Dear CEO: Mixing politics and business

mixing politics and business is risky business

Mixing politics and business: Risky business?

Just as politics is a risky topic at a party, most of us believe it’s dangerous to mix politics and business. But in these days of social media and online outrage, old rules are constantly up for question.

penzeys-ceo-letter on mixing politics and business

You may not know Penzey’s, unless you’re a cook. They’re a popular online and retail spice merchant (Side note: I am a fan: Get spicy. Once you buy cinnamon online, you’ll never buy it in the grocery store again).

Their social presence has always been personal, with heartfelt letters from their CEO, Bill Penzey but in election 2016, his letters turned from homey missives about baking pies for our loved ones to the storms outside the kitchen window.

The issues aside, there’s a lesson — or at least, an example — for those of us in business, because Penzey has published his business results in a “letter to CEOs.” The letter is repeated below because oddly, I can’t find it on the company website  yet (it appeared on Facebook today). He says that 3% of their customers abandoned them in a rage, while “online sales are up 59.9%, gift box sales up 135%.”

Mixing politics and business is a personal choice, not a business strategy, and it’s clearly not broadly applicable. But I take it as one example of where close relationships with customers change the rules. I’ve written before about empathy — it’s not just a modern buzzword — and I think the reason this worked in Penzey’s favor is that he was talking to his customers, heart to heart, over a cup of coffee and a slice of pie at the kitchen table. Whether we agree with his stand or not, it’s authentic. And it appears to have resonated.

———

Dear CEO,

Please give us a moment to share something we hope you will find very valuable.

Our customers come from all walks of life. The kindness of cooks knows no borders or divides. In the aftermath of the election, seeing the intentional damage inflicted on so many outside the white heterosexual male world, we raised our voice. We felt we had to. We did this because we are Penzeys. The Spice business is so intertwined with history that it’s not really possible to have one without the other. It became clear to us that we are now in a moment history will long have its eyes upon. For the sake of our customers, and for the sake of future generations, we felt the time had come to stand on the right side of history.

And while the reasons for why we took a stand might be specific to our unique outlook, what we learned actually applies to all commerce in the United States. What we learned is that President-elect Donald Trump has no real support. Voters, sure, but no constituency. Running a campaign on “that horrible-terrible-woman who should be locked up,” while at the same time working to raise fear of minorities among white voters with limited access to education, clearly achieved its goal. But none of it left Americans with any sense of connection to the candidate they actually voted for.

Willing to take a hit for what is right, we did what we did. In the two weeks since, online sales are up 59.9%, gift box sales up 135%. And we didn’t have a catalog arrive in this window this year, while last year we had 1.1 million! Yes, maybe for the moment we have lost 3% of our customers because of the so-called “right wing firestorm.” And, yes, they send emails of rage, and ALL CAPS, and bad language with the hope of creating the perception that they are bigger than they really are. But what we learned is that, in terms of retail spending, Donald Trump simply has no one supporting his views for America. He has no constituency.

America’s Values, on the other hand, have a really sizable constituency, and that constituency moves quickly to support those that stand up for the values of America. If, as a company, you have values, now is the time to share them. You may well lose a chunk of your AM radio-listening customers, but if you really are honest and sincere, don’t be surprised to see your promotions suddenly, finally, find active engagement with the Millennial generation.

And the time for this really is now. We understand all too well that, with the holidays, December is a tough month to get things done. We understand that a change in direction will not be easy, but you are where you are because you don’t need things to be easy. If you wait until after the wheels come off the track for the incoming administration, this moment will have passed. And while there’s no bad time to do the right thing, to do the right thing at the same time as others in your industry will work so much better than waiting until someone else has shown the way.

In this moment there is finally the real chance to unite our nation in our shared rejection of sexism, homophobia, and racism. This is your chance to stand up for America’s values and make January a tent pole in your company’s history. Opportunities to do the right thing at the time when doing the right thing makes all the difference come once in a lifetime. Make your history proud.

Thanks for reading,

Penzeys Spices

Automatic assistants and search engine marketing

Siri and Hey Google have been around for a while and the category is growing. Now we have Siri on the Mac, Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, Google Home, and other personal agents. As these grow in popularity and capability, what does that mean for businesses that rely on search?

img_8094

As a new Amazon Echo Dot user (I love it so much I immediately bought a second and may add a couple more), I am wondering. Mostly, I am making inside-the-house requests like “play music” but I’m starting to ask it the type of questions that would have immediately gone to Google. It mostly fails (even more than Siri) but it will get better. Eventually, it will be just like clicking the “Feeling Lucky” button on Google — which means being among the top 5 or 10 entries in the search results will no longer be enough.

