Category Archives: Branding

Bowling for Business: Miscommunication Situation

Communication is critical in all forms of advertising.

Make sure you network the right way in the right place.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on October 25, 2010 and in the Biz Press on October 27, 2010.

While saving money to return to college my sophomore year, I did a short stint as an international flight attendant with a little-known charter airline called Arrow Airways. I was delighted to work one particular flight from Denver, Colorado, to Gatwick, England because one of my fellow crew members was a hunky Italian named Alberto.

When we landed, I quickly accepted his invitation to join him for dinner. Although his accent was thick, I was sure he said he would be taking me to an Italian restaurant called Apple Luigi’s. So imagine my surprise when we arrived at our destination in downtown London, which was not a fine Italian eatery called Apple Luigi’s but a gay men’s club called Harpoon Louie’s.

Why would I share this humiliating story? Because the lessons I learned apply to successful networking for business:

  1. Shut up and Listen.
  2. Kill the Agenda.
  3. Check your Six.

Shut Up and Listen

Instead of just waiting for your turn to talk, pay attention when you are chatting with someone. If you practice active listening, you will stand out because most people approach networking events with mouths open and ears shut. If I had spent more time listening to Alberto instead of trying to impress him with flirty banter, I might have ascertained that he was not a viable romantic prospect.

More recently, I participated in a speed-networking event where organizers asked participants to rate fellow networkers. The top three had this in common: they listened more than they spoke. If you want people to think highly of you, listen to them.

Kill the Agenda

Entrepreneurs often have “Type A” personalities who like to manage everything, often to their own peril. The reason I was surprised by Alberto’s revelation is because I came to the party with my own romantic agenda. But even though my time at Harpoon Louie’s isn’t what I had expected, I ended up meeting lots of interesting people. So, even though I had to find my own ride back to the hotel, the evening wasn’t a total waste.

Try to make the best of your circumstances because you never know what might unfold. Buckminster Fuller called this phenomenon the Processional Effect. As a Christian, I call it the Sovereignty of God. Whatever your belief system, try to let things happen naturally instead of trying to control the world. You might be surprised to make a friend, land a new client or learn something new.

Check your Six

Make sure you’re in the right place. Although you should go with the flow no matter where you end up, try to start off somewhere that makes sense. Before selecting networking groups to join and events to attend, figure out if regular attendees fall into your target market. Since I was interested in meeting someone I could date, Harpoon Louie’s was not an ideal location.

The good news is you don’t have to learn these lessons the hard way. Take a tip from me and network for maximum results on any budget:

For Free—

When it comes to finding places to network, think outside the box. Networking opportunities don’t occur only at official mixers that are labeled “Networking Event.” You can meet potential clients, customers and associates literally anywhere and everywhere…in the real world as well as Cyberspace.

For those who regularly read my columns, please allow me to repeat myself. The most effective way to network for free is online. Join and maintain social media accounts like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. And, above all else, remember to be the same person you are online as you are in the real world.

On a Limited Budget—

In this troubled business economy, when time and money are often in short supply, carefully select which networking groups to join. Instead of spreading yourself too thin by signing up for several organizations, start small. Join one group and take a leadership role. Arrive early and stay late. Volunteer to help set up and clean up so people see you as an active member.

The Sky’s the Limit—

If the funds are available, sponsor your own networking event. This will position you as a leader in the business community and enable you to hand-pick attendees from your own target market. And you can host the event wherever you want…from Apple Luigi’s to Harpoon Louie’s.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

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Bowling for Business: Set Yourself Aside

Consider your target market's perspective.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 30, 2010 and on the Business Press on September 1, 2010 and the Press Enterprise on September 4, 2010.

It was a bonehead move for my counselors at Summer Fun Day Camp to take a van full of impressionable seven and eight-year-old kids to see the 1971 Vincent Price horror movie, The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Filling my nightmares for years, the film featured a disfigured physician methodically killing the surgeons who had failed to save his wife following a car accident.

One scene in particular sent me repeatedly running to my parents’ room in tears. Dr. Phibes juiced Brussels sprouts and drilled a hole through the ceiling above his victim’s bed so he could pour liquefied vegetables all over her body. Then, he sent a swarm of hungry locusts to crawl down a tube, where they devoured her entire body.

