Tag Archives: Promotion

Scalable Skills

Being a business grad can be a tricky thing. Regardless of the program that you went through, the exact technical skills required for any job were not something that you likely learned in school. I’m sure it’s like this for all people starting jobs, but I like to write what I know.

What’s more is it seems like there’s a very strong bias to those who have done the exact thing that a company is hiring for when filling roles. Regardless of how well you did anything in the past, if you can somehow make your experience sound like it fits in the box that they are lumping things in, you’re the type of person that they want!

While I’m not saying that a level of proficiency related to the position being hired for is important, I do think that there is something to be said about a person who doesn’t have direct experience, but has a related skill set. That way you have someone who has obviously learned a similar job and your company gets the opportunity to train them. You’re not hiring some other company’s bad habits.

All of this, in my mind, is yet another reason that a side business is a great idea for any new grad. While you likely won’t get the exact experience that is needed for a job you’re applying for, there is a high likelihood that you will have done something related. The key is being able to communicate that your skills are scalable.

Talking about my experience (again, writing what I know), I’ve been intimately involved in the development, evolution and re-development of a product. In financial management, marketing, sales, project management, service delivery, customer interfacing, researching and now hiring. There’s likely more.

Would any of those experiences be to the same extent as if I was working in one of those functions at a larger company? Likely not. Are they still valuable and show that I’m not only able to learn what is needed, but identify what that need is? Yep.

I’m here to tell you, anyone can do this.

Even if you don’t want to start a business for yourself, there is always some crossover in your job or volunteer work. Just because you had a certain title doesn’t mean you weren’t exposed to other skill sets, so make sure that you really think about what they were and how it felt to perform those tasks. They may end up coming in handy in the future.

Product Planning from Breaking Bad

I doubt that I’m alone in my love of the show Breaking Bad. While I am sad that the final episode is done, I do think there are some great product planning lessons that can learned from the show’s creator Vince Gilligan. Thought I was going to be talking about meth, didn’t you?

It’s no accident that BB is a very popular, award-winning show. Not that I claim to know too much about the entertainment business, but the research and planning that goes into what eventually gets produced, I think it stands to reason that the business world can stand to learn a few things. Specifically how it relates to product planning.

Start Customers Slow

The character of Walter White at the beginning of the series compared to the end of the series is not recognizable. He may as well be a different person. The reason viewers kept watching and even sympathizing with him even when it was clear he was completely evil is that we were started off slow. He was a geeky guy doing something bad for a good reason at the beginning, and then the baby steps that were taken to what he eventually became could be swallowed more easily.

A company that is great at doing this is Apple. Any one of their products can serve as a gateway to a number of others. When a customer buys one of their iPods, they are not just an iPod consumer. They will potentially buy another product and another, until they are so invested in the Apple Ecosystem that they can’t break away.

Listen to Your Customers

The original plan for Jesse was to have him killed off at some point in the first season. Then the writers strike happened and while this was going on the producers of Breaking Bad spoke to viewers. What they found out is that people loved Jesse’s character, so the decision was made to keep him around. Imagine how different the show would have been without Jesse.

Companies which truly want feedback about their products and services stand to connect better with customers and potential customers in the long run. Rather than trying to guess what people want, ask them and they will tell.

Innovate, Within Constraints

The idea of the anti-hero has been around since Greek mythology or before, but has taken on a new life in recent years. Shows like the Sopranos and Mad Men are always mentioned in the same breath as BB as examples of this. While Breaking Bad pushed the boundaries, they never went so far off the rails that people couldn’t wrap their mind around the concept.

The same can be said for putting out a new product. Most consumers can only handle a certain leap forward in order to consider making the purchase. If there is absolutely no reference point in their minds, no matter how amazing the product there is a good chance of failure.

Plan for the End

One of the things I respect most about Breaking Bad was the decision that was made to end the series when it was arguably at the height of its popularity. That is counter to most other TV shows out there. Rather than drain every last drop of profit from the show,the story arch was completed in a satisfying way and it will go down in history as one of the greatest shows.

Similarly products don’t last forever. Without reasonable improvement or complete overhauls, anything that can be developed will one day be obsolete. Keeping this in mind ensures that there is adequate preparation and future planning that goes into the process.

Don’t Hate on Multi-Level Marketing

… so long as it’s being done right.

I don’t know the reason, but it seems like I talk about multi-level marketing once a week. When I say “talk about” I mean on a higher, structural level. This is not including the countless Facebook posts and tweets promoting the many product lines that employ the strategy.

From what I gather from my conversations, not many people like multi-level marketing. They don’t like being pitched by friends and don’t think that the products are too good. In fact, there seems to be a wide level of scepticism of everything that is distributed this way. I don’t think that this distrust is completely founded.

