Learning to Listen: The Hard Way

In the 70s, Italian aid worker Ernesto Serelli learned to listen to clients the hard way. His amusing tale of how he “helped” a village in Africa grow tomatoes, only to see the harvest consumed in a single night by the local hippos, is a powerful and popular TED talk. While you won’t want to miss this dynamic speaker, some key takeaways are outlined below:

Hippos and Tomatoes

Italian aid worker Ernesto Serelli tells the tale of one of his first experiences working in famine-plagued Africa in the 1970s. Bustling with good intentions and plenty of energy, he and his team arrived in the village they were to help and promptly began planting familiar varieties of vegetables in the fertile soil.

The local residents watched the process and despite efforts to engage and teach, did not take the aid workers agriculture lessons seriously or commit to growing. As the plants blossomed and bore amazing fruit, the workers celebrated the harvest and looked forward to showing the native people how much agriculture could do for them.

The night before the harvest, a herd of hippos swept ashore and ate every plant that had been so lovingly cultivated. The locals then revealed to the aid team that hippos had always eaten the crops planted in the verdant, riverside soil. When asked why they had not given the aid team this information weeks before, the answer was “No one asked us.”

By rushing ahead and putting a plan in motion that they thought would solve the villager’s problem instead of asking questions and discovering what had been tried in the past, the well-meaning aid workers totally missed the point. They also wasted weeks of time and plenty of resources that could have been dedicated elsewhere.

The Power of Listening

You may not be helping a hungry village in Africa, but the lesson of asking your prospect or clients the right questions to truly meet their needs applies to every interaction you have. Learning to listen is an important component for anyone in business. Fail to ask the right questions, and you could face a disaster.

Take the time to remember the hippos and tomatoes next time you speak with a new client about their needs, and make sure you take the time to ask the right questions before you charge ahead.

This TED Talk is an enduring favorite and an excellent reminder of why we need to stop and listen to what our clients are saying and why we need to take the time to understand what they’ve tried and what they need.

 

Make Customer Loyalty a Bigger Part of Your Marketing Efforts

In the early days of your business, the goal of your marketing program was essentially a singular one: you tried to get your product or service in front of as many eyes as you possibly could. Once you’ve established yourself, however, it’s time to switch gears a little. According to most studies, it’s between five and twenty-five times more expensive to gain a new customer than it is to keep one of your existing ones. This means that if you’re not already making customer loyalty a significant part of your marketing efforts, it’s about time to get going on it.

What a Difference Customer Loyalty Makes

According to a study conducted in 2014, seventy-three percent of consumers said that loyalty programs should be the way that brands show loyalty to their existing customers. Regardless of which way you choose to look at it, even instituting a modest customer loyalty program can have significant benefits across your entire organization. It can help make your marketing more appealing to new customers, as well as lead to higher levels of engagement with existing ones. That engagement breeds retention, which research suggests creates a situation where your average customer will be up to five times more likely to only buy from you in the future.

Also, remember that increasing customer retention (which these types of loyalty programs are great at doing) by just five percent can boost your profits anywhere from twenty-five to ninety-five percent, according to Bain & Co. Let that sink in for a second.

Building a Customer Loyalty Program

When you begin to institute a customer loyalty program for your business, the biggest mistake you should avoid is one of perspective. Remember that what you’re trying to do is show loyalty to your customers, period. Far too many businesses make the mistake of assuming that this is a way for customers to show loyalty to a brand, which leads to the type of ill-advised thinking that generates bad customer service and only ends up with a program few people want to take advantage of.

Assuming that you’re “giving your customer the opportunity” to show loyalty to your business is how you end up in a situation where forty-three percent of consumers say that rewards programs require too much spending to reach the next level, or where points expire before they can be used, or where points are worthless because of all the restrictions they come with. Build a program that lets you say an emotional “thank you” to the people who got you where you are, NOT the other way around.

