Archive for November, 2013

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Thank You Marketing is Even More Important in the Digital Age

November 19, 2013

This article also appears in the November Issue of RSVP MN Magazine:  click here

Thank You Marketing is Even More Important in the Digital Age

By Christopher Lower, Director of PR and Communications, Sterling Cross CommunicationsRSVP MN MAG November Article

Mother taught you many things that are important to running a successful business, but the most important were those magic words that can get you anywhere: “Please” and “Thank You.” You remember those words, don’t you? With the days of “tightening the belt,” Return on Investment, and keeping your eye on the “prize” being the necessary realities of business, we’ve become so streamlined that many of the human elements of business such as relationship building have been stripped away. The addition of digital communications has added even another layer of disconnect to those human relations.

Corporations are seen as out of touch with their clients and customers. What if it didn’t have to be that way? What if you could value tangible results and intangible relationships? You actually can have your cake and eat it too if you go back to Mom’s advice.

Successful business owners need to build and nurture positive relationships with the three audiences that make it possible for them to be in business: their employees, current customers and future customers. Building those relationships is as simple as realizing one simple truth: each employee and customer thrives on personal recognition and gratitude.

A thank you that is memorable and meaningful goes miles toward establishing loyalty. Showing appreciation is particularly important for service businesses, as your customers don’t receive a tangible product that reminds them of your business the next time they are looking for a similar service. Thus, service businesses must focus on quality of execution and customer service to achieve brand differentiation.

Technology has changed much of the way we communicate with clients, but it can also be a great tool in your Thank You Marketing as well. How do you say Thank You currently? Do you give small gifts, gift cards, appreciation events? If so, technology can help you to streamline this.

Thank You Cards: Automate the sending of thank you cards, and follow up greeting and post cards with Send Out Cards. You can write and store unlimited cards and even set up multi-step mailing campaigns. While it does cost to join, it’s pretty reasonable. Best of all you can upload your own handwriting and each card is printed and mailed with a real stamp.

Flower/Candy Gift Giving: Need flowers delivered? There’s an app for that! Many florists such as FTD have mobile apps and even ordering kiosks in some high traffic offices to allow you to have flowers delivered globally. Websites like Psychic Flowers will even allow you to enter calendar events. The same is true with chocolates and candy gifts; there are many websites that will send candy, chocolates or cookies to your list.

Appreciation/Relationship building Events: A corporate “holiday party” was once the norm, but due to budget cuts, and/or fears of impropriety, they have been obliterated from corporate culture. In the day of emails, voicemails, etc., we have sterilized our relationships with our employees, vendors, and customers alike. We need to get back to putting a human face, voice and presence in our relationships – personal interaction. Corporate events have evolved as well. From team building enterprises, to group community service projects, there are many events that can be done with a positive outcome for a company. Technology can enhance these events, such as encouraging photo submissions from apps like Pinterest or Instagram to Scavenger hunts with apps like Foursquare, and invitations from companies like EventBrite.

Gift Certificates: Giving a gift certificate as an employee reward for a job well done or as incentive can say thank you in ways beyond a paycheck. Many websites like 7P Gifts will send out gift cards, and have multiple options of stores to choose from and cards for men and women.

Virtual Assistants: Finally, even if you don’t have the time to make sure the Thank You Marketing is done, there are many personal virtual assistant services out there who you can hire on retainer or on a project basis to get this done for you. Companies like eVirtual Services or Time Etc are two companies that offer Virtual Assistant Services Nationwide.

Thank you marketing is not a new concept – but how it gets done these days with technology is. We used to conduct business personally and usually with a handshake involved, meaning we actually met with our clients to seal the deal.  Mother always knew we’d succeed if we mastered certain social and business skills. Mother knows best.

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Five Tips You Can Learn From Food Trucks to Become a Better Tradeshow Marketer

November 4, 2013

This article also appears in the October 2013 Issue of RSVP MN Magazine. Click here to read it there.RSVP FOOD TRUCKS BLOG

Food Trucks have invaded your city. They park on busy streets in prime locations ready to serve their tasty wares, and have become quite successful in the last few years. Food trucks have been around since 1974 when Raul Martinez converted an old ice cream truck into a taco truck and set up in front of a bar. So why have they become so hot today? Their success is that by default, and the factors that shape their daily existence as a business, have forged them into razor sharp marketers. They leverage all the marketing tools available to them in their changing location each day. They have mastered the three tools that help them succeed in reaching their business outcomes through leveraging social, mobile, and local marketing. The following five skills they have learned can help you become a better tradeshow marketer:

Leverage or Overcome your Location It all starts in the planning. Food truck owners study maps of the cities before arriving, they determine foot traffic patterns, nearby attractions, and areas where people congregate during their hours of operation. You have that same ability in assessing tradeshow floor plans to determine where best to place your booth. If you are stuck in a poor location, you must use more tactics to draw your audience to you. You need to have a more disruptive or appealing presence to call out to your audience and draw them closer to your space.

