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Coronavirus Opportunity for Change

A few months ago, I read a blog post targeted at people who work in radio. The writer focused on how the listening audience's options had evolved in recent years and that people no longer rely on radio as much as they once did.

So, he urged, it was time for the medium to adapt.

As a former radio guy myself, I know it used to be quite common for DJs to ignore incoming phone calls from listeners. They'd let the request line ring because there were too many other things to do while on the air or because, frankly, they didn't want to make the effort to talk with callers.

But now that radio has lost audience share to podcasts, audio books and streaming music services, each listener has become even more important.

The writer of the blog post suggested that instead of ignoring the phone or quickly dismissing callers in order to move onto another task, today's DJs should embrace the opportunity to communicate with the people who keep them in business. They should take the time to ask questions of their listeners, find out which types of music they prefer, learn how they like to spend their free time.

In other words, the DJs should connect with their audience on a personal level and strengthen those "customer" relationships in a way that music apps and satellite feeds can't.

Your business - and how consumers rely on you - may be changing, too.

Due to COVID-19, customers might be locked out of your store right now. Maybe they won't be able to enjoy a meal in your restaurant for the foreseeable future. As a result, they might look for temporary alternatives. Or, they might realize they can do without you.

Yes, the marketplace has shifted dramatically in only a matter of weeks, but with that shift comes an opportunity for positive change.

How will you adapt?

Will you dare brush off a customer (or even a potential customer) ever again or tolerate employees who do? Or will you re-asses your commitment to customer service and provide the consistent training every staff needs?

Or, better yet, can you choose to think of this fracture in your company's timeline as a beginning? Could you seize this opportunity to build a new foundation, one that would support the type of business you've always wanted to run? A company that exists to provide the ideal customer experience? A group of people that inspires loyalty from its employees and buyers? An organization that's the envy of others in your industry?

This is a chance to start over - to whatever extent you want.

What will you do with that chance?

Thinking Strategically About Coronavirus 1

Companies always need problem solvers - people who can react effectively to tough, unusual or unexpected situations; people who can adapt to changing conditions.

So, if you're a college student who's graduating soon or you're already working but considering a job change, think strategically now about your response to the coronavirus. Then, you'll be prepared for questions like these:

  • How did you make the most of your last few months at school, despite the interruption to classes? What did you do to continue your education or build your professional network?

  • Did you come up with any ideas to help your current company respond to specific challenges during the outbreak?

  • How did you invest your time while quarantined? Which skills did you develop? Did you take on any pro bono or passion projects?

  • Can you provide examples of how you demonstrated leadership? Ingenuity? Courage?

  • What did you do to help others in your workplace? Your neighborhood?

In other words, how did you make the best of this tough, unusual, unexpected situation?

Your answer to that question could go a long way toward proving your unique value as a problem solver.

Preparing for a Post Pandemic World

I ordered some take-out from Waffle House yesterday because 1) I love Waffle House and 2) Did I mention I love Waffle House?

When I walked in, I noticed that the place was spotless!

I asked the waitress how many people had been in that day. “You’re the third,” she said.

The restaurant was immaculate because the waitress had time she wouldn’t normally have to dedicate to deep cleaning.

In a previous post, we encouraged you to look for opportunities to reach out to those affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Now may also be the perfect time to look inward to strengthen your company.

If you spent your pre-pandemic workdays serving customers, it’s understandable that you and your staff may have neglected your brand’s needs over the years. But the government-mandated closings and social distancing that have temporarily driven away customers also allow you the chance to re-train your staff, bring in experts to sharpen their skills, and elevate your commitment to an exceptional buying experience by defining your expectations of employees.

A few more suggestions...

Consider your brand. How might you need to tweak or refresh it for a post-corona world? Use this time to create a proper marketing calendar, re-design or punch up your website, write and schedule blog content with a strong perspective, or think of how you might use video more effectively. (We can help you with all of those.)

Conduct an audit of your operations, re-evaluate your vendors and supply chain, or consider the efficiency of your building’s floorplan.

Increase your recruiting efforts. There could be a lot of people looking for work or a new direction in the wake of COVID-19. Put in the effort now to get your company firing on all cylinders and it’ll be a more attractive option for top talent.

Prepare to tell your story. Once this is all over, use your marketing content to let customers, prospects and potential hires know how this moment in time made you better, leaner, smarter and ready to take on future challenges.

