Plan_it Marketing

Our business is making the internet work for your business.

Marketing Plan Basics – Where do I Start?

Time to meet your marketing plan’s VIP

Your marketing plan is the path that brings your product (or service) to the marketplace. Advertising, pricing, social platforms, branding, images, data analysis, segmentation; all these things matter. But they only matter as it relates to one thing, your customers. Your customers have habits, problems, concerns, and desires. Even if it has no direct bearing on what you are selling it’s important to get a robust image of who that person is. Why? We’ll get to that, I promise, but first let’s talk about your avatar or avatars and why your marketing plan, business plan, content plan (indeed all parts of your company culture) should begin with this imaginary person who is incredibly important to your business.

Avatar, decoded.

Let’s think about your ideal customer, as an example, you are opening a tea shop in a busy downtown. You might already have an image of what that ideal customer might look like, she’s (a she maybe). She works downtown, she likes tea, maybe she likes yoga too. She earns over $48k, she’s a professional. She’s between 24 and 60 and she does love her cell phone. She works downtown but may live in the burbs or on a farm. She shops at Whole Foods and is generally in a hurry. I feel like I know her already so let’s give her a name. We’ll call her Ann. Of course Ann, your first avatar, is not your only ideal customer. We have the tourists who overflow from the neighboring museum, the retail employees from other shops and the fashionistas who frequent them. Let’s make them avatars too.

Your avatar is your business’s ideal customer fleshed out with desires, likes, problems, buying habits, and constraints.

We’re not done with Ann just yet.

The characteristics I listed above are simply my idea of who my target market is. To really know if I’ve got Ann figured out or not, I need to talk to her. (Yes I know I officially have you talking to imaginary friends but trust me just a bit further I promise this is a very profitable and important part of your marketing plan.) Here are some steps to take to get to know your avatar(s) better:

  • You may have a friend or client you can impose on a bit. Ask some questions about her buying habits, lifestyle, and challenges. Where does your friend get news and information? Where does she shop? What problems does she need to solve?
  • Use social media comments to find out more. Pay attention to what your page fans are talking about, you will find insights to their desires and needs.
  • Use your web page and ad analytics to see if you’re getting it right since it takes some time to get a full picture of your avatars.

Ann, the urban professional; Joe and Alice from out of town who like the museum next door; Tina and Louise the college students who frequent the boutique across the street. Every time we speak (through organic content or paid advertising) we must speak to Ann; Joe and Alice and friends. We do this through segmenting (or targeting) and here is how it works in your marketing plan.

Ann loves her mobile phone, is in a hurry, and shops at Whole Foods. Great! Your marketing plan should include a Facebook ad that is optimized for mobile apps, targets a Whole Foods look-a-like audience but narrow the reach by having the ad deliver only to women 24-60.

Joe and Alice are empty nest grandparents from out of town, aren’t really smart phone users, and they like the museum. Great! I will create a campaign that targets museum visitors, Facebook can help with that. I might also think about creating a tea package they can take home, or a monthly tea subscription to enjoy back in Kansas and promote that with an in store display.

Defining your avatars is key to the success of your marketing plan because

  • Know where to spend your ad money and what voice to use in that ad.
  • Put your customers ahead of your product, a habit that is really hard to break, by the way.
  • Connect to your audience on an emotional level because you will have a clear idea of their needs, challenges, desires and habits.

We know that story telling is key to great copy because people connect emotionally to a story. People also make buying decisions emotionally which is why we need to understand our customers on this deeper level.

Can you say, “Thanks Ann!”?

Small Business Websites Basics

Looking to build your first small business website?

Perhaps you are a small business owner in Maine or any other place on the globe that has a local market. One decision that’s not hard to make is whether you need a small business website. Of course the answer is yes. After that things can get a bit confusing. If this describes your first website experience, a bit confusing, then let me share my experience as a small business owner and how I got to the point where I now help other small business owners with just this kind of thing.

Click to view decision guide in another page.

