Marketing advice: Start with gold

Many businesses offer 3 levels of service and define them based around the words; gold, silver and bronze.  The idea is to show prospective clients or customers (herein called clients) that the value/quality of each service improves as they go up the scale from bronze.

It’s used as a way to justify charging 3 different prices, for 3 different levels of service.  However, is it possible that we can improve upon this gold, silver and bronze model?

marketing advice GoldAsk any athlete, who’s out training at 6am on a cold morning, if he or she is motivated by the prospect of becoming a bronze medal winner. I think you already know what their answer will be – a resounding “NO!”  That’s because bronze does not have the same motivational pulling power of gold.

In business, we often refer to the best product or service in a category as the gold standard.’ We talk about those cherished memories from the past as golden memories. Highly valued information is often referred to as gold dust.  We use the word gold in many ways, but it always conjures up images in our mind of high quality.

Make gold your starting point

So, here’s a question to consider: Why not make gold your starting point? If you offer 3 levels of service, why not make a statement and start with gold, then go to platinum and then on up to diamond?

In an age where every business is claiming to go the extra mile, this is an opportunity for you to tell the marketplace what your attitude to service excellence is.  It’s a bold marketing statement, which requires the very best from you if you are to back it up.  But what a message to give your prospective clients and those who work with you, internally and externally.

What do you think?

Thank you!

It seems hard to believe that it’s now just over a year, since I launched this blog.  In that time, the blog has developed a great community of readers, who regularly contribute comments, feedback and suggestions.  This reader input, has helped shape the direction of the blog and been of immeasurable value to me.

Interestingly, over the past few weeks, the blog has started to gain recognition from organisations outside our reader community.

Two new developments in particular have really taken my breath away.  Firstly, Advertising Age ranked this blog high enough to be included in their prestigious AdAge Power 150 list.  As a reader of Advertising Age for more than 20 years, this recognition means a great deal to me.

Then earlier this week, it was brought to my attention that technorati has also listed Jim’s Marketing blog, in their list of the top 100 small business blogs!

marketing blog technorati

Content AND reader engagement

Although I have tried to provide as much genuinely valuable material here as possible, the reason the blog has started getting noticed outside of the blogs community, is because of the blogs community! No matter how hard I try to make the blog of value, without YOU being so proactive in the way you have recommended and shared this blog with your friends, NOTHING would have happened.

The encouragement and feedback you have given me over this first year has been of massively more value to me than you can possibly imagine.

I am not going to name names, because the list would be just too long.

For example, it would include the name of every one of you, who has commented. The current comment count is just under 4,000.  It would include those of you, who share this blog with your friends on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter etc.  It would include those of you, who have linked to this blog.  It would include everyone who has subscribed to the blog’s RSS feed and those, who have tweeted with me or called me for a chat; after finding my phone number (01427 891274) on the contact page.

You know who you are, so:

THANK YOU!

Make your marketing count

One of the marketing challenges that all businesses face, is how to leverage their time and money for the best possible return on investment (or ROI).  There are so many things we all could be doing, yet these are not of equal value to us.

For example, there’s an interesting debate along these lines over at my ideas blog. It’s about whether people ought to spend more of their ‘social media time’ providing content for their blogs and less of that time providing content for social media sites like; Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin etc.

Marketing puzzle

Part of developing the best marketing mix for your business, is to build a marketing strategy that focuses all your efforts in the most profitable way possible.  This is why it’s so important to monitor and measure your marketing feedback.  This will show you where your time and money is best invested, as well as any areas where you are not seeing a worthwhile return.

Why not take a moment to review your marketing activities. Look at what you are doing and what each activity is costing you in both time and money.  Then, measure your marketing return for each of these activities.  The results are often illuminating and extremely valuable.

Jim’s marketing blog – Now on Headway

As regular readers will notice, things look a little different on the blog now! That’s because I have just upgraded the blog from it’s previous, limited wordpress theme and am now running the blog using Headway.

Why I moved to Headway

The biggest frustration I have experienced as a blogger, is the massive amount of my time that’s wasted, when I need to make stylistic changes or modifications to one of my blogs.  This happens more often than you might think; as I am always looking for better ways to engage with my readers and provide them with a more valuable experience.

