Monday, March 12, 2007

Marketing with the Rule of 5

If you own a small business, you know how hard it can be to squeeze in time for your marketing. You are usually acting as everything from CEO to receptionist, and when you have clients, working hard to get more of them falls down the priority list. Who can blame you? When things are going well, you want to do a great job for the clients you have--not focus on getting more, and perhaps letting your quality slip.

Take it from someone who owns a small business--you've got to do the marketing, regardless of how many clients you have now. When my partner and I started Grasshopper Communications, we fell into the trap of letting things slide. We got some good clients very early on, and focused on doing the best possible job we could for them. When we finished their contracts, however, we discovered that we didn't have anything in the pipeline. To aggravate the situation, our contracts ended in November, meaning we had no income in December and January, and little prospect of getting any, since business slows down around the holidays. We learned from that mistake, and hopefully we can help you learn from it, too.

It can be daunting, though, to look at your marketing goals and even know where to begin. That's where I apply the Rule of 5. The Rule of 5 is a secret I learned from Jack Canfield, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Write your marketing goal on your business card, sign it, and carry the card in your wallet so that you look at it every day. Then, do five small things that will get you closer to that goal. Maybe you make five phone calls, or write five solicitation letters, or send five emails to prospects, or collect five names for a mailing list. If you do five small things toward your marketing every day, before you know it, you'll have reached your goal.

So next time you feel like you don't have time to do the marketing, just remember the Rule of 5.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Features and Benefits

I know, it sounds like a simple thing, but I'm amazed at how many marketing professionals forget this basic distinction. Every product, service, or in the case of our specialty, every urban district, has features and corresponding benefits. The features are the actual characteristics of the product/service. The benefits are what it does for the consumer.

Copywriting guru Bob Bly illustrates this distinction perfectly in The Copywriter's Handbook (Henry Holt, 2005). He uses a simple pencil to exemplify the difference between features and benefits. A pencil's feature, for example, is that it is hexagonal, and the benefit is that it won't roll off your desk. Another feature is that it is 7 1/2 inches long, and the benefit is that it ensures long writing life. Get the picture?

So why don't more marketing messages focus on the benefit of a product or service, rather than the feature? Because it can be difficult to take the intellectual leap from describing a feature to extrapolating a benefit. Marketing professionals become enamoured with the feature, and describe it eloquently, even lovingly, without every putting themselves in the customers' shoes. But by failing to outline the benefits, marketers make the customer work harder than they need to. And if the customer gets frustrated in looking for the benefit, they'll ignore the message, and the product/service.

So try this exercize, from The Copywriter's Handbook. Take any household item, and create two columns--one for features, one for benefits. Write down as many features of the item as you can. This should be easy--you're really just describing what you see in front of you. Now the tougher part--for every feature, come up with a corresponding benefit. If you can do this, you can sell any product or service.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Cowboys, Indians, and Starbucks

Long ago, during the 1950s, vacationers came to western cities like Denver, Phoenix, Cheyenne, Dallas, and Albuquerque to get a feel for the West--the real West. These tourists didn't want to see skyscrapers and modern buildings. They wanted swinging saloon doors and wooden sidewalks. And many of these tourists found just that.

Oh, how times have changed. Western cities today look just like any other city, and convention and visitors' bureaus in those cities don't even really promote the area's western heritage. Considering heritage tourism is hot right now, you'd think that there would be a few more swinging saloon doors in Denver and Phoenix.

But today's tourist is also much more sophisticated. The global mass media have educated them, and the nostalgia of the Old West doesn't have the same cache it did in the 1950s (although this may be changing--look at the popularity of "Deadwood" on HBO and a slew of recent western movies). Although visitors today still want to hear about Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Buffalo Bill, they want to do it while sipping a latte and checking their email at a cybercafe.

This poses a challenge to cities and historic districts trying to market themselves to an increasingly savvy consumer. These areas must walk the fine line of promoting themselves as "authentically" historic, while also advertising their high-tech amenities and trendy businesses. This has always been a problem for cities in the West, however. Travelers to the 19th-century West came to find the wilderness and have adventure, but they also wanted to be able to have a bath and a warm meal when the adventure was through. It was this impulse to bring conveniences to the West that helped to "tame" it. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

So where does that leave marketers for western cities today? Finding the same delicate balance that they have had to find for over a century. Marketing a mixture of old and new.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Historic Districts Need Marketing, Too

During the 1970s, the historic areas of cities were at best neglected, at worst, under siege. City planners saw no value in the old houses and businesses, and urban renewal bulldozers ripped through historic neighborhoods with frightening regularity.

Things changed in the 1980s. Suddenly, the old homes and commercial buildings were tres chic. Young professionals wanted to live in converted warehouses and suburban families ventured into downtowns to soak up the atmosphere. City planners, real estate developers and merchants invested in downtown, and brought with them national brands and hordes of customers. Throughout the 1990s, central business districts did "land office" business.

Since the start of the 21st century, downtown is booming faster than ever. But city officials and downtown associations have gotten out of the habit of promoting events and businesses downtown. Fifteen years ago, people sought out downtown amenities, and although that trend has continued with minimal publicity, it won't last forever. Historic commercial districts face increasing competition from new-urban, mixed-use developments in suburban areas. Not only that, but residents of metropolitan areas are increasingly taking their revitalized historic districts for granted. Contemporary development coupled with businesses that are getting old and no longer seem hip, are struggling to attract the crowds to center cities. Many businesses don't see the value in their historic district, and so are doing things that are counter-productive to the area.

As historic downtown entertainment districts become more of the norm, patrons, residents and business owners need to be educated about the benefits of historic preservation. Downtown associations need to continue to promote the heritage of the central business district, and lobby the city government for infrastructure and other amenities that make the historic districts economically feasible. Just because something is hot this year, doesn't mean it will stay that way without some marketing support. Although they've been the wave of the future for over a decade, historic districts need marketing, too.

