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Friday, November 30, 2007

Part 2: Small Businesses: Good Customer Service is Part of Your Branding

Good customer service also means good communications. Are you responding to your customers quickly? If you are not, your customers or ex-customers probably view your company in a poor light which to them is part of your brand reputation.

Over the last few weeks, I have made five or six cold calls to companies asking about their services. I called four printing companies, leaving messages clearly stating I was interested in their services. Only one called me back. (Here is another thing -absolutely no one was available when I called these places. I asked for a person - all I got was voicemail. This is not good.)

I was actually recommended to call one printer. I asked a small business owner and they vehemently told me that their printer was the best. Well that printer never called me back. I do not call back companies who fail to return calls.

Could they all being doing so well that they don't need my business? I doubt it. Maybe the situation is that the employees are not treated well and do not care about new business. This is also bad and an internal branding issue.

Bottom-line is that you must be responsive to new business inquiries. You must call or email back existing customers quickly to handle their requests. I believe that the printers I called didn't want my business. I won't do business with them - ever. There are other printers that will be glad to take my business.

Note: The one printer that called me back took five days to get back to me with price quotes. The owner actually mailed me a box with samples and the price quotes. I emailed her with my needs - she sent me snail mail. I was starting to believe she blew me off. If you decide to respond to email with snail mail - let your potential customer know. We are all very acclimated to receiving information quickly and we if don't - we assume our request has been forgotten.

Remember your customers are not mind readers.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Small Businesses: Good Customer Service is Part of Your Branding - Part 1

I can't tell you how many times I have stopped patronizing a store or service because of horrendous customer service. Whether your small business is part of a large franchise or you run your own business - your customer service is a major part of your small businesses brand.

I drive to a dry cleaner in the next town because my dry cleaner goes the extra mile with my order (no pun intended). He carries dry cleaning to my car and puts it in there for me. He runs my blouses through several times to remove stains - without me asking. His elite customer service is part of his brand. I could probably save money using coupons for a dry cleaner in my town, but I received bad customer service just ONE day and I moved on.

Remember the Saturn commercials from 10-15 years ago? They were an unknown brand. They built their brand on their customer service. Commercials showed customers enjoying themselves while shopping for a Saturn. They were treated with respect, given food to eat and were taken care of even after their purchase. Saturn focused on its "no haggle" pricing to appeal to consumers who just wanted to go into one of their dealerships to buy a car.

Start building your customer service branding by making sure the people who answer your phones are informed about your company and most importantly know how to work your phone system. It is easy to deter new customers if their calls are dropped because the receptionist doesn't know how to put calls through voicemail. Make sure temporary employees have access to phone directories and instructions on how to use your telephone system. Make sure they are told how to greet callers and guests.

Part II of Good Customer Service is Part of Your Branding will be about - New Business Calls.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanking Past & Present Employees is the Best Marketing

I recently learned that a major online brokerage firm, that acquired another firm two years ago, mailed bonus checks to PAST employees that were given packages due to the acquisition. Many employees of the brokerage firm were given significant packages to stay on through the transitional period before being laid off. The firm has now awarded the employees that stayed on during the transitional period with bonuses because they helped to increase productivity and revenues.

I find this gesture extremely important to the overall branding and marketing of the firm. Anyone who had ill-will due to the lay-offs will now feel very good about this company. The letter they sent was quite nice and thanked the former employee in the form of a $1500 gross check. How many companies share their success in the form of money with former employees? This is brilliant marketing and branding!And a great public relations tactic.

This holiday season, consider sending small tokens of appreciation to employees who left on good terms. Remind them that your company is good and cares about its people. It doesn't have to be a large amount of cash, as that could hurt a small businesses, but think of sending them holiday cards. If you can afford to splurge on a gift card, send them a $15-25 gift certificate thanking them for their service and helping your company become a success. The word-of-mouth on this will be tremendous. I have chosen not to mention the name of the firm above, however, former employees will be happy to share how wonderful your company is.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Small Business Charitable Giving Programs Make For Good Public Relations

The Wall Street Journal published a nice article about how small business owners have built charitable giving programs into their businesses. Some of the businesses made charitable giving a mission of the firm that hinged on the success of the company. I do not advise that any small business do that, however, having a charitable program is a good idea and can be a conduit positive public relations.

