Sunday, June 24, 2007
Crisis resolved (and the virtues of back-up)
Our first day of vacation almost turned into a business crisis. We had planned our route to Israel with an overnight in Boston before transiting on Alitalia to Milan and Tel Aviv. Before leaving, I had set out the editorial content and advertising feature files, zipped them, and sent them to our production co-ordinator. But he hadn't looked at these files because of the surge in last-minute ads which kept him busy through the weekend.
Tonight, I was just about to turn off the computer (after spending a couple of hours resolving how to download our trip pictures), when he told me he was missing some files and stories. As it turned out, he was missing MOST of the critical content for our July issues. And, foolishly, I had failed to back up the files on my laptop.
Fortunately, I also have some human back-up, a good friend with a key to our house and its security password. I didn't expect to need his services; but tonight he came to the rescue, heading to my home office and retrieving the files. Phew. If this problem had been discovered 24 hours later we would have had major delays in our publications; if he wasn't there, we would have probably 'lost' the papers for a month!
Backup, backup, backup. I cannot express the importance of this too highly. If you don't have an organized backup system for your business -- both technical and human -- beware; you could be caught in an unresolvable crisis.
We got through this one okay. But it could have turned out very different, indeed.
P.S. Now that the comparatively minor camera problem is resolved, watch for images on http://www.exploringisrael.blogspot.com; again I will use this blog only for stories and observations of business interest, so entries will be limited for the next month.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Our bags are mostly packed, and I am finishing up the last bit of work, before our family sets off for a month-long visit to Israel.
With the travel schedule, this blog will be less-than-active. I will keep in touch with the business and home through the cellphone and hopefully the Internet, but I will only blog here in the next few weeks if I come across a specific issue or insight of relevance.
I have started a travel blog at http://www.exploringisrael.blogspot.com to report on our family's journey.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Vision and Uniqueness
Today, I visited Toronto to interview people at two very different companies, who will be profiled in the next issue of Ontario Construction Report.
Because these interviews were conducted as advertising features -- in which the profiled business an review and approve the interview contents before publication -- I am bound not to report on the interviews, even positively, until I have their permission.
But I can address something important; the fact that both of the businesses I interviewed have successfully developed unique niches, and connected the dots in surprisingly creative ways.
One is a developer -- but its source of funds are largely pension funds of unionized businesses. So it conducts its affairs with an exceptional degree of respect for workers, 'ordinary people' and the labour movement. Yet don't think these guys are push-overs. They still require their projects to meet the highest competitive standards and they must ultimately operate within the open, free market for products, services, and clients.
I walked a few blocks to an entirely different business -- an architect that combines two very distinctive, but unrelated specialties. The result is an intriguingly eclectic international practice -- one that competes on the highest levels, and in fact sets the standards for its industry segment.
Both of these businesses, of course, practice the 'standards' of business discipline -- they get the basics right (something I failed to appreciate as we expanded carelessly a few years ago). But they combine the normal processes with the exceptional creativity of building their businesses within well defined niches, creatively diversified, but always within their core values.
