Today’s One Minute Marketing topic is Real Help… a crisis communications tip
When you are in a pandemic, or any other crisis, there are natural reactions. Even marketers and brands have them:
Shock… we’re shocked by a situation that is affecting people’s lives and future
Empathy… people feel for other people and want to express that
Help… people want to help
Sending Well Wishes
All of us are receiving emails from companies and brands with which we may or may not feel connected. Many of them simply say they are fine, hope you’re fine and we’ll talk soon. That isn’t a great communication. In fact, it’s a waste of time.
So, do you send your well wishes as a brand? What do you include in your communications
Here are some one minute tips for communications in a crisis.
Rule 1: Don’t communicate unless you have news.
Keep communications short and focus on real news. Wishing others well is fine, but don’t waste their time, give them something of value.
Rule 2: Don’t assume your solution is THE solution.
Clearly explain what you can do for the reader/listener, but don’t sound like you’re the only answer.
Rule 3: Provide real help.
Offer something that really helps. Lower a price, make the terms better, speed delivery. Put yourself in the buyer’s mind. What do they really need and how can your brand meet that need?
Even if number 2 is true (you’re aren’t the answer), a serious message with serious help will be more appreciated than one more self-centered brand’s feelings about the crisis.
It’s a serious time. Make your communications count. Only news and real help.
Real Help for Your Marketing
If you would like to discuss your crisis communications, we would love to help. In fact, you can send us a question and we’ll provide our best advice – no cost, no obligation.
During a crisis situation it is good to have a checklist of communications. Here is a quick checklist for the current pandemic:
Overcommunicate. Staff are looking to leaders to provide guidance and information. No matter the situation: limited office work, work from home or temporarily furloughed… let them know what the company is doing/thinking.
Be clear. Focus on the main messages and clearly communicate them. What are the 1, 2, 3 things staff should be focused on during this crisis?
Designate all staff who will communicate with customers and the public and what they should say (and not say). Other staff should be coached on gathering information and passing on to designated leaders the concerns of customers.
Set up a feedback loop. Are there ways for staff to reach the your company decision makers with questions or to report things they hear from customers?
Maintain one voice. Check in regularly with those who are speaking with customers or the public to make sure the message is thorough and consistent.
Communicate changes to customers – services, processes, hours, contact information, etc.
Designate contact methods. Do your customers know how to contact the company if they have an issue? Even if you are closed, there should be some way for customers to get a message to company leadership.
Set up a schedule on website and/or social media to update information on a weekly (or more often as necessary) basis. Use push notification (such as email) only when you have real news – information that customers or the public need to know to interact with your company.
Bring perspective. Consider the position of the audience to whom you are communicating. What are they concerned about? Balance that with perspective from your position as a leader in the organization. What do you need them to know?
Be right rather than quick. Don’t react. Take your time, get the message correct, then communicate.
Don’t speculate – if you’re closed for this week, say that, nothing more. In crisis situations, things change quickly.
Stay calm. And speak that way.
Say Thank you. In a crisis, everyone is working in ways they normally don’t or on issues that aren’t typical. Take a moment to appreciate those efforts.
Look for opportunities – not to profit, but to provide education, extra service… be helpful.
Once this crisis passes, schedule time to debrief and develop a plan for the next crisis. Whether large like a pandemic or something smaller, another crisis will come. Having a plan for communications is a smart tool for your business plan.
Contact us if you need help now, or planning for the next communications situation.
Entertaining game and congratulations to the Chiefs on their victory.
And the Super Bowl of ads… here’s how I saw it. Let me know your thoughts and favorites @StephenLEckert or here. Lots of good creative – I chose two best commercials: Wal-Mart and Jeep Gladiator. Read about them and watch below.
Best Super Bowl Commercial: First Half
Wal-Mart – Pickup Service
Creative isn’t the end all, humor isn’t the purpose of a commercial. Explaining a product or service is the purpose. Doing that with cool effects and humor is a bonus. Wal-Mart shows their pick-up service is for anyone… from Captain Kirk to Lego spaceman to Arrival’s heptapods (glass cleaner? – hilarious). Promotes a service in an engaging, memorable way.