Focus on Just in time messaging and Perfect the Limited Time Offer (LTO) You are in a tradeshow for a limited time. Messaging is best to capture attention or conversions right there as studies have shown that the further the time passes after the event before a sale or conversion happens, the odds of an actual sale or conversion decreases drastically. To a food truck, that means missed profit; what does it mean to your bottom line? If you are making a limited time offer for goods or services, make sure it is the best possible deal to induce the customer to become interested and buy right there. Many food truck operators know that missed sales on a day because of pricing may mean they can’t open their doors tomorrow. Imagine if that was your motivation during the show.

Maximize your presence locally on Social Media Channels Food trucks comb social media channels well in advance just like they would assess a map. They identify the powerful social influencers in the area they are going to be and try to engage and entice them to pass their messaging on to their followers. They follow local trends and keywords and try to leverage those in their messaging.

Align with like-minded businesses that won’t cannibalize your market Food trucks often partner to create their own mini event inside an event. Often creating a team effort to pull off creating a mobile food court. With the premise that a larger crowd of purchasers will be attracted, and that there will be a diversity of flavors and tastes, two or three will partner with the goal of raising the sales for all by attracting a larger group. The same tactic can work successfully in trade shows as well. Partner with synergistic vendors to draw a larger crowd and group of prospects to your area of the tradeshow. Banding together with others to cross promote, or sponsor a speaker or side event at the trade show will help you to stand out from your other competitors and can also allow you to have a larger presence than you may be able to have on your own.

Assess, Learn and Build relationships that will grow your Success Next Time Data is king. Building records and databases of places, vendors, venues and people in each city, will help you build quickly and exponentially each year. This is imperative in tradeshows that are stationary and annual. Learn what tactics worked, and where energy was wasted. You can change or replace these tactics for the next time. Food trucks build fan bases by returning often to locations that are lucrative for them to visit. How can your brand establish a fan base as well? Continue to show up with some sort of frequency. If one tradeshow is good for your company in an area, are there other shows there as well where you could have some form of presence? If so, then building your frequency of appearances in that market will increase your foothold there as well.

The keys to success in these situations is remaining nimble, innovative, and have the ability to strike quickly when the opportunity presents itself. You can use the same tactics of food trucks to maximize your presence and success at tradeshows. You have a limited amount of time to drive as much business as possible, and the clock starts now.

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The Art of Apologizing Online

November 4, 2013

This originally was published as my article in RSVP MN Magazine for September 2013. Click here to read it thereRSVP MN MAG SEPTMBER ARTICLE

We’ve all had to say, “I am sorry” to someone at some time (at least I hope so). We’re human. We screw things up and we need to make things right. The same thing happens in business. Probably more than we ever want it to. The problem of today, in business, sometimes when we screw up, it’s online. Instead of only a few people seeing it, the potential is that millions of people have now seen it. It’s hard enough sometimes to apologize person to person, and now you have to potentially apologize to hundreds, thousands or millions online. It’s a pretty daunting task.

Apologizing online falls into a completely different aspect of apologies. It tends to be very public. It is hard to convey feelings or emotions via text and 140 characters. It can easily be assumed to be false or not heartfelt or true, and in the worst cases it can be seen as patronizing and condescending. There are some basic best practices that need to be followed to allow your online apology to be accepted and that you are able to recover from the mistake that led to the issue in the first place. Here are five best practices to help you say you’re sorry online:

1. Respond immediately when there is an issue. In today’s age of business there is no excuse for not monitoring your name and brand online. There are plenty of free tools like Google Alerts, and push notifications from Twitter and Facebook to let you know when someone mentions you or your company online. We live in a time of instant communications, and businesses can no longer “wait to formulate a response.” In the time you take to formulate that response, the issues can go viral. Remember the Domino’s Pizza video of employees doing crude things to food? The company found out about it on a Sunday night, but waited until Wednesday to take the first step. By then there were well over a hundred thousand views of the video.

2. Always apologize on the same social or online channel where the offense or issue is mentioned. If it is on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp, etc., you need to respond to the report of the issue where it has been made. Even if you need time to investigate an issue, by responding quickly on the same channel helps convey the perception and thought that you care. Then keep the lines of communication open on those same channels until the issue has been resolved. Bystanders may see your efforts and at least understand you are responding to the situation. Going silent only hurts matters by letting the message and sentiment be formed in your absence. If there is no means to respond, such as the comment being made on a blog, website, or online publication which doesn’t allow for responses, use your own channels (blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to respond. Link to the original online remark (URL) to inform the audience to the details of the incident, when the issue is searched for in the future, your response will be tied to the issue that happened.