Once I have their permission, I'll disclose more. Of course the stories I was writing are part of our own niche, which allows us to be truly viable as print publishers in the Internet era.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Craigslist is great, but of course, like anything else it takes practice. When I place an ad, the phone starts ringing usually within 30 minutes. I get so many phone calls I have to eventually stop answering the phone.(FYI, I'm advertising for handyman services in the So Cal area.) 1) The #1 trick to using Craigs list is writing a GREAT ad. The search feature on craigs list works just like google. You need to have lots of relevant keywords in your ad. Example, if you are a Roofing Contractor, include in your ad, roofing contractor, roofer, roof, shingles, tile roofs, etc. and anything else relevant to what you are selling. A person looking for a roofer, might search for "Spanish tile".Also, take the time to write a really good compelling ad. Just because it's free, doesn't mean you shouldn't devote some time to it. Before placing an ad, sit down and write 1 or 2 paragraphs about your company and what you are selling. If you browse through the ads that are similar to yours, you will get a really good idea of who is serious about it and who the flakes are. The flakes usually have 1 or 2 sentences and a phone number. For example, here is an ad I looked up under "roofing" :ROOF REPAIRS. 23 YEARS EXP IN THE ROOFING TRADE. I WILL FIX THOSE PROBLEMS. CALL DAN 714 XXX-XXXXWould you call this guy? He obviously doesn't care enough to sit down and write a decent ad for his company, so why should I call him? Take the time to write a decent ad, and don't write IN ALL CAPS.Also, a well written ad with links to your web site and relevant keywords will help Google find your web site. Even with no calls, that benefit makes it worth your time.2) Next, write a really good Title. Something like this, !! ROOFER - best in the business - Licensed Roofing Contractor !!This step will take some practice. Try a new title each week until you find the right one.3) I never include my email address. I always keep it anonymous so I can still receive emails from customers, but they can not see my email. It will help minimize spam. Also, I always include my phone number. I'd rather have people call me. People that take the time to call are generally more serious. If someone does email me and asks for a price, I will email them back and ask for there phone number, or I will reply with general info and my phone number and ask them to call me. I rarely quote a price via email, unless Im certain I DON'T want the job.4) Scams... it's usually pretty easy to sniff out a scam on the internet. Unless someone is willing to go about the traditional means of conducting business... it's probably a scam. a) Never accept Western Union, b) Never respond to an "Urgent" message, unless it is one where you physically show up to the job site. c) Never give out personal information, d) Most scammers operate outside of the country. Ignore them. Just use some common sense.Lumpy is exactly right... I have been contacted twice by someone in the UK saying they were "so excited about my product. send me the price and my info and they would send a check right away..." It sounded so fishy and an obvious scam.. I just ignored it.5) Set up a website with photos of your work, or better yet, set up a company website and include a link to it. Potential customers like to look at pictures of your past work. Plus, clicking onto your web site gets them off of craigslist. It will deter them from looking at competitors and once they are on your website, its a second chance to sell them on your service. You can also place your logo and pictures in your ad if you know how to do that. It's just like linking to photos here on Contractors Talk.6) Finally and most importantly, PRACTICE. If you don't get calls from your first ad, don't keep posting that same ad. Write a new one or try a different Title. I wrote 3 different ads before I found the one that made the phone ring. Also, don't post a new ad everyday. It's annoying and clogs up the system. I hate seeing 8 different ads for the same guy. Customers aren't going to call just because you have lots of ads. Post a new add every 3 - 4 days. Ads will stay online for 45 days and as long as you have a really good ad, with well written content and links to some nice pictures, people will still call even if your ad is 2 weeks old. One time I stopped placing ads because I just couldn't handle the volume of calls. I was still getting calls a month later, so I know craigs list works. It may be different for different parts of the country.I hope all this info helps.Good Luck.Brian
Monday, June 18, 2007
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Press releases, blogs, online newsletters, and the like all can work really well, often in conjunction with each other. The trouble is, what works once might not work the second time; despite some basic principals, there are issues of reliability and predictability here. Nevertheless, if you have a choice of spending $50,000 on advertising or $50,000 on editorial/publicity services, go for the latter. You'll get far more results for your investment.
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 3:57 AM
Friday, June 15, 2007
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 7:43 PM
There are tools, techniques, methodologies and strategies to achieve higher search engine ranking, and specialist businesses provide guidance and support in this area. However, underlying the strategies is a basic principal that your website needs to be relevant, useful, and interesting. If it is, you can enhance your position with the search engines.
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 2:48 PM
Integrity and Community
After a while, I think business people can sense quite clearly who is good, and who is not. This instinctive capacity -- probably hardened with some real life pain -- is absolutely essential, for the business world has more than its share of scammers and con artists. Smart criminals know the right way to rob a bank is not with a gun, but with accounting tricks and creative contract language, after all.
I'd like to offer this 'smell test' for integrity problems. If you run up against these warning signs, all might still be okay, but I'd sure do a double check before rushing into anything substantial
- You sense something overpowering, fearful, about your potential business counterpart -- you either read through body language or words that this individual has good lawyers at hand and will sue, without hesitation, if things aren't right (from the other person's perspective.)
