From April 2010

Brand for Profit. Like Apple.

You brand to be profitable. You brand so you don’t have to compete solely on price. It gives you something else to talk about. Unless you’re Wal Mart, it’s tough to lead on price – pretty easy for someone to undercut your position. Wal Mart certainly will. You’re much better off to compete on value. And emotion. Customers will pay more if they believe you offer them a better produce or service. Or using you makes them feel good. Or feel important.

If you charge only low prices, you’re more vulnerable to market forces. You become just a commodity and lose. Think about how a local mom ‘n pop general store would compete with Wal Mart in their town. Certainly not on lowest price. The only way is by delivering an incredible level of service and a sense of community. By making customers feel so welcome and solving their needs better than Wal Mart. Wal Mart forces similar stores to reinvent themselves or face extinction each time they enter a market. Sad but true. Target succeeds because they combine low prices with great design and fashion, but Wal Mart’s closing in on that angle as well.

Look at how the iPhone and now the iPad are driving Apple’s profits. They focus on magic and experience. So much so that a 99 year-old woman in Lake Oswego just got her first computer. And it was an iPad. Watch the video and you’ll see she doesn’t even look up at the camera. How does Apple do it? Through incredible design. By focus on what matters: the human details. Not the technical.

Strong brands allow you to price higher which increases profitability. Which makes it easier to reinvest in your business. To continue innovating for long term sustainability. And when you deliver a greater return on value, price becomes even more irrelevant. A customer doesn’t care how much better you made your product if it still doesn’t deliver. Or how hard you worked on it. They only care about what’s it does for them. When you think about your brand, envision your customer. Think about what makes them tick. What sparks their emotions. Brand accordingly.

You Brand to become a habit. Gain top of mind awareness to make it easy to choose your product fast. In Blink by Malcolm Gladwell about the power of thinking without thinking he demonstrates the power of split decisions.

When you create a brand that becomes a habit, your customers think less about price as long as you’re delivering an awesome amount of value. They won’t care about price as long as your brand solves their most pressing problems. How much more rewarding is it to create a brand where because you’re helping others with your kickass service and products, they don’t think about price? Isn’t that more fun than brow-beating people to buy your stuff? Or fighting for the scraps at the bottom just to survive?

How to kill your business fast with great content

Burnt Door, Portland, OregonKnow how to kill your business fast? Serve up some great content, get people excited and talking about you and wanting to buy your stuff and then deliver stuff that doesn’t match the quality of the content. Or stuff that doesn’t solve the problems the content addressed. Or use bait and switch tactics. Or turn on high-pressure upsells for crap. Or forget about customer service. Or make it REALLY difficult to talk to you or a live body. And pretty much treat your customers like it’s a privilege they had the opportunity to even give you some of their hard-earned cash. Forget about delivering on any promises you make. And for good measure, why not yell at your customers to really seal the deal.

As a business owner, it’s not likely that you’ll do these things. At least not intentionally. But many small businesses aren’t equipped to scale. And as you grow, it seems harder and harder to keep your customers happy because you don’t have time to take care of them. They’re focused on solving today’s problems that they don’t plan for tomorrows. LIke when you get busy and can’t handle all the details yourself. And then hire a warm body but fail to train them on how you expect your customers to be treated. To keep in touch. So you have to always find more. And repeat the cycle.

I won’t mince words. Content marketing takes time. Time to create and time to see results. Don’t think that just because you’re not buying advertising and you can do it yourself that it’s free. There’s a time cost. And while you’re working on your content, you still have to mind the store. Customers always have options. Even if you’re the only game in town (not likely if you do anything online) they always have the option to not buy from you. To not buy anything.  Running a business is a daunting task, isn’t it?

To be successful, here are the keys to the kingdom:

  1. An incredible product or service that meets a need or fulfills a desire. Make it the best you absolutely can because options abound.
  2. Competing on price is not a good differentiator unless you have a distinct edge. Most anyone can undercut you and you’re on a quick trip down.
  3. A magical customer experience. Make your customers day each time they interact with you. It’s so rare that we have a good customer experience that this pays off hugely. And it’s a tough thing to do day in day out. Never underestimate the power of great customer service.
  4. Make it super easy to do business with you. Make yourself easy to reach. And clearly state your hours and response times. Set expectations up front and then deliver. Don’t make people dig for your address or phone number.
  5. Over deliver on your experience.
  6. When you screw up, apologize. Fast. Take responsibility and never pass the buck.
  7. Don’t let rude customers taint your experience. Not everyone’s a great fit for you. I know it’s hard to give up business – especially if you need all you can get, but really painful customers can diminish your ability to delight the good ones. If you can, refer them to your competition. Especially if you’re in the service business.
  8. Price at a premium but deliver value. People really will pay for great products and service if they believe they’re right for them. Especially if your products help them earn more money. You know that old ROI thing? Cheap products that don’t solve problems are just that. Cheap. But costly if they prevent a business from achieving their objectives.
  9. Focus on the relationship. No matter how mundane or unemotional a purchase might seem, it’s always emotional. People do business with people they like. And people they’re aware of.
  10. Great content, consistently delivered that builds trust, credibility and authority to build the relationships and the interest that converts into sales. While this is the starting place for bring people to your sitestep, you need to have all of the above worked out beforehand. Because once they’re here, it’s show time!

