Your Competitors – Friend or Foe? The Right Answer Can Help Your Business Grow

How do you view your competitors? For most people in business, whether they are running a company or simply working in one, the answer is easy. They view their competitors as the ones with whom they are in battle against in the fight to win customers, clients, and market share. And while they may not view them in terms as harsh as being a foe or an enemy, many would certainly not view them as “friends” either though. However, it may serve business people well to re-think how they view their competitors, and maybe think of them as friends. Friends who can be a major source of leads and friends who can actually help them grow their businesses.

Here’s why. Rarely do two or more businesses compete with one another in every specific facet and on every single level of their respective businesses. Within each business there are distinct nuances that make that business ever so slightly unique from any other that it competes with, whether it is something specifically about their product, how they deliver a particular service, or possibly where and when they are able to deliver that product or service. As marketers we know there is always something that makes a business one-of-a-kind in some small way, and of course it’s our job to identify that something and make it meaningful and compelling enough that people are willing to spend money to get it. But for the companies themselves, when that unique differentiator is identified, it opens a door through which referral opportunities between competing companies or business can truly exist – but only if only those companies recognize that opportunity and are savvy enough to also recognize the benefits that opportunity can provide.

It’s Summertime and many people are attending nice outdoor parties, events and get togethers. So let’s say, for example, there are two companies, Company A and Company B that are each in the catering business. Both have comparable prices, menu items, service areas, etc. And let’s say that catering company A gets the call to cater an event the 3rd Saturday in August, but is completely booked that day and cannot take on that order. If catering company A views their competitors as more as friends rather than foes, they will recognize the value of referring the people who are seeking a caterer to company B.

If these types or What happens

Of course, making these types of referrals are a 2-way street, but if these types of friendly competitor-relationships can be developed, it’s not a bad street to have your business “located” on. But when these types of relationships are developed, over time something interesting happens.

1. Company A will start to be on the receiving end of referrals from Company B.
2. The people the Company A refers will think very highly of company A. for making the referral, which can result in very good will being created at large.

Plus, any business that is referred back to Company A. will be more likely to land because the mindset will be “If their competitor recommends them, they must really be pretty good.” All of this coming as a result of viewing competitors as friends and not foes.

Although they may not think of themselves viewing their competition as “friends”, to be sure. there are many companies and businesses that routinely refer any business that they can’t service to a trusted competitor. The point here, is to maybe consider developing more of those relationships and start reaping and enjoying the benefits in greater measure.

Items Needed In Every Marketers' (Actually Every Business') Toolbox

Items Needed In Every Marketers' (Actually Every Business') Toolbox

I wish I could say that I had thought of the idea myself, but I didn't. Just like the saying goes, Success Has Many Fathers, While Failure Is An Orphan, the same came be said of author of a really good idea as well. So I won't claim to be the father of the idea that I have been practicing for several years. That father (or mother in this case) would be my wife, Nicole. And Nicole, ironically, got the idea from her mother. Now, who my Mother-in-Law got it from, I have no idea. So what exactly is this ground-breaking idea? Well it is the idea of writing (and I do mean handwriting) a simple thank-you note and sending it to a person through the US Postal Service, otherwise known as snail mail.

Doing this, is something that I learned from watching my wife do consistently throughout the 24 years we've been married. Whether it was someone who had done something nice for her, gave her a gift of some kind, hosted us for dinner, you name it, whoever that person was, they were going to get a handwritten thank card or note in the mail. I have actually been on the receiving end of these notes from my own Mother-In-Law. It's never anything big ever, just simple note cards over the years that have said something along the lines of, “Thank you so much for the wonderful whatever, it's absolutely beautiful or I love it! - Love Mom.”

But when this simple gesture is practiced in business it takes things to a completely new level in business. And I enjoy going to that level. Because as we all know, the practice of even saying thank you is becoming a bit rare. And in business, thanks-you's are typically delivered  by either someone actually saying the words or by sending a thank-you email. Both of which are fine. However I actually enjoy sending handwritten thank-you's and have seen how well they have been received, and also have enjoyed receiving benefits from having done so. On several occasions after having sent a handwritten thank you, I have received an invitation from the recipient requesting a one-on-one meeting, or have received an unexpected introduction or referral from that person with a glowing recommendation. I don't send these thanks-you's for those purposes. I genuinely feel that there is a lack of human touch and interaction across all areas of life, but especially in business, and sending handwritten communications is my way of trying to keep the human touch and connection alive. As a side benefit however, doing so has helped me create a vast network of people who feel they really know me, feel strongly about me, and are willing to do (and have done) amazing things to help me.

