Smooth Sailing

Smoker_Fishing_BRWhile summer boat season may seem like a distant dream (or cruel trick) right now, it’s right around the corner for our friends at the Smoker Craft family of boat brands. Indeed, ‘tis the season for those thinking about purchasing a new boat – be it fishing, pontoon, water sports. ‘Tis the season, then, for us to help Smoker Craft make the decision easy.

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We’ve been working hard the past several months to produce high-quality, beautiful brochures for each brand within the Smoker Craft family of boat brands. With each one, we faced a similar challenge – balancing the uniqueness of each brand while carrying through the overall value that comes with being a part of the Smoker Craft family of brands.

The books are now done – and are already getting potential buyers pumped about boating season and warmer months. After all, when you have the right co-captain on your marketing journey, it’s sure to be smooth sailing.

 

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Get a Grip

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Channellock and Do it Best are both iconic American brands in their own right, and a recent exclusive partnership between the two has produced a family of exciting new products. When Do it Best Corp. wanted to launch a new Channellock-branded line of products, we helped them get a grip on the situation.

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Specifically, Do it Best Corp. was preparing to launch a new line of Channellock-branded ratchets, sockets and wrenches at its semi-annual buying market this past October. You only get one chance to make a first impression, as the saying goes, so this launch was particularly important in driving excitement and interest among the co-op’s members to carry the new line in their locations around the world.

To explain and introduce the new line, we developed an informative, appealing new brochure, as well as high-visibility signage and promotional materials for the market floor. Each piece carried over the famous Channellock brand while explaining all of the new products available in the lineup, as well as their high quality and consumer appeal.

With the new marketing materials playing a key role in the overall launch of the product line, the results to date have exceeded the co-op’s already lofty goals – with strong initial and ongoing member orders. It’s a rare occasion – and an honor – when you get to pair two great brands and help independent retailers across the country ratchet up their performance.

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Escape from Marketing Island

As marketers, it can be easy to feel like we exist on an island. To bury ourselves in our work and maintain an exclusive, almost laser-like focus on…well…our marketing. Because that’s what we do. The same can be said of salespeople – existing on their own island, maintaining their laser-like focus on…well…their sales. Because that’s what they do. But what if working together – building a bridge between those two islands – made both sides better?

Sales and marketing are often lumped together in terms of how a business operates, which makes the seas that can rise up between these two islands all the more surprising – and disappointing. Marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, after all, and neither does sales.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. Indeed, as this recent article helpfully reminds us, “by collaborating with sales reps during the content development process, marketers can create content resources that will better meet the needs of salespeople.” And, in turn, such collaboration means salespeople can help marketers more effectively create such content.

How? Well, as the same article explains, there tend to be six levels or degrees of personalization when it comes to content marketing. These cover the full spectrum, from generic (no personalization) content to lead-specific (highly personalized, one-on-one) content. Marketers can often see the most productive use of their time spent at the more generic end of the spectrum – delivering the most content to the most people – while salespeople often want to spend the majority of their time at the more personalized end of the spectrum – building and maintaining individual relationships with customers and prospects. How, then, can we bridge this divide?

For marketers, the key is to move further down the personalization spectrum. While true one-to-one content marketing isn’t always feasible or practical, making content more segment- and audience-specific can empower sales people by providing them with a marketing asset that’s more personalized and targeted.

Equally important is the ability of marketers to train, equip and support salespeople to either personalize existing content, or create individualized content for their end of the spectrum. “The conventional wisdom,” the article continues, “has been that salespeople should not be spending their time developing content.” There are certain types of content, however, that are best left for a member of the sales team to develop.

Salespeople can help marketers become more effective in developing more personalized and targeted content. And marketers can help sales people become more effective in developing content of their own in the right situations. This is where collaboration between sales and marketing – bridging those two islands – can be so valuable and profound.

