One of the neat things about writing your own blog is that you can pretty much write about whatever you want – you don’t really answer to anyone! And while ...
As I have written about in the past, the concept that “it takes a village to raise a child” is so true within the business world as well. Especially in the realm of the small business arena, the owner must build around themselves a team of people that they can rely on – regularly! This can be in the form of specific responsibilities that are delegated to other employees, consulting services and insight received from industry organizations, and or direct business services that might be engaged through outside vendors.
In addition, almost all successful business owners will also admit to having a group of confidants – individuals who they have known over time and that they can rely on for advice and support. It is these individuals that often times become the true sounding board for the business. In larger organizations they might actually have a Board of Directors to provide this support, and there are even several groups that are available for small business owners to join for this service as well.
In all cases though, it is this additional set of eyes and ears that can help keep us focused. Especially in the rapidly changing business climate that we are in now, it can be easy to get off track of what is truly important, or to get wrapped up in the latest and greatest new fad. We must lean on our support team for this.
There are also the ups and downs of almost every business day that we need to deal with – often times we find ourselves celebrating the news of a brand new prospect that just signed on as a customer after 6 months of effort, only to then find out that there is a big problem on a project in-house with one of your top clients! This part of business was never really shared with us too much in school – rather we have all experienced it and learned from others – including “our own village,” on how to deal with it.
Over time (34 years now), I have leaned on others to be my support group – and yet, I also know that I can always use more! We always need to be open to those who know more than us – who have differing experiences or insight. This may well come from employees, friends, neighbors, membership organizations, vendors, social media, industry consultants and even your own family. I know that for sure, my greatest source of support is my wife! Julie is someone who I can share everything with and rely on to get a second opinion. She is my rock, and for that I am thankful!
By the way, did I happen to mention that we just celebrated our wedding anniversary this weekend? Perhaps that is what inspired me to write this today!
Who is part of your village?
There is a terrific quote from Albert Einstein that suggests that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” While many of us have heard this and even acknowledge the logic behind it, it is amazing how often we fall right back into the same routine over and over! Then there is another great quote from Heraclitus that reads… “the only thing that is constant is change” – which very much reinforces the idea that we should be looking to adapt… to alter the behavior of our routines.
In the world of sales and marketing, it is especially important to be willing to try something new! Especially with how technology has brought new media options to our disposal, and how each of our clients react differently to the messages we are sending. In addition, perhaps as compared to any other point in time, we have significant differences in generational trends. Add in the fact that we are more of a global society now than ever before, suggests that we also need to embrace different cultures within our messaging. All together, this makes for very interesting times!
So what is it that keeps us from trying something new within our marketing efforts? I would suggest that it is the reluctance to get out of your comfort zone. We can all get a little too complacent at times and not willing to “rock the boat.” Or, we don’t really understand some of the newer technology, so we prefer to let somebody else try it out first. I understand that it is not always wise to be on the “bleeding edge” of technology, but too often businesses can be overly slow to embrace the new trends – and then all of a sudden you find yourself behind the competition.
Perhaps the best way to fight the comfort zone is to push yourself to do some research – to read industry publications, attend conferences, seminars or online webinars. Seek out a group of your peers and find out what they are doing. Listen to your vendors, and even potential new vendors who are calling on you – to find out what they are suggesting. Visit your client’s websites to see what they are involved in doing and how they engage their own clients – or their social media sites – what are they talking about? Try assembling a focus group of select clients and ask them how they prefer being engaged – how do they seek out new resources? What social media sites do they prefer and why? What publications to they regularly read, or associations do they belong to? How do their customers/donors want to be engaged? After all, it really is not about ourselves when it comes to marketing, but rather our clients and even their clients. If we can find ways to solve our client’s challenges, then we will be of interest to them. Take it one step further and find ways for them to build stronger relationships with their clients and you will truly get the results you are looking for!
Are you open to new ideas? Looking for change? Tell me what has worked for you…
As a small business owner I am continually looking at and reading about trends that affect my business, and just as importantly that affect my clients as well – especially when it comes to marketing. One area that I have found very interesting to look at is information with regard to generational trends. Recently I was reading a report on “The Next Generation of American Giving” published by Blackbaud – a major technology and software firm serving the nonprofit and education markets, and this provided the inspiration for this blog post along with some other sources. While the report was specific to fundraising, I believe that some of the information I am highlighting today can apply to pretty much any business.
As a printer by trade, I was very interested to read with regard to the effect that direct mail had amongst the various generations. Admittedly the trend is for more online giving, even for the Boomers (born 1946 – 1964), and yet both Gen X (born 1960-1980) and Gen Y (born 1981-1995) say that direct mail is a perfectly acceptable medium of communication. I had also read recently that the Millennial generation actually finds mail to be preferred over other media forms (Valassis Shopper marketing report).