As Marketers though, think about how transformative that kind of unexpected touch and interaction could be for your business if you were to practice that kind of communication with your customers and clients. Imagine how your customers, clients and/or prospects would feel if they received from you a handwritten and addressed thank-you in the mail that simply said: So-n-So, Thanks for coming to our event, it was great seeing you! – or So-n-So,Thanks for stopping by our booth, really enjoyed chatting with you! Sure, it would take some time to do something like that, but think of how well that note would be received...think about how well you and your company would be per-ceived. It might make a lot sense to think about. If so, perhaps as you think about the tools you need to develop stronger and more effective marketing efforts, you may want to consider adding a pack of note cards or thank-you cards and some postage stamps to that list.

Two Problems: One Calls for a Fix, One Called for a Plan

Two Problems: One Calls for a Fix, One Called for a Plan

Unfortunately for airplane manufacturer Boeing, it has a problem right now. Correction:  Unfortunately for airplane manufacturer Boeing, it actually has two problems right now. One of those problems is one that nearly everyone around the world in developed countries, as well as in somewhat undeveloped countries is probably well aware of – the issue with Boeing's Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) software on its new 737 Max airplanes. This problem has been identified as the cause for two tragic crashes involving the 737 Max jet within five months, and resulted in the March 13, 2019 grounding of the aircraft by the FAA. This of course followed the grounding of that same particular aircraft by several other countries including China, India, Turkey and South Korea, to name a few. This is a problem Boeing must fix. They know it, and they are currently working on that fix.

The other problem that Boeing now faces is one that not as many people will readily identify. Although for those of us in the field of Marketing and PR, we know it is a glaring problem. It is the damage these tragic incidents have done, and will do, to Boeing's brand. This is a problem for which Boeing should have had an executable plan, (but appears may not to have had.) They know, and they are currently working to execute one. Because as tragic as the two crashes are, any damage that has been done, or will be done to Boeing's brand, is not solely the result of these two unfortunate incidents alone. A major factor in furthering or limiting any damage to the brand will not only come from what Boeing does as company to address and quickly fix the MCAS issue, but will also come from how well and how soon they communicate those fixes to the flying public and its airline customers. Important also will be the scope of the message as well as the manner and tone in which that message is delivered. In short, they will have to work extremely hard to earn back the trust and belief that its airplanes are safe to fly, and fly on.

This is entirely possible however. One of the most famous cases of company overcoming what might have been long-term or even a permanently damaged brand as a result of a PR crisis, is the case of the tragic Tylenol murders that took place in the Chicagoland area in 1982. In that tragedy, 7 people who took Tylenol Extra Strength died shortly after ingesting the medication, due to the product having been tampered with and laced with Cyanide. The nationwide scare was on an unprecedented level, and as can be imagined, the consumer's trust in the safety of the product was nil. However, Johnson & Johnson the company that produced Tylenol received positive coverage for its handling of the crisis, and as was reported by the Washington post at that time, "Johnson & Johnson has effectively demonstrated how a major business ought to handle a disaster". The Washington Post article went on to say that "this is no Three Mile Island accident in which the company's response did more damage than the original incident", and ultimately applauded the company for being transparent with the public. Although Johnson & Johnson's market share collapsed from 35% to 8% during the scare, in less than a year's time it rebounded, an increase that was credited to the company's prompt and aggressive reaction. In November of 1982, the company reintroduced capsules, but did so in a new, triple-sealed package, coupled with heavy price promotions. And within just a few short years, Tylenol had the highest market share of any over-the-counter analgesic in the US, and still enjoys solid market-share to this day.

In contrast however, in the days immediately following the 2nd crash involving its 737 Max jet, and in light of the growing concern around the similarities between the two crashes and increasing evidence pointing towards a glitch in the MCAS software, Boeing unfortunately was slow to respond. And when it did, it took the tact of defending itself, going so far as Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg reportedly calling President Donald Trump personally in an attempt to delay the FAA's grounding of the jet. These missteps by Boeing, as well as many others that have been reported in the weeks following the 2nd crash have not served Boeing or its brand well. It has also underscored what appears to have been Boeing's lack of a plan that could be, and should have been, executed immediately in the event of such tragic occurrences. To be sure, this is not an indictment on Boeing or an attempt to “pile on” during a difficult and trying time, but rather an illustration of the impact a crisis, and how that crisis is handled, can have on a company's hard-earned brand reputation.

The final score of what ultimate impact all of this will have on Boeing and its brand going forward, remains yet to be seen. However, what companies can learn from this right now, is the importance of having and executing flawlessly, a crisis management strategy and plan, to protect the integrity of their company's brand.

