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Value Proposition for Startups: 3 questions every startup must have the courage to answer

September 5th, 2014 2 comments

“Every time a person says ‘yes,’ they are saying ‘no’ 10,000 times. One ‘yes’ equals many ‘no’s.’ The power of ‘yes’ is not in its affirmation but in its negation.”

– Flint McGlaughlin

Leading a new business to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage is not easy. It often involves difficult choices and a certain level of courage. But for the startup, it isn’t solely the courage to say “yes” that enables it to thrive; rather it’s the courage to say “no.”

Recently, I had the privilege of spending some time with a young startup company and working with them on their value proposition. Like many startups, this group had done well without any formal process of identifying a value proposition.

They had a group of founders, who, like many, built a unique product to solve a problem for a particular group of people. Intuitively, they had launched with a successful value proposition.

 

When competitive advantage is challenged

However, times had changed for this group. They used to be the first in their space, but now their market was crowded, and their customers had many similar competing products to choose from.

During the course of our conversation, I could feel the pressure the leaders of this company were up against, which stemmed from the worry about maintaining their strategic competitive advantage.

The temptation was to attempt to be everything their (new) competitors had become — in some sense, to be all things to all people. This is a common pressure, but it is often this precise pressure that causes many organizations to “acquire” their way right out of a good value proposition.

The most forceful value propositions are not those that try to do many things well, but rather those that try to do one thing really well.

Focus is one of the most essential components of a strong value proposition. Unfortunately, focus is often one of the hardest things to find in a business. Focus requires courage, especially the courage to say “no.” Learning to say that two-letter word was precisely the kind of negating focus this startup needed to answer three essential questions:

 

Question #1. How will you not serve?

A business cannot be all things to all people without diluting the power of its value proposition. By its nature, a specific value proposition must appeal to a particular prospect type. This can be counterintuitive, but knowing who your customers are necessitates knowing who your customers are not. Recognizing this distinction is essential.

The startup I mentioned above had created the most respectable and trusted cloud-based email distribution service. Because of their intense focus on accepting only those clients who send reputable emails, they had the highest deliverability rates, a serious evaluation process and strict guidelines. But ultimately, they had to make the difficult choice to turn away potential customers in order to preserve the value proposition that served their true customers.

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6 Tips for Creating an Effective Survey

September 2nd, 2014 No comments

As marketers, we see lots of benchmark data and statistics that we base our business decisions on.

At MarketingSherpa, we recently conducted a nine-month study on the state of ecommerce.

You’ll see the results of our research conducted with 4,346 marketers across 95 in-depth charts.

Obviously, this data didn’t come out of thin air. There was a survey that our MECLABS research team carefully constructed to gather those insights.

Crafting effective surveys is potentially the most important part of collecting useful data, whether you’re fielding research for a report or simply gaining customer feedback.

Diana Sindicich, Senior Manager, Data Sciences, MECLABS (parent company of MarketingSherpa), played an integral part in the MarketingSherpa Ecommerce Benchmark Study and provided some tips on how to produce the most effective survey for your needs.

 

Survey Tip #1. Evaluate your situation

There’s a good time, and a not-so-good time, for everything. This rule of life applies to surveys as well.

In surveys, situations may exist for you that make it a good idea to field a survey, Diana explained.

This could include scenarios of when you want to understand your customers’ motivations or characteristics. Maybe you’re looking to expand your product lines and want to know what your customers would like to see offered.

On the other hand, there are times when a survey may not be the best idea for what you want to accomplish. Perhaps you have a very personalized service with a small group of customers. Surveys can be perceived as impersonal — conversely, an interview would make the customer feel special and valued.

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Social Media Marketing: Tools and takeaways to implement today

August 29th, 2014 1 comment

Earlier this year, I was asked to moderate a case study panel at DFW Rocks Social Media Day. It was a fast and furious two days with multiple concurrent tracks and a lot of great information for attendees.

Since so much was happening at once, I wasn’t able to take in all the great content. So I reached out to Lissa Duty, Organizer of DFW Rocks Social Media 2014 and Vice President of Community Management at Advice Interactive Group, for her take on the event to give MarketingSherpa readers the opportunity to learn some of the top takeaways.

 

Insights from the organizerDFW-rocks

From the organizer’s perspective, Lissa said that this year’s event placed a higher importance on live content.

She explained, “This year, I really saw the value in having the live blog to share the conference sessions and highlight the speakers, even after the event, plus the live tweets, which did make for the #DFWRocks2014 hashtag streaming on Twitter at one point.”

