Thursday, February 13, 2014

The next BIG thing in marketing: authenticity & responsiveness

Want to know how to really make an impression with your clients? Want to learn the trick to the next big viral campaign before it even happens? How about the best way to grow your business? 

Are you ready? goes. I hope you are sitting down.

Be authentic. Be genuine. Know you customers like they are your friends. Actually care.

Yes, it IS that simple.

If you don't believe it, I can guarantee that if you take a look at any successful business, 95% of them will agree that paying attention to what their best customers want, and then - here's the key - RESPONDING - is what makes all the difference.

Here's why: 
Customers are your biggest assets. Treat them right and reap the rewards. 

I have said this many times, but it's worth saying again. In fact, you can read more about just how important customers are from sales to innovating your next product here.

The Age of the Customer
"The age of the customer" is but one of the phrases I've heard lately to describe the shift in power from marketers to consumers. Call it what you want, but people are savvier now than ever before, and they can smell a lie, a ruse, a contrived message a mile away. The key to survival (and in turn, success) is cutting the crap, removing the fluff, and speaking with authenticity to your audience. That is where the next wave of marketing is heading. 

Advertisers and marketers, mom and pop shops and CEOs everywhere need to listen up if they want to keep on keeping on. The era of push strategies at any point of the marketing cycle is over.

The take away: take the time to listen, get feedback, RESPOND!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

5 ways you can learn more about your customers NOW!

We are all connected with chain link graphic below the text.
The customer is king. We have entered an era of marketing where businesses are finally realizing the value of genuinely connecting with their customers. Customers are, afterall, a business's most valuable asset. Loyalty breeds good news like a drop of water on a still pond. Treat your customers right, and the rewards will come. But often overlooked are the simple ways you likely already have in place that can help you connect with your customers on a regular basis. 

Here is a list of common touch points - points of interaction that your business has with customers - that can take your insight - and service - to the next level. 

1. Sales receipts
Yes, believe it or not, this is a way to interact with your customers. I mean, what else are they guaranteed to have in their hand at one point or another? Write a more personal, customized note on sales receipts as opposed to simply slapping your logo onto generic forms. If you can't do that, create stickers or custom post-it notes to add to the receipt by hand (if the sale is in-store). Ask questions, encourage customers to contact you via email or the web; if you collect email addresses (why aren't you collecting email addresses??) encourage them to sign up with a call-to-action on the receipt. And of course, be genuine and thank them for their business.

2. Surveys
Put a survey up on a free service like Survey Monkey and encourage feedback with a prize for completing the survey. Ask questions about your products, the variety, the price points, service, delivery time - these tools are available: USE THEM!!

3. Email
Use any piece of material that gets into your customers hands to drive them to your website or sign up with their email (see sales receipts, for example). You don't need to send them a weekly 10-page newsletter. Quite the opposite. Make it occasional but GOOD! Make the content count. Create interest. Ask questions. Encourage interaction via social media. CROSS PROMOTION of all your touch points is key.

4. Social media
If you are using social media as just another platform to blast information AT your customer and target audience, you need to stop NOW! Balancing information with your sales pitch is essential to have any traction in social media. Think of this platform as a way to share with friends. Encourage conversations, ask questions, comment on things of interest to your area of business. Don't be afraid to contact people directly through replies or shares or comments - that is why those features were created! 

Just because you are a business and represent your brand, doesn't mean you can't interact like a human. In fact - that is highly recommended. Once the dialogue starts flowing, you can use social platforms for feedback as well. Show new stock, preview products coming in, create excitement. 

Contests, coupons, quizzes are also easy to create and post on social media sites.

5. In person
First and foremost, make sure you are 100% focused on the customer you are serving. Secondly, when they are paying for their purchase, why not have a quick question prepared to ask during the process? Might as well put that chit chat to good use! Ask them if there is anything other product they would like to see stocked. Ask them how often they come into the store. Ask them what they purchase most often. One question asked to each customer can yield some great insight and it isn't much of an intrusion since they are already engaged and in a conversation. Just don't bombard them with an impromptu game of 20 questions; save that for the survey I mentioned above. 

The takeaway: These are some simple yet effective ways to take your engagement with your customers to the next level. It really comes down to listening...really listening, and not being afraid of what you might hear. But that's a topic for another post. :-)

Best of luck! 


