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There is a tremendous amount of buzz in the world of marketing now centered on the concept of “content. “Ultimately the idea is to share your knowledge on a given topic in a way that others can perceive you as being a resource, or an authority - someone who can be trusted in a way that they can rely on for answers and even do business with. When you think of this, it really is a very powerful concept and one that make a great deal of sense. You are not trying to just “sell” yourself on someone, rather you are building trust.
This also builds on the concept of “pull” marketing, as opposed to “push.” No longer do you look to push your message out to the masses and tell them all about the best things that a product or service can do for them, rather you look to educate and share knowledge, and draw interested, targeted individuals in to find out more information. So much of this is done today through special reports or “white papers” – free downloads oftentimes. In addition to these though, content marketing can be achieved in many other ways as well – some of it might even seem “old school.”
What I mean by this, is that just recently we held a seminar at our office. It was attended by seven individuals and it lasted for about 90 minutes. During this time we presented information about a survey we had undertaken relative to Nonprofit Appeal results. This survey is something we have done now for the past 5 years, although the seminars themselves we have done for well over 10 years – long before the concept of “content marketing” was even mainstream. In addition to the survey results, we also talked more about what trends the survey told us about and what we saw as opportunities for the nonprofit sector to work on in the future. Now that the seminar is complete, not only do we post the presentation on our website for others to have access to, but Ginny Boss and I will be distributing it to many other clients and prospects over the next several weeks.
Another example of this same type of old school content marketing would be the Conference presentations that many of us remember, but might not have attended as of recently. Trade associations have found their membership ranks to be declining, and part of this is due to the younger generations not being as committed to joining an organization. And yet, the information available through the various breakout sessions and keynote presentations can be truly informative. Take these a step further, and you will now find that often times the associations will then post the presentations online as recorded videos for future viewing. As another great example of this, take a look at the tremendous amount of content made available through the TED presentations.
All of these are examples of how to share our knowledge with others in an informative, non-selling atmosphere. And they are also an example of cross-media ways of achieving the same result. You might also consider developing a presentation that could be done either through video or live through a seminar or webinar type event. I think you would be surprised at the potential you would find!
If you are responsible for the marketing of your organization, I can pretty much guarantee that this is a statement you will find yourself thinking somewhere along the line… “It seems like we just did this!” And if you are doing things according to plan, you would be right.
For instance, we are in the process now of updating our website, not a major overhaul – that was done a year ago at this time, but none the less enough of a change that someone will notice a new look. Likewise we will be adding updated videos (Google likes this you know) and content as well over the next couple of weeks. We are also in the process of planning a new seminar for clients, which we do several times a year, as well as other marketing strategies such as newsletters, a blog compilation, an exhibit booth at a conference and several others. All of these we do on a regular basis, several times per year.
The point in this discussion is that in order to succeed in marketing your business there are many things that can have a major impact – three of which I will outline here, but none more important than the last one.
- Important to do things right - in other words make sure that the message you are sharing is crafted correctly, your methods of distribution are well-coordinated, the follow-up is routine, and that you are following “best practices.”
- Good to be Lucky - or maybe this should be better stated as being in the right place at the right time. This is obviously not any “textbook” strategy that you will read about or learn in a marketing class, but I would maintain is very much part of many success stories!
- Consistency makes a difference - without a consistent follow-through of your plan, none of the first two even have a chance of working! Think in terms of Nike’s classic slogan – Just Do It! This is where the idea that you will get tired of what your messaging is well before most of your client’s and prospects even recognize it.
So while it is always important to look for new ways to communicate and share your message, it is even more important to continue to follow a plan and do the things that you said you were going to do, even when they become repetitive. It is in fact the redundancy factor that helps brand your product or service, to be in the right place at the right time.
What is it that you are repeating right now?
Self motivation is not an easy thing! At times we can get inspired and move ahead without much effort at all… and then you seemingly hit a brick wall and slug along without much momentum. Of course at the start of a New Year we all get motivated to make changes in our lives, but then in a couple of months this seems to be a great example of what happens – the best laid plans evaporate!
There has been a great deal of research done on self motivation, and a number of excellent books by authors such as Stephen Covey, Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie and many others – all of them can tell you much better than I how to really push yourself to achieve more. I also know, that no matter what you do today or what book’s advice you follow tomorrow, there will come a time again that you find the need to jump-start your efforts. It is just who we are, and a natural part of life that our energies need to be re-focused periodically to keep moving forward. And maybe it is that realization that makes the need to find a reason to continually push yourself a worthy cause.
For each of us the reason is different. And it will be year to year or even within a given year. Our priorities change as we grow – from getting through school to getting that first job. From being able to save a little money to actually being able to have money to buy a car or a house. From having kids to saving money to put those kids into college! To shift from just working a job, to actually considering yourself in a career. From just achieving personal success to the concept of giving back to a greater cause. All of these are significant shifts in our mindset and are great examples of a reason to push yourself to do more, to set higher goals or be more involved with others.
