What Types of Questions Do You Answer: Developing a Marketing Plan

What Types of Questions Do You Answer: Developing a Marketing Plan

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve talked about creating a marketing strategy for your business.  So far I’ve covered 3 steps to creating a marketing plan and identifying what problem your business solves.

Today we are going to talk about what question your business answers.  This is related to the types of problems your business solves but it is broader and covers more of the educational aspects.

So, for example, if you have a plumbing business and you are trying to think of topics to include in your content strategy, you can talk about the types of services you offer, the problems that you solve.  This is all information that a potential customer might need to know to understand why your service is the best choice for them.

Speaking about plumbing, I was just reading about the situation in Flint, Michigan and their water supply.  I think almost everyone is aware that in 2014,[1] there were dangerous levels of lead[2] found in the tap water.  There were several things that played a role leading to this: the switching of the water source, the lack of treatment of the water, and the old lead pipes going to the homes themselves that the water leached from.  Part of the challenge for government officials was explaining the factors and the problems involved because citizens had to be part of the solution.

The more complex the product or service you offer, the more important it is to explain the issues related to your industry.

The choices are: explain what you do or be prepared to compete on price alone. There is no other alternative.  Fortunately, businesses are able to communicate this information easily through content marketing.  This includes articles, informative images, videos, and audio.

The more complex the product or service you offer, the more important it is to explain the issues related to your industry.

The choices are: explain what you do or be prepared to compete on price alone. There is no other alternative.  Fortunately, businesses are able to communicate this information easily through content marketing.  This includes articles, informative images, videos, and audio.

The best way to determine what those questions are is simply by paying attention to the questions you are asked. Keep a notebook of questions that come up during phone calls or conversations with customers.  What are the things that you tell people over and over again?

I have a lot of articles related to domain registrations, not because I focus on selling registrations, but because that is something that has come up frequently over the years: people forgetting to renew their registrations and losing them to a domain squatter, domains being held hostage by a sketchy domain or hosting provider, or being outright hijacked.

Even though the problem my business solves does not involve domain registration, since we develop, manage, and promote websites, having control and proper security on a business’s domain is a top priority. Website promotion doesn’t do any good if those urls are directed somewhere else.

So even if it isn’t something you specifically offer, if there is an issue that impacts what you do, then include that in your potential list of topics.

The second way to discover questions people are asking is to simply look at the questions people use to reach your web site.

This used to be one of the most valuable reports for content marketing. Server statistic programs such as AWstats and Google’s own Analytics service would display the search queries, the words a site visitor entered into the search bar, to reach your site.

However, several years ago, search engines began to encrypt those queries, blocking their display in site analytics, if the user was logged into that search engine. Now only a fraction of search keywords display in your site analytics . . . But use what you have.

The third way to discover the types of questions people are asking is by looking at the suggested search phrases that Google provides with almost every search. There are three places this can be easily found: the list of related searches that displays at the bottom of the search results pages, the related questions that sometimes appear in search results, and in suggested searches that display as you being to type your query into Google’s search bar.

The fourth way you can find the questions your potential customers are asking is by looking at comments and questions asked on forums and social media. Quora is a general question and answer site, but depending on your type of business and where you operate, this might be in topical or special interest forums, in the comments of a popular blog related to your industry, or in a Facebook or LinkedIn group.

This leads to the topic of next week’s article, which is identifying the people you serve. Stay tuned.

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Notes:

[1] Cedric Taylor, “Flint’s Water Is Now Safe to Drink – but the Crisis Has Corroded Residents’ Trust in Government,” CityMetric, last modified May 16, 2018, accessed January 9, 2019, https://www.citymetric.com/politics/flint-s-water-now-safe-drink-crisis-has-corroded-residents-trust-government-3895.

[2] Sara Ganim and Linh Tran, “How Flint, Michigan’s Tap Water Became Toxic – CNN,” CNN, last modified January 13, 2016, accessed January 9, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2016/01/11/health/toxic-tap-water-flint-michigan/index.html.

What Problem Does Your Business Solve?

What Problem Does Your Business Solve?

What is the first question that needs to be answered when creating a marketing plan for your business? I’ve talked a little bit about the “Four P’s” of marketing: place, price, product and promotion. These are all important, but there is something else that needs to be analyzed first.