I recently purchased the movie so I could face my fears some 40 years later. Instead of a hideously scary, realistic portrait of terror, as I had recalled, my second viewing revealed a hokey, campy farce. The Brussels sprout scene, in particular, is absurd. The locusts ate all but a cheesy plastic skeleton and her entire head of hair. It was all so preposterous that, as an adult, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

It all boils down to perception. Teenage counselors probably didn’t realize the movie choice would freak out their campers. To select more suitable fare, they should have looked at the field trip from our perspective. This is a concept I share with clients, who often choose advertising campaigns based on their own opinions and experiences instead of the needs, ideas and prejudices shared by potential clients and/or donors.

“I like this kind of advertising. So I’m sure my clients will like it, too,” explained one Mountain Marketing Group client.

“That’s fine,” I told him. “But let me ask you something. If you didn’t own the company, would you be in your own target market? Is this a product that you would buy?”

“Well, I have an iPod.”

“Yes. You have an iPod. But is your best customer a middle-aged white male who will buy one or two sets of headphones in his lifetime, or is it someone else?”

“I’m not selling to the end consumer. I’m selling to wholesalers who buy in bulk. And most of the buyers are girls in their 20s and 30s.”

It was then that he had his aha moment, realizing that the methods that persuade him may not be the same as strategies designed specifically to reach potential customers in his target market. A typical entrepreneur, intimately involved in every step of the business, from conceptualization to manufacturing to marketing, Rick found it difficult to set aside his own frame of reference. But once he agreed to do so, we were able to launch an effective social media campaign that catered to his customers instead of to him. And you can do it, too.

For Free—

To gain fresh perspective, ask for outside input. You can do this even if you run a one-man (or one-woman) show. Just make sure you ask the opinions of people who fit your Ideal Client Profile (ICP).

In The E-myth Revisited, Michael Gerber says business owners are often too close to their own enterprises to accurately identify the best overall picture of their own ideal clients. So make sure you ask around. It might take some detective work. And bear in mind that it’s entirely possible your current customer list does not yet include your ideal client.

On a Limited Budget—

When funds are tight, take advantage of books on tape, DVDs and webinars, which provide ready access to the best business and marketing minds in the world. Here are a few authors I recommend:

Ken Blanchard: The One-Minute Entrepreneur

Seth Godin: Free Prize Inside

Guy Kawasaki: The Art of the Start

The Sky’s the Limit—

With effective market research, you can determine the need for your service, a product’s likelihood to sell, target-market demographics, and desirable storefront locations. There are numerous ways to uncover this information—from online research to focus groups to counting customers. When money is no object, the most effective method for determining and catering to your ideal client is to hire a market research firm to compile data and prepare a report.

Here are a few options:

Market Research.com claims they have the best research offerings and expertise to make sure you get the right report every time. They do.

Vizu offers a full suite of customer-focused online market research survey solutions.

Polldaddy—software for data collection, which is more affordable than hiring a market research firm to handle everything for you. Polldaddy gives you the ability to collect data about virtually everything, from how to promote your product or service to evaluating age-appropriate entertainment options for skittish seven-year-old campers.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: The Write Stuff

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on and in the Biz Press on February 18, 2010.

Clearly convey your intended messag

No doubt you’re familiar with the game of telephone, where you whisper something to the first person in a line and then wait to hear how the message gets scrambled on the other end? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the current record-holding “telephone game” whisper is, “They inherited the earth and then the army came and scorched it.” The final words passed on were “Mayfield College.”

I’m confident the folks at Guinness would reevaluate the record if they came to my home, since we unintentionally play the game on a daily basis. My husband’s instructions to Kaitlin to “Clean your room” are heard as, “Watch television all day long.”

My requests to Lauren to “Take out the trash” are interpreted as, “Make brownies and destroy the kitchen in the process.”

As a family, we’re working on refining the communication model. Brent and I have recently discovered that while communication theories like repetition, parroting and paraphrasing do no good, threats yield results. Miraculously, the girls accurately discern messages like, “Vacuum the living room or hand over your cell phone.”

The reason our teenagers pay attention to this type of message is because we have made it relevant to their world. By engaging them on their terms, we make them an active part of the conversation. I’m embarrassed it took so long to adopt the practice at home since we do it all of the time when it comes to writing website copy for clients at Mountain Marketing Group.

In real life and Cyberspace, effective communication boils down to understanding and speaking to your audience from their point of view. When it comes to marketing, this relatively simple concept is revolutionary. Instead of designing and writing a website that looks like a billboard, remember that the reason people go online is to gather information. That’s why it’s called the Information Superhighway. Your site should provide help, not hype.

