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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

5 Way To Stop Slipping Toward Commodity


Brands that receive investment find important ways to stay away from the commodity part of a market segment. 

They create new technology that improves performance, they develop special activities that add secondary value to users and they keep using resources to challenge themselves.

Commodities are stagnating like still water. They get milked like cash cows as they blend into the blur of average, typical products. Their dull and lifeless and purely functional. And their sales trajectory is often flat or downward. 

Of course, brands must spend investment wisely. 

There are many ways to fertilize investments so they keep producing fruit so brands must spend with intent. When brand managers or small business owners spend wisely on these five areas, they can get significant return on their investment. 

And over time, they put more distance between themselves and the commodities in their category.

Brands Need Energy:  A brand that slips toward commodity has no momentum. No one is talking about it and it is rarely top of mind to the trade or consumers. Without an infusion of juice – it withers on the vine.  This energy can come from lots of tactics but will be most successful if they come with a deep understanding of what the user really values. Like a Broadway actor and her audience, together they create more excitement than either will create alone.

Brands Need Simplification:   A brand that really understands a consumers journey, keeps working hard to make it easy to buy or easy to understand.  I recently used a GPS in a rental car and it was so complicated and overwhelming, that getting lost was preferred to having to stare at this nightmare design.  I craved that they would make this easy for me and instead they gave me bells, whistles and lollipops. They didn’t understand what was important to me – particularly in this rental situation. Commodities tend to be indifferent to design and streamlined thinking.

Brands Need “Only” Features:   Any brand that can claim it is the only brand that has X or does Y benefits from being distinctive (not just different). But that distinctiveness and “only” feature has to be important enough for customers to notice.  If I need a lightweight knapsack to carry stuff – giving me added pockets and features that make it heavier, defeats the purpose if it’s positioned as the lightweight sack. Alignment of purpose counts.  Make sure you find powerful ‘only’ features or you’ll just be creating a Swiss army knife when all I need is a scissor. Commodities rarely have ‘only’ features. They tend to just follow the crowd to the big fat middle.

Brands Need a Distinctive Voice:  If I walk into Starbucks or Wal-Mart or Target, I hear a voice from the brand. But there are plenty of retail experiences where the experience is dull and lifeless. A distinctive voice has a tone, a pace and a step that creates a unique experience. When I buy a wine, olive oil or chocolate, I look for queues on the package or online that helps me hear the brand and understand the people who bring it to life. The voice of a friendly customer service rep is inviting. An unhappy voice from that same company is off-putting and makes me want to hang up the phone.  Commodities tend to be mute or deaf or just plain disinterested. 

Brands Need Attitude:  There are so many products in so many categories, that it very hard to stand out from the crowd. But rich brands have attitude and they let it show. It is a bravado that announces it is in the house or they plant a firm flag in the ground.  They get noticed by allowing a real and genuine personality to emerge and they aren’t afraid to show an emotion or two. Commodities have little patience for personality because they are so transactional.  Buy this, buy that.

Being a commodity is the death knell to a brand. You need to distance yourself from the wasteland of generic goods and services. When I recently asked someone who needed some marketing advice, what they do, he told me he was an average, typical accountant. In his words, a commodity brand. 

Glad he called. 






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Are you slipping into the world of average with your brand? Maybe you need some coaching on how to wisely invest to help bring your product back to life. Give me a call. Let's talk through Clarity








Monday, January 26, 2015

The Marketing Why




Why did you pick up that brand of olive oil from the shelf of your supermarket versus the other sitting next to it? 

Why did you notice and open only one of the emails that came to you over the last 24 hours from someone you didn’t know? 

Why did you open that one piece of snail mail that came to your mailbox when you discarded all the rest without even opening them up?

Why did you stop zipping through the commercials on a favorite show and replay that one commercial?

Why did you make a reservation at one restaurant for your birthday versus the dozens of other choices available?

In the Moment
Can you catch yourself at your own moment of choice or decision?  Can you find clues about your reaction to marketing messages that can help you understand your decision? 

