Monthly Archives November 2015

Does My Small Business Have A Marketing Strategy?

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I’ve talked elsewhere on this blog about what strategy is and why it’s important.  But I just realized I hadn’t put together a list of questions to help you figure out if you’ve got one for your business, and if so, how finely tuned or tight it is.  Does your small business have a marketing strategy, or are you in danger of running aground?

So here you go…be sure to count the number of “yes” answers you get.

  1.  Do you have a set of 3 – 10 specific actions that you take to build your business?  If you haven’t determined a list of the things that are “in” (as in, “my business does this to grow”) and the things that are “out” (likewise, “my business doesn’t do that”), then you don’t have a strategy.  Period.  As I’ve said in classes and other articles, strategy is selecting the best course and not wasting time on less-effective paths.  A random shotgun approach isn’t a strategy.
  2. Do you take these actions regularly?  I want to emphasize the word regularly because often business owners are so busy they aren’t doing their chosen things consistently, and that consistency is an important part of a marketing strategy.  However, “regularly” doesn’t have to be daily.  Maybe it’s a once-a-month industry networking event, or a blog post every other week.  But it has to be something that you will do at appropriate intervals.
  3. Did you choose those actions because you know they actually build your business?  The potential pitfall here is regularly doing actions you’ve heard work for some people, and/or choosing them because they’re “smart strategies.”  (Really, in this context, they’re tactics, not strategies.)  But effort put into a strategy that doesn’t produce results isn’t smart no matter how you cut it.  Can you point to leads, opportunities, or customers that you got because of each of your chosen actions?
  4. Can you quantify how effective they are?  There is certainly an element of serendipity in marketing.  You can’t always be sure where the next opportunity is going to come from, but you can certainly keep track of where the ones you get originated.  Do you have a way of measuring the effectiveness of each action?  Can you pull up a list of the leads you got from the networking event?  Or show what percentage of people who read your blog go on to purchase from your store or sign up for your list?  If you can’t say “Yes” to at least 80% of your listed actions, you have to take a “No” for this question.
  5. Have you experimented with other actions, using the measurements in the previous question to update your action list?  Here’s the gold standard for marketing strategy.  If you are regularly evaluating your list, using the metrics of effectiveness to prioritize what you’re doing (and more importantly, what you’re choosing not to do), then you get a “Yes” here.  But if you choose mainly based on what seems easiest, or makes you feel good, or have been doing exactly the same thing for more than a year without checking the numbers, you have to take a “No.”

If you got all five, congratulations!  You have  a focused, self-correcting business strategy!  However, if you got a “No” on any of them, it’s time to spend a little time on whatever the earliest question is where you ran off the road.  I put the questions in the order of strategic refinement.  Go back to your first “No” on the list and you’re looking at the question that is going to be the biggest bang for your buck.

Questions 1 and 2 can be addressed by most people with a little planning and time management.  Once we hit Question 3, knowing that your actions are actually building results for you, it sometimes takes some technical know-how.  Yes, with the right tools and setup, you can know if the Facebook ad campaign you ran sent you visitors, or how many blog readers you have.

Question 4 adds a little bit extra to what’s needed in #3, namely having some additional analysis (and sometimes a new data-collecting tool or the like).  So instead of just knowing of that ad campaign sent visitors, you can actually find out how many dollars of e-commerce revenue you got because of it, or the number of newsletter registrations came from your blog readers.  This level gets answers that are far more granular and specific.  (And if the thought of learning all this gives you chills of horror, contact me because I love doing this kind of thing.)

Finally, Question 5 brings us back around to a time-management thing you can probably do on your own, but with a twist: you need to be in a “big picture” mindset, not a “what do I need to get done?” or “what do I like to do?” mindset.  You’ll need to mentally step outside your business and look at it dispassionately from the outside.  And that’s really difficult for some people.  Often it helps to have a mentor (or, dare I say, a business coach) to help get you into that right mental space on occasion to reevaluate using the new information you have.

I hope this was helpful, but either way, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!  Thank you!

Image Source.  Modified from the original by Michael J. Coffey

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in Goals, Strategy, and Planning

OMG! What Happened To My Social Media? It Isn’t Working Like It Used To!

Woman freaking out because her favorite social media site changed

You’ve just logged into your favorite social site, and now it’s different.  “Where did the button for X go?”  “Hey, that doesn’t take me to Y any more!”  “What happened to the Z feature?”  The panic begins to rise.  You start thinking back to whether you did anything different to cause this problem.  “Did I click on something I wasn’t supposed to by accident?”

Relax!  Social media sites change.  Sometimes it’s a tiny thing, and sometimes it’s a big thing.  Sometimes you get notification that a change is coming, and other times you don’t.  That’s just how it is.

But take this moment to savor the opportunity.

“Opportunity?” you exclaim.  “Everything’s messed up!  I don’t know how to get my regular stuff done any more!  I’m back to square one!”