For Free–

If finances are tight, write website copy, yourself, using the following tips—

  1. Personalize your message and involve readers.
  2. Be friendly. Use anecdotes. Don’t talk down to your audience.
  3. Let your passion about your product or service come through.
  4. Prominently feature testimonials.
  5. Be real. Avoid overly-technical explanations and corporate-speak. If you mean to say, “If there’s a problem,” don’t write, “In the event of an unsatisfactory experience.” 
  6. FOREGO EXCESSIVE USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS, BOLD TYPEFACE AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!
  7. Talk benefits instead of features. How will your product or service improve your clients’ lives?
  8. Leave your mission statement off of the homepage. Visitors don’t care.
  9. Include a guarantee or free trial.
  10. Proofread everything at least three times. Errors undermine credibility.

It’s exceedingly difficult to look at your own copy with objectivity. Left unchecked, your greatest asset, familiarity with your offering, can be a liability. So, after you’ve written the copy, run it by other people so they can give you their opinions. Be aware that friends and family will be biased. They already have at least a rudimentary understanding of what you do. So, try to get the verbiage in front of someone who has no preconceived ideas of your product or service.

On a Budget–

Hire a writer who specializes in creating direct response copy, which is designed to solicit a reaction that is both specific and quantifiable. An experienced writer will understand how to do all of the above and will be able to skillfully provide interesting information as well as a seamless call to action. And this is of paramount importance. After all, what good is a great website if it fails to improve the bottom line?

The Sky’s the Limit–

Hire a professional website development team, which will make sure your copy is stellar and that the artwork matches the tone and feel you wish to convey. A web team will eliminate the potential for your message to get lost in translation. And, unless you want to challenge the current record in Guinness, that’s a very good thing. Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Follow the Money

Follow the Money

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on December 6, 2009 and in the Business Press on December 16, 2009.

Just before Christmas when I was seven years old, my father walked with me to a small curiosity shop/drug store in our town called Rotolo’s. I was eager to spend the $5 I had earned raking leaves and doing odd jobs around the house. This was in the 70s. So he was able to wait outside the store while I walked safely up and down the aisles, searching for Christmas gifts.

I finally settled on a glossy ceramic piggy bank for my mother and a box of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls for my father. I was so excited when I exited the store, I could barely contain myself. Since I loved piggy banks and chocolate, I was certain I had found the perfect presents.

And, on Christmas morning, when they opened their packages, my parents’ reactions confirmed my assessment. They praised my taste and thoughtfulness. My mom immediately placed change into her bank and displayed it on her dresser, where it remains to this day. My father shared his treats and kept the empty package. We found it among his treasured possessions many years later, after he had died.

Only later did it occur to me that two thirty-year-old adults might not have chosen a piggy bank and packaged snack cakes had they shopped for themselves. My naïve gesture succeeded because my parents understood and appreciated my frame of reference.

However, when it comes to promoting your product or service, you can’t expect your customers to respond in kind. While it is natural to lean toward logos, colors, slogans and advertisements that appeal to your own tastes and preferences, the only way this strategy will work is if you just want to sell to yourself. If you would rather extend your customer base, you’ll have to broaden your advertising horizons.

Oddly enough, when it comes to selecting a target, many entrepreneurs take whoever they can get, however and whenever they can get them, without figuring out who they actually want to attract in the first place. If your product or service is worthwhile (and I certainly hope that it is), then you do prospective customers a service by figuring out who they are and properly communicating your message to them.

To hone in on their ideal markets, we counsel Mountain Marketing Group clients to follow the money. And you can do this regardless of the size of your marketing budget.

For Free—

Use your existing client list to get a handle on your ideal target. Create a simple spreadsheet that answers the following questions:

  1. Who buys the largest quantity?
  2. Who purchases the highest ticket items?
  3. Who frequents your store most often?
  4. What do the above have in common?

After you import all pertinent information, go straight to the source. Call or email your best customers. Thank them for their business and ask them how you managed to land their accounts. Inquire about which publications they read, programs they watch, and websites they frequent. Focus your promotional efforts on the most frequent mentions.

