29 November 2006

Good Vision

They say that hindsight is 20/20. But not all people have the same keen vision, and many I dare say, need corrective lenses... even well after the fact. What really impresses me though are the ones that seem to be able to see into the future, have a pulse on things and really understand the continuous wave of change that is happening around them and their industry. I’m talking about the ones that are far-sighted, near-sighted, pragmatic and welcome real change.

The ability to see what’s coming is a gift. The ability to continually adapt, prepare for and react to change is necessary. The link between these two is what can define success. Let me explain.

Seeing the future is easy… if you understand your customer. Keeping tabs on your customer, and not the traditional marketing textbook version of understanding your customers buying habits and demographics, but really understanding the needs of your customer. Knowing why they’re buying what they buy is much more interesting to me than what they’re buying.

Understanding your customers’ needs and wants helps you to create product and services that are ‘customized’ for that specific customer which creates trust and brand loyalty (er, I mean repeat business). Man, I hate that catch-phrase – brand loyalty… customers are not loyal because of the brand, they are customers because the brand is loyal to them – in short, the brand delivers exactly what it promises, each and every time. So when I use the term brand loyalty, what I mean is what I say above… I just don’t have a fancy acronym for it yet.

Keeping loyal to your customers is all about meeting and/or exceeding their expectations.

So, who sets these expectations? You do. In your marketing, in the image that is put forth by you, your staff, your web site, your existing customers and by everyone that has ever known you and/or your company. When you advertise, you are doing more than just promoting your product or service, the images, text and feel set expectations with consumers. It’s simple, really - someone smiling in a cell phone ad sets an expectation that your service will be trouble free and enjoyable. The way that your phone is answered sets an expectation of what the remainder of the call will be like and even what the company will be like to deal with. Think of some other examples, I’ll give you a few minutes….

When it comes right down to it, think of continually making a first impression. Every impression is making a promise. Business owners that are aware of this fact, are the ones that appear to have that near-perfect vision and generally have a service culture that starts right from the top. Companies with this type of leadership and guidance are not overly common, but you know who they are as soon as you talk to any one of their employees. It’s evident.

Providing a steady stream of new products or services that your customers eagerly gobble up may sometimes be mistaken for seeing the future. But it’s really in the hindsight, understanding your customers allows you to innovate and bring new products to market that seem as though they were designed specifically for them… because they were.

14 November 2006

Good Marketing is no Mystery

I've been very sick the last few days and as such have experienced the dark depths of couch potatodom. Anyways, to make a short story long...

There was 54 channels and nothing on (thanks Bruce) which meant I did a lot of channel surfing, while doing so, I happened across a news article on a unique plumber in Lethbridge, Alberta.

The name of his plumbing company is Mystery Plumber. What makes this plumber unique is that he shows up at your home or business dressed up in a costume. On the featurette that I saw, he was dressed up as Ace Frehley, Elvis, and a wrestler - what fun! Here is the link to the show's article: http://www.careerstv.com/WhatsNew.aspx#obp

On the Mystery Plumber website (http://www.mysteryplumber.com/) there are a few pictures of some other costumes and some other information and stories of how he's been covered in the media.

Here is a great example of a guy that starts up a new business that is very dependent on customer referrals and takes a huge chunk of market share in short amount of time... not by doing what the others are doing, but by being different. By taking a chance, bringing some humour into the equation and doing good work.

When I saw the article I was impressed with the plumbers' moxie and his willingness to laugh at himself. His strategy seems to have paid off - the unique delivery of his service got him great media exposure which most certainly caused his phone to ring - doing a good job ensures repeat business and the uniqueness of the service means there will be no end of curious customers with toilet troubles.

Well done Mystery Plumber. I really admire the strategy and the originality of your marketing approach. It frustrates me to no end when I hear business owners say, 'that's not how our industry markets itself' or 'nobody else does that'.

Marketing a company is not rocket science, there is some science to it, but none involving actual rockets. In fact, when it comes right down to it all you really need to do is understand who your customer is, what would motivate them to use your service and promote it. It's really that easy (almost).

So if you're looking for free marketing advice; dressing up like Elvis always works. (unless of course, you're in pharmaceutical sales)

07 November 2006

Beer League Hockey

Alright, many of you may know that Canadians have a passion for hockey... the fact is, most Canadian men between the ages of 25 and 55 play hockey at some type of recreational level.

One could argue what the reason for this is, but why?

It's a great game and is the foundation for some great friendships. The time spent in the dressing room, cracking jokes, farts and beers open allows guys from all different backgrounds and occupations to get together to enjoy hockey and a few laughs. I have played with the same Saturday night crew for 15 years, and the same Monday night crew for 6. I look forward to these nights, sometimes hero, sometimes hack.... OK, mostly hack.