Let’s go back to the definition of marketing, marketing is the process of identifying a need of a particular group of customers and explaining why your product or service is the best solution for that problem. Examining that definition gives us the very first thing we have to do . . . Define what problems your business solves.

Taking a Tip from “As Seen on TV”

Before the advent of the internet, Youtube, and other social media sites, promotion options for businesses were very different. If you were a local business, your advertising strategy likely consisted of ads in the newspaper and the Yellow pages, some occasional mailers, and maybe if you were a larger business local radio and TV spots. Chain stores relied heavily on mailers, and businesses that produced specialty items would advertise in interest magazines.

But what about those weird products that don’t relate to a specific interest such as fishing or cooking and that wouldn’t attract much attention if they were sitting on a shelf in a store? Many of those products found sales through “As Seen on TV,” an infomercial (what is now known as “news”) service that demonstrated the problem the product solved, otherwise known as the “Unique Selling Proposition.”

One of the most well-known items was “The Clapper” which not only convinced a large swath of Americans that it was simply too much effort to get up and turn off the light, paving the way for Alexa, but it also earned a place in American pop culture with references appearing in movies such as A Night at the Museum and in SNL skits.

The “pain” in these infomercials was often exaggerated, as was the relief at the solutions. Never the less, the ad effectively created the idea that this “problem” was something that could be solved and with just an easy payment of $19.99, life would be a little bit better.

So what is the problem your business solves? If you were creating an “As Seen on TV” ad for your business, what would it look like? What do you want a potential customer to take away from your advertising? What can you do for them?

This is part of our strategy when we work with clients in our “Customer Conversations” program. We identify the hot buttons, or pain points, that potential customers and clients are looking for and design a marketing strategy and content to communicate it.

Being able to articulate the key issues in your industry and how your business effectively solves them is not only important for your general marketing or business plan, it is also critical to understand these points when designing and structuring your business website. Your website should be designed around presenting those solutions. How those solutions should be presented is covered in my upcoming book, 10 Steps to Success with WordPress.

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Three Steps to Creating a Marketing Plan

Three Steps to Creating a Marketing Plan

Tomorrow is the first day of 2019. Do you have a marketing plan for the upcoming year for your business? If not, I’m going to cover three steps to creating a marketing plan.
As I’ve discussed before, marketing is identifying a particular need in a specific group and explaining why your product or service is the best solution for that problem. We talk about the “4 P’s” in marketing: product, place, price, and promotion. In other words, what you are selling and for what price, where it is being offered and how you are telling others about it (promotion.)
Marketing isn’t mystical or mysterious, it is a set of actions taken to achieve a specific goal — the meeting of the customer need — and as a result of meeting that need, your sales goals are reached.

Having defined those terms, how do we begin to line out those actions?

#1 Know Where You’ve Been

If you’ve been in business for any amount of time at all, you have data for a starting point. We have any number of software programs today that make looking at sales and financial data and generating reports easy. The thing is you have to look at them. Those numbers are much more than simply something you compile to submit to the IRS. They are a report of how your business is doing.

When I was in business school, we created a business plan for the university student cinema. We found that the cinema was losing money on every candy bar it sold because it was priced below cost. The students operating the cinema had no idea until they saw the report. At some point, someone priced it and that price was never questioned again.

What were your sales by month? If you offer multiple product or service lines, what was the breakdown of sales between them? Were there variations between months, and if so, can you explain what went on?

Public companies are required to give quarterly reports on their earnings. They have to explain to analysts how their business performed as well as the factors underpinning those results. If you are a private company and don’t have investors, imagine that you have someone to whom you have to give a report.

Create a one page sheet that shows the sales for your product or service (your business lines), your expenses, and the net. Then write a short summary of what happened during the year.

# 2 Define Where You Want to Go

Now that you have defined your starting point, the next step is to define what you want to achieve. Often, businesses will create long-term business plans, for example, 5-years or 10 years, and then the annual marketing plan is designed to further that long-range plan. However, if you don’t already have one in place, begin with a one year plan. Where do you want to be December 31, 2019?

What are your goals? Maybe you want to increase sales by 20%, add a new business line, or open a new location.

Identify the Steps to Reach Your Goal

Once you know where you are and where you want to go, the next step is to identify the steps needed to reach that goal. Looking back at past and current activities will very likely be your most valuable resource in creating these steps. Look at variations in your sales and your net, both the peaks and valleys. Do you know what caused them? Do more of what worked and less of what didn’t work.