On a Budget—

In many marketing circles, the shine is off the penny for email marketing campaigns. In fact, some pundits say that email marketing results have declined by 10 to 40 percent over the past five years. On the other hand, email survey campaigns are all the rage. If you have more than a handful of customers, the most efficient way to find out about their preferences is to write a customer survey email.

Perhaps anticipating the winds of change, email newsletter services such as Rate Point and Constant Contact offer user-friendly tools to create and distribute brief surveys. Since most people appreciate knowing that their opinions count, you probably won’t offend anyone by starting the practice.

The Sky’s the Limit—

When your firm can afford it, I recommend you hire someone to conduct market research. Ironically, although this is a crucial step for effective advertising, it is the tool most often overlooked by business owners. This is a shame, since good market research eliminates the unnecessary outlay of ill-spent ad dollars. And, as we all know, a penny saved is a penny earned…and sometimes stored in a high-gloss piggy bank.

Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Lurk Alive

man at a desk

Are you and Internet Lurker?

by Kathy Bowling

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on October 12, 2009.

Our house is such a cluttered mess, walking from the living room to the kitchen is like navigating landmines on the Mekong Delta. Between the dog toys, shoes, old homework papers and abandoned board games strewn across the floor, I’m lucky if I make it out the front door without spraining an ankle.

I can relate to the mother from the comic strip, Family Circus. Whenever something spills or breaks, she asks the kids who is responsible. The answer is always the same, “Not me!” And, in the distance, a little gremlin named “Not Me” flees the scene. Apparently, he heads for my house. Because anytime we ask our girls who left a bowl of cereal and congealed milk on the coffee table, they refer to him.

But the actual reason for the mess is that my home is filled with passive consumers instead of active contributors. Our kids just don’t consider it their responsibility to help with the running of our household. Many people on the Internet share our daughters’ passive attitudes. Read, research, rinse and repeat. While this tactic might work for hobbyists, when it comes to business, you need to take an active approach.

And according to Internet statistics’ pundit Jakob Nielsen, the door for action is wide open. In his heavily-trafficked online Alertbox, Neilsen says, “In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.”

So where do you fall? Are you a dynamic contributor or a passive lurker? Wikipedia defines an Internet Lurker as a person who reads discussions on a message board, newsgroup, chat room, file sharing or other interactive system, but rarely or never participates actively.

In case you’re still unsure of your status, here’s a little quiz to help you figure it out.

Are You a Lurker?

1. If you read blogs but never post comments, you might be a lurker.

2. If you join chat rooms just to follow other peoples’ conversations, you might be a lurker.

3. If you sign up for newsgroups but never add to article threads, you might be a lurker.

4. If you have no need for your keyboard while you’re surfing the Net, you might be a lurker.

5. If you didn’t realize you are allowed to comment on blog posts, in chat rooms and in news groups, you might be a lurker.

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, the good news is there is hope. The verb to “de-lurk” also appears in Wikipedia. De-lurk is defined as taking initiative to start contributing actively to a community having been a lurker previously. (And I’m not making this stuff up.)

So how can you turn the tide and de-lurk? Web 2.0 is all about conversation. Contributors add to the discussion by setting up and regularly posting to their own blogs. Critics respond to other peoples’ blogs, adding comments to discussion threads on social networks, and replying to online conversations.

Josh Bernoff, of Forrester Research, and one of the authors of groundswell, defines the groups, as follows:

  • 21% of online US consumers are Creators
  • 37% are Critics (those who react to content created by others)
  • 69% are Spectators.

My ad agency, Mountain Marketing Group, has discovered a similar phenomenon among our church and para-church clients. In many charitable organizations, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. So, when it comes to influencing decisions, who do you suppose has the most say? According to ICWM.net, the short answer is that the power belongs to the movers and the shakers.

Since so few people on the Internet create original content, consider the opportunity to shape the business or non-profit landscape if you have the courage to get off the bench. If you’re game, here are some simple steps to take you from lurker/spectator to industry thought-leader.

  1. Comment on this article thread. I’d be honored to be your first.
  2. Do a search on Technorati for blog-posts that are relative to your areas of interest and expertise. Read and comment on any that strike a chord.
  3. If you have not done so already, set up a free blog. For tips on how to create a blog, check out the Bowling for Business post.
  4. Once you’re on the map, set up a free account that will help you check out Internet conversations in real time, so you can comment at will. One well-known site for this type of monitoring is FriendFeed. Another, relatively new but highly intuitive way to do so is with backtype, which creators describe as “a real-time conversational search to surface what reputable people are saying about topics and web pages that interest you.”

