Archive for February 2014

28 February, 2014 20:16

February 28, 2014

Here are a few creative ways to help turn your competitors’ customers into your own:

  • Offer a comparison chart that focuses on reasons why customers should choose your product over the competition. For example, you may offer a standard five-year warranty, while your competitors may only offer a three-year warranty. Or perhaps they offer an extended five-year warranty option, but at an additional price.
  • Stay informed of what your competitors are doing, but avoid copying their ideas. Instead, add value and make their ideas even better. For example, if a competitor offers free shipping on purchases of $100+, you could provide free shipping on all purchases and possibly even returns.
  • Create a unique tagline or slogan that focuses on your key selling points, such as: "Hassle-Free Returns" or "Receive your lunch order within 30 minutes or it’s free."
  • Add value to a comparable product through added services, such as longer support hours, free training, and live phone operators (no automated phone service).
  • Create a customer survey. Ask your audience how you can improve, what new offerings they wish you provided, what they like best about your company, and what areas they may find lacking. Their answers could easily point to ideas that will help you gain a competitive advantage.
  • Provide a risk-free trial to test your products or services before committing to a change.
  • Compare your guarantee to your competition. If your competitors don’t offer a guarantee, this is an extra reason to promote your guarantee heavily.
  • Compete with low-price competitors in creative ways. Offer exclusive discounts when items are purchased together as a package, or offer free or discounted add-on bonuses.
  • Romance your competitors’ customers. Show them the affection they may be missing from their current vendor, and let them know you’re willing to go the extra mile to win their business.
  • Even if prospects are happy with their current provider, be sure to continue your marketing efforts. Create front-of-mind awareness so you’re at the top of their list if they ever change their mind.

25 February, 2014 15:28

February 25, 2014

Newsletters have a proven track record for creating front-of-mind awareness, establishing and maintaining credibility, and publicizing an organization to the community. Here are a few tips to improve the effectiveness of your newsletter:

  • Become a resource by including how-to articles, helpful industry tips and tricks, and links to other articles and podcasts that may be of interest to your audience.
  • Feature a special offer or promotion in each issue to track your newsletter results.
  • Include a customer testimonial section to highlight customers who are finding success using your products or services. This will not only boost your credibility, but also increase customer visibility.
  • Offer subscribers a "sneak peak" at new products. This will make them feel special and encourage them to spread the word about their insider knowledge.
  • Create an "Ask the Expert" section, featuring industry experts to answer customer questions. Include the name and business of the customer who asks the featured question.
  • Keep track of customer/recipient birthdays and send them a free birthday giveaway or discount.
  • Provide highlights from an online customer portal or discussion board where customers can chat about industry trends, new products, and other relevant issues. Include a web link, and encourage newsletter readers to join in the discussions.
  • Commit to a regular schedule. Readers will look forward to and expect your newsletter, so inform them if you take a hiatus from the regular routine.
  • Post current and archived issues on your website with a link to subscribe.

Give us a call today if you’d like to see examples or need more ideas for creating a newsletter that your audience will look forward to receiving. Our creative experts would love to help.

21 February, 2014 16:18

February 21, 2014

The first Friday in March is Employee Recognition Day, but you don’t have to wait until then to show your employees how much you appreciate them. Though the economy is on the upswing — finally — many employers are still feeling pinched, especially when it comes to budgeting for pay increases and other employee-motivating benefits. But even if you can’t afford a grand gesture, showing your employees how much you value their contributions is still a must.

Why is Employee Recognition So Important?

It may help to think of employee recognition efforts as an investment in your company’s success. While it’s true that motivated employees work harder and take more pride in their work, empirical evidence also supports the benefits of recognition.

A study of more than 4 million employees found that regular praise and recognition has a positive impact on employee performance, specifically resulting in:

  • An increase in individual productivity
  • More engagement between colleagues
  • Increased employee retention
  • A decreased number of on-the-job accidents
  • A better safety record
  • A greater number of positive comments and loyalty scores from customers

Now that you know how important recognition is, here are a few budget-friendly ways to honor your hard-working employees.

1. Just Say Thanks

A survey by Dr. Bob Nelson, noted author and motivational guru, asked employees to rate their most-desired and least-desired forms of recognition. Guess where "cash or cash substitutes" finished? Near the bottom. You heard that right. Only 42 percent of those surveyed deemed monetary reward as very or extremely important.

