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MusicTry to imagine the world without music.

Life would not be nearly as rich or enjoyable. And, of course, you'd have no need for your favorite dancin' pants.

Music is tremendously important to human beings (including your customers) for many reasons, but among its greatest values is its ability to affect our mood in a positive way. You can see evidence of this at concerts and high school dances, and in the faces of people listening to their favorite songs. (Learn more about the marketing benefits of music.)

You can also witness the power of music at nursing homes and rehabilitation centers where music is used to lift the spirits of residents and patients. In the summer 2008 issue of The Director, a magazine for administrators at long-term care facilities, Ed Newman wrote:

Activity directors and nursing professionals at hospitals and nursing homes have long recognized the role music plays in their patients' care. According to Brian Rife, Activity Director at the Rehab and Nursing Center in Monroe, N.C., music can play an important role in healing.

"Often residents in nursing home settings become depressed and withdrawn. An activity department has such a huge responsibility to help these individuals through different types of pleasant and meaningful activities. One element that we use here is music," Rife explained.

"You can go into a resident's room and play some type of uplifting song and they become alive with joy. It's amazing how music impacts our lives on a daily basis. Music just makes you feel good when nothing else will."

Music is essential for creating the right mood within your business too, whether it's a small town retirement facility or a major hospital; a local clothing shop or a regional chain of grocery stores.

Not only does music put your customers and staff in a better frame of mind - a state they may subconsciously associate with being in your office or store - it can be used to connect with your target audience and solidify your brand image.

Click here for a few facts and figures about the benefits of music.

Read "Music: Food for the Soul and Good for Business"

Jerry Brown still doesn't like talking about the years he spent as one of four conjoined quadruplets, or the farming accident that brought about their abrupt separation. "Finding turtlenecks with four head holes was really tough," he recalls with obvious pain, "but it was nice to always have three fellas to tell your troubles to."

You'll learn about other aspects of the BusinessVoice president's life when you read his interview in the October issue of Toledo Business Review.

By the way, Harry, Larry and Barry Brown - Jerry's once-connected brothers - all work on separate elephant farms in the Niagara Falls area. "We still get together a few times a year," says Jerry. "Well, we don't actually get together. You know what I mean."

In marketing, we’re frequently presented with the task of achieving more bang for less buck, especially during a slower economy. And whether we’re actually in a recession or not, in our current economic state, it’s only natural that business owners are concerned about their bottom lines. But a slow economy is no reason to slash your marketing budget. It’s time to attack.

In a post at the Stopwatch Marketing blog, John Rosen lays out a plan for burying your competition, a helpful do’s-and-don’ts list rife with successful and not-so-successful examples from previous economic slowdowns, and sage advice to live by:

While slowdowns can be scary and painful, they also have salutary effects. They force companies to refocus efforts on strategies that genuinely build businesses and powerful brands. For those who accept this challenge and make the right choices, slowdowns can be a period of growth and success.

I was inspired by this piece from Jacquelyn Ottman. She's the founder of J. Ottman Consulting, "a marketing and new products firm committed to meeting consumer needs sustainability."

It seems that, sometimes, we Americans can forget what we're capable of doing. During presidential election season, for instance, we invest so much hope in our candidate, as if he or she is the lone messiah capable of leading us to the promised land.

But, the fact is, the solutions to our problems are in all of us, not just one leader. In her article, Ottman writes that we, as marketers, can have a huge effect not only on how people perceive our environmental issues, but how they will be addressed. She shows that we don't need to wait for a single scientist to come up with the big answers to our climate and energy questions, but that you and other marketers - yes, marketers - can make a difference in a million different ways.

Please read it, then apply your imagination to your own sustainability questions.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008 06:06

Welcome To The Age Of Commitment

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Has the time come to adjust the thought process behind your business plan?

My first job after college in 1973 was in the semiconductor industry. My second job was selling computer supplies door to door in New York City. When I think back on that time in my life, I realize that it was pretty simple. We had no cell phones or e-mail, and only substantial companies could afford computers. The only way to grow my client base was to organize my prospect list and knock on doors. In the 1970s, the way we sold was very personal: door to door, face to face.

