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Becoming a Niche: Being Small has Big Payoffs

niche small business

Let’s face it – we’re living in a more interconnected world each day. While this is fantastic for increases in exchanging of ideas, experiences and learning, there is a dark side.

I’ve often said life is about tradeoffs: Buying a bigger, more comfortable house and paying more for it, vs. buying a smaller, less expensive, cramped house that leaves you fighting amongst others for space; Taking your bike to work to save on gas and getting caught in the rain only to be miserable and cold the entire ride home; Getting lunch out of the vending machine at work to save time only to get a stomach ache later vs. having a delicious 7-Layer Burrito from Taco Bell. No matter the situation, you will end up miserable. Unless you got the 7-Layer Burrito, which is sure to give you complete happiness.

So now you’re probably thinking “Ok, where is this burrito-loving, Negative Nancy going with all of this?” Chill man! I’m coming up on a point here.

The tradeoff with business is trying to be everything to everyone. There comes a point where you need to say NO to a market. While it was much easier back in the 1960′s to be a jack of all trades type of business, this day in age is much different. Back then, you may have had the only business in town, which gave your customer base few to no options. Today, with global sourcing ability to be had within a couple clicks, you’ve got a completely different landscape for commerce.

As the world gets more and more interconnected, the lines are getting more and more blurry. This is great for consumers. It gives people more options than they ever imagined. Because of all the options, the market becomes inundated, and suddenly a product drops in price to a faction of the cost it may have been to manufacture even a year ago. This is also great for a consumer. But where does that leave business?

You’d think that businesses would have to cut costs so much to stay competitive it would be hard for them to even afford employees. And as we saw from the economic downturn a few years ago, where EVERYTHING fell out, businesses are stretched to the max to maintain that ever-shrinking margin.

Fortunately for many industries, advancements in technology have countered the competition some. Those not upgrading technology fall in the abyss and disappear into history. But the best businesses find ways to focus.

Focus? Like the car, you ask? Actually yeah – the Ford Focus is a great example. The Ford Focus was a car that consolidated a few other regional models like the Escort and Festiva so they could produce one model for the global market. This probably isn’t the best example, but I used it anyway because the name fit for this lovely expository. Now that I think of it, this example actually opposes of the point I am trying to make. Scratch that. Moving on…

Focusing into niche businesses. We’ve seen it already – as competition for the broad audience becomes harder and harder, the products also get more and more watered down because they NEED to appeal to everybody. This leaves the door wide open for businesses that want to became the absolute best at a certain style of product.

And that is just the beginning. Once we have niche products, then we’ll get even more and more niche style niche products, as consumers set course for something that is ever more unique and fits their personal style like never before.

An example of this progression would be the skateboard. This used to be a niche product for urban dwellers. Today you can pick up a basic skateboard anywhere. As the dwellers become daredevils, the options have grown immensely. There used to be one style. Now we even have a sub-niche market – longboards. The buyers in this market are different and more unique.

And when you’re in that niche, you can make all decisions because you’re the market leader. You’ll define norms. You have the opportunity to create objects that are tailored for unique individuals.

This is how I think the future of business will be. Skills will be becoming more and more specialized to produce products for a super small segment of the market that buys.

Pictured Above: Another niche style product, Vurtego Pogo Sticks.

So what are the nuances that make your business unique and unlike any others? This is what you need to promote. Start honing your skills to fill these areas. Stop trying to say you do it all. Jack-of-all-trades-and-masters-of-none will find the way of the dodo bird. Focus, focus, focus on what you love to do, and the rest will become easy!

Marketing is taking your business to the gym

You’re doing it wrong.

OK, well maybe not you, because you’re awesome – but most don’t do it right.

What is that you inquire? Marketing.

It’s interesting to actually think that there are successful business people out there that don’t understand marketing. And I guess I see how these people can think. Especially as  a business owner, it’s incredibly important to look at the balance sheet and try to minimize the not needed expenses. But how do you know it is not needed, and why does it seem like marketing the first on the chopping block?

It’s kind of funny because businesses that say they “don’t do marketing” actually do. Every business does, but they don’t really know it or think of it as such. For instance, word of mouth advertising is even marketing. For some businesses, it’s the ONLY marketing they do. They let their customers tell their story. It’s usually combined with location marketing – or in other words, being in a popular street with a lot of traffic. Only when you add a controlled marketing medium on top of word of mouth advertising, you start controlling the message being said about your company.

