Some Things to Know Before You Build Your Marketing Plan

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” -Yogi Berra

You can find lots of online resources showing you how to write a marketing plan. Some use a fill-in-the­ blanks approach while others give you general guidelines and specify necessary topics to be included in the plan. There are marketing plan guidelines for promoting products and other types of plans for promoting services.

I’m not going into detail about what constitutes a marketing plan. I am going to ask you tough questions before you start. Your plan helps you organize your thinking. It’s a fluid document gives you a track to run on. It should be evaluated on a regular basis.

But what about the stuff no one tells you about writing a marketing plan?

Ask yourself:

  1. Why am I writing a marketing plan for my business?
  2. Did someone say I should?
  3. Can I write this by myself or do I need help?
  4. How much time and energy will it take to write the plan?

Key points:

  • In your plan, less of everything is more and creativity is crucial
  • Your plan is not a term paper, it’s an action document
  • Don’t diminish the quality of your marketing plan by watering it down with gratuitous information

Specifics:

  • Use everyday words, not jargon (hard to do for many people)
  • Summarize and synthesize key data points
  • Go easy on timelines and charts
  • Clearly articulate the difference between strategies and tactics
    • Strategies are what we want to accomplish
    • Tactics are specific tools used to implement the strategy
  • Include a budget and aim to get your budget figures “roughly right” not perfect

Here is a final note for those of you who want to look at planning in a new light.

“For battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

-Dwight D Eisenhower, who led the Allied Forces in the invasion against the Nazis during World War II.

 

A Revisionist History of Branding – Part 2

Personal branding is a combination of marketing and promotional activities you do to influence how others see you.

In my last post, I wrote about the history of branding from a cattle rancher’s perspective. Here’s an example of how one woman used a combination of marketing activities to influence how others see her. Rose is a lobbyist and well-known advocate for low-income housing in her state. She wanted to establish connections with state legislators and their staff with the goal of passing legislation to assist low-income families seeking affordable housing. In order to achieve her goal, she wanted to be seen as the go-to person in the state for any issue related to low-income housing.  She wanted key legislative decision makers to associate her name with low-income housing.

How did Rose initiate the personal branding process? First, she wrote a series of white papers based on her research on low-income housing. Second, she scheduled short, in person briefings with individual legislators and their staff to discuss key policy issues regarding low-income housing. Third, she started blogging. This was very easy to do because Rose would blog about different aspects of her research. She had tons of content to share.

What’s the difference between what Rose did to brand herself and what she did to promote her services? Nothing.  It’s the same thing. Don’t get trapped into thinking that branding is some mystery panacea for your business wows. Call it what you want, I’ll call it establishing and maintaining connections with customers as a way to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

Rose was successful in helping pass critical legislation that funded low-cost housing by:

  1. Having data to support her position and sharing it with key decision makers
  2. Blogging on a regular basis
  3. Cultivating and maintaining relationships in the state legislature

Good work, Rose.

I encourage you to read books and/or articles specifically related to personal branding. Don’t be shocked, you’ll find hundreds of them.

Hashtags-at-a-Glance: An Interview with Gabe Seiden

Time for a Quick Quiz:

True or False: A hashtag (#) is an illegal drug. If you answered True, then you better read the following. If you answered False, you should still read this article. I talked to Gabe Seiden from Connect4Consulting about the world of hashtags. I wanted to give information to my clients about hashtags so they would have a cursory understanding of the concept before they built a social media program for their business. I was not looking for a do-it-yourself manual on the use of hashtags or a long-winded diatribe on the analytics involved in hashtags.

Q. Gabe, what is a hashtag?

A. A hashtag is a way for people to search for tweets that have a common topic. Hashtags are unavoidable. Everyone uses them – on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, even TV. For example, if you type #NationalCoffeeDay (or #nationalCoffeeDay or #nationalcoffeeday, because it’s not case-sensitive) into Twitter’s Search box at the top of any Twitter page and hit Enter, you’ll get a list of tweets related to National Coffee Day (September 30th, by the way). What you won’t get are tweets that talk about “coffee” because “coffee” isn’t preceded by the hashtag.

