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Great Marketing, Its All in the Ingredients!


curt-clinkinbeard-staffDear FAMEE Friend:

 

I hope this note finds you, your business, and your marketing efforts all doing well. Perhaps like me, you were fortunate enough to take a little time last weekend to relax, reflect, and hit the start of the summer season running.

Recently, several client projects have led me to focus in on a concept of “marketing ingredients,” as a central part of successful execution of a marketing communications program. Given the challenges and overwhelm many entrepreneurs feel with marketing communications, I felt it would be appropriate to share this. The concept is kind of unique; its super simple; and it can clarify the approach.

 

Usually when we think in terms of marketing communications, we think about what we are going to say (messages) and then the ways – methods, medias, etc – that we will use to share these messages. Many times the emphasis is on the method we plan to share the communication.

 

So, very often the preparation of marketing materials starts with deciding to use a certain vehicle, whether it be a website, a brochure, a display ad, a sales presentation, a radio ad, or any number of different methods for communications. Down the road, then when we have another need, we start the process over again.

 

This concept of “ingredients” builds in an intermediate step, but there are some significant benefits. And I’ll highlight those benefits in a second.

 

What I mean by ingredients are the things that go into a website, a brochure, or that radio ad. Ingredients are things like the following….

 

· Your logo(s)

· Taglines

· Headlines / Subheads

· General “look and feel”

· Marketing Copy / Text

· Offers / Calls to Action

· Photography

· Logo animation

· Video footage, etc

 

If I focus first on collecting and organizing all of my ingredients, it is relatively easy to put together a brochure (or website, or sales presentation, etc). I also increase the likelihood that when I go to create the next marketing tools (or culinary delight if I am sticking with my metaphor!), not only is it easier, but I greatly increase the likelihood of creating materials which are consistent to the others – an important part of any intelligent marketing campaign.

 

So what’s the suggestion? Before building individual tools, focus first on having the right ingredients. Build a solid “inventory” of marketing ingredients, and you should see a significant improvement of the individual marketing tools. As you put this list of ingredients together, you can assess them, identify strengths and weaknesses, and over the course of time, significantly improve the quality of your ingredients. Doing this, if you go back to a food analogy, will result in better meals, as the ingredients are stronger and become the foundation of a great meal.

 

Simple. Straightforward. Increases quality. Decreases stress. Sounds good to me!

 

So get out there and grow your business!!!!

 

Curt Clinkinbeard, Executive Director

The FAMEE Foundation

 

 

PS: Remember, our site www.famee.org has a ton a marketing tools which can be accessed at no cost …. A book, a workbook, worksheets, and multiple electronic courses. Check it out. Or…. Come back and brush up on some of the learning. Repetition is quite valuable!


Gratitude: Our Best Strategy


curt-clinkinbeard-staff3It’s fantastic we have a whole day dedicated to giving thanks. In the everyday rush, it’s just too easy to forget all the blessings which grace us daily. But when given the chance, and we step back to think about the things we are grateful for, the list get’s large - real large!


About eighteen months ago, a colleague - and kindred spirit - of mine and I were having our quarterly coffee shop chat, and he looked at me seriously and asked, “So Curt, what do you believe is the ONE key to success, not just in busienss, but overall?” I thought about his profound question (thanks Rich), and the first thing that popped into my mind was “Gratitude.”


I have seen it in business - and in marketing. It may be so simple … but companies who are extremely grateful for their customers win over those who take them for granted. That may very well be the most powerful, authentic marketing strategy possible.


The same shows up with leaders who are grateful for their followers.


It’s true for husbands who are grateful to their wives. (Summer rocks!)


And I can think of no better parenting skill than to be genuinely thankful - everyday - for my wonderful kids, Chase and Carsyn, and to recognize them for the amazing, perfect blessings that they are.


I’m certainly not the first person to make this observation. It has been written about for centuries. It shows up in business literature, self-help literature, spirtual literature from a multitude of ifferent religions throughout the world, and is referenced all throughout history. The smartest people I know - and the ones I most respect - use it liberally.


I recently read a statement that said the Pilgrims were the most finanically destitute Americans - by far - ever to walk our shores. The comment also said in those first years, they built many more graves than they did dwellings. They were wise, however, to bless our country - even in the face of amazing struggle - with a foundational tradition of gratitude. They also set the tone for collaboration - and acceptance of others different than we are. Smart people.