What’s Lissa’s quick-hit advice on social media marketing?

“You must start with creating a social media plan,” Lissa said.

She then outlined three key points:

 

Key Point #1. Understand why you’re using social media

It’s not just to ”get rich.” Understand why you feel social media is important to you, your customer and your brand.

 

Key Point #2. Research what your customer wants to know about your brand

Discover how you can share that message uniquely in each social space, and then create a plan to give them that message.

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Social Media Marketing: Setting expectations both internally and externally [Video]

August 26th, 2014 No comments

“#FAIL” is the last thing you want to hear from your audience on your social media channels.

From disgruntled users or customers to people calling out your company or brand’s blunder, handling the outcome of a social media fail correctly is critical for recovery.

But beyond just addressing a crisis online, is there an effective way to prevent these cringe-worthy mishaps from even happening?

epicurious-boston-tweet

 

In the MarketingSherpa Media Center at IRCE, Andrew Jones, Industry Analyst, Altimeter Group, explained how using a simple two-part strategy can help prevent social media fails before they occur.

 

Strategy #1. Manage expectations internally

Before you embark on social media, Andrew explained there should be a plan going into the journey to set guidelines for those who will be posting.

“At first, I think a lot of brands got involved and saw it as kind of a cute toy, and said, ‘Oh, let’s give it to the intern,” or, ‘Let’s give it to someone who doesn’t necessarily know a lot about the company,”‘ Andrew explained. “That can cause problems if the engagement that ends up representing the company in a very public space ends up causing social media fails or misrepresenting the company.”

Andrew recommended that the team managing a company’s social media account has rules and scenarios on how to interact with the audience online, especially when there’s a problem.

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3 Tips to Improve Your Marketing from Doctor Who

August 22nd, 2014 7 comments

(Editor’s note: Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content, MarketingSherpa, also contributed her knowledge – and love of “Doctor Who” – to this blog post.)

There are a lot of nerds in our office, and if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, this is probably not news to you. Recently, we’ve realized something nerds everywhere have known for a long time – we are not alone.

In our case studies, blogs and events, we’ve seen how other marketers utilize pop culture to help convey complex ideas – for instance, emergency alert systems provider One Call Now used “Star Trek” characters to represent its customer personas.

Since we have seen the success others have had, we wanted to try this idea out for ourselves using an office favorite: BBC’s science fiction cult classic “Doctor Who,” which is having its latest series premiere on August 23.

doctor-who

For those who are unfamiliar, the titular Doctor is a Time Lord (a time-traveling alien species very similar to humans) who faces various foes in attempts to save civilizations and right wrongs using intellect over force while exploring all of time and space.

Intellect over force is a driving principle behind our work here – marketing through testing and optimization over gut feelings and intuition.

Read on for three tips we’ve taken to heart from “Doctor Who” about how to make the customer your companion in your marketing efforts.

 

Tip #1. Test every (seemingly) insignificant thing

Doctor: Stone dust.

Kate: Is it important?

Doctor: In 1,200 years, I’ve never stepped in anything that wasn’t. … Now, I want this stone dust analyzed. And I want a report in triplicate, with lots of graphs and diagrams and complicated sums on my desk, tomorrow morning, ASAP, pronto …

Doctor Who,” The Day of the Doctor, 2013

Every single thing, down to the dust he has stepped on, is something the Doctor considers important. He’s been testing, scanning and analyzing all of his surroundings for 1,200 years.

You may think that you know the answer to every question anyone could ask about your customers. But when you begin testing, you could discover that you’ve totally overlooked a simple concept that was right under your nose (or boots).

For example, at MarketingSherpa Lead Gen Summit 2013 in San Francisco, Jon Ciampi, Vice President Marketing, Corporate Development, Business Development and Strategic Accounts, CRC Health, presented a case study where his team tested what they considered to be best practices.

They took their control page of concise copy with an above the fold call-to-action, and created a treatment full of copy with a below the fold call-to-action.

What Jon and his team discovered was an “aha moment,” realizing that not only had the treatment outperformed the control by 220%, but they hadn’t understood their customers’ motivations at all.

While they had been promoting luxury and statistics, it took one test to realize that customers weren’t asking, “What is your doctor-to-patient ratio?” but rather, “Can I trust you with my loved one?”

“We test in the eternal hope that we can possibly understand the motivations of our customers and adjust our practices accordingly,” Jon summed up in his presentation.

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Content Marketing: How a farm justifies premium pricing

August 19th, 2014 1 comment

“We often feel like we have a sales force of thousands of loyal customers looking out for our best interest.”