Are there new strategies you would like to implement? There are two ways to increase sales. The first is to get more customers. The second is to sell more to existing customers. It is much more expensive in terms of marketing and promotion to obtain new customers versus increasing sales to existing customers. However, marketing to existing customers is not free and it doesn’t happen automatically. You have to have a plan for that as well.

If you focus on nothing else, my recommendation is to have a solid plan for deepening relationships with existing customers. This is part of the reason we created our “Customer Conversations” program. It is more than content marketing, it is designed to create “brand evangelists” among your customer base.

Over the next several weeks, I will be giving tips on how to use your business website as part of that marketing plan. My book, “10 Steps to Success with WordPress” is coming out in April 2019 and these tips will tie into the concepts in that book.

Your Business and the Spirit of Christmas

Your Business and the Spirit of Christmas

Tomorrow is Christmas and then we have a little lull before 2019 comes in with a roar. 

Christmas is a time when we consider our blessings and show our appreciation to those around us.  As I discussed a couple of weeks ago, the focus of your business should not be on the bottom line alone.  True success and a lasting legacy is determined by the impact that you make on those around you. 

Your Business as a Good Citizen

If you run a business, you have a wide reach.  Businesses play an important role in making the community they are a part of a desirable place to live.  We have many small businesses in our area that make our community a special place to be by investing in and giving back. 

Each business is also a community in itself.  As you finish out the year and look at your year-end reports, don’t forget to take the temperature of the culture and sense of community within your business.  Is it a place where employees feel valued or is it one where they feel dismissed?   Do they come to work and feel like they make a difference and contribute to the common goal or is it a place of stress and contention?  

There are times when culture is sacrificed, in an effort to boost profits.  This is a short-sighted strategy if your goal is to build a business with longevity. 

No One Makes It Alone

We have this idealized vision of the “self-made man,” but really there is no such thing. For every successful person, if they are honest, there have been many hands helping them along the way; whether it was a teacher who took the time to go the extra mile when they were young, friends who encouraged and supported an idea, or a professional mentor that gave a helping hand. 

While a founder may have an idea, every successful business is helped along the way by employees who contribute their time and their talent.  It is not just about contracts and accounts, the people who help man your ship in the ocean of commerce are just as important..

Your Business and the Spirit of Christmas

All of us are familiar with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  It has been retold and reworked in movies such as It’s a Wonderful Life to countless renditions on Lifetime.  The message Dickens gave in the mid-nineteenth century in the middle of the Industrial Revolution is the same one that Jack Welch gives to business owners today, “Put people first.”

 As the ghost of  Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol said:

 “Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing his hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”[1]

 Scrooge was given a second chance to make a course correction and adjust his priorities.  For the savvy business owner, the welfare of employees and giving back to the community of which they are a part should always be part of the business plan. 

Gratitude is Key

 Christmas and the end of the year are often a time when businesses give holiday bonuses.  However, did you know that compensation is actually not the primary determinant of employee satisfaction?  It’s not.  Multiple studies have shown that appreciation is[2] the number one factor.[3]

Showing Appreciation

So how can you show your employees that you recognize and appreciate the contribution they make?

Tell them.

Write a card of appreciation and tell them a specific thing that you appreciate about the job they do.  This might be when they went an extra mile to finish a job, or when they showed extraordinary patience with a difficult customer.  Maybe it is that they do an excellent job training others, or they pay attention to detail. 

What is their primary character quality?  Are they: thoughtful, considerate, trustworthy, reliable, respectful, humble, compassionate, fair, courteous, efficient, diligent, flexible, focused, honest, determined, insightful, intuitive, creative, persuasive, perceptive, resourceful, imaginative, punctual, or cooperative?  Pick one and tell them how it makes a positive impact on the team and in your business.

Don’t send it in a text, email, Facebook or Slack message.  Get some pretty cards, grab a pen, and write the note by hand. 

When your employees know that you value not only what they do, but who they are, they will want to do their best for you.  

Grow your business from the inside out starting with your people.

 


Endnotes:

[1] Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol,” ed. Katharine Kroeber Wiley (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Press, 2004), 7–88.

[2] Jane Burnett, “Employees Treasure This the Most When It Comes to Job Satisfaction,” Ladders, last modified November 10, 2017, accessed December 24, 2018, https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/employees-treasure-this-the-most-when-it-comes-to-job-satisfaction.