Are you a geek or nerd? Don’t worry, most small business owners are not, so asking where and how to get started with your small business website is a really good question. Websites are like most things, there is a sliding scale between flexibility and features vs. the initial learning curve of time and investment. Outside hosting and coding your own website like a geek, let’s consider some great alternatives that may (or may not) suit your particular small business. First, a quick Web 101.

A website is essentially 3 things.

  • A host: the bandwidth that allows your website to get to the internet.
  • An url: www.webaddress.com is an example of an url.
  • Content management: how do I manage to put the images, contact boxes and text on my website. How do I change or update the information displayed on my site?

A free service

like Blogger or WordPress.com. The price sure is right and if you just want something so bare bones, so basic to the point of being elementary then do start with a free site. Everybody has to start somewhere. My first blog was a free site.

A subscription service.

There are lots of choices out there if you want to pay for a subscription service. Generally, to get their best rates you need to commit to several years. My concerns around that are even $120 a year is a lot of money for some people if you committed to something you later find limits you. After you dip your toe into the web you may realize that your subscription has important limitations and hidden costs. Don’t get me wrong, a subscription website builder may be just the perfect solution. I like BigCartel for their design flexibility, no commitment plans. Their best rate is their month to month plan and my favorite: no transaction fee, no listing fee. I don’t really recommend the others, but I have worked with a few like Weebly, FatCow, and SquareSpace.

WordPress

Caution: not all WordPress is created equal! There are two organizations, WordPress.COM and WordPress.ORG. Dot COM is totally free content management and hosting. They even give you a url but its not a short, lovely url that belongs to you and only you. WordPress.com is a good free site used by many. If you want your website for business, I don’t suggest free. You really DO get what you pay for.

Then there is WordPress.org. Which is where I choose to invest my time and ultimately build my business. WordPress.ORG
is

  • safe: WordPress has the largest army of code nerds improving it every day. It’s “open source”. WordPress is always getting better.
  • tested. About 17% of websites world wide are WordPres.org sites.
  • that perfect marriage between ease of use and flexibility. WordPress.org uses a marketplace where developers offer themes and plugins to conduct e-commerce, display photos, create forms, track your sites traffic and so much more. With limited coding ability you can run an e-commerce site, host webinars, and so much more. Need help with your WordPress.org site? Don’t think you can call anybody on the telephone though there are user forums, online classes in WordPress and YouTube videos to answer most questions.WordPress.org does require that you purchase your own url (about $12 or so) and provide your own host. There are two ways to go with hosting: have a server at home or use a cloud server like BlueHost which is recommended by WordPress.org. Like subscription website builders, subscription hosts have a variety of packages and commitment levels. Do you have a question or comment, please contact us. We respect your email address and and will do our best to answer your question.

Poster Design Drives Traffic

Poster design that works for small business.

A poster should catch your eye from a distance, draw you in and get you to take action such as visit a website, save a date or like a page on Facebook for more information. Plan_it Marketing provides graphic support for your small business, helping you create posters that work. Take a peek at what we’ve done for other clients.

Poster design in full color starts at $125. Please contact us for more information.

Got a question? We'd love to hear from you.

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Small Business Marketing – When to Start

Put your small business marketing plan ahead of selling. Start marketing (audience building, list building, social engagement, branding) at least a year before you start selling if you can.

Your favorite small business marketing guru says now, start marketing now.

I was talking to a Maine small business marketing client the other day when he shared that his product is not ready for market and probably won’t be for a year. His concern is should he start marketing now, before he has something to sell? I get it, there is so much to starting your small business, and marketing is about generating sales, right? I could tell by the look in his eyes that he wanted some forgiveness here, he’s a little overwhelmed and isn’t ready for marketing expenses just yet. Here’s what I told him, “Yes, yes and YES! Absolutely start marketing long before selling. You don’t want to simply start selling, you want to launch your business to an existing audience ready to buy your product.”

It’s never too early to build your tribe, a group of folks passionate about your niche who have learned to trust you in a social context. That takes time and effort, but not a lot of money.

Your product may not be ready, so let’s focus on your potential customers.

