News This Week: Shopping Habits of Frugalistas, Curated Content

Early online shopping. Flickr user Garethjmsaunders.
What should you be paying attention to this week?

39% of Americans
have already started their holiday shopping, and some frugalistas are already done. Retailers discounted aggressively in October, and without any one toy or tech gadget rising to the top as this year's must have, there's no reason for shoppers to wait.

Your Takeaway: How are you helping holiday shoppers plan their shopping and get great deals? Help them get organized with gift lists and gift ideas by type of recipient. Click here more posts from this blog about holiday planning.

Macy's, Target and other major retailers now using editorial and curated content to drive sales. Macy's and Target both launched online magazine-type sites that include trending news, fashion guides, and user-generated content to help guide shoppers to the right looks.

Your Takeaway: You're probably not in a position to create something on the magnitude of what Macy's and Target are doing, but that doesn't mean you can't give your customers a little more guidance. Consider putting together outfits or other sets of product that go together, linking relevant posts from your blog to your product, and bringing up the prominence of customer generated content on your site. This doesn't just mean customer reviews - get customers to send you pics and videos of them using your products, and you may gain some marketing gold.

Consumers shop in stores but buy online, finds a new survey by electronics site The most typical behavior is for today's frugalista customers to find something in your store that they like, and then use their smartphones to compare other retailer's pricing and availability to yours.

Your takeaway: How will you measure up when customers do this? People don't always buy the least expensive thing, but you'll need to be competitive, on service and quality as well as price. Also, now is a good time to make sure your site is optimized for mobile and you're available on check-in sites like FourSquare. After all, people will be in your competitors' stores checking your prices, too.

Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading.

Your Customer Referral Program

Friends. Flickr user Glennharper.
What customer referral program, you ask?

The one you should have already.

The one you need to start this week. Here's why:

  •  90% of customers seek others' opinions before making a purchase - using online customer reviews, Facebook, forums, and other tools to validate their purchasing decision. When we read online reviews and forum posts, we don't know who is putting forward their opinion, and it's sometimes hard to know whether or not to trust those opinions, and...
  • People naturally trust the opinions of people they know over people they don't know, and it's vital that you make it easy for your most satisfied customers to tell everyone they know how great you are.
Simple enough, right?

How do you get started? Here are some ideas:

  • On your web site, add a "tell a friend" button, where your customers can send your home page to others - on email and via social networks. Even better? Go one step further and let people share specific products with one another.
  • Once a customer has made their purchase - add a "tell a friend what you just bought" button to the purchase confirmation page. 
  • Make sure customers are able to share product reviews - their own or other people's - on email and via social networks.
  • Add a page to allow customers to request catalogs for a friend, or a copy of your latest enewsletter.
  • Reward referrals with discounts on future purchases. Give customers points or dollars towards their next order when they refer a new customers.
Need help getting it done? Drop me a line.

News This Week: Postal Rates, Facebook Posts, Ads and Economy

What should you be paying attention to this week?

Mailbox. From Flickr user Pocius.
The United States Postal Service has announced a postal rate increase, effective January 22, 2012. The average increase is 2.1% - it will be more for some types of mail and less for others. (Multichannel Merchant)

Your takeaway: If direct mail is part of your strategy, your marketing just got more expensive. If you ship products to your customers via USPS, that just got more expensive too. Crunch the numbers carefully to figure out what this might cost you, and look for creative ways to save - there are lower increases on certain sizes of mail, and you might evaluate different carriers for your customer shipments and see if you can lock in some lower pricing now.

The average lifetime of a Facebook post is 22 hours and 51 minutes for comments and likes, according to researcher Jeff Widman of PageLever. See more information on his study at Entrepreneur.

Your takeaway: You need to post on Facebook daily or you run the risk of being forgotten. If this sounds overwhelming, tools like Hootsuite help you schedule posts ahead of time so you don't forget. I like to do a social calendar on a weekly basis - for my clients, I sit down each Friday and plan out the posts for the following week, mapping them to inventory needs and what else is going on in the marketing calendar at large. If things change, I can always reschedule or change posts as needed.