When you are grateful, you take better care of the things you have. You’re also more optimistic. One tends to be less stressed. There’s a warm, humbleness to gratitude which acknowledges the world is bigger than just your own, little problems. With gratitude, people want to be around you. It’s nearly impossible to be depressed when you come from a place of gratitude. More good things are automatically attracted into your life. And your life will be healthier and longer.


In the end, it really may come down to the more you love, the greater you will be loved. And being blessed, may be as simple as recognizing it.


THANKS TO YOU - For allowing me the opportunity to send these periodic notes to you. I am grateful to you and the passion you have for your business. Happy Thanksgiving!


Your friend,


Curt Clinkinbeard, Executive Director

The FAMEE Foundation

Author, CUSTOMER PILLARS



Email: curt@famee.org

Phone: 785-554-3050

Mail: 5100 SW 10th Street #100

Topeka, KS 66604


Marketing Planning with the 9 Pillars


curt-clinkinbeard-staff2By Curt Clinkinbeard, Executive Director

The FAMEE Foundation

I didn’t want to do it. But I had to.

The problem is that if I told you the CUSTOMER PILLARS program was about strategic marketing planning (yawn), you probably would not have been interested. Planning often scares off entrepreneurs, seems too academic, or just plain takes up too much time – extra time you just do not have.

And I completely understand that.

The problem, though, is that business is too difficult, and marketing has too many “moving parts” to effectively wing it. There are too many opportunities to miss deadlines, to fail to coordinate effectively, to under-communicate, or to let quality dip. And often, the little slips on a daily basis don’t seem like all that much; the problem is not so obvious. The challenge, then, is when you add up all those small performance slips, they combine to form a significant whole. Rarely is it one big mistake, but the culmination of a large number of little ones.

Fortunately, the same can be said on the success side as well. Little things done on a daily basis combine to drive a business forward. This slight improvement in precision is often facilitated through planning – specifically for this conversation, strategic marketing planning.

The nine pillars illuminated in the CUSTOMER PILLARS book and workbook program are a template for marketing planning. If you go through each of the nine steps, consider the overarching concepts in your business, implement some systems underneath each pillar, and monitor your progress, you are participating in the strategic marketing planning process (whether you knew it or wanted to or not!)

Not that the CUSTOMER PILLARS approach is the only approach to marketing planning – or even necessarily the best. It is one of many ways to plan. When all is said and done, in my opinion, the format of the planning is less important than the fact that you understand the different planning dimensions and incorporate a broad perspective at evaluating the current status of your business in relation to its ideal place and formulating approaches to close the gap.

(Note: many people get really hung up in their underwear about the format of the planning – in other words, the “table of contents” or organizational structure of the plan. What I am suggesting here is that it is not the format of the plan that makes a good plan, rather it is the entrepreneur’s bigger picture understanding and the fact that they went through a thought process to come to a strategic direction for the business.)

Quickly to recap the nine pillars in the CUSTOMER PILLARS system, they are:

Pillar 1: Focus on Growth Customers

Pillar 2: Maximize Value Incrementally

Pillar 3: Refine to Perfect Pricing

Pillar 4: Form Productive Linking Relationships

Pillar 5: Sharpen Your Competitive Edge

Pillar 6: Connect Powerfully with the Market

Pillar 7: Manage Expectations Brilliantly

Pillar 8: Learn from the Market

Pillar 9: Practice Coordinated Growth Planning


As you can see, the last pillar specifically addresses the concept of strategic planning. However, in context to the other aspects, I usually characterize this pillar as the one which ties all the other ones together.

What’s cool about this system from a planning perspective is that each individual pillar can be isolated on its own. A company can start with a given pillar and put some time into assessing how they can improve the business in that particular, narrow area.

As work is done, though, people will quickly understand that while the pillars can be isolated and worked on individually, there is a significant synergy between and interconnectedness through the pillars. This is where the importance of strategic planning comes forward. The system helps us see individual pieces that combine for a synergistic whole, thus the pillars represent a great way to think about planning.

If you get into the depth of pillar nine, the planning one, you see that these nine pillars come together to form a comprehensive marketing approach. However, that marketing approach must be also be considered in the overall development of the business and evaluated in relation to other functions in the business. In a similar way as with the individual pillars, the different functions of the business (marketing, operations, finance, HR, technology, etc) come together to form the comprehensive whole of the business. The marketing planner who has a strong understanding of how marketing fits in the business holistically, in concert with the other functions, is a more sophisticated planner and is more likely to formulate a strategy which ultimately puts the business in a better position to reach its overall goals.

