A student tried to stump me Tuesday during a conversation about positioning.
“For a kids’ energy drink, would you target the kids or the moms?”
Depends, I said. For instance, how old are the kids? There’s a bit of a difference between three-year-olds and thirteen-year-olds. Teenagers, he said. Then probably teenagers, I said.
“Interesting,” he said and went on to tell me about an article he just read talking about how much better an energy drink was doing since targeting moms. A more extensive discussion followed.
To the “interesting” comment, I very much wanted to respond: not really.
You target after segmenting and you segment based on knowledge. What do you know about the consumers? What do you know about the competition? Where’s the gap in the market that you can fill?
Every other decision is based upon that. Let’s say a beverage company discovered through its research that a good percentage of moms were concerned about the energy drinks their teenagers were drinking. They figure out a recipe that still gives the kick but is a lot healthier. Absolutely the target would be moms. The distribution channel would be grocery stores. Moms make almost all the grocery buying decisions. And yes, the teenagers would drink it. Because it’s free, in the refrigerator and tastes good.
That could be one scenario. But the point is you start with the research. You find the gap and you fill it. You don’t just pick a target market out of thin air.
It isn’t about what you think. You have to have reason to believe and the stronger that reason is the better. The closer you get to knowing what your target segment wants, the stronger your business opportunity is going to be.
As we learn more and understand more, we move away from what we think to having a reason to believing all the way to actually knowing. But absolutely certainty is an unachievable goal. What you’re trying to do is inform your intuition.
Choosing a target market isn’t answering a pop quiz. It’s an informed decision. Was yours?
That’s the question an article in yesterday’s New York Times Business Day titled “Sponsoring Articles, Not Just Ads” seems to be asking yet not asking. So I’ll ask it: are they?
To me, that’s the core issue. And it’s a tricky question. We have a collision of circumstances happening. On the one hand we have the new thing everybody’s talking about — content marketing. It’s the way to build reputation, relationships with customers, providers and community members and, most importantly, provide value instead of pitching specials and discounts. On the other, media is in trouble and it seems ludicrous to begrudge publishers attempts to find new ways to bring in the revenue that allows their editorial staff to do real journalism work.
The real job of journalism is to serve people — readers, viewers, listeners — and in so doing perform the important watch dog function that earned the press the name Forth Estate, for keeping an eye on our governments. If people are being mislead, that’s clearly a disservice. But if not, and they value the information being shared with them, is it a disservice?
Personally, I’d prefer to see content a company paid to have in any media outlet clearly marked. And yet, I could very fairly be labeled a hypocrite for saying so. Why?
Way longer ago than I’d care to admit, I got to write entire sections for speciality consumer magazines on behalf of my clients when I was in Minneapolis. The magazines, called special interest publications or SIPs for short, produced and sold through newsstands by some of the biggest magazine publishing houses in America, then had what they called a “bulking section.” Positioned right in the middle of the magazine, this 16-page section was typically printed in black ink only on cheaper, bulkier stock and served to literally bulk up the SIPs. They often dealt with a single broad topic area — like outdoor living in a home improvement special interest magazine — and were an extra burden to the specialty publications’ sparse editorial teams.
I wrote several of those sections benefitting a bevy of clients whose businesses grouped into a category like that. If I recall correctly, the one I referenced above involved Toro outdoor lighting, Weyerhaeuser pressure-treated special lumber and DAP, a USG subsidiary that made outdoor wood stains. The articles were about how to design outdoor lighting for aesthetics and home security, making decks and gazebos cooler and more in keeping with a home’s architectural style and designing beautiful planting beds. My clients paid my firm for my time to write and my boss’s time to edit the articles, paid for illustrators to provide art and that was pretty much it. This was strictly the editorial side of the house. No ad purchase involved.
I’m quite sure my firm originally got the opportunity to create these sections because my boss was a former Better Homes & Gardens editor, so the SIP editors knew his work and trusted his journalistic ethics. He knew how to write for their audiences, had exceedingly high journalistic standards for all our work and was an absolutely brutal editor. I learned an enormous amount working for him. We got to keep doing it because our team developed a track record with a select group of SIP editors who knew we’d deliver the goods if we pitched an idea for a bulking section.