- Your counterpart is too smooth, too poised, too 'perfect'
- Your counterpart is enjoying unusual levels of success; has lots of material things, a big new house; seems so comfortable, so quickly, he or she is right out of a 'get rich quick' story (of course the sudden wealth may be honestly acquired; you'll know there are exceptions to every rule.)
- You can't quite fathom how your colleague has achieved success; the business model is complicated, confusing, or layered within odd structures or language.
- You just sense, in your first-impression gut feeling, that something isn't right. Your sixth sense, intuition, or instinct is telling you something is wrong.
If you haven't been burned yet by a business con artist, you are either very new, naive, or lucky. In fact, it is likely you will be burned more than once in your business career (hopefully through cons who are good enough to send out different signals so you honestly couldn't learn from your mistakes). You are obviously most likely to be vulnerable when you are desperate, grasping straws, and hoping for a lifeline.Cons, by the way, are not the only reason for failure and business problems. Certainly my most recent challenges (now resolving well) have been entirely my responsibility.
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 3:38 AM
Thursday, June 14, 2007
He hemmed and hawed, said that wouldn't work, that clients in the market would not accept higher prices . . . and then described how some competing contractors charge the same prices as he does, for shoddy work. I looked him in the eyes, and repeated, "You should raise your prices."
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The balancing act
Yesterday, driving to work, and listening to a CD I purchased from another marketing guru (who said he got his ideas from elsewhere, but didn't identify their source, so I'm not going to identify the guru here), I heard an interesting idea that our own business uses effectively. Yet, as I listened to it, I also appreciated the paradox -- the contractor who uses this business model will likely be so busy he won't use it very often because it is TOO effective.
In the example, the anonymous plumbing contractor does a great job in solving an immediate and urgent crisis for a respected public speaker -- saving the client acute embarrassment. After completing the project, the plumber visits the client and asks if he wouldn't mind helping spread the word about the plumber's good work. The enthusiastic client responds "sure".
The plumber then invites the speaker to provide a list of the people he knows in the community, and a copy of a letter explaining the client's great experience with the plumber. The plumber asks the speaker for permission to send this letter -- under the speakers' own signature -- to the contact list provided by the speaker. ("We'll do all the work, in preparing the letters, stuffing and folding the envelopes," the plumber says).
And so the plumber sends out the letters as the first part of a direct marketing campaign -- a campaign with real clout because of the endorsement from the speaker/community leader.
I'm quite confident that a campaign like this would work very well. But you won't see it happen often in practice. The reason is apparent to most of us -- most great plumbers are busy enough as it is and the response they would generate from this kind of marketing would overwhelm their resources and service capacities. In some cases marketing can be too effective -- In this case, you would need a team of journeymen plumbers trained and ready to work to your high standards, and some care in planning how to handle the response from a strong endorsement.
Nevertheless, if you are in any contracting or professional service business, please consider the power and effectiveness of the satisfied client endorsement letter. And note its potential applications for virtually any construction business and the allied professions.
For example, if you are a consulting engineer with expertise in hospital work, if you have a letter from a really satisfied hospital client, who belongs to a trade association and is respected by other clients within that association (say your client is the president of the association!), and if you could get a direct letter of reference/referral and target it to association members in communities where your practice has offices or could serve effectively), I think you can see how this kind of letter would accelerate interest and build powerful referral business for you. And if you are a general contractor, imagine the clout of the organized referral letter distributed to your satisfied client's contacts within your regional business community.
Just remember, do this right, and you won't need to market very often. And note this stuff only works if you do your job really well -- always, I emphasize, the most important cornerstone for successful marketing.
BTW, I'll be happy to send you a sample copy of a referral endorsement letter we use in our own business. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 1:52 PM
Monday, June 11, 2007
Here is Paul Hering's latest video. High tech or high production values, not. But nevertheless, he has achieved an intriguing early-state use of video for construction marketing in the new era. (I wonder, however, if he cleared copyright for using the music in this video!)
I emailed him to learn what camera/technology he is using for this video series.
