A Simple Business Lesson From the Presidential Election

thinkstockphotos-544350060The 2016 Presidential Election is quickly approaching and, once again, it offers a real “teachable moment” in our nation’s history. Instead of focusing on all of the negativity that seems to be surrounding the United States political system, take a decidedly “glass half full” approach instead.

If running for president were like starting a business (and make no mistake – it basically is), both candidates are providing us with an excellent lesson in customer relations and marketing as we speak.

Know Your Audience

Regardless of what you happen to think about the candidates themselves, one thing is for certain: both candidates know the power of speaking the same language as their target audience. Even though the candidates appear opposed on nearly every issue, it’s hard to deny that they’re each having a tremendous amount of success within their own bases and supporters precisely because they each know what to say and how to say it within their audience. Each candidate regularly draws crowds in the tens of thousands from their most fervent supporters.

However, both candidates are relatively controversial outside of their base supporters, to the point where if they hadn’t made an effort to master and hone these unique voices, they would likely be having trouble establishing momentum at this point. Both of them are still very much “in the game” (against all odds) almost entirely because they’ve taken the time to learn exactly what they need to say and do to build momentum among their own core group of followers.

You Have to Move Past Your Audience at Some Point

Perhaps the biggest lesson that we can learn from the 2016 Presidential Election, however, has to do with growth. While keeping a loyal, enthusiastic customer base is always important, this is only a means to an end – it isn’t the end itself. If you want to continue to grow and evolve as a business, you need to be looking for ways to bring new people into that base and to allow that base to grow. A failure to do so will result in the type of stagnation that will find you spinning your proverbial wheels.

This lesson can be seen throughout the election process as well. Often you’ll see one candidate making a concerted effort to bring as many new voters into their camp as possible, while another seems to be focused on maintaining their existing voters – which can be a problem when you’re running the “business” of a political career.

The raw potential of a single customer for a presidential candidate is inherently limited. Regardless of how passionate someone is, or how much they like you, or how much they’re willing to show their support for you, they can still only vote a single time. Zeroing in on your original, core group of customers with a laser-sharp focus may be an excellent way to make sure they stick around long enough to make that sale (or vote in November), but it doesn’t help you at all regarding expansion.

If you’re so focused on maintaining this core group of followers that you’re willing to alienate everyone who exists outside of your bubble, ultimately you might achieve massive short-term gains, but it’ll be at the expense of your long-term goals. Never be so focused on one group of customers that you’re willing to push another (possibly larger) one away. Understand that ALL businesses require a steady stream of NEW customers to guarantee the growth they need to survive for years to come.

What’s in a Leaf?

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If you enjoy watching the leaves float down during the fall season, you probably already know that just like snowflakes, each tree’s leaves are individual and unique. Unlike snowflakes, though, leaves can tell you from which tree they came, and fortunately, there are many resources available to you for identifying trees by their leaves.

An excellent resource for identifying trees will take you on a journey of discovery: from the color and shape of the leaf to how many points it has, all to learn more about the tree it came from. It might go on to identify the type of bark, the size of the tree, and more to help you determine which tree you are looking at.

There are many ways you can apply this strategy of discovery with your customers, especially if they are repeat customers. If you think about each customer as if they were an onion with many layers to uncover, you can view each contact with them as an opportunity to peel away one more layer.

Learning

Your customers are individuals with unique personalities, family issues, work challenges, and styles of doing business. You can work on strategies to uncover more information about your customers to help cement a relationship with them. Customers who like you and enjoy your relationship are more willing to continue to do business with you and become loyal repeat customers.

Depth

Depending on how you maintain your customer records, there are different methods of collecting and retaining information about your clients. In an article, “7 Ways to (Really) Know Your Customers” (http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/4890-customer-engagement-tips.html), it offers several suggestions for small businesses to get to know their customers better including gleaning social data from sites such as Facebook.

By getting to know your customers better, you can anticipate when they will be spending, what triggers a purchase, and how you can be proactive in contacting them for their triggers. As you learn more about your customer, you can apply your knowledge to help them better manage their relationship with you, potentially saving them money in the long run. For instance, if they are buying their products when needed, but you see a pattern, you can sell them a larger bulk amount on a periodic basis saving them money and securing the purchase for your account.

Knowledge

Knowing your customers will allow you to separate the A and B level of customers from the one-time business customers. As you develop your relationships with your clients, you can grow your business in depth. Then, using similar methods, seek out new business and begin the process again.

Don’t Make the Internet Angry: Important Considerations About Using Social Media as a Marketing Platform

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As a sheer marketing platform, social media brings with it a host of advantages that can’t be ignored. According to one recent study, there will be 2.5 billion unique users worldwide on social media networks by as soon as 2018. Right now, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have the potential to effortlessly connect you with approximately 70% of the United States population.

However, social media also presents some challenges, too – particularly if you insist on taking the “tried but true” marketing techniques of yesteryear and trying to cram them into a social media-shaped box. If you want to unlock the real potential that only social media can provide, you’ll need to keep a few key things in mind.

Different Users Are Looking for Different Things

One of the most important things to understand about social media networks is that they aren’t all created equally. Someone who uses Facebook isn’t looking for the same TYPE of message that someone who uses Twitter is. The same goes for LinkedIn, Pinterest and more. While they’re all “social networks” in the strictest sense of the definition, they all have their unique strengths.

Twitter users are looking for shorter, bite-sized bits of information while Facebook users prefer longer, more thoughtful posts. A piece of marketing collateral that you designed for Facebook won’t necessarily play well to Twitter’s audience, and vice versa. You have to understand the channel you’re using, play to its strengths, and adapt across the board. Even if you’re presenting the same message on each network, you have to make sure that the delivery mechanism is optimized for the platform you’re working with at the time.

