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Plan to Remember the New Year When It Becomes Old

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How well do you remember 2016? Yes, we do mean 2016. And we might ask the same thing about 2015 –and the preceding years as well—going all the way back to the day you started your business.

Of course, we know you remember some things very well—like when you hired a great employee, or fired a lousy one. You can probably recollect landing a super customer or being driven nuts by one that was irrationally demanding. You’ll remember good times for sales and bad times … and a lot of other standout occurrences too. Your marketing though, what do you remember about your marketing?

Okay, we’ll lower the bar to merely recalling the year that’s just now ending. Many business owners might say 2017 is fresh in their memories, but is it? We’ll grant that you’re likely to be aware of how your most recent marketing budget was spent, but did you track the details of each marketing project and advertising campaign? Can you figure out which specific ad or communication went to which audience and when? Do you know the response rates?

Let’s say you did keep excellent records of what you did for marketing in 2017. Congratulations, truly! We can’t stress enough how good it is that you’re tracking how your promotional dollars are spent and understanding the results that they are providing. But effective marketing is a long-term journey, and the more years you have to compare, the better you’ll be able to plan how to advertise in the coming year. Without stats from 2016, 2017 can’t tell you nearly enough to help you make wiser decisions.

Still, everyone has to begin somewhere. So, if tracking your marketing dollars isn’t something you’ve been doing, resolve to do so in 2018. And if you find that being on your own in tracking and analyzing ROI of your marketing dollars is a bit too daunting, remember that you don’t have to be on your own. Your friends at Pinstripe are always available to help.

 

10 Lessons from ‘A Christmas Story’ Applied to Marketing

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Even if you don’t do it yourself, you probably know at least one person who sees the word, “fragile” and goes on to loudly pronounce it “fra-gee-LAY.” Such is the ubiquitous influence of the nostalgic 1984 film, A Christmas Story.

So, in the spirit of the season, we thought we’d shoehorn the movie into a newsletter article. Fortunately for our purposes, many scenes from A Christmas Story truly can teach business owners and managers something about effective marketing.

We aren’t going to give you a synopsis because we figure nearly everyone in the U.S. has seen this movie at least 20 times. That’s why we think we’re safe writing this piece. However, for the three people who haven’t seen it—consider yourself spoiler alerted. And to those folks, do yourself a favor: watch the movie. (It really is a funny, warm film). Now, without further ado, here are 10 lessons:

Don’t waste effort on the wrong audience. Young Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Most of the movie is centered on him trying to persuade certain people that he should have one. But consider the targets of his messaging: his overly protective mother (remember how she dresses her youngest son for outdoors?); a school teacher who was most concerned that her students keep nice margins; and an overworked department-store Santa. None of these people were going to be a receptive audience to Raphie’s message.

How you express yourself does matter. Sometimes we say, “Fudge!” (only we don’t say “fudge”). When this happens, we can turn customers off or even get a hostile reaction. This is especially true in today’s hypersensitive, PC world. Always carefully craft your marketing communications to accomplish an objective rather than rashly blurting out something counterproductive. Keep in mind that social media can be especially dangerous because of the speed at which communications are spread.

Some brands are recognized as leaving a bad taste in your mouth. If you think brand ID doesn’t carry weight, consider Raphie’s concern about which bar soap his mother would use to wash his mouth out (Palmolive’s “nice piquant” vs. Lifebuoy potentially causing him to go blind). No business can do much if its products and services are used in an improper manner, but you can be vigilant as to how your brand is perceived by the public and do everything possible to protect and enhance its image.

Rethink showing off that “major award.” It’s easy to be distracted about what aspect of your business should be front and center in your marketing communications. If some new development at your company doesn’t support your brand and validate your value proposition, it probably isn’t worth publicizing … and making a big deal of it could cause you to look silly, like the leg lamp does for Ralphie’s father.

Following the crowd can leave you stuck all alone. What your company excels at doing may not be the same thing that your competitors do well. (In fact, it’s better if you’re unique!) Don’t let yourself be “triple-dog-dared” into abandoning your true value proposition because you think you need to be all things to all people. “Me too” is never a compelling message; stick to communicating what you do best or you’ll find yourself abandoned in the cold.