Show and tell

Ah, the trade show. A thinly veiled junket. A free trip to somewhere warm. Where days are spent manning booths inside cavernous, windowless convention centers, making small trade_showtalk with uninterested visitors. Counting down the hours between expense-account meals.

At least, that’s what many people think of when they hear the term. Based on the great experiences we had just this week with our friends at Freightliner Custom Chassis at this year’s Work Truck Show, however, we think trade shows can be incredibly valuable for all kinds of organizations. The important first step, of course, is looking at them as key opportunities instead of extensive – and expensive – time wasters. From there, it can be as simple as following these steps.

  • Plan ahead. Seems silly to say that, but how often do you truly put together a dedicated, strategic plan around a big trade show or industry conference? This is more than planning which brochures and posters and tchotchkes you want to take with you; it’s defining real goals about what you and your team want to accomplish and how a successful event can be defined – and achieved.
  • Make some time to meet. Don’t just hide out in your own space, waiting for others to come to you. As part of your overall show strategy, identify key customers, thought leaders, members of the media, etc., that you would love to connect with in person. And then ask them to do just that. Send a personalized email and follow up with a phone call, asking for a few minutes to meet and talk.
  • Take a hike. Schedule time at least once a day to wander (with purpose) throughout the entire expanse of the convention floor. Stop at other booths or spaces randomly, taking in the experience the way someone would when visiting yours. Scout out competitors, vendors and potential partners. Take note of what you like about particular booth experiences and designs – as well as what you don’t like.
  • Share your adventures. It’s easy to think that trade shows and industry conferences exist in a vacuum – anyone and everyone who matters is already there. And yet rare is the instance where this is the case – there will always be people not attending the event, whether they’re industry media, potential or current customers, vendors/suppliers, etc. – this is why it’s so important to include them in your communications efforts during the event. Create a mini communications plan for the event, laying out how you’ll share what you’re up to via your social presence, your website, your media contacts, etc. Give those not there a sense of what they’re missing – be their eyes and ears.

By spending a little bit of extra time planning your team’s efforts and defining your goals, you can turn your next trade show or industry conference into a more successful and valuable utilization of everyone’s time and skills. You’ll certainly feel less guilty about expensing that nice steak dinner.

Where’s the beef?

1024px-Chipotle_Mexican_Grill_logo.svgChipotle is famous for two things:

  1. Making a mean burrito
  2. Being a nice company

These two things are strongly correlated, which can help explain the company’s rabid customer base and meteoric growth the past couple of years. In fact, most would argue Chipotle couldn’t be known for one without the other.

The restaurant chain recently had a unique and unexpected chance to determine if that was true. The result caught a lot of people by surprise – except for its customers.

Earlier this week, Chipotle announced that it was halting pork sales at roughly one-third of its U.S. restaurants after discovering violations of its pig-housing policies at a supplier. That equates to a lot of customers not being able to enjoy their beloved carnitas burritos which, in turn, could have a big impact on Chipotle’s sales for the quarter and the year, depending on how long the shortage runs. This, in turn, could equate to a lot of unhappy customers and a lot of lost sales for Chipotle.

With that in mind, it would have been relatively easy for the company to quietly reprimand the supplier and make it try its hardest to make things better, all while still using its pork to make those mean burritos. Who would have known, right?

Chipotle would have known, of course, and that was enough for them.They know that being a nice company is a big part of what helps them make a mean burrito – and what has made them such a beloved brand in the eyes of their customers. They counted the long-term cost of using a product that went against their brand philosophy and “Food With Integrity” approach and determined it would be way more costly than any short-term losses resulting from the shortage.

Brands talk a lot about their philosophy, their identity, their essence – the foundation that makes them who they are. And yet it’s still rare – and refreshing – to see examples of brands that practice what they preach. Chipotle has a keen understanding of who they are and how their customers view them, recognizing that their customers love them for more than just their killer burritos. Turning a blind eye to their core philosophy may have saved them some sales in the short term, but it would have made them just another fast food joint in the long run.

