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A little help for the upcoming year

Rising ProfitsAs a small business owner, you know that you need to sit down at some point and think long term about your business and its advertising. While I can’t help you set goals for your business, I can offer a little guidance on your advertising and marketing. Here are six past articles from this blog that might help you as you think through and strategize your marketing and advertising for the upcoming year. Click on the title heading and the article will open in a new window.

What do you really sell?

All good strategy’s start by getting down to the basics. You might think you sell furniture, but your customer may be looking for a lot more than that.

How do your customers identify you?

Does your logo, business cards and other advertising and marketing truly reflect the work that you do?

Are you living up to your advertising?

You can say all the good things you want, but if those things aren’t true then you’re going to lose customers instead of gain them.

Make your message strike a chord.

What makes an ad stand out? Its message sticks with you long after you’ve moved on to other things.

The Secret Formula for Successful Advertising.

This was the first post ever published on this blog. It gives a simple explanation of how advertising works.

What are you saying?

Here’s two simple rules to making an effective advertisement.

There’s a lot of food for thought there. I hope this will help you and your small business get off to a good start this upcoming year.

spam irony

No Spam!I get lots of comment spam. As readers, you don’t see it because it gets filtered and eventually deleted. But every now and then one catches my eye because of the complete idiocy of the attempt at advertising. Here’s one such example:

Hi, i simply needed to come here to inform you of a super inexpensive service that posts comments like this on millions of WordPress blogs. Exactly why you might ask, well you may wish to sell something and target webmasters or merely just increase the quantity of backlinks your website has which will improve your Google rankins which will then bring your website much more visitors and cash. Take a quick take a look at this website for much more info. <*link removed*>

So… a spam comment that tells me how I can post comment spam on other people’s blogs. Oh, the irony!

It’s stuff like this that gives advertising a bad name. How you advertise says a lot about who you are.

Fonts matter

All fonts have a personality & a purposeI’ve mentioned before how everything in your advertising and marketing materials must support your message, even the font you use must support this message. Two of the most over-used fonts are Comic Sans and Papyrus, and they are often used in a glaringly inappropriate manner.

A graphic design student has put together a website that does a great job of illustrating why some fonts are more appropriate for certain messages than others. The website is Comic Sans Criminal. It only takes a couple of minutes to go through the site, so go take a look.

Choosing the right font is a vital part of saying your message well. So, dear small business owner / reader, are you a comic sans criminal?

Via Web Designer Depot.

A Tale of Two Doctor’s Offices

Let’s continue our theme about appearances which has been woven in the last two previous posts (they can be found here and here). Let’s take a look at two separate doctor’s offices. Based on what you see in these two pictures, which office would you rather go to?

Here:

Woodlands clinic exterior

Or here?

Montgomery clinic exterior

Given the choice, I bet most people would choose the second office. What do you think?

Image matters

In light of yesterday’s post, How do your customers identify you?, I’d like to direct you to today’s post on Seth Godin’s blog. Here’s the meat of it:

Marketing is actually what other people are saying about you.

Like it or not, true or not, what other people say is what the public tends to believe. Hence an imperative to be intentional about how we’re seen.

You need to give some thought to how you want people to see you and your company. Then you actually need to be that, or at least begin the process of becoming that. You also may need to adjust your company’s “identifiers” – its logo and associated marketing materials – to reflect that identity.

Don’t be like this company. They got a big write up in a well-known technology blog, and most of the comments ended up being about how cheap their logo looked. Go ahead and click the highlighted link and scroll down to the comments at the bottom of the page. Some people had fun with it, but it is clear that a lot of people had a hard time taking the company seriously because of their logo.

The company handled it well, even making a joke about it and eventually announcing they were pursuing a new logo, but that doesn’t change the fact that their unprofessional image overshadowed their service.

You put on nice clothing when you go to a job interview. Shouldn’t you dress your business nicely when you meet a customer? Invest in a good logo that accurately reflects your business and how you want it to be seen.

Oh, and the other stuff that Seth mentions in his blog post, it applies to you as well. Dressing up a bad business with a great logo and marketing is as useless as putting whipped cream on an onion.

How do your customers identify you?

Here’s a question for you: What type of work do you do? Not what is it you do for a living, but what kind of work is it? Is it competent work? Is it mediocre? Is it horrible? Is it professional and white collar? Is it skilled and finely detailed? Is it rough, no-nonsense and immediately useful?

The purpose of this question is to get you to think about how your customers identify your company. I got to thinking along these lines recently while doing some research for a logo I was working on. I was surprised at how many small business logos for this particular field did little to convey the type of work they did.