So were they a disservice to readers? As you might expect, I’d argue no. We worked hard to make them good sections, chock full of useful information, tips and ideas. They did mention the companies and they did tout product attributes. Why else would we do them? But that same product information was carried in myriad editor-written materials showing up in countless magazine and newspaper stories nationwide. Getting that done was our job.
Ultimately aren’t the readers already determining what’s valuable to them by what they choose to read and share? One article on Google Glass technology on Mashable was shared almost 2,000 times on social media. They probably shared it because they liked it. Maybe that’s the real criteria we should consider.
The extensive debate around The New York Times’ Feb. 10 review of the Tesla Model S sedan and its ability to make a run from D.C. to Boston using Tesla’s new supercharger network along I-95 has practically been blood sport and, consequently, has had a decent audience throughout. The Editorial Director of the Harvard Business Review weighed in Feb. 15th making the point that innovators often forget normal people are going to have to use their products, not the geeky innovative types they themselves are likely to be. Here’s an excerpt from Tim Sullivan’s post:
Perhaps this is the root of the problem. The Tesla team have (sic) built a car to satisfy themselves, which means that they’ve focused on the customer as driver not on the customer as a whole individual. That’s the tension I see in the original Broder review: great driving, bad transportation. Tesla’s goal is to sell 20,000 units of the Model S and they are promoting it as a “normal-use” car. Will anyone put up with the hassle? Was this normal use part of their early goal or did they just geek out on an awesome car?
In my Feb. 18th post on managing product reviews, I disagreed with part of that article, which is not to say at all that I disagree entirely. Not at all.
Tesla is trying to position the S as a regular car alternative and I would argue it’s not. Not yet. I say that as the owner of an electric car. I drive – and love – a Nissan Leaf. But it’s a commuter car and a commuter car only. While Jim Billmaier, author of Jolt! The Impending Dominance of the Electric Car and Why America Must Take Charge, did indeed take his on road trips to bravely challenge the range limits, I’m not going to do that. Granted, the Tesla S has a longer range than my Leaf, but still. There are a lot of gas stations along every highway in this country. Still, most people don’t wait until the tank’s nearing empty before they hit truck stop. The charging stations along I-95 are about 200 miles apart and even supercharging requires taking a bit more than a bathroom break.
Buying an EV does indeed require the driver to change his or her behavior and as all of us who try to influence consumer behavior know well, that’s a tough assignment. Tesla is a public company trying to hit numbers. That leads to forecast’s like Seeking Alpha’s 8/31/11 post trying to predict the company’s market share. I believe Tesla’s a little behind on Model S deliveries, so that would impact their ability to meet this forecast. Regardless, Tesla needs rapid adoption to hit their numbers. But technology adoption is a predictable curve passing from one group of adopters to another in a fairly well known progression. Let’s take a quick look at the first three groups.
Quoting directly from Geoffrey A. Moore in Crossing the Chasm, Innovators pursue new technology products aggressively. They often make a technology purchase simply for the pleasure of exploring the device’s properties.
Early adopters buy into new products concepts very early in their life cycle, but unlike innovators, they are not technologists. Rather they are people who find it easy to imagine, understand and appreciate the benefits of a new technology, and to relate these potential benefits to their other concerns (my italics because I believe that matters a great deal when we’re talking about EVs).
On the other hand, members of the early majority ultimately are driven by a strong sense of practicality. They’re content to wait and see how other people are making out before the buy in themselves. This is a decent sized segment of the market, so of course Tesla wants to reach it as quickly as possible. But – Tesla’s positioning aside – EVs are still in the early stages of technology adoption. That’s the point I felt Sullivan missed or skipped in his HBR piece. He’s right that EVs have a long way to go to reach the masses. That’s how technology adoption works.
It all makes me wonder if it was wise at this stage for Tesla to encourage any journalist to take the charging stations for a “test drive.” And that brings me back to John M. Broder’s experience.
My view could be skewed by the fact I’m in those early groups for consumer adoption, but as an EV owner I personally would have acted very differently than Broder. I’m not a patient person (fine, far, far from it!) but I would have forced myself to wait 11 more minutes to reach full charge at the second stop because, as an EV driver, I know how much more range I can get out of just 11 minutes of charging.