I do most of my blogging activity when it’s quiet – for me, that means nights and weekends.  Now, even though I have always paid for professional help, it’s seldom available to me when I needed it.  As a result, whenever I wanted to make a change to the blog that wasn’t directly accessible via the theme, it could take from a few hours to a few days for the changes to be made.

Last week I launched a new ideas blog using the Headway theme.  Like many wordpress themes, Headway claims that users like me can design a blog from scratch, with no need to touch the CSS / HTML. Unlike every other theme I have used, Headway actually delivered – In fact, it massively OVER delivered.

So much so, that Headway is the first ever affiliate product I have promoted on a blog!

What’s the big deal with Headway?

I am a marketing specialist, a content creator, a writer – but NOT a coder! I have zero HTML skills and no idea how to configure CSS.  However, using Headway, I can do everything I want to my blogs, using their drag and drop system.  In fact, I managed to reconfigure this blog today in less than 40 minutes – with no need at all to touch the code.

Here’s a few of Headway’s features, for those of you who are interested.  I wrote that post myself, to try and explain how easy, fun and flexible Headway is.

Full disclosure

I was so totally blown away with Headway, that I wrote to the developers to thank them.  After wasting almost a thousand dollars over the past 2 years, on themes that universally disappointed me, I decided to promote Headway as an affiliate.  This is the first affiliate product I have ever promoted on any of my blogs; such is my gratitude for how it has (literally) transformed how I blog.

To Clay and Grant Griffiths, the guys behind Headway; “Thank you!”

Why bloggers must come clean

Something I have been passionate about for a very long time, is the need for bloggers to fully disclose if they are getting paid in some way, to write about a company / product / service.  Well, yesterday, The United States Federal Trade Commission announced that it would fine bloggers up to $11,000 if they post positive reviews or endorsements, for which they are rewarded in any way, without letting their readers know.

I have three blogs and operate a full disclosure policy on all of them.  Like all well-read bloggers, I get offerers pretty-much every day from people, who want to pay me (either money or freebies), if I will ‘just’ write about them, their business or their service in glowing terms.  My tech news blog often gets several such offers in one day.

Full disclosure

When a blogger is honest enough to declare any gifts they receive, it encourages the reader to trust their content.  For example, I found out yesterday that big time blogger Chris Brogan, receives his hosting for free from a well-known hosting provider.  The reason I now know, is that Chris openly disclosed this gift in a post he wrote, about the company who give him his free hosting. Sadly, there are no disclosures anywhere about his cross-promotion of products with other top bloggers, which kind of defeats the object of disclosing an affiliate link or sponsor.

That kind of honest declaration, allows readers to place the post in context, of how they feel, knowing about the relationship the blogger has with the company.

The trust of your readers is everything

The importance of trust when developing a successful relationship with anyone, can not be overstated.  This is equally true of the relationship between a blogger or content provider and their readers.  After all, who wants to read content that you can’t trust?

If you have a commercial blog or website and you want people to trust you and your business, being fully open is essential.

Using social media to launch a new blog

So, can social media really help you market or promote something?

Oh yes!

Earlier today, I launched a brand new blog. Now, usually when you launch a new blog, the first day sees very little traction; after all, no one knows it’s there.  However, thanks exclusively to the use of a few social media tools, the blog attracted hundreds of unique visitors within an hour of its launch.  The blog has also attracted some great comments and people have been emailing me and tweeting to me all morning with feedback and ideas.

Here’s how I launched the new blog (quickly)

The primary tool I used, in order to let people know about the new blog, was Twitter.

A few days ago, I set up a Twitter account for the new blog, which had a handful of ‘followers’ but was essentially sleeping until the blog was launched.  Over the past 3 days, I mentioned on my regular @jimconnolly Twitter account that I was going to launch a new blog this week.  This got people asking me about it and asking to be informed when it launched.

Earlier today, I published the first post on the new blog and sent a Tweet via @jimconnolly, to let people know. I also sent a simple message to a handful of people I know on Friendfeed, all of whom shared the information with their contacts.

This tiny amount of Twitter and Friendfeed activity was aimed at encouraging a relatively small number of people to check out the new blog.  It seems they did and that they told their contacts about it too.  In no time, traffic to the blog started increasing at the perfect rate for me to be able to monitor it.  I will explain why this was important in a moment.

