For years I bowled in leagues and tournaments. In one particular league my team was in first place at the end of the year and we were bowling against the second place team for the trophy and prize money. Our team was one game ahead of the second place team and we were bowling three games to decide the champion.
Our team lost the first game and was losing the second game when I rallied my team and asked what was wrong. "We are the better team, they have not beat us all year, what is the problem", I asked. They began muttering excuses and so I turned and began walking away. I walked to the vending machine and purchase a bag of Skittles and returned to our table. I slammed the Skittles down on the table and said "here they are!" "Here what is"asked one of my teammates, "I just see a bag of Skittles". "Not just Skittles, Magic Skittles!! I replied."
Of course everyone looked at me as if I had two heads and I said, "Just eat the damn Skittles". They all laughed and began eating the Skittles and low and behold they began bowling better. Soon we caught the other team and won the game in the last frame. The third game was an absolute blowout and we took our trophy and prize money home as champions.
The point of this post is to remind you that even high performing teams need refocusing. You cannot rely on past performance as a guarantee of future success. Take the time to refresh the vision, strategies, and implementation. Hold each team member accountable and don't be afraid to address drops in productivity, even from your superstars.
On a side note, the following year we were the second place team trying to take the championship from the first place team. We were down one game and one of my teammates jumped and started to walk away when it was his turn to bowl. "Where are you going", I asked. "To get some Magic Skittles" he replied with a smile.
As business strategists, a large part of the foundational structure of building and maintaining a successful business is digital marketing. However, digital marketing has undergone a significant change thanks to social media platforms and reviews.
As often as I am able, I read industry and trade articles to keep up with the latest trends in digital marketing and social media and have come to realize small business owners don’t stand a chance in trying to keep up with all of the social delivery systems used by our customers. Just as we get our heads around one platform, our target audience has moved to the newest platform.
One of my staffers was telling me about Snapchat a few months ago and I was totally in the dark. As I researched, I found out more than 300 million photos and videos are shared on Snapchat per day!!
How are small business owners who do not have the funds to hire a social media management company supposed to keep up?
Instead of focusing on having a presence on the latest social media platform, focus on creating a brand experience that makes your company the subject of conversation no matter what the platform. Dedicate time, effort, and resources in your people, products, and processes and you will find more of the “snaps”, “tweets”, and “posts” will be about your company and the exceptional experience customers have had in your establishment.
From a customer point of view, social media provides an honest narrative of how they have engaged your product/service. Companies that provide a high brand experience are reward with loyalty and those who have challenges are held accountable in public. Remember your product/service is no longer what you tell customers they are, it’s what the customers tell each other it is.
Focus on one or two social media platforms frequented by your customers and use superior content to keep them interested in who you are and what your stand for. Deliver high brand experience and it will not only benefit your company in peer-to-peer recommendations, but with consumers like me who uses reviews exclusively for products and services that I have no experience with. Therefore, treat every customer as if they are your only customer and the social media will take care of itself (for a while).
As residents of arguably the greatest nation for business opportunities, it is easy to believe “if you build it they will come”. However, there are several problems with that axiom; most notably, all of the activities that come with building a sustainable business. While there are many factors in the development and day-to-day operation of your business, the three most critical are marketing, social media management, and business development.
If you built it and are waiting for them to come, you are already in trouble. Before you opened your doors you should have had a very clear picture of your target audience, their values and preferences, and how you were going to change their current habits into those that involve purchasing your products/services. Having this information would have made your marketing more effective and lowered the overall expense of customer acquisition.
I know you’re going to say that your product/service can be purchased by anyone, right?
By not having a clear understanding of who is most likely to purchase your product/service you run the risk of making mistakes in packaging, messaging, and delivery systems. Not to mention whether there is a large enough market to achieve your revenue goals. The purpose of marketing is to let potential customers know you have the solution to their problem, but if you don’t know who they are and what their problems are how effective will your marketing be?