Best Super Bowl Commercial: Second Half
Not sure if the target market for the Jeep Gladiator remembers the movie Groundhog Day from the theater (I doubt it). But sometimes creative is too good to pass up. The Super Bowl on February 2nd? Your product is a pick-up truck and Bill Murray’s character stole a (Chevy) pick up with the groundhog? You must do it! Having Bill Murray re-enact his role but in this version he’s enjoy repeating his day because of the Jeep Gladiator. Brilliant.
Other commercials that actually sold a feature
Not sure why Boston accents (and why didn’t they have a Wahlberg brother!), but fun creative and shows a feature (self parking). Hyundai consistently combines product features, benefits and good creative (remember the Kevin Hart commercial using the Hyundai tracking device to keep up with his dating daughter?).
It works in the club! Funny with Anthony Anderson getting calls from his mom about her new 5G phone. It works everywhere! That’s selling a feature in a very relatable way.
Mountain Dew No Sugar
A rediculous creative spoof of horror films to introduce new Mountain Dew flavor. Great way to make a new product memorable.
No and Yes Spots. Clever, quick cuts between TV and movie “no” or “yes” moments with the payoff being that Discover has no fees (in the “no” spot) and is taken at 95% of retailers and restaurants (in the “yes” spot). A good ad that reinforces features and benefits.
Rolling Stone “Paint it Black” (from a red can). Direct swipe at Coke Zero. Young stars singing the praises of your product is always good. Good awareness ad. Doesn’t really prove it’s better than Coke. Of course, how would you in a TV spot? Oh wait, they did that with the Pepsi Challenge (look it up).
Fun for fun’s sake…
Okay, I hear you, I hear you. Can’t there just be well-produced, creative ads that show off a product. Yup…
Doritos spot featuring Lil Nas and Sam Elliott “make your move” (love the dancing mustache) with a Billy Ray Cyrus cameo was silly and fun. Not sure it sells Doritos, but the speakers on the back of the horse was a LOL.
Funny, sort of selling an anti-benefit… orange dust-covered fingers will keep you from having to change diapers, move couches, etc. Probably a sign of my age but enjoyed the MC Hammer cameo a lot.
Great concept with Rick and Morty but didn’t focus on the many flavors enough.
Paying off Mr. Peanut dying in previous spots. Or trying to play on the popularity of Baby Yoda? I wonder…
And then there was…
Worst Super Bowl Commercial
“Space for Women”. I’m all for women in the science fields, love the effort to promote science to women. But Olay’s creative made women look silly – no one but the astronaut realizes there is a lot of space in space? Then the end of the commercial is one of the women pushing the ejection button without finding out what it does first? Bad, insulting non-humor. Wasted effort, could have been executed much better.
New York Life
Nice, but ineffective, commercial to celebrate 175 years. Inwardly focused… and that’s fine if you want to spend $5 million to make your shareholders and employees feel good. Interesting to define the four types of love in the Greek language, but the creative took too long to develop and the connection to New York life services and agape love was a stretch at best. At best…
Buy a six-pack and Michelob will convert six square feet of farmland to organic. Really? That’s why I’m buying your beer? Corporate virtue signaling at its best (and worst). That’s a 1 ft by 6ft slice. Sounds amazing. There are 39,857,400,000,000 square feet of farmland in the U.S. Don’t drink that much… please. Jimmy Fallon is always funny, so that Ultra spot was at least enjoyable.
Ultra totally punk’d by Saint Archer Gold spot with a young beer seeker passing by Ultra in three stores to find Gold based on better taste. Guess he doesn’t care about farmland.
Hard Rock Hotel
JLo, DJ Khalid, sparkle cup. What the…
The spot running in the weeks before the Super Bowl was a better spot. What does the dancing mean? The earlier commercial made the point that Americans are good at taking photos (we are – we all carry a camera everywhere, every day) and therefore can be good at taxes. That spot was selling their service and was a better ad.
Bud Light and Tide Power Pods
I’m over the Bud Light Knight. Should have left them dead at last year’s Super Bowl with the Game of Thrones cross-promotion. Post Malone spot wasn’t much better. Did like the Tide guy running into Wonder Woman and just stopping at her “request”.