But here’s the biggie: Groton, Conn. Broder said the car gave him a range of 90 miles when he parked for the night, more than enough to make it back to Milford, 46 miles away. But temperatures that night dipped to 10 degrees and in the morning he had a 25-mile range.
Maybe it’s because I lived in Minnesota for 12 years, land of parking garage outlets installed not for EVs but for block heaters, but there’s no way I would not have plugged in my car with such low temperatures predicted for overnight. Broder wanted to emulate a typical driver’s experience, which is appropriate and understandable. I don’t think he’s giving typical drivers enough credit for survival instincts.
This reminded me a college Spring break trip. Four of us drove one of my best friend’s absolute beater of a car from Iowa to Florida. The gas gauge wasn’t trustworthy, so the rule was simple: No matter who was driving, as soon as the gauge hit one-quarter tank, you pulled into the first available gas station. With half of us asleep in the middle of the night, the driver (not me, not the owner) didn’t do that. When my friend woke up and discovered we’d driven past the absolute stop rule, she made the driver pull into a closed truck stop where we sat for nearly two hours until they opened so we could fill up. (Yes, I know I’m dating myself. All truck stops didn’t used be open 24/7.)
To me, Broder’s decision to not charge that night was the same as our mutual friend’s decision to ignore the one-quarter tank stop rule. Yes, one of four did made that decision. But it was still a dumb decision.
So there’s some culpability to justifiably spread around. Should Tesla have proposed this test when its charging stations were still this far apart? Should they be positioning the S as a substitue for any other luxury sedan? Should the NYT have considered who the real market for EVs are and taken that into account in making the assignment? All questions I believe deserve a little debate.
Love to hear what others think about them.
My mother-in-law phoned Tuesday. It was sunny and headed for about 60 degrees in Iowa. “It’s really weird. But I like it!”
Thursday’s Environmental blog from The Guardian opened with this paragraph:
2012 has begun where 2011 left off with weird weather in Europe and the Americas, Arctic ice at almost its lowest extent ever recorded in midwinter, disastrous droughts and searing heat in Africa and Latin America, and one of the world’s biggest insurance companies warning that climate change will increase damages.
Friday’s New York Times featured photos of Jan. ’11′s snow-covered Central Park and this month’s grassy green lawn. And then there’s the 18 feet of snow in Alaska. There’s a reason some call global warming “global weirding.” Who knows what we’re in for?
Last quarter at the University of Washington, I taught the Environmental Innovation Practicum for the first time. A series of fantastic speakers came in to talk to the class including Michael Potts, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI); David Allen, executive VP of McKinstry; and James Billmaier, author of “JOLT!: The Impending Dominance Of The Electric Car And Why America Must Take Charge” (a terrific book! I highly recommend it).
We used “Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era,” a brand new book from RMI Co-founder, Chairman and Chief scientist Amory Lovins, as our course text. It was a little tricky since it was only available in ebook format when we started the quarter. Format aside (it wasn’t the most elegant electronic rendering), I like it a lot.
Continuing my quest to educate me on climate change and global warming, I also read “Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth” by journalist Mark Hertsgaard and “But Will the Planet Notice?” By Gernot Wagner, an environmental economist for the Environmental Defense Fund.
Yes, it was all enough to make my head spin. But the different approaches to the problem we’re facing were also simultaneously eye-opening, depressing and inspiring.
Hertsgaard exposes the reality that global warming is arriving about 100 years sooner than published predictions. He calls his young daughter’s generation “Generation Hot” because they’ll be the ones who really get to deal with the aftermath of our current lifestyles, particularly if we, as a global community, continue to do nothing to mitigate the problem. Hertsgaard argues we have to get off the stick on mitigation (reducing emissions) but we also have to get quickly on board with adaptation (dealing with the inevitable sea level rises and regional climate changes), because even if we suddenly did all the right things today (as if that’s possible!), there’s already too much CO2 in the atmosphere to manage an about-face. We have to adapt to changes we can’t avoid.
Hertsgaard also taught me the difference between global warming and climate change, which I’d used interchangeably, like everyone else. Global warming, he writes, is the man-made rise in temperatures caused by excessive amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Climate change refers to the effects these higher temperatures have on the earth’s natural systems and the impacts that can result. So global warming is what we’ve done to the atmosphere. Climate change is what global warming is doing and will do to the earth.