So this article was written in November. Do you have your planning completed for 2010? And if you do, have you updated it to include the lessons learned from the actual results in 2009? With my clients, at this time of the year, I am certainly looking at 2009 to glean what was accomplished (and what was not) and incorporating those insights into goal setting and strategic planning for 2010. Get your plan in place to make next year the best ever!

Curt Clinkinbeard is the Executive Director of The FAMEE Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs “advance marketing excellence” and build profitable revenue streams. More information on their free small business marketing programs can be found at http://www.famee.org. He is also the president of Strive Coaching Inc, a marketing and strategic planning and coaching firm.


Truth in Marketing: Not What You Think


curt-clinkinbeard-staff2By Curt Clinkinbeard, Executive Director

The FAMEE Foundation

I have a wonderful four year old son. He makes my heart sing even thinking about him for a second. Like other father’s, my children mean the world to me and I think they are perfect.

If you’ve been a parent in the last few decades, you probably know how children get addicted to a given movie; when given the option, they go the favorite time and time again. Currently my son’s favorite, is the Pixar movie, “Ratatouille,” a feel good movie about how success can happen to the unlikeliest of people (or rodents.)

Like many of the other movies like this, they sprinkle in a few things for the adults to snicker about. For me, one of my favorite scenes is when Anton Ego, the intimidating, brooding, and downright condescending food critic visits Gusteau’s restaurant to see for himself what all the fuss is about. Here is the dialog with his waiter:

Waiter: [taking Ego's order] Do you know what you’d like this evening, sir?

Anton Ego: Yes, I think I do. After reading a lot of overheated puffery about your new cook, you know what I’m craving? A little perspective. That’s it. I’d like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?

Waiter: With what, sir?

Anton Ego: Perspective. Fresh out, I take it? anton-ego

Waiter: I am, uh…

Anton Ego: Very well. Since you’re all out of perspective and no one else seems to have it in this
bloody town, I’ll make you a deal. You provide the food, I’ll provide the perspective, which would go nicely with a bottle of Cheval Blanc 1947.


Waiter: I’m afraid… your dinner selection?

Anton Ego: [stands up angrily] Tell your chef Linguini that I want whatever he dares to serve me. Tell him to hit me with his best SHOT.

Good stuff. (And pretty intelligent humor for a movie targeted at kids.) As a consultant, I have to admit, there are days that I feel a little like Anton Ego. Let’s shine some “perspective” on this business.

The reality is, that the moment you (and I) started in business, our unbiased viewpoint went out the door. We stopped being able to see the REAL truth: how our customers really see our business versus how we really want to see it.

In marketing, the truth can often be painful. Customers are NOT as enamored with your product or service as you wish they were. They are not as appreciative as you would hope. They don’t respond to your advertising as much as they should. And, darn it, how hard would it be to tell just a few other people a few positive things about my business?!?!

Well, if marketing were easy, we would just hire some smart people, put a marketing plan in motion, and just spend the rest of the day counting money. The reality is that marketing is not that simple. It is challenging and is an ongoing part of your business. As long as you are in business, you will likely be adapting to or trying to solve some marketing puzzle in your business.

The truth, however, is a great place to start. (A little fresh, well seasoned perspective!)

Most of us tell these little lies to ourselves. (My competitors are terrible people who just want to rip other people off. The market is just stupid. My media rep took advantage of me, etc, etc, etc.) The challenge of running a business is so great that facing the truth is sometimes quite difficult to do.

But keying into the truth is important. In fact, maybe even assuming a little worse than the truth can work in your favor. Let’s assume you have a product that is a “6” in the marketplace – this is how customers view it. If you believe you have an “8”, but the market responds as if it were a “6”, you will likely believe something is wrong outside of you own control. (The customers are crazy; the competitors are lying; your employees are to blame, etc.) The likely response, instead of being proactive, is to be frustrated and point fingers. The probability is that you will be lower than a “6” in the future.

However, if you believe your product is a “4” in the market, you will push yourself to improve the product, market it at a higher level, accept more market input, and take more responsibility for your overall success. You will own the problem and be very deliberate about fixing it. In all probability, you will see improvements in the future.

Recently, I told a client I thought a product he had recently launched was overpriced and behind the times from a technology standpoint. In my opinion, he was best to “call a spade a spade” and find a way to expeditiously and graciously exit the product line – and live to fight another battle. It was a “truth” he did not want to hear. (It was also a truth I did NOT relish in telling him.) The best approach, though, was to face reality and manage the business based on those truths, hard as they may be.