An article at SearchEngineLand says that for some marketers, we need to “rank for featured snippets or go home.” (Snippets are those boxes on the results page that give answers instead of links to websites.) The article has a video of an interaction with Google Home that offers a thought-provoking example. For some consumer brands, especially services, this deserves some thought. Likewise for local services.

I think business-to-business companies need not worry about this yet, but it would be wise to have it on your long-range radar.

Say again? Social postings bear repeating

“Say something once, why say it again?” — Talking Heads

Do you repeat your postings on social media? According to Julie Gauthier of Scoop.it (a publisher of content marketing software), only a third of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) do this as a standard practice, and a third never do.

How-often-do-SMB-marketers-re-share-successful-blog-posts

Repost for better reach

According to Gauthier’s recent blog article, “when you share it once on social media, you reach no more than 6% of your followers on Facebook, and your Tweet’s lifetime is about 18 minutes.”

Repetition, she claims, can double your traffic and increase your reach. Though she doesn’t cite research to quantify (or even qualify) the claim of expanded reach, it makes sense.

So why don’t we repeat ourselves? Gauthier suggests two reasons:

  • We’re afraid to fatigue or offend the audience
  • We lack tools that schedule repeats

I find my clients pretty readily repeat postings on Twitter but we should probably do it on all media. My thought is that social media is ephemeral and no one (possible exception: my Mom) attempts to read it all. It’s like listening to the radio — you hear what you hear and miss the rest. Consequently, a repeated posting is not likely to be seen and if it is, not likely to gather much notice.

How much can you repeat? That’s harder to gauge. We want to test everything we can, but most SMBs lack the traffic or the mechanism to know when prospects are becoming annoyed, so begin reposting according to a rigid procedure (automated if possible) and watch response rates. Look at where returns begin to diminish and call that your benchmark.

Start With Why to Reach Customers

Reach customers with benefits

Do you want to reach customers in a more effective way, to help them understand why they need what you do? To help them see how your products and services fit their needs? To help you talk in customer-centric, benefits-focused terms? Here’s a powerful device to reach customers: Start With Why.

To reach customers, start with why

Why do we need “why?”

It may seem simple to talk about products and services in a way that connects with customers. Most of us naturally start talking about what the product is and what it does, how it works. We love to talk about features! But what we may not realize is that while those are important points to cover, it’s not how humans make buying decisions. We decide using a deeper portion of our brains, one that is powered not by words, but by feelings. This is why sometimes we make decisions that defy logic, or why we spend weeks agonizing over a decision despite the fact that we already have every bit of information we need.

How do we come up with marketing messaging that speaks to the feelings-powered portion of the brain, a portion that doesn’t use language?

Watch the video, Start With Why. Simon Sinek does the best job I have seen of explaining not just what kind of communication works, but why it works.

Simon Sinek, Start With Why

Most of us talk about what we’re offering; how it works; and finally, maybe, why we make it and why you would want it. Powerful marketing flips that around and talks first about why. Solution marketing is the example best known in the business world — it talks first about the customer’s problem.

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

In a hurry? There’s an edited, five-minute version. I suggest that my clients watch the full version and then watch the short one to lock the ideas in. Here are links to both versions.

Optimizing Search for Blog Posts

Congratulations: You’re doing a blog. You’re thinking about search engine optimization (SEO). You have the machinery in place to consistently produce a couple of posts per week on topics that will interest customers and prospects. Now: How will they find you?

Blogs are great search engine bait

One of the reasons I favor blog posts and other content is that it is search engine bait. When someone is searching on a problem they have that you can solve, your content is the most likely way they will find you and see you as the solution to their problems.

Here’s a video from Rand Fishkin of MOZ on how to make it a practice (key concept!) to make your blogs (and other content) appeal.

Some key ideas for optimizing search for blogs:

  • Make your content unique and valuable. Are you solving a customer problem?
  • Think about who you want to reach (executives? coders? bakers? managers?); what you want them to gain; what you want them to do as a result.
  • Pick 3-5 search terms as your target for this article. All should have same searcher intent and be juicy terms that people actually search on, are reasonably unique, and have great click potential.
  • Look at who else appears for those terms and readjust of you realize you can’t compete.
  • Now: Make your posting, armed with knowledge about what will work.
  • Do the appropriate technical tasks and keywording.
  • Watch your results so you can learn and adjust.