Let it go. Please. What a waste of an expensive song licensing fee. And exactly how does she get out of traffic?!? Just because she has an electric car the roads open up? Wish it were so…
Nice honoring of first responders. Good to see a technology company acknowledge the importance of non-technology.
All in all
Lot of fun spots (many not covered here) and great creative. A good Super Bowl of commercials. Let me know your thoughts and favorites @StephenLEckert or here.
Our marketing consulting revolves around the content calendar (and other planning and marketing management tools). If you follow me on Twitter, read the Genius! Marketing blog regularly, or purchased the Genius! Marketing book, you know that starting with tactics is not advised. It’s easy to chase tactics. The way to start is with the message, based on the brand and marketing/sales goals. One of the most important tools we use to help companies plan and execute marketing successfully is the Content Calendar.
Planning the Content Calendar is Marketing Planning
For publications, the editorial calendar is planned in advance. Magazines, broadcasters, and content driven websites plan what stories they will publish throughout the year. Yes, news happens and the content calendar plan is the same as any plan – it can and will be changed through the year as warranted by changes in the market. Still, no publication editorial board would start a year without a content calendar. It should be the same for the marketer: in the age of content marketing, the content calendar is critical; scheduling when key messages will be communicated.
Organizations are publishers. With the internet, just about everyone is in the “media business.” As described in the message section of the Genius! Marketing book, the website is where all the information about your company, brand, and products resides. However, this content is static. It is always available, but check the analytics of your website… not everyone (anyone) who visits the site reads the whole site.
The X and Y Axis
Learn more about marketing budgeting and more in the Genius! Marketing book!
The content calendar shows how you will communicate your messages over time… it schedules the conversations to have with prospects and customers over the course of the year. Every January is the opportunity to talk about “New Year’s Resolutions” or “Things to Know – Trends for the New Year” in your industry. Some messages are seasonal… whether an industry event that occurs once per year or a product or service that is typically purchased during one time of the year. Some of the calendar “fills itself”: product launches, special sales, and the more important, obvious messages. The balance of the calendar permits plugging in the less obvious messages such as brand attributes, accessories, special warranty information, introducing key staff, or other messages that typically don’t make a headline in an ad. Those messages may be available on a website but are great to communicate through the year.
The Third Dimension
The content calendar tool is critical in my consulting because it makes sure the organization is covering the topics that matter when they matter… and when there is the time in the schedule to communicate key value propositions and other messages that are not season-oriented. Not every prospect will see or hear every message but plan the schedule as if it is an ongoing conversation with prospects that support the sales process.
To Be Continued…
Next blog we’ll discuss more detail on the content calendar and how it integrates to your marketing tactics like advertising, social media, email marketing, etc. Can’t wait for the next blog? Get all the information and templates including the content calendar in the Genius! Marketing book!
Have a question about your content calendar or other marketing issue? Contact me!
Trade Shows, Conferences, and Chambers – Marketing at an Event
Events are a great way to market your product or service. In another post, we’ll discuss marketing your own events. This blog is about getting the most out of events you attend. It is a simple formula of marketing before, during, and after the event.
Go Before You Show
Consider attending the event before marketing at an event. This means taking the long view (if you’ve read my book, you know we are about planning first and acting second). Rather than throwing those marketing dollars at the upcoming event, attend the event. Walking around a trade show or conference will give you the perspective you need for marketing at an event successfully. On-site as an attendee you can:
Talk to other attendees from their perspective – not as someone selling them,
Get a feel for the show and how other companies are having success engaging prospects,
Understand better the value you are getting when you sign to display, and
Learning the ins and outs… better to have a booth in the main room, by the restrooms, in the concourse, or not at all?
Learn more about marketing budgeting and more in the Genius! Marketing book!
By being an attendee, you’ll increase your chances to successfully engage prospects if you do display at a future show.
Every Show is Different, and Every Show is the Same
Walking around a show as an attendee will help you to understand how the show is unique, and how it is similar to other events. There may be things you want to do exactly as you always do – display, handouts, etc. Or there may be a different vibe to the show that gives you an idea for a new contest, giveaway, survey, or another engagement tool.
