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Rev up your marketing calendar

Whether you run a financial – year marketing calendar or one covering January-December, it’s important to review it regularly, looking critically at budgeting and resources.

If you don’t have a marketing calendar, then now it’s a good time to get a plan in place. Here’s how:

  • If you are starting from scratch with developing your marketing calendar, look at your key events and lock in when they are occurring for the next 12 months. These may be seasonal driven; product release; key sales periods; cultural events; national days of celebration or a worldwide event (e.g. Earth Hour, the Olympics).
  • Work out the delivery medium for your message – e.g. billboards, radio, industry publications, letterbox drops, cinema, social media.
  • Plan both a start date and a deliverable date. Don’t rely on just having enough material for when things need to go out; build a buffer into each deadline to ensure you are giving your team the time to develop content, as well as to assess what is working at the end of each campaign.
  • Use themes to build a cohesive message across all the different points of information that you are putting out there.
  • Utilise online systems, like social media schedulers, to post in advance – that way, you can hit feeds on the day and at the time that suits you.
  • Cross-post across multiple platforms instead of one. Facebook has deep integration with Instagram that makes posting across both platforms fast and simple.

Well-planned, marketing calendars with realistic deadlines, clarity around responsibility and with scope for flexibility, will allow your marketing team to meet expectations, while providing valuable exposure for your brand and growth for your business. By reviewing it regularly, you can take into account changed market conditions as well as considering the implication of feedback you’ve received from review and research.

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Is your brand crying out for a refresh?

Businesses are often reluctant to tinker with their look – their branding. Why? Well, there’s significant money invested in their current brand. They’ve spent a lot of time and money working with a creative agency (or an in-house team), then applying the logo, font and colours across all their touchpoints. Then, there’s all the money they spend in marketing the brand – from social media to packaging, to shop signage to magazines, or outdoor ads. Why would they want to do that again?

Brands get tired, and a dated brand could lead potential clients to judge you as a stagnating business. Maybe you want to target a new market but your current look won’t cut-through.

There’s a balancing act between being a familiar brand and being perceived as an up-and coming, tech savvy brand that’s going to deliver a 21st century experience.

It’s called brand evolution. This means taking your current look and refreshing it. It’s not a wholesale change: it’s subtle but powerful in that, correctly done, it will retain your brand essence but lift it to a new level. This may mean small changes to your logo – e.g. cleaning it up, making it simpler or something more dynamic – that is still recognisable as you, but a new look that will now pop on social media and on your stockists’ shelves.

Fonts can be changed to better reflect your brand personality. From open faced to serifed, light to medium or heavy weight – your choice of font and typography is also part of the personality you are portraying.

Think about your slogan. Does it promote a benefit for the customer? Or is it about you?

Finally, if your colours are dated (remember when everyone went heritage in their palette?) then consider tinkering with the shade – for instance, moving from dark sombre blue to a blue that’s several shades lighter. If your colours haven’t dated, consider adding another colour to your palette to give you more options.

If you keep the spirit of your current brand but lighten and brighten it, rolling it out (and the accompanying cost) can be staggered – bearing in mind that consistency is important. By all means, introduce it to your website and social media immediately – any digital assets can be changed quickly.

Finally, before you press “go” on your changes, do some market research to see what your customers think about the proposed change.

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The superpower of empowerment

There’s plenty of data around showing that team members who feel empowered are more engaged, more productive, loyal and provide a real positive vibe in your workplace.

What is an empowered employee? They are someone that you have shown you can trust to make the right decisions, to get their work done to a high standard in a timely manner, and to always act with the best interests of your business at heart.

They are employees who are not only competent in their job, but look outside their own role to see how they can help and support their team members. They know that a missed deadline has flow-on ramifications. They aren’t perfect – they make mistakes, but they acknowledge them and do everything in their power to rectify any fallout.

So how do you empower your team? How do you develop that self-sufficiency?

Provide the authority to make decisions.

As a business owner – the one with the overdraft – it can be hard to loosen your grip and allow others to make decisions that impact on your business. Start by empowering team members to make small decisions without consultation, and gradually expand the amount of authority you give them, as they demonstrate the ability to make sound judgements. Provide clear guidelines and budget restrictions.

Be open to new ideas.

Encourage your team to think about the business and come to you with any ideas they have. Make sure you listen carefully and provide feedback. Sure, a lot of the ideas won’t fly, but let people know that you value their thought and commitment to the business. Not only does this empower your team, but chances are that some real idea gems will land in your lap.

Develop everyone’s skills.

Conduct regular surveys to find out what skills your team members need and want. Find out what other interests they have in the business outside their role, and think about upskilling them to provide efficiency in other areas.  Be on the look out for those who have leadership potential.

Reward, recognise and encourage.