I know it isn't easy as there are irrational and difficult to articulate reasons why we buy things or pay attention to one message versus another. But there are clues to understanding your response to marketing efforts in those moments of heightened awareness.

Take This Challenge
During the course of the next week, see if you can focus your attention to the tsunami of messages and marketing communications coming your way.  Notice what catches your attention and stay present with it to judge what made you stop. Keep a running list of what led you to open, buy, reserve or choose one thing over another. 

If you are standing in the wine aisle with 1400 choices, notice how you made your choice to select two wines from that large set of choices. Was it familiarity? Was it color? Was it the name or country of origin? Why did you grab it and place it in your cart? Did someone just grab that same bottle and give you ‘social acceptance’ for your decision?

Often we can’t answer this question even if we are fully conscious of the moment illustrating how irrational and deep seeded decision-making may be in our brains. Don’t fight it but recognize that sometimes the most logical approach to marketing makes perfect sense on paper, but in the end it’s hard to know why consumers behave as they do.

Understanding that consumers behave irrationally is also a reason to experiment. 

Conducting an A/B test to try new and inventive approaches allows us the chance to see what happens in the real world versus our PowerPoint distorted view of life. There is nothing less accurate than a business plan without a series of real world tests of an idea or a hypothesis. Which package design? Which pricing offer? Which place to sell your product line.  

The consumer can’t tell you why they acted. However,  I am certain that if we see a pattern of behavior in the marketplace, we can hypothesize about why they acted. The real world experiment helps us gain insight into why. 

Why does your consumer buy your product? 
Don’t expect a consumer to tell you why they buy from you. Better to observe and measure what they do. This allows you to keep testing your hypothesis of why constantly. 

There is a big difference. Just don't ask me why. 










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Need a little help figuring out the why for your brand? Connect with me through Clarity and let's discuss your challenge. 


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Are You Thirstie?


You are sitting at home, at a party or a corporate event and realize you don’t have enough wine. (or beer or booze). Someone has to go out to the local liquor store. Or you can click on Thirstie. An app designed for the on-demand wine and spirit market.

If you are in NYC, Miami, Los Angeles or Chicago, you can get your cab with a click- and I don’t mean an Uber.

Solving a Problem
Once again, a group of entrepreneurs saw an opportunity where infrastructure exists and technology could make a link and connection easier. It is another example of finding efficiency and value in excess capacity or untapped need through your smart phone.

From their website:

THIRSTIE is easy to use on any platform. After downloading and opening the app, the customer is instantly connected to participating liquor merchants closest to their desired delivery address. THIRSTIE provides users with information about each product such as the size, alcohol content and price. The customer can shop as long as they like, selecting options and adding them to their shopping cart. When ready to check out, the customer selects the shopping cart option where they can view everything that has been added. The customer then selects their payment method and completes the order. Once the order is confirmed, the customer receives an email verification and delivery of their wine or liquor purchase will arrive within the hour.

This isn’t a new model since florists have operated with large cooperatives like 1 800 Flowers providing a similar linkage. But in a highly regulated market space like wine, beer and spirits, its impressive to see this new player step up to the bar.

Imagine wine brands launching new products and being able to partner with Thirstie. I understand the complexity of beer, wine and spirit promotional law, but here is an intriguing way to partner with local retailers when launching a new product or variety. 

Make a Wish
If you are searching for opportunities, it can be mighty powerful to simply get a few friends together and start playing the game… I WISH.
"I wish I could click a button on my phone and bam! My six pack or my favorite California Cab shows up at my door as easily as a pizza."

What’s on your wish list?







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Are you thirsty for a shot of marketing? Give me a call through Clarity and let's talk. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

How Do You Drip Your Marketing?



I’m not a big shopper. 

Truth be told, I hate shopping except for food and wine. I don’t find myself in the mall or online looking for stuff so I don’t profess to be an expert in this arena. But I do know brilliant marketing when I see it.

Every week or 10 days, I receive in my mail, a reminder about a store that sells a range of household goods. And that drip, drip, drip is a trigger that if I need something, I should keep them in mind.

