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Aim High and Over-deliver

Have you ever quoted a job but found when you actually got into the work that you had significantly underestimated?  That can be a painful predicament (and do it too often and you’ll put yourself out of business!)  You might be tempted to go back on your quote, or worse – take shortcuts or skimp on the work.  It may lead you to adopt the mindset to always under-promise to ensure you don’t get in over your head again.

I prefer to aim high.  Promise as much as you can and then give a little bit more.  It takes extra effort and sacrifice to get it done right, but it provides a great opportunity to deliver on your promise.  That will build trust.  Trust is the most valuable currency you can acquire these days, and there is no better way to build trust than by delivering on your word.  Even better – over-deliver.  Give more.  Do more.  Surprise and delight your customer.  Give them a reason to brag about you to their friends.  Sometimes you will fall short, but you will come out a winner in the end.

Winning

“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” -Vince Lombardi

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” -Lyndon B. Johnson 

“No matter if you win or lose, the most important thing in life is to enjoy what you have.” -Dong Dong

“Win or lose, do it fairly.” -Knute Rockne

The above quotes seemed fitting as we are in the middle of World Cup frenzy and let’s not forget Wimbledon and of course our own rat races. The real question is, though, does winning really matter? For me, I think it’s situational and for so much of life, there’s no clear win or lose scenario.

Take your job for instance. What are you winning? Hopefully a paycheck, but beyond that, what else? A promotion, perhaps? Or do you just consider yourself a winner when you bite your tongue or grin and bear it? Or maybe you consider yourself a winner because of the experience and skills you are gaining.

What about your personal life? What does winning mean there? Is it finding your soul mate? Or perhaps losing weight? Or maybe that you just were able to put one foot in front of the other and breathe?

I’m sure at different times in your life, what it means to win changes significantly based on situation and circumstance. Perhaps it would be best to take a step back and look at the current state of our lives, whether personal or business or both, and look at the whole situation before we judge whether we are winning or losing.

And if all else fails- “Win or lose, we go shopping after the election.” -Imelda Marcos

Triple Crown

It’s that time of year again. I’m not talking about summer, even though that is fabulous news, especially considering the brutal winter most of us experienced. No, I’m talking about horse racing. Yep, a week from this Saturday will be the final leg of the Triple Crown Series, The Belmont Stakes. What makes it even more exciting this year is that California Chrome has won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and is favored to win The Belmont Stakes, and thus the Triple Crown. It has been thirty six years since Affirmed, the last Triple Crown winner, took that honor. There have been eleven other horses since then that have won the first two races but failed at Belmont.

I find it interesting that in all the articles I’ve read about the race, they don’t mention any of the previous eleven contenders by name. And if California Chrome loses, he will just become the twelfth, no name, just a number. I get that it would be probably a waste of time and space to name each of the previous contenders, but it’s kind of sad that though they won two great races, they are unworthy of mention by name because they failed in that third and final race.

As people, that’s how we think though. We are only as good as our last race or perhaps our last accomplishment. That would be really depressing if that were true. Just like in horse racing, there are many factors at play other than our skills and abilities. Many horse racing experts are saying if California Chrome doesn’t win, it will be because he was unlucky. He currently outshines his competition and if he runs like he has the ability to, he will win. But if he loses, he will rarely be mentioned as a double stakes winner, he will be known as the twelfth loser that has come up short since 1978.

Believe me, I’m all for being a winner whenever possible, but sometimes there are factors out of our control and it doesn’t mean we’re losers just because we can’t win every race. Case in point, my daughter who was a straight A student in high school just finished her freshman year at one of the most difficult and prestigious universities in the nation. She felt like a failure for the straight B’s she brought home, where her dad and I couldn’t have been prouder of her. She did her best and she gained not only knowledge, but experience that will be valuable to her as she continues her education and as she makes her way through life.

So, best wishes to California Chrome and congratulations on your Double Stakes win. And just for fun, here is a list of those eleven previous Double Stakes winners since 1978.

  • Spectacular Bid
  • Pleasant Colony
  • Alysheba
  • Sunday Silence
  • Silver Charm
  • Real Quiet
  • Charismatic
  • War Emblem
  • Funny Cide
  • Smarty Jones
  • Big Brown

Why do you race?