Usually the business owners that try to avoid marketing have been burned by it in the past. This is easy to understand. When you market to the masses or use the “spray and pray” method, you usually end up spending a LOT of money, and don’t really have fantastic results because you may be only hitting a small percentage of the target market, and you without any tracking, you have nothing to show for it in the end.

Here’s the key: start small, and start super-targeted.

I once worked for a business that did radio advertising once using “market to the masses” method. They tried it once, and after it was said and done, they said never again. This is too bad, because I think radio is one of the most powerful forms of advertising, if you have the right message targeted to the right audience. Granted it is expensive with the allure of being on the top 40 station because you think “Everyone listens to Katy Perry, therefore everyone will like my brand.” It’s a misguided way to start, and a solid crash and burn when the budget is depleted in the first month. Rather, fine tune your message to a smaller market segment using a lesser known channel that you know your target audience listens to at the non-expensive time time slots once a week or few times a month.

entrepreneurs-and-the-gym

Here’s the second key: Don’t give up.

Marketing is an ongoing activity – much like going to the gym. You don’t go every day for a week straight to walk out on Friday night saying “Yeah, I’m done for good!” No – It’s a starting point. And for some it’s just the beginning, while for others, it’s a great way to stay in shape. It’s your choice.

When you give up on the marketing, that’s when the problems start. Then you usually hear “See, it never really work from the start.” Actually it did, but when you pulled the plug on marketing, that’s when the problems arose.

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The experts say that it takes roughly seven touches for a person being exposed to a brand to become a buyer. Keep that in mind constantly when doing your marketing activities – because each time a prospect is exposed to a brand, whether they see a logo or hear a jingle for your company, it counts. It starts building a story of your company in your prospects minds.

Marketing is storytelling. So tell a GOOD story. Tell YOUR story, and tell it OFTEN!

The key to getting a sale every time

It’s interesting people’s perception of sales if they’ve never been in the role before professionally. Many think it’s kind of a slimy thing. Well, the worst people, or in this case the aforementioned “slime-balls,” are the ones that try to push people into something they don’t want or need. They usually don’t end up doing sales for long. The truth is everyone can be a sales person no matter what you do.

The best people in sales are the ones that build the relationships. Because the ones that end up truly being successful are the ones that get what their customer wants. Sounds simple, right? Well that could mean more than you think. But in order to get your customer (or anyone, maybe even a friend) what they want is to simply listen to their needs. And I mean FULLY understand what they are looking for. This even goes for a product you’re not currently selling.

To be the best, you can’t think about the balance sheet, you need to think about treating the person you’re talking to like a friend. Getting to know people and building the relationships takes time, but has the longest lasting impact.

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So what is the “Key” that this article is titled for you may ask? Well other than all the great tidbits I was just informing you before, here’s the key:

Ask for the sale!

If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. Because chances are they’ll go to someone else who asked for it. Now this only works only if your product fits their needs, what I was talking about before. And in order to do that, you need to LISTEN to their needs.

Try it, and you’ll be surprised.

In Printing, The Old Becomes New

How many of you have stuff in the wardrobe that is so old that eventually it comes back into style? I’m sure there is a few of you that ran across this phenomenon.

But if you’re anything like me though, you just can’t seem to wear it again even though it comes back. Maybe it’s the memories associated with the particular item. I have to give it away. Now, if it’s someone else’s used stuff, then game on!

Where am I going with this you ask? Let’s look at the printing industry. Printing has been around for centuries, and let’s be honest, not much has changed a lot in the past four or five hundred years. Sure we have cool new colors and the machines that put the ink on the paper look a little different, but the overall concept remains the same. So where does that leave us?

Enter the digital age. Today, everyone is bombarded by digital advertising, whether it is through an advertisement through an app or a Facebook page or mobile ad or a link through twitter. Well, if you’re like me again, those things can get very easily ignored simply from the sheer quantity of stuff out there. Eventually, nothing looks different. Nothing stands out. Nothing catches your eye… because you’re viewing it through the same 4″ screen.

That’s what excites me about printing. To me, it’s the most valuable advertising mediums, because it lasts. The things that are printed have staying power as though it seems. If something is well designed and has a clever concept, I may just keep it for a while just because I like the cleverness of it. All the while I keep it, that company’s brand image is being tattooed on my brain. Next time I think of that type of product or service, chances are I’ll think of that cleverly designed, printed message.