Investing in your own brand right now - while you have the time - could pay huge dividends once the coronavirus blows over. Embrace this temporary slowdown as a chance to get your own (Waffle) house in order.

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Digital Marketing Response to COVID 19

Yes, COVID-19 is affecting the walk-in traffic of many brick-and-mortar businesses, but you can adjust your online strategy and content to limit the pandemic's effect on your digital marketing.

Check out these tips from MadAveGroup’s Digital Marketing Strategist Nathan Steinmetz.

Social Media
• If necessary, update your business hours on all your social pages.
• If you’ve canceled or postponed events or appointments, let your followers know how and when you’ll be re-scheduling.
• Double-check your scheduled posts and paid social ads to make sure their tone is still appropriate. A fun post promoting St. Patrick’s Day, for instance, may not be the best idea right now.
• Share the steps your business is taking to keep your staff and customers safe. Highlight any actions that are different from those listed by other companies.
• Consider using social media to urge your followers to support your community. Provide links to fundraisers, promote local businesses that are still open, etc.

Email Marketing
• Email your clients, prospects, staff and subscribers with information on your updated hours, closings, cancellations and how to re-schedule appointments.
• Are some or all your employees working from home? Alert your customers in advance if there’s a chance of communication delays or a reduction in the quality of the service you provide. Re-establish your buyers’ expectations before problems arise related to your staff's telecommuting.

Website
• Add a page that includes details on any changes to your business: new hours, closings and cancellations, the extra precautions you’re taking, etc. Then, add a banner to your most popular pages to direct visitors to that new coronavirus information.
• Create blog posts on how your business is making a difference during the crisis. Showcase how you’re helping others and the unique solutions you’ve developed to serve your customers.

Local Listings
• If necessary, update your Google My Business pages and any other local listings pages to show your adjusted hours.
• Use Google My Business messaging to share information related to closings, adjusted hours, re-scheduling appointments, etc.

All Digital Advertising
• Re-evaluate any ads you’re running. Make sure the copy and tone are appropriate, considering the current climate.
• Depending on your company’s financial situation, consider increasing, decreasing or pausing current ad campaigns until the crisis is over.

General
• Virtually everyone’s routine has been disrupted and will continue to be for many weeks. Consider how this new reality will affect people’s online behaviors and motivations. For example:

  • Many people will be home without as much to do, so they may be spending more time online.
  • Those same people may be using mobile devices from home, rather than the desktop computer they use at work. Is your site mobile-friendly?
  • Certain people trying to be even more productive while working at home may tackle projects they haven’t previously had time for. Do they need your products, software, online lessons or other services?
  • Similarly, businesses experiencing a slow-down may be able to dedicate time to projects they’ve put off in the past and may now need your expertise.

Let us know if we can help you with any of these adjustments.  

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Coronavirus Opportunities

“There is always a little bit of heaven in a disaster area.”

If you’re a fan of the 1970 concert film Woodstock, you may remember that quote from Wavy Gravy, one of the event’s stage announcers.

I was reminded of the line after reading about a Michigan restaurant that’s offering free boxed lunches to kids whose schools have closed due to coronavirus.

And I’m absolutely certain I’ll see many more stories like it in the weeks to come.

Because that’s what Americans do.

As politically divided as we are, as enraged as we become when we’re cut off in traffic, as petty as we can be in response to an opposing point of view on Facebook, we step up when our neighbors need help.

That’s how we respond.

But this thing that’s going around now - this may be different.

It’s not an earthquake or hurricane that affects a small portion of the country. It’s not a workplace shooting that devastates “only” one town. This thing may touch all of us. Or get close, anyway.

And given that “social distancing” is the best protection we’ve got right now, it’s understandable that our first reaction might be to run from each other.

But, as is so often the case, this moment in time is an opportunity to come together. The only question is "how?" 

It may start with identifying a need in your own neighborhood or town, just as the folks at that Michigan restaurant did. 

So, stay open to the ways you can make a difference; how you and your company can help, not for the profit of it, but because you’re a member of the human community.  

Coronavirus may fizzle out as quickly as it came, or it may prove to be a serious concern for decades. We don’t know right now. But we do know we need people with ideas and companies with resources to provide that little bit of heaven during this disaster.

Wednesday, 04 March 2020 10:27

It's Not Just a Truck

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Wash the Truck

The bread truck I followed for a few miles today was filthy.