Exported from Detroit

moving_dayPeanut butter and jelly. Batman and Robin. Bert and Ernie.

General Motors and the Motor City.

Just as with these other famous twosomes, the car maker and the car capital are so inextricably linked that it’s hard to imagine one without thinking of the other.

For brands as much as for people, where we’re from helps define who we are. Just about everything that makes Cadillac a uniquely American luxury car company is owed to its roots in the Motor City. Indeed, for the better part of a century, Cadillac did little to hide its Detroit heritage or obscure its place among the other branches of the GM family tree.

All that is beginning to change, however.

Cadillac made big news this fall when it announced it was beginning to transition a big portion of its headquarters from Detroit to New York City in an effort, it said, “to distinguish the brand and afford it a separate identity that conveys a premium message, rather than simply a name that denotes GM’s luxury brand.”

On the face of it, this makes a lot of strategic sense. For the better part of the 20th century, competition from luxury brands outside the U.S. against Cadillac were minimal. Planting your brand flag as GM’s luxury brand was the smart way to go. As globalization grew, however, and as both Japanese and European luxury brands continued to set their sights on growing marketshare in the U.S., being the American luxury brand became less of a selling point and more of a punchline.

Such shifts (or evolutions) for a brand are easier said than done, however, and generally not as nice and tidy as flipping a switch. Fellow carmaker Ford tried this a few years ago – the Taurus was such a maligned and poorly made product that it became a national punchline; in turn, Ford simply tried rebranding the vehicle as the 500. Ford quickly realized the folly of such an endeavor, however, focused instead on improving the quality and ultimately returned to the Taurus name.

All of which is to say: It’s easy to see why Cadillac thinks such a move is important for changing what it sees as an outdated perception of its brand; it’s also not as easy, however, as simply changing your address.

As brands, changing how we’re perceived is hard – which is why we often pursue solutions that make it seem easy.

Mobile marketing grows up

Mobile_Bicycle_Billboard_from_Singapore,_April_9_2013Apple unveiled its newest iPhone models recently. (You may have heard a word or two about this.) The event, as these tend to be, was a big spectacle, full of pomp and circumstance. While they somewhat pioneered the practice, Apple is far from alone these days in turning product launches into news events themselves, thanks to their grandeur and scale. These events look to make a big splash for each product they launch and generate as much buzz among consumers as possible.

But they also point to a larger, underlying truth about our society – we really, really like our smartphones. Indeed, many of us couldn’t imagine living without them. As our smartphones and tablets become more and more important in our daily lives, so too are they becoming more important as a point of engagement for brands. How important? A couple of studies out recently show that social marketing – especially mobile marketing and mobile advertising – is growing like crazy, and doesn’t show signs of slowing down any time soon.

  • Social media ad spend will continue to grow over the next several years. It’s already up 40 percent this year, according to this report, and will reach $14 billion as an industry by 2018.
  • Social media ad spend continues its rapid shift to mobile. In fact, mobile social-media advertising is expected to surpass non-mobile by the end of this year. By 2018, it will be two-thirds.
  • Social media ad opportunities are exploding with the addition of paid platforms on sites like Pinterest and Instagram. This study shows that 73 percent of marketers think Instagram is the breakout social network of 2014, and that trend is expected to continue into 2015 and beyond. With both Instagram and Pinterest rolling out ad opportunities, marketers are better positioned to take advantage of that growth.
  • The next big mobile ad platform? Apps. The use of app-install ads are growing faster than mobile advertising overall.
  • Ad placement and targeting is becoming much more sophisticated and advanced. Networks are continuing to roll out tools that ensure social ads are getting to the right audiences – and no one else. This helps drive better engagement and increased cost-effectiveness.

Bottom line: Social as a marketing tool is a big deal, as it has been for several years. Now, advertising via social – and especially mobile social – is becoming a big deal as well. This new reality brings with it its own challenges – and opportunities for those brands that are aware and prepared to take advantage.