Beautifully designed brochure

Not only that, but there is a handmade movement happening right now in manufacturing and in the retail setting. People want to know that the stuff they buy is made by real people – not only that, but extremely skilled craftsmen – who have hopes and dreams, and also believe in creating something to the best of their ability.

I know a few press operators that truly believe in producing work at the highest level. They come in pushing buttons and turning dials on sophisticated printing equipment in order to lay that ink on that crazy textured or super glossy paper so your images look perfect. They are seeking the most vibrant colors. Their eyes are tuned to not seeing a picture of a family, but a series of dots with percentages of colors. It’s truly fascinating watching a master at work.

Pressmen operating printing press 1920s

Printed advertising will create a different experience that no digital advertisement can  match. Paper textures, ink colors, and overall size, pages, all create a story. The possibilities are endless. You can take them to a place, a moment when they felt young, or paint an image of something they want to achieve. Plus, viewers probably don’t see printed items as much as they did in years past, so this can be a whole new sense for them.

That is what excites me about the print industry. It’s not ever going away. It becomes more valuable to marketers. It may be changing, but that just means those who take advantage of it will get more out of it.

Taking on Challenges with the Power of Positivity

Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors.

African Proverb

This week I’m taking a step to look at challenges. First off I’ll admit, this is not a “I’m Telling You What to Do or Think” post, but more as an affirmation for myself.

What do we do when we are challenged? Or maybe I should ask, what do I do when I’m challenged? I’d like to think that I bounce forward and press on. But do I, or do I give myself permission to take what would be considered the easy road? It looks attractive, believe me. But is it healthy to go down it?

Most people probably would say no, it’s not good. They may even write blog posts about it saying you shouldn’t give in (Glad I’m not one of THOSE guys!). But sometimes when you’re faced with the challenge personally, even those thoughts of “What you should do” vanish like you were experiencing life again for the first time, without your handy Press-On Quote Book. You may even start taking a couple steps down the easy path because you think it feels right. Everything tends to follow the path of least resistance.

Power of Positive Thinking

Lately I’ve been tweeting quotes to the hashtag #powerofpositivethinking because it’s my affirmation to take a stand. I’ve been reading Eric Lofholm’s book, “The System,” where he challenges people learning sales skills to verbalize their goals. My goal is to be positive, no matter what. Simple and not salesly, but a huge element nonetheless.

So far It seems to be working. A problem that has popped up that I may have reacted differently, I took a different look at. That instant – I was happier. After all, I think all human beings long for challenges, or at least the feeling of completing a task successfully.

positive-attitude

A world without that positive way of thinking gets pretty dark and lonely. To me, you only have two options. To face the challenge and rebrand it as “This is an exciting opportunity to be a problem solver” rather than, “Ugh this happened again!” has helped my overall attitude and demeanor BIG TIME since implementing the goal.

I’m not saying I’m perfect. But like I said before, with this affirmation to make my goal of being a Positive Problem Solver no matter what the situation, I hope to reach my goals faster.

I’ll let you know when I get there.

Focus – The real value in printed communications

This week I’m taking a step away from the Marketing Calendar Planning Series to focus on… well, focusing.

After reading Erin Anderssen’s post “Digital overload: How we are seduced by distraction“, we can see how easy it is to get distracted through apps, iPads, smartphones and perpetual links to an endless internet.

So here’s what I found works for me:

Disconnect. Difficult to do sometimes, yes. I kind of equate it to going to the gym, only mentally. I subscribe to magazines. Books and other forms of printed media (not those e-readers either!) work also.

Printed communcations

For me, there is something extremely enriching about picking up a good book or magazine. I’m not sure about you, but I can get MUCH more out of a written magazine article than an online post. I think this is because when I’m on the internet, I’m usually skimming through material, and not really immersing myself in the writer’s content fully.

Marketers: that is a point that is BIG to consider.

When there are less distractions, you can focus completely. When I put all of your attention to one particular activity, I find I’ll not only retain the information better, but it also means more to me.  I think over time, it actually strengthens your “focusing muscles” so you can focus better.

Connect Fully by Disconnecting

So if I were you, I’d give it a try. Do yourself a favor at times and leave the TV off, and pick up a real book or magazine (with paper pages!)…or even a newspaper. If you incorporate this into your regular routine, who knows – you may rediscover a whole new world.

Marketing Calendar Planning Series: Step 3 – Getting Funding

This week I’m returning to my Marketing Calendar Planning Series posts to investigate the next crucial step in building a successful marketing campaign – getting funding.