We’ll get to how content marketing enabled the example in that quote in just a minute, but first, let’s start with the incredible, edible egg market.

The egg market is a perfect example of how value, and marketing’s role in the communication of that value, can be added to what was previously a commodity in order to produce higher margins.

Take a look at the market for eggs. There’s white. Brown. Hormone free. Antibiotic fee. Vegetarian fed. Grass fed. USDA organic. Free range. The list goes on.

Of course, there is a range of prices for these different attributes, ranging from $2.78 per dozen to $5.49 per dozen in a recent Consumer Reports article, for example.

This creates a dilemma for the consumer and a challenge (and opportunity) for the marketer.

 

The Marketer’s Challenge and Opportunity: Communicating value when markets are filled with choice

This is, after all, the heart of marketing: enabling choice and communicating the value of those choices.

So let’s look back at the egg market. Remember, not too long ago, eggs were just a commodity. Then, all of these product claims came along. One could argue that all of those claims create more value for customers, and thus, justify the higher price. That may in fact be true, but they would miss the point.

The real ability to charge a premium price for having any of those words on an egg carton is the customer’s perception of that value. After all, how many customers really understand what goes into raising an organic egg?

 

It was beauty (the content) that killed the beast (the commodity)

Commodity products are very dangerous for companies. It means their only lever of survival is to focus on operational excellence and cost-cutting to constantly stay one step ahead of expenses and the competition.

This is where content can be so powerful. Companies that really are producing something of greater value (e.g., the organic egg) can use content to show the story of how their products are made so the customer can see for themselves what the value is (e.g., justifying the higher cost for an organic egg).

Effective content marketing isn’t only happening online. Let’s take a look at an example of how one egg company is using content marketing to show this distinguishing value.

 

In-package newsletter

If you buy Country Hen eggs off your grocer’s shelf, when you open the carton, you will see “The Country Hen Farm News.”

country-hen-newsletter

 

Content marketing = show your work

At first glance, it’s easy to miss how profound this in-package newsletter is. After all, the company basically bought a truck. So what?

Surely, customers must assume that their eggs make it from point A to point B to eventually their grocery store shelves in a truck of some sort. How does that add value?

“We like to see people working on our behalf,” Michael Norton, Associate Professor, Harvard Business School, explained at Web Optimization Summit 2014. (You can read a 15-second synopsis of his research in Takeaway #2 of Web Optimization Summit 2014 Wrap-up: Top 5 takeaways to improve your testing and optimization).

 

The difference between showing and telling

It’s not simply the fact that The Country Hen bought a truck that adds value, but rather, how it uses the newsletter to show product value. The magic is in the writing. This newsletter shows the value in three subtle, but brilliant, ways:

  1. Shows the work – As mentioned above, it shows how these farmers are working hard to get your eggs to you.
  1. Shows the passion – This isn’t some mega-corporation with commodity eggs. These people really care. For example, “Our girls will not have their vital nutrients in the care of a less than reliable vehicle.”
  1. Establishes its place in the market – Again, this isn’t a mega-corporation. They’re the underdog, the little guy. By spending more to buy Country Hen eggs, you are supporting the small farmer. After all, it’s quite charming how proud they are of a used truck: “The truck has only 188,000 miles and is capable of transporting 24,000 pounds of our certified organic cuisine.”

This company could have ran a TV ad campaign with stock farm footage of dewy mornings and hay bales being loaded into trucks and a ruddy-voiced announcer reading lines like, “We’re working a little harder for you.”

That would be telling. It would be hype. I would argue, it wouldn’t have been as effective because it wouldn’t be real. It wouldn’t win over today’s skeptical customer.

Pamela Jesseau, Senior Director of Marketing, MECLABS, is the person who gave me this newsletter and suggested this blog post. She described it like this: “I spend twice as much money on these eggs because they tell me about their truck. I’m never going to buy another egg ever again as long as The Country Hen is on the shelf. I want to find out what is next. I feel like they are my hens, too.”

After reading the newsletter, I wanted to share some insights from The Country Hen with you to help improve your own content marketing. So I reached out to Kathy Moran, the signatory of the newsletter, to get some background and tips for you.

As with any marketing department we write about, they aren’t perfect by any means. They still have work to do on their digital side. But I thought it would be helpful to hear how they create content with a small team and limited budget. Her responses were so good and real, I didn’t even pick up my editing pen.

