The Things People Say (Why Customer Listening is Critical)

The Things People Say (Why Customer Listening is Critical)

Last week we held a Focus Group Event.  If you’ve ever done or been in a focus group, you wouldn’t apply the word “event” to it right?  Focus groups are usually in a boring conference room, with boring food, and people sitting around a conference table.  Often a one-way mirror for observers.

Well, this one was certainly not that.  It was a terrific, fun event. No kidding. Now, I’m not going to go into details, because I think that would be giving away something pretty cool and unique we’ve discovered.  But I will show you some photos—of our guests actually enjoying an evening of socializing AND participating in focus groups.  If you want to know how we pulled that off, you’ll just have to contact us—sorry! Suffice it to say, we were really proud of it; our client was ecstatic and now he’s got some major fans.  That’s a big win, win, win!

So let’s talk about Focus Groups.  Or what I’d rather call it: Customer Listening.

Customer Listening is fascinating.  Enlightening. Oftentimes surprising.  And always absolutely critical.  That is if you want your product/service/marketing to be relevant and ring true to your actual customer; and if you want to find out whether or not your product/service/marketing is solid or needs some changes (that’s something you want, right?  Boy I hope so!).

Customer Listening can take several forms:

  1. Surveys
  2. Phone Interviews
  3. In-person interviews
  4. Focus groups

Whatever form it takes, your goal is to LEARN.  And you do that by ASKING and LISTENING.  When you’re with them in real time, you’ll want to listen carefully and probe—pull those emerging threads of insight that just might take you beyond your list of questions to some unexpected golden nugget.  I’ve actually heard taglines emerge…straight from the customer’s mouth.  What could be better—more real?

What questions?  It really depends on who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish, but here are just a few that are always insightful.

(NOTE: replace “we” with “company, service or product”):

  • How are we performing overall?
  • What makes us stand out from the competition—how are we different, what do we do really well?
  • Any special stories about working with us—ie tough problems solved?
  • What can we be doing better, add or change?
  • Would you recommend us? Why/why not?
  • If you could describe us in one short sentence, what would you say?
  • How did you find out about us?
  • If it’s a new company/product/service: How do you find out about others in the marketplace—where do you go for information, what steps do you take?
  • What key criteria do you use to select a company/service/product in this market?

Goodness, this barely scratches the surface.  It’s undeniable, we love Customer Listening, because the things people say are priceless. So if you want to know more (or you’re dying to find out about our super-duper cool Focus Group Event idea), just reach out.  We’d be happy to ask you questions and listen to you!

What Not To Do When You Start A Business

What Not To Do When You Start A Business

There are a million tips out there for starting your business. But there are a few things NOT to do until you spend some time doing some serious research.

Don’t write a business plan yet

Research your idea and if it already exists, who the competition is, and who the perceived competition is. What’s “perceived competition” you ask?  Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of believing they don’t have any competition in the market because no one else does EXACTLY what their idea does. But, the public doesn’t necessarily know or believe that. You need to research the companies who are doing something similar- even if you don’t think they are really competition, the public may not realize that.

Don’t name your business/ product yet

Research your concepts, and please please hire a professional designer and brand strategist to help you with this. You need to make sure no one else has that name, or similar concept- because I expect you want to avoid trademark infringement.  Plus, you need to know who your target audience is and how they will respond to your brand.

Don’t  start searching for funding yet

You need to have more than an idea. You need to have completed the research on your competition, market, target audience and overall idea before you even think about approaching someone and asking for funding. Serious investors are going to want to see a full business plan that is well written and well developed through research. Hire a professional capital generation firm to help you find qualified funders when you are ready.

Don’t rely on what your friends and family say

Listen, they are your friends and family, there are certain things that they will tell you and certain things they will not. Asking people in your inner most circle will not reveal how the general public and your target audience actually feel about your idea. Most people who know you will not share their full feelings- good or bad- with you as the idea originator. Instead, invest in a focus group. It will reveal a great deal about your idea and will ultimately lead you in the best direction possible for success.