If you are going to make customer loyalty a bigger part of your marketing efforts, however, always remember the old saying that “variety is the spice of life.” In a survey conducted by Collinson Latitude, sixty-three percent of respondents said that having a wide range of rewards and offers was the single most important aspect that decided whether or not they would sign up for a loyalty program. So the occasional coupon isn’t necessarily going to cut it (pun absolutely intended).

Again, making customer loyalty a bigger part of your marketing efforts is, and will always be, about giving back to the people who helped build your brand. If you make every decision with this one simple perspective in mind, all of the other benefits – from increasing the value of each customer to engagement and long-term loyalty – will happen as a happy byproduct.

Don’t Fear Your Marketing Competitors. Learn From Them

Regardless of the products you’re trying to market, the audience you’re trying to cater to, or the industry you happen to be operating in, all businesses face competition. This is just a fact of life. But it’s important to realize that a competitor isn’t just another company that is trying to go after the same pool of customers that you are. Competitors are invaluable learning opportunities that are just waiting to be taken advantage of, provided you approach things from the right angle.

Learn About Your Audience

One of the most important lessons that you can learn by taking a closer look at your marketing competitors has nothing to do with your competition itself and everything to do with the shared audience you’re both going after. For the sake of argument, let’s say that your number one competitor offers products or services that are very similar to yours.

How is your competition marketing those products and services to that audience? What types of print materials are they designing? What tone do they use when speaking to them directly? What prices do they charge, and why do they feel like the market can sustain that? What values do they choose to single in on when representing their brand?

All of these choices, along with the public reaction to them, can tell you a great deal about what your audience is looking for. Marketing is all about making a connection, and if you can pick up something through observation that you can adapt and make your own to strengthen that connection, you should absolutely take that opportunity.

Learn About the Competitors Themselves

The second lesson you can learn by taking a closer look at your marketing competitors comes down to how they choose to run a business that is very similar to yours in many ways. This goes beyond just the products or services they provide. Look at how they choose to distribute and deliver those products. Look at the steps they take to enhance customer value or build loyalty. Have they recently instituted a rewards program with great success? If you were thinking about doing one yourself, congratulations, someone else just did your trial run for you.

Perhaps the most important thing you should be watching out for when it comes to your marketing competitors is how they react when they make a mistake. These days, everything is essentially an extension of your marketing arm – from the print collateral you’re putting out into the world to customer service interactions on a site like Facebook. Everything is taking place in the public space, which means that other customers (and you and your associates) can all see everything go down in real-time.

Did your biggest competitor have a particularly nasty public interaction with a customer? What factors caused it to occur in the first place? How did the customer react? How did the business react? What did the rest of the audience have to say at the end of the day? Remember that mistakes are only a bad thing if you choose not to learn from them. If you can get someone else to make a mistake and arrive at the same lesson, you come out all the better for it.

Competition in the world of business (and especially regarding marketing) isn’t going away anytime soon. However, it’s not something you should let get you down. Instead, look at it for what it is: an incredible ongoing education into your market, your industry, and even your own business that someone else is paying for.

 

April Fools’ Day and the Art of Humor Marketing

Did you enjoy some April Fools’ Day marketing jokes this year? Make no mistake about it: coming from a business, April Fools’ Day jokes are every bit as much an art as they are a science. It’s an opportunity to inject a breath of fresh air into your marketing efforts, as the day is one that has quickly become synonymous with pranks and practical jokes. If you do it properly, adding humor to your marketing campaigns can also be an excellent conversation starter – it’s a unique way to add new members to your audience and engage with existing ones at the same time. As with most modern day marketing, however, it’s often best to learn from example.

April Fools’ Day, 2017: The Good

The clear winner of April Fools Day 2017 has to be Netflix, who released the elaborate prank “Netflix Live.” Capitalizing on the wave of live streaming video spearheaded by services like Facebook, “Netflix Live” was supposedly a 24-hour live video feed of actor Will Arnett watching a different live video feed and commenting on whatever he saw, including people in an office using a microwave, an empty supply closet, and more.

“Netflix Live” had all the markings of a classic (and successful) April Fools’ prank. It was timely because live video online is getting more popular all the time. It also honed right in on what Netflix’s audience would find funny. “Arrested Development,” the comedy classic in which Will Arnett stars, is one of the most popular shows on the platform.