Think about calling a local United Way or Salvation Army and find out how you can get involved with a toy or clothing drive. Once signed up with a program, promote it to your employees AND customers or clients. Get everyone involved. You want your charitable program to be a success.

Before the organization picks up what you have collected whether it is toys or coats for the needy, stack them up in a small room to take a photo. Ask a few staff members to join senior executives for a photo-op. Use the photo to promote your charitable activities on your company website and client newsletters. You can also submit the photo to business event sections of local business journals. Most of the publications carry submitted photos.

If you have staff members that want to be more involved with your charity, ask if your staff can be on hand to volunteer and give out the materials collected.

Charitable giving is a great way to give back to your community and to promote your business. Link up with a local charity this season.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Customize Your Small Business with Branding

What is branding? It is how your customers recognize your small business. McDonald’s brand includes it golden arches and Ronald McDonald. Apple’s brand is ingrained in our minds by a simple partially bitten apple.It is so important to the company that it inverted the apple logo on the top of laptops and the back of monitors so that it can be viewed properly when people are using them - on the street and on the big screen.

So what is your brand? I find that most small businesses don’t have a defined brand. Entrepreneurs are busy trying to run a successful business and often neglect developing an actual brand. Well, it not hard to come up with branding elements. In fact, you can work on developing a brand inexpensively online.

Start with a logo. You don't have to spend a lot of money. There are companies online that provide ways for small businesses to create their own custom logos for a minimal amount of cash Create your LOGO in just minutes
with I have personally taken advantage of the free trial they provide to create a logo to use online. But you have to purchase the file in order to get a high-resolution logo to use in print. Try them out.

If you have an artistic side, you can use open source design software such as GIMP. I recently used GIMP to design a header for my retail blog. I admit it is nothing fancy, but I was able to do it on my own with GIMP. GIMP is a cross between Adobe Photoshop Elementsand Adobe Illustrator - except it is free. Download GIMP and play around with the functions available.

How do you come up with a logo? You can start off with something that represents you or your business. Maybe it could be a play on words or something from your childhood. Shawn Fanning, founder of NAPSTER and the genius behind music file sharing, named his "company" after the nasty nickname kids called him when they made fun of his hair texture. Sure he got into some trouble with his company initially, but now it seems Fanning had the last laugh on that one.

Try to be creative and not cliche. If you own a plumbing business just don't throw a wrench and sink together and call it a logo. Try to stand out from your competitors. Tap into your customers, maybe have a contest for suggestions and giveaway a prize like an iPhone 8GB. Maybe ask some design students at a local college to assist you. They need the exposure and they will be cheap (if not free.)If you decide to do either of the two, just make sure the person who designs the logo you wish to use signs a release to give you full-rights to their art for all uses.

Happy Branding!

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Small Business Need Proper Marketing and Branding Too

Just because your business is small, you don't have to have SMALL marketing. Recently, I was driving through town (I was a passenger)and I looked at the window of a neighborhood consignment shop. It looks like it has the same decor and signage it had at least 15 years ago. The window was junky with clothes hung in the window without rhyme or reason.

But I was most horrified as a marketer to see a handwritten sign advertising 20% off all clothing. It was written in script with a green marker that seemed like it was one letter away from going dry. The best part about this, the shop owner made two of these "signs" by hand.

It is 2007, most people have a computer and a printer. It is not hard to open a word processing program in Microsoft Office 2007 Small Business
and type a simple flyer in a large font of your choice. You can even have fun with type color or drop in some clipart.

The bottom-line is you do not have to spend a lot of money to market your business effectively. Simple touches like typed printed marketing pieces in your front window gives your business a different type of appearance to your customers. Go the extra mile for your business. Even if you printed signs from five years ago, it may be time to refresh them.

But a profitable business should never display handwritten flyers, unless you run a restaurant and only then it is acceptable to have handwritten specials. BUT even restaurants have an alternative these days to handwritten specials. There are electronic marquees and programs that run from a computer on flat screen monitors.