When we see someone in a suit, we assume they work behind a desk. When we see someone wearing boots, we assume they work outside. That’s not a surprise. But it is surprising when someone is inappropriately dressed for they work they claim to do. If the guy who is supposed to clear your land of brush shows up in dress slacks, you’ll wonder if he is prepared for the job. You’ll think the same thing if a person selling you a suit is dressed in a sneakers and worn jeans. How they present themselves gives a clue to whether or not they are up to the job.

The same applies to businesses, yet a lot of small businesses inadvertently give the wrong message in their presentation. If you’re a selling something that has an appeal based on looks (clothing, furniture, whatever) then your business card had better look good. If you’re in a line of work where dependability is key, say transportation, delivery or courier services, then your marketing materials had better look dependable.

When a potential customer needs a dependable courier service, will they think you are dependable by looking at your web site? When a potential customer wants a nice couch to change the look of their living room, will they know you have good taste based on the sign outside your store?

Often a business owner will tell me that once a customer comes in to see their merchandise or tries their service, it sells itself. But the truth is that a customer won’t try your service or come in to see your merchandise until they are convinced that you are up to the job.

Saying you’re up to the job isn’t going to convince them. You show them your are up to the job by making a competent presentation through your marketing and advertising. Fail to do that, and you’ll be like the guy in sneakers and worn jeans trying to sell suits. He can say he knows suits till he’s blue in the face, but no one will buy unless it’s priced so low that it’s too good to pass up.

It’s not difficult to present your company in a competent fashion. Yes, it will take an investment of a little time and some money. But the investment in your business’s identity – the logo, the design of the business cards and the letterhead – is essentially a one-time investment. It is miniscule compared to the monthly ongoing expenditures you make in the course of doing business.

You’re going to have business cards printed up anyway. Why not do them right? Contact me. You have nothing to lose.

Will people ignore your ad?

TechCrunch has a new article on internet advertising. It states that 43% of internet users ignore banner ads. Interestingly, other media have a much lower “ignore” rate: 14% of surveyed people say they ignore television ads, 7% for radio, and 6% ignore newspaper ads.

Much is made about how many people ignore advertising. In fact, a lot of business owners I’ve talked to use this as an excuse to cut their advertising. What surprises me is how many people don’t ignore advertising. 86% of viewers do not tune out television commercials! 57% of internet users take notice of banner ads! Now that doesn’t mean that a particular viewer or user will respond to your ad, but it does mean that they at least give you a chance to tell your story, to let them know what your small business is all about.

You’d do well to make the most of it.

What’s out of place in your advertising?

Seth Godin has a great article on hiring an architect. Only he’s not talking about architects for buildings, he’s talking about an architect for your business. Here’s my favorite quote:

I’m talking about intentionally building a structure and a strategy and a position, not focusing your energy on the mechanics, because mechanics alone are insufficient. Just as you can’t build a class A office building with nothing but a skilled carpenter, you can’t build a business for the ages that merely puts widgets into boxes.

My friend Jerry calls these people corporate chiropractors. They don’t do surgery, they realign and recognize what’s out of place.

It’s an excellent read. Go take a look and ask yourself, “does my advertising or marketing need an architect?”

Mixed messages

I’ve mentioned before that a good advertisement will say one thing and say it well. You have such a short slice of time to communicate your message and you don’t want to muddle things up by trying to say too many things.

With that in mind, it is possible to inadvertently send a mixed or conflicting message through your advertising. This billboard was running a while back near where I live, and illustrates what I mean by a mixed or conflicting message:

BurgerFresh Billboard

I hate to pick on these guys, because they really do serve great hamburgers. But this billboard doesn’t do their product justice.

I love the colors and the logo, but the product shot is a mess. There is nothing “fresh” about it. It looks as if someone dropped the hamburger on the floor, hastily put it back together and snapped a quick picture. While their name and their message attempts to say they have really good, fresh-made hamburgers, their product shot says the hamburgers are thrown together and are unappetizing.

It didn’t need to be this way. They could have hired a professional photographer experienced in product shots, taken the time to really dress up the burger, even hire a food stylist (yes, just like a hair stylist, only for food) so their product would look its absolute best. The results would have been vastly different.

I’m also curious if they took the picture themselves, as the lighting is poor and the colors are washed out. I think they would have been well-served to call in a professional. Based on the design, the graphic artist who did the billboard appears to know what they were doing, but they were hindered by an amateurish photo that communicates a message that is in direct opposition to the one that is supposedly presented.

It takes a lot of skill and hard work to match the look and tone of an ad to its message. Don’t cut any corners. You dress yourself nicely when you want to stand out and make an impression. Why wouldn’t you do the same with your advertising?

Your logo’s back-story

A lot is involved in designing a logo, but it is well worth the investment.

Logo Design Love has a great piece by Brandon Moore on the three essential elements about a company that a logo design should reflect. Click the link, read the short article, and ask yourself, “Does my business’s logo do this?”

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