  • Rule of Thumb: if you’re going to play around on April Fools’ Day or with humor marketing, know your audience.

The Bad

Again: the best April Fools’ Day jokes are born from surprise. If your audience can see the joke coming a mile away, you probably shouldn’t be making it. Or at least, you should try a little harder. This is a lesson that Google just spent several thousand dollars learning by way of the Google Gnome, an Amazon Alexa-like device you can talk to that takes the form of a lawn gnome that is connected to the internet.

This isn’t a particularly bad joke in that it’s offensive, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Not only is it immediately obvious that it’s a joke from the moment you read the title, but the accompanying video is little more than the same basic joke (“a Google Gnome would be worthless to everyone”) over and over again. It’s a lot of effort for almost no payoff, especially considering the Gnome is a product few in Google’s own audience would actually want to buy.

  • Rule of Thumb: Remember what April Fools’ Day and humor marketing is all about. It’s not supposed to be a day of obvious jokes. Theoretically, people shouldn’t fall for your prank for at least a couple of minutes.

When executed properly, humor marketing can check a few different boxes all at once. For starters, it’s fun – it’s a great opportunity to pull back the curtain of your business and put a little bit of its personality on display. A well-executed humor campaign is also the perfect way to get people talking and generate new levels of awareness at the same time.

It’s Okay to go Niche: How One Unusual Brand is Turning Trash into Specialty Surf Bags

Sometimes, we stumble across an answer to a problem that we did not know existed. Alec and Aric Avedissian are solving two problems at once with their business Rareform. Rareform’s customers get durable, one-of-a-kind surfbags while the company helps reroute some of the thousands of pounds of billboard material that is discarded in the U.S. every day.

The average billboard goes up for four to eight weeks, then is discarded. While there are no firm figures on how many billboards exist in the United States, the number is high. The Los Angeles area alone is host to over 6,000 boards. Since billboard material does not decompose, that is a lot of waste.

Inspiration in the Strangest Place

Avedissian stumbled on the idea of surfbags from billboard vinyl after spending time volunteering with a fishing cooperative in El Salvador. While there, he saw people using discarded billboards to make roofing. The sight was a revelation. He’d previously never considered the material and had thought that billboards were made from paper. The discovery that this durable material was being discarded every week spurred his innovative idea.

While the bags offered a durable product at a reasonable price, the company was having a hard time finding their footing. They’d had $1.1 million in sales over three years, but saw that sales were slipping. Had they reached saturation? They decided to go on Shark Tank to see if they could find the funds that would bring them growth. Two out of the three judges did not bite; they were concerned not just with the falling sales, but with the complexity of the concept of Rareform’s product. However, Kevin O’Leary was not dissuaded and made an offer. And, it turned out that the best benefit for the product was appearing on the show.

Before their Shark Tank appearance, Rareform would recycle anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of vinyl each month. With the added visibility provided by the show, they’ve increased their monthly recycling to 50,000 pounds.

When It’s Okay to Go Niche

Surfbags are already a niche item, appealing only to the approximately 23 million surfers worldwide. By adding the factor of the recycled bags and their one-of-a-kind nature, they become even more niche. However, faith in their product and a willingness to seek out new opportunities to get their wares in front of the audience worked out.

Small businesses should never shy away from a niche product as long as it has a few things going for it. The questions you should ask:

  • Is there an audience? Rareform built their early success with the help of dedicated hobbyists.
  • Do you have a platform that can get you attention? Their appearance on Shark Tank was just what was needed.
  • Do you have reasons for making your product the way you do? Rareform’s founders said they were committed to the cause of recycling. While this was a turn-off for some investors, it is what makes their product appealing and unique.

In today’s highly connected world, there is room for every well-made product, even if your audience is small. By focusing on what you bring to the table, you can find your audience and build success for your brand.