Just to recap, so far we’ve gotten a project idea and put it together in a thoughtful, digestible package, aka “Getting Your Project Off the Ground”. Then after we considered the best ways to get our campaign message to our key demographic in “Bringing the Message to Your Audience,” in the second stage of building your marketing calendar. Now that you’ve decided on the channel(s) that your campaign needs, you probably need some money. This is where things may get tricky.

get_funding

Now sometimes this part is easy. After you pitch the idea to the key person in your organization (VP of Sales and Marketing, Marketing Manager, the CEO, etc… the person with their hands on the bucks) they may just fall in love with it. This is good. Actually this is probably the best way to start off your campaign. Once you see you can build that emotional connection with the person in charge, chances are you have a pretty well thought out concept and you’re off to a successful start. If the key person feels the emotional connection, your audience will as well.

Other times you may have to do a little bit more work. Sometimes you can’t hit any emotion. If this is the case, you may have to make it make sense on paper. This is where data comes in to play. Make ROI your friend, because that line in the proposal is going to be looked at the most, questioned, a determining factor whether or not you get the funding you need.

getting a return on your marketing investment

Example

Say for instance your key demographic is married mothers from ages 28-35. You’ve determined after some study that they like to listen to a certain type of music. Your channel could be radio advertising. Earn an extra plus if your product or service is somehow connected to music.

Now radio advertising isn’t cheap. You want to have your message perfectly tailored to fit your audience so when members of your target demographic hears your message, they respond.

Landing pages

I usually like to use landing pages as a call to action. They are easy to track using Google Analytics, and they are not expensive if you do most of the work yourself. I’ll have more on this in Step 5 of the Calendar Series. In a nutshell, at this point you have to predict with some thoughtfulness the results of your campaign.

Data

A key component in your proposal is data. You need data from a previous campaign or study that shows the results you’re trying to achieve. Documenting this will show the powers that be the benefits of your campaign to your organization. Naturally, your results have to show a bigger return than the money you are asking for.

Hopefully this gives you some direction for building a solid proposal. Following these steps are even good for you to get a better handle on your campaign. Taking the time will help you focus on what’s important and what isn’t, and it will hopefully give you the results you’re looking for.

Social Media Ideas from Tony Zayas, Marketer & Social Media Strategist for Proforma

Tony is really an amazing dude. I got a chance to meet him at the Proforma Convention last week in Grapevine, Texas. He says he’s spent loads of his own money learning best practices from Social Media gurus in various industries so he proves to be a wealth of knowledge and I had the great opportunity to listen to his presentation and talk to him personally. It was a huge value to take a lot of good notes on using social media strategically as a sales tool.

Here are some takeaways and highlights:

Strategy

Point 1: Build a plan.

You need a strategy in order to be successful. Being “all over the place” is not a great way to be relevant on social media. Instead, it is crucial to focus your efforts on your pillars.

  • Pillars: You as a person have a personal brand. Those are the pillars. Each post should be an example demonstrating one of those pillars that you include in your “About Me” section. For example, each of these could be a pillar: You’re a parent, Your top 2 professional things you provide for others, and Your main interest or hobby.

PILLARS

  • Follow your customers on Twitter. This shows that you find them interesting. Reply back to them. “Favorite” a lot of their posts. They will see this and it will make them feel good.
  • After some time of building a base, it’s a good idea to follow them on Linkedin. Start by sending a personal message saying you follow them and think they are interesting, and want to start building a relationship.
  • Then once you become close, friend them on Facebook. At that point you find out about their family lives, find out what’s truly important to them, and what their hopes, dreams and aspirations are.

Let your personality shine

Point 2: Be personal.

People work with who they know and like as a person and that helps build trust. The key is to BE REAL. Let your personality shine though. Everything should be a post in the pillars of your brand or it’s not worthwhile.

Point 3: Don’t be paralyzed.

Sometimes we don’t post anything because we’re worried about someone seeing something we’ve said and then becoming offended. That’s OK, because you are being you, you are being real, and it will resonate with those who are close to you. Now, in the same token, it’s NOT okay to be offensive, or veer off your pillars. The key is to think with a good heart and use your best judgement.

Company Pages

Facebook has unfortunately made them irrelevant by charging money for posts to be seen. While their important to have still, the focus is on your personal profile as the sales person to build a real relationship. Only 10% of company page posts actually show up to your followers, unless you pay to have those posts seen. Tony informed us that you should never have to pay for Facebook; it’s just not worth the money.