From what I can understand, there are many quality products that are sold through these channels. I have friends and family who have bought them and I have yet to hear a specific, product-related complaint. I actually know many who have turned into repeat customers, so there has to be a product quality at least similar to what is available through more traditional channels.

It’s my opinion that when people are sceptical about product quality, the real reason they are being hesitant is that the distribution of the product is coming from someone they know. Not only that, but it is likely that they have at least been aware of (if not pitched) how to join the company as a sales rep. It may be their own narrow definition of how companies should be run that is holding them back. To me, 90% of what is done in a multi-level marketing system is happening in most other companies out there, you just don’t know as much about these companies because they are less front-and-centre.

When you boil it down, what I think the real problem people have with it is that it is selling based on personal relationships, which is an issue you have with a person, not the company. If you know someone who has signed on to be a rep and that’s all they can talk about, I will agree that it gets tiring. Conversely, you probably have friends doing something like this that you would never guess was involved. It is all about the choices of the individual.

People working at “reputable” companies can behave the same way. I really comes down to the discretion of the person doing the selling. I encourage any of my friends who want to try their hand at this particular form of business, but just remember: no means no.

LinkedIn Pigeon-holing?

I don’t know when, but at some point LinkedIn started allowing members to endorse other’s skills and expertise. I guess the act of writing recommendations was too cumbersome, along with the minor fact that you have to actually know something about the person in order to write something meaningful, meant that there wasn’t the activity level LinkedIn wanted. So they invented the simple version.

Clicking a single button to give an endorsement seems like a little too low of a barrier to take them too seriously. Every so often in a while I get an email saying I’ve been endorsed, which I guess is a good thing, but often it is from someone I have never worked with. Once in a while it’s from someone I don’t even know. To me, that means there isn’t much credibility in the concept.

Not only all of this, but it seems like the skills that are recommended to be endorsed are activities that LinkedIn has determined are related to the industry you’re in / your job title. Further perpetuating the meaninglessness of what is on there.

I worry, however, that there are some out there who will judged based on skills listed. I don’t think that mine are an accurate reflection of me and I sure don’t want to be discounted for something based on it.

So screw-off LinkedIn. Stop suggested that near strangers endorse me for skills that are loosely tied to my industry.

Miley Marketing

That’s right, I’m writing a post about Miley’s performance at the VMAs. Everyone else on the internet is, why not me?

The disclaimer is that I honestly haven’t watched the performance from front to back, but I believe that I have seen enough news clips and memes to get the general picture.

To get it out there, I don’t think that anyone would disagree that what was done was pretty trashy and not the sort of thing that teen girls should be seeing. First off, the fact that a woman who is/was a role model to girls would perform that Robin Thicke song (which I hate and is the absolute wrong message that any little girl or boy should be hearing) is a tell-tale sign of what sort of statement is going to be made here.

Putting aside the actual content of the performance, though, it is hard to argue that it wasn’t effective. Here we are three days later and it’s still being talked about on news sites, social media and over water coolers. In the age where things are old news in roughly an hour, that is quite the feat.

Not only this, but the story has transcended channels, showing up not just as entertainment news, but a leading story. It was on the home page of CNN.com, for goodness’ sake. The same space that is used to announce Presidents, report tragedies and inform the world had Miley twerking on it.

As they say, though, sometimes the ends justify the means and this was a marketing success. We’re the ones that stay interested, so the entertainment world is going to keep giving us what we (apparently) want. No press is bad press and it would be hard to argue that with that performance Miley reached out to a new fan base, beyond teenage girls.

I fully realize that this is a small contribution to the problem. I’m just calling it as I see it, though, and from a purely marketing standpoint it’s hard to say that there wasn’t a level of success. Her having to deal with the fallout of being in what is basically an internationally broadcast strip show is a completely different matter.

So again, you may be like me and don’t personally agree with the style of performance or what this supposed “role model” is doing, but damn sure we’re all going to be watching to see what she does next.

Social Media Strategy

On to day two of my social media rampage…

Last post I wrote about deciding whether or not your company should engage on social media. Now assuming the decision has been made to have your brand on social media, the question is what should you be posting about? While some may subscribe to the “no press is bad press” mentality and post everything they can, I don’t think they’re doing themselves any favours.

Like all marketing and communications, anything posted online should be:

  • On brand
  • Relavent
  • Timely
  • Meaningful

Because of this, there is a certain amount of planning that should go into the process. Determining the brand’s tone and personality will go a long way to helping coming up with appropriate content that is going to enhance your customers’ view of your company, rather than just be noise that is lost in the sea of other worthless posts.

