Put Your Core Values on Display Through Marketing

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The core values that you’ve dictated for your business play an important role in just about every decision that you make. What many people fail to realize is that they need to play an important role in your marketing, too. Marketing isn’t just about communicating what services you provide or what products you offer, but what type of business you represent. The customer/business relationship is one that is built on trust, and putting your core values on display through marketing is one of the best ways to strengthen that relationship both now and for all time.

 

It’s About Clarity

In many ways, the most important part of marketing has nothing to do with whatever new product you’re touting at the time. It’s about distilling everything – your products, your services, your employees and more – into a single message that lets the customer know who you are, what you’re trying to do, and why you’re trying to do it.

Consider the message that ends every Visa commercial you’ve ever seen, the message: “It’s everywhere you want to be.” This message isn’t overly reliant on how shiny the cards are or what perks or rewards you might get for signing up. It’s beautifully simple and conveys an important message: by signing up for a Visa card, you’ve got access to a trusted financial resource anywhere you could possibly need it. You’ve got a partner that you can depend on, day in and day out.

That one simple message is one of the single best examples of putting your core values on display for your audience through marketing in the modern era. It says everything that you need to know about what type of company Visa is AND what type of service they offer in six short words.

 

Honesty and Integrity Can Also Mean Humility, Too

If you’ve decided that two of the most important core values for your business are honesty and integrity, you need to accept the fact that the best way to display this to your audience will not necessarily always be positive.

Consider what happens when you make a mistake as a business owner. Maybe you released a product and said that it did one thing, while it really did another. Maybe you claimed that it did one thing really well, when in reality, it was barely functional and not ready for public consumption. These are the types of mistakes that business owners make on a regular basis – it’s a fact of life.

The thing that separates the successful business owners from the ones who quickly disappear, however, is what they do next. If you’ve always told your customers that you value honesty and integrity, the path is clear: you own up to your mistake in your marketing. You acknowledge the problem as a learning opportunity and pledge to take the experience and use it to do better work in the future.

It’s something that you see time and again. Coca-Cola introduced the stunning disaster that was New Coke in 1985. Microsoft released the Windows 8 operating system. What do these businesses have in common? They’re still around, thanks to the fact that they understood that the core values of honesty and integrity sometimes mean humility, too. They admitted that they made mistakes, apologized to their customers, and pledged to do better in the future.

Far too many business owners label the core values of their business as “not for public consumption.” Now, more than ever, the relationship between a business and its customers is one that is forged from a strong sense of transparency. One of the best ways to show your customers what type of business you are is to let those core values reflect outward with your marketing materials.

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Inspiration from Acts of Courage

thinkstockphotos-175717025As American actor and social icon John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death …and saddling up anyway.” Observed acts of courage are nourishing to the spirit and inspiring to all of us. In business, this is just as true and important as it is anywhere else.

Three company leaders who went above and beyond the call with their courage, demonstrating the kind of direction that characterizes great leadership, are the CEOs of Bluebell Ice Cream, Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods, and Southwest Airlines.

After many were taken ill, and three people died from a listeria bacteria contamination of Blue Bell ice cream products, the company voluntarily recalled some eight million gallons of their ice cream products from retail shelves. Once the severity of the situation was known, CEO Paul Kruse recalled the products and initiated a program of employee training and plant sanitization that would take four months to complete. Four facilities in three states had to be sanitized and thoroughly inspected and tested for the presence of the bacteria before production could resume. There was the distinct possibility that the company would be unable to financially survive this hiatus while 1,400 employees were laid off, and an equal number being partially furloughed. Kruse secured capital from an outside investor and saved the company.

A similar circumstance faced Maple Leaf Foods’ CEO, Michael H. McCain, when numerous deaths were attributed to contaminated meat produced by his company. Meeting the obvious media interest, he stood resolutely in front of the cameras accepting responsibility for the problem. Not all leaders are cut out to handle this kind of pressure, or deliver a necessary and potentially disastrous response with this much courage. An old, Latin proverb tells us that fortune favors the bold, but abandons the timid. Maple Leaf Foods was saved because of McCain’s bold resolve and dedication, which rested on the foundation of his courage.

The CEO of Southwest Airlines, James Parker, displayed a similar courage in the face of a different kind of threat. Deep in the shadow of the recent horrific events of 9/11, the trend for businesses was to cut workforces and pull back on expansion projects in the recognition that far less prosperous times may lay immediately ahead. But, while these fears gripped industries nationwide, and particularly the airline industry, one airline CEO made the brave choice to buck this trend. Only three days after 9/11, Parker announced that Southwest would not be cutting employees, and in fact, would be keeping them all, as well as initiating a new profit sharing program with them.

Ernest Hemmingway said that courage is grace under pressure. The three CEOs of Maple Leaf, Blue Bell, and Southwest certainly had an element of grace under pressure, but they had more than that. Echoing what John Wayne said, author Arthur Koestler wrote, “Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears.” These three men did not let either notions of greed, nor the fear of failure sidetrack what they knew they needed to do. They saddled up, anyway.