What does this mean for you? At a time when many marketers are laying out their plans for 2015, it’s important to ask – and answer – the question of just how important mobile is becoming to your audiences – and, as a result, how big a part it plays in your marketing efforts.

Persona non grata

How well do you know your customers? Like, really, really know them? Buyer-persona’s-gebruiken-om-content-meer-menselijk-te-maken_900_450_90_s_c1_smart_scale

Sure, we all think we know and understand our customers – everything from general demographics like age, gender and race to psychological factors such as color or design preference, purchase history, shopping habits, etc. So often, however, what we think we know about our customers can be little more than assumptions and generalizations based on outdated experiences, insights and data.

Truly knowing your customers is important for any number of reasons, of course; the most important of them all perhaps being that it could – and should – drive every strategic plan and decision you make.

Is there a way, then, to better and more completely understand and know your customers? We’ve found the best way to better understand all of your customers is to identify and define one of them.

Many people know this process as developing a customer “persona.” Other industries can call it different things – the consulting firm Bain calls it a design target – but the concept is the same: using a customized mix of demographic, geographic and “psychographic” factors, you build a model of your ideal or typical customer. No detail is too small – name, age, sex, race, location, social media habits, TV habits, car, living situation, family or no family, white or wheat, etc. You get the picture. And getting this picture is very important and potentially valuable.

The good news – there are an incredible number of resources, templates and worksheets that break down the persona-development process. If you don’t already have a customer persona in place, or are suddenly concerned about using outdated concepts to define your current customers, make the time before the end of the year to do it. Your success in creating many new customers just may depend on you better defining just one.

Does your social strategy include customer service?

Let’s start with the obvious: It’s very important for brands to have a strategic plan in place when it comes to their social media presence. It’s important because companies can leverage social media for any number of strategic reasons – to communicate, to engage, to promote, to listen, to sell.

All of which are essential, to be sure, because they all help a brand bring in new customers. What is equally important, however, and what brands often fall short in using social media effectively for, is engaging with their existing customers.

Here, it seems, is where there’s a lot of ground for brands to make up, not to mention a huge disconnect between how brands perceive their handling of customer service via social media and how their customers perceive it. Indeed, a recent study showed that approximately 80 percent of companies believe they provide superior customer experiences via social – only 8 percent (!) of their paying customers agree. A big reason for that Grand Canyon-esque gap may be due to another figure from the same research – that 20 percent of companies rarely, if ever, respond to customer inquiries or complaints made via social.

There are few things more damaging to a brand’s perception via its social presence than a customer complaint sitting there, unanswered, lingering, smoldering, haunting. Most often, a complaint goes unanswered because brands either don’t know it’s there or don’t know how to handle the complaint appropriately in a quasi-public forum. Neither reason is good; however, there are just a few easy steps brands can take to address both and become more effective at handling customer complaints.

  1. Build an alert system. All of the key social platforms have a wealth of built-in notification tools to alert you immediately any time a customer leaves any type of comment via your official presence, including complaints. Getting notified almost immediately whenever a complaint is posted makes it easier to…
  2. Acknowledge the complaint. It doesn’t say “solve the problem,” does it? This is where brands often get caught, because they don’t know how to solve the problem raised by the complaint right then and there via social. Odds are, they wouldn’t ever be able to, and that’s okay. All they need to do is acknowledge the complain – “We’re sorry to hear you’re having a problem, Customer X, and want to make this right. Can you email us at EMAIL ADDRESS so we can learn more?” It’s the last part of this exchange that’s most important, because it enables you to…
  3. Move the conversation offline. Why get into a complaint-specific conversation in the comments of a Facebook post while your other followers watch? No good can come of it! Instead, ask the customer to call or email and provide the proper contact info for both. Not only does it enable you to handle the complaint in a more personalized and intimate way, it also gauges how serious the customer and the complaint are. (You may find this shocking, but sometimes customers just like to blow off a little steam in the comments of your brand page. If they have to pick up the phone to call or send you an email, they may not actually do it.) By acknowledging and moving the conversation offline, you can then remove the complaint from your page. And, if the customer decides to come back to offer compliments for the way his or her complaint was handled, that’s just icing on the cake.

