Affordable and effective beats quick and easy every time

If you want your business to get in the market quickly, there are two quick and easy ways you can go. You can use full-page or even two-page spreads in the yellow pages, or you can spend a bucket-load of money on pay-per-click.

Quick and easy is NOT always the most effective way to go. Sometimes it is, in fact, the least effective. The yellow pages have been destroyed by search engines, and pay-per-click is a great way to waste huge amounts of money if it isn’t properly maintained.

If you still think the yellow pages need to be a part of your marketing budget, then put a separate phone number in the ad, so at least you can track what your easy, expensive dollars are getting you.

The fact is, having a good web presence, printing decent marketing materials, and using a marketing calendar to get your message out there in a targeted way provide a far better plan. Yes, that plan isn’t quick and easy, but it can be affordable and effective… two very desirable things in marketing.

Is your marketing all about you, or your customer?

I saw this story the other day. I’m not sure if it’s true, but either way, it provides a good allegory for marketing.

One day, Karen Hughes, George W. Bush’s top communications aide, was walking along a beach. She looked up and saw a small plane towing an advertising banner. It read: “Jill come back. I am miserable without you. Love, Jack.” Her first thought: “Bad message, Jack. Too much about you, and not enough about her.”

What is your message? Is it all about you? Or is it about your (potential) customer? It’s not that having a brochure that tells your customers everything you do is a bad thing, but it’s a lot more attractive and desirable if that brochure comes from the point of view of meeting the customer’s needs.

Which sounds better? “We build 400 kinds of doors.” Or: “We strive to understand your exact door needs, and with 400 types of doors in stock, we can usually find you something quickly and at the right price.” Given the choice, I’ll take door (pitch) number two every time.

Viral videos, QR codes, and late night connections

As business owners, we’re all looking for new and innovative ways to connect with customers. NBC’s “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” managed to do just that with a well-placed QR code held up during last Friday’s broadcast. On the show, host Jimmy Fallon, guest Stephen Colbert, former “American Idol” Taylor Hicks, and a bevy of others (including house band, The Roots) sang an over-the-top rendition of “Friday,” a song which came to fame recently in a viral video by Rebecca Black. Near the end of the performance, a staffer held up a card containing a QR code.

QR (quick response) codes are special barcodes you can print anywhere that “translate” from a simple block pattern to a predetermined website address when photographed (or scanned) and “read” by QR-code-enabled devices, such as many smartphones. They’re kind of like a graphic version of a or link.

Anyway, observant viewers, who photographed the QR code on their smartphones, were treated to a video in which Fallon thanked fans for helping raise money for the charity But it didn’t end there.

At the beginning of this “hidden” video, Fallon held up a QR code, which he led fans to believe was the same QR code his staffer had held up during the show. However, it wasn’t the same code, and those who photographed that second QR code were treated to another video, in which Fallon provided a quick “tour” of the contents of his desk.

A third QR code (held up by Fallon in the second bonus video) led to a final video, again featuring Fallon at his desk. In this video, Fallon offered a sneak preview of some upcoming features on the show and thanked viewers for their loyalty.

So, could you or I recreate this kind of elaborate media campaign for our own brands or companies? Probably not to the same extent Fallon was able to. After all, we don’t have the funding of a major media company (NBC) at our disposal. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find equally innovative ways to use technology to our own advantage. All of the basic tools Fallon used — QR codes, video, and social media — are available to us, as well. We just need to find ways to use those tools to reach our own “audience” and grow our brands.

A look back at some April Fool’s Day classics

April 1 is traditionally a day for pranks and practical jokes. In recent years, Google has made a habit of making outlandish April Fool’s Day announcements. One year, for example, Google announced the addition of mind-reading technology that would make searching a breeze. Another year, the search giant posted job openings for a new research center on the moon.

A quick search for April Fool’s Day pranks and hoaxes returns a treasure trove of gems. Here are a few highlights from Wikipedia and the Museum of Hoaxes:

* In 1957, the BBC announced a bumper spaghetti crop in Switzerland. Mild winter weather and the near eradication of the “spaghetti weevil” were credited with the excellent harvest. The BBC report includes images of people harvesting spaghetti strands from trees.