Choices vs. Options- The Forgotten Marketing Question

Choices vs. Options- The Forgotten Marketing Question

Consider this; you are standing in the beer aisle of your favorite adult beverage emporium or grocery store. Your mission is clear. You're out to grab two different 6- packs of a really nice and very well done craft brew. So there you are, you're looking at that super hoppy IPA that you've had before that you really like. You're checking out that smooth and malty Scottish Ale your friends are always raving about, and of course you're thinking about that crisp Lager that you've been hearing a lot of good things about as well.

And additionally, there is a host of many other beers that you have never tried or even heard of before, but that look very interesting and quite appealing. I mean all told, there must be at least 100 different selections for you to actually consider.

So with that many beers, the question is how many choices do you truly have? Well, if you said you had at least 100 choices, that number would actually be off by at least 98. Because in reality, and because you are only buying two 6-packs, you would really only have two choices; your choice for 6-pack #1 and your choice for 6-pack #2. It would be those two choices though, that would be coming from a number of options that totaled at least 100.

Here's how it works:

Options are the number things that comprise the consideration set from which we are to make a selection. Choices, however, are actually the number of decisions we have to make that are in direct proportion to the number of selections we will make. Simply put, the number of choices we have is equal to the number of decisions we have to make in making a selection. So, if we have to make three selections, that would require us to make three decisions, and thus we would have three choices. Those three choices however could conceivably come from an infinite number of options.

The distinction between choices and options is an important one to understand, and needs to be taken into consideration as marketers. Unfortunately though and sometimes to the detriment of the products or services being marketed, marketers at times conflate choices with options.

Viewing options as choices and vice versa can potentially lead to marketing efforts that leave potential sales and revenue on the table at best, and that produce less than stellar
results at worst.

Consider our beer purchase scenario. As a beer marketer, it's a given that I need to know the factors that influence or drive my customer's purchase decision. As marketers we are very familiar with the term "purchase decision". However, we often leap-frog right over something that we don't really think all that much about. And that is "choice decision." Choice decision is what actually moves a customer's hand to reach for one specific 6-pack over another. And as the decision that comes first, it's the one leads to the "decision" to purchase that particular 6-pack. The number of competing beer options available can make this choice-decision and ultimately the purchase-decision a much more difficult one to make.

When marketers market from the perspective that having options is the same as making a choice, they run the risk of developing marketing strategies that can be misaligned and that possibly miss the mark. Understanding what the customer wants or needs and how that informs their choice decision, and addressing those wants and needs in the marketing, will lead that customer to choose that particular product or service and purchase it, from among the host of other options.

The goal of marketing is to distinguish and differentiate the products and services we market so that they are no longer viewed as being one of the available options, but instead becomes the clear choice. At Black Rhino Marketing Group, this is our focus for our clients.

Top Marketing Trends of 2019

Top Marketing Trends of 2019


We'll it's that time of year again when nearly everywhere you look, you'll see the Top XX (insert whatever number you wish here) List of (insert whatever category you wish here). We've all seen these lists before - the top 10 fashion trends for such-n-such year, the top 20 food or restaurant trends for the upcoming year. And of course the top any-given-number of predictions for any-given-category always makes the rounds.

However, considering the current state of affairs we have right now in our country, I think there's only one prediction for 2019 that's fairly safe to make, and I'm going on record of making that prediction; here goes: The top prediction for 2019 is that it's going to be nuts. We'll touch base later this year to see how right or wrong I am.

In the interim, and albeit, maybe a slight bit less interesting, here are some of the top marketing trends that are expected in 2019!

1| Digital Marketing

Virtual and Augmented Reality will be two closely related cousins that you will hear and see more of (no pun intended) in 2019. 1. The World Is Quickly Turning to Virtual (VR) and Augmented Realities (AR). It was only a few short years ago that Pokémon Go created pandemonium with people aimlessly drifting around cities and towns, as well as crashing into each other and vehicles as they consumed this exciting new technology. Although seen by most as a gaming technology, brands as well as the medical community will be using this technology in greater measure to respectively enhance the experience of their customers and achieve greater understanding of medical procedures among patients.

IKEA is a prime example. In 2016, they began experimenting with VR gaming technology and announced the Virtual Reality Kitchen - IKEA VR Experience. This shopping app enabled customers to try various IKEA products prior to purchasing them. With this app, shoppers can see how a customized kitchen will look and feel with a simple click, and are able to easily move around the space while testing out myriad finish or cabinet solutions.

In 2019, it's likely that we’ll see even more brands take these types of major steps using VR and AR to further enhance and add value to the customer experience.

2| Content Marketing

More people will make purchase decisions based on the trust of people they know, and as a result of consuming reputable content versus seeing ads. It's been clear for several years now that people are turning away from traditional ads.

