How Big Businesses Market Themselves — And What Small Businesses Should Do Differently

English: Copy of a 1905 Studebaker Electric Ca...

1905 Studebaker Electric Car Ad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you watched TV lately? It’s almost Memorial Day weekend here in the US and the airwaves are full of ads from large businesses promoting big sales. The department stores, the appliance stores, and the car dealers are all running non-stop ads shouting at people to shop now!

It seems every big business is marketing themselves the same way: buy now! low low prices! Are you tempted to market your small business the same way?

The trouble with those ads is that it’s kind of hard to tell one from the other. The car ads are especially bad. They tend to fall into one of two categories.

Look at us!

The first big business ad approach is what I call “isn’t our car pretty” ads. They tend to feature the car perched on a mountain. Or, driving down a twisty road. They sometimes talk about mileage or horsepower, or “best-in-class” accolades. These are the big business branding ads.

We have experience!

The local dealer ads are a bit different. They star the owner, or sometimes, what appears to be his daughter (not a professional actor). They usually spend the entire ad talking about how long they’ve been in business, or their great service, and great prices. Sometimes, they shout (this is New York, after all).

I call these the “me! me! me!” ads.

Either way, they all tend to blend into each other. You really can’t tell the Honda dealer ad from the Lexus dealer ad or the Ford dealer ad. The only difference is the strength of the “New Yawk” accent. It would be easy to switch them around, without noticing a change.

Generic isn’t remarkable

Small business marketers often do this too. The marketing all looks pretty much the same. You could swap the logos on their web sites and not notice much of a difference between business A and business B. They fail the remarkability test.

Be memorable, not broken

Back to the car dealers for a moment. What if, instead of the same old, boring, interchangeable ads, they decided to do something a bit different. Something that would be memorable, rather than dull and “broken.”

And involve the viewers, rather than encouraging them to hit the mute button. I don’t know about you, but I can find the mute button without looking. And it’s the most worn-out button on the remote.

Smart small business marketers tell a story instead

All businesses need stories.  Stories and emotions are what really sell people, not shouting, or ‘rational’ arguments, or long lists of features.

There are so many stories associated with buying cars. The first car you ever bought. How excited you were. Maybe a little nervous too. It seemed like such a grown-up thing to do.

Imagine if the car dealer showed a college grad buying her first car.  Saving her money, going in to the dealer, choosing the car, and the joy on her face when she bought it.

Or, what about a couple buying a bigger car because they’re going to be parents (and need more space).  Put it that way, and the ad practically writes itself.

Much more interesting than yelling about years in business or big discounts if you buy a car before next Tuesday.

You can do this too

Take another look at your own marketing.  Is it generic? Or is it memorable? If it’s generic, do you have stories to tell?  They can be your own stories of success, or even better, your clients’ success stories.

You could share the story of how your product design skills turned someone’s dream of selling the ultimate tomato slicer into reality.

Or, how your ghostwriting helped an all-star athlete rocket to the top of the bestseller lists.

Or, even the “$75,000,000 hello” (a true story).

What stories can you tell?

9 Steps to Writing a Better Blog

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Blogging can be a bit scary (especially when you first start out). Staring at that blank screen can be intimidating. What do I write? Will anyone read it?

Here are nine ways to make your blog better.

  1. Write a great headline.   Some say write the headline first, others suggest doing it last. Either way, the headline is what draws people in and gets them to read more.
  2. Use subheads.  These are little signposts that point out new, important points.  They’re helpful for people who skim (rather than read every word), and also for search engines.  Use <h2> tags in your subheads to signal, “hey, this is important stuff.”
  3. Write short paragraphs.  They’re much easier to read online than long blocks of text.
  4. Use short, easy words. It’s tempting (especially if you’re a writer) to show off your vocabulary, but don’t do it. Write conversationally instead. Pretend you’re talking to a friend.
  5. Build a series of posts.  They’ll keep people reading (and coming back) to see what happens next.  Think of soap operas or cartoons (tune in next week, when Penelope says….).
  6. Take that series and bundle it into a free report (I shamelessly stole this idea from Problogger).
  7. Be passionate about what you’re writing about. If you’re bored, your readers will be too.
  8. Encourage comments.  Ask readers what they think, to make suggestions, or to share their own experiences.
  9. Respond to the comments you get, and interact with your readers.  It’s OK if people disagree; if someone gets nasty you can delete them.