Wagner’s book takes a different tact. He states that personal actions – while noble and cumulative if we all do them – are individually irrelevant to the global climate. The planet won’t notice. He believes only smarter economics will be able to mitigate climate change. He expresses hope because, he writes, smarter economics saved us before – from acid rain. “The solution is clear,” he states, “put the right incentives in place.” He advocates cap-and-trade as a market. He writes:
As much as this issue has been politicized, this is not about right versus left, Republicans versus Democrats, conservatives versus conservationists, or markets versus the environment. This is about liberating markets and consequently turning each and every one of us into a force for good; it’s about making sure that increasing GDP, gross domestic product, does not decrease collective well-being.
It’s about taking personal responsibility for costs we now socialize and impose in society and the planet as a whole. Our choices are already being influenced by forces much larger than ourselves. They always have been and will be. The question is whether the nudge we submit to is guiding us where we want to go, preserving life and the rotation of the planet as we know it.
“Reinventing Fire” is another animal all together, which is why I chose it for class. While Lovins acknowledges the hurdles to reinventing how we power everything from buildings to buses and power plants to planes, “Reinventing Fire” is about hope, about using what’s already available and working, and about how businesses can make a lot of money in a clean fuel world. That’s not an argument you often hear for ditching fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, I saw countless stories and blog posts about the challenges of getting people to accept, care about and act on global warming. I get the frustration – and the confusion.
In marketing, we talk about “FUD” – fear, uncertainty and doubt. It’s called the FUD factor. You can read quite a bit about it on Wikipedia, if you’re interested. Sometimes marketers battle it; sometimes marketers create it on purpose. Proponents for change, including both environmental groups and advocates for new technologies like electric vehicles, wind and solar power, smart grid, composites and myriad other exciting new developments, not only battle the complexities of talking about some of these innovations and issues, but FUD marketing budgets of entrenched industries whose very survival rests with a global majority making no changes in how they do anything.
I’ve been toying with a number of posts on this, so expect you’ll see me write more about it later. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear about your experiences with FUD and the environment!
Melissa Winters from the EPA came to UW Tuesday to talk to my Environmental Innovation Practicum class about Life Cycle Assessment, also known as Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). She talked about an assessment Proctor and Gamble did its Tide brand in which they discovered the greatest environmental impact happened when the product was used in the home. Hot water washing. So they reformulated Tide to create a cold water only detergent.
Melissa also mentioned an ebook analysis I’ve written about before. I’d discovered the analysis through Conservation Magazine, a favorite of mine, but it originated in a New York Times op-ed piece written by the folks who did the analysis, Daniel Goleman and Gregory Norris, both well known names and leaders in LCA work. Norris founded the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, which is a tremendous resource (check out this LCA on algae biodiesel as an example).
When I wrote about the e-reader analysis in July, I noted that you needed to read 40-50 books a year to make an e-reader the better choice over paper books, based on the report in Conservation Magazine. Melissa commented that if we took greenhouse gas emissions into account, it was actually 100 books. If we looked at human impact, it was somewhere in between those two numbers. My iPad is a lot more than an e-reader to me, but I still glanced at it guiltily.
Since Melissa works with the building industry, the whole conversation reminded me of a TEDTalk I really enjoyed a while back, so I want hunting. It’s Catherine Mohr on building green and I think it’s great! It playfully but powerfully demonstrates that obvious answers for what’s the “greenest” choice is often very wrong. Or as she puts it: “Sometimes the things you least expect … have a bigger impact than any of those things you’re trying to optimize.”
The next morning, I spotted a story from dexigner.com on how the Cascadia Green Building Council had commissioned an LCA study on the “Environmental Impacts of Wastewater Treatment Strategies” and had just released the report. It’s a good read for anyone connected to the building industry or anyone who just wants to get a handle on what a life cycle analysis can uncover.
From a marketing perspective, a life cycle analysis does two things: 1) it’s an insurance policy that you know the up and downsides of your product before a competitor figures them out and uses the latter against you, and 2) assuming you do well in the analysis, it’s a grabbag of positive messages you can take to the market. From a business plan perspective, it’s an insurance policy to demonstrate you know the risk associated with your business and a grabbag of positive messages to take to investors, employees and business partners.