In fact, the top four sources of advertising that are trusted most are: people you know, branded sites, editorial sites, and reviews, according to a Nielsen study from 2015. Traditional ads are pretty close to the bottom of this list, and that hasn’t really changed. To that point, it is expected that 30 percent will be using ad blockers by the end of this year, which means that a company doing traditional ads will miss 30 percent of their target audience right out of the gate. It this to say that marketers shouldn't do traditional ads at all? No not really.

There is still a place for traditional ads, and it will make sense to do them. The key though is that they have to be a lot more relevant, targeted and of value to the consumer. This is one of the reasons we see more companies spending more money on content marketing, and influencer marketing. Another strong tactic is referral partnerships, as well as other tactics that be able to deliver actual value to audiences.

3| Social Media Marketing

In this realm (3) things will be key: Social Listening, Timeliness & Micro-Influencers.

Social Listening: This is really the act of monitoring the web and various social media to find every mention of a brand or any keywords that have been chosen. Included in this wold be untagged brand mentions, industry keywords that suggest there's an interest to buy a product, as well as mentions contained in blogs, discussion forums, and on news sites. The real goals of doing this are to enable better customer service, but also reputation management, as we all know how quickly and negative press even if inaccurate or unfounded can spread, and the consequences it can wreck on a brand. even though there are, of course, many others.

Using social listening for the two things above is expected to gain even more steam, the real trend this year will be using it for lead generation. Right now, only a small number of companies are doing this, but that number is increasing as marketers learn that they can find people (aka potential customers) that looking for the exact same services they offer.

Timeliness: We live in an on-demand, always on world. And in social media this could be more pronounced. So for marketers using social media, this means that real-time communication is vital, and comes in the form of 24/7 customer support, real-time social selling, chatbots, and constant monitoring for a potential social media crisis.

Obviously this is because social media never sleeps. Customers use products, talk about them online, and buy new one at any given moment. This has been going on for some time, and the technology has caught up. We have the tools to look for and find brand mentions in real time, tools that can schedule content to be posted at any specific time, and chatbots that offer help on the spot.

As we move through the year, we'll see consumers who will expect their Twitter complaint to be addressed immediately (and for those companies that do not, it will be glaringly obvious). This concept of timeliness has huge revenue potential, imagine a very realistic scenario in which someone asks in social media “Does anyone know a good so-n-so?” and your company can answer immediately with an offer of your product. In the world we now live in, no one has the desire to wait. People want their problems fixed and their needs met, now.

Micro-Influencers: For the last few years, social media influencers have become a major trend. We now have Instagram stars, Twitter influencers and YouTube millionaires who have millions of followers. Every post, vlog, or tweet they generate is instantly viewed by more people than TV ad folks could ever hope for. The power of social media influencers is huge and the thing is it's growing

But as you can imagine, as the number of these influencers has grown, so have the prices for their services. This is leading more businesses to consider alternatives like micro-influencer marketing.

Different from major influencers, micro-influencers exist in all marketing niches. They have less than 10,000 followers, but most of these followers are truly interested in what they have to say. And they these micro-influencers are very engaged, and are often considered experts in their niche.

Because these smaller player are not sought by big advertisers (yet), they are seen as being trustworthy and down-to-earth. The marketing potential with this group is very high and will be recognized in 2019.

4| B2B Marketing

Companies will further adopt an account-based marketing and sales approach.

For the past few years Account-based marketing (ABM) has been a hot topic in B2B marketing, and 2018 it gained even more steam. Research shows that 92% of firms recognize the value of ABM, so much so that it has been said to be a B2B marketing “must have.” For B2B companies that have extended and complex sales cycles, and that oftentimes involve several stakeholders and high-value transactions, ABM represents a more effective way to generatenew business than relying strictly on an “inbound” approach to lead generation.

To be sure, ABM does require close collaboration and tight alignment with sales, companies are seeing the need to move to account-centric models that span the gulf between marketing, sales, in order to drive client success. The company Engagio terms this as “account-based everything”and defines it as “a strategic go-to-market approach that orchestrates personalized marketing, sales, and success efforts to land and expand at named accounts.” Realizing that repeat business is a large portion of the revenue stream for many companies, expect that account-based marketing and sales strategies will be seen in greater measure this year.

5| B2C Marketing

Voice-Powered Search will continue to grow. With Siri, Alexa, OK-Google and others, voice-powered search was hot in 2018 and the trend will continue to rise this year. While ComScore estimates that half of all searches will be voice-based by 2020, TechCrunch reports that over 47 million adults currently have access to a smart speaker.

With consumers now understanding that the technology makes their lives easier, voice recognition technology is only expected to grow bigger and better. For the minute, voice search is mostly used for necessity. People use these tools the most if their hands are full or when driving. However, as the accuracy gets better and consumers become even more accustomed to having their needs met, expect to see brands competing as they struggle to figure out how to be "heard" in voice searches. To get a lead on this trend, you should think about the differences between a text search and voice search as it relates to the content on your site. Think about what your customers might say, rather than what the might type, when doing a search. A great way to start is by writing short blogs and descriptions of your product in a tone that is more conversational to create content that better connects with a voice search.