* In 1993, a San Diego DJ told his listeners the Space Shuttle Discovery would be landing at nearby Montgomery Field, due to issues at Edwards Air Force Base. Thousands of people turned out to see the landing… of a space shuttle that wasn’t even in space at the time.

* In 1996, Taco Bell announced it had purchased the Liberty Bell and renamed it the “Taco Liberty Bell.” In a statement, the company claimed the move was meant “to help the national debt” and that it hoped “other corporations [would] take similar action to do their part to reduce the country’s debt.” When asked about the hoax, White House press secretary Mike McCurry, playing along, said that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and would now be called the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.

* Another fast-food-related April Fool’s Day prank happened in 1998, when Burger King introduced the “left-handed Whopper.” The new burger contained all of the same ingredients as its namesake, but the condiments were rotated 180 degrees, for the benefit of the 32 million left-handed Americans.

Here’s hoping you have a fun April first.

If at first you don’t succeed…

We all know the value of persistence in business. President Calvin Coolidge once wrote, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than the unsuccessful man with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded (genius) is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent.”

But persistence isn’t just important in business. It’s equally important in all of life’s pursuits. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Thomas Edison tried more than 1,000 different filaments for his light bulb before finding one that worked. And Dr. Seuss’s first book — And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street — was rejected by 27 publishers before he found one who would publish it.

Imagine if any of these three men had given up. The NBA would have been left without arguably its best player ever. We’d all be writing by candlelight (okay, maybe not, but it sounds more dramatic that way). And generations of children around the world would have been left without such classic tales as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to name just a few.

Any endeavor worth pursuing involves struggle. Those who persist are those who succeed. So don’t give up. Success may be one jump shot, filament, or publisher away.

That’s not what I meant

We’ve all been there. Something we write in an email, letter, or casual tweet gets misunderstood. Or perhaps, we’re the ones who have misinterpreted something a friend or colleague wrote. No matter how clear we think we are in our writing, misunderstandings happen. When they do, open communication is vital to resolving the issue as quickly as possible.

But how can we keep misunderstandings to a minimum?

Context is key. When you compose an email or tweet, the recipient can’t see your face or hear the tone and inflection of your voice. They must rely on your words alone to guide them in interpreting what you’re trying to say. If the recipient knows you well, they may be able to infer meaning more easily, based on previous interactions, but even then, misunderstandings can occur.

To minimize miscommunication, keep your writing concise. Stick with the facts, and move on. Use humor cautiously, particularly dry humor that may be seen as being flip, curt, or rude. Save the jokes for face-to-face situations, when your body language and vocal inflections can help in interpreting your words. And try to craft questions that cannot be accidentally read and interpreted in a different way than you intended.

A humorous example of this occurred around the turn of the last century. William Randolph Hearst made a bid to purchase a competing newspaper. He asked his rival for a selling price, to which the man replied, “Three cents daily. Five cents Sunday.” Obviously, the rival knew what Hearst meant by his question — and by answering the way he did, basically let Hearst know the paper was not for sale — but this does go to show that the same question can have more than one meaning if interpreted differently.

Of course, it’s not just what you say that matters; it’s how you say it. When communicating in writing, it’s important to know the subtleties of the medium you’re using. For example, most people now know that writing an email or Facebook post in all caps is often equated with yelling. For a medium like Twitter, with its 140 character limit, the challenge often comes in trying to say too much in such a confined space. When composing a tweet, it’s easy to inadvertently gloss over some of the details, in an effort to save space. Make sure you’re not losing meaning — or raising confusion — for brevity’s sake. If you can’t adequately say what you need to say in the space provided, choose a different medium.

Lessons from Google’s new Chrome icon

This week, Google unveiled a new, simpler icon for its Chrome web browser. In a blog post explaining the change, Google designer Steve Rura wrote, “Since Chrome is all about making your web experience as easy and clutter-free as possible, we refreshed the Chrome icon to better represent these sentiments. A simpler icon embodies the Chrome spirit — to make the web quicker, lighter, and easier for all.”