May is a month of races.  Horse races (two thirds of the Triple Crown happened this month – go California Chrome!), car races (the 98th Indianapolis 500 took place over Memorial Day weekend with an American winning for the first time since 2006), and running races.  The 35th annual Cotton Row Run took place this week right here in Huntsville, and I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the 10K race.

Did I win? Nope. Did I have a chance? Not even close.  It was humid, it was crowded, at times it was painful, and in the end I lost not only to all the pro runners that came but also to an 8-year-old girl. So why race?

The race was not with the 8-year-old or anyone else in the crowd.  The race was with myself.

I ran my first 10K in May 2013. I trained for that race for 4 months and ended up with my fastest recorded time for that distance and 1st place in my age group.  When I ran my next 10K in August that year, it was a bigger race, I had not trained as well, it was a hotter day, and I ran significantly slower (and subsequently did not place).  But did I give up racing? No way!  It took a little longer to get ready for the next one, but this week I ran in my third 10K.  I still am not back to the speed of that first race, but I accomplished my goal for this race: to beat my last 10K time and leave it all on the course.  Mission accomplished!

With customers I think a similar mindset is helpful.  Yes, you have to compete with others out there vying for your customers’ and potential customers’ business the same as you are.  The great advantage you have with your customers is just that: they are already your customers.  They have already picked you. So in the race to keep your current customers, the goal is less about beating out the competition as it is about beating yourself – giving more than you gave last time, offering a better deal, a better rate, better service; in short, delivering an experience/product/service as good as or better than you did previously.  With that kind of attitude and effort you are bound to win in the end!

So why do you race?

Finding Your Target Audience

It is easy to understand that when you make the right offer to the right person at the right time, you’re going to get a sale—and thus it stands to reason that if you can avoid making an offer to the wrong person or at the wrong time, you will save effort and money. This is why effective targeting is the holy grail of marketing.

But there are many marketers who have not been convinced of the power of targeting, mostly because they haven’t seen it done effectively.

Effective targeting is much like anything else in life: you get out of it what you put into it. There are easy ways to target, but they are almost always much less effective. Proper targeting takes effort and often money as well.

If you have a brick and mortar presence as a part of your product offering, then the first thing you should consider is where people live in relation to your locations. Even if you already have a relationship with the individual, their proximity to your establishment should be a factor in any marketing messages you present to them—no matter which channel. To do this, you will need their address. With this you can get a distance calculation. Some are comfortable getting a straight line distance, one that tells you how far they live from your nearest location, as the crow flies. Often this is enough. However, for some, getting a driving distance can actually make a difference. The driving distance may be miles further than a straight line distance would indicate.

Then you need to know your products and the people who buy them. Will your given product appeal best to a younger audience or an older one? The easy way is to make this decision yourself, but if it’s a product you’ve had for a while, or comparable to one you’ve had for a while, then if you have age information on your customers, you can do a deeper analysis and either confirm or reject your gut based determination. Using additional demographic information such as educational level, income level, household makeup (married, single, children present, etc.) and others can fine tune your demographic based targeting.

Another method you can use to find your target audience is to look at the products they’ve bought in the past. Doing an analysis of all your purchasers and all of their products can give you a “people who bought this also bought that”. Look for people who have similar purchase histories but are missing the product you’re looking to market, and market it to them.

And last, but not least, sometimes it’s best to ask them what they’d be interested in. Ask them a question, perhaps through an online interaction or perhaps a full-fledged survey. Find out which products they’re interested in now and which they may be interested in in the near future. Tailor your marketing, and the timing, based on their responses.

Finding your target audience takes effort and money, but in the end, it will help you gain more business and more loyalty. Effective targeting really is a gold mine—at least for those with the courage and initiative to grasp it.

Nice guys finish last? I don’t think so!

At least not according to data compiled by AYTM Market Research.  According to a recent article by eMarketer, AYTM’s report shows that over 52% of internet users prefer small businesses to large companies because of “Personal Service”.  Additional surveys by Web.com and Toluna done last August found that the top three most important factors consumers consider when choosing small businesses are: 1) customer service, customer-focused (86%), 2) personal, intimate, human, face-to-face (84%), and 3) knows customers and their needs (84%).   Not surprisingly, 84% of US consumers associate customer service and customer-focus with small businesses.  The eMarketer article also notes that “61.2% of respondents [to the AYTM study] said they would pay higher prices to support small businesses.”