Success for the “walkabout” would be meeting one prospect. It happens… I’ve done it, and I’ve had clients who’ve done it. By simply walking a show floor and talking to people they meet, a new connection forms that can grow into a prospect and then a customer. The power of having an attendee badge and not a presenter badge is in that you’re on the “same side of the display” as other attendees. Trust me, it won’t be a waste to attend before you display.
Get the Attendee List when Marketing at an Event
It is paramount to know who is coming to an event. In the walkabout/attend-only year, ask the event promoter to provide a list of attendees. Not the published brochure list or logos, but an actual attendee list. You want to see who attends (and who displays) by title and company. This gives you a couple advantages as you prepare for the next event at which you may be a presenter/have a display. First, you’ll have insight as to whom you are marketing, which can inform which messages and products you highlight at the event. It also gives you a way to make the event more than a shot in the dark. Make the attendee list for the following event part of your negotiation for taking a display space. It isn’t always possible to obtain but negotiate for it. You will get much more out of the show if you know who is coming.
When marketing at an event, make some part of the show by invitation only. Use the attendee list provided to invite customers and target prospects to a special presentation.
Back in the day, off-site hospitality rooms were a mainstay. That works, but can be expensive and aren’t necessarily attractive to prospects who have a heavy work schedule and need to use their evenings to catch up on email and other tasks. Rather, consider what can be done to invite special prospects and customers to an informative special event. It could be on the display floor, during regular show hours. Or a breakfast meeting before the event begins. Make it focus on helping the prospect with their job… after all, that’s why they are attending the event.
Such an event could be a Q/A with an industry expert (who could be from your organization) or a panel discussion on a hot topic. If doing the “event within an event” on the display floor, close your booth and post a staff person in the aisle to answer questions and engage people who will stop to look and listen. Nothing gets interest piqued like an event from which I am excluded! Collect names of interested passers-by for follow up and an invitation to a similar event via webinar in the future.
To maximize your marketing at an event: follow up. It is difficult, especially with multi-day events. When back in the office, there are old tasks waiting for completion, new tasks that are coming, plus event fatigue… we naturally want to move on to something different. Schedule time to consistently work through the follow-up items. Send quick emails to thank people who inquired or attended your invitation-only event. Provide a timeline to them for expected follow up. Don’t immediately dump a ton of information on a prospect. They have all the same time and energy constraints you have when returning from a show. A quick email and a promise to be in touch can be the best communication received.
For invitees that didn’t stop by the display, schedule a follow-up note or email to highlight some of the discussions… a brief “what they missed.”
As a marketer, it is also your job to make sure that messages delivered – including promises at events – are true. Don’t dump a list on sales and wash your hands. Follow-up internally to make sure that information is delivered, contact is made, promises are kept.
Think Long Term
Assess the event and how productive it was for:
gaining industry information,
educating the market, and
engaging prospects and customers.
If successful in these areas, consider going back. If not, perhaps other marketing tactics are a better spend. Events can be powerful marketing tools, but like all marketing, need a plan for before, during, and after the event. Planning makes marketing work. Even genius!
Need a primer on marketing planning? Buy the book Genius! Marketing. Considering marketing through an event? Contact us if you have questions or need help building a winning event program.
I once asked a customer who made a product that was a commodity item about the idea of unique selling proposition and brand attributes. If you make paper cups, how unique can you be? The customer responded that the product was a commodity, pricing was a main driver of sales, but they competed and won business not only on price but by how they served the customer.
Brand Attributes Come from Who You Are
The reality is that even a product very similar to others is still made and delivered in a unique way. It is imperative to understand this and to look seriously at your organization, its processes, people, and culture to determine what brand attributes are unique. The way you operate the business or interact with customers is often the best place to look for unique brand attributes. It turns out my paper cup making friend had several unique advantages.
Learn more about marketing budgeting and more in the Genius! Marketing book!
One was being an early adopter of web-based automatic refill systems in their e-commerce functionality. Another was the people that worked in the customer service area. They were committed to not only fast response but were empowered to make decisions that other companies would only permit by senior management. These were attributes that created unique value.