Fast forward 35 years. The information age, supercharged by the birth of the Internet, has consumed us. We are inundated with thousands of e-mails every month, computers call us on the telephone, and there are hundreds of channels available via cable and satellite. Information is everywhere - in our cars, on our cell phones, laptops, desktops, and PDAs.

Acquiring information is no longer a problem, which also means that the ability to do so does not represent a competitive advantage. So, it’s safe to state that the communications infrastructure has been built, and the Information Age is over.

My claim is that the Age of Commitment is now here and, in a way, we’ve come full circle. To clarify, if you have all the information you need to run a business and the same is true for your competitors, customers and prospects, the playing field is level. The thing to do now is work on building more meaningful, long-term relationships, just like we did in the 1970s and for many generations prior.

The quality of the relationships you develop and nurture with people is still the most important piece of the business puzzle. It always has been. Most of us have just been a little too distracted by the flash and fast pace of the computer revolution to remember that.

Succeeding in the Age of Commitment requires that you learn all you can about the nature of commitment and what it takes to truly serve your current and prospective customers. It’s that commitment that will help you succeed in this new age.

Guest blogger Dan Molloy heads Molloy Business Development Group and has created a series of very unique and effective training programs designed to improve sales and leadership competencies. To learn more about Language Of Commitment training, call 866/473-9000.

I love subs. Those five-dollar footlong subs. But the last time I went to the nearby five-dollar-footlong-sub store (the one named for an underground train), they were all out of tuna fish.

The last TWO times I stopped in they were out of green peppers. And during my last THREE visits there were no onions in the joint.

Frustrating? You bet! Especially when you’re a tuna / green pepper / onions sorta’ fella like yours truly. But what really toasted my bread was that, each time, the “sandwich artists” who broke the bad news to me could not have demonstrated less concern over my customer experience. In fact, they were borderline rude about it.

Now, I understand that on the list of the world’s real problems, my onion-free subs barely crack the top five. But if you own a sub shop - or any other business, for that matter - it should be mighty important to you that your employees not only empathize with your customers when things go wrong, but that they're empowered to take a step toward making things right, even if that step is merely offering a sincere apology.

This latest brush with employee apathy - and the resulting damage to the sub chain’s brand equity - reminded me of a recent blog post from Drew McLellan. The subject was “Where should business owners invest their money in 2009?" Drew writes:

As business owners and leaders look back on ‘08 and either shudder at the memory or exhale a sigh of relief that they survived it, it’s easy to assume that the plan going forward should be to lower prices or cut the marketing budget. The reality is, both of those are the wrong answer.

Cutting prices and slashing your marketing budget will only put you deeper in the hole as the economy rights itself. So what should you do with your money for ‘09? Spend it on your employees.

Make sure they understand your brand, your brand promise and how you want them to treat your customers. Don’t hold an annual meeting where you devote 5 minutes and a PowerPoint slide to your brand. I’m talking make an investment. A real investment. Talk about how you want your brand to come alive every week. In managers’ meetings, on all staff retreats, in your HR reviews. Make it a part of your interview process, your exit interviews and everything in between.

How much time do you spend on how each and every employee delivers on the brand promise in your new employee orientation? At Disney, no matter what position you are hired for, from street sweeper to a manager of a division, the first thing you’d do is attend a 3-day orientation that talks about absolutely nothing except the Disney brand and how you, the new recruit, are expected to carry on that tradition.

Think about it. Who interacts with your customers? When your customer has a concern or a complaint, who deals with them? Especially in an economic time when every client matters and you can’t afford to lose any ground, isn’t this the year you should earmark some of your marketing dollars for the very people who deliver your brand every day?"

Tuesday, 26 August 2008 07:33

All Marketers Are Liars

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No, this isn’t a rant about ethics. The provocative title is that of a fascinating book by Seth Godin that offers a different approach to success in marketing. Simply stated, Godin thinks that the best marketing tells the right story about a product or service to fit the consumer’s view of life. You’re not being untruthful, just very subjective about how you position yourself. He calls this kind of storytelling “lying,” but he smiles when he says it.