Is there more to it? Sure there is. You can make it as hard as you want. But the basics always matter. Do everything as simply and elegant as possible and only add complexity when simple doesn’t get the job done. I think many of us like to hide behind fancy tools, formulas and programs – making excuses for why we can’t do something. If you hear yourself saying if I only had X then I could do Y better. Hogwash I say.

11 types of content to help you sell

In search of good stories to help you sellYou’re not writing the next romantic thriller for your customers. Unless, of course, romance is your business. Your creating content that matter to your customers to get them to do something. Like buy from you. Design all of your content to do just one thing: drive commerce. But your content is not a sales piece. It’s a confidence builder. It’s the reason for people to believe in you.

Bummed that’s not the story your customers want? Here are 11 types of stories you could (and should) be writing.

  1. Stories that show customers how to be more productive, make more money, and otherwise get an edge on their competition – and that you have expertise on.
  2. Stories that teach people how to do new things, solve problems. We all have problems, right? If you don’t then why are you in business?
  3. Stories that illustrate you get what matters to your customers. You speak their language. You feel their pain. But you’re kicking ass and that’s why they’ll listen to you.
  4. Stories that compare the struggles your customers face with others – that they’re not alone and others are getting through it. If others can do it, I can too is the point.
  5. How they did that. Stories of people like them – the problems they faced and what they did about it.
  6. What happened when they didn’t do that. Stories of people who didn’t see the train leaving the station and now they don’t have a chance of catching it. The conclusion, of course, is don’t let that happen to you.
  7. Underdog gets his day. How David beat Goliath. Every industry has ‘em. Who’s yours and who’s beating them? Small businesses have the ability to move faster. And today, it’s all about speed. You’ve got the tools. You don’t need the money. (Hint – it’s about getting action with your content).
  8. Geek gets the girl. In this case it’s the story about the uber-focused entrepreneur who recognized a problem, solved it, and is now kicking back in a Croatian Villa (or wherever the gurus in your world go when they find success).
  9. Stories of what’s next. Spot the trends and show your customers why they need to pay attention to them – or miss the boat.
  10. Stories of former glory. Think auto industry in it’s hey day. Who were the biggest flameouts in your field and why they flamed out – so you don’t meet the same fate.
  11. Adversity – Bad news always makes headlines. Gets the ratings. Show how to stare it down and win.

Whatever your story is, remember that you’re not writing for your health. You’re writing to get more business, stand out, be relevant and otherwise do commerce. Don’t be shy about it.

Do what matters

How many of us spend our days taking care of minutiae rather than tackling the stuff that matters? How much clutter fills our lives? How much nonsense?

So many people let the day dictate them rather than taking control. They work hard, but are not sure what they’re accomplishing. As a society, we’re stressed out, maxed, tapped, over committed and distracted. We have too much of too much. Take an inventory of how you spend your time and look at your important-to-nonsense ratio. If it’s not 70 / 30 or better, remove the nonsense and do more of what counts. How? Set goals. Goals for 30 days – 90 days – 1 year – 3 years. Then take action. And keep reviewing your goals to see if you’re on track.

Make your time count. Choose your passions and things you spend your time on carefully. None of us knows how long we’ll be here – hopefully it’s a long time. But our time is finite. A completely non-renewable resource. What you do is ultimately your choice. Don’t find yourself doing the woulda coulda shoulda boogie when you look back. If you’re doing that now, change. Be. Now. Today. Do what matters.

The faster we communicate, the less we think

Back before PC’s and spell check, communicating via the written word was a lot harder. You had to think about what you wanted to say before typing – most likely writing several drafts by hand before typing the final. And type carefully to avoid showing your errors. With PC’s and spell check came writing and editing on the fly. No longer do we need to write it out by hand. We can just write, spell check and print.

With email, no longer do we need to even call people. We can just shoot off a few messages, not worrying too much about what we said and move on. Email let us hide behind our words. But it also removed tone of voice. It’s now easy to misread a message because we can’t hear their emphasis. It’s also easy to be not so nice when we want to. The flip side of course, is that emails are fairly permanent and trackable.

Instant messaging puts us into warp speed where we don’t even need to use whole words or real words when writing your bff imho btw.

The point here is that as we increase the speed at which we can write, print and send messages and documents to people, the less effort, energy and thought goes into what we say – and how we say it. No longer do we contemplate are message and tone. No longer do we edit (much). That’s good and bad. The good is that we can communicate more thoughts – a stream of consciousness as it comes to us. We can be unfiltered and spontaneous, which can yield valuable insights. That’s the danger too – it’s easy not to express clear thoughts, or to be sloppy and unfiltered. It’s easy to send something you wouldn’t have sent in the old write ‘n type days.

We’re also overloaded with messages and information threatening to takeover our day. Don’t let it. Take time once in awhile to communicate thoughts that matter. To put a little craft into what you write. Think too about sending a hand-written note to show you REALLY do care about what you’re saying.

As a fun exercise, write out your next message before typing it. Then do another on the fly. Look at the difference in their tone, style and clarity. You might be surprised at how different the process feels – and how it makes you think.