So what grabbed the top spot? Ninety-two percent of those surveyed rated "support and involvement" from their supervisor as the most desired motivator. Similarly, "personal praise" took second place with 79 percent describing it as very or extremely important. These statistics underscore the impact an employer can have, even without the backing of a huge budget.

Sometimes, it’s enough just to express your gratitude. Make it public by posting a handwritten note on their office door or wall, sending out a company-wide email, mentioning them in a newsletter, or praising your employee at the beginning of a meeting.

2. Break Time

Maybe you can’t afford to give them a raise, but can you spare an hour here or there? Instituting a recognition program based on off-time shows you care without cutting into payroll too sharply. Consider offering an extra hour at lunch, providing an early dismissal on a day of their choosing, or adding a few extra minutes to breaks every day for a week. If you can afford it, comp time is always appreciated and gives employees the break they need to recharge and come back re-motivated and ready to work.

3. Take ’em to Lunch

Recognize hard work by treating that special honoree to lunch. Find out their favorite eatery and order take-out, or go all out and have a sit-down nosh together.

4. Added Perks

Some incentives come at absolutely no cost to your bottom line, but can make a big difference to an employee. Reserve that prime parking space for them for a week — or a month, if you’re feeling generous. Ask one of the top managers or execs to stop by the employee’s desk and offer a personal "thank you." Post a congrats message to Facebook or tweet it out — with your employee’s permission, of course.

5. Gifting

If you have a small slush fund available, purchase some small gifts from nearby businesses. What employee wouldn’t love being surprised with a free car wash, movie passes, or a gift card to Starbucks?

Whichever low-budget option you choose, be sure to tailor it to each individual employee. After all, thanking your workers in cookie-cutter style doesn’t exactly scream, "You’re special! I value you as an individual!" With a bit of forethought and planning, you can give morale — and productivity — a boost.

18 February, 2014 12:05

February 18, 2014

Imagine taking several children, one at a time, into a room, where you’ve placed a tantalizing marshmallow on a table. You tell the children that if they can resist eating the delicious sweet sitting in front of them while you step out of the room for a few minutes, they can have two when you return. If the child can’t wait, they can eat the first marshmallow whenever they want, but they won’t get the second marshmallow when you return.

That’s exactly the experiment researchers at Stanford performed in the late 1960s. The footage they obtained of the children was quite fascinating. Some children looked away from the treat in front of them, while others tried to distract themselves by kicking the table or fiddling with their hair. Some of the children poked or stroked the marshmallow.

Years later, the researchers were able to make the connection that the children most capable of delaying gratification were the ones who were also more likely to succeed in school, resist other temptations in life (such as drugs or excessive alcohol), and avoid having behavioral problems. Clearly, the ability to delay gratification is significantly linked to personal success.

Adults and delayed gratification

Hopefully, most adults can be left alone with a marshmallow and avoid eating it when the situation calls for it, but that doesn’t mean most adults have mastered self control and delayed gratification. It’s always tempting to accept immediate pleasure or reward rather than wait for something more important down the line. We all have different areas where we know we would struggle to resist temptation. Just like the children in this experiment, however, we need to keep in mind the larger picture and see the good that can come from waiting.

What marshmallows have to do with business success

Business is all about being able to see the big picture. For companies to be successful, they have to be able to look beyond the current options and see where they want to go in the future. Sometimes, achieving these long-term goals means being able to pass over smaller rewards and delay gratification for the greater good.

For example, some companies may find themselves tempted to maintain their traditional marketing techniques rather than branching out into social media and inbound marketing. Sure, the company may continue to find occasional new customers, but that’s the small reward. The fact is the Internet is now critical for reaching an ever-growing portion of the consumer base. While entering the world of Internet marketing may require patience and extra work upfront, the reward companies receive from reaching their customers online can be enormous.

Children are not known for their patience, and an experiment first done in the 1960s has shown that many struggle with delayed gratification, even when the promised reward is sweet. While adults may have more self control than a child, we can still struggle sometimes to wait for potential opportunities to come to fruition.

When making business decisions, it’s always important to determine goals and then keep your eyes on the prize. Opportunities abound for companies that exercise patience and work toward a larger reward. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Instead, challenge yourself to think big and build the business of your dreams.