Possible attributes that could be part of a unique selling proposition:
Product options like color, size, or accessories
Customer service contact options
Customer club, premium, or status
Access to top management
Partnerships with other vendors
It’s Been Done – But Not Like You Do It
All of the list above (and more) have been part of a company’s unique story. However, you do it differently. Uniquely. Your company, your brand, comes from your culture, your focus, and your mission. What is your story and how can it be communicated to your customers and prospects
Once you have the unique attributes (or at least uncommon attributes), you can think about developing your Unique Selling Proposition. The USP is sort of like a 30-second elevator pitch of branding. Or a customer-centric mission statement. It should answer the question of why a person or company would buy your services. What you do for them and how you do it.
The Unique Selling Proposition should start with one statement that takes into account what matters to a company, why customers buy and the unique brand attributes. Here’s an example:
Our best customers buy multiple products from us. It’s important to them to have one vendor to coordinate their inventory levels and ease their cash flow. We send products in drop shipments to meet their needs, but the frequency of shipments isn’t a problem. They need it when they need it and we always deliver!
What are the key attributes communicated to the prospect or customer in this USP?
Multiple products from one trusted vendor
Control cash flow
Drop shipments on demand
Pivot to the Customer to Make the Unique Selling Proposition Matter
The Unique Selling Proposition is built on the attributes of your company. However, the focus is on the benefits to the customer – why they should buy. The USP answers that most important question: What do you do for me (the customer)?
Here are some questions to ask to uncover the unique company and brand attributes of your organization.
What are the attributes of your organization? Which directly come from who you are, how you deliver your product or service? Which are unique (or at least uncommon)?
How do the people on your team affect the customer experience, and therefore, the brand?
What matters? What is the mission and values of your organization? How does this benefit the customer?
Think about your organization. What are the first ideas, images and words that come to mind?
There’s more help in the book Genius! Marketing or if you need help developing your marketing messages, contact us.
Website Checklist: Make Sure Your Website Serves Your Prospects and Customers
Here’s a website checklist that will help you determine if your website is giving prospects and customers what they want and need. Whether you sell professional services, a manufactured product, are a nonprofit, or a retailer, your prospects and customers expect your website to help them. Your website is part of your sales support team, and part of your customer service team. Check your site to make sure you are giving prospects and customers what they want and need.
Learn more about marketing budgeting and more in the Genius! Marketing book!
Responsive and Functional Mobile – Your website may be responsive – it renders differently on mobile, tablet and computer. (If you don’t have a responsive website, contact us immediately to build you one!) It works by resizing and shuffling blocks of content for each screen size. Make sure the content makes sense on each type of device. Homepages with long scrolls through lots of information on a laptop may be unbearable for the user to scroll on a smartphone.
Contact Info – Sometimes people need to call or email you, and they visit your website to get the number. Look at your site on all your devices and ask: “If someone just needed our address, our phone number, or an email, how easily can they find it?” The long scroll on smartphone mentioned above? A customer who is just looking for a phone number will find it very frustrating to scroll to the bottom of a long page. Put a link to the contact page/information in an upper menu that is the first thing seen on mobile, or just put the phone number (click to call on mobile).
What Now? – All of us want our prospects to read every page, look at every photo, and watch every video on our website. Do you do that when you visit a website? Or, do you quickly scan for the information you want, or direction on how to get it. Don’t assume that a (any) visitor will (ever) read all your website pages. Don’t expect a visitor looks at the menu and tries to understand the organization of the website. Assume your visitor doesn’t know what to do and tell them. Give them an easy way to choose what to do next. Rotating graphics or “sliders” on the homepage can do this, use them to show the latest offers, next step, or key information you need visitors to see. Alternatively, put two or three blocks on the homepage that address the key information for visitors and links them to the page they want. A simplistic example for emphasis: “Buy Now”, “Today’s Specials”, and “Unsure – Start Here”. There are many ways to guide the visitor; it starts by thinking like a visitor or doing marketing research to understand their needs.
Pay Off Your Marketing – I am personally frustrated when I hear or see an ad and go to a website and don’t see the offer immediately. Ever happen to you? If so, what is your reaction? Mine is I move on… I might click one menu to see if I can find the offer, but if I don’t see it in one click, I’m gone.