Don’t mistake me….. I am not suggesting you belittle everything you do and simply become overcritical (and frustrated / depressed). I am suggesting you order up a bit of fresh perspective.

A couple of tips….. ask people for bad news. Customers and employees tend to sugarcoat stuff. Next, find a skeptic or two to be around. Sure, you don’t want take on their negativity, but sometimes a dose of cold water can be relevant – and a nice challenge. And don’t rationalize. It’s just too darn easy to do. If you find yourself making excuses, catch yourself and really challenge that mindset. Seek the no “BS” truth. Ask if you might be telling yourself an innocent little “lie.”

In a way, a business is like our children. We love it so much and want so much for it that we lose, well… a little perspective.

Sometimes the truth stinks. But face yours and you will find you are more effective and expeditious in putting your company on the path to success. They say “the truth will set you free,” and that’s probably great advice.

Curt Clinkinbeard is the Executive Director of The FAMEE Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs “advance marketing excellence,” and build profitable revenue streams. More information on their free small business marketing programs can be found at http://www.famee.org. He is also the president of Strive Coaching Inc, a marketing and strategic planning and coaching firm


Seek the Concept, Not the Number


curt-clinkinbeard-staff1By Curt Clinkinbeard, Executive Director

The FAMEE Foundation

There are a variety of marketing studies out there – and it makes a lot of sense to pay attention to them. But there is an important piece of advice I can give you when you learn about these studies: pay more attention to the concept that you do to the exact number.

Too often, the numbers are broad averages or even speculation. So to put too much credence (and debate) about the statistics creates little value or incremental knowledge. The concepts they illustrate, however, can be incredibly valuable.

Years ago, an insurance company did a survey that studied how many follow up calls their sales reps made, when they stopped following up, and when customers actually purchased. The summary of the research was that something in the neighborhood of 80% of all sales reps quit calling the customer after the first two follow up calls. Most of the sales were made, however, after the 7th (or 8th) follow up. This research was used to document why a small percentage of salespeople earned a vast percentage of the commissions and to emphasize the critical importance of persistence in marketing.

So the moral of the story – you have to follow up. You have to continue to follow up even after you think it is fruitless to do so. You have to hang in there when others wouldn’t.

A problem, I see, though, is people tend to overly focus on the numbers. Is it five, or six, or seven, or eight follow ups? The reality: it depends and, truthfully, who cares?

Part of the “it depends” piece of that puzzle is that different industries, products, and customers will have different results. Remember, the studies that come up with these numbers are usually looking at statistics and averages.

So in this example, some people will purchase after two follow ups, some will take seven, others may take twelve – and that can even be in the same company! In some industries, it will be more, in others fewer. The price point may also have an impact, as may the inherent urgency of the purchase, and typical buying patterns / sales cycles. The real value here is concept, not the number. In other words, look to follow up and build processes to extend that, not to get overly hung up on the exact number of times you will. Program your approach to build significantly more follow up into your strategies.

You see the same things with many other marketing studies:

· What is the expected rate of return for direct mail?

· How long must you advertise at a loss before the advertising starts to produce a return?

· How many times must a person see an ad before they will actually buy?

In all of these cases, marketing studies (over the last century) have provided numbers here. And just like above, it is great to know the numbers, but the numbers mean less than the concept. And in all, you can get to an average, but if you are looking at an individual situation for an individual company, often the answer is “it depends.”

Here is another case in point.

One marketing study says that the average consumer in the United State is exposed to 3,000 advertising messages per day. Another study says it is 8,000. From a statistical standpoint, this is a huge discrepancy. One number is nearly three times as large as the other.

From the perspective of a statistician, that makes the numbers are almost meaningless. But the concept is solidified, even though the numbers don’t agree. The average consumer is exposed to a lot of advertising, and this is why advertising is typically more challenging than we think it will be, why we must take steps to stand out, and also why it requires much more repetition than would be intuitive.

Again, the point…. The exact numbers are less meaningful, than the underlying concepts are.

Another relevant issue is these statistic may change over the course of time. For instance, as direct mail became more effective, more advertisers started to use direct mail, and as a result, its effectiveness decreased. In recent years, direct mail has been seeing a bit of a resurgence, as many advertisers have moved out of direct mail and to online sources. Because fewer people are doing it now (compared to the past), the attractiveness of direct mail is, in some instances, seeing improvements.

So if you are studying direct mail statistics, where in that “life cycle” listed above, was the statistical data collected? The point is, it changes, and some of these commonly cited studies are relatively old.