The trick for cleantech and other green entrepreneurs is the cost. Conducting LCA is pricey. For startups, a true LCA may be out of reach. But you can still do a significant amount of digging for data, look for comparables in your industry or adjacent ones, and make informed decisions. You can get a primer on life cycle assessment on the EPA’s website and well as a list of resources to serve as a starting point for research life cycle assessment on any product or service category.
Get as smart as you can about the potential environmental impact of your products or services. It’s smart business.
Several articles about oil shale caught my eye this past week including one on grist.org explaining that oil shale isn’t oil at all but kerogen. They also noted that getting that kerogen out of the ground and into a usable form uses more energy than the usable we’d get out of it.
That made me curious: who “branded” the stuff “shale oil”? It seemed like someone had coined a term and gotten it to stick despite it being misleading. The name today creates an impression of usefulness that doesn’t exist, of easy availability that’s not, of an independence on foreign oil that’s a myth. And they did it all with the use of one simple little 3-letter word: oil.
Turns out that’s not at all what happened. Shale oil was discovered and used way back in the 1880s. No doubt they named it as it appeared to them then — oily stuff in shale rock. An organic chemist figured out what it really was and named it “kerogen” in 1912. But the original name stuck. That’s not all that surprising as it’s way easier to remember than “kerogen” and creates an immediate understanding (or actually a misunderstanding) of what it is. That misunderstanding persists today and is creating the perception of opportunity that doesn’t really exist.
All the debates aside, it seems to me there’s a great lesson to be learned here about the potential power of coining a term that creates the perceptions you want and endures.
I’m generally not a fan of trying to coin a new industry term to promote a new business or product. It isn’t that it doesn’t work; there are some spectacular examples of where it has. It wasn’t really that long ago that none of us would have known was a blog was, or malware, or cloud computing, or carbon footprint. Oxford Dictionary officially added a ton of new words to the English language with its summer update including “brain candy” and apparently a lot of “auto-” words like “autozoom” and “auto-complete” plus a bunch of social media terms. ”LOL” made it. Made me LOL.
A lot of new terms are merely contractions of existing terms, combined to better explain something new. Sometimes creators of the truly new have no choice but to coin a new term because no existing word accurately describes their creation. But coining a term and getting it adopted into common use, even among a fairly narrow subsegment of any market, can be a big investment in time and money. In the tech space, if you can’t get industry analysts to adopt your new term, it’s usually dead.
If you’re going to go out and coin a new term, which I’ve seen countless entrepreneurs want to do, learn from the shale oil example.
1. Make it facilitate acceptance. Consider the emotional response the terms you’re considering are likely to evoke. Align that with the action you’re trying to spark. All those “auto-” words, for instance, immediately evoke a sense it’s going to be simple, helpful, fast.
2. Make it easy to remember. Short, simple terms that use existing, familiar words or combinations that are easy to grasp will stick better in your target audience’s minds. One or two words, maybe four syllables tops.
And don’t go down that path unless you’ve some reserves of your own in financing and patience.
P.S. Can you do a P.S. to a blog post? The image came from a building in Silverton, Ore. Despite the fact I’m not personally a fan of oil companies, I have an emotional attachment to old Texaco signs. My dad, gone 20 years this past spring, owned a Texaco station until his retirement my junior year of college. It’s easy to picture my dad in his Texaco uniform. Smiling. Always. My dad was great guy. Despite being painfully shy (no, obviously I didn’t take after him), he greeted strangers every day and made them feel welcome and important. Taught me tons about excellent customer service and honest business. Great lessons.
Interesting story today courtesy of The New York Times on how primary through secondary students have performed on geography tests. I loved the Seattle Times’ headline for it as I thought it told the whole story: “Most students still lost on geography.” A Chicago Tribune sidebar offers a quiz to test each reader’s grasp of the subject, which I want you to go take! It demonstrates, among other things, that geography isn’t just about maps, but what’s happening in locations around the world.
When first out of college, marriage brought me to Upstate New York where I decided New York didn’t teach geography. “Iowa,” I’d answer when asked where I was from. “Oh, sure, potatoes,” was the response more often than you’d believe. Um, no, that’s Idaho, 1,400 miles further west. Oh well.
