28 December 2008

Report Card Time

Well, it's the end of the year we all called 2008, a time of reflection and a time to evaluate just what I've done for the last three hundred and sixty five days. 

Let's review my new years resolutions, goals and/or predictions from 2008 to see just how I did:
  1. Work smarter - somewhat, this is a work in progress and getting better all the time.
  2. Provide better service (gonna shake the post, baby) - somewhat, this is a work in progress, I have elevated service in some areas while dropping in others.
  3. Be home on weekends, not at work - mission accomplished, although it took 9 months, I have only gone into the office on a weekend 3 times since September.
  4. Lose 20lbs - in 1 year??? yeah, right. I'm up 2lbs - a nasty virus kept me down most of the year.
  5. Hire a customer liaison - doh! Did I really say that??
  6. Double business volume once more - mission accomplished, volume is easy when your team does great work.
  7. Host weekly creative meetings - not even close, but will work towards it this coming year.
  8. Set the bar high, on everything - it's set, only through providing great work and striving to do the best will we be able to continue to be competitive over the next couple of years.
  9. Double the amount of blog posts - mission accomplished, damn near tripled it and will continue to do it as long as the three people that read it don't get to bored with my musings. 
  10. Hand deliver cards and gifts to clients - I got a few out the door, it's just so damn busy just before the holidays... it doesn't mean I don't appreciate each and every one of our customers, it just comes down to time... do ya want your work done, or do you want a clever xmas card?

Give me a few days and I'll post my goals, predictions and resolutions for 2009 - I bet the three of you can't wait.

17 December 2008

I Told You So...

I hate to say I told you so... but, Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) is finally being criticized publicly (go on, read this article) about security concerns, but there is much more wrong with IE than that. In my opinion, the IE browser is a big steaming piece of crap. This isn't just my opinion of this software though, it's a consensus amongst every web developer I've ever talked to.

Most clients aren't aware that a good sized portion of their web site costs goes into manipulating the html and css code so that their web site will work on IE. Just to put that into perspective, some customers can pay several thousand dollars, just so their web site will work on IE... even though it works fine on every other browser. It's a waste of time, resources and money.

Making this adjustment and 'fixing' standardized code so that sites will work in IE is is not an option as a whole lot of people still use IE - either because the user doesn't know any different or because their IT department hasn't switched them over yet - bottom line is, we have to make sites work in IE.

There is light at the end of the tunnel though - last spring, IE has announced that it will conform to the internet standards (set forth last century and known as W3C) in their next version of IE (IE8). This is of little consolation however as the amount of people that still have not upgraded their IE6 is alarming... I can't believe how many people are stuck in 10 year old software. If experience teaches me anything... IE35 may be on the market long before people install IE8 as a browser.

My suggestion is that people switch browsers entirely, take this opportunity to bring up the IE security flaw with your IT person/department and recommend a switch. Switching over is really easy to do and it's free! I suggest that you use Safari, Firefox, Chrome or Opera... or make your own, it couldn't be any worse than the current IE. And, who knows, perhaps if enough people switch, you may save some money the next time you redo your web site.

Surf's up, hang ten.

13 December 2008

Using Instant Feedback

The internet has developed nicely over the last 10 years to be interactive, responsive and intuitive and has given company's unbelievable tools to help build their business.

Listening to your customers has always been a cornerstone of good service and taking that feedback and working it back into your business usually yields positive results. In the past, this process has taken months to cycle through back to the customer that may have made the comment that sparked an action. The faster a company could make this cycle the better they serve their customer and reap the rewards of this process.

Using the web to do this has shortened the cycle somewhat, and of late, this cycle can be made instantaneous. And, that's pretty damn quick. The company's that jump on this have a definite service edge over their competitors.

Your customers should be able to dictate, manage and customize their web experience with you from the colours they see, the images that are displayed to them and the ability to offer their views, suggestions and complaints on your brand/product in real time.

Offering customers like information on subjects they have viewed already also enhances their experience. A lot of these features can be set up easily like feedback forums and discussion platforms, but are not for the faint of heart - you may see your product or brand attacked online. But, if you are on the ball, you should be able to turn these remarks into an opportunity to explain more about your product in a more personable way.

The web offers no end to immediacy and instant gratification, if your customers are forced to dig for your info, they will find it elsewhere and it may not be the story you want to tell.

Review your web site, see if customers are getting what they are looking for with ease, if not get it fixed... the sooner, the better.

06 December 2008

The Gift of Marketing in a Recession

If you're looking for the silver bullet or magic pill that will turn your business around, you might as well go buy yourself a lottery ticket. It's not that easy, it never has been.

But, now more than ever is the time to engage your marketing professional and really concentrate on the marketing of your business.

I have had many discussions of late with colleagues and clients alike regarding marketing in this current economy - there's not a lot that differs from now than before other than you need to be a bit more careful of your spend and more focused on the strategy.

1. Understanding of your brand - what and where is the value in your product or service. Go back and read some of my other postings - I talk about this a lot. Because it's important, not because I like to repeat myself.

2. Patience - you may not see immediate sales like you did the past few years; the sales process on larger items especially take more time when times are tough - customers want to make sure they are making the best choice (notice I didn't say the cheapest? Quality is more important now). Getting engagement with customers becomes the measure for results in these times. Be prepared to spend more time with each customer - you will have to explain more, demonstrate more - know your offerings, values and differences well. And, teach your staff to communicate it. Knee-jerk reactions in a volatile marketplace can quickly empty your bank account.

3. Calculated risks - don't be afraid to try new ways to market your product, but don't use medias that can't justify the spend. The depth and ability of online search tools has all but rendered the printed yellow pages useless, they have tried to move into the digital realm with yellowpages.ca in Canada, I'm convinced this group has no concept on what makes a search tool effective - advertising on yellowpages.ca is possibly the quickest way of wasting your advertising money; flushing money down the toilet has more redeeming qualities, at least its an event you could build some publicity around. I look at my clients yellowpages.ca proposals with consternation - I could (and may someday) do a complete blog on this subject.

4. Strategy - what does your end game look like and what are the plays that will take you there? Creating a marketing plan is a start, but it needs to be able to change and adapt to take advantage of new opportunities as they arise. You should start with goals, weekly, monthly and quarterly and these goals should be more than sales targets - drill down, make goals measurable. A goal may be to get 25 new customers into your store or showroom in a given week - you can measure that and work from it: how many bought, how many came back, how many phoned back later etc. Now you can tweak your strategy to target these particular threads.

5. Go 2.0 - Have a serious look at your web site - are you doing all you can to engage customers? Measure everything and plan everything - your web site should not only be found through simple key word searches (organic or paid), it should direct customers right to where they need to go. Your web site should be a place of engagement for customers and your brand - not a brochure, stick to printing those relics. Your web site should deliver paying customers and answer questions - in real time. I recommend that you use your money to buy pay per click advertising, you can do this directly with proper search engines by yourself or hire a firm that specializes in this and understands it (yellowpages.ca offers this, but you are best to seek a company that specializes in SEO - Search Engine Optimization).

6. Relationships - Creating customer loyalty and building relationships is all part of the brand experience customers get when they engage your services. Evaluate your current experience - what are some of the key touch points and how do you make them better? What are the negative touch points, how can you reduce them? Create a great customer experience, one that is honest and true to your brand. A great experience will help to create loyal long term relationships with your customers.

The principles of marketing don't change, just because there's a recession. The value of those principles is even more critical.

Pick your battlefield, pick your battles and win... not at all costs though, you must have ROI and optimizing your web site and marketing can do this.