All of those numbers can make a great case for small business, but that is a post for another time.  My take away is this: large business or small, people value superior customer service.  Human beings expect to be treated like human beings, and if you can give them personal and personalized service, they are willing to pay for it.  Give your customers a remarkable experience and they will remark about it…to their family, their friends, their acquaintances, even perfect strangers! Give them a reason to come back and they might just bring the neighborhood with them.

So consider this: if you were receiving the kind of customer service you currently provide to your customers, would you continue doing business with your company?  Would you tell your friends? If you don’t immediately think “Yes!” then something needs to change.  Nice guys finish last?  Not in this connected economy!

Touch All the Lines

Since we’re talking about March Madness this month, I decided to use a little basketball phrase for my blog this month: Touch All the Lines.

For anyone who has played basketball or taken your child to endless basketball practices, this is probably a familiar term and one you might dread. It may conjure up memories of boredom or exhaustion or even bored exhaustion. For those not familiar with basketball, it may seem like an innocuous phrase.

So what does it mean to ‘Touch All the Lines’? In basketball they run practice drills, often called ladders, where a player starts at the baseline (the out of bounds line behind the basket) and then runs out to the free throw line, then runs back to the baseline, then turns around and runs to the half court line and back to the baseline, then to the other side’s free throw line and back to the baseline, and then all the way to the other baseline and back again. Each line (baseline, free throw line, half court line) must be touched with the player’s hand when she reaches it. It may seem like a pointless drill and one that’s easy to cheat on a little, but like most things in life, those seemingly pointless drills have a way of shaping us or preparing us.

Basically, touching all the lines means hard work. To basketball players, those drills prepare and condition them to be able to run full court at full steam for the entire game if needs be. Yes, it’s hard and for some there is a temptation to skimp a little on each line. Do you think the players that consistently skimp on the lines go unnoticed by the coaches? I guarantee they don’t. 

You may not have a coach per se watching to make sure you go to the line every time, but believe me people are watching, whether it’s your boss, coworkers, customers, employees, etc…  People that touch lines generally get more playing time, if you get my drift. Yep, it’s hard and it may seem pointless, but in the end, it will pay-off. If nothing else, you’ll at least have self-respect, which is just as important, if not more so.

And like my Mother always said, “Hard work never killed anyone.”

What are the odds? Marketing musings on March Madness

So you didn’t win $1 billion dollars either?  Given the odds, that’s nothing to feel bad about.  Nobody won.  In fact, no one in recorded history has ever picked a perfect bracket.  It’s almost impossible just to pick a perfect first round!  Out of tens of millions of brackets, I am aware of only 1 individual this year that did that, but his bracket was busted just 4 games later leaving him 27 games short of the once-again-unattainable 63-0 bracket perfection.

As a marketer, I am impressed  each year with the amount of attention the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament receives regardless of any paid advertising.  If you didn’t fill out a bracket, you likely know someone that did.  It’s not just for die-hards or even everyday fans anymore – it’s fun for everyone, like my 12- and 10-year-old sons, who despite terrible odds, picked their favorite team to go to the finals and win (and yes, both of their brackets were busted in the first round). People that otherwise could not care less and fans alike obsess over making their picks and trying to win it all in their company pool or among their peers.  Filling out brackets seems to have consistently grown in popularity, but in so doing it has also become commonplace.  You can submit brackets at work, at church, at countless sports related websites, and a thousand other places.

And don’t forget Quicken. Their billion dollar bracket challenge was excellent at breaking through the noise with something new and fresh.  It was something so ludicrous it was all over the internet, all over social media, and all over the news in no time.  I haven’t run into anyone that did not hear about it. A billion dollars? Just for picking the perfect bracket, something I’ll be doing anyway? With no entry fee? (Well, not in dollars at least.) Count me in!