14 February, 2014 15:23

February 14, 2014

Thomas Paine once said, "Reputation is much easier kept than recovered." There are two groups who understand this better than anyone else: businesses and celebrities. Both groups spend a considerable amount of energy protecting their reputations and promoting the image they want to portray. And both groups have seen this task grow increasingly complicated thanks to the Internet and social media.

Celebrity Reputations
Quick, when you think about Angelina Jolie, what word comes to mind? Probably something like ‘humanitarian.’ What about Paris Hilton? Her reputation revolves largely around being a party girl. These celebrity reputations are not organically developed. They’re carefully orchestrated by publicists and marketing teams, who help the celebrity determine what to say, when they should be seen in public, and what types of stories should be given to the media.

Hugh Grant’s experience
Today, Hugh Grant has a carefully cultivated image as a British gentleman and has starred in a variety of romantic comedies. During the mid 1990s, however, the star faced a considerable amount of unfavorable press following his participation in some illegal activities. He managed to save his image, and his career, by giving candid interviews about his own stupidity and then going on to make a variety of hit movies. Now, most younger fans probably don’t even remember that past.

How businesses can apply the same concept
As companies grow, some types of negative press are inevitable. It’s impossible to make all customers happy 100 percent of the time. Sooner or later, a disgruntled customer will complain about prices, service, or something similar. The trick to successfully maintaining a positive reputation is to address the issue head-on.

Social media and the reputation
Social media has changed customer service. Now, when customers have something to complain about, they’re not forced to call a special hotline. Instead, all they need to do is take to the company social media page or blog. They can rip the company to shreds and make their dissatisfaction known for all the world to see. The customer now has much more control over the reputation of a company.

Consider how Hugh Grant planned his comeback. His team worked to help him plan his interviews and create popular movies. He worked past the problem by addressing it bluntly and then looking toward the future. That’s also how companies must work.

Celebrities carefully construct their reputations by guarding everything that goes online, similar to how a company guards their own brand and what is posted online. When problems arise, however, they must be addressed, not glossed over. Once the celebrity or company has addressed the problem, they must then focus on providing quality in the future to give people something else to talk about.

For example, if a customer has written a blog post about a genuine grievance, reach out to them to see how the matter can be corrected. If customers post remarks on social media pages, show genuine concern that the customer had such a negative experience and try to make it right. Correct misunderstandings whenever they arise.

Customer service now takes place in the public sphere, and new clients will know if the company doesn’t care about past customers. At the same time, once a company has made genuine attempts at restitution, they must focus on providing quality for the future.

Protecting a reputation can be a difficult task in the age of social media, but it’s essential if you hope to survive. It involves carefully engaging the public while producing quality services or products that people can appreciate.

11 February, 2014 12:59

February 11, 2014

Networking is an important aspect of the professional world on many levels. If you own a business, you network to find more clients, meet potential connections, and even find other companies you might collaborate with on a project one day. Those searching for a job have continuously heard how critical networking can be for finding the right fit.

Unfortunately, many of us find networking stressful. After all, it involves going up to people we’ve never met before, introducing ourselves, making small talk, and selling ourselves and our skills, all at the same time. While it may become more natural with practice, for most people it never becomes an easy process. Except, of course, for the under ten years old crowd.

While at the park the other day, two very young girls made eye contact and instantly became friends. Without so much as an introduction, they both stopped their respective games, took off toward the slide, and took turns racing each other around the playground. The mothers remarked how easy it is to find friends when you don’t even have to worry about making small talk. How do kids do it?

They’re confident.
Most little children don’t know too much about rejection just yet. When they approach a new potential friend, they don’t worry about being told ‘no.’ The child is having fun, they know they’re having fun, and they would enjoy it if the other child joined them. If the other child doesn’t want to, however, it really won’t affect the fun the first child is already having.

Business leaders need to adapt this attitude. Are you good at what you do? Do you have something important to bring to the business world? If so, be confident in those skills. Present them to new connections, and offer those folks the chance to work with you. But remember that a refusal is their loss, and don’t let it discourage you. Approach the next potential connection with the same enthusiasm.

They have something concrete in mind.
When children run up to another child on the playground, they don’t agree to play together and then idly stare at each other. Like the two little girls, they race off toward the slide or begin digging in the mud. When one child asks another to play, they already have some great activities to get started with.

When approaching another business professional, know some concrete ways you could help them directly. If you develop a software program, when the conversation turns toward business, discuss their current software situation as well as the needs of the company and how your product or expertise might be able to help.