So, get to work, you have a lot of homework to do! And, after you do all that- talk to a professional third party to do some additional research for you.  Being armed with the back up you need will make all the difference in your success.

10 Thoughts I Have While Trying To Be A Creative Goddess

10 Thoughts I Have While Trying To Be A Creative Goddess

How am I going to make sure the design/concept is going to stand out?

I’m going to scour the internet and designs trends to do the necessary preliminary research and brainstorming. If someone says they can do a logo for you in 1hr for $20, they are a lying liar and you will get clipart.

Am I good enough?

Yes, I am. I am a magical unicorn dipped in peanut butter (don’t think about it, just stay with me here). I have worked hard to get where I am. There is a reason clients chose to do business with me.

Is the client going to like it?

As long as I have collaborated with the client and really made sure I asked them the right questions, 9 times out of 10 they are going to like it. I always go through concepts with the client as well. They will appreciate the process and there is no point in keeping them in the dark.

Is my dog going to like it?

Yes, it will be the most gorgeous thing she’s ever seen and she will cry little doggy tears of happiness.

Is my cat going to like it?

No, he’s a judgmental a**hole. He just wants my scrap paper to lay on.

Does the design suit the company or business?

If I have done my research on the client and audience before I begin the preliminary work, then yes. This helps me determine the best design style from the start and saves me the tragedy of being hangry later on.

What’s that over there?

It’s usually a stray tortilla chip. And it will get eaten. I want some more chips....

I need to just walk away.

This is an important step. Sometimes I get so in my head and overwhelmed with making everything perfect that I lose sight of what I am trying to accomplish. At this point I am doubting my entire existence. The best thing at this point is to get up, walk around, pet a furry friend, go for a run, eat some queso, anything to give your mind a break.

Why is the client so dead set on purple everything?

This question will never be answered. Don’t judge me. Purple is terrible. Except purple grapes. They make wine. They win at everything.

What To Expect (And Not Expect) From Your Marketing Firm

What To Expect (And Not Expect) From Your Marketing Firm

Working with your marketing firm or ad agency should be a partnership.  A partnership that allows for open communication, integrity and respect.

You should expect this from your firm.  And they should be able to expect this from you.

When this kind of partnership exists you can expect the following:

  1. Expect them to want the best for your business.
  2. Expect them to give you their best.

In order to do that, they’ll expect you to give them the time, consideration and trust to do the job you hired them to do—this is why you chose them.

Expect to be frustrated at some time during the process.  Usually that happens early on, because a great deal of work is being done that you may not be aware of.  There is much data to be gathered, research to be done, competitive analysis to assemble, and it all needs to be assessed and processed.  There is an extraordinary amount of information to sort through in order to determine what’s valid vs what’s relevant as it relates to the marketing, branding and communication of your product, service or business. Good ideas take time. Don’t expect to rush the process.

That said, expect them to keep you updated on what’s happening and the progress that’s being made. Expect weekly communication at the very least.

Expect them to first give you what you ask for…then to bring you alternative thinking if they believe it will serve you better. They’ll expect you to be open to hearing their ideas. If you have doubts just ask questions to understand their thinking—there might be something that didn’t occur to you, something even better than you asked for.

All in all, don’t expect miracles.  But expect really good stuff if you’ve established the kind of partnership described above.


The Mad Hatter

The Mad Hatter

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Entrepreneurs wear many hats.”  I am equally as sure that if you are running a business you have come to understand the sentiment behind this phrase very well.

Being nimble and able to make quick decisions, and jump in and roll up our sleeves to do whatever needs done to propel our businesses forward is all part of being a successful entrepreneur. And you are willing to wear whatever hat best fits the task at hand. The thing is, not every hat fits the same, so inevitably you start to wear some hats less and less and those things end up being overlooked. But the important thing to remember is: that’s ok.

Sometimes, as entrepreneurs it's hard to admit that you aren’t able to handle everything in your business perfectly. It is ok to realize that no one looks perfect in EVERY hat.