[3] Jacob Morgan, “The Top 10 Factors For On-The-Job Employee Happiness,” Forbes, last modified December 16, 2014, accessed December 24, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2014/12/15/the-top-10-factors-for-on-the-job-employee-happiness/.

Nurturing Your Business with Promotion

Nurturing Your Business with Promotion

Last week we talked about leadership, impact, and influence, today we are going back to discussing the importance of having a plan to promote your business and executing that plan consistently. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that many people feel uncomfortable about promoting their business. The smaller the business and the more necessary the need for promotion, the more likely this is to be true. Many small business owners see their business as an extension of themselves and often see promotion as a form of “bragging.” I’ll tell you a story that illustrates this. My undergraduate degree is in marketing and advertising management, but I recently completed a masters degree in apologetics. It was quite a different change in track. There were people from all different industries and backgrounds. A few, such as myself with a business background, attorneys, engineers, and even a former NFL player, but a large percentage of the students were pastors, teachers, and writers. People who work in ideas, not necessarily the nuts and bolts of production or sales.  One of the classes was on communication and one unit in that class was specifically on promotion. One of the books assigned was Platform by Michael Hyatt. If you don’t know who Michael Hyatt is, he is the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. His business was not only about finding good writers but about getting those books sold. Platform is about building your personal distribution channel. The subtitle is “Get Noticed in a Noisy World.” It is about building a base of people who like and follow what you have to say or offer, or as I mentioned before, expanding your reach and developing those customer conversations. The book is specifically written for authors, and Hyatt explains the publishing industry, but the principles he covers are good for anyone in business. He tells aspiring authors that it is absolutely necessary that they create their own “platform” or distribution channel if they want to be published. The publishing industry has changed quite a bit. Traditional book deals where the publisher gives the author an advance and invests in the development, production, and promotion of the book are not as common as they used to be, but authors that have their own developed platform are more likely to receive this. I know this to be true. I have a friend who is a food blogger who has published online since 1995. She was offered a deal for a cookbook from a publisher because she already has a site that gets a million views a month, a mailing list, and robust social media profiles. Offering a deal to someone like her is a much safer bet for a publisher who is fronting an advance and investing in the development and promotion of the book versus an unknown. I’ve created marketing pieces for other authors and they have told me the same thing. Even with traditional publishing, they are primarily responsible for promoting their work.

Hyatt explains why this platform building is necessary and then lays out a step-by-step blueprint for building one. It is an overview, an entire book could be written on each specific element of building a platform, but Platform does a very good job of painting the big picture. Platform was published in 2012 and I took the class in which it was assigned in 2016. There were a few things in the book that I thought were a little dated, after all, online marketing changes rapidly; but overall, all I thought it did a very good job of explaining what and the why of what needed to be done. When I read it, I thought, “This is an awesome book.” I was the only person in my class that thought so. Everyone else absolutely hated it. They hated it so much that some wanted to petition to have it removed from the reading list for the class. They didn’t like Hyatt’s recommendations, even though he had decades of experience in the publishing industry and is a published author himself. So, fast forward a couple of years and some friends and I decided to start a journal. The first issue launched in April of this year, and just a couple of weeks ago we released the fourth issue titled, Celebrating Planet Narnia. It is in honor of one of the professors of our program, Dr. Michael Ward, who published Planet Narnia ten years ago. The main idea of his book is that the influence of the seven planets in the medieval model of the solar system are the unifying factor among C.S. Lewis’s seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia. If you’ve read, or watched The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and wondered what Father Christmas was doing in Narnia, Ward explains the continuity in his book. Included in Celebrating Planet Narnia is an interview with Dr. Ward about the journey the publication of his book launched.  This is what he says about publishing a book:

I also feel a responsibility to Planet Narnia itself, if that doesn’t sound like a strange thing to say. But I say it because of something the Inklings scholar, Diana Glyer, once remarked to me about her own (excellent) book, The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. It’s not enough just to write a book and get it published, any more than it would be enough just to conceive a child and give birth to it. You then have a responsibility to give your work ‘a good start’ in the world (by giving talks, recording interviews and podcasts, signing copies, responding to readers), and to do what you can to tend its mid-term development in appropriate ways. . . You get to shepherd your own work for a while, which hopefully increases the chance it will gain a wide and fair hearing and accordingly be able to stand more and more on its own feet. So that has taught me a lot about the job of being a writer; it involves much more than just writing![1]
It sounds like Dr. Ward is saying pretty much the same thing that Michael Hyatt does in Platform doesn’t it? The point is, whatever type of endeavor that you have, whether it is a business, a book, an event, or a nonprofit, it is important to nurture and promote it. So make a plan for that promotion and execute it consistently.