 

3 Tips for More Emotional Print Marketing Collateral

Despite what you may believe, most people don’t rely on information when it comes to making a purchase. While people do love to do research in advance of parting with their hard-earned money, they rely much more heavily on emotions to guide their decisions. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you want to motivate someone to take action, you should work hard to inject as much raw emotion into your print marketing collateral as possible. Luckily, there are a few key tips you can start using today to accomplish exactly that.

It’s All About Those Colors

Even if you don’t want to fill your marketing collateral with text that drives home emotions, there are a number of subtle steps you can take to instantly provide a richer, fuller experience for your readers. Case in point: depending on the colors that you choose, you could be saying a great deal with your marketing collateral without actually saying anything at all.

Do you want to create a sense of urgency, for example, to really sell how important it is that someone place an order RIGHT NOW before your inventory is gone forever? Rely heavily on the color red to do exactly that. Note that red is also a great way to encourage someone’s appetite, which is why it’s used so heavily in marketing campaigns for fast food restaurants in particular.

Do you want to leave someone feeling calm, tranquil, and powerful? Green is the perfect way to do that. Black is often associated with authority and stability, while purple is a perfect way to signify wisdom and respect. Even oranges and yellows can be a great way to promote optimism, something that would be ideal if you’re sending out marketing materials in advance of a product or service launch to build anticipation.

It’s Not About “Me.” It’s About “You.”

If you really want to convey emotion in your print marketing collateral, shift the focus of your copy to place the emphasis squarely on your consumer where it belongs. Don’t speak to a large group of people; speak directly to one person for more intimacy. Don’t write copy filled with technical specifications about the product; write directly about the experience someone gets and the problem it solves when using it.

At the end of the day, you’re conveying all of the same information; you’re just doing it in a more emotional way. It’s the difference between “this great new product has X, Y, and Z features” and “you have an important problem, which this product solves in X, Y, and Z ways.” Both are technically correct, but only one cuts right to the heart of the matter (no pun intended).

Tie Emotion Into Your Call-to-Action

Finally, learn how to insert as much emotion as possible directly into your call-to-action for the best results. Don’t just say “Contact us today for more information.” Think about the emotions you’re trying to play to, first. If you want to create a sense of urgency, say “to find out how you can take advantage of this deal before it’s gone, contact us today for more information.”

Always try to leave someone with a strong feeling when they get to the end of your copy, be it happy, sad, excited, etc. Exactly what they will feel will vary depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, but if you can leave them feeling SOMETHING, they’ll be much more likely to take that next step.

Never Be Afraid to Take on the Big Boys

Something strange is happening on the yogurt shelves: the most popular yogurt is not from a big maker like Dannon or Yoplait. It’s a product from a small, 12-year-old upstart from New York. In March, Bloomberg wrote that Chobani had overtaken Yoplait to become the most popular yogurt in the U.S. The story of how this independent took on the big brands and won has lessons for all of us.

Distinguish Yourself From Your Competitors

Big yogurt brands had become complacent and did not anticipate how new products would catch customers’ interests. Instead of sticking with the same types of yogurt already popular in the U.S., Chobani made their name with Greek yogurt, a thicker and richer product. By the time the larger yogurt companies introduced their own versions of the product, it was too late. Consumers had become loyal to the brands that made Greek yogurt popular.

If you craft your marketing materials and your products to fill a need that your competitors are not, that gives you a competitive edge. Look for what makes your product different from a bigger player in your market and offer what they don’t. By the time they are playing catch-up, you can be the leader.

Be Willing to Make Changes Quickly

Product development at big food companies can take years. At Chobani, a product will sometimes go from concept to trial in the space of a weekend.

In your marketing, if you see an opportunity, be willing to take it before your competition does. This requires a high degree of social listening and a willingness to take chances. Smaller and leaner organizations can adapt far more quickly, allowing them to be the ones who seize an opportunity.

Be Authentic

Millennials now make up the largest consumer cohort. Their priorities are different than the priorities of previous generations. They are less likely to do business with a company that they perceive as a large and impersonal conglomerate. Chobani was founded by a Kurdish immigrant who fled political turmoil in Turkey. After spending time in Europe, he arrived in the U.S. with $3,000 and a small suitcase. In the following years, he built a company that dominates the $3.6 billion Greek yogurt industry.