Again, key on the concept, not the exact numbers.

Other will squabble with this suggestions saying that numbers don’t lie. And if you look at the collective marketing efforts of many companies in many industries, the numbers are solid (averages). But if you are trying to estimate the performance of your individual business, in your individual market, with your individual competitors, with your individual pricing strategy and reputation, the best approach is to look at the studies, but assume the range is broad. Understand the concept, but don’t get tied up in the exact numbers

I have seen this also in workshops. The question goes something like this… “Curt, I have heard you have to touch the customer eight times before they will buy, but I have also heard the number is 22. Which one is it?” It’s a noble question that comes from the right place.

The real answer is, however, that it depends. If you are using impersonal media versus personal interaction, the number is larger. If your product is “hot” right now, the number will tend to be smaller. If you have a ton of competition, the number might be larger. If you have a lower price point versus a higher price point, you will tend to see the number is higher.

The best advice I can give is to (yes, you guessed it), understand the concept the number tells you and worry less about the exact number. But here is a biggie….. once you understand the concept, you are better able to answer that question more precisely yourself for your products, your market, your customers, etc. As you start to collect this information about the actual numbers in your business, I will believe that data 100 times over a broad based study.

Marketing is about relationships – and usually not just one, but many. Trying too hard to pigeonhole around these numbers is about as productive as asking, “How many dates must you go out on before your get married?” I mean if we surveyed 1000 married couples, we could get to a statistical average; but would that significantly impact your personal decision on when to marry? (Or how many times do you have to interact with a prospective friend before you really start to like them? It varies and it is very subjective!)

Understand the concept, first. Then come to your OWN numbers.

Curt Clinkinbeard is the Executive Director of The FAMEE Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs “advance marketing excellence” and build profitable revenue streams. More information on their free small business marketing programs can be found at http://www.famee.org. He is also the president of Strive Coaching Inc, a marketing and strategic planning and coaching firm.


When It Is Best Said By Others


curt-clinkinbeard-staffBy Curt Clinkinbeard, Executive Director

The FAMEE Foundation

One of the most effective techniques used in marketing communications is the customer testimonial. This is a great strategy, but can be difficult to pull off – unless you take some specific steps. In this short blog entry, we will discuss these actions for making testimonials a stronger part of your marketing approach.

It is important to understand the “why’s” behind this strategy. There are several reasons it seems to work. For one, it is more credible when other people say nice things about you (than when you say nice things about yourself!) Second, people tend to connect with other individuals who may have faced similar challenges and found a solution with your company. And finally, people tend to use “benefits” driven language in testimonials, which tends to be more effective than the “features” based language companies tend to use when describing themselves. It is easy to see why testimonials are valuable.

A first suggestion… get proactive about it. While it is fantastic to think that you will get a large pile of unsolicited letters singing your praises (and its great if you get some), likely you will have to take some steps to initiate the process.

Next, build an inventory. Keep a listing of your testimonials. Add to them over the course of time and have options based around different things about your business. Categorize them. Have short versions. Have long versions, etc.

Another step is when you are conversing with a customer and they are complimenting you, simply ask if they would be willing to say the same things in an email to you or to write you a letter. Even explain how important testimonials are to your business. You can be on the lookout for these kinds of comments. Typically, when asked, people are happy to provide these notes. But don’t forget to follow up…. usually even people who agree to do this forget. It’s not that they don’t want to help you; they just get distracted with other things. Get in the habit of asking, then following up.

The value of testimonials is that they sound like real people or real companies. To the extent possible reinforce this by listing their real name, city, and company. Obviously, do this AFTER getting people’s permission. In today’s internet world, some people are very sensitive about their identity and don’t be surprised if some people are concerned; just respect their rights. The same can be said for photos; they add personalization, but do get permission.

Another tip is to give people suggestions about what to say. It may sound manufactured, but often people who are very willing to give you a testimonial, just don’t know what to say. They want to give you a great testimonial that can help you; they just may not know what that might look like. Help them out, but then suggest they put it in words most natural for them. Another similar thought is that if you are going to ask for a testimonial, give the person some warning and a little time to think about it. Often I will say something like, “I just want to plant a little seed from you; in a week or so, I might ask you for a testimonial.”

And lastly, it today’s world it is really easy to add both audio and video content to your website, which takes personalization of testimonials to an even higher degree. You can record an audio on the telephone. You can have a small camcorder at a tradeshow booth. The cool thing is that you don’t have to have ultra-professional footage to do really nice testimonial vignettes, which can be used online. Look for these technology enhancements to make your testimonials even that much more valuable.