Invest in your advertising and marketing - it could mean more patronage and profits.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

eMarketer:Online Holiday Sales Will Be Up for 2007

Online retailers and providers. Get your holiday markting programs in order ASAP. Although you may be hearing that all consumer spending will be down - e-Marketer things online sales will be just as good as last year:

This was reporterd in the e-Marketer newsletter today:
eMarketer predicts that online holiday sales will reach $31 billion this season, up 18.5% over last year.

“It’s true that this year’s growth rate will be a drop-off from last year’s growth of 25%,” says Jeffrey Grau, eMarketer Senior Analyst and author of the new report Online Holiday Shopping, “but it is far superior to the low single-digit growth rate forecast for the overall retail industry this holiday season.”

According to eMarketer’s estimates, online holiday season (November and December) sales this year will account for 23% of annual retail e-commerce sales, or roughly the same as last year.

Do you have your holiday season marketing plans in order?

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Can Your Small Business Handle Telecommuting?

The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting story today about how companies are accomodating more telecommuters.The story highlighted companies that are hiring employees right out of the gate to fill managerial roles as telecommuters. Small business could benefit from having full-time telecommuters.

Employees who telecommute are usually more productive (I know I am) and the WSJ cites that companies can save money on office space. Also, to make a small business attractive to top talent, a telecommuting program could be leveraged for advertising available positions. If finding the best people in your industry has been a problem, promote telecommuting in your advertising and marketing campaigns. Telecommuting is often an amenity larger companies have a perk and to be able to offer it at a small business will make working at your company much more attractive.

Fortuntately, there are business productivity providers that provide solutions for companies wishing to implement a strong telecommunications programs:

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  • Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    Web Rage from Customers is Bad for Your Business

    The Wall Street Journal’s Business Technology blog published an item on how web rage is – well – all the rage on company websites. The reporter interviewed an adjunct professor who said “don’t sweat it” about small numbers of angry customers posting rage filled posts to corporate websites. This is bad advice.

    If you are a business-to-consumer company, your reputation is everything. Maintaining a good reputation is the best branding and public relations a company can do. Having angry customers spewing nasty comments about your products or services can become viral.

    The internet is a breeding ground for word-of-mouth rage. Plus, then there is the search engine problem. Someone well-versed in SEO can easily write a very nasty post to your company website that could get picked up on page one of search engine results for your company name. The last thing you want is for new clients or employees to read rants from dissatisfied clients, or worse employees, associated with your company’s domain name.

    Whether in large or small numbers, outspoken dissatisfied customers are bad for your company brand. Before you provide forums on your company site, consider whether you want to open up the customer experience to EVERYONE which will include negative feedback.

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    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Survey: Retailer Holiday Giftcards are Still Best Deal Released These Findings on Gift Card Sales:

    A Consumer Guideline for Giving Giftcards

    Bankrate Releases 2007 Holiday Gift Card Study
    November 12, 2007: 08:15 AM EST

    NEW YORK, Nov. 12 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Bankrate, Inc. today published its Fourth Annual Holiday Gift Card Study. Bankrate surveyed 31 issuers of gift cards, including American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa; major retailers; and the six largest shopping mall operators. The study examines new trends, expiration dates, fees, and dormancy policies associated with gift card purchases.

    "In some cases, the $100 gift card you buy for your loved-one could be worth nothing when they try to make a purchase," said Ellen Cannon, managing editor at "A few minutes spent reading the fine print, can make a big difference in the gift you're actually giving," Ms. Cannon stated.

    Key findings of the survey are:

    -- Best deal for consumers are still retailers' gift cards. They have no
    fee to purchase and no expiration date.

    -- All of the shopping malls and the big four charge fees to purchase a
    card as well as impose expiration dates. An expiration date means
    after that date, a monthly fee will be charged until the value of the
    card is spent or the balance is $0.

    -- More customized cards are available. American Express offers nine
    types of cards such as for kids, teens, movie-lovers, newlyweds. Best
    Buy has 15 different cards, including "Happy Fun Day" and "Geek Squad."