Q. Why do I want to know about hashtags?

A. Hashtags allow you to create communities of people interested in the same topic by making it easier for them to find and share info related to it.

Q. Where do hashtags come from?

A. Any user can create one simply by adding it to their own tweet. For example, when a plane went down in the Hudson River a few years ago, some Twitter user wrote a post and added #flight1549 to it. I have no idea who this person was, but somebody else would have read it and when he posted something about the incident, added #flight1549 to HIS tweet. For something like this, where tweets would have been flying fast and furiously, it wouldn’t have taken long for this hashtag to go viral and suddenly thousands of people posting about it would have added it to their tweets as well. Then, if you wanted info on the situation, you could do a search on #flight1549 and see everything that people had written about it.

Now hashtags only show up spontaneously if there’s a breaking news item. Otherwise, they’re used to promote, praise, or pan people (#TrumpSucks), brands (#VolkswagenScandal), events (#MNF), and anything else people want to discuss en masse (#Joaquin).

Q. How do I create my own hashtag?

A. The first thing you do is conduct a basic Twitter search to see if a related term already exists. These days, odds are it does. Probably the only reason you would need to create a new one nowadays would be for the group activities category I mentioned above. In that case, since the tag will use up some of your 140-character limit, you want to keep it fairly short, while still making it precise so other people aren’t likely to use it for another purpose. For example, let’s say I wanted to create a virtual book club with my friends scattered around the country. I might create the #gsbookclub hashtag that we would all add to the tweets we’re posting about the books we’re reading.

If you want more than just your friends to use the hashtag, you might want to “announce” it to your followers.

For more information on how to use hashtags, contact Gabe, or visit his website.

A Revisionist History of Branding – Part 1

It started out in the old west. Pioneers were settling the land. Cattle ranches started popping all over the landscape.  In those days, beef was in high demand. Ranchers knew that raising cows was a great way to make a living. As a result, many ranchers grew big herds of cattle (did you know that twelve or more cows are called a flink?). Eventually, the ranchers’ flinks became so vast that the ranchers found it next to impossible to contain their own flink in one area. The cow’s grazing meadows could not be fenced in.  Cows wandered off and wound up intermingling with other rancher’s cows.

Two problems arose. First, ranchers didn’t have a way to identify their own cows from their neighbor’s cows. And, second, ranchers didn’t have a good way to protect their cows from poachers, unless the rancher could find and shoot the poachers. Ranchers needed a distinctive and easily recognized way to identify their own livestock. This would be a foolproof way to prove ownership of their livestock.

So, what did the ranchers do? You guessed it. They used a branding iron and branded their cows (today, in the state of Nebraska, there are more than 15,000 unique brands used by livestock owners).

By now, you’ve probably figured out what this has to do with branding yourself and your business. The ranchers represent your business (or a corporation).  The cows represent your product or service. The meadow represents the vast marketplace. Commingling has to do with the competitiveness of business environment. The actual brand represents your businesses unique identity.

Branding & Personal Branding

My intent here is to give you a quick look at branding and to stimulate your thinking so you are prepared to venture off and start branding your cows. Entrepreneur.com defines branding as, “the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products”.

Most branding strategies are designed for large corporations who are competing for huge chunks of market share.

From a strategic perspective, here are some thing to know about branding:

  • Most of what is written about branding focuses on branding for corporations
  • Most branding strategies focus on product branding, rather than services branding
  • A brand can be created by using a:
    • Name
    • Logo
    • Symbol
    • Motto

My definition of personal branding is “a combination of marketing activities you do to influence how others see you”. You influence your customers and referrers by presenting a positive image of yourself. You’ll see how personal branding and marketing as the management strategic relationships are one in the same.