The trick to being a successful entrepreneur is to figure out which hats best suit your skill set and hand the other hats off to professionals who can handle them.

Let’s think about this: Which hat best fits you?

Hat 1: Business Owner

Legal, operations, financial responsibilities, vision and mission

Hat 2: Sales

New business sourcing, sales tactics and materials, follow up, sales

Hat 3: Accountant

AR and AP, cash flow, P&L, payroll

Hat 4: HR

Employees, benefits, hiring

Hat 5:  IT

Infrastructure, updates, security, software

Hat 6: Client Management

Tracking, communication, fulfillment

Hat 7: Marketing

Strategies and analytics

Hat 8: Marketing

Digital media (website, social media)

Hat 9: Marketing

Branding, packaging, creative

Hat 10: Advertising

Promotions, giveaways, coupons, paid spots

Trying to wear all of these hats all the time will certainly drive you mad. So, take a moment and consider your strengths and find the hats that best fit you, then find trusted professionals to handle the others. In the end, it will free you up to do the things you enjoy doing, and saving your sanity.


How Your Business Should Be Using Instagram

How Your Business Should Be Using Instagram

Ah, Instagram, the “visual storytelling” platform, unique in the way that it is solely mobile imagery. Think about social media platforms as the components of a marketing agency, in which Instagram is the Creative Director, in charge of focusing and connecting with their “clients” through the creativity of content such as photographs and videos. That being said, Instagram is more for the creative side of your business.

According to Instagram, this fun-filled social media platform has more than 300 million daily active users and 500 million monthly users. With so much activity and engagement happening every single day, it’s no surprise your business, big or small, can benefit from it. Not convinced yet? Well allow me to do so…

So, why is it important?

Although Facebook is still the most popular social media platform out there, Instagram is one of the most popular platforms for time spent on it. Instagram users are more likely to engage and share content which means that your business has a better chance of getting in front of your audience, and who wouldn’t want that?

Instagram also has a way of creating a deeper, more personal connection than Facebook. M. Gemi, a company who first launched on Instagram, says this about their Instagram engagement, “There is no other platform that allows us to form that type of genuine connection. Instagram allows us to communicate with, listen to and respond to the needs of our clients through imagery.”  Now with over 70.5k followers, they aim to keep that same feel throughout their images for years to come. Instagram allows your customers/followers to see who you are as a business simply by the use of trendy graphics and 10-minute videos.

How your business should be using Instagram:

Show Your Business’s Brand

 People follow businesses on Instagram to see their products quickly, but more so to see the business from the inside. Instagram allows you to get creative with bringing your customers to a side of your brand that they may never experience. Post pictures of your product, but also, post pictures that show you. Even if you are sitting in an office all day, there is still a ton of content you can create; just be creative.

Remember, do not over post. On this platform especially, “blowing up” someone’s feed, will annoy your followers and will quickly lead to losing your audience.

People that You Follow

The amount of people you follow will vary, depending on your business. There is no perfect ratio, however, following 10,000 people with only 500 followers does not look good. Keep it balanced. Follow enough people to get your name out there, we suggest to start out with at least 100. Remember, You do not need to follow everyone who follows you. This can lead to you following spam accounts, and will get you no growth. Verify the accounts you follow, read their bio, review their photos. Look at your competitors, and see how many and who they’re following. The people you follow should also be interested in you and your product.

Make sure the people you follow have the same standard of business that you do. Do not follow people who are irrelevant to your product or business standard. We do not recommend that you follow celebrity accounts, unless they’re associated with a reputable business that relates to yours.

Uploading Awesome Photos

Try and keep your branding as consistent as possible, by using images that have your company’s color, text and style throughout. Take a look at your competitor’s feeds. How are they conveying their brand? When you look at your competitor’s feeds, notice how they keep the images similar enough to where you can see their branding all throughout. If your website uses images, feel free to recycle them on Instagram!

Double Tapping

By double tapping on a picture, you can like photos and posts, and you can do it frequently. Liking photos is much more freely done on Instagram than on Facebook, but don’t overdue it. Like and share photos of things that are relevant to your company or customers who are engaging with your business/product. The more you interact with your audience, the more engagement you will get in return.

