Friday, June 2, 2017

A delicate balance between efficiency and exploration

You are SO busy.

You find yourself deleting every incoming email that isn't absolutely necessary to read. Maybe it has become your policy to do so.

You've become great at saying no – to every committee, volunteer opportunity, maybe even every industry podcast.

You have lunch at your desk.

You put off meeting the person from the company or organization down the street (or across the state) who thinks you may have working synergy. Hey, you don't even take the phone call.

The fact is, you may save yourself valuable minutes every day.

But you, and we all, have lost something, too, and that is the freedom to stretch your mind and enlarge your base, grow your idea bank and enrich your network of people, ideas and opportunities.

When I started van Schouwen Associates way back in 1985, it was still relatively easy to get a meeting with a prospective client, even if the time wasn't right to do business. People were comfortable talking for a few minutes, and holding out the possibility that they might someday work together – or not. They read materials sent to them – even, sometimes, direct mail flyers! They accepted phone calls.

Now, many people find themselves the recipients of too much of nearly everything… from emails, texts, calls, and social media alerts to demands on time, talents and resources. In many professional disciplines, we're expected to do more with less, respond faster, create better results, and to avoid mistakes and waste, at all times and at all costs. It's hard even to take a vacation day "unplugged."

But… again. We've lost something. It would be great to make room, talk with different people, listen to new ideas, have contact with groups from which we may learn, or may just enjoy.

Here's a proposal: Where you can, and where it may add some value or color (to your day or your life), I urge you to open the door, read the email, listen to the podcast, attend the meeting, or agree to volunteer. Create the time to explore new ideas, new paths, new relationships. Work and life can be a little broader and richer... even if it is less efficient by a small factor.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Five questions customers ask vSA now

2017 is a new adventure in this business of developing, launching, marketing, growing, and sustaining products, services and enterprises. Right now, we're hearing several of the same key questions from our prospects and customers.

Here they are, with brief answers. (If you'd like to know more, just reach out to vSA.)

1-How can we make sure we develop the RIGHT plan to succeed with our new product or service launch?

First, carefully determine who your best customers are likely to be (by category or name, depending on your business). Then, find out (don't guess) what these prospects need most that your product or service can provide (you may want to invest in focused or broader research).

Then, develop GREAT messaging based on prospects' key needs and your provided benefits - don't skimp on the effort you put into message development.

Next, seek and plan the best ways to achieve multiple points of touch most cost-effectively. Most product launches are marathons rather than sprints, so having a sustainable marketing program that lasts for 12 months or more is often the best way to go.

Think digital and use every appropriate online venue from social media to industry news media and blogs. Make sure the product presentation on your own website is outstanding, offering a "point central" for prospects to get information and move toward purchase. While we typically endorse the concept of leading with digital, your launch may also benefit from non–digital marketing – everything from trade shows to print marketing.

2-Are we spending enough to make a marketing program worthwhile?

This is a legitimate question. One-off efforts can be of value, if they entail: A great website, a killer event or a critically important trade show, for example. But the best and soundest approach to marketing entails a commitment to well-planned, ongoing, targeted, strategic outreach. Done right, this becomes an investment rather than an expense. Talk with your marketing partner about return on investment (ROI) and what to expect.

3-Should we care about social media?

Yes. If you don't utilize social media marketing, you're missing out on a cost-effective platform to reach thousands of interested eyes. Best tactics will vary according to what you offer and to whom you need to speak.

4-How can we best use data to build sales and revenues?

Know your prospects (again, by name and/or by category) and learn by experience what they respond to, how many points of touch they typically require before taking what action, and which prospects offer you the best ROI. Know when your customers are buying more… or less. Really leverage your customer relationship management (CRM) software, really track your eblasts, and really look at your website analytics. No time? Get professional help.

5-What are our competitors doing better than us?

Are you seeing their names everywhere? Do they consistently show up ahead of you on Google? Are they the "big name" in the industry while your company looks like an also-ran? Are they winning away your customers, or beating you to the best new business opportunities? Are their offerings better than yours?

Look hard at each of these issues, and get a strategic marketing partner to support you in developing an action plan. This action plan may include some mix of competitive research, marketing response, search engine optimization (SEO), and search engine marketing (SEM), plus content, social media and other marketing to step up your game wherever it has been weak.