At first it sounded like a potentially risky bet, but what were the odds? According to mathematician Jeff Bergen of DePaul University, the odds of randomly picking a perfect bracket are less then 1 in 9 quintillion – that’s a 9 followed by 18 zeros.  Add a bit of knowledge to your selection process and you can up the odds to 1 in 128 billion.  A few months ago I wrote a piece about one of my Grandad’s favorite sayings: you can’t win if you don’t play.   Given those odds though, this contest seemed like one that you could never win no matter how many times you played.  You are much, much more likely to win the Mega Millions lottery, become president, or die by vending machine than you would be to pick a perfect bracket.

Which all adds up to what? A brilliant marketing stunt centered around a very popular event with a very low risk; one that generated untold buzz and attention, not to mention a lot of data on a lot of folks for Quicken.  Data they could then use to show the value of their products to a targeted group of individuals.

So what are you doing to capture your customers’ attention and add a little enjoyment to their interactions with your brand? What are the odds that your potential and current customers come away from those interactions feeling like they got real value out of it? Are you marketing to them individually, targeting their needs and wants? Stunts can be fun and even worthwhile, but at the end of the day, odds are that the end goal is to build lasting relationships and provide real value that will pay dividends in the long run.  And that is a win-win for everyone.

Is it mobile?

Gadget ownership over timeSeven months ago my daughter was 1; 1 day old, that is. It still feels like she just got here, but the differences between a newborn and a 7-month-old are significant. She has changed a lot in that time. Comparing now to then it is easy to see the differences, but not so much along the way.

Things change, often faster than not, and if you don’t pay attention you’ll miss it, which could mean missing out.

For example, 7 months ago Pew Research reported that 35% of U.S. cell phone owners use mobile banking1. That was up nearly 20% over the previous 2 years.  Just 1 month ago they updated their statistics on mobile technology noting that 55% of U.S. adults own a smartphone2 – up approximately 10% from 1 year previous, and over 20% from 3 years ago. Tablets are rising even faster with 42% of U.S. adults in the tablet ownership category – up from just 3% in May 2010.

In many ways mobile still feels fresh and new (and no doubt it still is compared to other media formats), but it has already become ubiquitous.  My wife and I have never been “early adopters”, yet she got her tablet (which I still consider relatively new) 2 years ago, putting her in the first 20% of tablet ownership.  Ownership has over doubled since then! It is no longer a matter of “if” or even “when” for mobile – the question is “what”. What are you doing about mobile now?

Seven months ago, mobile was here. It was not a fad or a trend.  But it is changing, growing, evolving. More people than ever are using smartphones, more are using tablets, and even more are going to in the weeks and months ahead.  If you are not doing something about it now, you are missing out. So the question you need to ask yourself about your online advertising is:

Is it mobile?

Oops

I think it can be said that the measure of a person or even a company can be seen in how they react to mistakes. I think we can all say that there was quite a big oops during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics when that pesky fifth ring didn’t light properly. Yes, it was a mistake and it was embarrassing, but there was no going back and fixing it. So what to do?

It would have been easy to lash out at the critics and comedians that got quite a bit of airtime in dishing about the failure. But instead the director of the games turned the tables and made fun of himself and in turn took a negative and turned it into a positive.

During the closing ceremonies several ice dancers took the stage and lit it up to reenact that oops, it was brilliant. You can see the picture here – http://www.olympic.org/photos/sochi-2014-closing-ceremony-41. Immediately I thought, I would love to meet that guy or work with him.

We all make mistakes, personally and professionally. If you don’t, then I want to meet you too and know your secret. Sometimes those mistakes are monumental and they take a lot of smoothing over, but regardless, the best thing we can do is acknowledge them and refrain from becoming defensive and, if appropriate, try to find some humor in it. Hopefully, you can help the recipient of your mistake find some humor in it too (again if appropriate).  And remember mistakes are unintentional. If you’re intentionally messing up, then this blog probably isn’t for you.

If you’ve made a mistake with a customer, apologize immediately and try to remedy the situation as soon as possible. I think you will find most people will be understanding when you take this course of action.  Of course, there are always those few that will take you through the ringer, but just remember it was a mistake and not to beat yourself up over it. Learn from it and move on.

And just remember to be thankful that our mistakes aren’t televised and publicized for the whole world to see.

Doesn’t that make you feel better?