Comment frequently and get your name out there! A big misconception is that comments always have include something about your brand/company. Wrong. A simple comment, such as “great advice”, can suffice and make a presence.

Story Time!

Instagram stories is new to the Instagram platform and basically involves disappearing pieces of content, including photos and video. These capabilities include Instagram Stories, posts that disappear after 24 hours. At the top of your home page is a horizontal bar featuring photos of people you follow and one for yourself that has your profile photo with a plus sign. When you select the photo of yourself, it opens another screen, with the option of live video, an option called Normal (which takes a photo), Boomerang (which creates a GIF) and Hands-Free, which records a video without requiring you to hold down the record button.

Your business can give customers a live look behind the scenes of interesting aspects of your business (or answer live questions through the comments). Unlike Facebook, once the video has ended, it is no longer available anywhere, unless of course, you post it on your Instagram feed. This is a great real-time tool for any business who is looking to have short engagement for an event for example, such as a giveaway!

Connect. Connect. Connect.

You can connect your Facebook account to your Instagram account (and pretty much all other social media sites), that way post will be present on both, saving time and energy. This is great because if you have pre-scheduled post for Facebook, they will also be posted to Instagram without any extra effort on your part. Yay!

And just like Facebook posts, Facebook Ads can also crossover. If you have Ad on Facebook, that ad crosses over to Instagram giving you the ability to promote on both social media platforms. The perfect win-win situation!

Okay, So Now What?

Didn’t I tell you Instagram was so great?! When used properly, Instagram gives you an easy way to enhance your reach and expose your business to new people. It is also an awesome tool to bring people closer to your business by expressing your personality and creativity!

 Don’t have an Instagram account yet? No Worries! You can set up an account in seconds by simply downloading the app onto your smartphone (and I know you have a smartphone). The best part is, you don’t need an overly complicated strategy to be successful. By simply snapping pictures and being authentic to your business’s brand, you’ll surely be on your way to engaging with your audience all while driving your business to success!

3 Things We Learned From Our Last Failure

3 Things We Learned From Our Last Failure

Let’s be honest, most marketers don’t talk about our failures. In most cases, we share our success stories, because that’s what we feel good about and what we think matters the most to you. But, the truth is we actually learn the most from our failures.  And the more we learn, the more knowledge we have to share with you.

Our last failure was technically a marketing success, we exceeded our goals, and sold more than we expected- but we still consider it a failure because we could have done better, and it wasn’t our best work. As a result, we learned three really valuable things.

1 | Expectations

We like to give our clients everything they want. But in this case, we did too much. We didn’t set realistic expectations, and instead found ourselves chasing lofty goals the client had created for us.  A very real part of our job as professionals is to be clear and lay out the realistic expectations for your project upfront. We failed to do so and it caused a lot of headaches and stress on both sides of the table.  Even though we were technically successful- we still felt deflated and like we failed- all because the clients expectations weren’t met.  The knowledge we gained from going through this trying process was that we needed to update our project management, and overall process. Which is exactly what we did. We hired a great project manager – hi Liz! And we re-vamped our entire process so that we are always on the same page when it comes to expectations, deliverables and outcomes.

2 | Red Flags

Sometimes, a project creates little red flags of warning – perhaps the client is too demanding, or isn’t interested in our expert advice, or maybe they don’t care enough to put in the work that is needed. No matter the case, when these red flags appear- for either the client or the agency- they need to be addressed and not ignored. On this project, we ignored the red flags that the expectations kept changing, and that the client kept changing their minds about what direction to go- mid way through the implementation. And that was a mistake. What we learned was that we need to address our red flags, and even if it means that we cannot continue working with a client,  we need to be honest about that. Implementing this new strategy has made all of our client relationships stronger.