If you’re in the business of marketing clean tech products or advocating for environmental causes, you should care a lot if people in general and students in particular are geographically illiterate because it raises huge barricades to them understanding the story you’re telling.
An association of Italian cashmere sweater makers might subtly draw attention to the fact that demand for much cheaper Chinese cashmere has led to massive overgrazing which is turning swaths of China’s Alashan Plateau into desert. Shepherds are having to sell their goats because they’re starving. You can read more here if you’re interested. If consumers didn’t know China had massive grasslands and don’t grasp that overgrazing turns grasslands into desert, the Italian association has a much tougher story to tell.
A nonprofit encouraging different irrigation and farmland management practices might think they could leverage the massive Midwestern flooding to draw attention to their recommendations. But if the public a) don’t even realize we have huge rivers draining the massive center of the nation and b) can’t see the connection between land management and flooding and pollution, they have to start at square one to educate the public before they can get on with their real objective of affecting change.
As marketers look at how best to tell their story, they have to consider the basic level of understanding of the subject or issue around which they’ll be story telling. The old advice of “never assume” seems incredibly apropos. Apparently on even basic things like geography, we’d be wise to do a little research before setting strategy.
Do you know, for sure, what your target audience knows about the background they need to grasp your story?
“How could we market the way we built the B&B to build the business?”
That was the owner’s question after first learning what I do for a living and then talking about the construction of their home. I was about to ask her questions to see if the batch of ideas that had sprung to mind were appropriate when she continued by saying they were retiring in Sept. Too late for promotional tips.
While not in keeping with my own style, the B&B was extremely well decorated with extraordinary attention to detail. Chatting with the owner during breakfast, we learned she was an interior designer and artist and that they’d built the house. Discussing the unusual concrete construction, she commented that she had always wanted to market the fact their B&B was built with amazing insulation ratings and reused timber and cabinetry. Zoned heating and cooling saved energy. But she didn’t know how to turn that into a marketing advantage for the B&B.
The thing that struck me as odd is that she demonstrated in her interior design that she well understood the importants of lining up all the details to make a great, cohesive product experience. But when it came to her desire to send a “green” message, her details didn’t align. They’d built the place for energy efficiency, which is just smart building and business, not product differentiation. They needed more. They’d reused materials, which is cool, and resulted in a unique look. But the rest of the pieces that would have made for the marketable product experience she wanted were missing.
Four large fountains surrounded the house at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. Any place inside or out, you clearly heard the pleasant gurgling sound of running water. I happen to like the sound of fountains, plus they attract birds. But they do use electricity 24 hours a day. So if you want to market your B&B to environmentally conscious consumers, you have to consider the message you send using that much electricity for ambiance, particularly when they’re not needed to mask street noise, which could disrupt a good night’s sleep. Lots of clever lamps and great overhead lighting, but no energy-saving bulbs. No native or drought-tolerant plantings. No herb or vegetable garden. No outing of local ingredients. No farmers’ market ties. All these little details would’ve been important had they wanted to market their B&B to an eco crowd.
Reflecting on our conversation en route back to Seattle, I was reminded of a Forest Service public policy meeting I attended a while back attended mostly by environmentally aware folks concerned with protecting forests for animals, water quality, hiking, camping or all those things. Small tables of bottled water around the room had people pointing me and commenting. The environmentally concerned generally steer clear of bottled water. Pitchers of iced tap water would have sent a better message. And lowered the Forest Service’s hotel catering bill. Misalignment.
No matter who you’re targeting, aligning the details will matter. That’s even more true when you’re targeting the more aware or discerning consumers within your broader market segment.
Want to attract the health conscious crowd? Create good fat/good carb/high omega 3s recipes and focus your promotion on your food. Look at your indoor air quality and what’s planted around the building so you can tie that healthy food into your healthy surroundings. If you’re in an urban area and a market with WalkScore and just selecting your property, locate where you’ll get a high score and promote that, too. Provide maps for walks in the area and information about healthy activities like hiking and biking near by.
If hikes are the main reason guests come to your area (which is why we were at this particular B&B. Waterfall hiking. Love it.), serve breakfast a bit earlier to get guests on the trails and provide a list of restaurants that do great takeout sandwiches to pack for lunch or better yet offer a reasonably priced backpack/saddle bag lunch service and increase your profit per guest! Lend charitable support to a local trails or wilderness group. Connect on social media to hiking groups in your region and lend your voice in support of the issues important to them.