Here is his response:
"Mark - I have a cheap AIPTEK camera with a 1GB card in it to capture pictures and videos. I got this camera because it was cheap and small. I carry it in my front left pocket and I can pull it out and take video pretty much anytime and often without others knowing I'm taking it. I hold the camera away from me when I am shooting myself and sometimes put it up on something. I note that the more I can just do it on the fly the more real what I say is and the more natural I appear...so I almost always just walk or move about as I would normally when I am shooting myself.
When I am in the truck, I just put it up on the dash pointing at me, sometimes I put a piece of duct tape under it in a loop so I can make sure it doesn't fall. Pretty darn low tech.
As far as editing, I use Ulead's Video Studio. It is a very easy program to use.
I plug in my card from the camera and move the files to a directory. Then I start the ulead software and I import all the video and images to the library.
I start a new project, review the video, use some simple cutting tools it has, put it in a timeline (drag and drop), and then put some titles, transitions, and music where it needs. The one I just did (not my best) I did in about 10 minutes. It was a 5 minute video with lots of cuts. Many of the videos can be done in a matter of a few minutes.
One last note. Youtube suggest you use MP4 files at 240 x 320, with 30 frames per second.
That's about it.
Hope this helps you."
I looked up Aiptek and learned their most expensive "high resolution" camera is available for about $400.00. The Ulead editing software is priced at about $60.00 This is definitely not high-budget stuff.
But it is right in line with some major trends in business and therefore Paul's project is worth observing closely.
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 12:42 PM
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Saturday, June 09, 2007
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 12:09 AM
Friday, June 08, 2007
FOOA Day 2
Shortly after writing this entry, I will return to the meeting room for the second day of the Future of Online Advertising Conference in New York.
I have taken a low-profile "absorbing" attitude towards this conference. Notes describing specific speakers etc are in the files (and conference organizers promise a complete package when it concludes) so I will put together now simply some quick thoughts gelled from a number of different speakers.
- There are interesting observations that conventional 'corporate' ads don't work so well as ones that inspire some curiosity and make very strong use of photographic images. Combined with a little text (say 80 characters), response may be highest.
- One unconventional group has developed a rather interesting model for advertising within a 'vertical' sector. Within this group, only one ad is run across all the sites, it must meet very specific technical requirements, and the advertiser generally must buy ad on all sites for a month -- and prepay. If repeat business is an indication, this model is successful. It encourages a non-cluttered look on the web pages, and the exclusivity gives the advertiser real power and value. This type of initiative requires much co-operation over many platforms, however, so I doubt it will become widespread.
- Nevertheless, the issue of 'advertising clutter' is one worthy of attention -- as a publisher do we trade off real effectiveness by jamming too much advertising on our sites? Is there a place for a more controlled and managed approach here?
- RSS Feeds offer interesting and important advertising opportunities, again in moderation and with respect for the way feeds are distributed.
- Video is undoubtedly becoming more important, affecting everyone, and creating new opportunities (and challenges) for traditional publishers and sites. Things can get even more interesting with concepts of embedded product placements and linkages within video sites.
- Online advertising is a booming sector, radically transforming traditional publishing practices, ownership, and viability. I found it interesting at the conference to see how many people were working with laptops -- and how few were reading the free copies of Wired and Advertising Age (printed) provided to each participant (though I and I'm sure many others took these publications to read more closely after the conference sessions ended.)
I'm shortly heading back to Gotham Hall, for another day's dose of insights and observations.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 10:05 AM
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
The planning day
We spent a long day today -- from 10:00 a.m. until 8 p.m. at a chalet in west Quebec, about 90 minutes from Ottawa. Bob Kruhm flew in from Durham, North Carolina and Chase from St. Catharines (via Toronto). Natalie Laferriere and Amanda Arthurs drove in from Ottawa -- I picked up Chase at the airport, and we drove in together; because of Chase's flight time, this meant we arrived an hour late from the original scheduled 9 a.m. start time.
Then we went to work, under the facilitation of Bill Caswell and Upkar Bilkhu of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company. The objective: Take a good hard look at where we are, and where we wish to go, and fashion -- through collective involvement -- our business plan for the next year.