Whatever the reason though, it takes the realization and acceptance of the challenge to then move yourself to do what it takes. For many of us it is important to put all of this down on paper (or computer/tablet) to make it real and to force ourselves into the daily routines that it will take to make it happen. I would suggest that in many cases it also needs to be shared with others to help hold us even more accountable. Over time these daily routines become habit, and then if we are truly serious about taking ownership, the goals become reality!
Of course then it is time to start all over again :). What is the reason that is pushing you right now?
So here we are on the eve of a yet another New Year! The older I get (not that I am really getting old, mind you), it sure seems like the time goes by that much faster. I am pretty sure my parents used to tell me this, but at the time I never really paid too much attention. Anyways, a tradition at this time for me and many others I am sure, is to use the beginning of the year as a reason to evaluate our progress towards goals of the previous year, and to plan ahead for next year’s goals and strategies.
Back in the day – about 32 plus years for me now, I had made the decision to leave my initial career of teaching, and enter into business. Not long after this I realized that perhaps the one thing that I missed most about education was the concept of “closure.” What I mean by this is that at the end of every semester – and especially at the end of a school year, the class you taught came to an end. Test scores totaled, projects turned in and final grades were figured. No matter how well a given class went – how many students achieved an A, B, C or less, the course content was completed and it was time to move on with a “fresh start.”
In business however, I learned fairly early on that just because a quarter came to an end or even a year finished up, there was no real “closure.” Sure you started the next month out with sales of “zero,” but month to month or year to year just morphed into the next. In order to make a noticeable difference, one needs to make a point of creating “targets” or goals to achieve, and then evaluate your successes and build on them as you go. Perhaps you create incentives for employees to meet, or standards to reach by the end of a given period – the idea is to create the periods of closure so that you can measure your success (or not).
And of course the end of a year is a natural time to measure the results and plan ahead. It is a time that most of us are in a mindset of wanting to make change and improvements within our lives – from losing some of the extra weight we might have gained to making a point of staying in better touch with friends and family. So, as we all look to commit to improving ourselves in the New Year, be sure to take the time to write out what your goals are, and then I wish you the best in actually achieving success and closure by this time next year!
What are your goals?
Tis the season to celebrate, and to be sure I have much to be thankful for – great family and friends, a successful business with loyal customers, a terrific community that I call home to, and a strong support group. Over the years I have found this time of the year to be a very busy time of the year, due to seasonal trends of the clients we work for – many of which are nonprofit organizations, and this is a critical time for them as we help prepare their year-end appeals. So while it can be a great time to spend time with those that are most important to me, I also find that this is a very stressful and hectic time in getting everything accomplished business wise.
Don’t take this the wrong way though… I am very thankful for the busy times! As any owner of a small business will tell you, there can be a fine line sometimes between turning a profit and breaking even, so given the opportunity to work overtime is a good thing. Which brings me to the message of this blog post, and that is that sometimes when you are working flat-out to get work done, you can at times make mistakes. This is especially tough when everyone is working so hard to make sure everything is done right and on time, and yet something still slips through.
Even when they are fairly minor like a missed deadline, any time you do less than what a client expects it is a difficult thing to accept. Your first inclination is to ask “what happened,” or “why?” Then ultimately, after you accept responsibility - and that is what is most important, then you need to determine “how” you can learn from the error. No one is perfect, and I learned a long time ago that in many ways, it is really the true mark of a good company that they will stand behind what they have done and make it right by the client. In the end you may still lose a customer, but at least you will gain their respect. And many times I have found that clients in the long run see the value in working with a company that does in fact accept the responsibility, because not many really will.
So in this Holiday season I give thanks to all those who have helped us grow over the years and have stood by us, and I also acknowledge those times that we have been less than perfect as a supplier. Our goal is to always provide a superior customer service experience and to be a true resource for our clients – so if we have fallen short of this, please let us know!
The inspiration for today’s blog is from Paul Strack, a fellow printer located in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Paul is truly a unique and innovative print company owner who happened to be the recipient of the 2013 NAQP Printer of the Year award. After the recent conference that I had the opportunity to make the presentation of the award to Paul, he made a great post on the Open Forum discussion area of the association’s website, and having read this I knew that it was worth sharing! Paul wrote…
I received a thank you note from a client yesterday. While that was certainly odd enough, it went one step further. It was a hand-written thank you note. And it reminded me of what we do as a company, and what we do as an industry. It is something that I read a while back, and have frequently shared with our staff. It’s about what we do.
This thank you note was in response to some custom tabs we produced for an engineering firm’s proposal. In addition to thanking us for the quality, the turnaround time and the service aspect, the note went on to explain, “and last night, we were unanimously selected to begin to design an advanced wastewater treatment system that will allow the treated water to augment the water supply. Truly a landmark project for our company.”
After rereading that several times, it reminded me of what we do. Or what we don’t do.
We don’t just print tabs. We don’t just produce proposals.
In this case, we were involved in a landmark project for the largest engineering firm in our state.
In this case, we are part of an advanced method to treat water to augment a water supply.
Think about it. We don’t just print.
We don’t just print menus. We provide a way for families to make nutritious feeding decisions for their families.
We don’t just print coupons. We help people extend their budget and get the most out of every dollar.
We don’t just print prescription pads, or doctor’s appointment cards - we help people get well.