If you know me you know I think every small business marketing plan starts with your ideal customers. Who are they, what do they do, what are they passionate about? Where do they spend their time, what values might they share? Think about what unites your potential customers beyond a need for your product. For instance, if you are producing camping equipment, explore social media outlets for outdoor enthusiasts. Give tips about how to start a fire, how to pack light, recommend trails in your area. Share images and video about people camping. Don’t sell! Add value to the camping community and begin to establish yourself as a thought leader to this avatar, your ideal customer. (read more on avatar marketing here).

Having a well cultivated email list of folks who know and trust you before you start selling gives you a huge step up.

Blogging and social media are no longer optional, they are integral parts of your small business marketing plan. Blogging provides search engines with fresh, relevant content to help your target audience find you. Social media helps put that trust-building content in front of your audience through social sharing. Some platforms like Facebook can have powerful tools that help you build a highly segmented email list simply by placing a pixel on your blog. This is segmenting at its finest. It’s what I call gold mining in part because leads that result from content funnel marketing are so precious to your business. These are the folks we know want to buy your product.

Do you have a small business and and think marketing before you are ready to sell is a good idea, or maybe you think that’s just crazy and want to tell me why. Either way, I’d love to hear from you.

Got a question? We'd love to hear from you.

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How to Respond to Attacks on Free Speech in 15 words.

Q: How should we, Americans ,who founded a country on Freedom of Speech, respond when terrorists attack the press, killing political cartoonists and the staff that supports them?

A: Live (purposefully). Laugh (louder). Love (better). Unless we do these things, the terrorists have won.

Paix sur la terre.

Small Business Customers – Delight them!

You are passionate about your product or service. It’s only natural that you want your small business customers to feel the same way. Here’s how.

Use these 5 steps to delight your small business customers.

  1. Start at the beginning and build your brand around a niche.

     You may not serve the widest audience serving a niche, but you will serve customers who are passionate about what they do and will therefore be passionate about a product or service that solves their very particular problem.

  2. To make customers passionate about your business, be of service.

    Provide all the information. Understand what makes people in your niche passionate, then deliver information around that subject. No selling at this point please. You are providing information with passion and expertise that sells itself. As a business owner you appreciate genuine utility. Your small business customers appreciate useful information also. Jay Baer calls this you-tility. (Youtility-The Marketing Strategy for the Age of Information Overload)

  3. Don’t be afraid to take the product away from the customer.

    Your brand has value: your organization’s resources, including your time is valuable. Not every customer is always right. I like to think of client meetings as interviewing for a job, with me as the interviewer, asking the potential client a lot of questions about their expectation. Borrowing from Jim Collins “Good to Great”, if this person is never going to be pleased, it is time to “let them off the bus”. You can’t do this if you haven’t established and communicated your brand.  I’ve used different versions of off-the-bus; essentially what you are implying is that the resource you provide is limited and therefore valuable. Supply and demand. People want what they can’t have. It’s as simple as that.

  4. Over deliver!

    Whatever expectation you established with that client or donor, exceed their expectation. Show them the love. Their total satisfaction strengthens your brand.

  5. Nobody is perfect

    Sometimes we get things wrong. Have a plan for how to set the stage with your small business customers.

    • Make sure the client knows, before they commit, how that process works.
    • Let them know you value their complete satisfaction and that you are available to them after the sale.
    • When they do call you with a concern, express empathy.
    • Let them know you are committed to solving the problem.
    • Repeat back to them what their problem is so the client is confident you understand the problem.
    • Let the customer know what steps you are going to take and how long that will be.
    • Exceed the new set of expectations.

Over deliver, under promise; this should be your mantra. Ooooohm.

Do you have questions about how to delight your prospects and turn them into delighted clients? Send me a note, happy to help!

Got a question? We'd love to hear from you.

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Test and Measure your Marketing, Business (or Life!) Plan

Whether we’re talking about our businesses or our lives, having and executing a plan is vital if we are to live or manage purposefully.  To assure our purposeful work and lives are also successful, we must build into our plans little stops along the way where we test and measure our progress.

Info graphic visually displays steps to build test and measurement strategies into business plans.