See if the local tourism office can tell you where most of your area’s visitors come from, then get smart about hikers in those markets. Research health food and outdoor apparel stores where they likely shop. And opportunity to make connections there? Research hiking clubs. Maybe you have an opportunity for some low cost direct marketing. Through social media and perhaps even traditional media, can you identify particularly influential hikers you could invite to stay at your B&B at a very special rate, hooking them up with your area’s top guide for an insider’s peak at the region’s best hiking?
If foodies are your target audience, you would take a vastly different approach, focusing on the gourmet breakfasts you serve, the freshness and uniqueness of your local ingredients and the amazing blends of your coffees. You could stand out by providing guests reviews of the area’s best restaurants, guides to local wineries, breweries or artisan cheese or chocolate shops — whatever your market offers that would bring foodies to your area. Leave gourmet chocolates on pillows before bed-time. When everything fits, people notice and will comment in their reviews and social media posts.
Is your B&B in a historic district? Have a B&B where arts are huge? Is it all about the geology of your geographic location? Focus on what makes your business unique and then align all the lovely little details customer who’ll seek that uniqueness will notice. Ignore the rest.
Are your experience details all aligned for your target customer?
Does the whole idea of “content marketing” scare you? Or are you wondering what the heck it even is? Then set those fears aside and pick up a copy of Content Rules by Ann Handley of MarketingProfs and C.C. Chapman, founder of Digital Dads.
The book is chock full of smart recommendations from successful content marketers, detailed how to instructions and case studies complete with “Ideas Your Can Steal.” Narrowing the good ideas down to a handful to cover here was tough. I focused on recommendations I hadn’t read elsewhere or ones with an interesting new angle to sage advice. Nearly all of them have entire chapters dedicated to fleshing out the details. These are merely highlights.
1. Reimagine; Don’t Recycle
The gist of this chapter is summed up pretty well by a quote from social media consultant Jay Baer: “deconstruct that white paper and create an array of info snacks you can sprinkle across the Web, or package into smaller pieces of content.” I love that “info snacks” term. It isn’t about repurposing content you created, but creating a significant piece of content that merits breaking up into smaller pieces, each of which delivers value to your readers. Sort of like taking the subject of Entrepreneurial Marketing and carving it into 20 classes, I guess.
Among the examples is MarketingProfs’ State of Social Media Marketing Dec. ’09 research report. The 242-page survey of 5,140 marketers became a webinar, a major article, a number of smaller articles and blog posts and fodder for lots of publicity as others covered the report and the stats within it.
2. Don’t Write Case Studies; Tell Customer Success Stories
Don’t just demonstrate the value of your offering. Tell the story to overcome objections early in the buying cycle. “The keys,” write the authors, “are to tell a story the intended audience wants to hear and to tell it with one simple imperative in mind. It helps to think of them less as case studies, which sounds clinical and detached and bloodless, and more like customer success stories, which sounds human and connected.”
3. Make Over Your FAQs
“This is an online customer service center,” the authors state, and just like Customer Service, your FAQs should genuinely help. How? A few of their suggestions included:
- Write answers, not descriptions.
- Solve problems rather than shill services.
- Show some personality.
- Make the FAQ searchable
4. Speak Human!
Organizations should sound like they’re run by people, posit the authors. Speak in a conversational tone, with personality, empathy and true emotion. Be appropriate to your audience, of course. But take a stand. Your readers need to know where you’re coming from, or how you feel about a topic.
5. Ban Buzz Words
“They make us sound like Tools instead of humans.” Handley and Chapman composed a list of 18 buzz words to ban with a little help from their Twitter friends. On the list are loads of terms I know well from my tech PR days — such as “drill down,” “solution,” “incentivizing,” “users” and “best-of-breed.” I confess to being guilty of using several of their banded terms, not just in writing, but speech. I hereby resolve to stop that.
Instead, use the language your customers use. How do you know what that language is? Here’s a tip Handley and Chapman offered from Lee Odden, CEO of Top Rank Marketing in Minneapolis: “The language on social sites is like the canary in the coal mine. It can tell you an awful lot about your customers and how you can engage them.” Go see what language they’re using as they discuss your industry online.