    -- Partnerships for added incentives. Some American Express gift cards
    have incentives attached, such as a free box of popcorn at certain
    movie chains when you use the gift card.

    -- Gift cards now being offered by many different types of businesses,
    including nonprofits and state parks.

    -- Gift card malls -- those kiosks in drugstores and grocery stores --
    continue to proliferate. The variety of cards offered also expands.
    Besides Starbucks or T.G.I. Friday's, new gift cards for golf or spa
    visits that can be used at hundreds of places across the country.

    Monday, November 12, 2007

    Smart Holiday Advertising for Small Businesses

    The holidays are basically here and this is a great time to reach out to your clients and customers. The number one reason is they are expecting you to reach out to them at this time. It could be that you send them a card to wish them happy holidays or you can simply send electronic communications.

    There are a few services that make it quite simple for small businesses to reach out to clients and customers without breaking the bank. For e-newsletters, small business can use customizable newsletters online via vendors such as Constant Contact.

    Constant Contact provides Do-It-Yourself Email Marketing.
    Using an array of templates and designs you can customize a e-marketing campaign. They also offer the opportunity to start with free for a 60 day trial. I use this service for a client's newsletter and it really provides a simple way to layout a newsletter with minimal time. During the holidays, I also use Constant Contact to send holiday promotions. Try out Constant Contact's Email Newsletters - 60 Day Free Trial.

    Another simple way to reach out to clients and customers is to send a holiday card. You would be surprised how holiday greetings can help your company bring in customers and clients you may have not seen in a while. Holiday cards are easy to customize through services such as Vista Print. Vista Print is a online company that provides custom printer direct to consumer. For the holidays they are offering FREE Deals for the Holidays which can make your holiday greetings economical for small businesses.

    Holiday cards can wish your clients and customers good tidings for the season, but it is also a great time to advertise special offers for holidays. If you custom print your holiday cards with a message, why not add a special offer. The special offer should require that the customer bring in the card to receive the special. This serves two purposes: you find out how well your card promotion worked and you also can gauge how proactive your clients and customers are. Vista Print is running a special for 50% OFF HOLIDAY CARDS! Some of these specials are for a limited time.

    I personally have taken advantage of Vista Print's Free Business Cards promotion. The business cards I ordered came in a timely fashion and they were printed as I designed them.

    Friday, November 9, 2007

    Small Businesses: How-to Write a Press Release

    So last week, you learned about “WHEN” to write a press release for a small business and how-to start one. Now we can cover how-to write and develop the meat of your press release.

    When writing the first paragraph or “lede” paragraph you need to cover the most important aspects of the news:

  • Who is releasing the news – Name of company, website and what you are known for.
  • What the news is – This would be your new executive, product, service or recognition.
  • Why it is news – Example: if the news is a new executive why have they joined?
  • When it became news
  • A Strong closing paragraph – This should be a strong nugget of information about your company. Example: you may want to say something smart about your company like “Over the last year, JJP Services increased its net revenue by 40 percent leading to the need to hire more senior level staff to perpetuate company growth.”

    Remember that an editor/journalist needs to see the facts about your product or service, to understand the value of an event or other news announcement, and why they should consider writing about you.

    By following the guidelines in this article and others in this blog, you should be able to compose a proper release, which fits the criteria, which editors look for. This will give you the best chance of getting the “free publicity”, which only the print and electronic media services can provide.

    NEXT TIME: We will go over how-to write and develop secondary paragraphs for your small business press releases.

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  • Tuesday, November 6, 2007

    Study to Examine How Microsites Engage Customers

    In a press release out today on Businesswire, Keynote Competitive Research announced that is has commenced a study that will run through November 15, 2007 on how well promotional/interactive advertising engages consumers. Many large consumer product companies have launched tangential microsites that provide branded entertainment focused around a single product.