We're happy to provide a consultation. Please contact us to get answers to your own big marketing questions.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Practice reputation management – don't be the next business casualty

United Airlines is having a really bad time. It may have thousands of well-intentioned, hardworking and dedicated employees. But its policies of overbooking and right-to-remove passengers, plus the actions of a few decisionmakers and some thug-like security officials resulted in dragging a paying customer off a flight, bloodying the customer and United's already iffy reputation for customer service. The passenger, a doctor, had refused to exit the flight, citing the need to see his patients.

United CEO Oscar Munuz compounded the public's fury by apologizing for “for having to re-accommodate these customers" and then, in an email to employees, calling the passenger "disruptive and belligerent" and commending his staff for going "above and beyond." The word "re-accommodate" was a particularly egregious bit of insensitivity, if social media response is any measure.

Meanwhile, video of the doctor being dragged forcibly from the plane while other passengers protested loudly went viral globally, as did every word United officials have uttered or written about the incident. United stock fell sharply at one point during the day following the dragging event. Predictably, the damage to United Airlines' reputation will be harder to recover than the lost dollars.

United is far from alone.

A prepackaged salad company recently sold more than expected when customers discovered a decomposing bat in the salad greens.

Fox News has lost more than half of its advertising sponsorships for its Bill O'Reilly show in one week because of sexual harassment complaints against host O'Reilly.

The lessons business owners and management can learn are priceless:

-Train your staff to behave in a manner that will not incite customer fury. That's the low bar, of course. Train your staff to respect and, whenever possible, please customers. Some would say "delight customers."

-Establish employment policies to assure employee and public safety; to help avoid employee complaints about discrimination, sexual harassment and more; and to assure product quality.

-Also establish training and procedures to avoid inadvertent errors, failures and accidents that can destroy your reputation – health aides making medication errors, failing to meet deadlines on an important assignment, and more.

-In the instance that something bad does happen, immediately get on the job of crisis management.

-Depending on the severity of the situation, you may need to immediately consult with an attorney, your public relations experts… and your conscience.

-Determine where the news has spread. Ideally, in reputation management, your response puts out fires rather than creating new ones. In other words, if an entire group is not likely to hear of an incident, you should carefully think before sharing the news with them.

-Be more considerate than defensive, within the bounds of what your attorney advises. In other words, expressing an apology is valuable. People are more likely to forgive you if you are genuinely contrite about any harm you've done. If your legal counsel says you risk creating liability, you will have to work together to achieve a satisfactory solution.

-The buck stops with you. Even if an employee is totally, despicably responsible for whatever happened, you are the boss and everyone is looking to you for a response. Sorry.

-Reputations are difficult to mend, but it can be done. We've worked with companies that have struggled through everything from major product recalls to painful bankruptcies to mass layoffs, and many have recovered their good reputations in time.

-Finally, don't be a jerk. A jerk in business is as readily disliked as a jerk anywhere else. Decency can prevail.

The lessons huge corporations have learned – or should have learned – can benefit you. While your sphere of influence may be smaller than United Airlines' or Fox's, it's no less important in terms of the success or failure of your enterprise.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

If making great profits was easy, everyone would be doing it

Many owners of small to midsize businesses say 2017 is starting out well from the economic perspective. Still, the need to build and sustain higher profits remains near the top of this year's list of concerns. Wasp Barcode Technologies' new  State of Small Business Report shows that, for businesses with anywhere from five to 100+ employees, building profit remains among the the major key challenges.

To improve the top line, companies can look to several avenues:

-Protecting the base: Improving customer experience and retention

-Cross-selling to the base: Identifying and marketing additional services or products that current customers should be getting from the company

-Growing the base: Identifying, nurturing and capturing "more customers like these" - in other words, finding additional customers similar to the ones that already patronize the company

-Expanding to new types of customers: Employing either or both the "good, better, best" model of selling up and down the quality/price scale, and/or creating new, original offerings that will attract a new breed of customers

-Diversification: Creating a whole new line of business that promises to yield strong returns

Whatever the direction, start with rigorous strategic planning and follow through with intelligent marketing and consistent sales. vSA's ongoing interactions with companies of all sorts point to the importance of rigor and a sharp focus on the realities of business in an ever-more-competitive marketplace. Remember, if making great profits was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Friday, January 13, 2017

In B2B marketing, basic truths remain

Reading industry pundits' predictions for B2B marketing in 2017 can be dizzying. So much to do! More automation, lead grading, tracking the life cycle of the customer experience; more content, less content, shorter, longer, denser; new SEO practices, the "death" of lead generation (although, as Mark Twain might have said, reports of the death of lead generation are greatly exaggerated).