In a companion piece to the 2005 serialization of the book in Fortune Small Business Magazine, Godin says the best marketers use compelling stories that are authentic and original:

"Marketers (and all human beings) are well trained to follow the leader. The natural instinct is to figure out what's working for the competition and then try to outdo it - to be cheaper than your competitor who competes on price, or faster than the competitor who competes on speed.

The problem is that once a consumer has bought someone else's story and believes that lie, persuading the consumer to switch is the same as persuading him to admit he was wrong. And people hate admitting that they're wrong. Instead, you must tell a different story and persuade listeners that your story is more important than the story they currently believe. If your competition is faster, you must be cheaper. If they sell the story of health, you must sell the story of convenience. Not just the positioning x/y axis sort of "We are cheaper" claim, but a real story that is completely different from the story that's already being told."

When it comes to your marketing, are you simply following the lead of others in your field? Could you create a unique story about why customers or clients need and want your product or service? Marketing like this can help you stand out from the competition. And that’s no lie.

Monday, 11 August 2008 12:51

In The Know

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Reading: it's something you learned to do a long time ago. (I can barely remember learning the alphabet and how to sound out difficult words.) When I was a kid, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were some of my favorite characters. I would stay up late at night, hiding under my covers with a flashlight just so I could finish one more chapter about them.

That enthusiasm waned a bit as I got older. Magazines replaced books and television replaced newspapers. But reading is important, and not just for enjoyment. It's important for success on the job too.

Think about your industry. How do you find out about trends or breaking news? Where do you turn to learn about new technology or applications? Do you have clients? How do you learn about what's happening in their industries?

In our office, nearly everyone subscribes to several e-newsletters. Some are about marketing, like AdAge and MarketingProfs; others have a telecommunications focus. We also subscribe to client-specific items, such as health and sciences RSS feeds for our healthcare clients, or FMI Daily Lead to keep abreast of changes in the supermarket industry.

A quick Internet search can yield a lot of great information, and most of it's free. And don't forget about the blogs! Your peers, clients, and even your competitiors are writing content that you should be reading. Yes, reading takes time, but the reward is being well-informed, and that puts you and your company in a better position to succeed. Build some time into your day for reading. Peruse industry blogs while you enjoy your first cup of coffee, or scan newsletters for pertinent headlines before you zip off to lunch. 

In a recent article and marketing tip we cautioned against greenwashing, the practice of overstating a product's or company's positive impact on the environment. Here's more on the subject from a piece in the New York Times:

"With everyone from oil companies to dishwasher makers to banks trotting out their environmental credentials, complaints about greenwashing, or misleading consumers about a product's environmental benefits, have risen. The Advertising Standards Authority, an industry-financed group that monitors ad content in Britain, said it had received 561 complaints from consumers about green claims in 410 ads in 2007, up from 117 complaints about 83 ads the year before.

As regulators work out their response, bloggers and other Internet critics have already started to expose what they see as greenwash advertising. According to Mike Lawrence, executive vice president for corporate responsibility at Cone, a brand strategy agency in Boston, the problem occurs when marketers make exaggerated claims about a product's attributes, which may be fine when selling toothpaste or vacations. Most people probably know that the toothpaste will not actually make their teeth sparkle or help them get a date. But when a company says its product will improve the environment, consumers can sense if the claim is puffed up, Mr. Lawrence said.

"This can really backfire with environmental advertising," he said. To address this problem, agencies are advising marketers to avoid vague and unsubstantiated claims - the kind that bloggers and other critics are quick to pounce on. Instead, they suggest pointing to a specific step the advertiser has taken or asking consumers to take a small but concrete action. For example, Procter & Gamble, which makes laundry detergent, has been running a campaign in Britain that urges consumers to conserve energy by washing clothing at 86 degrees Fahrenheit rather than at higher temperatures."

How many business cards have you thrown away over the years? More importantly, how many of yours do you suppose got pitched five minutes after you handed them out?

Make your card worth keeping. Add useful information or a valuable feature to it. On the flip side, print a coupon good for 15% off a purchase, details on how to get a free inspection or service review, or instructions for entering your monthly online drawing. Add a map to your location, tips on product usage, a common industry chart or anything else that will give your customers and prospects a reason to keep and refer to your card often.

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