Put an advertised special front and center. Make sure it shows up on any device. Remove friction as much as possible. Do you realize how incredible it is that a prospect would hear or see your ad and then go to your website to learn more?!?! That’s a red-hot prospect. They took action of pulling out a device, saying or typing the web address, and looking for your offer! Treat them online like you would if they walked up to you and said, “I want your offer!” Give them all the information they need and lead them to how they buy.
Security – If you are selling products via your website it better be a secure site (quick check: does the web address start https: or http:? Not sure, use a website source such as SSL Checker to see. Check with your web developer and hosting company about securing the website. If you are not selling but have memberships or other customer data on your site, security is also a top priority.
Speed – Slow load speed kills website traffic. It is a contributing factor to a high bounce rate (Google’s terminology for a visitor coming to your website and leaving from the same page). Load speed can slow when there is too much information on a page (especially images and video that are loading to the page) or due to the speed and use of the hosting server. Again, test it yourself – especially mobile devices when NOT on Wi-Fi – to see how your website and individual pages work.
Clickable Logo – Sometimes it is the little things… In a recent study, over one-third of respondents said when they come to a website via a link (to say a blog or landing page) they click the logo in the header or the page to go back to the homepage. Your visitors aren’t going to look through your menu to find a “Home” link. Again, it’s about reducing friction and obstacles for the user.
Content that Matters – Meaning content that matters to the visitor. Websites should be informative. While you want to make it easy for a visitor to get to where they want to go, once there you want to feed them all they need to take the next step in their buying process. Provide information such as references, articles, technical specs, video, how to’s… any and all information available to a customer or prospect should be on (or linked to) the webpage.
Beyond the Website Checklist
While this website checklist is intended to help improve website effectiveness, it is by no means a complete list. There is much more to consider in the design and operation of a website. Genius! Marketing can help. We’ll work with you on the strategy, planning, building, and operation of a website that will help you reach your sales and financial goals. Contact us to discuss your site or send us your website or marketing questions.
A common question from companies interested in creating marketing plans or communications is, “How much will this cost?”. A common question from designers, agencies, web firms, printers and other providers is, “Do you have a marketing budget?”. The reasons are obvious… organizations want to maximize the return and minimize the cost. Providers want to know if the way the project is being described is “realistic”.
Here’s an excerpt from Genius! Marketing: How to Brand, Target and Market Like a Genius! (click to buy now!) or watch the video on marketing budget below to learn more.
Freedom is Not Free… Neither is Social Media.
Neither is PR. That’s a fact. One of the most frustrating things for a marketer is for non-marketers to assume things can be done for free or very low cost. I have been told by companies that they want to use PR or Social Media because “it’s free”. Advertising, conversely, is “expensive”.
Not free. More difficult to track cost, but not free. There are four main types of cost when it comes to marketing:
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Learn about marketing budgeting and more in the Genius! Marketing book!
If we were to talk for ten minutes while I look at your website, I could place a Google search ad for your business in less than an hour. I could write, produce and place a radio ad for your business in three hours. There would be a cost to the media – setting a budget with Google and a cost to the radio airtime. Each would show up as an invoice or charge on your credit card at the end of the month. That’s a marketing tactic that “costs” or is “expensive”.
To place a PR story with a local publication or media outlet, I’d need to understand your company, talking to management or key players about the subject of the news release and possibly need to have a photograph shot (some news outlets require a photo with releases). Together, we would develop a news release and list of subjects for media consideration.
The news release would be distributed electronically and possibly picked up by a publication or online news or industry source. The subjects for news stories or features are pitched to media contacts which would include email, mail and possibly phone follow up. Potentially a visit by a journalist to your site would be scheduled with an interview. A feature story would probably include a photo session and submitting resource information whether specs, logos or other graphics.
Could end up as a nice story about your company, or at least being a part of a larger story the journalist publishes. No invoice comes at the end of the month (except mine if I helped you with the news release and media pitch and the distribution service cost). Additionally, how much soft cost was spent on the project? From your time talking to the media to taking photos to staff cleaning up before the media visit?
I’d like to know your company a little better than a ten-minute phone call before placing an ad. I could do it that quickly though, and it probably would be marginally successful.