    A good example of this is Unilever’s I Can’t Believe It Is Not Butter’s Mediterranean Island Paradise . This is an interactive companion site to the butter substitute’s main website, which promotes the new Mediterranean blend of the product. To drive traffic to the site, Unilever launched a sweepstakes to win a Mediterranean trip. On the island, there are interactive puzzles and a “Fabio fone” which allows users to interact with the product’s long time spokesman, Fabio. Unilever also has a microsite for the spray version of the product called “Sprays in the City.”

    The results of the study will be published in early December. Aggregated measurements to be captured include:

  • Number of interactions with each site
  • Number of hovers on the site
  • How long consumers spent exploring the site
  • How satisfied were consumers with their experience
  • Did consumers know how to interact
  • Were consumers frustrated
  • Brand impact and brand perception metrics

  • Monday, November 5, 2007

    Top Three Reasons Service Businesses Should Do Black Friday Marketing Campaigns

    The holiday shopping season is almost in full swing and now is the time to figure out if you should have a holiday promotion to dovetail off of the fervor.

    I was recently speaking with a client who owns a health and wellness spa about the infamous “Black Friday” or the day after Thanksgiving shopping day. This is the time that retail stores offer door buster prices to get the holiday buyers in the holiday spending mood.

    I asked my client if she was planning anything for “Black Friday.” She explained that traditionally – everyone is shopping and not thinking of going to the spa. Although that may be true, I asked her if she was giving people a reason to come to her spa. She said no. I suggested to her that she come up with a special for both the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving to give her clients a reason to come to her spa. She hadn’t thought of that before and is now thinking of what type of special she can run for those days.

    I always tell small business owners to use what I call “built-in events” to promote their business. Black Friday is a built-in event for promotion. Here are the top three reasons for non-retail businesses to do a promotion on Black Friday:

    Media Awareness – Each year major news outlets around the nation talk about “Black Friday” at least one week leading to the noted day. You don’t have to drum up the excitement – the media does that for you each year like clock work. This is free folks! Plus, you can always count on the big retailers to build excitement with consumers.

    Your Customers Are Not Working – Most consumers do not work the day after Thanksgiving. It could be that their employers have closed their office or they take the day off. Either way, this is a guaranteed Friday that people are available to do anything they want and that could be to patronize your establishment. (FYI – I never shop on “Black Friday” I don’t like the crowds. A reduced price spa treatment or discounted meal would be inviting!)

    Competitive Advantage – Your competitors may not think of doing a promotion for “Black Friday,” so you will have the competitive edge up.

    Here are few businesses that I believe can profit from “Black Friday” Marketing Campaigns:

  • Automotive Service Centers
  • Personal Trainers
  • Restaurants
  • Salons and Spas

    Most businesses can effectively promote their business during built-in events like “Black Friday.” Just make sure you come up with your marketing campaign before your competitor does.

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  • Sunday, November 4, 2007

    Dog the Bounty Hunter Speaks out - Via Attorney

    It seems that Dog the Bounty Hunter understands he is in a major public relations crisis. He is speaking via his attorney, Brooke Hart, to the Associated Press. The best thing to do when dealing with a personal crisis is to get personal. Take charge of your own crisis communications and be forthcoming about the issue at hand. Dog Chapman's next move should be to give an interview and explain his actions. Attorney statements should be avoided if possible.

    Remember,a lawyer speaking on your behalf does not make your issues go away. In the event of a crisis, speak out quickly yourself.

    Saturday, November 3, 2007

    Dog the Bounty Hunter: PR Nightmares Can Come From Within

    Dog the Bounty Hunter made a career damaging mistake this week. He trusted someone with one of his most private of secrets. That someone he trusted was his son and what he told him has shed new light on “Dog”.

    Duane “Dog” Chapman uses the n-word. We now know this because his son secretly recorded a telephone conversation when Dog exhibited his most canine side by explaining to his son that he could not bring his Black girlfriend around his staff because they often use the n-word. He told his son that he didn’t want to risk his Black girlfriend hearing the n-word because it could destroy everything he worked hard for. It is nice Dog could see how that would be a public relations problem, but it looks like his son values respect for humans over the family fortune.

    Dog’s son recorded his enlightening conversation with his father and released it to the media, n-word and all. Now according to A&E, “Dog the Bounty Hunter” reality show has been shelved by A&E indefinitely - all because Dog trusted his son with his secret bone.