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Content Marketing: Encouraging sales and upsells at the point of purchase

August 5th, 2014 1 comment

Many marketers think of content marketing as a top-of-the-funnel activity. This could include a video to build brand awareness, or an e-book to grow the email list.

But what about using content to encourage sales and upsells at the point of purchase?

On a recent trip to Maine, I came across a great example of point-of-purchase content marketing, although I’m not sure the content’s author would have labeled it as such.

 

How to eat a lobster

how-to-eat-lobster

 

This is a great example of where point-of-purchase content marketing can help: when you have a product that novice customers might not know how to use.

For a tourist who has never eaten a lobster, a placemat like this could be the tipping point between:

  • Buying the less expensive (and easier to eat) lobster roll or lobster meat salad or something more familiar like a steak

or

  • Buying the premium-priced product with the higher margin – lobster

No one wants to order a lobster (or any product) and look like a fool because they don’t know how to eat it. They are less likely to order because they don’t see the value in it.

That’s why this placemat is true content marketing, by my definition. This isn’t an overt sales piece; it was executed in a way that teaches someone how to do something.

Even for myself, as I have eaten a lobster before and was going to order one anyway, it helped me enjoy it more as a refresher for exactly how to eat the lobster since it had been a few years since I’ve eaten one.

 

Opportunities for point-of-purchase content marketing

The great opportunity for point-of-purchase content marketing is this:

When a customer needs to be taught about the product to make a
decision that is better for them.

This likely falls into two major buckets: product education and product differentiation.

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Social Media: Mass personalization starts with Catsies

As a young 20-something, I understand your pain when it comes to social media.

You see hashtags and acronyms online and wonder where the world is headed. Then, just when Justin Bieber makes you want to crawl under a rock, you see #Catsies.

catsies-virgin-mobile

 

Catsies are a real thing.

It means cat selfies, and it was created by Virgin Mobile USA to generate buzz for the Samsung Galaxy S5, and the idea is (arguably) genius. Recently, the company also launched a contest for the best Catsie to be crowned the Virgin Mobile #Catsie Spokescat, among other branded prizes.

Virgin Mobile’s target audience is a younger crowd and let’s face it: My peers and I are a little obsessed with cats.

Well played, Virgin Mobile.

I wanted to mention there’s also more to the campaign strategy than cute closeups of your calico.

By thinking outside the (litter) box and leveraging the interest of a specific audience, Virgin Mobile is taking a new approach to mass personalization.

The idea of mass personalization sounds somewhat paradoxical, but it’s where the roads of tech, design and culture appear to be taking us (and our cats).

Here’s what it looks like when broken down:

  • Target audience: People who like, or may have an interest in, cats
  • Purpose: Drive sales for Samsung Galaxy S5, and increase visits to the Virgin Mobile site
  • Method: New Catsies page, Catsie contest, Twitter hashtag, behind-the-scenes video

 

Creating a mass personalized campaign is like planning a kid’s birthday party

Mass personalized campaigns sound more difficult than they really are.

I’m not saying mass personalization campaigns are safe from a quick spiral into a highly complex strategy to execute, especially if you’re thinking of a multichannel approach.

When you strip mass personalization campaigns down to the core elements, you have almost the same list of bases to cover that you would in planning a child’s birthday party.

birthday-party-planning

 

Take a look at the table I put together and feel free to add any recommendations in comments section below.

Also, don’t forget the cake.

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Ecommerce: 2 tips to help small businesses navigate multichannel marketing

June 27th, 2014 2 comments

This year at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in Chicago, Nicole Snow, Founder, Darn Good Yarn, sat down with Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS, in the MarketingSherpa Media Center to discuss the challenges of navigating a multichannel digital landscape while retaining a small business identity.

Darn Good Yarn’s value proposition is based on stimulating growth in poverty-stricken areas of Nepal and India by recycling silk yarn into products Nicole imports and sells in the United States.

Nicole does not have a background of making yarn. In fact, when she began, knitting was only a hobby.

“[Starting my business was] a lot of learning and I tried to do things on the cheap; I was self-funded,” she said. “It was a real benefit because I respected every single marketing dollar. Every single test I did had to be really the right choice for me as a business.”

 

These careful business decisions penetrate the whole of Nicole’s business, from hiring employees to protecting her suppliers.

“People around the world work for me,” Nicole said. “I’m pretty proud of that business model because it really is indicative of a newer economy.”

Nicole has been very protective over the growth of her company, both in the U.S. and abroad.

She insisted part of becoming a successful small business includes “controlling growth and not allowing it to just blow up.”

“Then, you start getting abuses of supply chains and of humans that way and that’s important to us, to make sure that doesn’t happen,” she explained.