Constructive Criticism: Direct Customer Feedback Through Public Channels

Constructive criticism is always important, regardless of the type of business you’re running. It’s one of the single best ways to not only identify areas where you and your team truly excel, but more importantly, identify things that you could be doing better that you might not be otherwise unaware of. The key word in this phrase, however, is “constructive.” You need to be able to glean something valuable from what your customers are trying to tell you. To do that, you really need to consider the source.

The Survey Conundrum

Many people believe that sending out surveys is one of the best ways to get open and honest criticism regarding what they’re doing, what they should be doing, and what they should stop doing as quickly as possible. In reality, this is incredibly false and surveys, in general, are faulty for a very important reason. The types of people who are the most likely to fill out surveys are the ones on the extreme ends of the customer spectrum. People who are really, really dissatisfied or who really, truly already love your company are going to represent the vast majority of all responses. As a result, you’re going to get a huge number of responses that you can’t really do anything with or learn anything from and the few, valuable leads that you do have are easy to get lost in the shuffle.

What is Direct Customer Feedback?

The best way to get the constructive criticism that you’re after is to go to more direct sources – namely, social media, forums and similar channels online. Social media, in general, has made this incredibly easy in the last few years – you can search for your company name on a site like Twitter or Facebook and look at the conversations that users are already having with one another that you had no part in starting. These are people who were already having an open and honest discussion that they never assumed you would be a part of in the first place, so they don’t have a “horse in the race,” so to speak. These are the conversations that you need to be learning from. Online communities like message boards are also a great source of this, provided that it isn’t a message board hosted on your own website. Again, these will be users who are similar to survey respondents – they’re not the customers in the middle who you really need, but are the “extreme” customers who fall firmly in “love it” or “hate it” camps.

Onward and Upward

Direct customer feedback is something that you should not only embrace, but actively seek out on a regular basis. In a way, it’s like any other customer service channel – by showing that you’re ready to accept anything that your customers can throw at you, you’re showing that they have a voice that is equal (if not more important) than your own. Some business owners label people with issues “haters,” even if they have legitimate concerns. This would really only be true if you believe that your business is already perfect, which is not true. This is also hugely beneficial from a marketing perspective. Simply put, customers enjoy supporting businesses when they know that their opinions are valued and they feel valued, too. By seeking direct customer feedback through public channels, you’re putting your best foot forward in this regard and are only strengthening your marketing message, your brand, and ultimately your business at the same time.

Signs That It May Be Time to Change Your Brand

Time to rebranding. Watches with an inscription

As you enter the world of business, you’re told time and again that your brand is essentially everything. It’s the first encounter that most customers have with your organization and it’s your connection to those people, particularly when it comes to establishing the type of meaningful and long-lasting relationship you need to survive. While all of this and more is definitely true, there is one important thing that your brand is NOT: immortal.

Changing your brand may be a difficult decision, but sometimes it is the best chance you have to re-organize your priorities and start anew. There are a few key warning signs that it may be time to change your brand that you should always be on the lookout for:

Time Has Passed and Passed… and Passed…

A lot can happen in a decade. Since 2005 alone, the world saw the rise of the smartphone, the fall (and arguable recovery) of desktop computing, the “death” of physical media and more. If the one thing that you CAN’T say about the last ten years is, “I’ve updated by brand at least once, preferably twice during this period of time,” then you’re looking at a clear-cut sign that it’s time for a change.

So much happens in a decade that without a brand refresh, you run the risk of developing a reputation for being old and stale. Even if you know that isn’t true, relying on the same logo and marketing approach from President Bush’s second term will land you right back there anyway. A brand change or upgrade is a perfect way to start fresh with a bold, new (and most importantly modern) voice.

Your Target Audience is Changing

At some point, any successful business that has operated for an appreciable amount of time needs to deal with a target audience that “ages out” of what attracted them to their business in the first place. If you think of the most successful brands in history, be it Pepsi or Microsoft or something in between, they’ve all had to deal with the same issue at some point in their history.

If despite your best marketing efforts your once steady sales have started to stagnate, or if you just can’t seem to rile up your audience the way you once did no matter what you try, it may be time to rethink your brand and who it is geared towards. Remember that a 30-year-old in 2015, and a 30-year-old in 1965, represent two completely different things and barely resemble one another. If your core audience has gone away, a dramatic change to your brand (but adherence to the values you established in the first place) is a great way to attract the attention of a whole new crop of people in one bold and striking move.

Changing Your Brand Doesn’t Mean Changing Your Vision

These are just a few of the many signs that it may be time to change your brand. Above all else, it’s important to remember that a brand realignment is not an admission of guilt that something went wrong, or defeat in terms of your business in general. Instead, it’s an opportunity. It’s a chance to throw out the old and rise from the ashes like the phoenix, ready to take a new generation of your target audience by storm and impact their lives with your products or services in a much more organic and impacting way.

Learning True Humility

True humility comes from a rejection of its opposites (pridefulness and arrogance), along with nurturing of acceptance, listening instead of speaking, and focusing more on another person than on yourself. That meaning was expressed beautifully by the ancient philosopher Confucius, with:

“Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.”

