Category Archives: Business strategy

Best business practice: Prefer phone to email or text

Great article in Fast Company about using the phone vs email/text/etc.:

What Happened When I Replied “Call Me” to Every Email for a Week

Photo: Flickr user M. Accarino
The author noticed that successful people would often reply to an email with a phone call, or an invitation to call. He wonders if being “phone-prone” and success are related. He experimented with a phone-prone approach to see what would happen…
I am email-prone myself but I know I’d be wiser to phone (or visit in person) more often. It’s not just that it’s more high-touch, not just the communication of tone of voice; the phone-prone maintain that a phone call is often faster. It’s also much harder for someone to say no to a live phoned request than to an email.
“The phone may not be the newest collaboration tool out there, but I was surprised at how effective I found it after a week of forcing myself to become more phone-prone.”

SEO for entrepreneurs

Search engine optimization (SEO) is something every business needs. Because no matter what your business is, your prospects are probably not coming to you when they are ready: they are going to Google. You need to be there.

Trustworthy search marketing information is hard to find. But good news: I have a new resource to get you there safely.

The problem with SEO is not that it’s difficult (though it is) or complicated (it is). After all, a lot of what modern businesses do is complicated and difficult — so we learn or hire the expertise. The problem with SEO is that hiring expertise may get you in trouble. It is full of danger. Sadly, competent, expert help is hard to find. The SEO industry is full of charlatans. Advice: If someone promises you the top page of Google for your 50 keywords, run.

Some SEO experts are out and out crooked; others are innocently incompetent. They are full of advice and knowledge that is wrong, spouted with great confidence. That’s because they learned what they “know” not from testing and experience, but from all the SEO information on the web, and much of that is blazingly wrong. It is parroted from each other so often that it becomes “common wisdom.” Like politics, but let’s not go there.

For this reason, I tell clients that SEO is not a service you can blindly hire. I will recommend SEO services I know (and offer an SEO and content marketing strategy workshop myself) but even if a client plans to hire experts, I recommend SEO gothey learn the basics themselves. You don’t need to be an expert in detailed SEO tech but you do need a solid grasp of the strategy. (See my article on whether to use agencies or do your SEO in-house.) It’s not unlike demand generation, lead management, or any other complex business area: Marketing and C-level business execs need a strategic grounding so you can know that your staff’s direction makes sense and matches the company’s direction.

Happy news: There’s a new resource I can recommend. The founder of Moz, Rand Fishkin is one of SEO’s shining lights and a gifted teacher. He’s just released a Skillshare class that’s free with your signup (Skillshare is free to new signups for 30 days.)  It’s my new recommended way to learn what you need to know.

Other recommendations are:

Also, please see my previous article, SEO: agency or in-house?

Book Review: Be Like Amazon, by Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg

I am going to recommend this book, Be Like Amazon, by Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg, to all my clients. Here’s the review I just posted on Amazon.

Book review-Be Like Amazon - Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg

When I read that the Eisenberg’s new book was a dialogue, I cringed a little. I usually find that style overly precious or pedantic, like a business-aimed Jonathan Livingston Seagull (not in a good way). But style is, well, just style, and I knew Be Like Amazon would be worth reading because I have read most of Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg’s previous works. So I grabbed the Sample and within a few pages, I had downloaded Be Like Amazon.

And glad I did. Be Like Amazon is short, easy to read, and chock full of gems. I’m a marketing strategy consultant and always on the lookout for ways I can help clients see the big picture. Values, mission, how to align all your people so that you don’t feel any need to micromanage — it all comes from core values. The Eisenbergs call them “unifying principles” and says they “are an operating system.” And they talk about how these feed the brand, which is built on actions and performance.

“We believe.” I got that from this book. I have seen and read the “Start With Why” work by Simon Sinek and make all my clients view his videos but damn, I missed the “we believe” messaging. If that were all I got from Be Like Amazon, it would be a huge win. “You’ll find your corporate ‘why’ when you write 10 true sentences that each start with ‘We believe….” I am so going to steal that.

But wait, there’s more!

Be Like Amazon is built around Amazon’s Four Pillars but you can see those in a two-second Google search. What they do here is bring them to life and relate them to other businesses, some of which use values well, some not; some used to and don’t succeed any more. Costco, Walmart, HP, and some tiny businesses you don’t know (but perhaps should).

Story. Culture. “Brandable chunks.” Unrelenting customer-centricity. It goes on. Mostly things we know but perhaps don’t always remember that we know.

The two measures of the value of a business and marketing book for me are:

1) How much highlighting do I do. Each highlight is something I plan to use with my clients. And my copy of BLA is pretty yellowed up! So a +1 on that.

2) Is it full of fluff? Because here’s the typical business or marketing book: One or two interesting ideas, three or four reasonable use cases, and then the author realizes no one will buy a 40 page book, so they fire up Word and write 260 redundant pages full of generalizations and contrived examples everyone knows. 80% fluff to support the one or two simple ideas the author has. Bleh.