PS - How about signing up with your email on my site? You'll receive notification first about these awesome little posts to help your business grow by connecting better with your customers. :-)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why you should teach your kids that grades don't matter...much

My daughter came home from school this past week disappointed with her term report card. She is in the 6th grade, has always been a very conscientious and dedicated student. Her marks reflect that and as a parent, I was very happy with her grades because I know how much effort she puts into her work. Her disappointment however, is what struck me. 

I found myself consoling her and explaining that I would take her creative and open mind, her endless questions and eagerness to learn over straight A's any day. I told her that her charisma and enthusiasm strikes a chord with people and she is genuinely a great person that people love being around. I reminded her of the volume of glowing comments from her teachers over the years. I also told her what I now know firsthand to be true: grades don't matter...much. Well, not nearly as much as we were raised to think they do. In real life, no one cares that you were a straight A-student in high school or graduated with honours. It only matters to archaic institutions that unfortunately have the power to act as gatekeepers of our livelihoods, and that really pissed me off. 

Increasingly kids graduate with more debt than a sense of self-discipline or life skills and to me, that is the biggest flaw of our education system. Life skills allow one to bounce back from failure, work with difficult people and not take criticism too personally. Life skills encourage exploration, collaboration and nurture creative thinking. Life skills build one's motivation to push themselves further than they ever thought possible. I would take a kid learning that over getting an A in algebra any day. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying ditch education. But what I am saying is that the means of benchmarking a child's success is fundamentally flawed. 

An example of this is my youngest daughter. She is much more of a free spirit, not as dedicated to receiving the affirmation of her teachers on her academic performance as my eldest. She knows she knows what she knows. End of story. She doesn't need someone to tell her how good she is, however, we are struggling with a balance between that self-assurance and conforming with the status quo. We are teaching her to 'play the game' at an early age: to do what is being asked even if she doesn't like it in exchange for the freedom and leeway it will give her. I cringe a little at telling her she has to be obedient because that is the expectation in the social confines of elementary school, but then again, I know it's essential that she learns what she likes or wants sometimes has to take a back seat to group conformation. Coping in those situations falls into the tickle trunk of essential life skills that many kids lack. 

The difference is she knows she is playing a game. I would never tell my kids to blindly listen and obey for fear of getting into trouble. The lesson we teach has always been that there is a time and a place, and to ask questions if they don't understand something. If their questioning gets them into trouble, so be it. I will always back them up on that, even if it is questioning the status quo. 

I find it so ironic and ridiculous that as a society, we revere those who have strayed from the beaten path, those who have gone on their own to explore new ideas, those innovators that inspire the regular-folk to dream, but we applaud them in only in retrospect once things have paid off and we are assured that they did indeed make the "right choice". We are such a fickle society that way: we focus on the end result (and only if it's a positive one). We idolize those who have made their mark, revolutionized society but yet, given how education is structured, we don't encourage it very much in real life especially in our formative years. It's a pretty pathetic state of affairs. What kind of lesson are we teaching were we applaud those leaders of thought and innovation only once they are rich billionaires but are too tentative to encourage it in our own schools?

Part of the problem with school and our society in general: it is too focussed on the end result, be it a letter grade or a career or to get rich. What we need is to foster in kids a sense of self worth, a work ethic and desire to be better everyday in whatever it is that they are doing. Living a life that is rich because you are doing something you love is what makes life worth living. It's not about the retirement at the end of the road anymore. It's about the days in between.

I think that entrepreneurship is one of the best things kids can be exposed to at a young age. That's one of the reasons I started my own company. I felt compelled to do it because I knew there was more to life than working for someone else. I wanted to make a difference myself and show my daughters that it is possible to define and build your own success. Entrepreneurship is an amazing way to do that. It's about being self-reliant, collaborating with others, building a better society by solving problems. Entrepreneurship is about taking action, being creative and following through. to me, those are the best life lessons of all that everyone would be better off learning (and it's never too late). 

In the coming years, kids are going to come out of educational institutions increasingly miffed at how misled they were to believe that a diploma would secure some kind of future for them. As a result, we {parents, business owners, role models} will have to pick up the slack and show kids what IS possible. We are going to see a new insurgence of entrepreneurs...I can feel it...and I find that so exciting. Innovation and evolution don't come from standing still.