One of the most popular films of all time is “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray. As the pre-humility Phil Connors, he is the perfect caricature of a self-absorbed personality. This film is a wonderful depiction of the learning of this life lesson about the importance of humility.

As you recall, the plot is basically his journey toward humility and service to others. He is rescued from a perpetual loop when he learns the lesson, and can then get on with his life as a more mature and complete person.

A favorite character interaction in the movie is that between the well-practiced jerk, Phil Connors, and the well-intentioned, but mentally limited, bed-and-breakfast operator who makes an innocent comment about the weather. The TV weatherman, Connors, having probably practiced this before on other victims, launches into a full blown 65-word weather report ending with the snarky question, “Did you want to talk about the weather, or were you just making chit-chat?”

He intentionally embarrasses her just for the personal enjoyment of it. The exchange becomes the perfect definition of his character, or lack thereof, before learning the lesson of humility.

Equipped with his newfound humility, the later Phil Connors is everyone’s friend. He has not only demonstrated to others his appreciation for their presence in his life, but has contributed in many ways to their satisfaction, happiness, and well-being.

Everyday Humility

Everyone has witnessed someone who they’ve thought could benefit from a healthy dose of humility. The kind of people who always have a verbal come-back after someone remarks on having done something or been somewhere. No opportunity passes without them commenting on their own experiences. Only it usually is not just an, “I did that, too.” Typically, this person has done it bigger and better than you did it.

If you went up in a balloon, they went to a higher altitude. If you have a favorite pastime, they have already done that long ago. They have an, “I did it better,” for every subject you bring up.

They practice this without really realizing how obnoxious it is. In reality, they truly believe they are just being conversational. It all too quickly begins to reflect their own weak self-image. They fail to realize how they have turned the art of simple conversation into a contest–one they feel compelled to “win.” This, of corse, is the complete opposite to humility.

Winning this contest is rather nicely exemplified in an old joke. The story goes that a fellow goes off to college and returns after graduation only to be completely surprised at how much his parents have learned in the four years he has been away. He knows he has learned a lot, but lacks the humility to recognize that his parents may have already known much of what he has just learned.

Life is not about how much you have personally accomplished, as seen in the attitude of an immature Phil Connors. It is about how much you have contributed to the lives of others along the way. Only after you learn humility can you do this to the fullest extent.

Personal growth is a natural byproduct of service to others. As the immature Phil Connors eventually learned, in the face of your inherent drive for achievement and success, the best guardian of your self image, the best vehicle for promoting your own growth, is not a resume full of accomplishments. It is the humility to recognize your own limitations and the contributions that others have made to make your life better. Humility truly is the foundation of all other virtues.

Tips for Mastering Multi-Channel Communications in Your Campaigns

You can essentially boil down the goal of any marketing campaign to one impossibly simple core concept: you‘re trying to connect to your target audience and communicate a message in the most natural and organic way possible. In today’s modern environment, marketers tend to fall into two distinct camps: those who are sticking to the tried-and-true print technique and those who see digital as the way of the future. The fact of the matter is that these concepts do not have to be mutually exclusive. Learning how to take all of your available options and use them in tandem with one another is a large part of what multi-channel communications are all about.

Let the Customer Discover Your Message on Their Own Terms

For an example of effective multi-channel communication in action, consider what happens after you send out a print item to a customer using direct mail. Logic dictates that you should wait a week or two and send a follow-up message, right? As you’ve already established contact, that follow-up doesn’t have to come in the form of another mailer sent to the customer’s mailbox. It can easily be an e-mail sent to the address for that customer you have on file. Suddenly, you’ve used not one, but two, different channels effectively, allowing the customer a full range of options regarding how and why they respond and continue their journey.

That may be simplifying the situation a bit, but the benefit to the consumer of getting full control over how they’re receiving and responding to your message is what multi-channel communications are all about.

Better Campaigns Mean Better Results

In order to master multi-channel marketing and really put it to good use for your organization, you’ll need to keep a few key things in mind. For starters, you’ll need to establish a single, unified view of your customers across all channels. Any available piece of information will need to be collated together, not only so that each channel seems like a natural extension of the next, but so each channel can allow for the deeper level of customization that attracts customers in the first place.

Another factor to consider has to do with your organization’s ability to create the most consistent experience possible across all of those channels at the same time. When a customer gets an e-mail, sees a mobile ad, and receives a letter in the mail from your campaign, they all need to feel like they’re coming from the same company. One can’t be casual, while the other, stuffy and overly professional. Failure to grasp this basic concept can result in your organization coming across as a bit schizophrenic.

You’ll also need to develop your own in-house multi-channel platform to help keep track of all of these materials. You’ll need things like campaign management software, for example, giving you the ability to execute all aspects of a campaign (including both print and digital materials) all from the same unified workflow. This will also give you a better idea of tweaks that you can be making to your campaign by way of things like predictive and actionable analytics.

Multi-channel communication, in general, just goes to show you that print and digital don’t have to be an “either/or” scenario for marketers. By leveraging all of the tools you have available to you instead of playing favorites, you’ll put you and your team in a much better position to succeed moving forward.