And we did. Unlike last year at this time, when I had a staff of rather reluctant and frankly angry people, we didn't carry any excess baggage with us. And so we set out to visualize where we really wanted to go in the next year and set out some realistic and practical objectives.
Last year's plan, frankly, fell off the rails almost as soon as we drafted it. The plan simply didn't have a realistic heart in it. This year, however, I am much more optimistic that we will stay on schedule, and as they day concluded, I could see how if we had a similar planning process in place a few years ago, we would never have gotten into the mess that virtually destroyed my business.
Most importantly, specific expansion ideas and concepts were set out, budgeted, and built into the schedule. There will be no 'spontaneous' expansion or money-spending -- but we don't have to feel we are treading water; we know where and when we will grow (the specific details don't need to be disclosed yet in this public blog). In our plan we built in another planning session; this time to align the budgeting with normal fall practices -- but we will probably have in the future a spring session as well, to keep things on track.
I could see more clearly how a systematic and regular planning process involving all key staff members really allows a business to avoid mistakes, grow, and avoid conflicts and negativity. This process is not inexpensive. I will have to pay the facilitator's fees, travel and hotel costs, and of course the 'lost day of producivity of employees from current operations. But I know this is money well spent.
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 8:04 PM
Monday, June 04, 2007
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 9:46 PM
Actually Mark - I would've preferred it if you'd asked:
"What's your most important question about marketing your business?"
Slightly different question - but the difference is palpable. Why? Because in your version of the question above it's like they're supposed to guess the most important question they SHOULD have about marketing - in almost a textbook kind of way. The second question (as I gave it to you on the phone) is the question that's nagging on them the most - the one THEY most need the answer to - it's a little more personal. See the difference?I'll give you a pertinent example of why the specific wording - in even casual marketing research like this - is important. Authors always want to test titles to come up with the right title for their book. Most will come up with a list of titles (say 6 to 8 of 'em) and ask their list:
"Which book title do you like the best?"
Because the people asked start looking for which one is the cutest and the most clever title. Which one is the linguistic tour de force or something.
A much better question to ask about book titles is: "Which book title would you be most likely to buy?"
See the difference? After all - isn't that the action you want? Sales - rather than a "Gee, that's a cute title" response.
So back to your question - the idea is to discern what's the most pressing question about marketing that's rambling around in their brain that they're hot to get an
answer on. "What's your most important question about marketing"
How many times did you send it out? If you only sent it out once - I suggest that you send it out again tomorrow (Monday) and on Thursday morning. You may pull in more responses. Also, send it in the wording I originally gave you above. Stuff gets caught in spam filters or people delete it out of hand. It takes a few repetitions to get a true response."
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 3:30 AM
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Is our marketing generating revenue for sales?
This question, one of the responses to our survey asking you for your most important marketing question, I think touches on the very real challenges of measuring success with marketing initiatives. I interpret the question as: "Does our marketing actually lead to sales revenue?" and of course to answer that question, you need to have really solid lead tracking systems. In other words, you need to know where the initial lead originates, and how successful/valuable it ultimately is.
Sophisticated businesses set up processes for this type of thing -- the image is from a blog with an answer that is unlikely to be of much help for the typical reader of this blog; I don't think we are in the realm of large corporations with sophisticated (and distinctive) marketing and sales departments. Nevertheless, lead tracking is certainly valid in a formal sense in businesses with retail clients garnered through advertising, shows and the like -- you will want to know if your expense for this marketing produces results. And informally, you will want to know if your leads and selling system are profitable and effective.
But I don't think these approaches work so well in the professional and higher end business-to-business side of things, especially for smaller or medium sized professional service firms or contractors. The problem is less the valid need for these tracking approaches as it is in the process of finding and implementing a reliable and easy-to-administer system.
As well, none of this deals with the soft value of marketing; branding, image development, and so on -- stuff that is hard to measure tangibly but is undoubtedly important in the long run.
More later on this complex but very important topic.