Use the power of testimonials, but like most things in marketing, but it doesn’t tend to happen on its own. Get organized around it, get intentional about what you want, and take consistent and persistent actions to move in that direction. It will happen – and the testimonials will help drive business your way!

Curt Clinkinbeard is the Executive Director of The FAMEE Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs “advance marketing excellence” and build profitable revenue streams. More information on their free small business marketing programs can be found at http://www.famee.org. He is also the president of Strive Coaching Inc, a marketing and strategic planning and coaching firm.


The One Way to Create a Happy Customer


curt-clinkinbeard-staff1By Curt Clinkinbeard, Executive Director

The FAMEE Foundation

I wasn’t quite so bold when I wrote the book, CUSTOMER PILLARS.

What is interesting, however, about writing a book is that after the ink has dried and people start to read the book, you have an interesting opportunity to see how people react to and interact with the material. As a professional speaker and consultant, I get even more opportunity to see the concepts I talk about in the book “come alive.”

What’s cool about this, particularly after several years, is that the concepts kind of evolve and change. Or, at least your own perception of them changes.

When I penned the seventh chapter, “Manage Expectations Brilliantly,” I knew it was an extremely important concept. Doing well at this particular pillar puts a sequence of positive events that propels a company forward. Doing poorly moves things backwards. Because of these impacts, I will often refer to it as “the momentum pillar.”

Over the course of time, I have also come to realize that it is, indeed, the one – and only – way to ensure a customer is happy with the company. If you create happy customers you have already done this. If you create an unhappy customer, you have not. It may be bold, but it’s true. Had I seen this insight before writing the book, I would have focused on this fact and purposefully pointed it out.

“Managing expectations brilliantly” creates happy customers based on this realization… every time a customer makes a purchase, they make an evaluation of how the company performed in relation to their expectations. Even with routine purchases, every customer enters that transaction with an expectation (in fact, really, they enter with a large set of expectations) about what they will gain from the transaction. If they did not have an expectation of something positive, they would choose to keep their money in their own pockets and not enter into the transaction.

During and after the sale, the customer makes mental comparisons of their perceptions of how the company actually performed in relation to those expectations. Simply, if the customer feels you performed better than their expectations, they are happy. If they believe you performed under their expectations, they are not.

Think about it for a minute. This is the only way for a customer to be happy or unhappy with your company. A simple observation, but a hugely important one.

So now that you know this. What now?

The chapter in the book goes on to explain a detailed five step process to put your company is a strong position to make sure you use this information to your advantage. Quickly, the system works you through (1) understanding base expectations (those the customer brings to the transaction themselves), (2) how you use communications to influence expectations (either up or down; but importantly to set a high enough promise that the customer wants to buy from you, but not so high that you cannot deliver), then (3) deliver the product or service, (4) create a positive company experience, and (5) incorporate post-purchase follow-up (communications after the transaction used to learn from the customer and ensure the transaction was successful.)

Want to set your company up to ensure you have happy customers? Exceeding their expectations is the only way to make a happy customer and propel a positive upward spiral of momentum. Check out pillar seven in the Customer Pillars book and workbook for more specifics on making this concept work better on your behalf. (Remember, if you have happy customers, you are already doing it to some extent….. our goal is to help you MAXIMIZE the approach!)

Curt Clinkinbeard is the Executive Director of The FAMEE Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs “advance marketing excellence” and build profitable revenue streams. More information on their free small business marketing programs can be found at http://www.famee.org. He is also the president of Strive Coaching Inc, a marketing and strategic planning and coaching firm.


The Myth of the Best Marketing Approach


curt-clinkinbeard-staffBy Curt Clinkinbeard, Executive Director

The FAMEE Foundation

“What is the BEST” way to market?”

It’s a common question, but a loaded one. Not only does it NOT have a correct answer (OK, here is the correct answer…. “the strategies that lead to the best customer relationships, the most revenues, and the greatest profits for the business” – but, I have a feeling that is not what you wanted to hear!), but searching for “the” answer to this question leads to marketing struggles, extra expenses, lost opportunities, and pain!

We want to believe there is a “best” marketing strategy. And I don’t blame anyone for that. If there was really only one best strategy, then life would be much easier.

It’s an unfortunate reality, but the most successful marketing really does use a combination of multiple approaches. That means it is more complex, it does take more time, and more money than just doing one perfect thing. Companies are multidimensional, our products and services are multidimensional, our customers are multidimensional, so it makes sense that our marketing strategies are, indeed, multidimensional.