Keep your business plan on track by integrating Test and Measurement strategies.

Why test and measure?

I’ll wax philosophical for just a moment, do bear with me.   I long ago realized that my goals could be  limiting my success.  While this paradigm shift about what goals really are may seem counter intuitive at first, it was clear to me early on that  things that we did not, could not expect do happen. We can choose to view these experiences as opportunistic or disruptive.  I choose opportunistic.

In other words, when we are so incredibly focused on our goals, sometimes, opportunities may pass us by.  We miss them.  Our heads were down, focused on our goals.

Building test and measurement points into your marketing, business (or life!) plan is an essential way to help keep your head up for the next opportunity.

What would a measurement point look like in a small business or resource development plan?  Simply, as you develop your initial business plan, decide in advance what metrics you need to measure your success.  If you serve clients, those metrics may be: the number of clients served, number of new clients, number of referrals; or by using a customer feedback tool, a customer satisfaction score (how happy are my customers?).

In the rapidly changing economic, technological and social climate we live in, it is also important to test and measure your niche and your competition.  Are there emerging technologies that fill my clients’ needs better than my product or service?  What is my competition doing, have they made changes to their delivery systems, to their raw material sourcing, even to their brand, that tap into emerging social changes?

Fast forward six months or a year and good news! We measured and all things are 100% fabulous.  If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  Self congratulations all around.

Not so fast.  We measured, now it is time to test.  This may seem again, a bit counter intuitive, but I’m going to ask you to shake it up.  Not all of your amazing, fabulousness, just about 20%.  Take about 20% of your (staff, advertising budget, procurement dollars, etc.) and try something new.   If you are more conservative, and 15% is a better number for you, that’s fine.  I’m an 80/20 Rule kinda girl, so 20% feels about right to me.

For instance, if your ad budget looks like this:  50% print, 50% web/social and you know your web/social is working, take your test budget from what is well tested and measured and experiment with a new platform.  Why take the budget from what we know is working?  Briefly, I think it is a too common mistake to pull out of a campaign if you see dollars going out and no customers coming in.  I want you to commit to your investment and see it through, testing and measuring along the way of course.  It is important to remember that clients and customers reach their buying decisions by using all the information, and funnel down to the product or service that best fits their need.  From the time a client enters the market to the time they make their decision, will vary depending on the product or service.  We want to make sure our ad spend relates to where those folks are in their buying decision cycle.  If we bail out too early, we really won’t know if the investment provided the desired return.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a powerful magnet!  I understand.  However, that way of thinking = inertia, resistant to change, not adaptable.   And yes, while it is (hopefully) true that your business and investments are doing very well right now, it is much easier to adapt to changing market conditions when we build adaptation into our plans.

Want to chat with me about incorporating test and measurement principals into your business, marketing or resource development plan?  Reach me directly with the contact form below or leave comment.  I <3 feedback!

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Affecting Change

Change is constant.  The rate of change is accelerating.  But, people are resistant to change. How do we affect the types of change we want?

The best things that I’ve learned about life, I’ve learned on a mountain bike.  Case in point, “You will hit what you are focused on, to be a better rider”, my compadre explained, “don’t look at the obstacles, look ahead to where you want to go.”   How does this sage advice translate to our business lives?

Since your success depends on what others do probably more than it depends on your own actions, you need to find ways to affect the behaviors that move you towards success.  When it comes to employees, customers, board members, donors or volunteers, the easiest, least intrusive way to immediately and deeply affect their behaviors is to practice ‘good spotting’.  When you see something that is representative of the kinds of change you desire, tell other people about it.  It could be their own behavior or something you noticed in others.  Tell them what you observed and why it was good.

It could work as seamlessly as this:  At a staff meeting, after an employee speaks about a challenge they faced earlier in the week, if its appropriate, respond with, “Thanks John, I really liked the way you explained to the client exactly what you were going to do to solve their problem before you started doing the work.”