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 7:30 PM
Few metaphors are as strong and evocative as those linking high level sports and business. Teamwork, energy, determination, creativity, support and power are all words that come to mind and apply in both circumstances. And (though I would be careful to claim a tax expense only when there is solid and specific justification) I certainly can see genuinevalue for any business person in attending a 'final' supporting event, whether it be the World Series, Word Cup, NBA Championship or, in my case, a Stanley Cup final Hockey game.
Ottawa, of course, is not that big a city -- but it has proven it can support at least one major league team in a sport that is passionately followed in Canada even though it is more on the fringes in the U.S. Nevertheless, the Ottawa team is fighting with the Anaheim Ducks for the finals.
Through some luck (and logical persistence) I snared a couple of last-minute tickets for the game to attend with my hockey loving (and playing) 10-year-old son, Eric. While we were late in buying the tickets, we were among the first in the stadium. It turns out we had lucked out -- the Senators had set aside a media overflow section but realized it could release a few seats to the public, and I went on line looking just when these seats were released. (Of course, I knew beforehand that it would make sense to keep checking online -- as various held-back seats would quietly go on the market before game day.)
So, no need to pay the scalpers -- nevertheless, the tickets were appropriately (highly) marked up for the special game, and the stadium was packed to capacity.
As the Senators fortunately won, I saw clearly how the game is won -- in business, as well as sports. Elite personal abilities combine with team respect, trust, and connectivity. You have to know when to let go for the team-mate to carry forward either with glory or the pain; but you need raw talent yourself. And the fans (customers) indeed have a place in the team's success. Besides the cash to pay the bills, they provide a critical amount of energy for everyone to enjoy. As well, I sensed the importance of the 'worker bees' -- those in the concession stands, or on the Zambonis; not much credit for them, and their skills are relatively easy to find, but everyone needs to know their role, and do it well.
Finally, of course, we come to marketing. When you get to this level of success, you have the pleasure of controlling the market. The Senators of course knew they could extract revenue by holding back tickets and making them available only to Seasons Ticket purchasers; and they did. And they could charge premium prices for 'ordinary' seats,and truly earn their money -- while selling advertising in various formats without problem to all kinds of buyers. If you are the best at anything truly competitive, you don't need to scrape for business. It helps to be great at what you do.
Saturday, June 02, 2007
Which marketing effort is most effective for you?
This is an intriguing and important question. It is easy to answer "it depends" and of course there is some truth to that response -- because the marketing effort results will depend, ultimately on the characteristics of your market.
But I'm going to take a risk and suggest a general but highly specific response to this question -- one of the responses to our online survey.
It is: Can you connect with your current clients so well that they will:
a) buy more from you;
b) encourage others to buy from you -- best of all, even without your 'knowing'
c) share their insights and observations about where the market is heading?
The rather crucial point here is that your current clients ARE your business -- their satisfaction, respect, and interests will tell you much about who you are serving and what they want. Assuming you have a close enough relationship with them -- and you should -- they will also be able to tell you where the market is heading; and allow you to adapt your business in that direction.
If you give me the answer: "I'm just starting out and don't have any current customers" I'll respond: "That's BS. If you truly don't have any customers at all, you are not in business; you are dreaming. Surely, in the early going you have some clients -- you aren't going to pour thousands of dollars in time and effort and not know of anyone ready to pay for what you offer...."
If you say: "I'm not making any money from my current customers", then you need to look more closely at the customers you find profitable, and find more of them (and jettison the ones that aren't profitable.)
Good marketing services and consultants will always explore your current clientele before structuring marketing programs to attract new business for you. The reason is simple -- prospective clients are likely to be similar to your current ones. You wouldn't expect for example (at least at present!) Conrad Black to set foot in a Wal-Mart. (This example may only be relevant if you are following a somewhat arcane criminal trial in Chicago.)
One example of a marketing failure that still rings close to my heart is the failure of the Eatons' Department Store in Canada. This had been the biggest retailer -- its founder captured mail order and client service in its era; and years ago learned how to attract and retain the very best retail clerks around.
But the stores went into decline, as successive family member generations focused on their country estates and horses rather than the quality of the business. The clientele aged, and business declined. The company filed for reorganization, and its managers set out to 'reposition' the business to appeal to the 'next generation'.