Do not try to look like one of the big companies in your industry. Portray yourself as the lean, quick, and effective organization that you are. A smaller company, for instance, has staff at the highest levels who are knowledgeable about all customers. This can give your customers a far more personal degree of customer service.

Make News

Over the past couple of years, Chobani has made news for its innovative policies. When the company began seeing large successes, Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya responded by giving 10% of the company’s equity to employees and putting a generous 6-week parental leave policy into place.

What does your company do that is newsworthy? Those practices can build your image and give you more effective marketing than you can buy.

A company’s dominance in an industry is never certain. By taking advantage of opportunities that you have and the bigger players don’t, you can increase your own success.

 

Packaging as a Marketing Tool: Because Innovation Waits for No One

Marketing is all about relationships. You’re not just selling to someone; you’re informing them. You’re providing them a service that extends beyond the literal product or service that you’re selling and into the realm of education. People want to make informed decisions, and a properly executed marketing campaign plays a role in that. To that end, it’s important to talk about an essential element of marketing that far too many people tend to overlook: product packaging. Sure, packaging has a physical function in that you can’t get a product onto store shelves (or directly into the hands of consumers) in one piece without it. However, it also has the potential to be an incredibly powerful “last second” marketing tool if you approach it from the right angle.

Why Packaging Matters

Few things are more important than a first impression. According to a study conducted by Business Insider, customers usually only take about seven seconds on average to develop a first impression about a particular product or brand. When that first impression comes in the form of a well-designed piece of direct mail collateral, that’s one thing. But what happens if that first impression occurs in the aisle at a customer’s local retailer?

The answer is simple: product packaging becomes the single deciding factor as to whether or not someone makes a purchase.

Keep in mind that studies have also shown that 64% of consumers will sometimes purchase a product off a shelf WITHOUT having any prior knowledge of it. When it comes to being satisfied with a particular product, most consumers rank packaging as almost important as the brand itself and what it represents. How easy a product was to open, how informative the copy was, what color it was, whether or not they could re-use it, these are all important factors that play a vital role in the decision-making process.

Product Packaging: Innovation by Design

It’s clear that product packaging is an opportunity that you just cannot afford to overlook. Aside from the actual functionality of the packaging, you need to think about it the same way you would any other piece of print marketing collateral. Pay attention to color choice – use red and yellow to invoke feelings like excitement or happiness, while relying on white to convey cleanliness and simplicity.

Don’t try to overload your product packaging with paragraph after paragraph of technical specifications. Brevity is the soul of wit. Think about it the same way you would your next big direct mail project. You would never just send the customer a manila envelope filled with reams of paper containing spec sheets and other advanced product information. You would keep it short and straightforward. You would give them everything they need to know to make the most informed decision possible in bite-sized chunks. How you approach the copy on your product packaging should be no different.

In the end, part of what a brand offers is an experience that transcends the actual product or service on display. Brand loyalty is built on emotion and relationships, and the key thing to understand is that this experience begins from the marketing arm of your business. The right packaging design won’t just help get your product to store shelves in one piece. It will separate your product from competitors in the minds of consumers. It will attract the right type of attention. It will inform and educate and help sell the experience you’re offering.

The Best Marketing Solves a Problem

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, right? Unfortunately, not always. After learning about some of the poor working conditions and high levels of violence associated with most diamonds on the market, many girls (and guys) have decided that a conventional diamond is not the ideal expression of their love. While some have turned to vintage pieces or alternate stones, one Los Angeles entrepreneur has provided a third option: high-quality jewels grown in a lab instead of under the ground.

Vanessa Stofenmacher did not know much about the jewelry business when she started VOW, her line of engagement, wedding, and promise rings. To cope with the limitations of current diamond-tracking laws, she opted to have the stones for her jewelry line made by Diamond Foundry, a laboratory that makes diamonds in California.