I get it - just because the picture of the bread on the truck was covered in road grime doesn’t mean the bread inside the truck was. But the dirty truck did nothing to inspire confidence in the product.

And it certainly didn’t present the bread in the best possible light. It’s hard for bread to look delicious, after all, when it’s veiled in a thick layer of crud.

Yes, it’s an effort to wash a fleet of trucks, but when they also serve as giant mobile billboards for your product, the trucks should be clean. That's because they’re more than just delivery vehicles - they’re representations of your brand. They say something about you and your attention to detail and how much you care.

The same goes for the people who wear your company’s uniform or talk with customers via your company’s phones.

Look for the opportunities. Invest in the training. Improve the interaction. Create the better experience.

Wash the truck.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019 16:59

The Grand Difference

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Free Coke 1

It’s the season of gift-giving, but we have a client that gives gifts nearly every day of the year.

Grand Home Furnishings is a 19-store furniture and mattress retailer with locations in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee.

Since 1953, they’ve given a free 8-ounce glass bottle of Coke to everyone who walks through their doors.

It started as a nice gesture; a way to thank people for coming to the opening of their new location. But the gift was so well-received by the thousands of people who stopped in that first weekend that management decided to hand out free Coke every day at every store.

Now, Grand Home Furnishings gives away more than 1,300,000 bottles each year!

You might think that represents a huge expense, but the people at Grand Home Furnishings don’t. To them it’s a worthwhile investment.

  • It’s a tangible way to say “welcome.”
  • It’s the daily perpetuation of a charming seven-decade tradition.
  • It’s an easy way to put a smile on a visitor’s face and maybe even begin a long-term relationship.
  • It’s a unique branding tool that helps the company stand out, not just among their direct competitors, but among all stores in the markets they serve.

And if those positives lead to a sale - or many sales over the years - then the modest cost per bottle is a small price to pay for the acquisition of a customer.

Grand Home FurnishingsHere’s what Grand’s founder George Cartledge, Sr. said about the ongoing giveaway. "Let me emphasize how important it is to give out Cokes with enthusiasm and a smile. Don't ask customers if they want a Coke; greet them and hand them a Coke when they walk in. It puts them at ease. Our image has been created by the Cokes we give away.”

Mr. Cartledge continued, “Remember, when a customer walks in our door, they are doing us a favor and we should treat them special. Of all the things we do, handing out Cokes is one of the most important. It is the best advertising we can get."

“It's no different than when someone comes into your home,” said Grand’s Director of Advertising, Mike Virok. “You offer them something to drink.”

In the spirit of appreciation, what can you give to the people who come to your store or visit you online?

Sure, you could hand out promotional items that relate to your main service. Or you might partner with a neighboring or complementary company to promote their brand by sharing samples of their products with your customers while they do the same for you.

You don’t need to give a physical item, though. Could you provide easy, free access to your new research on every page of your website? Maybe a no-charge review, check-up or audit? Or are you willing to offer a commitment as human and meaningful as eye contact, a handshake, and your undivided attention?

Wednesday, 20 November 2019 08:04

Forbes Forum: Brand - Part 3

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Brand Building

My series of posts featuring answers to questions posed by the Forbes Agency Council continues. The theme of this article: brand. 

Question: A big part of growing your personal brand includes public speaking. In your experience, what’s one important element that all professionals should incorporate into their speech to make it more memorable and impactful?

Answer: If one of your goals is to build your personal brand, you'll want audience members to look for more of your thoughts after your speech, and then follow you online. So, pack your presentations with engaging content, but keep them shorter, so they feel like just a taste of what you have to offer. That can encourage people to actively seek more of your unique perspective.

Question: Just because a brand isn’t involved with a public-facing crisis doesn’t mean times aren’t tough. What’s one way for a brand to seem authentic even when the company isn’t doing particularly well?

Answer: The best way to "seem" authentic is to BE authentic. When you're always truthful and transparent, you never have to worry about coming clean if something goes wrong. If the things your brand "says" and "does" are legitimate representations of who you are as people, you're acknowledging that "we aren't for everyone," but those who identify with your message are likely to stick by you as customers.

Question: Recent grads are beginning to develop their personal brand to differentiate themselves in the competitive workforce. What’s your top tip for personal branding?