So there you have it, our top 5 marketing trends to expect in 2019. We hope for a successful year for you and your company, and would love the opportunity to speak with you and share our knowledge with you one-on-one to help make your year a successful one.

5 Basic Questions To Help You Determine Whether Your Marketing Partner Actually “Gets It”

5 Basic Questions To Help You Determine Whether Your Marketing Partner Actually “Gets It”

AUGUST 31, 2018

A marketing firm that “gets it” is one that realizes that the reason you actually hired them really boils down to just one thing - their purpose for being there, ultimately, is to help you increase your business' profit-position...period. They get that every idea they conceive and every strategy they develop is only as good as it is in helping them accomplish this singular objective. While this may sound obvious enough, there are a lot of marketing firms that just don't get it. They tend to get a little too caught up with the excitement of the prospect of utilizing the latest and most innovative marketing tactics like virtual & augmented reality marketing, interactive-content and AI-driven marketing, etc., that they loose focus on the fact that, as cool as these new tactics are, it's not about the tactics or even what the tactics themselves can do. It's about whether or not the using of those tactics results in a direct line that leads to the business making more money and increasing its profit-position.

So every once in awhile it makes sense for clients to ask themselves a question, does my marketing partner really “get it”? Because if they're not getting it, not only might your business  potentially be missing out on opportunities to increase its profitability, your business is also likely throwing away good money via whatever fees you're pay to that marketing partner. To that end, here are five very basic, but somewhat telling, questions you should consider asking yourself to help you determine whether your marketing partner actually gets it or not...and whether you might want to consider making a change or not.

  1. Do they understand the difference between increasing profitability vs. increasing revenue, and of the two, which one is most important for your business?
  • Many marketers love to say that they help businesses increase that classically famous dual called “Sales & Revenue.” And while this is certainly important, increases in sales and revenue alone is is not what helps a company ultimately become successful on a sustainable long-term basis – it's the increases in profitability that accomplishes that. We've all heard of those companies that continually have revenue that is off-the-charts and who consistently generate quarterly and year-over-year sales increases, but who's businesses still suffer.
  • However when a company's profitability steadily increases, that is a positive barometer of its true financial health and that it is doing things right. If profitability is increasing it means that, in similar fashion to increasing sales and revenue, marketing must talking to the right people at the right time and compelling them to exercise a desired behavior. However each of these elements is likely to be just that much more targeted, better positioning the business to be able to hold or even increase profit margins, thereby increasing profitability.
  1. Are they more focused on producing vanity metrics than they are on producing results - AND - are they are more focused on producing results than they are on producing outcomes?
  • Vanity metrics make all of us, marketers and our clients, feel good. You know, having traffic to the website consistently increase, seeing upticks in Likes and Followers, and of course experiencing a campaign or marketing push go viral.
  • While being seen is great, and having people know or even talk glowingly about your business feels good, most marketers would agree that these things alone are not money makers.
  • Most marketers would also agree that producing results that yield profits are what marketers should be focusing on.
  • But a different and albeit better way of thinking about this would be to focus on producing outcomes rather than producing results. That's because results, although a great thing to aspire to achieve, are really just snapshots of something at a specific point in time in comparison to a snapshot of that same something at a previous point in time. Outcomes on the other hand suggest the permanency of a sustainable new state.
  1. Do they believe in your product, service or solution and support your vision?
  • In order for a marketing partner to effectively market your product, service or solution, they need to believe in it, as well as support and share your vision. They cannot simply see your account as fee-generating opportunity for their firm.
  • However, this does not mean that they cannot and should not push back and challenge your thinking and assumptions, instead just the opposite, as your partner they should do so to drive excellence.
  • They should also try out and experience your product, service or solution. Obviously in certain instances doing so will be a bit more challenging, but this should be done whenever and wherever possible.
  • ...when was the last time your marketing partner spent the day at your place of business (or even entered it for that matter) and not just saw, but truly experienced, first hand what you do, how you do it, and who you do it for?
  1. Do they say that they will know or learn your business, or do they say that they will understand your business?
  • If your marketing partner says that they will know or learn your business, that's a sign they don't get it. If they say that they will understand your business, that's a sign they do get it.
  • These are not semantics, these are critical differences. Think about it, given the years of experience you have in your business and/or industry (not talking about it, writing about it, or marketing it - but actually doing it) what marketing company is able to come in and in a number of weeks or months be able to know or learn your business with any degree of effectiveness.
  • Understanding your business is more about “getting it”, understanding where the challenges come from and where the opportunities might be. It's understanding why a certain customer segment tends to be more fickle, or when the market tends to slow and what can be done to keep the business correctly tracked during those periods.
  1. Is your marketing partner bringing you ideas that stretch you, but that will also result in achieving positive-profitability outcomes for your business?
  • As marketers we love the big idea. We love looking for it and we love bringing it to our clients. But sometimes marketers tend to be more focused on what the big idea is and what it can do than they are on what the big idea will accomplish as it relates to increasing profitability....again a marketer that gets it, understands that any idea they bring, (no matter how “big”) is only as good as it is in helping your business ultimately increase its profit position.
  • Bearing this in mind however, a marketer that gets it will also bring you ideas that stretch or challenge you. As your marketing partner works to continually understand your business, their questions (and questioning), research and critical thinking should help you better understand and see your business in ways you never did before as well.
  • Part and parcel that indicates this happening will be the big ideas that your marketing partners brings you that stretch you, but are, once your hair is no longer on fire, ideas that you are able to understand will help your business increase profitability on a sustainable basis.