Be true to yourself. Don’t let the expectations of others force you into a ridiculous bunny costume—figuratively speaking … or literally. Remember Ralphie’s bunny costume, a gift from his aunt? He looked and felt ridiculous. If you can’t sell what you’re offering and be yourself doing it, then you should probably be in another business. As a business owner, incorporate your personal style into your brand to help make it special. If you do good work, you’ll find your niche—and you’ll have a lot more fun.branding strategy

Know what you really want. Most business owners know they should do “marketing.” As a result, they may sit down with an agency or their in-house marketing staff to create a campaign. At some point, someone should pose the question as to what the objective is. This requires identifying a promising target audience, setting tangible goals so that success can be measured, and then coming up with a step-by-step plan. Anything less, and you may as well mumble that you want a football. Poor Ralphie had to say something to Santa.

Marketing professionals will usually let you take the creative lead (if you insist). Ralphie had given up hope that he would get that BB gun because no one seemed responsive to his plea. Yet the Old Man comes through at the end. That’s something to keep in mind when making creative suggestions to marketing professionals. They really are listening to your ideas … but may desperately hope to change your mind. Ultimately, however, you’re the boss and your team will want you to be happy (placated). But beware, getting your way could be dangerous because …

You really could “shoot your eye out.” That didn’t quite happen to Ralphie but he did end up with broken glasses. Just think about it. If you’re paying people to market your business—and they presumably know more about marketing than you—why would you ignore their advice? That’s like going to a doctor and then prescribing your own treatment.

Be open to new ideas. Sometimes the neighbor’s dogs eat the Christmas turkey and you must come up with an alternative plan. When such things happen, Plan B may turn out better than you ever expected—like roast duck at a Chinese restaurant. Why wait until a disaster strikes to try something new and innovative? If you’re consistent with your brand, properly target your audience, and can deliver a compelling message, try something different!

We can help you navigate these 10 lessons – just let us know how by dropping a line here.

The Five P Chords of B2B Messaging

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Many popular songs are recorded using only a few guitar chords. For instance, Wild Thing by The Troggs, Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Sweet Home Alabama by Lynryd Skynryd use only three. No, they are not the same three chords—and there are others to choose from—but the point is you don’t have to hit a lot of notes to make sweet marketing music. In fact, if your company mostly serves other businesses, you can build a nice messaging repertoire from just five.

What makes this even easier to grasp is that you don’t need to remember “Every Good Boy Does Fine,” or to “FACE” the music. Thanks to the Microsoft Word thesaurus, all our B2B messaging chords start with a P. And so, without further fanfare, here they are:

P1 – Profitability
An appeal to profitability is inherent in most B2B marketing. That’s superficially obvious, but there’s real psychology going on. Business owners seek better margins because of what additional dollars represent to them as individuals. Unless we’re dealing with Scrooge McDuck (who just wants great wealth to roll around in) money is only a means to an end. For most business owners, the goal is to provide well for themselves and their families. Others enjoy the competition that comes with building a successful business. And some people simply love what they do and want to keep doing it. When you offer to help improve profitability, your target audience can translate that into assistance in achieving their highest aspirations.

P2 – Productivity
Improved productivity typically increases profitability, true, but it may also mean a less onerous work day for business owners and/or their employees. Then, maybe, the pay-off becomes better work-life balance instead of a bulging bottom line. Regardless of where your B2B customers find the value, any time you can help them attain higher productivity using the same (or fewer) resources, you’ll have rapt listeners.

P3– Performance
A company’s performance usually boils down to how favorably customers evaluate the experience of doing business with it. This could mean assessing the quality/value of the provided products, noting the responsiveness of staff, or enjoying a comfortable and safe commercial environment. By helping businesses perform better, you empower them to strengthen their own client bases by gaining greater loyalty from their customers. If you can do this for your business clients, they will be all ears.

P4 – Provision
As you’re doubtlessly aware, there are aspects of running an organization that you don’t have the time, expertise or inclination to do as well as you should. This might be anything from watering plants to installing a computer network. How could the service or services provided by your company free up your customers to devote more time to what they do best? The answer to this question is well worth sounding off in your marketing communications.

