Creative Combustion Blog
Marketing and branding tips for the badass small business owner.
Showing all posts from June 2012.
June 28, 2012
When did the phrase “going through the motions” get such a bad rap? Whether we’re talking about some guy named Jim from accounting or Aunt Helen who is two weeks away from retirement, any time we feel like they’re not giving 110%, we quickly discount their efforts by saying “they’re just going through the motions.”
Relief pitchers do it all the time in baseball. They go through the motions as they warm up in the bullpen and when they throw a handful of pitches once they take the mound. Part of it is staying loose. But part of it is also getting mentally ready as they prepare to take center stage. Bullpens serve their purpose, but they’re still no substitute for actually standing on the mound—in front of the crowd—when the game is on the line. And so they go through the motions. Just not like Jim from accounting. Or Aunt Helen.
Whether you’re trying to sell a product to a potential customer, hoping to find some time to update your small business social media profiles, or you’re getting ready to deliver a presentation to a few hundred people, going through the motions definitely has its benefits. In fact, it can pay HUGE dividends.
Going through the motions requires a routine.
If you start to update your social media profiles every Tuesday and Thursday, over time it will almost become second nature. With so many small businesses struggling with finding enough time to keep up with the day-to-day, having a routine can really help to boost productivity by allowing you to make the most of your time.
Going through the motions implies momentum.
Without motion, you can’t move forward. At least I think that’s what they taught me in my high school physics class. But, Newton’s First Law of Motion aside, there are definitely certain times when you want to go through the motions. You want to call upon that routine. You want to keep moving forward. After all, that’s always better than the alternative.
Going through the motions helps get your mind right.
With repetition comes the chance to start to visualize where you are and where you want to go. You’re better able to get mentally ready to deliver that big presentation, close the deal with that prospective customer, or throw that fastball across the plate. It’s all about having the right perspective.
Now go and make something happen!
Don’t be like Jim from accounting or Aunt Helen. Think about how going through the motions can help you free up some time so you can start working on your small business instead of spending every waking hour working for your business.
By: Shawn Graham
[Image: Flickr user Ian Sane]
June 26, 2012
When it comes to bold moves, it does get much bolder. On February 1, 2012, J.C. Penney officially ditched their decades-long sales strategy comprised of hundreds of special promotions throughout the year for an “everyday low price model” (ala Wal Mart or Target). But instead of making a huge splash, comparable store sales for the first quarter of 2012 dropped 18.9%. Then on June 18, 2012, Michael Francis, Penney’s president and former Target executive who was brought in to help reshape the company’s brand, abruptly resigned.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s probably not what CEO Ron Johnson had in mind when he made the shift. So what went wrong? Was their pricing strategy fundamentally flawed? Was it the marketing? A little bit of both?
First things first, it’s always hard for customers to make a change in the way they think about pricing and perceived value—especially after they’ve been used to seeing deep discounts of as much as 70-85% off over an extended period of time. When I was growing up, we would plan a lot of our purchases from J.C. Penney around those sales. And we were always overly ecstatic when we were able to get a great deal. It didn’t really matter if they were only able to offer those HUGE discounts because they were playing with some really high margins or because they were losing their shirts trying to get customers in the door—when they ran a sale, there was a pretty good chance you’d find us there.
But markets, consumers, and competitors change. And, whether you’re a small business owner or a 110+ year-old retailer such as J.C. Penney, sometimes that means you need to take some drastic measures in order to survive.
I remember the first time I saw the new J.C. Penney circular. Everything about it was different—the size, the shape, and even the logo. But looks aside, I still found myself having a hard time understanding their new pricing strategy. They decided to group items into three buckets: “everyday” (or everyday low price), month-long promotions (as part of the new strategy they were trying to avoid using the word “sale” but for all intents and purposes they’re month-long sales), and “best” prices which are available the first and third Friday of every month. If you’re confused, you’re not alone. So what’s to blame for their pricing woes? The marketing? The pricing strategy? Both?
Any time you have to provide a key to explain your pricing, you’re probably already in trouble. I’m sure some ineffective marketing has also played a hand, but when you’re asking your customers to triangulate their shopping trips around second and third Fridays of the month you’re definitely asking them to burn a lot of calories just to save a couple of bucks before they even walk in your front door. I know I would probably have enough trouble keeping track of which Friday falls on which week and that’s only one head of their three-headed pricing monster.