Empathy: Once you can fake that, you have it made!

A little rant, if I may?

Empathy is all the rage in business circles. So let’s apply it everywhere! And since we can’t trust employees to do it right, we’ll use automation and brainless procedures to emulate empathy. Do those who write and approve these scripts think we can’t hear fake empathy? The backfire is worse than no empathy at all.

Here, AT&T emailed after a support call, summarizing the discussion.

AT_T_Post_Call_Notification_Summary_of_Change_s__to_Your_Account_—_Inbox

Apparently we talked about a mysterious “issue” they are “investigating.” Then they added/changed a feature/plan.

But at least I know it’s not totally automated: The agent misspelled his own name.

“Thank you for calling, we value your business!”

 

This advertising man makes us sound like dumb animals. I think he’s right.

don-draper

The first commercial ad I ever ran was about 30 years ago. I was working for Hewlett-Packard and was happy that I was working with teams of advertising and marketing professionals, people who knew how ads worked and would be able to guide me to proven marketing practices.

Except that they didn’t, and they really couldn’t, because dammit, they didn’t know. Over the course of my marketing career, I have been party to millions of dollars of advertising. Sometimes we knew what worked. Often, not so much.

Coca-Cola_FamilyAd

So, are advertisers and marketing execs stupid? Driven by ego? Faking it? Sometimes. But there are things we learned from experience and testing. Want to know what they are? I think you would do very well to follow these ten conclusions from Tom Cunniff. A few favorites:

2) Most purchases are habitual. Human beings buy the same brand of toothpaste (or CRM software, or supply chain SaaS solutions, or anything else) over and over again not so much out of hard-won loyalty as pure sloth.

3) Decision-making has never happened in a “marketing funnel.” In most cases, it happens in something like a pinball machine.

5) Most of the time as consumers don’t know what we want, and when we do know what we want we don’t generally know why we wanted it.

8) Most of the effort expended on advertising is like primitive people doing a rain dance. There is a ludicrous emphasis on diagnosing what went wrong when it failed … and an equally ludicrous round of naive self-congratulation when it goes right.

Follow the link for the rest.

Micro-targeted advertising strategies

facebook

The history of marketing has been a steady march toward smaller targets: More and more products, services, and messages aimed at smaller and smaller targets.

What if you could target a market of one? We’re getting there. You can already target one company. Here’s a provocative example: Companies are targeting one publication to reach their journalists. Facebook knows where you work (because you tell them). Imagine placing your company in front of everyone who works at the Wall Street Journal or Wired or Popular Photography.

If you travel much, notice the billboards. I noticed a tendency for billboards to be near company headquarters and suspect the target is the company’s own employees and executives. It quiets some internal conversations about marketing effectiveness if the execs see their own ads every day. What if you could advertise into your own CEO’s Facebook, Twitter, and Google streams? 

Marketing messaging: 10 phrases great speakers never say

This might be the best article ever on public speaking. While explaining the “don’ts,” Jeff Haden (@jeff_haden) nicely tosses in a lot of “do’s.” He hits all my pet peeves plus a couple (numbers 6 and 8) I still do (gulp!).

10 Phrases Great Speakers Never Say
Want to ruin a presentation in seconds? Just drop in one of these sentences.

Strategy 101

In my presentation, What Startups Need to Know About Marketing, I list four things small companies often overlook in their marketing plans. Number one is “strategy.” As in, have one! Even if it’s just a couple of pages, a written strategy tells everyone in the company that marketing matters and we have a plan.

packard-marketing-quote

David Packard said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”

written-strategy-means-everyone-knows-what-to-do

Indeed, an understanding of the marketing strategy informs all decisions an employee makes on your behalf, from product design to logistics, to how we answer the phone.

Today, I stumbled on 5 Keys to a Great Small Business Marketing Strategy, from Greg Head, CMO of marketing automation vendor InfusionSoft. Greg says, “All successful businesses have a clear marketing strategy that makes everything they do more effective. Unfortunately, many busy small business owners get so caught up in tactical daily marketing execution like building a website, sending email, tweeting, advertising, optimizing a landing page, blogging and so on, that they are not taking the time to work on the decisions that’ll improve the performance of their tactics.”

It’s a good read. Even if your list of strategy elements differs from Greg’s or mine, the key is to have a strategy. You can improve it as you go, but please do start with something. It’s one of those things a small business owner never seems to have time to do but once it’s in place, it saves time and amplifies the efficiency and effectiveness of everyone in the company, every day.