When people arrived at the blog, they saw a welcome post, which also contained a few suggestions:

  • I asked people to please check out a page that explained what the blog was all about.
  • I then asked people to subscribe to the RSS feed, if they wanted to keep up to date with new posts.
  • Finally, I asked people to join the new blog on Twitter @theideasblog – If they were interested in sharing ideas.

An hour later, I published a second post, which was a typical blog post and gave people an idea of the kind of content to expect. It also gave people something of value to read / share.

Summary

This was a simple, deliberately planned launch; which gave me the time to respond to comments and check the blog was working – rather than creating a sudden surge in numbers.  I mentioned earlier that it was important for me to be able to build the traffic to the blog steadily.  There were 2 reasons for this:

  • The blog is with a new hosting provider and I had not placed it under a sudden, heavy load previously.
  • For the first time ever, I configured and designed the blog theme myself. I had obviously tested it previously, but it’s different when the site goes live and it’s receiving comments etc.

By using Twitter, a message on my new blog and a few messages on Friendfeed, I was not only able to create a successful launch, but even control the initial flow of traffic (to a degree).  This was a great, real life example of what’s possible with social media.

What if?

Here’s a quick tip, which could save you a stack of time and money.

I have just endured three of the most frustrating days since starting my business, around 15 years ago.  However, there’s a great lesson here for you and your business.

So, what happened Jim?

The problem

I discovered that the company that was handling my blogs and email hosting, was just about to cease trading!  I quickly needed to move my blogs onto new servers.  As I had not researched an alternative hosting company, I had to drop what I was doing and spend time searching for a new host.

Thankfully, after a ton of; phone calls, Tweets and emails, I found a great new host.  However, I lost the best part of a day finding them.

Then, there were a few additional hitches.  This meant that instead of working on my business, I lost hours trying to get the blogs and email working again.  As a result, I needlessly ended up working two, sixteen hour days.  I also worked all day today (Saturday) to catch up; instead of taking my 4 year old son on a pre-arranged trip (to see Thomas The Tank Engine.)

The lesson

If you have an website or blog, which is important to your business, you need a strong contingency plan.  You need the name of a reliable hosting company and the name of a reliable tech person; who you can call on to handle the switch over.  I had a tech guy in place and have no idea how long this would all have taken, if I needed to find him as well.  By the way, I will publish the name of my new hosting company for you, if their service remains this good over a longer period.

The bottom line is that the time to get these providers in place is now – Not when disaster strikes.

That’s it!  Time for me to go and get our family trip rebooked...

Twitter junkies and social media addicts

word picturesI’m sure you have heard it said many times before; “people think in pictures.”

In written marketing, the words we use have a massive impact on the kind of mental pictures we paint in the minds of our prospective clients or customers.

These pictures help shape how people feel about us and those feelings have a major role in whether they decide to; trust us, buy form us, recommend us etc.

With many, many businesses now embracing social media and putting an increasing amount of information into the public domain, here’s a question to ponder:

“Have you ever stopped to think about the kind of pictures you create in the mind of your prospective clients or customers, when they ‘check you out’ online?”

Social media junkies and Twitter addicts

I’m a passionate user of social media.  I’m also excited about the opportunities available via social networking sites.

What I am not is “a social media junkie” or “totally addicted to Twitter / FaceBook etc.”

I notice lots of social media users, using terms like those above, in their online profiles.  I’m certainly not suggesting that using these phrases will somehow confuse people into thinking that the profile belongs to a junkie or an addict. I am, however, saying that there’s little to be gained by someone suggesting (even tongue-in-cheek) that their use of social media is out of their control.  From a marketing perspective, it’s far better to leverage your profile, so that it’s working 100% for you!

Remember – It’s not just people who use the services who can see your profile.

Your Twitter profile on Google

If you are a Twitter user, when someone does a Google search for your name or company name, your twitter profile is usually on page one. Here’s an example, using a Google search for my name.  Notice that it gives my full profile on Google, without anyone having to even visit Twitter to check me out.

jimconnolly google

Of course, this means if you maximise the positive impact of your Twitter profile, there’s a superb opportunity to have it working for you far beyond the reach of Twitter.