Here were two important takeaways Nicole offered to help small businesses navigate a multichannel digital world:

  • Purposefully enter channels – Find a few channels that work best for your small business because you can’t be everywhere.
  • Find advocates – Look for supporters who want you to succeed and build relationships with them.

 

Remember your roots

Let your passion bleed through every decision that you make for your business.

As companies grow, adaptations to an organization’s process and strategy are inevitable. We surveyed 4,436 marketers on how management styles and approaches should shift as ecommerce companies grow. You can see that data on page 15 of the MarketingSherpa E-commerce Benchmark Study.

Want to see more interviews with IRCE speakers, industry experts and in-the-trenches marketers from the MarketingSherpa Media Center? All 32 exclusive interviews from IRCE are available for viewing.

 

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Social Media: How employees can help you deliver value on Twitter

Branded social media accounts are for the bold.

While they allow you to interact with a global audience in real time, the damage caused by the wrong post gone viral can be permanent. But then again, he who risks nothing gains nothing. I mention this in context of the potential public relations risks associated with allowing employees to take over a branded social media account.

The idea of an employee-driven Twitter account might make your PR team cringe, but would you be willing to take the leap if it meant a 46% increase in followers? In this MarketingSherpa Blog post, I wanted to share a recent interview I had with Deloitte’s Senior Manager of Employer Brand, Lisa Monarski.

We touched on some of the things she has learned from managing a branded employee Twitter account.

 

A unique opportunity to deliver value

In 2010, Deloitte identified an opportunity to increase the force of its value proposition through Twitter, an emerging medium for B2B marketers at the time.

While the company’s Twitter strategy in the U.S. had previously centered on a B2B audience, the team realized they could launch a separate Twitter handle to answer a common question their talent recruiters often hear:

“What’s it really like to work at Deloitte?”

Translate this into: “If I am your ideal prospect, why should I choose you rather than any of your competitors?”

Sound familiar?

The key thing to remember here is that in order to answer the question, you have to get inside the mind of the customer and see your offer through their eyes.

If your prospects are recruits, there is no better way to do this than to let your employees answer the question for you because, as one-time recruits themselves, your employees identify with your recruiting prospects.

And so, the @LifeAtDeloitte handle was born.

Life at Deloitte

 

By using this handle, Deloitte was able to convert the attention of recruits into legitimate interest. The account was an opportunity to increase appeal, credibility and clarity of the company’s value proposition.

Let’s also keep in mind that the exclusivity factor was already there: “Only those who sign with us get to experience this.

 

MarketingSherpa: What prompted you to start an employee-run Twitter account?

Lisa Monarski: In the U.S., Deloitte’s Twitter strategy had centered on the B2B audience with specific business- and industry-related handles. In 2010, we realized this could be a great channel to help answer the question that our recruiters hear many times from candidates: “What’s it really like to work at Deloitte?

 

MS: Who is your target audience?

LM: Our target audience is anyone who wants to know what it’s like to work at Deloitte. We think that anyone from a college freshman up through a seasoned professional looking for new challenges can gain insights into our culture and people by following @LifeAtDeloitte.

 

MS: Who (or what) was your inspiration to start an employee-run Twitter account?

LM: Our people were the inspiration for this strategy. Whenever you ask someone questions like, “What brought you to Deloitte?” or “Why have you stayed here for so long?” etc., the answer is consistently the same: It’s the people.

We have a very engaging and collegial environment here. Creating a channel where we could feature our people and give them the microphone, so to speak, seemed like an authentic approach to highlighting those who work here.

 

MS: How do you select the employee who gets the handle?

LM: We help our followers – more than 15,300 now – experience a good cross-section of Deloitte. Guest tweeters range from new hires and first year auditors or consultants up through some of the more senior leaders of the organization. We make sure to represent our various functions – audit, consulting, tax, enterprise risk and financial advisory.

We also use the account to promote the programs that demonstrate our values such as Warrior Games, Olympics, IMPACT Day, Alternative Spring Break, or our presence at national and global events such as Davos or SXSW.

 

MS: Do you brief them before they receive access to the account?

LM: Deloitte has social media guidelines and training programs in place as well as policies to protect our clients’ confidentiality. Our guidelines help our people develop strong networks and their personal brand both inside and outside of work.

Every professional who takes a turn as guest tweeter is given a written guide of leading practices. They also participate in what we call a “primer” to discuss the tactical side of managing the handle. It’s truly the professional’s authentic voice that you see in the tweets.

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