Precisely!  You are back to square one.  But the opportunity is that so is everyone else.

A frequent refrain from the less tech-savvy folks I work with is that there’s so much to learn and that they fear they’ll never learn everything they have to in order to be effective.  But when a social media site changes things, everyone goes back to square one.  At least briefly.

Granted, those of us with a bit more experience will probably get up and running again a little faster than those starting from scratch the first time.  However, it’s in these moments of equalizing and resetting that the newbie can make a bunch of progress relative to the “experts.”  They are just as unaware of what the new thing does, or where that old feature went to.

Rather than sitting back and wanting to wait until the experts figure everything out, then, what you should be doing is leaning in because you are just as much an expert as anyone else right now.  Figure something out yourself, then look for others who are asking about that thing.  Answer their question.

Now who’s the expert?

You are.


(Note: This article was triggered by the Google+ redesign launch of mid-November 2015.  However, the same dynamic came up in 2011, for example, when Facebook launched the “Timeline” or when Twitter made video content more prominent, or Pinterest changed both their terms of service and how pinning worked, and will continue to be the case in almost every social media site change for as long as there are social media sites.)

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in Social Media, Tools & Terms

Focus with the Ladder of Desire

Ladder rising from darkness into a brightly lit openingLike it or not, we’re all human (except for the spiders, of course). You are, your customers are, and I am. As humans, we’re not entirely clear on what we’re trying to achieve, or even if we are, we often don’t articulate it very well. Whether you’re not entirely sure what your clients want, or what you want, I may have an idea to help you bring more of these things into focus: the Ladder of Desire. I’ll first cover the idea itself, then get into how it can help you understand and better serve your customers, and to clarify your own needs.

If you’re confused about the spiders reference above, I recently talked about the “spiders” that crawl the Web in my newsletter.  Subscribe to get a monthly tech term defined, tips for improving your online marketing, and more!

The Ladder of Desire–An Overview

I was reminded of this idea while reviewing notes I took in a workshop a while back. The Ladder of Desire divides the strength and type of desire a person has for something into three broad categories. As you go up the ladder, the intensity of desire increases. Similarly, both the price tag and the involvement of others also increase.

Rung 1: Lowest desire for help/product/service, lowest cost, and lowest involvement for a supplier, consultant, expert, or other person who might be brought in for help. This is the “tell me how to do it” level. If you want a chocolate cake, Rung 1 would be represented by a cake recipe. It’s cheap, requires very little effort from someone else, and depending on your personality, motivation, and skill level, least likely to actually result in a chocolate cake that you can enjoy.

Rung 2: Step up a rung for a medium level of desire, cost, and involvement. This is the “show me how to do it,” or “do it with me” level. When a potential client says to me, “I could use a little hand holding,” I know they fall in this category. With our cake example, this would be a baking class. It’s more expensive than a recipe, and the baker or pastry chef needs to expend more time and effort than they would if they just handed you a recipe card, but most of us would be more likely to achieve a delicious chocolate cake afterward.

Rung 3: The top rung is where everything is cranked up to the highest level. Here’s where people say, “I’m willing to pay for you to do it for me.” If you’re married, did you take a baking class to learn how to make your own wedding cake?  Probably not. Instead, most people pay a lot of money for a skilled professional to take care of it for them so that they just go directly to the goal without worry or mishap.

Here’s where human nature gets funny, though. Lots of people are torn between valuing their money and valuing their time, between wanting the skill and wanting the result of the skill. In my own family, a story often told of my uncle was that as a child he’d complain that he wanted to be a great pianist but without practicing. And this is where the goal setting gets confused, and why the Ladder of Desire helps.

Serving Your Clients with the Ladder of Desire

It is a rare client who comes in knowing, and able to express, precisely what they want from you. Usually there’s some shopping around, or exploration, or asking questions. See if you can estimate which rung they’re on, first, because that is going to help guide the conversation.

For example, I used to work in a tea shop. Some customers were at a low level of desire. Maybe this was their first time into a tea shop at all, or they’d heard tea was good for you or something and wanted to look into it. I’d usually give those people our one-page price list of our most popular teas, including descriptions of each.  But some had specific questions about brewing tea (“What’s the difference between a teapot and tea kettle?” or “How do you use a gaiwan?”), so I would do a little demonstration. Customers could “try out” teapots to see how they felt to pour, whether they dripped, and so on. That’s a Rung 2 sort of activity. And, of course, we put on occasional immservie experiences like tea dinners–where the food is prepared with tea, and other teas are paired with the dishes. Or professional-level tea tastings. These were high-ticket items because they required the most from us as a shop, and only the die-hard tea aficionados (that is, Rung 3) would sign up.

The usefulness of the ladder doesn’t end there, however. In addition to helping identify what a customer might be most likely to purchase, you can also use the ladder to create new products or services. Are you serving each level of the ladder equally well? Are you pricing them accordingly?

