Be Timely

So I’m standing in front of my house this weekend, watching the kids scooter around, when we’re suddenly accosted by various people passing out flyers. One gentleman asked me if he can share some information about a local candidate. I shuffled some papers around so I could grab the brochure. Once I had it, I noticed that another candidate’s flyer was tucked inside. There was no mention of a two-for-one from the guy. I just chuckled and turned away.

As I made my way inside, I looked at the tag-along and noticed that the date stamped on the back was 2006. I get the efficiency, since it was a re-election campaign. In fact, I almost applaud it. There’s only one (major) problem. A lot has changed in the last two years—far too much to just recycle what you’ve already done. By simply reusing your old stuff you are saying one of two things: either you are too out-of-touch to recognize that things have changed, or you haven’t done what you said you were going to do the first time, so you just say it again.

The same goes for any business. A consistent message is key. Beat it like a rented mule, especially if it is good and on target. But also recognize that as you produce, address issues and evolve, you move along and tackle the next set of problems.

I don’t, by any means, advocate that you should craft your message around the latest trends. Doing so would signal that you aren’t committed to who you really are. And if you’re not committed, why should anyone else be? Being timely and consistent with your message reinforces your brand. It shows your audience that you are focused on addressing the needs of your constituents (customers, consumers, employees, etc.).

Constant reinforcement of your message is necessary for solidifying your brand. Incorporating timely needs into that message is critical to building a long-term brand.

From the Same Songbook

Proper messaging is a critical component for a company’s success. Organizations spend millions of dollars over months, or even years, getting their message to consumers just right. It is that important. But your investment in developing the message itself need not be so great to get it right. In fact, for some, the message is so obvious that it takes little effort to create.

Regardless, it what happens once you have set the message that counts. Certainly, you’ll develop collateral. You will use it as a recurring theme through various communications.

What about the rest of your team? Sure, you’ve told them what the new messaging is and shown them all the beautiful ways you are going to use it, with the requisite “oohs” and “ahhhs”. All of that’s great. Now, what tools are you giving your staff so that they are sharing the right message, using the right words and focusing on the right topics? It is a difficult task, made most effective when you not only tell them what to say but also what to avoid.

The only way your message is going to make its way through your various touchpoints in the right way is by ensuring everyone knows exactly what and how to communicate it.

Not Sure What They Are Selling

I’ve been seeing a number of different car commercials lately, but, other than the obvious, I’m not really sure what they’re selling. Some examples:

  • GM, yet again, is offering employee pricing on its vehicles. This year, they attempt to couch it in terms of an anniversary. This is something they have been doing since around 2000, and they pull the trick out whenever their sales are in the dumps, which seems to be most years. If your vehicles weren’t relevant before, resurrecting a bad sales idea isn’t going to change that. Sell your cars on their merit, not the fact that you’ve been overpricing and underdelivering.
  • VW seems to think that German engineering is best expressed through black Beetle acting as a talk show host. Saying that you have German engineering doesn’t make it good—the engineering itself does, however. Tell me what it means and what I can expect to experience from it.
  • Mitsubishi has introduced a new engine, yet doesn’t feel the need to explain to anyone what makes it unique or at least different. When you spend that kind of R&D money, market the heck out of the result.
  • Ford has introduced a new box on wheels with so-so EPA estimated mileage, touting it as something people should desire. Two things: one, average or slightly above average EPA estimated mileage isn’t enough, you have to do something revolutionary; two, most of us don’t care one lick what the EPA estimates the mileage to be in a vacuum on a treadmill with no friction, we care about the actual mileage from driving on real roads.

When you are marketing a product, no matter what it is, you have to focus on the actual features and benefits. If you don’t have any, save your money and reputation and stop selling it. Focus your energy on creating something that actually creates a point of differentiation. Be unique. Serve a market others ignore. Make a positive difference. But don’t, under any circumstances, try to treat your customers like gullible fools. That is the quickest route to irrelevance.

Focusing on Patient Needs

I have been dealing with arthritis in my foot for about a year now. On the recommendation of an acquaintance, I made an appointment to see a physical therapist who apparently works wonders.

As I traveled several miles and nearly an hour to see him, I kept hoping that he lived up to his billing. The office is not in the most attractive location. In fact, many of the businesses around him are closed. And it feels almost like the middle of nowhere.

When I walked in 20 minutes late, the person greeting me was intensely and genuinely kind. I filled out my requisite paperwork and sat for a few minutes until it was my turn.

After a 10-minute consultation with the therapist, he offered his thoughts for what would get me back running. And he suggested two other PTs closer to where I work so that my rehab would be far more convenient. When it was time to go, I tried to pay, but he wanted to see what the insurance company said first. If there was any amount for which I would be responsible, he would just send a bill or call. Later that same day, the call came, and I gladly paid the amount needed.

A few days later, the receipt came in the mail folded in a personal note thanking me for coming in and wishing me well on my rehabilitation.

He truly just wanted me to get better. In the process, he created another raving fan who will recommend him in a heartbeat. Why? Because the focus was on what I needed, not his sale. It makes a difference.

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The Window Can Be Dangerous

People want to know. Maybe not everything, but most things. There is still some bliss associated with ignorance, particularly for those messier details. So, companies are putting more of themselves “in the window”, showing the world how they function and what they actually do.

When you put yourself there, honesty and openness rule the day. With that honesty, innocent mistakes can be forgiven. Companies that insist on the constant spin that everything is perfect need only one thread to see it all unravel. Simply look to the individuals and organizations that quickly find themselves cowering in disgrace.

At the same time, having that type of transparency, especially for a company that has been around for a while, requires that you have your act together. Let me offer a personal example.

Traveling home from a business trip last week, I stopped at a familiar vendor (they have stores across the country with a good reputation) to grab a sandwich for the flight. I placed my order and could watch the staff just to the side making the sandwiches and wraps. The line of people waiting for their food grew, yet the workers showed absolutely no sense of urgency. They also looked as though they didn’t really know how to make what they were selling. They ran out of most types of bread, even though that is their specialty. And they fulfilled the orders out of sequence.

All of this is happening before 6 PM on a Friday in one of the country’s busiest airports.

There were other problems as well: inconsistency in calling out the finished order to patrons; other staff not stepping in to help; a manager trying to decide with another manager which one would stay and which would go to the other location in the terminal. And yes, everything took place in plain sight.

Take a lesson. Get your processes and procedures in place. Train your staff to be customer-centric. Create a sense of urgency in fulfilling customer needs. Then, put it in the window for all to see.

Oh, and if you’re worried about your competitors stealing your ideas, fear not. Out-execute them, and you’ll stay ahead of the game.

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