Think Young

One of the most mission critical things to understand as you move forward with social media is the fact that 90% of young adults today (defined as people between the ages of 18 and 29) are social media users. Not only that, but a third of them say that social media is one of their preferred methods for communicating with businesses in general.

In essence, this means that if you want to create the type of loyal following that will carry your business far NOW, you have to start playing to their habits on social media today. These younger users will continue to age, and if you can hook them young via social media, you’ve likely hooked them forever.

Social Media Demands Honesty

Finally, one of the most important considerations about using social media as a marketing platform has to do with what happens if things go wrong. Because of the intimate, constant connection that social media generates, anything less than honesty is not welcome. If customers have a concern, address it. If a legitimate problem arises, do what you can to make it right. If something bad happens with your company – be it a negative run-in with a customer to a full-fledged PR disaster – don’t just try to sweep it under the rug and pretend like it never happened.

Gabe Newell, a former Microsoft employee and founder of Valve Corporation, said it best when he said, “One of the things we learned pretty early on is ‘Don’t ever, ever try to lie to the internet – because they will catch you. They will deconstruct your spin. They will remember everything you ever say for eternity.”

In essence, this means that while social media can bring a lot of positive attributes to your company regarding the sheer marketing power it offers, it is also a slippery slope. If you want to use social media to develop meaningful, lasting relationships with your target audience, you can’t assume this is a given. You have to earn it, and you can never take it for granted.

A Personal Touch Makes a Difference

thinkstockphotos-508197435Marketing is becoming increasingly personalized with the technology available to create templates for customization. More companies are looking for ways to personalize schwag, brochures, and online communications. It is easy to understand why customers love personalization because it means that they are getting noticed, and they can see their name in print or graphics.

Why is Personalization Popular?

While online and digital personalization is easy to implement with current technology, it can also be used for face-to-face marketing. What is interesting is that people are willing to wait for items that are personalized for them. Personalizing communications are the first step in communicating and engaging with the customer. Companies such as Zazzle are making profits printing customized items using pre-configured templates that customers can fill in before they print. Personalization is the result of researching data and getting to know your customer. You can tailor projects and styles towards your customer after finding out what they want.

Often we like to think that items are personalized for us. Personalization reduces the appearance of information overload and helps us to think we are in control. We tend to focus our selective attention on items that are personalized for us from emails to clothing. When someone says your name, you focus attention on that person.

Personalization in the Non-Digital World

Beyond the electronic versions of personalization, you can see this trend on products in the marketplace. Snickers Bars have wrappers with tags such as confused and ornery; Coke cans are being printed with people’s names, and children’s clothing often has names imprinted. These products evoke an emotional reaction in buyers leading to repeat business and customer loyalty. Printers have a unique niche in this marketing avenue since they have been personalizing products for a long time.

Finding the Point of ROI

The point of personalization is to make a relevant connection with a customer. Then you can leverage the connection to drive more business.

4 Stubborn Business Myths

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Entrepreneurs know that owning a small business takes dedication, passion, and hours of concentrated work. You may run into obstacles that test your business and your perseverance, obstacles that are norms in the world of business which each entrepreneur must learn to navigate. However, there are some obstacles that you may be facing without realizing it. Those barriers are stubborn business myths that just won’t go away because people believe them, even though they aren’t true.

1. It’s not what you know but who you know.

In the course of doing business, business owners or potential business owners come up against this belief time and time again. However, while it is true that knowing the right people may help you get started or get access to some deals, in most businesses it is expertise, experience, and skill that propel you forward in business. If you can provide the solutions customers want, they will refer you to their friends and family.

2. Nice guys finish last.

This myth is a holdover from the era of Western movies and superhero comics. Nice guys (always portrayed as pushovers or wallflowers) finish last because the villains and heroes walk all over them. In film, this may be true. After all, Tony Stark isn’t a nice guy. He is an arrogant, self-centered genius. However, The Avengers aside, in real life nice guys finish first quite often. While a person with low self-esteem who doesn’t speak up will not be successful without change, a courteous business owner is appreciated immensely by customers and vendors.

In today’s modern world, people are used to dealing with machines, poorly-paid clerks, and online shopping. Finding a business person who is willing to offer them genuine customer service, build a relationship and spend time getting to know them to better serve them is rare. Many people are happy to pay more for real customer service. Therefore, being a “nice guy” is valuable to your contacts. They will remember your excellent service and come back for more.

3. Don’t work hard. Work smart.

This myth is one of the worst business myths out there. There is no way you can run a business without working hard. Hard work is what separates the “men from the boys” as entrepreneurs. Successful entrepreneurs put in hours of labor to get their businesses off the ground. Working smart is just another way to say that there is a workaround or that you can find a way to skip the hard work. It just isn’t possible in reality. If you aren’t willing to work hard, you won’t make it in business.

4. It’s called work for a reason. It’s not supposed to be fun.

All work has elements that workers do not like to perform. It might be the paperwork that you need to fill out for each customer or the data entry on your last case. However, why can’t work be fun?

People who find work that satisfies them are much happier in life. That happiness translates to their work and their interactions with co-workers, customers, and vendors. If you love to sell, create graphic designs, or help customers find what they are looking for, then you ARE having fun at work. In fact, many companies are now providing their employees with ways to have fun at work to help reduce stress and fatigue.

So go ahead and have fun while working! It can only improve your outlook and production. Work can be fun.