Content Rules also contains a great, detailed list of 25 (and a half. They sneak in an extra) ideas of what to talk about when you think you have nothing to say. Among them is to “find a LinkedIn question you’d like to address and answer it; then invite your readers to offer their two pesos.”
Content Rules will definitely be on my class recommended reading list. Whether you’re trying to wrap your arms around how to use build your business or looking for ideas to give your blog a boost, they’re in here.
Ann and C.C., do you license reprints by the chapter?
Some young companies just do it right when it comes to managing their launch. One of those was Dreambox Learning, which was acquired by the Charter Fund last spring.
Founded in Bellevue, Wash., in 2006, Dreambox launched a Web-based platform and its first adventure-themed online learning product called DreamBox Learning K-2 Math in January 2009. Its second product came just three months later and its third a year after that. The product were developed for young students in kindergarten through third grade and designed to reinforce and teach real math through effective, individualized instruction in an engaging and fun manner.
Despite the fact it was out raising a significant amount of angel money, Dreambox kept a low profile its entire first year. Instead of seeking publicity, it focused on product development and launch prep. Early in 2008, it launched a media and blogger relations program to start generating coverage, which it started seeing in April. The early stories by local business writers, parenting bloggers covered the company itself, how the team was taking a fundamentally different approach to getting young kids interested in math. The stories merely mentioned the fact the product itself was still months away from availability.
The fact that a stealth startup had raised $7.1M in angel financing in the fall of ’07 the previous fall was enough to attract local business media attention. John Cook, now a co-founder of GeekWire, was then still with the Seattle P-I, led his article writing “Secretive online education startup Dreambox Learning is taking the wraps off this week, with the Bellevue company unveiling details around a new product that is designed to help kids between the ages of 5 and 8 learn math skills.” The next day, April 2nd, the company issued its first press release announcing itself. The focus of these initial stories was Dreambox’s approach to the game and three elementary school teachers and UW professor who helped the company’s instructional design director create the first product.
A little later than planned, the company formally announced its first product in late Jan. 2009. In the many months between the company launch announcement and first product launch, Dreambox had managed to continue getting a bit of ongoing press coverage of staff talking about the importance of math and why math should be fun. Dreambox offered suggestions for how parents could start to do this. Behind the scenes, Dreambox was clearly supplying product reviewers with advance copies of the product so they’d be ready to run reviews as soon as the product was announced.
And that’s exactly what happened. VentureBeat, the Seattle Times and the New York Times all covered the product launch announcement on Jan. 27th, the date of the announcement. The first reviews appeared mere days later and continued to appear for four month after the launch.
By mid-summer, Dreambox was supplying the media with user stories including one that ran in the Wall Street Journal on July 22nd about a mom named Kimberly Kauer. These types of stories prove a product’s efficacy in ways a company never could claim on their own and personalize the benefits delivered.
About this time, Dreambox also kept themselves relevant to the media and bloggers by announcing business deals and starting their push for back-to-school coverage.
Pursuing awards was part of Dreambox’s marketing program from early on and they won their first award in May 2009, just 4 months after launching the product. In Nov., they were recognized by Seattle Business as one of the areas Top 25 Innovators and Entrepreneurs, a list chosen by the magazine’s editors. The awards continued to grow in stature and pursuing them continues to be a priority as they’ve launched more products. Dreambox’s website lists 25 awards they’ve received since launching that first products.
As Dreambox gained recognition and stature themselves, they were able to push for opportunities to speak at national conferences such as FETC 2010, a US conference devoted to educational technology. By then, Dreambox was describing itself as an award-winning educational software company (which it was). The FETC speaker would be Mickelle Weary, who was a member of its Academic Team and a National Board Certified Teacher.
That fall, three years after the company formed, it announces its first charitable partnership with Computers for Youth, a non-profit that helps low-income children do better in school by improving their learning environment at home. The deal provided free access for a full year to Dreambox’s K-2 Math game to the more than 4,000 families participating in more than 30 CFY schools across the country.
All in all, it was very smart launch and brand development management. It serves as a great model for other young companies working to determine how best to enter their markets.