Recognise and reward performances that are genuinely above and beyond what is expected. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to choose a star performer every month. Wait until there’s been an exceptional achievement to celebrate. In the meantime, acknowledge – both privately and at team meetings – those instances of consistent output, supporting others, always meeting or beating deadlines.

Walk the talk.

The empowerment of your team starts with you – the employer or manager. You need to be prepared to take some small hits while your team learn to trust themselves. There will be a temptation to micro-manage, to double-check. By all means put in place processes that will stop bad decisions being repeated, but if you encourage your teams to be self-sufficient, and if you demonstrate that you trust them, then the rewards both in workplace culture, being an employer of choice and in an improved business, will be yours.

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Add a chatbot to your customer service team

The COVID pandemic has driven people online at a far faster pace than was ever imagined prior to 2021.  They are researching and shopping online in ever increasing numbers and they are doing so.  at all times of the day and night.

Research shows us that over 70% of consumers want the ability to solve an issue themselves – they want the information at their fingertips.

So how do you ensure that you don’t lose a potential client, a potential sale, because your team aren’t available to answer a query at 10pm or on a Sunday?

The problems with a 24/7 marketplace:

  • Team members are not always able to respond quickly to traditional emails that are generated from your website.
  • Team members are constantly answering the same questions taking up valuable resource time.
  • There’s no customer journey that guides them into a purchasing decision.
  • Customers want answers instantly.

The chatbot solution:

Implementing a chatbot on your website can be a way to engage customers and answer those recurring questions.

There are two main types of chatbots:

  • Rule based chatbots:
    • These can be setup where there is a regularity and formula to the type of questions asked. For example, if customers frequently ask “When are you open?” The chat bot can instantly respond with the businesses operating hours.
    • If a customer asks “How much is product x?”, a chatbot can instantly pull up the price and link the purchaser to the product.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered chatbots:
    • These bots are much more complex. They still require a level of programming however they learn over time by analysing past data and making assumptions. If a customer asks a question that has no direct answer set, it can be stored for future updates by a human programmer.

People are more and more comfortable interacting with chatbots – in fact over two thirds of consumers say they interact with an intelligent assistant or chatbot at least once a month.

Chatbots aren’t a substitute for your customer service team, but they are a great tool to guide an after-hours potential purchaser to make the decision to buy.

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Schedule your marketing success

Marketing such as radio ads, billboard artwork, television commercials are driven by deadlines that you can’t avoid. You’ve committed to a schedule and are highly motivated to have everything organised by the due date.

With social media, the deadlines are more rubbery – easier to slip, and so often important posts are delayed because of competing cut-off dates from other advertising. Similarly, with articles and PR pieces that are driven by you – they need to have firm delivery dates.

Spending the time to develop a detailed marketing schedule will help you drive a clear marketing message that hits your targets and grows your business.

The Challenges:

  • Lack of long term planning. What events are coming up that need publicising? What needs to be posted on social media and when? Is there a new product that needs a media release?
  • Scattered information. You may have a team of highly creative people, but if all their ideas and tasks are across 20 or so emails, things will drop through the cracks.
  • Last minute tasks. Unplanned opportunities to promote your brand or products pop up all the time and you need to grab them. Also, circumstances beyond your control might mean last minute changes are need for a campaign you thought you had put to bed.
  • Under resourced. You have a big campaign to run but you don’t have the people or skills to design it, book it, nurture it and report on its results.
  • You haven’t automated. Everything is taking longer than it should, gobbling up your resources.

The Solutions:

  • Develop a strong marketing calendar. Plan your key events and lock in dates when they are occurring over the next six to 12 months. You need to be regularly reaching out through your communications channels – if you don’t have enough events, schedule engaging posts – weekly is ideal. Review the calendar regularly.
  • Planning both a start date and deliverable date. Don’t rely on just having when things need to go out; build a buffer into each deadline to ensure you are giving your team the time to develop content, as well as to have the time to  assess what is working at the end of each campaign.
  • Use themes to build a cohesive message across all the different points of information that you are putting out there.
  • Utilise online systems. like social media schedulers, to post in advance – that way you can hit feeds on the day and at the time that suits you.
  • Cross-post across multiple platforms instead of one. Facebook has deep integration with Instagram that makes posting across both platforms fast and simple.

A well-planned marketing schedule,  with realistic deadlines, accountability and scope for flexibility will ensure expectations are met, while providing valuable exposure for your brand and growth for your business.

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Finding clear air for your social media messages

More and more the greater percentage of marketing budgets are being spent on digital campaigns, utilising the powerful ability to refine your message to target the right people cost effectively. It’s a brave new world for a lot of businesses, but they are finding that it’s also a cluttered world where you need to have a strategic approach to cut through all the noise.