P5 – Peace of Mind
Secretary of Defense James Mattis was asked what keeps him up at night. He confidently replied, “Nothing. I keep other people awake a night.” Well, good for him. As for the rest of us—especially those running a business—there are plenty of worries to keep us from enjoying a good night’s sleep. Telling your customers how you can provide them with a little more “peace of mind” is practically singing them a lullaby.

But what about another P, namely, Price? It’s going to be important, but unless you’re sure you’re offering a deal that your competitors will find it hard to match, it may not be a marketing note you want to strike too often. Sales prospects will either find your price acceptable or they won’t, and unless you’re Wal-Mart, price isn’t going to make you special. For the most part, you’ll play a more memorable B2B tune with your own original composition.

Bonus P – Pinstripe
If you need a little help, give the Pinstripe team a call!

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Avoid Industry Jargon in Customer Communications

avoid industry jargon marketing_news copySome days ago, an acquaintance shared his recent experience breaking in a new hair stylist. She asked how previous barbers cut his hair, specifically which of two cutting implements was preferred. He didn’t quite catch the first option but heard “shears” for the second. Thinking of the shearing tool used on sheep, he chose that, but he left the choice up to the stylist.

He was a bit surprised to see the woman start with the scissors, but said nothing. After what struck him as an unusually laborious process, however, he commented on her meticulous care. (It was his gentlest nudge to hurry her along.) The stylist explained she wasn’t used to cutting hair with shears. Recognizing the misunderstanding, he quickly encouraged the stylist to change her method—much to her own relief. He then offered that most people referred to what she had been using as “scissors.” In response, she insisted with a terse smile, “Shears.”

Several factors led to the mix-up, and in the greater scheme of things the incident was no big deal. Yet the story does lead one to wonder how often companies—and the professionals who lead them—lose productivity and poorly serve clientele by using “correct” terminology rather than the words customers best understand?

Some industries are more prone to jargon—as well as jargon-based acronyms—than others. Healthcare (jargon examples: topical, hypoglycemic) and finance (examples: securitization, liquidity) are big offenders but technology (examples: Cloud, onboarding and solution this-and-that) may be the worst. (We must admit, though, that people in marketing also habitually throw around terms that are meaningless to the average person.)

Industry jargon can be difficult to avoid because it rises organically as people with similar knowledge and training create a common language of sorts. Additionally, professionals tend to enjoy their jargon as a way of showing off and differentiating themselves from the great unwashed. Understandable … but stop it! You want to make a connection with your customers, and you can’t do that if important information comes across as “blah-blah,” “thingamajig” and “doohickey.”

Here are five steps to help clean the jargon from your external communications:

  • Identify your target audience. Add jargon-killing as another reason why this should always be the first step in any marketing initiative. The better acquainted you are with your potential customers, the easier it will be to understand how best to craft a message that resonates with them. And if you happen to be targeting another segment of your own industry, you may be able to keep (some of) the jargon after all!
  • Test language for common understanding. As we get comfortable in our surroundings (in our bubbles, nose-blind … etc.) it’s hard to recognize what’s jargon and what isn’t. Try presenting your marketing materials and Web content to people outside your industry for their feedback. A good professional marketing firm (like Pinstripe) can also help you “democratize” your promotional content and sales spiels.
  • Identify things by their functions. Not only will this approach help assure that your audience knows what you mean, it may serve the dual purpose of clearly presenting a benefit to a potential customer. That’s a good thing.
  • Avoid acronyms … or at least spell them out upon first reference. Often, if someone can see what the letters stand for, they can figure out what you’re talking about. This however, doesn’t always work. For example, noting UI means “user interface” may not help a lot. In this case, see Rule #3.
  • Encourage customers to ask questions. No one likes to admit a lack of understanding, so customers may smile and nod even though they have no idea what you’re talking about. Keep this in mind, explain your proclivity for jargon (“it’s not you, it’s me.”) and sincerely encourage them to ask questions if there’s something they don’t understand.

This shouldn’t need to be said, but sometimes it is: Ignorance is not the same as stupidity. Customers may not know the right word(s) for what they need, but they are the only ones who can accurately define it. Don’t let understanding your jargon get in the way of your understanding what’s truly important.

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