Whether you love it or hate it, the new Chrome icon provides an important lesson to corporate marketers: When creating logos, color schemes, and icons to represent your brand, make sure those symbols represent the core values you want people to associate with you.

Another lesson comes in the way Google went about creating its new Chrome icon. “Redesigning the icon was very much a group effort,” Rura continues. While you probably should put together a core team of designers and marketing people who will have the final say in creating your corporate brand, don’t overlook ideas from “outsiders” in your organization (customer service people, salespeople, product developers, etc.) who might bring a different perspective to the discussion.

And finally, make sure your new identity translates well both online and off. “It was important to maintain consistency across all media,” Rura concludes, “so we kept print, web, and other possible formats in mind.”

One way to ensure a strong print-based presence for your new logo, icon, or color scheme is to involve a printing firm, like ours, early in the design process. As print professionals, we can help you choose colors that are attractive, cost-effective, and easy to reproduce, so you don’t wind up spending more than you hoped to for less-than-ideal results.

How are we doing? Seriously, we want to know…

When was the last time you asked your customers their opinion? When was the last time you acted on it? I have seen it in grocery stores. A board with a place for PUBLIC customer comments and PUBLIC employee responses below.

“Hey, I don’t like your new sodas. I want the old ones back!” — Fred

“Hi Fred, we’ve had issues getting that soda from the supplier but we will work twice as hard now to get it” — Soda Manager.

You know that YOU like to be listened to. Don’t your customers? Throw away your old “Suggestion Box” and build one online or put up a board in your office and use those comments to make yourself better!

Trust-building tips for your next new product launch

You’ve just released a great new product you’re sure will be a hit with customers… if only they’d give it a chance. So how do you convince skeptical buyers who may not know you or your business that your product is worth a chance? Here are a couple of ideas to help you put their minds at ease.

If practical, provide a free trial period of 30 or 60 days. Let the customer try your product, risk free, before committing to purchasing it. This may not be practical for all products or services, but if it is, it might be worth a try.

Offer a full money-back guarantee — no strings attached. If, for any reason, a customer is not completely satisfied with their purchase, they can return your product — no questions asked — for a full refund. An airtight guarantee like this lets your customers know you believe in what you’re selling and are willing to put your money where your mouth is. Sure, a few people might take advantage of your offer, but most will only return the item if they have legitimate concerns.

If something does go wrong and a customer returns your product, let them choose whether they’d like a refund or to have the item replaced. If they opt for a replacement, give them something extra as a free bonus for their troubles, as well. Remember, a happy customer is worth far more than the cost of the free item you’re giving away.

First to market, lasting success? Not a guarantee.

Being first to market is no guarantee you’ll succeed. The business annals are littered with tales of cutting-edge companies that eventually lost out to newcomers who built a better mousetrap that redefined the game.

Google is a great case in point. By 1998, when Google burst on the scene, search engines and directories such as Yahoo!, AltaVista, Excite, Lycos, and AskJeeves were already firmly entrenched. Many people wondered why a new search engine was even necessary.

Then they tried Google. Using a proprietary algorithm to generate its search results, Google quickly gained a foothold and the loyalty of users frustrated by the other brands. Word spread, Google’s popularity grew, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Google powers more than two-thirds of all U.S. searches, according to the latest data from Experian Hitwise (February 2011). Yahoo! Search accounts for just a 15% market share, and many of the other search providers in existence when Google began have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Sure, many factors went into the success of Google as a brand, and Internet search is now just a part of what the company does.

But, generally speaking, what are some basic lessons we can all learn from Google and other Johnny-come-latelies who now dominate their fields (Facebook vs. MySpace, anyone)? Lots of things, really, but three really stick out in my mind….

1. Don’t underestimate the competition.
2. Don’t rest on your laurels.
3. Don’t ignore the ever-evolving needs of your customers.

That’s pretty sage advice for any company, no matter how big or small you might be.