In her market research, she found that women in their twenties were likely to be concerned about the source of their diamonds. They typically did not mind wearing lab-grown stones as long as they looked as good as natural ones. This research made her line a success; the company, beginning with $8,000 in seed money, was valued at $3 million in 2016.

Don’t Be Afraid to Live Your Values

Many of us feel that, in business, our personal convictions should stop outside the doors. However, if we do not create products and marketing campaigns that align with our own values, the chances are good that they will not hit the mark with anyone else.

By choosing a product that she felt strongly about, Stofenmacher found the characteristic that makes her product line different from every other one out there.

Millennials, in particular, are happy to do business with companies that take an ethical stand. By doing something about your beliefs, you can increase connection and engagement.

Think Like Your Customer

The other thing that Stofenmacher did right was seizing an idea that had been troubling many people in the market for diamond rings.

Is there an issue in your industry that you are in a position to address? It does not have to be an ethical concern. It can be a common pain point, such as:

  • the amount of waste currently associated with a product.
  • the inconvenience of current ordering practices.
  • a lack of educational materials about your product and others like it.
  • an area where prices are out of line with consumer expectations.

By looking at what your customer cares about most, you can increase the chances of creating a product and a marketing campaign that will resonate with them.

Listen to Your Customers

How can you find out what people want? Just listen. Stofenmacher learned about the desire for ethical lab-grown stones by perusing Instagram. You can set up social listening on platforms that include Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to see what people are talking about in your industry. Many brands also use customer surveys in front of gated content to learn more.

Over time, you will find that your customers respond best when you directly address an unmet need. The marketing campaigns based on this concept will get higher levels of engagement, a better conversion rate, and will help you build long-lasting relationships that are good for you and your customers.

 

The Conduit Theory in Practice – Speaker Willie Brown

Willie Brown, the former speaker of the California Assembly, never intended to have a political career when he was born. Brown was raised in a backwater town named Mineola, Texas, in 1934, a time when Texas and the South were not particularly conducive to the career dreams of African Americans. To find a better path, his family packed Brown on a train from Texas all the way to California. There, with the help of a professor, Brown found his calling at a state University and earned a law degree from the prestigious U.C. Hastings. However, he was yet to prove his greatest accomplishment.

In 1964, after a second try, Brown gained a seat in the California Assembly. There, he learned simply being unique didn’t get him much. He had to learn how to be a useful broker. In that respect, Brown quietly learned from his legislative tutors like Jesse Unruh and Philip Burton how to become a pivot point, a conduit between the many who want something and those with power. Positioning through legislative committees, Brown went from being a name in the Assembly to eventually to becoming its Speaker, one of the top five positions in state government. Brown held that chair for fifteen years, only to then retire and become the mayor of San Francisco in his later years.

Becoming A Conduit Point

For a business, Willie Brown’s story is an illustrative one; you don’t have to be biggest, most powerful player on the market to become instrumental. Brown, as an African American politician in the 1960s, was clearly not in the position to leapfrog right away to leadership or the Governor’s office. However, he did find a position that everyone needed and had to go through to get something. By identifying how and becoming a conduit point, Brown secured his future, which is what successful businesses do in their market.

A conduit point isn’t just limited to being between end retail customers and suppliers. Conduit businesses can easily do the same in the business-to-business market as well, often producing far greater revenues than they would on the retail side of things. However, positioning can be a challenge. One needs to see the entire market, not just a segment of it. Getting to the forest level instead of the weeds allows a business player to identify all the connection points and where being a conduit has the greatest potential for producing revenue. It also shows what is needed to be successful in that particular position. Sometimes some potential conduits are too challenging, and others may offer too little in reward for the effort. Picking the right market position takes some experience, which means a business needs to research well and study peers, suppliers, buyers, competitors, and middlemen. No one in a given market should be left out.

Willie Brown was an intensive study of his legislative peers, which is why he was able to position himself so well. He also took lessons from those more powerful than him rather than fighting them, using that knowledge to become one of the powerful ones himself. A growing business can learn a thing or two from his life example.