So what can small business owners take away from J.C. Penney’s recent struggles? Customers have A LOT of choices. When you decide to compete on price, your underlying strategy must be incredibly easy to understand and remember. You can market until the cows come home, but if you’re underlying pricing strategy is flawed there’s a pretty good chance your customers will take their business elsewhere.
What about you?
Do you think J.C. Penney’s pricing strategy was fundamentally flawed? Or do you think they could have done a much better job marketing the new strategy to their customers?
By: Shawn Graham
[Image: Flickr user Gary Stevens]
Categories: Marketing Strategy
June 20, 2012
Ask a crowded room of online marketing experts and bloggers what’s the best way to get your website noticed and 10 times out of 10 the answer you’ll get is “compelling content.” But although the advice might sound simple enough, actually putting it into action is almost always a different story.
When you stop and think about it, compelling content is a lot like Sasquatch—most people have a hard time explaining exactly what it is or telling you how to find it although everyone can usually agree on what it is once they actually see it. So what makes content compelling? Let’s take a looksee.
Be on target
Compelling content all starts with being on target. Gary Halbert, the late direct mail expert extraordinaire, once said “being on target is much more important than being facile with words.” As he points out in the clip below, if you were to write a world-class letter about knitting and the audience you’re targeting has no interest in the topic, it won’t matter how clever you are or how well written your content is—your message won’t be heard. The same applies when you’re trying to find the right social networks for your small business.
Have an opinion
Once you have a target in mind, the next thing you need is a clear and coherent point of view. After all, your view on a particular topic is what’s going to put your stamp on it. Whether you’re for or against whatever you’re writing about, you should always have an opinion. Do you think knitting is the greatest thing since sliced bread? Do you think some new-fangled technology will spell the end of knitting once and for all? Do you think people are interested in reading about knitting?
Beyond just forming an opinion, you also have to be ready to back it up. One of the byproducts of compelling content is the opportunity to actually create a dialogue with your readers. That means there will be times when you’ve got to be able to defend your position in case someone challenges your perspective. That’s when the real fun (and engagement) begins.
Find and embrace your "voice"
Equally important as having a point of view is having a unique voice. Voice doesn’t come from all of those writing classes in high school where you spent countless hours fretting over prepositions, transitive verbs, and run-on sentences—compelling content should jump off the page (or iPad) and make the reader feel as though he or she is actually having a conversation with you.
Sure you want your content to be well written grammatically, but you also can’t get all up into your head worrying about every last detail. If you’re looking for a great resource to help guide you through the process during your quest to create compelling content, be sure to check out Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content. After more than five years of blogging, the book really helped me uncork new ideas and refine my approach to writing.
Don't be afraid to show some personality
Above all, compelling content should showcase YOUR personality. If you’re cynical, be cynical. If you’re a jokester, be a jokester. Identifying and embracing your unique personality is often the hardest part for many writers and therefore is likely to take some time. It’s also something that will continue to evolve as you continue to write. If you watch the Gary Halbert video above, you immediately get a sense for his personality and his passion—and that’s what helps make him and his content so compelling.
What about you?
How do you define compelling content? Is it like Sasquatch—you know it when you see it? Or are there specific attributes that are easy to identify and repeat?
By: Shawn Graham
[Image: Flickr user MiK Watson]
June 11, 2012
Sometimes you just find yourself chomping (or champing) at the bit, ready to start the week at 100 miles per hour. For me, this is definitely one of those Mondays.
To help you get things firing on all cylinders, let’s take a look back at the posts you read, shared and commented on for the week that was on the Creative Combustion blog.
Popular stories included a behind-the-scenes look at how one small business was able to survive a huge spike in traffic from a Google Doodle, why small business owners should always get testy with their customers, and a glimpse at some really cool technology that could transform the world of ecommerce.
- Putting Your Ideas And Your Customers To The Test. Frequently used by content marketers and web developers to optimize landing pages, A/B testing can also be incredibly effective for collecting feedback from your small business customers. If you’re looking for insights to help you make more strategic decisions, this post is for you.