Answer: The part about a personal brand that really matters is the "personal" part. There's only one you, so don't squelch whatever passions burn inside of you. Pursue the work that matters to you, while presenting yourself in your own unique way. You may not be right for everybody, but you're going to be perfect for somebody. Maybe a lot of somebodies. And that's likely where you'll find fulfillment.

Content Creation Part 3

I have an opportunity each month to answer marketing-related questions for the Forbes Agency Council. Thoughts from council members are then published at Forbes.com. This blog post is the fifth in a series featuring a few of my responses to those Forbes questions. The theme: Content Creation.

Question: It's one of the top goals of any company's marketing campaign - a strong, unique voice that unmistakably belongs to and reflects their brand and puts them top of mind with consumers. What's one way companies can create and cultivate a strong voice for their brand?

Answer: A brand's message can get watered down with marketing-speak or when trying to appeal to everyone or offend no one. If there's a leader in your company who talks in a bold, no-nonsense way about your mission and your customers, pattern your marketing content after his or her communication style. It'll likely be perceived as unique because it's so personal. It'll also ring true with your audience.

Question: Whether it's topic, venue, voice or other factors, what's your best tip for writing content that will have a long shelf life?

Answer: Yes, hot topics can attract lots of eyeballs immediately, but they can also quickly fade in relevance. If you've been doing what you do for many years, you've likely learned many valuable lessons along the way. They may be simple, foundational truths that we all need to be reminded of from time to time. As blog posts, those truths can serve both your current audience and future readers.

Question: User-generated content in the form of reviews can be one of the most powerful and effective marketing tools, but it can be hard to get happy customers to take the time to write it. What's one clever method a business can use to persuade customers to post a review?

Answer: We've worked with clients who seem almost embarrassed to ask for reviews. But when consumers are excited about a buying experience, they often want to share their opinions. So, encourage that. When someone is happy at the point of sale, ask them to share their feelings on social, a review site or with an email. Everyone wants to feel like their thoughts matter. Let your customers know theirs do.

Question: A blog can position a company or brand as an industry leader and attractive potential business partner. What's one piece of advice your client should adhere to when launching a blog to highlight their brand?

Answer: Your blog doesn't have to be about your brand directly in order to benefit your brand. If your posts are just thinly veiled ads for your company, no one will read them. So, tell stories about your customers and industry, your personal experiences, even odd topics that support your brand story. The goal of your blog should be to provide your readers with valuable insight and a unique perspective. 

Chicago Marathon Start

I’m not a runner. Never have been. But for the hour that I watched last weekend’s 2019 Chicago Marathon from the streets of my daughter’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, I was completely drawn into the event.

I’d never seen anything like it: an endless stream of determined people running through a chilly Sunday morning. And most seemed in remarkably good spirits at mile 10. (I'm drained and cranky after driving ten miles.)

Later, I learned that more than 45,000 people ran the race and that 1.7 million spectators lined the route to cheer them on.

It was truly inspiring. The marathoners. Their friends and family who turned out in support. The planning and cooperation and logistics of it all. I was in awe.

Funny Chicago Marathon SignAnd yet, I had to laugh when I saw several young women holding signs that ran counter to the many messages of encouragement. One of the signs simply asked, “Why?”

“Why?” is a funny question when posed to long-distance runners, but it also made me wonder: why would a person - let alone 45,000 people - put themselves through the tremendous struggle of running a marathon?

As a non-runner, I may be going out on a limb, but I’ll suggest the “why” is at least partly about a story. Or maybe several stories.

It might be a story about other people: I’m running for my sick mom. I do it to feel closer to my late friend who was a lifelong runner. I run to raise money for people who can’t run.

It might be the story the runners tell themselves: I can do this. I can beat this. I am strong enough.

Or running marathons may be one way they define themselves: I am an athlete. I conquer obstacles. I don’t stop until the race - literal or figurative - is won.

Whether you run or not, you can likely identify with some of those feelings. Your career or your business has had to endure challenges and uphill battles, or times when you wanted to quit or thought you couldn’t make it. Maybe you even wondered “why am I doing this?”

How did you get through?

The answer to that question is a story you can tell.

In your marketing content, share what you learned about yourself or your company during those tough times. How did adversity make you lean or hone your team’s skills or help you evolve into a better partner?

In what ways did pushing through the pain give you unique insight or change your perspective?

And how can you present your story in a way that inspires your audience and allows them to appreciate you and your efforts on an entirely different level?

(Photo Credit: Top image from ChicagoMarathon.com)

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