Let’s get closer to home.’ Branding is not about using spin doctors (spokespersons who you hire to give a favorable impression of you to the public) or publicity agents to manage you as a brand. I’m referring to how you package yourself and projecting a positive image in the eyes of your customers.

Personal branding is a combination of marketing activities you do to influence how others see you.

Here are two things you learned reading this.

  1. A flink is a group of twelve or more cows.
  2. My definition of branding: A combination of marketing activities you do to influence how others see you”.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of A Revisionist History of Branding. You’ll meet Rose, who used a branding strategy to her advantage.

Unraveling the Mystery of Effective Email Marketing: Secrets Revealed – Part 3

In Part 1 of Unraveling the Mystery of Effective Email Marketing, I gave you some background information about how I created a profitable email marketing campaign. In Part 2, I shared a research study that showed the effectiveness of email marketing. And, I listed seven content-driven email tactics I use to generate revenue.

In this, the last installment of Unraveling the Mystery of Effective Email Marketing, you’ll learn three email-marketing secrets

  1. Break it down. If possible, break down your email list into at least two segments…one list should be your current customers/clients and one list should be your prospective customers/clients. It doesn’t matter how many names/emails addresses you have on each list. Prospective customers/clients and existing customers/clients have different needs. Tailor your message to the unique needs of each group.
  2. More is better. However, be aware of email fatigue and email overdose. The more you blast out your emails, the more likely you’ll increase the number of responses. I can’t give you a magic number of how frequent you should send emails in order to increase sales. Just keep on blasting.
  3. Less is better. What? I’m not contradicting myself at all. Go ahead and write a draft of your email in a Word document. When you’re satisfied that you’ve clearly communicated your message, step away from your computer for an hour or so minutes, have a cup of coffee and then return to your computer. Re-read your email and delete at least half of the copy. Yup, one half. Can you do it? Your reader will appreciate the brevity of your message.

Now it’s time for you to dive into the sea of email marketing. If you get stuck or frustrated, reread the excerpt from the McKinsey Report in Part 1 of Unraveling the Mystery of Email Marketing. Good luck.

Unraveling the Mystery of Effective Email Marketing – Part 2

In Part 1 of Unraveling the Mystery of Effective Email Marketing, I gave you some background information about how I created a profitable email marketing campaign. Before I tell you how I did it and how I got such an unexpected response and profitable conversion rates, I want to share the following with you.

Here’s a quote from McKinsey & Company regarding email.

Why marketers should keep sending you e-mails
McKinesy & Company Insights
January 2014
By Nora Aufreiter, Julien Boudet, and Vivian Weng

“There’s a reason your inbox always seems jam-packed: e-mail marketing works. But companies can get smarter about ensuring every message counts.

If you’re wondering why marketers seem intent on e-mailing you more and more, there’s a simple explanation: it works. E-mail remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media—nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined (exhibit). That’s because 91 percent of all US consumers still use e-mail daily, and the rate at which e-mails prompt purchases is not only estimated to be at least three times that of social media, but the average order value is also 17 percent higher.”

I’m generally skeptical of research that reports such dramatic statistics. My skepticism was diminished after I read the above.

How did I do it? Based on the feedback from the workshop, participants told me they wanted to learn more about certain marketing topics. This information was all I needed to move forward with my email campaign. My approach was straightforward.

  1. I included at least one practical marketing tip in each email
  2. I limited each email to approximately 325 words
  3. If I used information from an outside source, I’d include a link to that source
  4. I did not promote my book in the body of the email. However, on the right column of the email was a box that had a link to my book’s website.
  5. Since I was known to all of the recipients of the email, I did not have to establish my credibility each time I sent an email, I could just jump in and share content
  6. I used an informal style of writing and always wrote in the second person
  7. I did not include any unnecessary graphics or pictures

I broke my rule of just presenting tips in one email. I used a testimonial from a past workshop participant. This participant appreciated the help I gave her in our individual coaching sessions. I had a hunch this approach would add a personal touch to my email campaign.