When someone checks you out, make sure that your various online profiles show how totally brilliant you are and what a fantastic investment you are.

Standing out from the crowd!

Here’s a great way to make your business stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons!

A common marketing problem

Most businesses really struggle to develop something uniquely valuable about their services.  That’s why your local; accountants, designers, insurance companies and recruitment firms etc, seem so similar and find they have to sell their services based on prices or fees.

  • They use the same generic promises.
  • Offer the same or a similar range of services.
  • Advertise in the same places.
  • Attend the same events.
  • … and thus make themselves all-but invisible.

They are pretty-much camouflaged, which is the exact opposite of what they need, if they want to gain the attention of prospective clients or customers!

Companies that look too similar to their competitors, find that their prices or fees are the only thing a prospective customer has, to measure their VALUE compared to the others.  As a result, these companies find themselves competing for business based on price.  They blame the marketplace for being too cost-conscious or fee sensitive; when in reality it is they themselves that have failed to show the marketplace enough unique value.

Marketing and customer service

One way to really stand out and make a GREAT name for your business, is to provide genuinely exceptional customer service.

Here’s why:  Offering exceptional customer service is one of the best ways to retain your existing customers and develop new ones at the same time. It’s a super high leverage activity.

After all, people universally adore being looked after and being made feel special.  If you want to plug your business into the power of word of mouth marketing, this is a superb place to start.

The great news is that customer service excellence is rare today – So rare that when you provide it to people, they tell everyone.  In other words; if you become one of the few businesses that takes people’s breath away with YOUR customer service, your business can generate stacks of powerful word of mouth publicity.

A recent example

I needed to get my car repaired last week, so I used a local garage that had been highly recommended to me.  The garage examined the car and gave me a quote.  They were very highly recommended, so I told them to go ahead and fix it.  They told me that my car would be ready in two days.

The garage owner called me the next day, to say that my car would be ready to collect on time and offering to send someone to come and pick me up, to collect it!  When I arrived at the garage, they had repaired my car and given it a thorough clean; inside and out.  It looked like new.  There was a small note left on the passenger seat, with a list of free extras they had provided.  For example, they had filled up the screen wash and made sure the car’s tyre pressures were correct.  They also must have noticed my 4 year old son’s child seat, so they left a Disney stories CD in the car too, again with their compliments.

These are fairly small, inexpensive things to offer; yet they make a huge difference and have a massive positive impact on how their customers ‘feel’ about them.

What did I do after being treated like this?  First off, they got a MASSIVE tip from me.  In reality, my tip probably paid for all the extras 3 times over.  I also asked them for a pile of their business cards, which I have been handing to everyone I know locally; telling them how great these people are and what an amazing service they provided.

Promising exceptional service is easy.

The CHALLENGE is providing it!

If you want the marketplace to shout about you from the rooftops, your level of customer service has to be worth shouting about.

In my experience, business owners typically believe they already offer a good enough level of customer service, when in reality they are not even close.  They try hard and go the extra mile – but so do all of their serious competitors.  That’s just average – it’s not ‘exceptional.’

It’s easy to find out if we really are offering this level of service, because we will already have people eagerly recommending us to their contacts and friends.  We will already have the marketplace buzzing about the wonderful way we look after people.  We will have people sending in their résumés, because they really want to work with us.

If you are not getting that kind of traction, you might want to try this: Think of some companies you know, who already offer breathtaking customer service.  They don’t need to be in your industry.

Next, write down what it is that they do, which YOU could do, to make people feel just as good about you and your services. Then, work on adapting those ideas in a way that works for your business. It takes a little effort, but it’s well worth it.

This blog gets listed on the Adage Power 150!

It’s always great to be recognised for your work isn’t it?

That’s why I was delighted, when I was emailed this morning by Advertising Age; telling me that this blog has just been listed in their Adage Power 150!

power150badge_blankAdvertising Age is a very popular and well respected weekly publication and online resource; for people interested in marketing, advertising and the media.  As one of their regular readers for many years, this recognition means a great deal to me.

It’s also humbling to listed along with the likes of Seth Godin, BrandRepublic and Mashable.