3. Explain what went wrong. It might have been as simple as someone sent out the wrong message or hit send without thinking. You need to let people know how you are reacting to the problem and taking steps to correct it. Without conveying any self-examination and action towards resolution, it will appear as if you don’t care and are doing nothing. Remember, online isn’t always as visual so convey these thoughts in words.

4. Explain what you are doing to correct the situation and what steps you are putting in place to ensure it won’t happen again. This goes hand in hand with the previous step. If there is no plan or evidence of changed behavior, it will appear you are insincere and not really doing anything about the problem, and hence you are thought not to care about it. Add links and evidence to show what steps are being taken if that would help. Copies of new company policies or guidelines would be great to post as would photos of corrections, and so on. Evidence goes a long way toward rebuilding trust in your actions.

5. Finally, use the apology as an opportunity to make amends. If you show that you truly realize the scope and magnitude of your actions has hurt your standing in the community, use this opportunity to become a better corporate citizen. Overachieve on your next endeavor, especially if there is a community benefit to doing it. Your brand is only as valuable as the audience that follows, supports and enjoys what you do and your role in their lives. It is all too easy to move on to the next brand. Don’t allow your brand to lose reputation credibility and following all because of a few missteps. The best companies in the digital age will plan for a strategy and policy that heads this off at the beginning rather than a plan that chases the tail end of the problem.

By mastering the art of apologizing online, you may be able to save your company, your brand, or hopefully at the very least, your job.

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The Keys to Success and Longevity in Business and Events

November 4, 2013

This originally was published as my contribution to the RSVP MN Magazine Article: Click here to read it therersvpmn-logo

In 2003 there was a huge transformation of the entire workforce in the United States as a whole generation of women bought into the mantra of a revolution known as “Opting Out.” Women were choosing to opt out of the job force to stay home and raise families and seek a balanced life. By 2013, with economics in their current state, women and men are choosing to “Lean in” to their careers and seem to be driven for success. Both movements became vastly popular, and have worked for several individuals, and that is where the problem lies.

These movements have had a huge impact on both our corporate culture and the dynamics of companies, but they have failed to last the test of time. I believe they fail because they have been focused on the individuals that make up a team or company. They fail to work on or have impact on the entire team and culture. The focus has been on the change of self rather than on the team, business or culture. While this has profound effects for individuals, the impact and benefits to business and events has been scattershot and in many instances has had a negative effect.

To go the distance and have longevity, an event or business has to pull together as a team and effect change for growth and success. They need to innovate. The key to all Innovation is that the people in charge are able to keep their vision focused on the Big Picture, instead of being sucked down into the mire and details that often leads to tunnel vision. We have two incredible examples of a company and an event here in the Twin Cities that are exemplary models of this: Target Corporation and the Minnesota State Fair.

Target was recently named as No. 10 of Fast Company’s 2013 “Most Innovative Companies” and is in the caliber of such companies as Nike, Pinterest, Square and Amazon. Its attention to the trends and needs of current shoppers and the future of shopping has lead it to re-imagine its “Big Box” concept to create CityTarget, a half-size store prototype that launched in Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles.

This model focuses on a demographic that is looking for four-packs of toilet paper rather than a 36-pack, has furnishings more suitable to apartment and balcony dwelling, smaller packaged food proportions, and is more mobile friendly for research, e-commerce and speeding up checkout lines by having additional employees deployed with mobile register scanners.

Target’s focus on value versus volume has proven so successful that they will add three new stores, doubling their new concept and look to take this concept globally in the future. Target’s ability to continually transform and respond to the rapidly changing retail behaviors will keep its chain ahead of its competition at a time when its competition struggles to keep pace and in fact are downsizing the numbers of locations.

The Minnesota State Fair has had innovation at the core of its mission statement since 1859. An event that has continued and has thrived for 154 years has put in a lot of work to keep its offerings fresh, educational and entertaining. Each year, from attractions and food offerings, to events and displays, the Fair not only embodies and lives out its own belief of innovation, but encourages and challenges its participants and vendors to do so as well. Continual feedback and communication from attendees each year drives changes for the future.

Nowhere is this more evident than with the food vendors that innovate each year to come up with the newest flavor trends or gimmick “food on a stick” (candied bacon cannolis or deep fried pickles and chocolate anyone?). Not only does the food then become an innovation that is fresh, but the popularity of the inventive foods has driven media coverage, self fulfilling its ability to remain relevant and fresh year after year.

It is clearly evident that the companies and events that are built on a best practice that focuses on the entity or event such as innovation will far exceed and surpass any practices that focus on the individuals involved. If your team and culture can fully embrace a concept that leads to benefits for all, versus benefits to one, than it is a concept that can stand the test of time. It’s time to opt out of bad practices, lean in to a team concept and employ innovation to your business.