Talking to people and being of service will go much further than just throwing offers out every week. These are some keys that I’m going to use to start bringing some A-game to my social media presence.

Thanks again Tony, I’ll be and sure to catch you a cold one next time I see you!

Marketing Calendar Planning Series: Step 2 – Bringing the Message to your Audience

When planning your marketing calendar, a constant item you’ll have to consider is how to get the message to your audience, or even more specifically, your target market. Many different products or services, depending on what you’re selling, have a different target market demographic. How to reach them requires using the channels that the particular demographic uses.

Picture you’re talking on a radio trying to reach your friend on the other line. If you’re not tuned into the same channel, you can’t communicate to each other. The same is the case when communicating to your target market.

So how do you find out what channel they’re on? Try asking them! It’s important to talk to your customers and find out these important details. Find a few of your best customers and find out what makes them “tick”.

Some may already know or are in tune with the market. This is good. Chances are you are just advertising to the masses. Mass media advertising is extremely expensive and very low ROI. An example of this would be television advertising. It’s easy to say that there are a wide variety of individuals watching TV (age, interests, gender, etc).  A much better approach is to narrow it down.

An example would be say you developed a product to help bicyclists connect with each other to go on rides together. Your app would probably make a great TV commercial, but not everyone rides a bicycle on a regular basis. Every viewer who sees this ad and doesn’t connect to it offer potential wasted marketing dollars. Instead, maybe targeting the local bicycle shops to place a poster in their shop. Or maybe a brochure with a QR code to download the app in a coffee shop if you regularly see a lot of bikes in front of it.

Now this may sound counter intuitive – “Why would I want to lessen the amount of people I am advertising to? After all, the more people that hear the message the better, right?” The truth is, probably not. With this type of marketing approach, chances are you’ll blow through your budget faster with nothing to show for it. When you focus your message to the finer the slice of individuals you’re trying to reach, it’s almost like you’re speaking directly to them and their values. You’ll build a much stronger brand faster and have much more customer loyalty.

From there, you can always expand. It’s always easier to start small and work up. It’s extremely hard to work backwards.

Marketing Calendar Planning Series: Step 1 – Getting Your Project Off the Ground

When taking the plunge into plugging your business into a marketing mentality, there are a few things to consider:

  1. How to get this project off the ground
  2. How do I bring the message to the audience (brand awareness)
  3. How do I get funding
  4. How do I keep focused on the goal
  5. Analyzing your results

The first four points are what I call the Marketing Fab Four – These are all very important things to consider. The fifth one could take on a life of it’s own. I will go into these as part of my Marketing Calendar Planning Series in the next few  posts.

I know that with myself, I have the hardest time on #4 – staying focused. Actually I find it easiest to launch something or get something off the ground. That’s easy. All you need is the look and a great message and voila – You have a program. But it’s really more than that. A lot more; in fact it can get quite complex. It’s kind of like “Transformers! More than meets the eye!” Oh yes… take me back to the 80′s. Happy times. Good stuff. But … what were we talking about? Oh yeah, the focusing part…

But we’ll start with #1 for today – like I said, we’ll cover these others in the next few posts as part of the Marketing Calendar Planning Series.

1. How to get a Marketing project off of the ground

This is the most fun part about marketing for me. It is the opportunity to really run wild. But let’s take a look at culture. Culture is a fascinating thing. I probably could write an entire blog post on culture itself. For building a campaign, we can take elements as part of our culture and use them in a way for people to relate to.

Sometime around the turn of the century, manufacturers saw benefits of placing names and slogans on products to differentiate theirs from other manufacturers. They began to recognize the way in which consumers were developing relationships with their brands in a social/psychological/anthropological sense. Campbell’s soup was one of the first companies to take advantage of branding.

campbells

Let’s take a look at a real-life example. Seasons are a popular theme. They are common, always changing, and something everyone can relate to. Now we can use this and just run with it by calling it a “Summer Sale” but we’re more creative than that. Let’s try to make this a little more dynamic.

Say you’re an ice cream vendor going to an outdoor film festival at a park. Your event promotions would could look something like this:

ice cream marketing promo

Now this isn’t what the promotion was originally used for. But admit it – it could’ve been cool!

The key is to play up on those familiarities and associations that people can relate to. Combine that with intriguing imagery and illustration from a talented graphic designer and you have yourself something memorable and timeless.

Now that you have your look and theme, it’s time to move on to #2 getting your message to your audience… stay tuned!