I don’t read the postcard which is in fact a coupon, but I notice it. My wife saves them in an envelope in her car so she has them with her in case we need towels or spatulas or various home goods.

Products aren't typically discounted in the store. Instead, they give me a weekly reminder to come in and save 20% off the list price of any article they sell. The store is Bed, Bath & Beyond. And the frequency of their direct mail keeps me aware of them with a subtle reminder that isn’t intrusive. Drip, drip, drip. 

How do you drip your marketing?

What are the creative ways that you stay in front of your audience with a gentle reminder to keep top of mind? Here is a tactic to consider that might help you stand out.

A firm in New Jersey called BoxPilot has the capability to record your message and to leave it on your customer’s voice mail.  Everyone checks their voice mail and imagine being able to scale delivering a message to 10,000 people in one day or 100 people on the 15th of every month. What an unusual way to stay in touch with a communication that will break through the clutter of email. 

This is a great technique if you are hoping to reach thousands of customers to stay in touch with them. This is particularly effective in B2B settings but can also work, with some limitations, with consumers too.

A sample script from a professional photographer sent to 100 small businesses in his area: 

"Hey, this is Jeff from Small Business Photography on Main Street. I have a free class I'm offering this Saturday at my studio for small business owners to help them take better pictures for their business. No charge for the class and you'll learn 10 things to help you save some money on photography. Go to www.JeffPhoto.com to sign up before Friday at noon. The class has limited space. Talk to you soon." 

So 100 businesses in the area instantly learn about your class for about $150. And when 25 small business owners show up at your studio, they get to meet you, see what you do and connect. I bet you earn several thousand dollars from this effort in a few jobs that come your way. 

Imagine telling 100 patrons of your restaurant about the specials on Valentine's Day, or sharing with 100 clients of your yoga studio that you have a special event occurring on Saturday morning at sunrise. The reach is quick and the cost is reasonable. 

Marketers need to keep finding ways to remind audiences about their products and services. These messages don’t need to be push or be overly commercial. They might just share news of value to an audience or offers something special. And its testable so if it works, you can drip it out each month. 

What would you like to tell 10,000 people on their voice mail tomorrow?






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Could you use help dripping your marketing message to customers? Perhaps instead of a plumber, you should connect with me on Clarity. I also fix leaky brands in my spare time. 



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

4 Ideas To Help You Market To One Person At a Time



How many people do you market too?


Whether I am marketing corks or Slim Jims or Cheerwine, I always approach the effort by thinking about one person at a time. My target isn't big and wide and filled with millions of people. I focus on one person and talked to them. 

When I write my blog posts, it is helpful to focus on writing to one person, not the full base of people who are going to see the posts. There are many people similar to this one person, and I hope they can gain an idea or insight from my writing. Writing to one encourages me to be more engaged. Writing to thousands feels wrong, complex and hard to connect.

When you market your craft beer, mismatched socks or sofas – who are you selling them to? Do you try and reach a big, mass-market or do you bring your message to that one person who might really spread your story on your behalf?  Think about marketing to one person at a time. Be focused. Be clear. Be connected.

4 marketing suggestions 

THINK 10 PEOPLE NOT 10,000: Don’t try and sell a stadium filled with people. It is more powerful to get one person in 10 sections who can tell their neighbor a personal story about your work. Limit your communications to get to people who already prove (through social shares) that they like to curate products.

WHAT JOB DOES MY PRODUCT DO? Understand what job your product or service might have in the life of the person you reach. If you sell luxury goods or auto parts, understand the emotion behind the purchase.  Some marketers get lost in telling you about features when what a customer truly cares about is how they will feel after the purchase. I recently gave a Seth Godin book to a young entrepreneur who is trying to get motivated to start her business. I wanted the book to make her feel reassured that, as Yoda said, do or do not do. There is no try.