The Challenges:

  • You’ve got great content – but it’s barely getting any reaction on social media.
  • You don’t know where your target audience is – Facebook or Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn?
  • Your content is stale – the information is repetitive with little or no new engagement and you’re out of ideas.
  • It’s a one-way conversation – no one is reacting to your posts.
  • You can’t work out what content is doing well.

The Solutions:

  • Use boosted posts and define targeted audiences to get your posts reaching outside just your followers and landing where you want them.
  • Do research into your industry and competitors. Could an Instagram story be a better platform than a Facebook page post? If you’re looking to educate your customer base, consider having a Youtube account to deliver content via video (and drive consumers there from your social media accounts.)
  • Diversify your content. Mix in some short videos, short text posts or even something quirky that could be unrelated to your brand but that will make people pause when scrolling through their feed. Making people laugh is always a winner.
  • Expecting customers to just engage with your content doesn’t always work. Social media is about being SOCIAL. It’s about having a conversation – not just telling people about your product or posting a brochure. Use relevant hash tags, add some links to more information, ask questions, run competitions.
  • Leverage the power of data. Take a look at your best performing posts of the past months. Why did certain posts work, was it because of the content, time of day or another external factor? Use this data to plan your social media campaigns in the coming months.

There’s no doubt that social media is an integral part of a business marketing plan, but online engagement takes time, care, nurturing and constant evaluation and tweaking. Social media is constantly evolving with user expectations and how the platforms present information. You can’t set and forget. To truly leverage social media to build your business, you need to treat it seriously, set a budget, plan campaigns and develop the right content.

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Building a brand that punches above its weight

A brand is not just a logo and colours: it’s also about key messaging and its perception in the market place. With a lot of the market place now being online – both on your website and in social media – once your brand elements and messaging is sorted, many small businesses can build a big presence without expensive ad campaigns.

The challenges:

  • Working out what your business stands for.
  • Identifying what problem your business is trying to solve for your customer.
  • Inconsistent branding or lack of focus.
  • No awareness of your brand in the market.
  • Not enough material to create meaningful content in your online space.

The solutions:

  • Start with a compelling tag line, a short succinct message that quickly explains what your business does. It should be memorable and contain a key benefit for your clients.
  • A brand doesn’t just define the services you provide: it should also tell people what problems you solve for your clients and why they need your products and services. Also integral in your brand is the way you do business, your standards, your beliefs – and how all of this is good for your clients.
  • Control how your brand is portrayed in all instances by developing a comprehensive brand style guide. It should include all the rules around the logo (including when it shouldn’t be used) guidelines around the correct colour combinations (as well as technical information for printers, website designers etc) as well as fonts, imagery etc. Provide your suppliers with logo and device files in a variety of formats so that they aren’t scraping them off your website. Define the do’s and don’ts of your brands, and focus on ensuring your branding doesn’t fray around the edges because people aren’t following the rules. You will get sick of your brand elements long before your clients, so don’t feel you have to mix it up. Consistency is key to recognition.
  • Utilise online and local area marketing to expose your brand to a wider audience, beyond those that are already following you. Engage an expert who can ensure that you are targeting the right people with your campaigns and maximising your spend.
  • Build an online library of marketing and content across print, website and social media as well as housing all your design assets such as logos, PMS colour information etc. Using something like a NAS (Network Attached Storage), or cloud services like Google Drive, One Drive, for example, allows you to add, delete or archive information and provide an up-to-date, one stop for all your marketing people and design companies.

Branding is a very specialised area, and shouldn’t be done by an in-house committee that has emotional investment and an eye on competitors for ideas. You need someone at arms-length to provide the strategy as well as the design elements that will work well on every application from letterhead, to print media to website or billboards.

If you are looking to grow your business, take the time in 2021 to focus on developing a strong brand and with that a strong business.

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Brand evolution or brand revolution?

A highly recognisable brand that is instantly tied to a quality product or reliable service is the Utopia that businesses aim for. And we know it’s a long haul to get your brand well known. But those elements of the brand that comprise visual recognition – the logo, the colours, the fonts, the secondary language, do need a refresh from time to time. And occasionally they need an overhaul. The trick is to know when.

Marketing experts say that a brand should be invigorated every five or six years. That may mean that logos are tweaked to better work with evolving mediums, taglines reviewed, and colours examined. Gone are the days of worrying about a stacked logo taking up too much print space. Now we want something that will bounce out of Facebook or Instagram.

Any messaging that is attached to the brand needs to be considered to see if it still portrays what you do, what your positioning is in your marketplace and that it reflects current society values. Sometimes a small change – for instance from “The place to go…” to “Your place to go…” is all that is needed to turn your tagline into a client benefit message.

Colours are something that every brand needs to consider carefully. There’s colour psychology where research says that blue reflects trust and dependability, red is excitement and boldness, green is peace, health and nature and yellow is happiness and optimism. What do you want your brand to say?