At Black Rhino Marketing Group, we get it. We prove we get it everyday, and the day we stop proving it is the day we no longer deserve our client's business.



JULY 6, 2018

Back in the year 2000 an action movie about a car thief forced to steal 50 luxury cars in one night to save the life of his brother was titled “Gone In 60 Seconds”. If for whatever reason someone in 2018 were to make a movie about how long mobile device users are willing to wait for a website to load, they could title it “Gone in 3 Seconds”. Because according to a September 2016 report by the Google-owned company DoubleClick, it was found that 53 percent of mobile device users will give up on a website that takes more than three seconds to load. Yep that's right, three seconds.

But unfortunately for literally thousands of small businesses, longer load times could potentially become the norm if the FCCs decision which effectively ended Net Neutrality in April of 2018, is not overturned. The reason being is that many small businesses simply don’t have the financial bandwidth that will be needed to enable their websites to have the fastest load times.

So what exactly is, or more accurately, what exactly was Net Neutrality anyway and how did it impact small business?  According to Wikipedia, Net Neutrality, aka Open Internet, is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs)  treat all data on the internet equally, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. Under these principles, Internet Service Providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down, favorably or inequitably speed up or charge money for specific websites and online content. Prior to the repeal of Net Neutrality, there have been instances of companies getting their hands slapped for violating some of these rules. Here are a few examples:

  • In 2012 AT&T was said have have violated Net Neutrality rules by limiting access to FaceTime so only those users who paid for AT&T's new shared data plans could access the application.
  • And in 2004, the Madison River Communications company was fined US$15,000 by the FCC, in 2004, for restricting their customers' access to Vonage, which was rivaling their own services.
  • In July 2017, Verizon Wireless was accused of throttling (intentionally slowing down or speeding up the internet service an ISP provides) after users noticed that videos played on Netflix and YouTube were slower than usual.

** Verizon contended that it was conducting "network testing" and that Net Neutrality rules permit "reasonable network management practices"

The benefit of Net Neutrality for small business meant that ISPs could not intentionally slow the website speed of a particular business that opted not go with that ISP's higher priced, premium or business-level service offering. And for consumers, it meant essentially the same thing - that, if for instance, you're a fan of Netflix, Net Neutrality dictates that one should be able to watch the shows one wants to on Netflix without running into impediments their ISP puts up that are designed to push them towards a competing service, like Hulu.

There is another element of Net Neutrality's rollback that could have impacts for all internet users, but specifically negative ones for small businesses in particular, Paid Prioritization or internet fast lanes. Simply put, an internet fast lane or paid prioritization is where one person’s data travelling on an ISP's network gets priority delivery over another person’s data delivery – and this priority or faster delivery happens for a fee. This prioritization can also include higher and better quality of the data that is delivered...critically important when considering video & audio streaming and gaming. A helpful way to think about fast lanes is by visualizing cars on a multi-lane highway where one of the lanes can only be used if you pay a toll. The toll lane only becomes attractive because the other lanes are too slow, or the surfaces are too pot-holed compared to the smooth paid toll road (quality). However the huge difference with the internet is that the ISP can actually slow down the traffic to make someone else’s go faster and have a better experience. For consumers, this could be an irritant, but for small business owners this actually could threaten the continuance of their business.

As mentioned earlier, one of the more widespread concerns of the rollback is the ability for ISP’s (more likely the larger corporations) to throttle web traffic to ISP startups or ISP-competitors. This would allow more dominant companies, such as larger scale web firms or more established companies that are partners or subsidiaries, to get priority speed.