Want to Get Started?

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Endnotes:

[1] Michael Ward. “Seven Questions: AUJ with Michael Ward.” An Unexpected Journal 1, no. 4. (Advent 2018): 10.

Influence and Impact: What Type of Legacy will You Leave?

Influence and Impact: What Type of Legacy will You Leave?

The past couple of weeks we have talked about marketing and promoting your business, we are going to take a different track today and talk about purpose, impact, and influence.

Last week, we watched the funeral of George Bush, Sr. , he was remembered not so much for political wins or losses, but for a life well-lived and for the family that he loved. 

My favorite part of George W.’S eulogy to his father was when he said:

In his inaugural address, the 41st president of the United States said this, “We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car or a bigger bank account, we must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood, and his town better than he found it. 

What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there. That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us, or that we stop to ask if a sick child had gotten better and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship.

The pastor of my Bible study said this yesterday, “Each one of us leaves a legacy, whether we want to or not.  We decide what that legacy will be.”

That is true, we don’t have to be an elected official or a captain of industry to make a difference.  Every person has an impact on those around them.  As a business owner or manager, you especially play a vital role in the lives of your employees, their families, and your community.

In business, it’s important to pay attention to the net, but the income statement is not your company mission, and it is definitely not your life’s purpose.[1] 

Jack Welch, the former chairman of GE, talked about that.  He took GE through a tremendous period of growth; however, his focus was first on people.  His view was that if the company did good by their employees, and the employees did well by their customers and communities, that an increase in “stakeholder value” was a natural result of that focus. This is what he said about it:

. . . And I was asked, what do you think of shareholder value as a strategy? I said it’s the dumbest idea possible. It isn’t a strategy; it’s an outcome. A strategy is something like, an innovative new product; globalization, taking your products around the world; be the low-cost producer. A strategy is something you can touch; you can motivate people with; be number one and number two in every business. You can energize people around the message. They come to work every day. It’s tangible. It’s something they can feel and be proud of.

Shareholder value? What the hell is that Larry? It’s the result of you doing a great job, watching your share price go up, your shareholders win, and dividends increasing. What happens when you have increasing shareholder value? You’re delivering better employees to their communities and they can give back. Communities are winning because employees are involved in mentoring and all these other things. Customers are winning because you’re providing them new products, value propositions.

It’s people first.  How does your business, and the way you do business, enrich the life of the people you work with, the people you do business with, and the community you are in?

Bob McNair, another big name here in Houston, passed away a few weeks ago.[2]  A few days before that, another local business owner died.  He owned a yogurt shop here in Kingwood, one that was inundated after the San Jacinto River Authority made its catastrophic release after Hurricane Harvey. 

The owner worked hard and brought his shop back into business, but he was fighting another battle with cancer that he didn’t win. 

An immigrant from Vietnam, his yogurt shop, was the culmination of his American Dream.  His daughter said:

“Running The Berry Bar made him so happy because he always got to meet new people and make friends out of the regular customers,” she said. “He really did love his customers.[3]

Business owners that give back to and invest in their community are what makes a community a special place to be.


Endnotes:

[1] Jack Welch and Larry Kudlow. “Money & Politics with Larry Kudlow: An Interview with Jack Welch.” CNBC. Published March 17, 2009. Accessed December 10, 2018. https://www.cnbc.com/id/29740717

[2] David Bryan. “Texans owner Bob McNair, who brought the NFL back to Houston, dies at 81.” Houston Chronicle. Published November 23, 2018. Accessed December 10, 2018. https://www.houstonchronicle.com/sports/texans/article/Texans-owner-Bob-McNair-who-brought-NFL-back-to-13417630.php

[3] Nguyen Le. “Community mourns passing of beloved Kingwood business owner.” Houston Chronicle. Published November 30, 2018.  Accessed December 10, 2018. https://www.chron.com/neighborhood/kingwood/business/article/Late-owner-of-The-Berry-Bar-impresses-affects-13434110.php

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