One important fact overlooked by those who seek “the holy grail” is that marketing mediums and individual tactics work differently for different types of companies. Certainly, given medias or strategies work better in certain industries – so there may be some ways to generalize. But, overall, even within an industry, a given advertising media may work for one company, but not work for another in the same industry, but with a different approach. Seeking a “cookie cutter” solution doesn’t work.

Similarly, this desire for a single solution is also akin to our “fast food society” mentality, where we look for one answer – quickly. As much as it would simplify life, it just does not seem to be reality for business. Throw on top of that, that many people selling marketing solutions, be it consultants, media reps, or other training programs also promote the “one solution” mindset. (You know … theirs … the one they are selling!) Not only do they promote theirs as ideal, but tend to “pooh, pooh” the others as well. This, understandably, leads to much confusion.

If you buy into “market economics” or “free enterprise” philosophies, they will basically tell you if something worked perfectly for everyone, every time, then price would be driven upwards to such a high level that no one could ever reasonably afford it. Similarly, if a strategy NEVER worked for anyone, then, eventually, no one would ever buy it. This reinforces that concept that there is not any one “right” answer, and, similarly, no single “wrong” ones either. Boil that down, if an advertising mechanism is on the market, then it is working for someone. And if it can still be purchased for a reasonable price, then it is not perfect either. (Great, right!?! You were hoping marketing would be more clear than just “mud,” right!?!)

Really, the best advice I can provide is to give up the search for a single point of perfection. I know that sounds pessimistic, but once you let go of the “magic bullet” myth, it is really a freeing experience. It’s frustrating and takes up a lot of energy searching for “one thing” that is going to rocket launch your business. Not only does it put a lot of pressure on you, but it sets and almost impossible standard for any project or person you work with in the field of marketing.

Commit to marketing being an ongoing and complex process. If it were really as easy as finding “that one thing,” then there would not be large marketing departments in large companies. (It would be easier than that!) When you look at marketing as a long term prospect with lots of different contributing factors, you can start to put together an intelligent, realistic process.

Don’t let this get you down. If you are seeking it, the “holy grail” is only taunting and frustrating you. Let it go and watch your comfort level with marketing increase, as well as your results!

Curt Clinkinbeard is the Executive Director of The FAMEE Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs “advance marketing excellence” and build profitable revenue streams. More information on their free small business marketing programs can be found at http://www.famee.org. He is also the president of Strive Coaching Inc, a marketing and strategic planning and coaching firm.


On Being A Broken Record


curt-clinkinbeard-staff1By Curt Clinkinbeard, Executive Director

The FAMEE Foundation

Have you ever felt like you go into autopilot when you present your “pitch” and feel that you just said the same thing to someone else an hour ago? Yawn!

The fact of the matter is that to get your point across to customers, you have to repeat yourself many times, not only to the many different customers, but even to the SAME individuals. Often, in order for them to “get it,” you have to say it over and over again.

The good news of this, of course, is you are provided an opportunity to sharpen your skills. You can learn which parts of the presentation feel right to you and which ones are uncomfortable or awkward. You can also see which parts seem to be emotional “hot buttons.” You can even practice the timing, humor, and stories you include. Practice makes perfect.

We might even feel guilty that we are not creating an original conversation. We know that marketing is about forming genuine relationships – so we want to feel authentic going into this, not “canned.”

But repetition (which is needed) can also plant the seeds of boredom. Who wants to hear your message if YOU don’t even like hearing what you have to say. The reality is that many people prematurely change their messages based on this boredom, often before the messages (or media, or campaign, or presentation, etc) has made its true impact in the market.

So what are some suggestions?

First, remember, the goal is not for your marketing communications entertain you. The desired outcome is to influence the market. Always try to remember your first reaction to marketing communication items (logos, websites, brochures, etc), as the initial impressions will tend to most mirror the way the market sees them. The more time you “study” these pieces, the less objective you become.

Second, remember, that repetition is important in every marketing approach. If customers heard a message once, and fully understood it, then advertising as we know it would not exist. (It would just be way too easy; it would take a day to do what it normally takes a career! And then what would we do with all the extra time?!? Argghh, indeed, I am kidding!) Incorporating ways to build in lots of repetition may feel awkward, but it is part of educating and reminding customers of why to shop with us.