As many companies already know site-speed play a pretty big role in Google's search rankings. As a result, small businesses fear that if their site unknowingly begins getting throttled or slowed down by certain providers, it will kill their ranking and there's nothing they can do to change it.

Throttling or the slowing down of site-speed comes at an especially high risk for video marketing companies who rely on speed to show videos with limited interruptions and buffering. While larger companies may be able to pay the prioritization costs, it will likely be the small business, Mom & Pops, and startups who do not have the financial bandwidth to do so,  who will be at risk of having yet another disadvantage as compared to much larger competitors.

So what can a small business do? While it's still early and not all of the implications, good or bad, of Net Neutrality's rollback are known, what small business can do is what they have hopefully been doing all along anyway. And that is talking directly to their customers, clients, and prospects in relevant, respectful and meaningful ways, and ensuring that the experience their customers have whenever they engage with their business always exceeds their customer's expectations regardless of whenever and wherever they engage...regardless of however long it takes them to get there.  At Black Rhino Marketing Group, we ensure that that happens for our clients!

Marketing Vs. Advertising

Marketing Vs. Advertising

JUNE 1, 2018

Although used interchangeably, there is in fact a difference between Marketing and Advertising...we wont even get into the difference between these two disciplines and Branding, Communications and Public Relations - we'll save that for another post.

The reason these disciplines are confused or interchanged is because in practice they are designed to do essentially the same thing. So let's look at the definitions. First, I'll give you the formal definitions:

Marketing: is the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. (The American Marketing Association)

Advertising: The placement of announcements and persuasive messages in time or space purchased in any of the mass media by business firms, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and individuals who seek to inform and/ or persuade members of a particular target market or audience about their products, services, organizations, or ideas. (The American Marketing Association)

Now, let me break it down for you and tell you what the deal is in some plain 'ol fashioned real words:

Marketing is all the things that you do to let people know about your product, service or solution to make them want to get it into their hands. Advertising is simply one of those “things” that you do, to make that actually happen.

So in short, this particular “thing”, Advertising, is really just a component of Marketing. It's pretty easy to think of other things or components of Marketing, especially those that align very closely with Advertising, like Social Media, Mobile Marketing, and Content Marketing to name a few. But there are many other components as well, that don't come to mind as readily as Marketing, but they certainly are. A few examples of these “things” or components of Marketing would be:

  • Sponsorships (think branded names & logos on Nascars, at events, etc.)
  • Naming Rights (think of any sports arena, or here locally – The Bank of America Chicago Marathon)
  • Exhibiting at Tradeshows
  • Even brands that have signed deals to be the official uniform or shoe provider for professional or NCAA D-One sports is a component or type of Marketing (think of the explosion, traction and adoption of the Under Armour brand in the consumer market, in comparison to the amount of actual brand “advertising” you have probably seen)

It is a certainty that Marketing and Advertising will continue to be used interchangeably, and it won't be the end of the world by any stretch knowing that that will be the case. But it will be worth knowing and noting the difference, especially if you are fighting the good fight with Company Leadership to maintain, increase, or definitely avoid reductions in your marketing budget.

If Leadership is saying that the spend in Marketing is too much or doesn't need to be increased, but she or he is thinking of Marketing only in terms of Advertising and is not considering these many other initiatives that fall under the umbrella of Marketing, that could be a problem.

Now however, you will be able to go in armed with an easy-to-explain definition of the difference between Marketing and Advertising, and be able to make a very strong case for your budget. Hopefully it's an increase, and hopefully you will consider working with the Black Rhino Marketing Group to help make the most of that budget and get the maximum return on your marketing efforts.

NEWS FLASH: A Company's “Employees” Are Not Its Greatest Asset

NEWS FLASH: A Company's “Employees” Are Not Its Greatest Asset

We've all heard the phrase, “ A company's employees are it's greatest asset.”

But while this is well-intentioned, suggesting that out of all the many and varied assets that a business possesses, it's employees are its most important and its most valuable asset. Its greatest asset. But if you you think about it somewhat differently, it's not really all that true.

Assets are owned, people are not. People make contributions, assets do not. Expertise. Ideas. Tenacity. Creativity. Sometimes even sweat and physical muscle. These are the types of contributions that the “People” in a company continually make, that “assets” do not. The companies that receive the greatest contributions from their people, typically have people who are not just highly-skilled, but who are also highly-engaged. But a highly skilled & engaged employee base doesn't just happen, it results from having a focused strategy designed to motivate employees to continuously improve their skills, and hone their talents and areas of expertise. A strategy that also encourages and supports employees to learn new skills and develop knowledge, competency, and even expertise in areas that fall outside their specific areas, and provides the tools that enable them to do it.