Also, I’m not saying PR is bad. PR and Social Media can be a very productive part of the marketing tactic mix. This discussion is just about cost. PR costs plenty. Social Media costs some budget/money (developing content, graphics, video, etc.), but it is a substantial cost in time, energy and expertise.
Don’t Trust Your Salesforce: That’s not Marketing Research
For small companies the idea of conducting marketing research is laughable. They barely have the resources to market at all! Still, owners and managers want to understand the market and customers. Conducting primary research, whether interviews, a focus group, or even an online survey, is too expensive or takes too much time and effort away from day-to-day operations. Secondary research is available, as simple as a web search, to understand trends in the marketplace, but this research never seems to be specific enough to be actionable.
Learn more about marketing budgeting and more in the Genius! Marketing book!
This predicament often means going to the next best source for insight into the marketplace and customers: the salesforce! It seems logical, the sole purpose of the salesforce is to learn about, engage, and serve the needs of the marketplace. Shouldn’t they understand what customers and prospects are thinking? What matters to the market? And where the market trends are headed?
Good Information; Grain of Salt
Talking to the salesforce isn’t marketing research. Basically, there are two reasons for this: self interest and limited focus.
Self interest is one of the great pillars that the free market stands upon. Salespeople with a strong self interest are a driving force for the good and right exchange of products and services in the marketplace. Salespeople “know” the market, and it could be assumed that a salesperson is a great source of market information. They are, but the information is biased. Salespeople hone their self interest so well that they can really only see the market through their particular lens.
That’s the perfect situation for sales. You want your sales team to always see the market as lots of opportunity for them to sell. The information they provide will be biased towards what they can sell. And what they see is what they can sell right now. This information could be helpful in strategic planning or provide insight for product development, but it doesn’t serve as marketing research.
A wise friend of mine once used this axiom: “When you have a hammer, every problem is a nail.” Salespeople often live by this idea. I am selling chocolate cake, so chocolate cake is the answer to every eating need! (Yes, that is a hyperbolic statement… but at least it is a tasty one.)
Salespeople are focused on the here and now. Translate: the current prospect/selling opportunity in front of them. Some may have ideas about product development that consider the wider market and longer lifecycles. Listen to these ideas. Here’s the cavaet: salespeople often lobby for a different type of hammer. As in: If I had some cupcakes, I could make more sales. The chocolate cake is too limiting (fill in reason/sales objection of choice here). “We need something else because I’m not selling enough of what we have”… is not marketing research.
Listen Wider and Longer: Continual Marketing Research
Small businesses can conduct effective marketing research. It requires a longer and wider view. No single survey, focus group, discussion with a salesperson or lunch with a customer, will produce the desired information. However, all of these can.
What if marketing research was a continual process? Small (all) businesses can be fooled by the tyranny of the urgent: we need something new, now! Step back and take time when considering new products, services or how to better engage with the marketplace. Here’s a small business marketing research playbook. Do these things as often and as repeatedly as you can:
Talk to customers whenever you can. Ask about their business, their market, and where they think it is moving.
Listen to suppliers. While they, like the salesforce, have self interest when it comes to product development, they provide additional eyes and ears to the wider marketplace.
Meet with salespeople in a group forum solely for the discussion of the marketplace. Ask them questions that move them past their immediate sales needs. “Where do you see this company in five years?” “Where do you see the market in the same timeframe?” “How do we meet the long term needs of the market?”
Do secondary research: read, google, watch. Find out what experts are thinking. Read internationally – with the internet you can read about trends in Europe, Asia, anywhere.
Do primary research: consider an online survey of customers once per year. There are free and inexpensive tools for building a survey. Before you use them, write your goals for the survey and top three questions… don’t let the monkey in the survey template decide what your questions should ask. Or, if you hold a customer golf outing or company open house, have a smaller side event by invitation – a short customer focus group discussion about future market trends, needs in the marketplace, etc.
Think. Take time to consider your own thoughts. Pray about it, meditate on it, think about it when you’re biking or have a long drive. You know your business. You probably have a pretty good sense of the market. Take time to think about it intentionally.
Get help. We have a great way to make marketing research a prospecting tool. Genius! Marketing can also help you develop your surveys or conduct secondary research.
Contact us to learn more or to ask a question about marketing research or other topics.