If you are just looking at brand evolution then simplifying your logo and deepening or lightening your signature colour may be enough. If you are looking at revolution, then everything is up for grabs.

Either way, it’s not a job that should be done by an in-house management committee. It needs a fresh eye, and a distance from the emotion your team will have to your brand. You need experts in branding and marketing and how it’s applied. What are the pitfalls if you go down a certain path? You need to test concepts extensively before you go to the expense of making change.

I have highly talented brand experts at FC Business Solutions so if it’s time for evolution or revolution, we can help you.

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Use automated tools to solve your website challenges.

The events of 2020 have proven just how critical a good website is for every business. It’s your virtual shopfront- the first point of contact for most customers. It’s no longer acceptable to just create a website and leave it unchanged.  Your website needs to be dynamic, current and constantly evolving.  The good news is there are some great tools to help you ensure that your website is delivering the best possible service to your clients, and helping convert leads into sales.

The challenges:

  1. Slow website. If your website is slow, your customers will leave in frustration.  In fact, anything above 3 seconds for a page to load will mean that 57% of your visitors will instantly leave your website.
  2. Slow response to customer queries. Ever sent an email through a website and didn’t get a response until days later?  The longer your client waits, the more your brand integrity diminishes in their mind, and the smaller your chance of converting the enquiry into a sale.
  3. Risk of data breach. It’s an unfortunate opportunistic fact of life that hackers are out there looking for weaknesses in website security.  It’s not personal, it’s opportunities and it can be highly damaging.  Apart from the cost if it’s a ransomware attack (the act where they will not release your data unless a sum of money is paid), having your business data and customer details breached is a significant headache.  Privacy breaches require reporting and restitution, creating legal issues and eroding confidence in your brand is eroded.
  4. No measurable data. If you aren’t tracking your leads as they come through, you can’t calculate your CPA (Cost per Acquisition).  Knowing your CPA allows you to confidently budget your marketing spends at the right price point, and allows you to ratchet up your spend in those areas where you are getting the best return.

The solutions

  1. Slow website. Use free tools such as Google’s Pagespeed monitor to quickly gauge the load time of web pages on both desktops and mobile devices. With this tool, you can also look at their recommendations on how to increase the speed of your website.
  2. Slow response to customer queries. Consider installing a Live Chat application on your website. You can set it up so that it connects directly to your staff allowing customers to have their queries answered quickly and knowledgeably – leading to sales conversions.
  3. Risk of data breach. A security audit of your website can highlight any major issues your site may be facing.  Following industry best practices for website security can help mitigate any further issues, when it comes to data breaches. For instance, OWASP provides the top 10 web application security risks. Investigate using plug-ins for your website that can help automatically block unwanted bots that are trying to infiltrate your website.
  4. No measurable data. Connect a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager program) to your website to automatically track your leads and build your database.  Examples of CRM’s are Hubspot, Salesforce or Zoho.  There are also a range of industry specific CRM’s tailored to maximise the value to you, in areas that are unique to your business.

Attention to these critical areas of your website, as well as ensuring that your website is visually pleasing, easy to navigate and that all your content is current and easily accessed, will help build a better business for you.

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Your database is like a giant hive of potential clients

If you haven’t yet discovered the power of a well utilised database, then you are in for an exciting journey that, if you do it right, will drive sales and brand recognition.

A database is a collection of people that you’ve interacted with in some form or other. Whether they are past clients, people who’ve entered competitions you’ve run, people who have contacted you for information – generally speaking, they can be added to your database. You need to have T’s & C’s around your interactions with people so that they understand that if they give you personal details, you are going to store them and contact them.

Privacy of people’s information is also vitally important. Ensure that you have sufficient protection around your technology that the database can’t be hacked and exposed.

But once you have these protocols established it’s well worth the hassle. Got a new product you’re releasing? Discounting stock? Supporting a worthy cause? Made a video about a new store? Share it with your database. An eDM (or electronic direct mail) is the efficient way of spreading your message. Don’t forget the mandatory “unsubscribe” link. And if someone asks to be taken off your list – do it.

If your business is less retail and more one-to-one relationship based, you can set up a system where you can store additional details about your clients. Say you rang a great customer just to touch base and he tells you he’s going on a trip to… well, it is still a pandemic, so let’s say a houseboat trip on the Murray… put those details in the notes and next time you call, ask him about the trip. People appreciate that you have attended to the detail in their life.

If you have a database with entries that go back over many years, there are artificial intelligence (AI) programs that will sort through your data and match people with new details. Well worth investing in.

Integrate your database into a Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) program and you can automate a lot of the follow-up and contact. But don’t forget the still make time for the personalised information that is specific to various categories within your database. Which brings me to my last point. Categorise your database. Everyone is different, and so they are going to need different information on occasions. Use AI to track activity and your messages will be well targeted and produce results.