A highly-engaged employee base results from having a strategy that attracts top talent and inspires them to stay with the business long-term. This can be done successfully, at Black Rhino Marketing Group we've seen it happen. But to do this successfully, a company needs to, in the words of Steve Jobs, “think differently”. For example, they will need to stop thinking of their employees as the businesses' greatest assets, and start thinking of them as their businesses' greatest contributors to its success. For many businesses this could mean a paradigm shift in how the company thinks from the Leadership on down. But again it can be done.

At Black Rhino Marketing Group we know that “marketing” is not just a function that exists externally, going from the company to an outside audience. Oftentimes, and sometimes even more importantly, marketing needs to be an internal function, going from the company to an inside audience – the people inside the company itself.

After all, according to the American Marketing Association, the definition of marketing is as follows:

"Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large."

Using this definition, an “offering” can of course be a product, service or solution, but it can certainly be an idea or a philosophy as well. And of course the “customers, clients and partners” can certainly be the employees of the company. But at the crux, a successful shift in company thinking as it relates to its employees and how to ensure their engagement, will take an internal marketing effort to ensure that company-wide buy-in, support, and adoption is achieved. At Black Rhino Marketing Group, the external marketing strategies we help companies develop, we also work with clients to help them develop internally-focused marketing strategies and campaigns. We would love to talk with you about how to successfully develop a strategy and campaign to increase employee engagement within your organization. Give us a call!

Overlook “This” And Your Brand Will Eventually Suffer

Overlook “This” And Your Brand Will Eventually Suffer

Ask any Marketer what it is that they do, and although I can't say what number it would be placed at, you can bet that “Developing Brands” will be somewhere on that list. And if you say to that person, “Hey that's sounds pretty interesting, how do you do that?”, they'll tell you all about the research that they do, the various analysis and studies they conduct, the creative that they test, and the many other processes and steps they take. All very important, all very necessary to developing a company's brand.

The one thing they may or may not say though, is this: “We ensure that every employee in the company and every person who is not an employee, but represents the company and has contact with the company's clients or customers, lives the brand”. Ironically, this living of the brand is probably one of the most important aspects of developing a brand. And it doesn't mean that all a person ever wears is company-branded clothes, or uses the company's jargon and code speak at all times.

It does mean that they realize, as any good Marketer will tell you, that your brand must be consistent across all touch points, at all times. So how does this translate into people living the company brand? Simple, it means that everyone in the company, from the person sweeping the floor to the President, delivers on the company's brand in their own way. That means that when a visitor is seated in the waiting area of the office, it's everyone's job who passes by them to just simply smile or give a hello, a good morning, or a good afternoon. If it's an area where no Receptionist is staffed, it's asking that visitor if they've been taken care of, or if they've been offered water or coffee if that's available. Because no matter what a company's corporate “brand” actually is, I don't know of any company that wants to be known as an unfriendly place with people who are cold and impersonal.

But the fact is, this happens – innocently so, but it happens. In many offices in the haste of doing business, a person will see a seated visitor and say to him or herself that that person isn't here to see me, or that's not my client or customer, and will walk right by. Maybe they give a slight nod. But what does something like that say about or do to the company's brand? Especially if that visitor is seated directly under the company's posted Vision and Mission Statement that talks about how much the company values people and its customers – as many statements oftentimes do. That has actually happened to me...more than once. The thought may be that not giving a visitor a greeting and simply walking by doesn't diminish or tarnish the brand, and maybe it doesn't, but on the other hand, it certainly doesn't enhance or improve the brand either.

Now, ask those same questions about whether giving a greeting to a seated visitor, who is not your client or customer, diminishes or enhances the company's brand. The clear answer without a doubt is that it enhances it. And here's the real kicker, it does so for free, just the cost of a few words!

This “people living the brand” also extends to non-employees who engage with a company's clients and customers on behalf of the company. And because of this client/customer hand-off, having assurance that they are living the company's brand is even more vitally important.

Consider that Company ABC manufactures widgets and uses a 3rd party company to deliver them. That delivery person has direct contact with Company ABC's client, and more importantly, has the last in-person touch with that client. If that delivery person is rude, salty, late or any other such thing, Company ABC's client may not distinguish or even care that that company is a 3rd party vendor, they will simply say that Company ABC's drivers are rude and salty. And that will certainly diminish Company ABC's brand.

So at Black Rhino Marketing Group we realize that for every client we are honored to serve, when it comes to developing their brand, there is an external marketing effort that needs to be achieved, as well as an internal one. And while the external effort we develop will certainly result in increasing Sales and Net Earnings, and in improving Profit Margins and Cash Flow for our clients, not developing the internal one in conjunction would, over time, slowly work to erode those gains – you can bet on that too! Fortunately that scenario is an eventuality that clients of Black Rhino Marketing Group do not have to ever worry about.