You guessed it... the older people, alienated by all the changes, left, and younger people did not respond to all the expensive marketing. A much smarter approach would have been to look more closely at the older clients' needs and build in processes to have them share their experiences with their (now adult) children. I think the stores would be thriving now if they did.
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 3:29 AM
Friday, June 01, 2007
Marketing and the market
At lunch at the Sales and Marketing Awards for the Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders' Association, I had an insightful and enlightening conversation with the local general manager of a mutli-city building supply business. the company serves markets throughout Canada and the U.S. (Reflecting the fact that I did not indicate I would use the information from the conversation in any published forum, it is right that I not disclose any identifying information about the person speaking with me.)
He said the business thrived in the U.S. (and oversees) for many years when the Canadian dollar was much lower than the U.S. currency, and it could beat local competitors easily on price. And he said the business thrived in Ottawa and other booming markets a few years ago when, because of its manufacturing capacity, it could maintain delivery schedules while competitors were building order backlogs -- and delays.
In both of these circumstance, the company didn't need to 'market' itself -- allowing that its product quality is comparable to the competition and the company engages in business with good organization and ethics.
But what happens when the market slows, and delivery time is not an issue for the competitors? Or the currency advantage is lost, so pricing is essentially the same as competing products of the same quality.
It is, the company decided, time to market itself -- and it engaged (on recommendation) the advice of a local advertising/marketing agency -- whose representatives coincidentally were at our table as well.
"Marketing is important now because we have to differentiate our product; create a brand, create demand and awareness," the building supply manager told me. "We know that, but we aren't used to this whole world."
Fortunately the company appears to have chosen wisely for its agency -- one with experience in the field, and good understanding of the realities of business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing. "We look at the demographics of the market -- your current clients -- and see who they are," the marketing agency representative told me. "Then we figure which media to use to draw attention to others fitting the same profile."
The agency is well aware of the importance of repeating advertising; and of the profound and important change in the use of the Internet. "If we see the market includes older clients, we will suggest a combination of Internet and traditional media," the agency person told me. "If it is younger, we might recommend only the Internet."
I told the building supply person and the agency people I am well aware of the importance of online advertising, though our business primarily earns its revenue from conventional print media. In fact, I'll be at the Future of Online Advertising conference in New York this time next week (and blogging from there).
The building supply person asked my opinions, knowing that I published the association's internal newsletter. I explained that one of the best things you can do is get involved directly in relevant associations -- in fact his major competitor had a senior position in the OCHBA's executive recently. Personal relations and connections are vitally important and these are best developed within the association context.
Perhaps the best evidence of the validity of that point was the fact that my table-mates earned several awards for their marketing work; and we (without forcing the matter) were happy to exchange business cards for very realistic future business relationships; in other words, I may have a couple of very valuable new clients from this get-together.
What can I conclude from the experience? You don't need to market when your competitive advantage is so great that it is obvious and clear to anyone with half a brain. You do need to market when your product or service, within the framework of competitive options, is really not that much different or better (at least objectively). The marketing process -- the creative 'connecting' and relationship/brand building exercise -- creates the extra value that allows you to thrive despite commoditization and competition.
And it never hurts, in business-to-business marketing, to join relevant associations and attend their marketing awards lunches!
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 6:42 PM
Your survey answers
- Which marketing effort is most effective for us?
- Are you following your marketing/business plan?
- Is our marketing generating revenue for sales?
- We have a captive market with high churn among the Property Management cadre, how do we keep them aware of what we can do for them, and how and when they can/should contact us?
- What is the most effective way to advertise... Papers, phone book, Internet, signs, word of mouth? And what do you get for the cost. Maybe a $20,000 phone book ad works well but I don't have that kind of money. So where do I put my money, how much and what do I get?
- Who .. what .. where..?
The questions are excellent; the answers will be challenging to provide. Over the next few blog entries I will give a 'first impression' answer to each question, and suggest some directions to take with your own research and finding solutions.
Please feel free to add your response to this question:
and I will help find answers for you. Note you can post your question without identifying yourself (or if you wish to personally communicate with me, provide either your email address or phone number).
Posted by Mark Buckshon at 3:15 AM