The report also found that multichannel marketing is the “new normal.” While the ideal mix varies between generations, even the Matures (born 1945 and earlier) give online (27%), view videos (22%) and read or post to blogs (9%). Important ways to stay in touch for the Gen Y’s is to visit an organization’s website (44%) and receive e-mails or e-newsletters (34%), while all of these percentages drop in importance for the Gen X’s and even more so for the Boomers and Matures. An interesting note was that while receiving a text message was pretty low on everyone’s interest, both the Gen X and Matures ranked this media format the same, at 4%!
Social Media is definitely growing as a way to communicate and share information, and as you might expect, the Gen Y group places the most importance on this at 29%, then 20% for Gen X and only about 5% for Boomers. This will likely change in the future and become even more prevalent amongst all generations, and as the report highlighted, while then number of Boomers might not be that great right now, the ones who are connecting will matter a lot in the future. Word of Mouth sharing of information also seems to be much more comfortable for the younger generations as compared to both the Boomers and Matures.
When it comes specifically to giving, both the Boomers (43%) and Matures (26%) are by far the strongest generations. And while the Gen X outpace the Gen Y’s, it is not as much as you may think. It is interesting to note that the Gen Y’s would plan to increase their giving at a higher level than all other generations, and would also be more inclined to give to more different charities than the other groups!
There is so much more to look at when it comes to how different generations react within the marketplace, and I suspect for each business it might vary as well. We should all be very conscious of not only how generations react to marketing trends, but how our own employees look to engage with our clients and prospects. For sure we need to make sure we are communicating in the ways that our clients best react, and at the same time make sure we recognize that all of our future clients will likely be those from the younger generations!
How do you interact with the different age groups?
This last week I attended the annual Crystal Lake Chamber Dinner, just as I have for probably the last 25 plus years. It is always a great opportunity to see fellow business owners and to learn of all that the Chamber is doing – and pay tribute to those who have done some great work for the Chamber and the community in general.
What was a little different about this year, was that I was surprised with recognition and an award that I had not truly expected!
The award that I was presented – the Carl E. Wehde Award, is in honor of Carl Wehde – a longtime business owner, School Board President and Mayor of Crystal Lake for 12 years. Carl was very much the epitome of a community minded individual and after his passing, the Chamber established this award for individuals that likewise were very involved in the community. Since its inception, several individuals have been presented this award, including Mayor Aaron Shepley just last year.
This was indeed a very humbling experience for me as I would not put myself in the same category as Carl, Aaron or many of the other past recipients. And since it was such a surprise, I will admit that I probably did not do much justice to the short acknowledgement remarks that I made that evening… and so it is now that I am going to take the time to share some of what I should have included that evening:
This was truly an honor, and especially since I had the benefit of actually knowing Carl Wehde! Back when I first started in business – 34 years ago now, I had done a few small print orders with Wehde Shoes. Carl was very engaging and eager to work with a local business – you could tell his interest in supporting the local economy and his ethical approach. I also have had the pleasure of meeting and talking with his wife Verla many times over the years at the Chamber Dinners – and it was Verla that had presented me the award, so thank you!
Additionally though, I would suggest that much of what I have done in the community is a direct result of the impact that my Chamber membership has had on me, and the because of the many individuals that I have met and learned from in the Chamber. Individuals like Arlene Kerns, who was the Executive Director of the Chamber when I first joined, or Daphne Starr, who was one of the original Ambassadors of the Chamber. Bob Blazier had a huge impact on myself and so many others in the Chamber – in fact he was the President back when I was Chair of the Board back in 1993, and also when I was the Ambassador Chair in 2000. Gary Reece, the most recent past President, and Mary Margaret Maule the current President have also been an inspiration for me.
There are so many others as well over the years that have had an impact and I have had the pleasure of working with through the Chamber – much too many list all of them, but a few that I would make mention of are Mike Splitt, Jerry Shaffer, Mark Elmore, Patti Lutz, Kim Martens, Ken Koehler and Tom Stock. And the many Chamber staff who I have worked with, including Joan Knoll and Bonnie Miller.