We don’t just print loyalty cards for fitness centers – we help people establish a healthier lifestyle.
In reading through Paul’s post I can easily draw similar conclusions to the many projects that we are involved with. Perhaps the strongest example for me right now are the many year-end appeal projects that we have been involved in for a variety of nonprofit organizations. All of these involve a number of printed elements – mailing envelopes, letters, cards, return envelopes, etc. However, within these different printed elements there are very passionate stories – stories about real live people and their struggles or their successes, and then, the mission of the organizations that are there to help them.
So to use Paul’s example, we do not just print appeals – we help raise awareness for those in need more than us, we help provide support for programs that offer education and assistance, and we help worthwhile organizations grow within our communities! And for that opportunity, I am thankful.
So what is it you do?
I had the opportunity to attend an annual conference of a national trade association I belong to – the National Association of Quick Printers (NAQP). As is typical, we had a number of good presentations to select from in addition to the keynote speakers. Admittedly though I felt this year had a pretty strong group of speakers – or at least ones that I felt would have good relevance for what I was interested in learning about.
The keynote speaker – David Avrin, did a nice job of communicating the importance of defining who you are as a company, and then what is important in sharing that differentiation with clients and prospects. Too often we can get caught up in what we think is important or what we think the marketplace would want to hear, when in reality we are just saying the same old things that everyone else is touting as their strengths as well. To really stand out, we must dig deep to find out the one thing that is truly unique, and then articulate that in a way that people will understand the difference. This is not an easy task, but if done well, it can make a difference for your organization!
Another truly outstanding presenter was Mike Rayburn. Actually Mike is more of an entertainer than a speaker, as he is genuinely a guitar virtuoso whose talents are extraordinary to say the least. His ability to combine Rock n’Roll standards into Country adaptations or convert popular Boy Band songs into a Bruce Springsteen genre is something you really have to hear to even comprehend.
In addition though, Mike also did share in his performance the rationale behind his unique style of entertainment. And, it was this explanation that I thought was a strong message that all of us could use within our organizations when it comes to the process of strategic planning. Mike suggested using the question – What If? If you are looking to find new avenues of business development, or new revenue streams, or ways to streamline your operations, instead of starting out with your current model – start by asking the question, what if?
As you do this, you find that you can “experiment” with concepts and ideas that are not written in stone. One other point I thought he made that was very relevant in the planning process, was that by doing this it allows you to do things “without consequence.” You truly are brainstorming!
Some other relevant points that Mike had made in the presentation were:
- To do things you have not achieved before, you will have to be willing do things you have not done before.
- Answer the question – “are you driving with the brakes on?” If we resolve to be the best at something, then we need to “take the brakes off!”
All of these were great concepts to hear, and all in the form of entertainment. It was inspirational and fun at the same time! If you ever get a chance to see Mike perform, I would definitely recommend him – and the next time you look to do some organizational planning, maybe start the process with the question – what if?
An important lesson in business as well as in life is to learn from your mistakes.
Sometimes though, you can seemingly do everything right according to what you have learned, what you have read and researched, and what are commonly known as best practices, and still not get it right!
This is something I have noted twice now this year! I guess this could mean that either I have not done quite as good a job as I think I have – entirely possible, or perhaps there were circumstances beyond my control. Either way it does give you reason to think it through and try to learn more.
In the first instance, we did a self promotional marketing piece entitled Print Plus… a journey. This was a rather unique concept and printed piece designed around a travel theme. The idea was to create a fictitious travel experience that highlighted a variety of cross-media options that showcased how print could interact within a marketing campaign. And while we received a very enthusiastic response on the creativity and in fact sparked several jobs as a direct result, overall we have yet to generate the impact that we felt it would promote.
The second scenario was for the promotion of an industry conference that I will be attending this coming week. I was invited to be part of the conference planning committee along with several other key association members. Together the committee brainstormed and identified some very unique speakers and timely topics. From a marketing standpoint, we also made a strong commitment to not only “talk the talk,” but also to “walk the walk” with a number of cutting edge strategies including personalization, a pURL campaign, multiple e-mail reinforcement messages, video invitations from committee members, several keynote speakers and sponsors and even telemarketing follow-up along with social media. I can honestly say that this conference was probably promoted as well as any that I have seen! And yet, the registration levels to date are behind what we had hoped for.
Feedback so far is that while members have found the content to be of interest, they are not able to attend due to slow business conditions and the increased competition for industry events this year. Perhaps we will learn more in talking with those who are in attendance and or as we survey other members in the coming months as well. Either way, I do look forward to the conference – in meeting with fellow members, attending the many sessions and learning from the featured speakers. As is typical, I fully expect to gain a great deal from the experience.
So what does all of this mean in the grand scheme of marketing? What is it that I have learned or am able to take away from these two experiences of the past year? I believe, that ultimately one needs to be true to your efforts and your commitment. In any given campaign you will likely see either great results or not so great results – but that does not mean that you give up or lose faith, but rather you keep reaching for the end goal. I also believe that over time we might find that both of these campaigns might actually draw some of the results we had sought out – just in ways that we might not have expected!
What are some examples of your efforts that have not worked as you planned?