OVER DELIVER BEYOND EXPECTATION:  When you market to one person, you can make sure you are giving them something above and beyond what they expected.  By over delivering on value, you separate yourself from all others in the category – particularly if you do something that resonates with that one person’s needs.  So 15 minutes after AAA replaced my dead battery, I received a phone call that asked, is there anything we could have done to make your experience with AAA better?

TALK DON’T MARKET TO ONE PERSON: One person may be a proxy for a larger group or bigger audience. But when you make one person so happy that they share their experience, you are probably offering benefits that will match the needs of others.  And talking (not marketing) to one customer forces you to listen, to understand and to be see how your product/service fits with their day.

Trying to mass market a message is like calling 10,000 people at the same time. No one will hear you and you can’t possibly be listening to them.  Call (market to) one person at a time. Get connected and understand how your product or service might solve a problem they have, and then over deliver on that promise.  Help them to feel so good that they will share the story of how your product made them feel.

What job does your product or service do for people and what is the feeling you want them to experience?











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Are you dialing one customer at a time? Maybe I can be of help to you in marketing your product or service? Yes, I'm talking just to you. Connect with me here through Clarity. 


Monday, January 12, 2015

Set Your Employees Free So They Can Tell Your Stories


Are there better advocates for your brand than your employees? Isn't it about time you set them free and let them go online at work on social media? 

Think about it, they work every day within the business seeing all the small things that they do to bring value to your customers. Getting employees as advocates or ambassadors online give you a chance to leverage the insights and creativity of your team and to tell interesting stories about your business.

The folks in the quality department may repeat tests of materials coming in to your operation in ways that prevent defects. They might have precision pieces of equipment doing amazing things on your customers behalf – yet those stories are tucked away in their day job.

Colleagues who work in customer service may have some fun anecdotes about a customer’s problem that was creatively solved by your team. Celebrate it in a story but keep the customer’s name confidential.

Freeing an organization to use social media is a great untapped marketing opportunity. Like any communications, it needs a few simple guidelines to make sure it isn’t alienating existing or potential customers. But most businesses could use the extra connections – particularly in small local communities. 

Not everyone in the company will want to participate but many people will enjoy sharing with their friends and family about the work they do and the products and services your company offers.

When instructing employees how to behave online talking about social media, remind them that it is no different than being in a meeting with a customer. Don’t do things online you wouldn't do in person.

Don’t ever post comments that touch on politics, sex or religion. In some places, even mentioning sports teams might be considered a mistake too. Stay away from controversy. Don’t be too salesy. 

Tell people stories about the great work you do in your job to help customers but don’t ask for them to go online and buy from you. Just share information that allows them to understand more about the culture and the people who are behind the business.  

Be clear to everyone about what is and isn't confidential and/or a trade secret. 

You may not allow pictures of your machines to be shown, but it is okay to show trucks being loaded a special way to prevent damage. You may not want to mention new customers by name, but it is okay to share information about how you benefited your customer.

Here are some straightforward guidelines to consider:

Many employees and representatives already participate in social media via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, blogs, etc. If you choose to participate on behalf of the company, it’s important to be a good steward of our brand and reputation. Below are guidelines to help you as you engage in social media.

Think before you post
It’s pretty simple: Conduct yourself in the same manner you would in the office. As soon as you identify yourself as an employee of ___________, you’re a representative of our company to those following you and – in many cases – the general public.

Respect confidential information
Social media is external communication, so treat it as such. Don’t post anything that is confidential or inappropriate for public audiences. Internal events should not appear on social media like Facebook. External events (trade shows for example) would be acceptable to show pictures or information.

Obey the Law
Remember to comply with all applicable laws in your posts, including copyright, trademark, privacy, and endorsement/testimonial laws. If you question whether or not a post has legal ramifications, don’t post.

Be polite & clean
Treat those in the social media realm as you would treat clients and colleagues – with respect. Use appropriate, clean language and good grammar. Don’t do something online you wouldn’t do in person.

Talk about what you know
Stick to your areas of expertise. If you aren’t the expert on a topic, say so or don’t talk about it. Perception is reality, and you are a representative of ___________.