Below are my favourite types of posts:

  • The fun update. If your company, some employees, one of your clients, etc. has something fun and exciting going on, post about it. It’s the most “human” interaction you’re going to get with your followers, because it isn’t usually driven by an agenda and it will be relate-able.
  • Industry news. Posting information related to your industry which your clients would find relevent. This shows that you care about keeping them informed and positions your company as an expert in the field, without having to create any content on your own.
  • Event reminders (sparingly). If you have a big event coming up (holding a conference, Boxing Day Sale, etc.) then using social media to promote is a natural. Just don’t be using it too much, because you could end up burning out your list and having people unsubscribe from your updates.
  • Brand-enhancing randomness. This one is a little tricky, but could be a good filler post. Depending on what your brand is and stands for, some random internet posts could be a good thing. If your a pet groomer and see a funny cat video, why not post it? If your a financial services firm, maybe not. Up to you, but be careful.
  • Created content. I (as a blogger) would rank this as one of the most powerful. If you are able to generate content about your industry internally or through the use of a ghost writer, this is the best kind of post. Drives people to your website, shows you know what you’re talking about, all those good things.

There are also some things on social media that I can’t stand. This is obviously just my opinion, but I can’t really see this doing anything for the companies that put it out:

  • Share / like / retweet contests. This is bad for at least two reasons.
    1. If you think you’re “tricking” people into following you, they’re not the right people. They will unfollow you as soon as you’re not offering anything and won’t have meaningful engagement with your brand. If they don’t like you in real life, it doesn’t really matter if they like you on Facebook. They’re not going to buy.
    2. This is the equivalent of couponing. You’re going to attract price sensitive consumers who are only loyal to who is giving the best deal. I always think of my mom, who only has a Facebook account to enter contests. Hasn’t even friended me yet and never goes on for any other reason.
  • Constant product profiles. If all you’re doing is showcasing your product, people will get annoyed and not pay attention to any of your ads. The occasional product profile is ok, but there needs to be meaningful content along with it.
  • Nothing. If you’re not doing anything, for the love of all is good, close down the page. I would say if you’re not posting something at least once a month, there is little to no use for you to be on social media, so get off.

When coming up with your strategy, just remember it isn’t about posting the most or having the highest number of followers. It’s about meaningfully engaging those who want to be associated with your brand and strengthening your image with them. If you are doing that, then you will continue to attract and engage the right audience.

 

Scary Social Media

Mainstream social media has been around for a few years and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere any time soon. Like all new communication mediums, there is both excitement and anxiety about your company marketing along this new channel. It’s best to step back, take a breath and tell yourself it’s all going to be ok.

First, although it is something new and different, the basic principles of selecting advertising mediums still apply. Every time there is a revolution in information consumption, there are marketing opportunities close behind. In that sense, the recent boom of social media can be likened to the first online advertising, television, radio and even print media. Social media is just the latest in a long line of innovations, but it’s not likely to be the last.

While there may be “marketers” out there using scare tactics to try and make business owners and marketing managers believe that if their company is not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, etc. they are dead in the water, in many (or even most) cases that simply isn’t true. It all comes down to whether or not your customers are using the medium or not.

To put it another way, if the customers you are targeting aren’t going to engage with your company on social media, it doesn’t really matter if you are on it or not. The same way a company doesn’t have to advertise on tv, or in the newspaper, or on the radio, and on and on. It’s that simple.

The thing that sucks people into thinking they need social media, if I were to take a guess, is two things:

  1. The fact it’s free, and;
  2. The fact your customers have the chance to interact with you.

Neither or those are particularly true, nor are they necessarily appealing as they seem.

First, posting online may be free in terms of dollars (though Facebook is trying hard to change this), but there is always a time cost associated with everything that you do as a business owner. If you’re taking the time to come up with meaningful posts, that is time taken away from other tasks, usually in the middle of the day. This time adds up and if none of your clients are on social media, it’s spinning your creative wheels while getting nowhere.

The second fallacy is customer interaction. While it may be true, unfortunately the interaction is usually negative. Few people will take the time to say something positive on a company’s Facebook page, but everyone will post a complaint. This is a public venue and you will want to deal with it quickly, taking up more time in your day.

At the end of they day you need to decide if social media is right for your brand. If you truly thing you will win loyal customers from it, then all the power to you. If you doubt that your market is even paying attention, focus on other efforts and don’t let some marketer bully you into it.

You Are the Product

I have a Facebook fan page for the business and a steady decrease in post views, during a time the “likes” have been increasing, is the reason for this post. To get there, though, I’m going to start a little more generally.

Services (like Facebook) that are available for free, aren’t free. The people of Facebook aren’t these amazingly altruistic individuals who have devoted countless time and endless amounts of money to create a fun online community which is available for free for all to use. Facebook is selling a product, and that product is you.

Now, just to be clear I’m not picking on Facebook. Google’s in there too, and Apple (even though they make you pay for the product first). Truth of the matter is, we don’t even know how much of our information is being tracked and sold off to companies to help increase sales.