They aren’t pushy.
Like adults, all kids have different personalities. Sometimes one child is shy or may not want to play with other kids on that particular day. If one child says they don’t want to play, that typically is the end of the discussion. The inquiring child will retreat or find someone else to play with.

Networking professionals must also find this balance. No one appreciates a connection who’s overly pushy, even after they’re told their products or services aren’t needed right now. Professionals also tend to dislike those who seem more interested in making sales instead of making more genuine connections. You should make sure to always handle rejection smoothly and, when at networking events, focus more on meeting people. The sale can always come later.

Networking is undoubtedly an art. It requires confidence, eloquence, and the ability to form connections with other professionals to grow businesses and help people find the perfect position for their talents. Imagining a networking event to be a playground for adults can help you overcome your fears and approach the others in attendance easier and with confidence.

7 February, 2014 13:02

February 7, 2014

Ever feel like you’re missing out on the latest buzz from the business world? We get it: The sheer amount of info out there can seem overwhelming, but whether you’re a business owner, entrepreneur, or manager, it’s essential to keep up.

Now, here’s the good news: We’re here to make it easy for you to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry. We’ve searched the web for the best, brightest, and most innovative business blogs out there. Add these top blogs to your reading list for a simple way to stay in the loop!

1. You’re the Boss (http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com)

This New York Times blog is all about small business, from best practices to breaking trends. Written by entrepreneurs, business owners, and experts from a range of fields, You’re the Boss provides a place for small business owners to connect, share their successes (and mistakes), and compare notes from the battlefield.

2. Seth Godin’s Blog (http://sethgodin.typepad.com)

Seth Godin, a.k.a. marketing guru extraordinaire, provides a wide range of tips, ideas, advice, and general musings on a range of topics. The best thing about Godin’s, blog, however, is simply his quirky, creative writing style, which allows him to be motivational, inspirational, and insightful without ever slipping into cheesy territory.

3. Workshifting (http://www.workshifting.com)

Not only is Workshifting beautifully designed, but its content is hyper-focused on its readers’ needs and interests. Content melds work and lifestyle topics relevant to today’s on-the-move workforce, with an emphasis on the issues that affect work-from-home, flex schedule, and other employees who work outside the office environment.

4. She Takes on the World (http://www.shetakesontheworld.com)

With accolades from sources such as the Stevie Awards, Inc., and Forbes, She Takes on the World offers tips of the trade with a focus on female entrepreneurs. Along with content from founder Natalie McNeill, this blog offers content from a series of guest bloggers, expert advice from industry leaders, and articles about work-life balance. Yes, it’s geared toward women in business, but hey, it’s got a lot of great content for guys, too.

5. Pando Daily (http://pando.com)

For the latest in news from the tech front, turn to Pando Daily. Founded by Sarah Lacy — formerly of TechCrunch — this comprehensive blog serves as a journal of record for Silicon Valley. Its focus on start-ups, the tech industry, social media, marketing, and almost everything else that impacts the business world makes for interesting reading, as do its interviews with and features by industry insiders.

6. Naked Capitalism (http://www.nakedcapitalism.com)

Naked Capitalism offers a no-holds-barred look at the current state of the economy and the financial industry, and how it affects business. Economists, investment bankers, political advisors, and journalists make up the contributor list. Expect to put on your critical thinking cap when you sit down to read this thought-provoking blog.

7. Anita Loomba (http://anitaloomba.com)

For a clear picture of the confluence of digital marketing and social media, turn to Anita Loomba’s blog. Offering helpful tips, best practices, success stories, and the latest in industry news, Loomba covers the ever-changing, always increasing influence of social media and business marketing in her accessible blog.

8. How to Change the World (http://blog.guykawasaki.com)

Author, former Apple marketing guru, venture capitalist, and all-around smarty Guy Kawasaki offers hands-on advice to entrepreneurs in his How to Change the World blog. Expect to be motivated and inspired, but in a practical, realistic way.

9. Peter Shankman (http://shankman.com/blog/)

Finally, for a dose of humor to lighten the workweek, give Peter Shankman’s blog a read. An angel investor and entrepreneur, Shankman has a, shall we say, creative approach to the world of business, and his entertaining writing style reflects it. Plus, he’s got some good advice — so give it a try.