame shown in three different sizes to fit various face shapes. Super friendly and helpful personal service. And fresh designs rotating in on a regular basis so there’s always something new to see. And buy.

Today, Warby Parker has retail shops around the country (including 5 in Illinois) as well as in Canada and British Columbia. And the shops (at least the ones I’ve seen in Chicago) are always busy.

How do you say pivot?

Would you be surprised to learn that some of today’s biggest brands started out selling products or services that evolved into something different –which is where they are today?

If you said YouTube, Slack, Yelp, Shopify and Groupon, you’d be right.  Jayson DeMers writes about these companies and their reinventions in his Entrepreneur article titled “5 Big Brands That Had Massively Successful Pivots.”  If you’re fascinated by success stories (like I am), you’ll enjoy this article.

Smart business owners know that being nimble is critical in a competitive marketplace. And fortunately, it’s far easier for a small business to pivot than a large company with multiple layers of approval.

So if something’s not working, do your research to see where the problem lies. If it’s a product that’s no longer relevant to your key market, don’t scrap the product. Find a different market. If there’s still a market for your product or service, do whatever it takes to become relevant again.

And if you’ve had to pivot for your small business to stay relevant, we’d love to hear about it.

 

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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.

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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