When it comes to handling customer complaints via social, you don’t want your approval rating to be lower than Congress, do you? The good news – avoiding a fate worse than that can be easily accomplished. And it’s accomplished directly when brands ensure their social strategy focuses on not just new customers – but existing ones as well.

Is the sales funnel finished?

“…the primary problem with the funnel is that the buying process is no longer linear.”

The sales funnel – the staple of marketing classes, business school and just about every product campaign this side of the 20th century. It’s so ubiquitous because it’s so universal in its truth. But is the age of social chipping away at the infallibility of the sales funnel?

Used to be that, if you were a marketing director or agency account exec, your strategic goal was to get consumers into the first stage of the funnel – awareness. Once there, you gently but firmly guided them through the subsequent stages – Interest, Consideration, Intent, Evaluation – before arriving at their final destination, Purchase.

 

The traditional sales funnel

Image credit: http://goo.gl/wq43pG

This was all well and good when marketers had more control over access to the funnel and could reasonably expect to move everyone through the first phase and then downward after that. That’s no longer the case, as we’re seeing and as this post from Harvard Business Review helps explain; in today’s disjointed, social and much more democratic media landscape, prospects can enter (and exit) the funnel at any level. “What’s more,” the HBR post argues, prospects “often jump stages, stay in a stage indefinitely, or move back and forth between them.”

Awareness, for example, may not come from the brand. Instead, it can come from a prospect’s family, friends or other social connections, as well as through his or her own research. In the course of that research, a prospect can encounter and act on a recommended product and click a link to purchase it. Just like that, prospect went from awareness to purchase, with little time (if any) for the phases between those two. What’s more, the same trend – the breaking down of the sales funnel – is as true for B2B brands as it is for B2C.

What’s a brand to do, then? Below are some key suggestions – culled from the HBR article and from our own experiences – for brands to better and more effectively navigate a world in which the sales funnel is being relegated to the sideline.

  1. Think circular instead of linear. We know the phrase “circular thinking” isn’t always viewed as a positive one, but it’s instructive in this changing landscape. Prospects don’t enter the funnel at the top and exit at the bottom; rather, they move around a more circular, ongoing process, entering and exiting at different points of their choosing.
  2. Think relationship instead of transaction. In the sales funnel, the purchase or transaction is often the end point. Instead, think of the process as developing, building and maintaining long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with customers. How can you continue to communicate and engage with them post-purchase? How can you empower them to become ambassadors? How easy do you make it for your audience to advocate for your brand or product?
  3. Think experience instead of purchase. Meaningful relationships are built through experiences, not purchases, after all. Your customers can interact with your brand in a number of non-purchase ways – events, social media, branded content and media, etc. Is the experience you’re creating consistent, positive and memorable? Are you building relationships?
  4. Think purchase at every phase of the process. Wait, you’re saying to yourself. Didn’t you just tell me to think experience instead of purchase? Yes, but, at the same time, it should be relatively quick, easy and painless for customers to jump straight to the purchase phase of the process any time they want. Do an audit and answer this question: How many clicks of a mouse would it take a prospect to purchase (or whatever your measurable equivalent may be) your product or service from any and all points of the process? This isn’t to say each phase should be a straightforward, hard sales pitch, of course; at the same time, you should always strive to make it quick and easy for them to move forward with purchase if and when they’re ready.

The most fundamental and important change to what we used to know as the sales funnel is that it is increasingly no longer a linear, subsequent process. Now, it rarely has an end or beginning. This presents new challenges to marketers, to be sure, but it also presents many new opportunities.

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