- Surviving A Google Doodle And Other Moments In the Spotlight. For most small businesses owners, being the feature of a Google Doodle, making a guest appearance on the Today Show, or being spotlighted on “Oprah’s Ultimate Favorite Things” list would feel like winning the entrepreneurial lottery. But making the most of a big moment in the spotlight requires A LOT of behind-the-scenes preparation. Learn how the folks at Moog Music were able to keep their website online during a HUGE spike in traffic.
- Twitter for Media Pros. How does Twitter fit into the media and advertising mix? Last week I had the chance to sit on a panel with Deanna Ferrari, Social Media Manager at Smith Brothers, and Terra McBride, Director of Social Media and Digital PR at Point Park University. We covered a lot of ground including how to recover from an accidental tweet and what you can do before you share your content to increase the likelihood that it will actually be seen. For a recap of our discussion, including my slide deck, be sure to give this one a read.
- Creating A Logo That Doesn’t Suck. As a small business owner, there are lots of places you look to cut costs but logos definitely aren’t one of them. Learn how one Pittsburgh, PA-based startup is using crowdsourcing to provide affordable design solutions.
- 10 Benefits Of Having A Small Business Blog. To blog or not to blog? For many small business owners, that’s the question. If you’re on the fence about whether to add a blog to your content marketing mix, you’ll definitely want to check this one out.
- 6 Tips For Creating Memorable Small Business Taglines. The right tagline captures the very essence of your business in as little as five to seven words. Unique and memorable, it is often the little nugget that will help you stand out to potential customers. What makes a great tagline? Read on.
- 3D Imaging And The Future Of Ecommerce. Although ecommerce sites might have lots of fancy bells and whistles, most are still missing the two key ingredients that really matter most to customers—the ability to find an item that they know will look good on them and having the confidence that it will actually fit before they place their order. Learn how technology is about to change all of that.
What about you?
What are some of the hot stories you're going to be following this week?
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[Image: Flickr user mike krzeszak]
June 10, 2012
How does Twitter fit into the media and advertising mix? Last week, I joined Deanna Ferrari, Social Media Manager at Smith Brothers and Terra McBride, Director of Social Media and Digital PR at Point Park University, on a “Twitter for Media Pros” panel organized by the folks at the Media Association of Pittsburgh.
The session covered a wide range of Twitter topics including a case study of what happens when an accidental tweet gets your company in some hot water (and how to respond), strategies for building your following and getting your followers to engage, and some of the challenges faced by the media industry when looking for opportunities to monetize their offerings.
My content focused a lot on the pre-tweet—what you should do before you share (or write) your article or story to increase the likelihood it will actually be seen. With so much “stuff” floating around on the social web, it’s not enough to rely on a catchy title or carefully selected hashtag.
While writing your content, you should also be thinking 1) "who can I get involved that has a big Twitter audience I want to tap into?" and 2) "are they likely to help promote the article?"
Although it might sound like a no-brainer, surprisingly most people usually do a horrible job at #2. That means anytime you include someone in an article, you should always reach out to them on the day it goes live. The quick prompt will increase the likelihood that they’ll re-tweet or promote it.
As part of the panel, we were each asked to share our "top 5s" about using Twitter as part of the ad mix. You can see what I covered below. Since there isn’t any audio, you’re only getting the bare bones. So that means you have two choices 1) use your imagination to fill in the gaps or 2) leave comments or questions below.
I hope you like it.
By: Shawn GrahamNext Page »
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Hall of Fame
- Visual Interest: The Rise Of Photos In Online Marketing (15 comments)
- The Golden Rule Of Successful Social Engagement (14)
- Are Business Cards On Their Way Out? (13)
- Don’t Be An SEO Chaser (12)
- Using Holiday Cards To Deepen Customer Relationships (10)
- Is Going Viral An Effective Marketing Tactic? (10)
- 5 Must Read Books For Small Business Owners (8)
- Using Social Media To Break Into Your Local Market (8)
- Pittsburgh Young Professionals, PodCamp Pittsburgh, And Paneling (8)
- Delivering Killer Customer Service (8)
@dh that's one sweet ride about 5 hours, 59 minutes ago
@markmcneilly Thanks for the RT, Mark. In other news, Brian Urlacher retired. about 14 hours, 12 minutes ago
@rpetrocelli Thanks, Ross! about 14 hours, 32 minutes ago
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