3 | Documentation & Communication

We learned a big one about tracking everything with this project. As client expectations changed and they asked us to shift focus mid project, we learned that we needed to track and document everything, for the clients sake as well as ours. Things changed so quickly that both of us lost sight of the bigger picture and our goals. This failure led to the implementation of a new, higher standard of client tracking and communication. Remember Liz, our project manager I mentioned before? She is in charge of documenting everything for the client, including weekly follow ups, total project status documents and detailed reports.

Overall, we learned a great deal and our failures led to some really positive changes in our client policies, processes and project management, and that’s something to feel good about.

How To Select Your Marketing Partner

How To Select Your Marketing Partner

Marketing is an essential part of growing your company/brand. But selecting a marketing partner can be a daunting task. When every dollar counts in business, it is important to do your research to find an agency who works with you to achieve your main goal: growing your business. Here are some things to keep in mind when selecting your marketing partner

Pay attention to how well the agency strives to understand your business and your objectives.

Do they listen to you and ask probing questions in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of your business or product? Do you come away from your first meeting with a good feeling—that they can not only help you, but that you’ll enjoy working with them? You will be working with them for some time and you want that time to be pleasant.

Ask them to detail the process they will follow to identify, understand, create and execute your opportunities for success.

They should be able to explain the process they follow in working with you—the steps they will take to get you from where you are now to where you want to be. Do you understand it and find it compelling?

Find out how they manage complex projects involving multiple media.

What talent and expertise do they possess in order to effectively, cost-effectively and efficiently market your business or product? How many different media do they have experience in that might be relevant to your marketing? Do you have a sense of confidence in their ability to execute what you will need?

Determine if they have knowledge of your product/business market:

If they are experienced communicators and marketers, they may not necessarily need specific experience in your market, but it is certainly a bonus if they do.  The learning curve will be much shorter.

Determine if their specialty fits within your needs:

Every firm has a different wheelhouse of skillsets and service offerings—the things they do well and the things they don’t handle.  Find out what those are so you can compare firms. Ask about the breadth of experience of the people who will be involved on your business.

Before you hire an ad agency, determine why you're hiring them.

Decide what services you need.  Come to the meeting prepared to express this so they can respond accordingly. Recognize what your capabilities are and what you need help with.  Be honest with them, then be open to hearing their ideas and recommendations—if they surprise with you with something you never thought of that’s great.  You want them to provide you with ideas, approaches and thinking outside of your own.

Match the size of your company to the size of the firm.

Kind of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you’re looking for a firm that’s not too big, not too small, but just right.  You’ll get a sense of that.  Come in with an idea of your budget.

Find out what “above and beyond” services they offer.

Do they offer web development and SEO, financial services, access to investors or funding, go-to-market plans for products in development, or legal advice?

good design

When Good Design Goes to Waste

When Good Design Goes to Waste

Bad design is EVERYWHERE. But making sure that good design is seen among the sea of bad, especially with a new company, is a lot more complicated than just having a well-designed logo.

As a designer, I love creating logos. I know this isn’t always the case with every designer. A logo project can quickly go from being a fun endeavor to a complete nightmare; endless revisions, creative differences, having to explain one more time that no, I can’t just “copy what (insert existing company) did for their logo”. But then I finally hit that sweet spot when the creative heavens open, and I say, “I’m the greatest designer alive!” (let’s be honest, we designers never say that. We will always be the most critical of ourselves).

That’s great that you have a well-designed logo, but without an actual plan of attack, all of that good design will just sit on the shelf. All of that energy will be for naught. There are many different factors that will cause good design to go to waste.

  • The mission of the company isn’t clear. Can you clearly define what you want to bring to your consumer base?
  • The target audience was ignored or insufficiently researched. How can you speak to your consumers when you haven’t taken the time to find out what they really want?
  • There was no overall marketing strategy. Strategy and design go together like peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and chocolate, peanut butter and… well, you get the idea. No one will ever see your brand if you haven’t thought through how to reach the masses.

At the end of the day, you want your company and/or product to be successful. In order for a brand to have real longevity, it can’t just look good. It has to be well thought out with strategy and tactics that make sense for your consumer base. Otherwise, the bad design out there will win. And no one wants to live in that world.