Every time I sent an email, I would get at least one person requesting and signing up for my one-on-one coaching services.

Watch for the final episode of Unraveling the Mystery of Effective Email Marketing.

Unraveling the Mystery of Effective Email Marketing – Part 1

This is the first episode of a story about my experience using email to generate sales (or in my case, generating clients). I’m going to present the facts and of course, throw in my opinions.

My message to you is: mail marketing works.

The goal of my email campaign was to sell my one-on-one business advising and marketing services.

Facts:

  • I used a list of participants who, over the past two years, attended my Marketing Professional & Personal Services Workshops
  • I started with 124 names and increased list to 169 names over two years.
  • I sent 13 emails to these participants over a 2 year period
  • I changed the body copy and headline (SUBJECT) for each email

You might think that 169 names is a tiny number of potential customers/clients. Remember, all of these people attended my workshop and knew me. I also have segmented lists of other types of potential clients (for example, purchasers of my self-help book Critical Connections – a Step-by-Step Guide to Transform Your Business Through Referral Marketing).

Every month for one year after attending the workshop, participants received an email from me called Marketing Tip of the Month. These emails contained tips, tactics, and ideas. At the bottom of every email, I would say, in one brief sentence that I was available for one-on-one coaching.

Quick history lesson: In the days before the Internet and social media, personal and professional service providers and small business owners never gave anything away. The customer had to pay for anything tangible you gave them. This practice did not include time spent in a selling mode. Seasoned professionals told me, “My time is valuable, and I am the subject matter expert. I’m not giving anything away”.

There was one caveat. If you published or were quoted in a newspaper or magazine article, clip the article and send it to everyone. If you came across a news article of interest to your customers, do the same. This was not seen as giving something away. It was another way to stay connected to your customers.

Nowadays, we’re seeing a shift from ‘don’t give it away’ to you gotta give stuff (content) away.

Back to today: Approximately every two weeks I sent emails to the all of the participants. Within a week of sending out the emails, I’d get at least one response. All of these responses converted into paying clients. 13 emails – thirteen new clients over a one year period.

How did I do it?

Watch for Part 2 of Unraveling the Mystery of Effective Email Marketing.

Giving Advice vs. Listening

Food For Thought:

People love to give advice. When someone gives you advice, the advice they give is generally more about what they need rather than what you need.

Recently, I sent a secure email to my doctor’s office asking for a call back so I could discuss the details about whether I need to get a new prescription since my current prescription’s refills ran out. After three days, I did not hear back from anyone from the doctor’s office. So, I called the office and demanded to talk to the administrator of the practice.

When I told the administrator about my frustration, she listened to my entire story and then profusely apologized. She then asked me about what was the best way to reach me. I said email. She said that she would put a note on in my electronic medical record reminding staff members to email me non-medical information.

At the end of this conversation, I felt listened to and had more confidence in the practice’s ability to respond to me.

Let’s try something:

  1. Briefly, write down a dissatisfaction or frustration of a customer/client. Either use a real example or make one up.
  1. Next, write down three open-ended questions you might ask that dissatisfied customer. Do not ask a question that requires a “yes” or “no” answer. These questions should focus on what customer needs were not met.

Asking questions:

  • Takes the pressure off of you to immediately solve the problem or give advice
  • Gives you time to think rather than react
  • Lets the customer know you are interested in him/her

Here are the three steps to help your enhance your business relationship with a dissatisfied customer:.

  1. Listen to the complaint
  2. Emphasize with customer’s frustration
  3. Ask how you can meet their needs

I hope you do not have any dissatisfied customers. If you do, be prepared to listen, emphasize and ask a question. Read about becoming a good listener vs. giving advice in Critical Connections.

Listening is a positive act. You have to put yourself out to do it.

-David Hockney