I found early on in business, that the more you get involved in the community, the more you will ultimately benefit from it! I learned this as a Chamber member too – when I first joined, I did it only because that is what I thought you should do as a business owner. It was not until a few years later when I chose to become more involved, that I actually gained new connections and had the opportunity to learn from them. Next thing you know, I was on the Board – and then Chairman! From this experience I met many others around the county, and chose to also work with many nonprofits within the community. One of my most gratifying experiences has been as a member of the McHenry County Community Foundation’s Board – and also as Chairman. The Foundation’s Robin Doeden, John Small, Russ Foszcz, Cheryl Wormley and Mark Ehlert have been and continue to be inspirations for me. Over the years I have also been very active within the printing industry and have likewise sat on the Boards of two national associations – NAPL and NAQP, and have received recognition from them. Without my introduction to service that I had through the Chamber though, perhaps I would not have been as active in these organizations as well.
I would also be very remiss in not recognizing the support and encouragement from my wife Julie – she has truly been my greatest fan over the years and has joined me at so many events and dinners, as part of the “team.” I truly wish she had been able to attend the dinner and to also receive my thanks, although her recent hip surgery precluded this.
In looking back now, I realize that perhaps I have had somewhat of an impact within the community. But as I did make note of when I received the award, the more you give, the more you get, and this was indeed an example of that.
So once again, thank you to the Chamber for this recognition – it is truly appreciated!
There is no doubt that the world of marketing is in a state of change. In reality though, what we are seeing now is much more of a major disruption – a “perfect storm” if you will, caused by the rapid evolution of technology that was spurred on by the creation of the internet.
We can easily acknowledge that the internet has drastically changed how we can now search for information about a company or brand well before we ever choose to do business with them. For so many years we had been ruled by the ad agencies that developed the identity and taglines that built the brands that we chose to support. They “told” us what we needed to know, and for the most part we even believed it! However with time, and the power of Google and other search engines, we found that a little effort on our part could really help us to learn more about who we were doing business with.
And then things got really interesting! Not only could we search out information, but we could now share information – and experiences that we had in purchasing products or using services. We could create online reviews that spoke of how pleased we were… or not pleased. Now it was not just the company that drove the buying decision, but in fact each of us as well. Social Media expanded this phenomenon, but also allowed businesses to market themselves in new ways as well – and engage their followers to once again build their brands.
With this ability came the shift to “inbound marketing” as opposed to the more traditional “outbound” model that we had been so accustomed to. Content marketing became the buzzword. In short, businesses now look to share information in various media formats that pull people in and establish the source as a “thought leader.” We now want the search engines to find us and the expertise that we have to share – and then to get people to talk about it with their friends.
At the center of all of this change is technology – and our knowledge of how it can help us market ourselves. There is a tremendous book available online by Scott Brinker – it is titled A New Brand of Marketing. In this short book, Scott talks about 7 “meta-trends” that have shaped how we need to think about marketing. He explains in detail much of what I have touched on here, and helps put the perspective on how we all need to adapt to the changes. The book is a free download (great example of content marketing!), and is available through this link: http://chiefmartec.com/2014/03/new-brand-marketing-technology/ . At the end of the book, Scott quotes another marketing strategy consultant – Gord Hotchkiss, who had written in an article, “As a marketer, you have two choices: adapt and survive, or stand still and die. The ones who do the first the best will emerge at the top of the marketing food chain.”
I suspect we have all heard some iteration of this quote before – but it really does serve to push us to act in this new world.
Where are you at in the process?
While I have often thought that my grandparent’s generation had seen the greatest amount of change within their lifetimes, in reality the millennial generation is likely to witness even more advancements. Or at the very least, it will be so much faster of a transition from one technology level to the next.
To be sure, the technological change we have seen since the advent of the internet has changed how many businesses operate. There are easier ways to find and compare businesses, applications to manage the process and whole new types of businesses even. Some traditional business markets are being replaced and others are being reinvented. At some point even, I question whether the typical retail type store will even exist – rather they will be just locations to pick up an item you ordered online.
The challenge for many of us in business is in finding the next new version of what we will be offering. Will it be just finding new markets, or will the whole business model change? How will our clients find us – or, how will we find them? How will technology streamline the process even more than it has to this point? And ultimately, can we find any of this before our competition finds it?
This can be rather scary, and it requires us to be willing to take chances similar to what we did when we first started in business. However now we are required to change with so much more at stake – ongoing investments in equipment and people that work for us, and clients that count on us to provide ongoing services.
And yet, if we choose not to change, then we will also run the risk of falling behind and not being relevant anymore. Now more than ever we need to keep current on what is trending, and be open to new opportunities. And, if we are really smart, we may even want to seek out advice from the younger generations – after all, they are the real future!
What is your next move?
In my last blog I talked about how technology has changed so much in our world over the past several years, and because of this it is more important than ever to be able to communicate your value to not only your existing clients, but also to all your potential prospects. It is this value proposition that will share the why you do what you do and for who. It is also what will help you rise above the “commodity” level that so many of us find ourselves in today.