Following these steps will establish your company or organization a leader in the field. All you have to do is lurk alive.

Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

The Good, the Blog and the Ugly

This column originally appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on Sunday, September 13, 2009

blogWhenever I’m tempted to drone on in blogs and columns, I remember a particularly disturbing episode of the Twilight Zone called The Living Doll. In it, a talking doll named Tina has it out for her owner’s father, played by Telly Savalas.

Maybe her hatred is due to the fact he is bald. Or maybe it’s because he has a hideous mole on his face. Or perhaps it’s because he’s the only one who can hear her deliver eerie lines that are not a part of her programmed vocabulary. No one knows for sure.

Whatever the reason, Talky Tina spends the entire episode making Telly angry. In fact, by the end of the show, in a desperate attempt to shut her up, he forces her tiny plastic head into a vice grip and cranks away.

If nothing else, the show serves to remind me to stick to the script when it comes to writing or speaking in public. After all, the inspiration for the doll was Chatty Cathy.

But it’s hard to find the balance in blogging. The word “blog” sounds a lot like “blah, blah, blah.” And that generally communicates the idea that you should keep talking regardless of whether you have anything valuable to say.

In the early days of the blog, pioneers staked their claims with long, verbose diatribes. At the time, only a few writers were contributing to the blogosphere. Content was scarce. So people were patient.

In the intervening years, an era most social media pundits refer to as Web 2.0, the blog has became the quintessential tool for personal and business communication.

According to Wikipedia, in December 2007, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs. At the speed of web, that number is probably into the billions by now. So how have the rules changed? Is it still important to blog? Why bother? How can that many people have so much to say?

When it comes to electronic communication in 2009, it all boils down to this:

The Good, the Blog and the Ugly

The Good

I believe it’s still important to maintain a blog in today’s business climate. Where business owners once hired professional website developers and designers to create state-of-the-art electronic brochures of their companies, and allowed those six-figure sites to rot in Cyberspace, the new order of the day is to slap something together and post it before the URL has time to rank.

Good is no longer measured in terms of a pleasant aesthetic. Today, most people are comfortable surfing the web. In fact, World Internet Usage Statistics puts the number of active Internet users at 1,668,870,408.

True, it may have taken most of us awhile to catch up with the early adapters. But we learned. And, now, we recognize that highlighted words are hyperlinks and widgets are click-able windows that whisk us from one world to another. So, we are no longer content to spend time on a single site. I call it Digital ADD.

The solution? If you can’t beat them, tweet them. Set up a website or blog as the hub of all of your information. And then, create several smaller sites that point back to the hub. In our advertising and public relations agency, Mountain Marketing Group, we explain the strategy like this.

Your blog should serve as a large body of information, like a lake. Social networking sites are like tributaries and streams that ebb and flow back to the lake, which is the source of your information. Since people want to click, let them spend their time clicking inside your site. And while they’re there, the best way to share your point of view is with a well-constructed blog.

The Blog

How do you write a blog that people will actually read? When she first started blogging her way through Julia Child’s cookbook, now acclaimed author Julie Powell said that it felt as if she was sending her initial posts into a giant abyss. Was anyone reading? Did anyone care?

This is the litmus test for whether or not you have anything worthwhile to say. Is your heart beating? If so, then you have what it takes to create content. You are uniquely you. Only you can tell your story. Only you can sell your product.

So be bold. Blog. Be short and sweet. Talk to your readers as though they were sitting across the table from you. Tell them what you would if you were chatting in person. My clients hear this charge, often.

Be who you are in the real world. Just do it in Cyberspace.

The Ugly

Now that I’ve (hopefully) emboldened you to blog, let me touch on what not to do.

  • Don’t pretend to know everything. You don’t. And everyone knows it. When they read your blog online, they are only a click away from checking every detail that you share. So be authentic.
  • Don’t write long narratives without breaking up the copy with images, videos, hyperlinks and bullet points. If all your readers see is a sea of copy, they will quickly click away.
  • Don’t forget that your words will live on in infamy. One of the authors of groundswell, equates trying to remove something from the Internet with attempting to retrieve pee from a swimming pool.

Don’t ignore your readers. Provide a place for comments. And when readers write, give the courtesy of a reply.

Whatever you do (and this is probably the most important tip of all), don’t irritate Talky Tina.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.