Make sure your messages are consistent across your methods of communication. Too often we think our website, print materials, and sales presentations are all completely different, unrelated parts of our approach. To improve the effectiveness of the communications, ensure there are multiple “common threads” that move between all of the communication tools. Look for ways to create synergy between all of the different ways you communicate.

And finally, resist the temptation to be bored with your approach and change it too regularly. As odd as it may sound, it is better to hold onto a consistent communication strategy for too long, than it is to change it up too regularly. The absolute best way to resolve this dilemma is to let the market tell you when to change. In other words, if something is working, by all means, stick with it until it ceases to produce positive results.

Curt Clinkinbeard, is the Executive Director of The FAMEE Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs “advance marketing excellence” and build profitable revenue streams. More information on their free small business marketing programs can be found at http://www.famee.org.


Growing Yourself Out of Business – Real or Rumor?


curt-clinkinbeard-staffBy Curt Clinkinbeard, Executive Director

The FAMEE Foundation



There is a discussion that has circulated among business owners and their advisors for some time. It talks about the risk of growing your business too quickly.


The discussion usually starts with an overly eager entrepreneur who is pushing and pushing for growth. When someone says “jump,” they say, “I can jump higher.” When they say “run fast,” this entrepreneur says, “I can run the fastest.” They are aggressive and plan to knock down any wall put in front of them.


“Doubt me,” they say, “it will only motivate me more. I will prove any of the naysayers wrong!”


You get the picture. This might be you or you might know people like this.


Then our aggressive entrepreneur meets up with an intelligent, but much more conservative person. This can be an advisor, their accountant, a mentor, or even just their crazy Uncle Frank. Our conservative friend, showing their intelligence says, “You know, you had better be careful. You can actually grow yourself right out of business. Be careful what you ask for.”


So is that true? Can you really grow yourself out of business? And who is right in this scenario, the conservative naysayer or the over-caffeinated optimist?


Truthfully, they are both right.


Let’s start with the more conservative view: that you can grow your business so fast that you drive  yourself out of business. While there are multiple challenges that can accompany growth, the primary concern our conservative friend typically has is a cash crunch associated with rapid growth.


Many entrepreneurs are surprised to find how tight they are on cash, even if the business is growing AND profitable; it just runs counter to logic that this would happen. When a business is very profitable and you can maintain the profitability with growth, wouldn’t you want to?


Yes, you would, but here is where the rub comes into play. If your business has either inventory or carries accounts receivable (both assets which show up on a company’s balance sheet), then as the sales go up, the amount of inventory and receivables often go up in direct proportion. And while these assets do not seem like they would directly consume cash, they do. (And how!)


If your company has inventory and accounts receivable, it is important that you (a) plan for revenue growth and the associated asset investments that accompany and plan for any cash consumption this will require and plan on how to support it (versus being surprised by it) and, (b) monitor it closely. One thing that often catches people by surprise is how rapidly both receivables and inventory can “creep” with growth. It’s almost like they are silent cash eating monsters. If you have them, you need to plan for them.


So, yes, you actually can grow yourself out of business.


But flipping over to our aggressive friend’s perspective, you can also STARVE yourself out of business. Not having enough revenues and margins to support the company and the growth it desires can also kill a company.  (It is my experience that many more businesses starve themselves to death than grow themselves to death, but it is not as exciting to talk about because this is actually an intuitive thought.) I will also toss this into the equation, if it weren’t for the aggressive entrepreneurs in the world, great things would take a lot longer to materialize and the “push” the world sometimes needs just wouldn’t be there. So their urgency is important and serves a key role.


The entrepreneur usually also has a keen sense of “if I do not seize this opportunity, someone else will”  and, thus, has an incredible urgency to get into the market and carver out their position.  Our conservative friend is not bothered by this as much as our aggressive one.


So the rumor is real. But you need to take with a grain of salt – and you can certainly go too far the other way (growing too slow). My suggestion? Have plans to grow as aggressively as you want to and reasonably believe that your business can. But go into it with “eyes wide open” and run some intelligent numbers  / projections on how your cash will be impacted by dramatic growth, particularly if you have AR’s and inventories. If you show massive amounts of cash drain, be sure you have the capital resources in place BEFORE you run into the cash crunches.


Life is full of paradoxes  - and this may be yet another. Push forward with the passion of the aggressive entrepreneur, but with the wisdom and forward looking problem solving of someone more conservative. Have your cake – and eat it too!





Curt Clinkinbeard, is the Executive Director of The FAMEE Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs “advance marketing excellence” and build profitable revenue streams. More information on their free small business marketing programs can be found at http://www.famee.org.