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Marketing as a New Year’s Resolution

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Is one of your New Year’s resolutions to grow your business? To do more marketing? To be more strategic? To work smarter, not harder? You’re not alone! Each year, our phones start ringing on January 2nd with clients ready to start off strong.

If you need support to refresh your brand, launch that new web site, generate new content, shoot new videos, design new marketing collateral, build relationships with the media, or just to keep you on track – we’re here for you. Let’s set up a meeting and discuss your resolutions!

Be More Awesome in 2016!

What Makes a Survey Worthwhile?

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We’re all familiar with ubiquitous greeting, “How are you?” Instinctively, we understand the only socially acceptable answer is “I’m fine.” If someone is truly interested, he or she might place a hand on our shoulder, look into our eyes with a concerned expression and say, “Seriously, how are you?” That’s how you should approach any survey conducted for marketing purposes; you must sincerely care about getting a truthful answer.

Of course, there’s one really big difference in our analogy: A survey for your business may seem to inquire as to how your customers feel, but what you’re really asking is, “How am I?” You may not really care how Uncle Ed is adjusting to his low-sodium diet, but you do have a huge interest in your own company.

Honesty in survey responses is everything. Only accurate answers are going to provide the intelligence you need for: identifying your true value proposition and managing your brand; making decisions regarding your product or service offerings; correcting operational deficiencies; or taking advantage of developing opportunities.

Getting the Most from a Marketing Survey

Caring about what your customers (or prospective customers) really think about your business is just the starting point for creating a worthwhile survey. Here are a few rules for survey construction that will put you on a path to gaining actionable information.

Use perfect grammar. We have grammar rules for reason—they help us better understand the messages carried by language. Consider the difference made by something as seemingly innocuous as comma placement. Consider: “Let’s eat, kids,” vs. “Let’s eat kids.”

Screen your survey subjects. Is the respondent a customer or someone who could easily become a customer? Demographics-related questions will help answer these questions. You might also want to ask questions to help weed out anyone with an incentive to provide faulty information such as someone working for a competitor.

Be clear what you are asking about. Ambiguity is your enemy. Generally speaking, short, direct questions are best—provided there’s a relatively limited list of logically possible answers. Longer questions can be okay provided they help narrow the respondent’s focus by setting parameters of consideration.

Group questions for logical progression. How questions are arranged will aid your subjects’ focus on various areas of interest within a survey. For longer surveys, distinctive grouping will help respondents feel they are making progress completing the questionnaire.

Provide applicable answer options. Many questionnaires provide survey subjects with a range of answer options—usually four or five. This will work fine, if you’re confident the vast majority of respondents will choose some answer other than “I don’t know” or “N/A.” A better approach may be to ask subjects to pick a point on a sliding scale to indicate their level of agreement, like or dislike, likelihood of taking some kind of action … etc., in response to the question.

Keep it brief. Any survey that takes longer than 5 – 10 minutes for the average person to complete is probably going to test respondent patience. You don’t want people to give up—or worse—hurriedly answer questions without regard to accuracy. If the survey absolutely has to be longer than 10 minutes, give the subject fair warning before they begin.

Once you have your completed surveys in hand, the real fun begins as you tabulate results. (Some people actually do enjoy statistical analysis … others, not so much.) Here are three important steps:

  • Group your respondents by their demographic profiles to help spot trends.
  • Record every question result to establish a baseline against which to measure future surveys.
  • Review poll results with an eye toward improving your next survey. (For instance, too many “N/A” or “no opinion” answers indicate a problem.)
  • Follow through and follow up. There’s really no point of doing a survey unless you act on the results. Additionally, you want to let your respondents know that you value their input, with some small token of appreciate if possible but a thank you email at a minimum.

The ‘science’ of surveys is relatively straightforward. The ‘art’ is in the interpretation. Initial thoughts of “what does this mean?” will often be followed by “but what does this really mean?” Talk the results over with: trusted staff members, friendly peers in your industry, insightful friends and family members, or even some of your best, longest-term customers. An openness to other assessments will keep you from hearing just what you want to hear, or from making mountains out of molehills.

Finally, resist the urge to be defensive in your reaction to negative survey results. Marketing research is designed to help improve your business. (You can’t improve what’s already perfect … and no organization is perfect.) Think of criticism as being like a friend who lets you know you have spinach stuck on a front tooth.  Conversely, if your feedback is glowingly positive, don’t simply set back on your laurels in smug satisfaction. Build on success by getting busy using the things you do well as a springboard for new outreach and business growth.

P.S. For more information about surveys, you might check out these online articles:

Sharing Survey Secrets at the American Marketing Association Conference

How to Create a Market Survey

Constructing a Questionnaire

How to Get More People to Take Your Survey

Analysis and Handling Survey Data

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What is Your Value Proposition?

creating your value propositionFrom time to time, you may have heard the phrase ‘value proposition.’ If you didn’t (or still don’t) know what that is, you aren’t alone; many business owners have a hard time nailing it down. Yet unless you accurately identify your company’s value prop, your promotional efforts will never be cohesive, nor as effective as they should be if you want the best return on your marketing investments.