At vSA, we keep up with all that's changing, so we can best serve client interests. Even so, we assure our readers that certain truths remain relevant for 2017:

-Marketing needs to be sharp, targeted and powerful. This includes the increasingly important arena of content marketing. Don't let anyone talk you into publishing dozens of poorly written, minimally valuable, less-than-targeted articles or posts... or even one.

-Lead grading is great, but if marketing outreach tactics can be implemented cost-effectively, even second-tier leads can stay on the radar. Sometimes great new customers still come from left field.

-Inbound marketing offers significant benefits to business-to-business companies, but don't exclude outbound and sales. Many products and services still require so-called "intrusive" outbound marketing. For many B2Bs, "being in the right place at the right time" to make the deal demands a mix of inbound and outbound marketing AND an active sales presence.

-Marketing still requires the long play. Product and service launches should be phased and thoughtful. Prospects and customers require frequent and often diversified touch points. Memories are short, so never assume anyone will remember what you communicated two months back.

-B2B companies must continually nurture new prospects and update their offerings. The customer life cycle is now more trackable than ever, thanks to integrated CRM and marketing automation. It demonstrates that you need to keep creating new customers at all times. Needs change, client companies merge and decision-makers leave their posts.

-Expert partners matter. Marketing is better when good minds work together, and when a client's institutional knowledge and passion is coupled with the marketing expertise of a company such as vSA that provides effective B2B marketing for clients every day.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Climate change: Trouble creates opportunities, needs

Hurrican Sandy knocks beach homes off foundationsBusiness must be opportunistic. It must also provide real value to its customers and stakeholders. At its best, it can be instrumental in making positive change.

For this reason, the increasingly clear impacts, present and future, of climate change, create important business opportunities.

For building products, systems and services companies, many opportunities are clear. To name just a few: Increased needs to control mold and mildew in areas with high temperatures and humidity, building exteriors and interiors designed to withstand severe weather, designs for resiliency and minimal disruption following serious storms, better ways to generate energy while reducing carbon footprint, systems to monitor both occupied and evacuated buildings and facilities in the worst conditions, and much more.

It's not just about buildings, of course. Climate change impacts virtually every aspect of life. Hot-weather maladies and insects are coming to new regions, so new vaccines and treatments are needed for Zika and other viruses. Allergy problems become more severe for some people as the changing climate can worsen symptoms. People need ways to prepare for serious storms and disruptions in many aspects of daily life. Power generation companies need to look ahead and develop and market lower-carbon, sustainable and even local solutions. Companies will seek new ways for people to conserve water as comfortably as possible. Inventive businesses will focus on new ways to "live local"  and to create more sustainable regions and communities. The next generation should and will be educated about climate change and ways to slow it. And so much more.

Climate change has its doubters, but there will be fewer doubters each year as evidence and experience mount. If climate-change-value products serve important missions now, they will be attractive even to those who doubt that the climates of the world are inexorably shifting. Meantime, for companies that best seize the opportunities to improve lives and make a difference, the rewards will be significant. The time to start is now.




Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Launch and get leads

Are you ready to launch your next B2B product or service? Be sure you're also ready to extend the steady, lasting, often diversified, effort to generate sales leads.

-DON'T assume that one tactic alone, be it enhanced SEO or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising or whatever, will meet your lead generation needs... that is not likely

-DO know that, for every message point you need to deliver, you should employ multiple media to reach more ears and wallets

-DO accordingly plan that you must make the most of every marketing dollar, which may drive some of the techniques you employ

-DO leverage every form of digital marketing appropriate – considering as well that digital marketing can be very cost-effective –  leveraging your own website (including the home page), creating an ongoing stream of relevant content marketing including a blog, issuing eblasts to your stakeholders, boosting both organic and paid SEO, and taking full advantage of social media relevant to your launch

-DON'T neglect more traditional venues, from trade shows and speaking engagements, to print and digital media relations, print and digital advertising, and direct mail to key decision-makers; being contrarian can separate you from the crowd

-DO encourage industry experts to vet and review your new offering, but not until you're confident it's ready

-DON'T stop. The old adage is still true: When you are sick and tired of delivering that same message, your intended audience may just be starting to pay attention

-DO get help. Launch marketing and lead generation is both science and art, and you will maximize your ROI by working with a strong, qualified launch marketing team.