Advertisers trying to connect with consumers are referencing the poor economy more often in their messaging these days - a tactic they dropped when the economy started to improve a bit last year. This is a risk, as consumers don't want to be reminded of bad news, but do connect to ads referencing bail-outs and Wall Street fat cats. (Marketplace)

Your takeaway: A great deal always resonates, whether you reference current events or not. Connect with customers with a great deal, attentive service, and quality products. Be prepared to be nimble - the changing landscape out there means that an ad that takes six months to produce might be outdated by the time it's ready if it's based on this week's news.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

What's Getting in Your Way?

Is there something getting in your way? Something keeping you from moving to the next stage of the game? If you're having trouble moving forward right now, today is a good day for a little business therapy.

Tito may be keeping me from full combo score on my dance game.

Some things to think about...

1) On what issue exactly are you having trouble moving forward? Creating a budget for next year? Completing your marketing plan? Putting together a press package? Identify where you're getting stuck.

2) Do you have too many goals? Just as it's probably not a good idea for a person to try to lose 30 pounds, get a new job, and learn a foreign language all at the same time, you might not want to try a creating a formal forecasting process, 5-year business plan, and a first-time press package all in the same 30-day period. Figure out which goal is the most important to get to first, and work on that. Sometimes giving certain projects a little rest can be immensely helpful. You'll come back later with fresh perspective and renewed energy.

3) Do you need help? Remember that it's OK to ask for help. This is where your network becomes a huge resource. Ask folks in businesses like yours (and different) how they are dealing with the issues you've been having. This is a great way to get some creative solutions, and make deeper connections.

What's holding you up? I'm here to listen, so drop me a line.

Related Posts

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Setting Your Goals

Get Your Holiday Sales On

From Flickr user Christina Rutz.
So we're about halfway through October, and it's time to put the final touches on your holiday sales planning. For most retailers, the winter holidays are the busiest time of year. This is when everyone's buying, and everyone's expecting a deal.

In fact, the National Retail Federation forecasts a better holiday season this year, with sales up 2.8% to $465.6 billion. Of course you want your share, so here's what to consider while you're finalizing your plans:

Do you have all the decor you need?

You should have approved designs and ordered everything a couple of months ago. Everything should be arriving now. Give it a thorough inspection and call your purveyors if anything is out of order. If all looks good, get it out to your stores with their new plan-o-grams, which they should implement right after Halloween.

What's your online plan?

While you were ordering your holiday decor, you were also approving designs for your web site to match. It's always a good idea to be a little more festive at this time of year - substitute some warm wintry graphics and put holiday sellers forward and move non-seasonal items back. Of course, the holiday promotions you've planned should go front and center.

What's your email plan?

Now that your stores and web site are updated, you can work on your holiday themed emails. These should be highlighting your deals and special sales events - Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and one or two more before the end of December. Consider a Hanukkah event, a last-minute event, and a deadline-oriented event - "last day to get free shipping" or "last day for 10% of orders of $80 or more..." kinds of things.

Are you staffed?

I hope you've already hired everyone that you need to start November 1. This includes warehouse staff, call center folks, and regular retail personnel. If not, help this year's lackluster job market by hiring people now. There are plenty of talented, motivated people out there who'd love a chance to build your business while they build a career.

I hope you're ready for a strong holiday season this year. Need help? Drop me a line and let's get our sale on.

News this week: Places Facebook isn't used, Online Shopping, Blackberry Outage

What should you be paying attention to this week?

Blackberry. Flickr user Arrayexception.
In more bad news for Blackberry maker Research In Motion, which is really taking a hit from the more popular iPhone and Droid devices, a huge Blackberry outage spread this week from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and South America on to parts of the US and Canada - seems to be stemming from a switch problem. (Mashable)

Your takeaway: No matter what kind of device you use most, think about what you'll do if it's not working. I always stay a few tweets and Facebook posts ahead using tools like HootSuite, just in case. My email and contacts are backed up in a couple of different ways, and so are my other files.

Artist Ian Wotjowicz has used maps from NASA to generate a picture of where Facebook has the most users, and which places it hasn't penetrated. Still available for Faceover are places in Asia and North Africa. (Business Insider)

Your takeaway: You probably don't need to take over the world to grow your business, but it's a good idea to regularly investigate your geographic reach and see where it would be logical to grow next. It can be especially useful to map your customers by zip code to see if there are areas that could use a little advertising love.

