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Bowling for Business: The Trouble with Trifle

In baking and marketing, be careful with substitutes.

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on December 28, 2009.

By Kathy Bowling

Several years ago, my daughter, Lauren, and I followed the Food Network Paula Deen’s recipe for Gingerbread Pumpkin Trifle for a holiday get-together. Not only was the delicacy beautiful, but it was well-received by our Christmas guests. So, this year, foolishly, I decided to try to recapture the magic of that festive dessert.

To prepare, I sent my husband on a mission to fill a laundry list of ingredients. Despite the fact he had to go to three different stores to find Cardamom, he victoriously returned with paper grocery bags filled with $7,000 worth of cake mix, Cool Whip and vanilla pudding. After baking, cooling, mixing and layering, Lauren and I were sure that this year’s Christmas treat would rival our best efforts.

And that might have been true, if only the trifle had been edible.

It turns out that there is an important difference between pumpkin pie filling and canned pumpkin. While pie filling is yummy, full-bodied and sweet, pumpkin is nasty, runny and bitter. In fact, it turns out that, unadulterated, the resemblance between canned pumpkin and primate excrement is more than just visual. And as I scooped the entire contents of the crystal serving bowl into my aunt’s trash can on Christmas night, I vowed never to repeat the mistake of confusing canned pumpkin contents.

In baking and in business, small substitutions can lead to big mistakes. So, as we close the book on 2009 and strategize about how to succeed in 2010, I would like to take this opportunity to point out the three tools for which you should accept no substitutes.

Marketing Tools for 2010

1. Electronic Communication

If you’ve put off building or upgrading your website, make 2010 the year that you join the 21st century by investing in an easy-to-navigate, direct response Content Management System website. Unlike pricey printed materials that become outdated as soon as they roll off of the press, a CMS site is exceedingly cost effective for sharing your message in real time. And since 74% of people who live in the United States use the Internet prior to making any type of purchase, making the most of Cyberspace will keep your company connected and current.

Even if, until now, you’ve somehow managed to escape the inevitability of carrying around a Smart Phone, 2010 is the year of the PDA. Readily accessible and affordable, this tool will keep you constantly connected to the office, like it or not. Although you might be trying to buck the trend, your competitors’ availability in a downed economy will give them a leg up on anyone who irrationally tries to maintain a distinction between work and family life. Now that you can buy one for less than $100, it’s time to make the jump to a hand-held.

2. Public Relations

It would be impossible to talk about marketing in 2010 without referencing social media. However, despite the fact that most businessmen and women are desperate to turn it into a direct marketing tool, in truth, most professionals agree that social media belongs to public relations.

As noted by pundit Brian Solis, “(Social media is owned) by your customers and influencers (who) own and define it. And, without guidance or participation, they steer the impression and perception of your brand.” So, by all means, use social media. But put down the bullhorn you’ve been using to blast your message and, instead, join the conversation. If you use social media networking sites to provide valuable content to your target market, you will gain trust and, ultimately, improve the bottom line.

3. Networking

Although there are countless ways to network, in Cyberspace, arguably the most important professional networking tool is LinkedIn. Although developers of other free sites like Plaxo and Xing try to pretend to offer the visibility and benefits of LinkedIn, to date, there is no other professional social media website that offers the ease of use, search engine optimization and networking afforded by LinkedIn, which launched out of the living room of co-founder Reid Hoffman in the fall of 2002. According to Nielsen Research, LinkedIn has grown a whopping 319 percent since 2007. More importantly, LinkedIn is where the influencers are. The largest percentage of users boast six-figure incomes, are college graduates and have portfolios valued above $250,000.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll examine other business essentials. But, in the meantime, implement the above, being careful to avoid substitutes, and your professional life might be a trifle better than the rest. Happy New Year! Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

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Bowling for Business: To Push or Pull, That is the Question

Since the nature of a blog is to point to valuable content threads, found anywhere on the web, I’d like to provide my readers and clients with information about the most common question I recently hear, “What exactly is social media and how can I use it? Should I use it?”

FB linkThe short answer is that social media is the new vehicle for communicating with any number of people. It’s pull instead of push, which means that content is not just pushed by editors to listeners and readers without an invitation.
For this reason, some refer to it as “Invitation Marketing.” The longer answer is that, for the same reasons the practice of public relations was best left to professionals, so is social media. But if you want to handle it yourself, here are a few suggestions.

  1. Login and create a persona on several social media websites. Which ones? Take your pick. Some of the most popular are LinkedIn, MySpace, FaceBook, Diggit, Reddit, Flickr, Plaxo, StumbleUpon, Plaxo, Twitter and PhotoBucket. This list is by NO MEANS exhaustive. The number of social networking sites multiples by the millisecond. So try to choose the ones you find most convenient and most compatible with whatever product or service you are trying to sell.
  2. Keep your user names consistent from site to site. One of the main reasons for creating online personas is to boost search engine optimization. When meta crawlers search for the number of hits relative to your username, it will only tabulate consistent names. If your preferred username is not available on any one site, go to another. They are a dime a dozen. So it should not be difficult to find another suitable platform.
  3. Provide content. Make your point as quickly as possible. Then politely sign off.

To that end, let me take this opportunity to end my post. If you want to read some more suggestions about easily implementing social media, follow the leader.

Twitter Me Confused

So, at first, this whole social media thing was intriguing. I took some time to sign up for a few social media networking sites, in an effort to learn the medium so I could share my findings with clients. But no sooner had I started trying to locate these sites than I realized that communicating via all of them would be more difficult than scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro.

FB LinkThere is Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, Reddit, De Licious, Diggit, Flickr, Reddit, Plaxo, Spoke, Squidoo…a seemingly endless stream of sites all begging for my profile. Once upon a time, I didn’t even know what an Internet profile was. Now, I spend my days linking, clicking, posting, updating and tweeting. No sooner do I complete the list than the sites beckon me for more posts. When will it end?

Sometimes, I have to admit, I wonder if there is really a future in all of this? After all, if they continue to grow at this pace, I will have to sit in front of the glow of my screen day in, day out, like a character out of The Net.

In the meantime, I choose to focus on a few. In fact, I usually recommend the same social sites for my clients. The reasons are simple. You can’t possibly communicate on all of them. I doubt any of us could even pretend to be able to FIND all of them.

In fact, now that I think of it, it’s time to attend to a few posts.