What are your blogging tips?  Share them here.

Photo: cecio

The Two Most Important Words in Online Business

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There are two words that are critical to success if you’re doing business online.

Why are these important? Because you’re dealing with people who can’t physically see or talk to you. So, you’ve got to build up these two words.

The First Word is Trust

If people trust you, they’re more likely to believe that you can help fix their problem, and will be more willing to pay you to do it. It’s like making deposits in a bank.

Here’s how to do it.

Listen harder

First, as Chris Brogan says, grow bigger ears. Start listening to what potential customers are saying. Subscribe to appropriate blogs and join forums in your niche.

Tools to help you listen:

  • Google Alert: set up alerts to monitor what people in your chosen niche are saying. They’ll be emailed to you automatically.
  • Google Reader: monitor blogs and read about what your potential market thinks, and the problems they have.
  • Twitter Search tools
  • Listen First, Sell Later (just a plain link). The author, Bob Poole, was a successful salesman for years. Instead of a pushy, hard sell, he chose to listen – and find out what his customers really wanted and needed. This book tells how he did it.

The Second Word is Authority

You build this by demonstrating your expertise in your chosen niche. If people believe that you are trustworthy, understand their problems, and know their business, they will be happy to pay you to help them.

Here’s how to build authority.

Answer questions on forums

Use whatever links or biographical information are allowed to send traffic to your site or blog for more information about you. Don’t forget to fill out the forum profile too.

Write guest posts

Make intelligent comments on those blogs, and get the attention of the blogger. Offer to make a guest post on a topic that is relevant and helpful to the blogger’s readers.

When you do, say something nice about the blogger and how much you enjoy his/her blog. Don’t grovel or gush, just be polite and genuine. Include a brief bio at the end of your guest post, with a link back to your own blog.

Don’t have a blog? Tomorrow’s post will have some tips to help you start one.

Photo:  morguefile

How to Pull Your Marketing Out of the Mud

If you’re like many creative service firms, you’re suffering from a common problem. You’re trying to get more business, but you’re having trouble making progress.

Big firms think you’re too small to be credible. They’re concerned that doing business with you is risky and that you don’t have enough staff to get their work done on time.

Small firms see the high quality of your work and are afraid you’ll cost too much.

Trying to sell to both large and small companies will get you in trouble. Pick one or the other, and narrow down your target audience.

Don’t be the designer for everyone. Be the exhibit designer for the independent film industry. Or, be the designer for the pharmaceutical industry.

Then, then create marketing materials that address the needs (and only the needs) of your niche.

The job of your marketing is to help them feel safe, secure, and confident that you can do the job. Then you’ll be able to get out of the mud.


Is Your Marketing Run by Robots?

robot imageIt’s election season in New York.  There’s a primary in less than two weeks.  I got 8 pieces of mail yesterday. Two days before it was 3. I expect to see 4 or 5 more in today’s mail. 

Then there’s the phone calls at all hours of the day and evening. 

Some are from live people, anxiously asking me if Candidate X can count on my vote.

The worst ones are from robots, with a recording of Congressman A telling me how vital it is that I  vote for Candidate X.

I hang up on the robots and toss the fliers (oh, the poor trees that died for this). Even the live people don’t really talk to me. They just recite their scripts. They never say why I should vote for their candidate; only that I should.

They’re doing an awful lot of shouting, but not much listening.

Take the time to listen to what your customers say.  Build a relationship.  Send cards for no reason (Happy Daylight Savings Time!).  Enclose a note with their bill, thanking them for their business.  Ask them what they like (or don’t like) most about working with you. People work with people (not robots).

Photo: aussiegall