In a startling statistic out of Britain, it turns out that 40% of UK online shoppers make more than one online purchase per week. (Retail Week)

Your takeaway: If you're only talking to your customers once a month, that's probably not enough to keep your brand top of mind. Think about increasing the frequency of your email marketing program, and adding channels like Facebook or Twitter to get the word out more often, especially to multi-buyers. Don't ignore traditional channels like print ads and direct mail, either. A well-rounded marketing plan works best.

Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading!

Creating Your Branding Statements

So, last week we talked about building your brand and what you need to do to create meaning and strength behind your brand.  I asked you three questions:

Boxer puppy. Flickr  user MythicSeabass.
1) What do you do?

2) How are you different than the competition?

3) What do you stand for?

Now let's go through a branding exercise - we'll answer these questions for a sample brand.

Imagine that you own a small, local pet-sitting service, called Pets n' Friends. So...

1) What do you do? 

Pets n' Friends offers dog walking and pet sitting services for local pet owners and their pets.

So far, so good...

2) How are you different than the competition?

We really care about your best animal friends. Our qualified pet sitters and dog walkers are not only specially trained, bonded, and insured, they are genuine animal lovers. Our pet people love spending time with your pets - interacting with them, snuggling them, walking them, and playing with them. We offer great value, with weekly, monthly, and annual packages tailored right to your pets' needs.

Great job! And finally...

3) What do you stand for?

At Pets n' Friends, we feel like your best animal friends deserve the best quality of care, even when you can't be there. We believe that pets that have lots of caring people around are the happiest and healthiest, so we've designed a full suite of programs for play, exercise, and companionship.

Well, there you go. How would you describe your brand?

Need help? Let me know.

News This Week: Steve Jobs, Google+

What should you be paying attention to this week?

From Flickr user Monoko.
It turns out that Google's senior management isn't using Google+. (Mashable)

Your takeaway: Do you and your employees use your product? If not, why not? Even if you wouldn't naturally be the target audience for your offering, find a way to use it.

The major (and unfortunate) story this week is that Steve Jobs has died from pancreatic cancer. He's the reason we have icons on our desktops, we use a mouse to navigate, and that computer use is accessible to people who aren't engineers. You're reading this blog thanks to technology that Steve Jobs and his Apple colleagues pioneered. We're all forever in his debt for unleashing the power of the computer to the masses. The Internet is full of tributes to him, and questions about what Apple will do now. One of my favorite Steve Jobs quotes is:

"Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." 

Your takeaway:  Life is short. Now is a good time to re-evaluate what you're doing with your time, and with your business and your brand. Do you like what you do? Are you proud of it? Is it a good fit with your values? Are you making progress? If you're answering these questions with "no," think about other directions you might consider.

Have a rejuvenating weekend, and thank you for reading my blog. 

Building Your Brand

Brand. From Flickr user DentalBen.
What's your brand?

Your company name? Sure.

Your main product? OK.

Your visual identity - your logo and colors? All right.

That's a start.

But the strongest brands mean something. The strongest brands stand for something.

Now it's time for you to decide what your brand stands for.

Here's a simple exercise to get you started - ask yourself these questions:

1) What do you do? This is the core of your brand. Do you make clothes for children, sell organic produce, provide computer repair service, help people plan vacations?

2) How are you different than the competition? This is your value proposition. Are those children's clothes more affordable? Is the produce locally grown? Is the computer service guaranteed? Are the vacations more luxurious? These key differentiators help you articulate the value you offer to your customers.

3) What do you stand for? The very best brands are memorable because they stand for something larger - something bigger than a product or service. Do you believe that great children's clothes help kids stay more active and learn more? Do you believe that locally-grown organic produce is the key to our health and our economy? Do you believe that businesses are hurt by poor IT service? Or do you believe that travel can be a transformative experience that causes people to change the world?

Attempt to answer these questions, and you'll be closer to understanding how to strengthen your brand. These answers should be reflected in all of your communications - from your in-store merchandising to your catalogs, to your web site, PR, and social media.

You'll notice that I didn't say a word here about your logo, colors, or company name. While these things can make a difference to your business, the real difference is defining what stands behind them.

Need help articulating your brand? Drop me a line.