The dialogue approach made me fear the fluff but no worries, this is a well-researched, concise book full of real examples of how Amazon’s four pillars apply to the real world.

I just took a nap

I just took a nap. Perfect timing for posting this article by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, excerpted in The Week magazine: Why you should work 4 hours a day, according to science

Source: https://pixabay.com/p-1762750/

It’s about how some of our greatest scientific minds worked for a maximum of four hours a day and why that’s more effective than the insane (in my opinion) modern American notion that we should work 24/7. I know so many who work, work, work, even on weekends, as if it’s a badge of honor — or worse, something today’s jobs require. When I had a staff, I used to reprimand those who worked too long, too often, because I didn’t see anyone benefiting, including the company.

“Even in today’s 24/7, always-on world, we can blend work and rest together in ways that make us smarter, more creative, and happier.”

Multiple research studies (including by those whose research led to the “10,000 hour” requirement for mastery, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell) support the diminishing returns of overdoing creative and intellectual work.

“Even ambitious young students in one of the world’s best schools, preparing for an notoriously competitive field, could handle only four hours of really focused, serious effort per day.

“This upper limit, Ericsson concluded, is defined ‘not by available time, but by available [mental and physical] resources for effortful practice.”

The takeway:

“We’ve come to believe that world-class performance comes after 10,000 hours of practice. But that’s wrong. It comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, 12,500 hours of deliberate rest, and 30,000 hours of sleep.”

The above link is to an excerpt — here’s the full-length version.

SEO: Agency or in-house?

A question about SEO (search engine optimization) on Quora stimulated me to write something I have had in my head for a while.

What is better, hiring an employee for SEO long-term or hiring an agency for a new website?

Clients often ask this question. Search is essential and it’s complicated. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just bring in a hired gun?

But search engine marketing is a strategy and like advertising, brand messaging, lead management, and everything else, it must be a considered part of your broader marketing strategy, serving the needs of your business. It’s not something you can just toss to a contractor. Worse, tackling SEO as a narrow tactic is a sure way to get bamboozled or possibly, penalized by Google. Sadly, the majority (seriously) of people who claim to be “SEOs” are either charlatans or incompetents. If someone tells you they will get you on page one of Google for x% of your 50 keywords, run.

So, what do you do? The best answer is a mix of in-house expertise with some agency help.

Step one is to understand search. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of dicey SEO knowledge out there, so be cautious about what you believe. I advise executives to read “The Truth About SEO” by Rebecca Lieb. It’s a few years old but largely about strategy that doesn’t vary that much and provides a broad understanding of search. For those tasked with executing the search strategy, read Lieb’s book and Moz.com’s Beginner’s Guides.

Step two: Hire or designate your search marketing staff. Large companies that live and die on the success of search will need more staff and they will need to be pretty senior. One idea is to hire a senior-level marketing consultant like me to build a strategy that mid-level people can execute.

Why do you need someone inside? For a couple of reasons. First, no agency will understand your business as well as you do. And even if you have a great agency, you need someone inside to manage the relationship and make sure the agency is giving you its full attention. Finally — and this is really important — an insider has access to the rest of the company. Every search marketing program requires help from many people in the company, from product managers to executives, to IT and web staff. Outsiders can’t command resources or evangelize the cause.

Step three: Consider hiring and managing an SEO contractor or agency.

All that said, there are great SEOs and SEO agencies and they have expertise and stay current in a way most in-house marketing staffs cannot. But when you hire an agency, they must be managed and you must have in-house staff who understands search.

 

We claim as our brand: truth

Brand isn’t about logos and colors and an attractive home page. It’s about the instantaneous, gut reaction you want people to have when they think about you. If you are very, very skillful, or very, very lucky, your brand can command a core human value. Today, The New York Times is both.

I would love to be on their marketing team right now.

On the luck side, the nation’s Brand Manager in Chief has taken them on:

The failing New York Times? Not today.

One can debate whether there is “no such thing as bad publicity,” but anyone who looks at marketing history knows that a fast, smart response is everything. The Times is responding with skill, using the President’s attention as an opportunity to grab a brand value that’s not usually available: Truth.

There are values a company can’t claim without seeming phony. You can’t tell everyone you’re trustworthy or honest in so many words; similarly, claiming truth is a dangerous proposition — unless you’re lucky enough to be under attack by someone your constituents consider an enemy. The New York Times has claimed a high ground that will help it take a leadership position.

In multiple media, the Times is investing in the banner of truth.

It comes at a fortunate time. The company has had credibility and financial issues but the public’s memory is not very long, and the timing seems perfect. A strong, protracted statement — a branding campaign — is just what The Gray Lady needs.

Obviously, there’s a sizable percentage of the population that won’t buy this. But they’re not in the newspaper’s potential audience anyway.

For years, many of us have been wondering how newspapers will survive. People didn’t seem to see value in reporting and investigation, or even in writing. The Internet was drowning traditional news values. But some will survive and some will thrive. There are glimmers of hopes for the news business, with a few rising stars, like The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and now, the “failing” New York Times.

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

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.

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.