As I also suggested, now is when I take the initiative to share some of what I believe makes us as a company different and unique within the world of the printing industry!
While so much of what we produce – the ink on paper – is considered a commodity, what I believe we can offer clients are the many resources that can help you plan for better, more effective communications. We look to offer ideas, and information on how you can better engage your clients, donors or prospects. And we offer ways to streamline how can you order the communication materials. Examples of these resources can be found on our website and are easily accessible for downloads, and a link for this section is here: http://www.clgraphics.com/resources/ . Not only are their “tips and tricks,” “frequently asked questions” and marketing checklists available, but we also have 13 different seminar downloads available – all of which we have presented over the years to clients and prospects with the intent of helping to educate and promote new ideas http://www.clgraphics.com/resources/seminar.html . I don’t suspect many other print or marketing firms have a library such as this!
And speaking of sharing relevant thoughts, our social media strategy is very much centered on engaging you with articles and stories about your specific area of interest. We regularly post information for the nonprofit market that we work with and also libraries along with general business information. Examples of our active sites are: https://www.facebook.com/CLGraphicsInc , https://twitter.com/CLGraphics , and to view galleries of some of our client work, visit our Pinterest site: https://www.pinterest.com/clgraphics/ . We take pride in our participation in these cross-media platforms, and not just with a periodic post, but a very active involvement – so please join us!
In addition, we also look to engage our clients in ways to help improve their business. Through the annual surveys that we conduct and share results with participants, we are able to offer ideas and strategies to improve upon their results. We also offer a unique program called Stand Out In a Crowd – this is an offer to print either a set of company note cards, a promotional buckslip or company notepads for free, once per year. The intent is to provide you with a way to help market yourself and share your company with others, and to differentiate yourself within your market.
Of course every year C L Graphics has a tradition of preparing a Marketing and Planning Calendar – a very practical and useful tool that not only provides the basic weekly calendar, but also very relevant marketing ideas and strategies. This tool had become very helpful to many clients and we find them reaching out in expectation every December!
Lastly, there is the C L Graphics Blog. While many companies have a blog listed on their website, following up on the advice of marketing experts everywhere, not too many can say that they have consistently posted a blog for well over 5 years now! My goal is to share relevant marketing strategies, business practices and even some personal content at times. So as you reads through this latest posting, I hope I have shared some of what we at C L Graphics have done to communicate and share our value. While all of this may not ensure a strong relationship with all potential clients, it does at the very least give you a good idea of who we are, and the resources we can offer you.
How do you look to communicate your value?
A few years back a common business term evolved that described how times have changed and in fact would remain this way – it was referred to as the new normal.
Well to be sure, the world of business has changed and I am not so sure that we even still know the full effect of all this change. Technology has played a large part of this , increasing efficiencies and streamlining operations to the point that fewer people are often needed to do the same functions. It has also modified how businesses market themselves – with a wide variety of new media options and strategies. There are also entirely new products and services that in many cases have transformed what some industries had offered as a premium in the past, to nothing more than a commodity now.
Within this new normal, it is more important than ever for an organization to fully identify its purpose – what it does, how it does it, why it does it, and for who. You need to be able to share your mission and in fact your passion with your clients/donors and prospects. But even beyond all of this, it is so important to offer value beyond what your competitors do. What is it that makes you different or unique? Is there something that you can provide that establishes your product or service beyond just the commodity it may well be in the eyes of the customer? How does working with your business make for a more simple transaction than with your competitors? What resources do you offer your clients? All of this and more is what you should include within a Value Proposition statement.
Here though is where the real trick comes in… how do you make sure that your clients and prospects know your value proposition? How is it that you will communicate this value? Within all of the new marketing strategies and media options the idea is to not just push out this information, but to engage your audience by providing avenues for them to learn more about you. And this process needs to be ongoing – it is not enough to just post your value proposition online and hope that clients and prospects find it. Ideally, you will share all that you provide in value over time through avenues such as e-mail blasts, social media posts, downloads of resource information, seminars, blogs, videos, case studies, testimonials, printed brochures and even personal visits. You will need to be relentless in your communication, knowing that not every message will reach who needs to really understand it. Be sincere, not artificial. Be proud of what you have to offer, and be sure to back it up with service. As it has been said many times by those much smarter than I, the more you give, the more you will receive!
What is it that makes your organization different? What is the value that you bring to the relationship?
p.s. I suspect that my next post may well be an example of how we at C L Graphics don’t just talk the talk, but actually walk the walk!