    As the Dog, Britney Spears and Michael Vick realize, pretty much no one can be trusted. Even if you are a successful business owner or local celebrity in your own right, the people you think care about you may resent you. In the case of Dog, his son must have been outraged by his father’s display of pure disrespect and bigotry. He must have been hurt by his father and returned the favor by damaging Dog’s reputation.

    You ever hear the saying “it’s lonely at the top”? Well it is true. In order to stay on top, you need to keep your distance from those who desire to destroy you. Question – when was the last time you heard about Bill Gates and his best friend? Or maybe Warren Buffet’s long time golf buddy. Donald Trump’s closest confidant? I can’t name anyone in particular. These guys are either with their wives or with business colleagues. You never hear about the best friends – because they probably don’t have someone they want that close to them for fear they might expose something about them.

    Dog’s mistake was not talking on the phone with his son and using the n-word. It is his arrogance that he can control his son’s life and be free to say what ever he wants. If he doesn’t use the n-word when the camera is rolling for his A&E program, why couldn’t he use that same restraint when his son’s girlfriend was around? And why couldn’t he demand that his staff be respectful (as respectful as bigots could be) if she happened to come around with his son?

    The lesson learned? Don’t say anything you don’t want repeated. Period. Don’t say anything improper to anyone. Use restraint when ever possible. And never have a conversation that you want to be confidential on the phone or via email.

    Dog was right – it would be stupid to lose everything if his son’s girlfriend were to hear him use the n-word. Unfortunately, she didn’t need to come around his office or staff to hear it. His son took care of that and now the whole world knows. His worst fear may have come true and he may have done himself in – for now.

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    Friday, November 2, 2007

    Survey: Marketers Shy on Implementing Web 2.0 Budget - But Understand its Significance

    According to Coremetrics, marketers surveyed say Web 2.0 or social media marketing— them a competitive edge. Coremetrics, the leading provider of digital marketing optimization solutions announced from the results of its second annual ‘Face of the New Marketer’ survey.

    "Marketers are aware of the impact that social media marketing can have on their overall program but view it as uncharted territory, not worthy of their budget," said John Squire, senior vice president of product strategy at Coremetrics, in a statement.

    The findings included the following:

    A clear disconnect between the desirability of social marketing and the budget allocated to it:

    78% of respondents see social media marketing as a way to gain competitive edge, but only 7.75% of total online marketing spend is devoted to it

    This compares with an average of 33% of spend going to online advertising and 28% to online promotion design and implementation

    However, progress is being made in the field:

    58% of respondents have implemented user-generated content or reviews in the past year
    31% of respondents have implemented a blog in the past year
    25% of respondents have implemented an RSS feed in the past year
    The findings showed that most marketers have concrete plans to implement a social media marketing program at some point, even if not within the next twelve months. Of those marketers, the majority recognize the need to implement or improve their social marketing programs, but cite a lack of tools and expertise as their biggest challenges.

    Thursday, November 1, 2007

    When to Write a Press Release – for Small Businesses

    Knowing when to write and distribute a press release is important. Not every event in the life of your business is important enough for a press release. As a small business, exposure to your key audience for branding purposes can be key to the growth of your business. Identifying and timing your news is a good strategy.

    Here are some reasons to distribute good news to your local media:

  • You or your company have been honored (i.e. recognition from local government, “blank” of the year award etc.)
  • Business Relocation
  • - Hiring of a senior level employee (new vice president or human resources director.)
  • New service offering (for example – your home cleaning business is now provide office cleaning services.)
  • Business expansion (i.e. new location in another city)

    Those are just some of the really great reasons to write a press release. Press releases should cover the basics: Who, What, When , Where, Why and How. Press releases begin with a headline, dateline and opening paragraph. Here is an example:


    For Immediate Release

    Somerset, NJ – (November 5, 2007) – TEXT HERE

    Next week: Learn how-to format the first paragraph of a press release.

    If you need assistance with your public relations and marketing initiatives contact a public relation adviser.