Your opinion is your own
Remember that your opinion is yours, not a representation of ____________. It’s okay to say so – provide a disclaimer.

Speak in first person
Use “I” and “my opinion,” not “we” and “our opinion.” These are your thoughts.

If you have to think twice, don’t post
Chances are, if you’re debating about whether to post something, you shouldn’t.

Would Your CEO say it?
If you think your CEO would approve of your post, and then go ahead. If you don’t think the CEO would approve, then don’t post. Pretty simple. Remember, CEO’s or other company leadership may end up seeing your posts.

When employees have questions about a situation involving social media, give them direction who to check with on your marketing team. So go unlock the online bars and let everyone share stories about the great work your company is doing. 









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Looking for help igniting your communications and unlocking value, give me a call through Clarity. I offer seasoned advice. 





Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Eight Questions to Unlock the Value In Your Product




If I offered to sell you a bottle of water, you might be willing to pay $1.00.  It’s hardly worth more since you have so many options and opportunities to replace my bottle with one on a store shelf. But that same bottle, when offered to you in the dessert, while you are lost might be worth $1,000,000 since it could keep you alive. Same bottle, different context. 

Context matters when analyzing value.

The price you are willing to pay might shift based on substitutions available or the story you tell me about where that water came from and what benefits I may derive from quenching my thirst with it. This is a basic idea in economics.

But how often do you examine the price you charge for your product within the context of the value that your customer assigns to it?  And what exactly is the anchor reference point for the price that is charged?

If I drink coffee at Starbucks, I might pay $4.00 for my drink. When I buy a Keurig cup for $1.00 per drink, my anchor price reference is Starbucks (not what it might cost if I ground the beans myself). Understanding your customer reference point for a price point, helps enormously to see how they view the value of an offering.

Marketing has to help craft the right story to your prospects to make sure your message is getting through. Here are eight questions marketers like to understand to help them craft the right message:
  1. WHAT DO THEY VALUE: How well do you understand what your customer really values when they buy products (or services) in your category? What is it based on and are you clear about how the customer prioritizes the desired outcomes they need?
  2. DOES RELIABILITY COUNT: How much value do they place on reliability of delivery?
  3. WHICH FEATURES: How clear are you about the features that customers prioritize in their needs? You might have too many bells & whistle attached when something simpler and less expensive is more in demand. Conversely, you might be leaving money on the table when customers aren’t buying for function but for fashion.
  4. SHAPING DOUBTS: If a competitor comes in with a similar product with identical features, can you help shape a doubt or question in the customer’s mind about buying from your competition? Can you highlight any truthful and measurable weaknesses that may raise a concern when a decision is about to be made?
  5. ADDED VALUES UNLOCKED: Is there value you add that isn’t obvious or clear to the person making that decision? For example, if your product is American made and your competitor comes from overseas, can you play upon patriotism or keeping jobs in America?
  6. VALUE ALIGNMENT: Does your company’s commitment to a value that aligns with your customer’s enough of a benefit to push someone in your direction. All things being equal, would you rather buy from a company who puts sustainability at the top of their values versus one that doesn’t care about that issue?
  7. SHOW DON'T TELL: Do you provide a clear way to physically show the difference versus just telling someone why you are better, cheaper or faster? Some product differences are complicated to explain – even to someone who is technically interested.  Show the difference, don’t tell -it is powerful way to illustrate value.
  8. AN IRRATIONAL CHOICE: Emotional and irrational decisions occur all the time in buying situations. Is it possible that you have been focusing on overly rational explanations versus helping the customer through their journey to get to a new emotional state. (Buy from me and you will feel safe, happy or proud).
Most sales people do best when marketing can help provide a simple story to tell that connects with a buyer’s value. In order to be successful, marketing folks need to be deeply immersed in understanding the category's dynamics so they can craft a message to unlock the value in your offering. 

As a marketing professional, how have you unlocked value and communicated that message? 










This post was inspired by an interview on John Jantsch's podcast with Ron Baker. To listen, click here.
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Need some help unlocking the value in your brand. Click over to Clarity to set up time for us to find the key.