And, there's not one of us that wouldn't love to play professionally, and not for the reasons you may think - we love playing the game that much. You can understand when a pro athlete cries the day he has to retire... we get it, ...we make fun of it in the dressing room, but deep down, we genuinely feel for the 'poor(sic) fella'.

The love for this game may be hard to explain but it exists amongst men right across Canada. We get it.

This year, I volunteered to help out with the coaching of both my sons hockey teams - sounds easy enough, eh? Just put on your skates, show the kids how to win at all costs (hehe). Well, between me and my two sons we have 29 ice times in November. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have it any other way, it's a lot of work but it's worth every minute.

This passion for this game may be hard to explain, but it exists right across Canada amongst hockey dads and hockey moms. They all get it.

Big league, minor league, beer league... we get it.

Here's what I don't get...

A few years ago when I heard about an idea for a television show featuring beer league hockey, I said, yeah! What a great idea. I heard they were going to approach the show, using REAL hockey players with REAL hockey action and capturing the reality, the 'smells and laughs' of beer league hockey, I said, Yeah! What a great idea. And, I wasn't alone - every person that I spoke to about this show idea loved it and thought it would be a hit.

They put together an excellent and professional team of people to produce a trailer for this 'Beer League' hockey show - a cast was selected, locations were picked, extras were booked and the filming began. They launched the trailer ( http://www.zoomcom.ca/beerleague/ ) online - check it out if you haven't already, it's very well done. From what I understand they are/were ready to shoot a full season but cannot find a network that will carry them.

This is what I really don't get. How can a great show about Canada's pastime, hockey at the grassroots level be ignored by major networks and specialty networks in Canada - I can understand that it may not fit in with NBC's Thursday night line up but why not at the CBC, Showcase, Showcase Action, CTV, Comedy Network, Sportsnet, TSN, Men TV or even the NHL Network (sure, why not?).

Could it be for the lack of potential advertisers? Seems to me that a show about beer league hockey is not only ripe and obvious for sponsorships and product placement but would draw a substantially large male audience, maybe the 25-54 group... but maybe this demographic doesn't have the disposable income that advertisers are after. You couldn't say that the guys I play with are hard up - in the parking lot you will find cheap imports like Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Mercedes, Porsche & Volvo (no exaggeration, honest). All of these gents have expressed interest in Beer League.

Could it be because of a content conflict? Well, let's see, the only thing that is remotely close is 'Rent-a-goalie' on Showcase. I have seen this show and it is amusing and does have some great cameos... not exactly drawing from the grassroots hockey playing public though... not the way that Beer League would. I see the Beer League show as complimentary programming to anything that is on the tube regarding hockey - after a big league game, back to back with 'Rent-a-Goalie' or before 'Making the Cut' - mark my words (or bookmark them) - Beer League will be a hit in Canada.

So, to the cast and crew of Beer League; I wish you all the best and can only say that the networks are weak on the glove side - keep shooting.

01 November 2006

No Solutions

Wow, did I miss the meeting on the use of the word 'solutions'?

Last I checked, it meant a means of solving a problem or dealing with a difficult situation... never mind the alchemists meaning of the word. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm no English professor, and I don't even claim to have better understanding of the language than Bush... but I know when a word is being used (make that overused) in a wrong way.

Unfortunately, I believe the word 'solutions' has become a lazy marketers catch-all and a first and last resort these days in describing what a company does.

The grocery store that used to sell food now sells meal solutions, thanks guys, problem solved.

The utilities company that used to provide me with natural gas now offers heating solutions, cool.

The landscaper now offers landscaping solutions, great, problem is no longer!

The courier now offers complete courier solutions... what does that even mean?

Just what is an Outdoor Power Solution Centre? Family Law Solutions? Most Unique Lighting Solutions? Creative Mortgage Solutions? Staffing Solutions? Wireless Communications Solutions? Web-based Solutions? Printing Solutions? (all from a 5 min search in the yellow pages)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against people getting solutions, if that's what they want. But, don't you think it's a bit presumptuous of a company to assume they have a solution for you, not knowing what your problem(s) may be... what would be helpful is if they described their offering or service a bit better and more succinct. That would be a solution.

My absolute alltime favourite is 'Out-of-the Box Solutions'... really creative. Stay in that box big fella. Hey, why not, 'for all your out-of-the box needs'?

Why can't companies just call it like it is - if you sell lamp shades, tell people you sell lamp shades... not light fixture solutions. Go that extra step and tell people you have a great selection of lamp shades or that your selection is unique, half price, on sale now, imported, of the finest quality... pick one and plug it. Chances are, people may come to believe that your retail facility sells lamp shades, and may pay you a visit to purchase lamp shades.

All these solutions and talk of lamp shades could drive a person to drink (hey, a drink driving solution!)...

That's all folks.