The data collection isn’t what’s frustrating me today, though. In fact, surprisingly enough, I don’t really mind about my data being sold. I don’t really have anything to hide and if it means only products I would likely want will get marketed to me, I’m ok with that.

No, this post has to do with the fact that unless I start paying Facebook for every post I make, the activity on my business’ page won’t reach the people who chose to be fans! That’s annoying.

It makes sense, though. The users of Facebook, some of which have liked my page, are the product and as a business I need to pay to access them. Any of you who have liked my page are now being sold back to me.

An extension of this rant is to talk about how the obsession with companies getting likes is strange to me. I invite my friends and enjoy seeing the number go up, but would never promote my page or have a hokey “share this” contest in order to get more likes. The way I see it, is if it’s a bought like, the loyalty of the consumer isn’t genuine and therefore they are unlikely to be converted to customers.

No, I prefer to have likes from people who actually like my business, not people who I tried to trick into it. And I’d appreciate it if you’d check for the occasional update, until Facebook sees it fit to allow me to reach you all again.

Brand Basics

In my job we’re fortunate enough to speak with a good number of people starting businesses. I actually can’t think of an extended period of time where we haven’t been speaking to a new entrepreneur.

It’s a very exciting time for them and there are a million and one things to worry about. Knowing that I’m completely ignoring everything logistic, there is one piece of marketing that should not be overlook, which is taking some time to think about the brand.

While branding can mean a hundred different things to one hundred different people, there are a few fundamentals that you should think about when starting a business that will save you time, heartache and money down the line

Name is number one.

Take time developing your company’s name. Understand what it means if it’s descriptive (Dan’s Hot Dog Stand) or not (Cerebral Inc.). If you’re going to use a real word or make one up. How the name translates (i.e. is if offensive in another language). Make sure it’s not complicated for people to say and if there is some awesome, deep meaning, assume people won’t know or care.

After considering these things RESERVE THE URL. Even if you’re not going to build a website just yet, do it. It’s like$15 for most addresses.

Get a pro to develop a visual look and feel. 

Don’t do it yourself, don’t go on Kijiji and find the cheapest rate possible. Just do it. I’m not saying that because I work in the industry, I’m saying that as a consumer. If I see a crappy logo / font treatment / colour scheme I assume the company sucks.

Think of a tone and personality for your communications.

Every company should have it’s own personality, and the tone that comes from that. If you’re starting a one-person consulting shop, this will likely come pretty easy. If you’re starting a baby food company, you likely don’t want to be communicating on “your” voice, the company needs it’s own.

Guard your brand carefully.

You don’t need to go through an extensive exercise, but make sure to keep a one-pager of brand attributes. Ensure that all your communications are in line with this document, and therefore the image of your company. Make sure to share this with all employees and anyone working on your marketing, to ensure that you are not the only keeper of the brand.

Also, make sure to revisit the brand as the company grows. If there are products or services that don’t fit with the initial structure, it may be time to reconsider the framework, or even split off into a new product line / company.

There’s a First For Everything

This post is going to be a bit wide-reaching. I considered breaking into a few more specific posts, but came to the conclusion they would all read the same anyway, so I might as well keep it all together. The theory is the same no matter what: people, products and strategies need to be given a chance.

I’ll start with marketing, because that’s what I live every day. The number of business owners who describe their business as “a word-of-mouth business” always amazes me. While it may be true for their business at the time, that can be said about any business that refuses to market itself in any other way, because word of mouth is all it has going for it!

In this case, it is a classic example of taking the effect and making it the cause. Your business relies on word-of-mouth, because you don’t market. It is illogical to take the outcome (only being promoted through word-of-mouth) and use that as the reason not to take action (promoting the business in other ways). It should be no surprise that the business won’t grow at a very quick pace after a point.

The other examples are more catch-22’s: giving a business or individual a chance at something new.

For people it mostly has to do with job postings. Not that I’m constantly on the hunt, but I like checking them out of pure interest. The number of times a posting states it’s for an “entry-level position” and the next line states “2-3 years of experience required” is astounding. To me the two shouldn’t be allowed to be in the same description. Do you want someone entry-level or with experience?

Unless you’re moving within industries, between very similar companies, it is unlikely that an individual is going to possess every bit of knowledge in order to do the job to their fullest potential. Businesses need to hire with the expectation that there is a learning curve and give the person a chance. Otherwise there will never be any skill development in the workforce.

The last example I wanted to give is very similar to the above, but it relates to businesses. Every business has a first customer. I know that it feels much safer to buy from a place with a proven track record, but they all start somewhere. What’s more, if you are looking for a specialized product, you may have to take this chance.

I guess the moral is that there always needs to be a first, so when it is up to you to make that leap, don’t be scared. Do as much research and prep as you can, but at a point you just have to trust others.