Jargon being what it is, good spotting is just the newest name for something that’s been written about before. Ken Blanchard’s 10 Minute Manager talks about ‘catch them doing something right’. A subtle byproduct of using this management practice is everyone including you, tends to be happier at work. That can’t hurt.

Good spotting can also be more organized.  Find ways to track positive behaviors and share that information.   For nonprofit organizations, that might mean telling success stories about volunteer activities in the organization newsletter and posting those stories in places where the volunteers meet.

Talking about good just makes me happy.  I’m sure goodspotting will positively impact your ability to change behaviors, too.  But don’t just take my word for it…

 

 

Why Story Telling Matters to Marketers

 

Cartoon compares two different brains, one reading a list, one reading a narrative. The narrative brain is colorful whereas the list reading brain is black and white.

The brain lights up when information is provided in narrative form.

Want to escape the ho-hum of the here and now?  Nothing transports you to another time and space like a good story. We’ve always known stories are transcendent, but why should that matter to marketers?  Providing information in narrative form engages people’s brains in a much fuller, sensory way than if the same information is provided in list form.

Researchers have long understood  that language regions in the brain, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area are engaged in how the brain interprets written words.  Recent science now shows that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so real.  In tests, subjects were asked to read narratives containing words like ‘coffee’ and ‘lavender’.  When they did, the part of the olfactory cortex portion of their brains became active.  The same results were indicated for other parts of the brain.  When reading about sports, the motor cortex becomes active.  So specific is the response that reading about ‘leg’ and ‘arm’ stimulates different parts of the motor cortex!

It gets crazier.  Scientists were also able to demonstrate that when a speaker tells a story to an audience, that the same portions of the brain that are stimulated in the speaker, are also stimulated in the brains of the people listening to the story teller!

Additionally, studies have shown that novels and short stories play an important role in our social growth.   Stories, with their narrative power to stimulate corresponding portions of our brains, help us develop the social skills necessary to navigate our very complex social fabric by helping us relate to the motivations and emotions of other members of our society.

It seems we are just genetically wired for stories.

What does this mean to small business owners and nonprofit managers who want to communicate with their customers and donors?  For me, it means, tell the story of your organization.  Tell the story of your product.  Tell the story of your mission.

For instance, let’s say I’m a widget salesman.  I propose you buy my widget because they are:  flexible, cost efficient and come with a great warranty.  Or, I could say, “Sam, the owner of ABC World was using a competitor widget when I asked him to consider our product.  He wasn’t sure, but after giving us a try on one of his machines, he realized he could use the same widget on different machines.   By the end of the year,  his accountant reported that overall widget expenditures had dropped 12% this year because maintenance and replacement costs were down.”

Which product description do you think resonates more with the customer?  Notice, by the way, the widget story is short and doesn’t contain over-used phrases or words.  The crafty salesman also chose to tell an expert’s story and not use his own personal experience.

Story telling is a powerful way to communicate emotion and motivations.  What is your organization’s story?  Maybe you’ve never thought about it in those terms.  Hint:  think about what the organization means, on an emotional level to you, your customers and your staff and start there.

Need some help?  Scream at me.  But so you don’t wake the staff, just send a message using the contact form below.

 

 

Managing Change?

Managing change, navigating change.   These buzz words reflect a mindset that change is temporary, that change is an occasional occurrence and never fully expected.  Folks who are stuck in this mindset are failing to see the true essence of change:  that change is constant and highly opportunistic.

Organizations are particularly vulnerable to resisting change.  Why?  Briefly, because change can be expensive, especially if you aren’t expecting it or think it won’t happen.  There is the cost of opportunity, why change things, particularly if things seem to be working perfectly well at the moment.  There is the cost of training, new equipment, sometimes a complete change in delivery is required, similar to what the news (paper) industry has experienced in recent decades.

How can my organization go from being vulnerable to change, to an organization that views change as opportunistic?  I believe it is a top-down prerogative to create an organizational culture that embraces… no no, too soft a word…is poised and ready to capitalize on what is inevitable: change.

Cue the graphics!

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What changes are occurring in your industry?  Is your organization adaptable to change?  What does your organization do to take advantage of changing conditions?