Social Media Management
Social conversation has forever changed how consumers find, purchase, and build loyalty to brands. A superior product/service with a bad reputation will have a very difficult time sustaining growth and increasing market share. More than 50% of your growth, or lack thereof, can occur through social conversations on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), opinion pages (Trip Advisor, Yelp, Angie’s List), or blogs (Reddit, Diggit Blogspot, etc.). If you or a member of your team is not constantly monitoring social conversation concerning your company, products/services, and customer service, then it is time to get with the program. Let me give you an example of how I search for a product to fulfill a need.
If it is a product/service that I have never used before or have not developed a brand opinion about, I will search on Google with generic terms like “best widget in Central Florida”. Once I have the list I read reviews to see if there is a general consensus on who delivers the highest quality service. After that is determined, I do another Google search with the words “Company A sucks”. This is so I can see if there are rants, BBB complaints, legal actions, or product deficiencies. Once that question has been answered I do another search using the product/service identifier, to get the best price out there and contact Company A to negotiate a purchase. In my example, you can easily see how companies are eliminated and how Company A having a satisfactory social identity is crucial in them getting my business.
Business development is an all-inclusive term that refers to all of the practices and processes that take your company from startup through the rest of your business cycle. Processes such as developing your core competencies, strategic planning, product/service evaluation, inventory management, human resources, and customer retention strategies are the foundation on which your company’s future success is built. The executive team should be well versed in adaptive leadership and change management as trends emerge, competitors enter your space, or changes in consumer values and preferences occur.
I’m a one man/woman show so these things don’t apply to me!
Believe it or not for micro businesses (under 10 employees) these factors are more critical. With limited resources and/or personnel, you have to make sure your efforts are effective because you can’t get back the time it took to execute and if your strategy missed it mark, you have to compensate for the resources spent.
In closing I want to emphasize that running a successful because requires you to be a visionary, innovator, manager, operations director, marketing guru, social media maven, and business development leader. Sound impossible? Well, it is by yourself!
The purpose of this conversation is to convince you of the fact you need help, whether a mentor who has reached the level of success you aspire to, a partner with skills that fill in the gaps in your knowledge, organizations such as the SBA, SBDC, Chamber of Commerce, or SCORE, or dare I say a business strategist (hint, hint). Don’t wait until you hit the wall to seek guidance, be proactive and become one of the success stories I teach my students about in the future.
From the inception of my company I have always helped entrepreneurs gain a better understanding of what makes a business successful and how to implement proven strategies for growth and profitability. However, the days of simply offering a better product at a fair price are over. Social conversation and digital marketing in general, have brought in dynamics that are not only intangible, but can have a lasting effect on your business without your knowledge. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to examine what a proper digital marketing strategy should include and to help business owners make sense of all of the changes in how customers consume information.
As part of the Baby Boomer generation I am traditional in my purchasing habits with many brand loyalties and product traditions that I have passed on to my children. That being said, the Internet has given me the ability to make better purchasing decisions on those items that I do not buy on a regular basis. My usual strategy is to Google the company name to see if there are complaints or legal actions pending, I visit websites such as CNET and You Tube to see product comparisons, and then visit the social media community for opinions from current and previous users.
What we as business owners have to realize is if we aren’t a part of the strategy I just described, we are losing out on potential sales without even being aware. Below is an illustration of what a proper digital marketing strategy would be comprised of and we will cover the “must haves” shortly. I know my esteemed colleagues who are digital marketing specialists will say I am only scratching the surface in this analysis, but I believe in having strategies that are understandable and actionable.
As small business owners our greatest challenge is leveraging resources to accomplish our goals. We understand the importance of digital marketing, but have not had the time (too busy peddling the bike) to research how it’s done well. What I’d like to offer is the perspectives of one who is also “peddling the bike” but has found implementing certain strategies have lowered the amount of hills in the journey.
