Small Biz: How important are awards, anyway?

My company recently won the (Small) Manufacturer of the Year award presented by the Arizona Association of Industries. It was an unanimous selection by a panel of its peers.

Some folks both inside and outside my company have asked me, “What’s the big deal with this award?”, ” Would it have mattered if we didn’t get it?” “Does it really help our bottomline?”

My answer to all the questions is an emphatic ‘YES’. To companies on a shoe-string marketing budget like ours, an award like this is a big deal. Let’s face it, the B2B space, especially the extremely scientific Photonics world that we belong to, isn’t really known for mind-boggling creative ads or spectucular product launch events. All we have is these few opportunities to shine and share our light with our peers.

Awards and any recognition that a company can muster are great. You can’t buy publicity like this. It gives you something to talk about with your customers. It gets the conversation started and gives you yet another reason to touch them. More importantly, recognition by a credible non-partisan organization, helps build credibility and brand awareness.

Let’s look at a personal example, are you more likely to buy a car if the consumer report gives it a high rating? Are you more likely to watch a movie if someone you trust gives it a thumbs-up.
Along the same lines, are people more likely to do business with you if your company gets a stamp of approval by an industry association? Probably.

Companies shouldn’t underestimate the power and value of free publicity, which has more credibility than all the creative advertising in the world that marketing dollars can buy.

The right technology?

Blogs, Vlogs, RSS…swamped with so many new age technologies, marketers everywhere, myself included, are trying to dig their way out of the information overload to figure out which technology they should adopt in their marketing programs.

I was struggling with the same question myself until last week when suddenly I had an epiphany during a marketing seminar. It’s not the question of which technology but what’s the need you are trying to fulfill.

I have never been a big fan of technology for technology’s sakes. Every time some vendor comes to me with the ‘greatest’ technology ever invented, the first question I ask is ‘Gee, that’s great. What can it do for my customer?’ In the end, isn’t that all that matters? As a marketer, I think it’s my job to make sure that translate the need of my customer into initiatives and marketing programs that can fulfill my customer’s need.

Someone mentioned a key point in the seminar I attended, ‘Provide the information in whatever form that the customer wants to consume it’ So again, it’s not about the technology, it’s about what information does your customer need and how does he want to get it.

Customer Excellence in Action!

Yesterday, I heard the most stunning example of customer excellence strategy right here in sunny Arizona. The award for the most creative approach to ensuring top-class service should go to JW Marriott.

The person I was talking, was hosting a large event at this excellent hotel. She and members of her team each got a key…yes you got that right, a key which came with the instruction that the guests were to give the key to whichever staff member delighted them with their service. And the staff member could go and redeem that key with his/her management for a cash award.

While most companies spend months doing satisfaction surveys and spending even more months analyzing the data, here is an excellent example of a business who rewards excellence right when it occurs. It creates healthy competition among the staff and encourages exceptional customer service. From what I heard, this hotel was heads and shoulders over all the other prestigious hotels in the Phoenix area in all aspects of customer service.

Small Biz – RSS demystified

Over the last 6 months, I have attended numerous conferences, seminars, and SIGs that discussed RSS among many other new latest and greatest technologies. But recently, it was the first time I attended a seminar that completely blew away all the mystery surrounding Real Simple Syndication and made it really…simple!

It all came together at the AMA ‘Hot Topics’ event at the Phoenix Wyndham last week, where Pheedo.com’s Bill Flitter moderated a four person presenter panel, on the latest and greatest technologies sweeping across the marketing world.

Later on, as I was discussing the seminar with another attendee, we both agreed that while some presentations were too technical, others were too much strategy, this one was, as Goldilocks would say, Just Right!!

Let’s first start with the basics – what is RSS?
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication..how simple is that?! It’s an XML-based (eXtensible Markup Language) format for content distribution. In short, RSS enables you distribute information easily and swiftly to your target audience.
To read the RSS feed, your readers will need an RSS aggregator or Reader, which is a software that allows the latest news and information, to be delivered right to their desktop without being encumbered by any email filters.

Here are some cool features of RSS that I walked away with(for more information on RSS advertising, look at Pheedo website):

- RSS is the latest and greatest (my opinion) medium for distributing news
- It is an opt-in service ie it lets your customer choose what updates he/she wants to receive
- It is an easy and effective way of disseminating information
- It is not subject to spam-filters since it doesn’t come into your email box
- It is trackable and quantifiable
- You don’t have to be a techno-geek to use it

However, RSS is still an early-adopter tool. Getting your target audience to sign up for an RSS feed from your site is still going to be challenging. The biggest mindblock for traditional marketers to adopt this new technology is that they are still in a ‘push’ mode i.e. spam your customers until they scream ‘unsubscribe’. RSS on the other hand represents the ‘pull’ mode of marketing, it’s more challenging but it’s also more effective because only the interested will sign up for the feed. Whether or not the content keeps them coming back is a challenge that a savvy marketer should be ready for.

Small Biz: How to get your customers to rave about your products

I attended a great seminar hosted by Marketing Sherpa in SFO, good speakers lined up and one topic which I thought was very relevant was getting customers agreeing to case studies, success stories. This question comes up fairly frequently in all the marketing seminars that I have attended recently. How do you get customers to rave about you?

This is how I am putting the key lessons from the seminar to develop my database of case studies and success stories to ‘wow’ potential customers:

First step, go through your customer database and filter out the customers who aren’t happy with our services or products*
Step two, start a conversation with the customers who don’t seem overtly unhappy
Step three, based on their response, categorize them into prospects for case studies, success stories, testimonials, or just one liners/ short blurbs that can be used in marketing collatoral or on your website.

The bottomline is that not all your ‘positive’ customers may be willing to rave about you or your products. Some might be limited by corporate guidelines that prohibit them from endorsing your product or they are too busy to spend time evangelizing your products. However, it is essential not to lose hope but to be creative and come up with the best option for both your company and your customer.

I will keep you posted on how my project goes :)

* Don’t ignore the customers who are dissatisfied, follow up with them and use this opportunity to see if you can resolve their issues. Studies have shown that it is much easier to ‘delight’ a dissatisfied customer than a satisfied customers because the threshold for making a positive impact is much lower.