Finally, you can also use the ladder as a way to draw people in. People who have engaged with you at Rung 1 are warm leads for Rung 2. After all, if they have your instruction sheet, or recipe, or price list, they have expressed interest in your offering. That’s warmer than random people off the street. Can you find a way to get those people to “buy up the ladder”? Perhaps they’re at a lower rung than they really should be, and the right conversation or the right offer will help them understand that they should be higher up…meaning both that they are better served and you’re increasing revenue.

Understanding Your Own Goals with the Ladder

Your busisiness is also someone else’s customer. So are you in your non-business roles. All of your vendors, suppliers, shops, restaurants, and other folks you do business with see you as a customer, but they may not be thinking with the Ladder of Desire. However, they’re going to love it if you’ve already done so.

When I worked at the Washington Women’s Business Center, we’d often tell people that every business owner should identify an accountant, a lawyer, and an insurance broker that they’d like to work with. (Now, I’d add a digital strategist because the Internet is so important to businesses these days, but as a digital strategist myself, I’m a bit biased.) Let’s say your business is fairly new and you’re still looking for an accountant. What’s your desire level? Are you looking for a book or software recommendation so that you can take care of everything on your own (Rung 1)? Do you want to take a Quickbooks class so that someone can answer your questions as you learn how to use the software package (Rung2)? Or do you want someone to just take all your numbers, put them in, and file your taxes for you (Rung 3)?

What do you really want? Going into a conversation with an accountant knowing that information will be so much more productive.

If you find a conflict in your desires, that can be useful as well. What if you want the Rung 3 work, but can probably only afford the Rung 2 level of service? That’s something you can articulate more clearly now! “I’d really love to have someone who can do all of this for me, but I’m just not there financially yet. How would you suggest I prioritize the services you offer? How have your other clients dealt with this situation? If I can only pay for you to guide me on a few things, what’s going to give me the most bang for my buck?”

Put It Into Action

Here’s your assignment: Go out into the world this week. Whenever you’re in a place where you can watch people doing commerce of any kind, from the grocery store to your own business, try to keep the Ladder of Desire in mind. See if you can develop a “sixth sense” for which rung someone is on. When you’re looking at advertising or marketing–yours or someone else’s–identify which rung is being offered. Is this “tell me how,” “show me how,” or “do it for me”? Raise your awareness and see how it can help you see things differently, be more clear of what you want, and what you might be able to offer your customers.

Image:  Alcove house entrance, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico, USA, by Wingchi Poon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in General Marketing

Ardea Hallowe’en Visitor Analysis 2015

Data & Trends

Trick-or-treet (ToT) visitors by hour for the most recent season by hour, with previous 4 years for context and year-over-year comparison:


Costumed visitors for competitor businesses:

  • Observation 1: 5
  • Observation 2: 2
  • Observation 3: 13
  • Observation 4: 6


What Does It Mean?

This year’s event lands squarely within the first standard deviation of the last five years. Of course, it comes nowhere near the numbers of 10 years ago (e.g., 2004: 52 visitors), but a new lower pattern has been established. Relevant features include:

  • No visitors prior to 6pm; earlier periods averaged 0.8 visitors before 6:00.
  • Continuation of pattern of no visitors after 9pm.
  • Establishment of a later peak time. Most visitors during 7:00 hour; a decade ago 73% of visitors arrived during the 6:00 hour.

The new dynamic can be traced back to the launch of competitor events such as this year’s Hunger Goblin Trick Or Treat, and Halloween on Holman. Increased competition from small business core areas in the neighborhood is meeting a majority of, but not all, demand.

What Should We Do?

Recommendation 1: A/B Test Better Candy
Competitor businesses were giving “fun size” and “bite size” selections of consumer-grade product. Test larger and higher quality options, using capturing at least metrics of visitor satisfaction rating and active word of mouth referrals (via exit survey question) as well as increased returning visitor percentage.

Recommendation 2: Reduce Hours
Given the reduced hours of visitors, focus on peak periods by only turning on the porch light between 6:00pm and 9:00pm. This reduces costs associated with Halloween overhead.

Additional Information

Costumed visitor metric based on photographic data taken between approximately 2:25 and 2:30pm on 31 Oct 2015 on the corner of the major intersection serving a main commercial street for the neighborhood. Costumes counted if waiting to cross or actively crossing the street.

An additional benefit to Recommendation 1 may also solve the identified problem of “too much damned candy left over.” While purchasing statistically-appropriate amounts is a direct way to address the problem, higher quality remainder product may result in a reduced perception of the leftovers as a problem in the first place…an indirect solution to be sure, but one to keep in mind during strategic planning for next year’s event.

Posted by Michael J. Coffey  |  0 Comment  |  in Analysis & Testing
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