Okay, enough dramatic buildup … so what is a value proposition? In simplest terms, it’s the main thing that distinguishes your company from others in your line of work. As practical definition, your value prop would be consistently referenced by knowledgeable consumers—who’ve patronized both your business and your strongest competitor—as their top reason for recommending you.

Hopefully, you’ve picked up on something important about a value prop—reality. It is what it is. You may fervently want customers to come to your store for another reason, and all your current advertising might be centered on another business attribute, but if people come to you because, say, you’re in a great location, you ought to go with that. (Note: Yes, you could change your value prop with hard work, considerable time, and lots of brand management, but you’ll need a good excuse.)

There are basically five categories of value propositions:

Price – if you offer the best prices of anyone around, congratulations! You’re always going to have a marketing advantage with a significant portion of the buying population. Example: Walmart – “Save Money. Live Better.”

Convenience – When you really need something (say, baby diapers at 1:00 a.m.), you know the appeal of ’convenience.’ Location, store hours, delivery service, wide selection … these are all things that can sustain a viable customer base. Example” Staples – “That Was Easy.”

Service – If you’ve ever been in a store where customer service is actually something to brag about, you know how rare—and powerful—it is as a marketing hook. Warning: Stay away from this unless you consistently back it up! Example: UPS – “What Can Brown Do for You?”

Identity –  Who doesn’t want to be made to feel special? If that’s your value prop, you may really have something. When we hear that we’re smarter, better looking, or more ‘hip’ than the hoi polloi, we’re often seen coming back for more. Example: Abercrombie & Fitch – “New York.” (‘Cuz New York is cool, get it? FYI, actual headquarters are in Albany, OH.)

Quality/Value – This is ‘price’ for the thinking person. Stressing quality will be a challenge because you’re usually going to have overcome a competitor’s lower initial price point and convince the customer they’re better off with you in the long-run. Still, if the underlying assertion is true, you can still have a powerful brand. Example: Target – Expect more. Pay less.”

You may notice that the preceding examples are mostly business-to-consumer (B2C) rather than business-to business (B2B). (Staples and UPS serve both markets.) These companies were cited because their brands are so commonly known; we’ve almost all visited those stores at some time or at least seen their ads. However, the value prop categories are applicable to B2B companies as well. For example, technology service providers may recognize SAP, a provider of business management software for companies of all sizes and the company’s solutions require significant investments in money and training. SAP stresses quality and value through production gains through greater operational efficiency, and ran a “Run Better” campaign to get the point across.

Another B2B example is ADP, a provider of payroll services for small businesses. By stressing the company’s expertise in all aspects of payroll management (time and attendance, time and tax, human resources), we essentially see the one-stop-shop appeal to Convenience. Yet another, highly professional company with a strong profile is Deloitte. The fact that this global network of accounting firms often run ads with little or no copy—just the company name and an image—gives the impression that Deloitte is the only name you need to know when you’re looking for the company’s exceptional expertise. This puts the Deloitte brand squarely under the Quality banner.

Obviously, every business could claim something worthwhile from just about any of these broad value-prop categories. And frankly, if your business is woefully lacking in any of these areas, you have a major problem. But remember, your true value prop is the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. And when you make it central to your brand messaging, your marketing will ring true with customers and be all the more effective.

Putting Your Value Proposition to Work

As you can see, a value prop isn’t a slogan or a tagline; though you should certainly incorporate its essence into such phrases—as did our examples. Essentially, all your marketing communications should be a statement (sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle) in support of your value-prop assertion.

Let’s return to the idea that a company is successful because of the great location. This comes under the Convenience heading. An ad might lead with a headline that stresses location by saying something like “Hi, Neighbor!” Then you could follow that up with copy about how easy your business is to reach, your business hours, wide selection … or any other convenience-related feature.

Now you’re probably thinking that a constant focus on some narrow aspect of your value prop will get boring. It would, though perhaps not as quickly as you might imagine. To change things up, you could use some of your secondary value props to support the convenience message. Here are a few lines of mock copy to demonstrate:

We’re the right choice for people on the go!  Message: You’re an important, in-demand person who doesn’t have time to go traipsing all over creation in search of this or that. (Identity)

Getting here is easy, being here is great! Message: Once you come through our doors, we’re going to take good care of you. (Service)

What would you rather do with that hour you spent in traffic? Message: Time is money, or at least it could be spent in better ways than trying to reach your competitor’s remote location.  (Value)

See, you don’t have to ignore your secondary value props. Instead, you position them to support the overarching idea—like spokes in a wheel. You should do the same thing when introducing new products and/or services. After a while, people will stop thinking of our mythical company as a quick and easy stop on the way home from work. Instead, the brand identity will have been molded into a paragon of convenience and all that entails, simply because the marketing was based on the actual value proposition.

If you’re still trying to figure out what your value prop is, here’s a suggestion: ask people who are familiar with your business. Specifically, ask your customers. Whether through formal survey’s or casual conversation, elicit their opinions and take notes. Your own thoughts might be confirmed or you might be surprised, but either way, you need to know for sure.

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