#1 – Website – Although the various social media platforms provide us with avenues to get to know our customers, they cannot replace a website. Your company website is where you set the foundation for the relationship between you, your customers, and prospective customers. It should explain who you are, your company’s core beliefs, how your products and services add value to your customers’ lives, and how they may obtain your products and services. Your website should also be the central point of your digital footprint (blogs, social media, articles, and reviews). Customers should be able to access your presence in all forms and that access should be easy to find. Finally, keep you website fresh, add pictures, testimonials, videos, and press releases to maintain relevance and make sure your website is formatted for viewing on mobile devices.
#2 – Social Media – I am still amazed at the number of businesses that do not use social media. While it is true that most of the reluctance is among Baby Boomers, I have seen some Gen Xers who were weaned on the traditional business model and have not embraced the new reality. Working with these companies, I have noticed most do not use social media because the fail to see the relevance in driving sales; so I have posted a graphical representation that I hope will create an “aha” moment.
What social media is best used for is driving data. The success of your efforts can be measured by the amount of traffic that is directed to your website by the various social media platforms. You may use videos and specials to drive engagement, but it is the analytics of who responded that you are looking for. The better you are at determining which platform energized which segment of your target audience, the easier it will be to create products and services that are more relevant to those segments, which will hopefully lead to increased sales.
Social media is also of great value in gauging your brand experience; what are customers saying about your products and services and how can that information be used to increase brand loyalty? Finally, if you are in a highly competitive industry or market, social media can be used to find opportunities among the customers of your competitors. If there are shortcomings within your competitors’ strategies, your company can gain market share by simply offering those desired services and using social media to get the word out.
By no means am I down playing the significance of mobile marketing and content marketing (blogs, articles, etc.). I recently ran a campaign for a client and 83% of the response was on mobile. My company is in the final stages of developing a mobile app that will provide entrepreneurs with a mobile knowledge base. Instead my purpose was to give small business owners who are overwhelmed by the daily machinations of running a business, a perspective that may lighten the load and drive a few more dollars.
I look forward to your thoughts
As an entrepreneur and business owner I spend a lot of time reading articles, blogs, and research reports on topics related to building and maintaining a successful company. I enjoy the variety of opinions from fellow sojourners, educators, and millionaires, but I have noticed a trend in these outlets where there is a confusion between creativity and innovation.
While there is no earth shattering ill affect from this discourse, the professor in me feels I have to help set the record straight or at least start a conversation to determine if my thoughts hold water. I saw a great quote this morning that exemplified my perspective on the topic it read, "Creativity is thinking up new things and Innovation is doing new things". So I'll give a few examples and we can discuss if you agree.
Dictionary.com defines creativity as, "the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.."
Case Study #1 - Velcro
In 1948, Swiss engineer and amateur mountaineer George de Mestral went hiking in the woods with his dog. Upon arriving back at his home, he took note of the burrs that clung to his clothes and he wondered if such an idea could be useful in commercial application. He studied a burr under a microscope only to discover that they were covered in tiny hooks, which allowed them to grab onto clothes and fur that brushed in passing. After more than eight years of research and work, he created what is known now today as Velcro, a combination of the words “velvet” and “crochet.” Made up of two strips of fabric, one covered in thousands of tiny hooks and the other with thousands of tiny loops, the materials gripped together firmly while still allowing easy release. (livescience.com)
Here we have a perfect demonstration of creativity. Mr. de Mestral may not have had a specific use in mind when he developed Velcro, but he realized that it represented a very creative way to attach two items without adhesive or fasteners.
Merriam-Webster defines innovation as, "the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods".
Case Study #2 - Velcro
As stated previous, Mr. de Mestral may not have had a specific use in mind when he created Velcro, but the eventual perfection of the method fostered innovative uses in subsequent years. For people who suffer from arthritis having shoes and clothing that are able to be secured using Velcro represented innovation. For a medical device such as a blood pressure cuff Velcro allowed them to be able to use it on a wider variety of arm sizes by simply moving the teeth across the fabric and securing the new position, truly innovative.
If I were to give you my differentiation between creativity and innovation it would be that creativity represents a new way of addressing an existing problem and innovation is when that new way of addressing the problem becomes the norm.
I look forward to your thoughts