It All Comes Together Downtown

When you go to a new city, you want to see what makes that city unique, right? Get a feel for the local character? See stuff you won't find at home? Then you need to go downtown. The central business district of a city, whether it's Chicago, New York or St. Cloud, Minnesota, holds the key to the city's identity. Although suburban shopping malls and outlying attractions certainly bring in customers, more and more tourists are seeking out downtown experiences when they travel. As a matter of fact, heritage tourism is the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry, and downtown historic districts are the major beneficiaries of that increase.

With this in mind, downtown associations and chambers of commerce have spent the last 15 years promoting downtown and bringing more visitors, both locals and tourists, into the central business district. So I am always amazed when the business people downtown don't know how to take advantage of this boom! Recently, I visited a city that had a historic commercial district and an active downtown association, but who couldn't get their members to participate in tourism events because they thought it would disrupt parking for their 2 or 3 regular customers! These same merchants refused to offer repeat-buyer discounts because they didn't want to go to the trouble of punching customers' cards. Amazing.

Downtown is hot these days. Every city in the nation is promoting urban living and urban lifestyles, including residential lofts, mixed-use developments and lots of pedestrian activity. Even suburbs and small towns are trying to emulate the bohemian lifestyle of the city. We are an urban nation, and finally Americans are embracing their urbanity. It would be in the best interest of every downtown association, merchant, and chamber of commerce to find ways to make their downtown as pedestrian and consumer friendly as possible. Sometimes, that is easier said than done.

That's why Grasshopper Communications specializes in downtown marketing. We help downtown associations not only promote their merchants, but also teach the merchants, restaurants and community leaders how to take advantage of each promotion. That way the promotional dollars won't go to waste. We are also well versed in working with historic districts and commissions, so we can help create a pleasant, consumer-friendly environment for every guest. Because at Grasshopper Communications, we know that downtown is where it all comes together.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Finding Your Niche

I got an email from a customer recently with this comment: "I can't make any progress with my marketing until I know what my marketing niche is. Until I know who my ideal clients are going to be, I can't start with my marketing, so I really can't use your services until I'm clear about this."You might want to substitute your own concern: "I don't know what my services are yet," or "I don't really know what the ultimate outcome is that I provide for my clients," or "I don't know what makes me unique yet."And with this declaration of what you don't know, your marketing grinds to a screeching halt.My answer to this customer was the following:You don't find your niche. Your niche finds you. And this goes for your services, ultimate outcome, uniqueness, etc.What I mean by this is that you can't really figure it out in your head. You need to discover it. And the way you discover it is to jump into the process of marketing. I know this might not makes sense to you, but stick with me here, because this is really one of the biggest issues many businesses and professionals face. I've seen it hundreds of times. I've seen people completely stuck because they can't figure out their audio logo or perfect marketing message. And they "know" that when they figure it out, all their marketing will fall magically into place. Utter nonsense, I'm afraid.Here's the big secret that nobody has told you: You take your best guess, give it a shot and see what response you get. That's all, really. You don't get it right. You get it wrong - maybe for a long time - until it finally falls into place.My customer is confused about which clients she should go after. But she doesn't have to decide - yet. All she has to do is take a mad stab at it and say, for the time being: "These are the clients I'll work with for now." And then build a marketing message around that. She'll discover soon enough if it's the right niche or not. She'll talk to a lot of people. She'll use her newly created audio logo, ultimate outcome, etc. She'll get responses or not. If not, no problem, back to the drawing board. If she gets a few clients in this niche, she'll soon discover if they are ideal or not. She'll learn as she goes, and fine tune her message along the way. After awhile the niche will find her. She'll stumble upon it. Aha! That’s it! And then the next version of her marketing message will be right on target.Let me give you an analogy in another field.A new music student says: "I can't learn music until I know what composers I'm going to play. I'm really conflicted. Will I play Mozart and Bach, or Beethoven and Brahms? Difficult choice. But when I'm clear on whom, then I'll start to learn music.Wouldn't we roll our eyes if we heard this? Then why do we take the declaration so seriously that someone can't find their niche? Its nuts.Sadly, the chance of the above person ever becoming a musician is pretty slim. And with this approach, the chance of my customer ever becoming a successful Independent Professional is pretty slim as well. The good news is she's willing to try.And starting is easy. You won't be a marketing genius in a week or two, but you'll be way beyond where you are now. So get out of your head, let go of the need to have things perfect, be willing to fail fast and just do it!You don't figure out all your marketing strategies first and then start marketing. You start your marketing with one imperfect message at a time and figure it out as you go.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Proactive Communication for Real Estate Development

For the past decade, I have researched, worked for and served on numerous public and civic boards, all dealing with real estate development and revitalization. I’ve noticed that some projects sail through the zoning, design review or planning process with no opposition from adjacent property owners, homeowners associations or neighborhood groups. Other projects come before these boards amidst a groundswell of public opposition akin to peasants carrying torches and pitchforks. What’s the difference?

The most startling thing about the opposition is that it rarely has to do with the project itself. Frequently similar projects have been built nearby with no opposition. When opposition occurs, it usually stems from a lack of understanding between the developer and the stakeholders, and can reflect anger at being left out of the process.

When entering into any urban development, whether it’s renovating a single building or master planning a large infill site, a developer can be a good neighbor and stave off opposition by adopting a proactive approach and following a few simple steps.

Identify all the stakeholders. Depending on the scope of a project, there can be a great number of citizens and groups concerned about the outcome. Certainly adjacent property owners and neighborhood associations would be interested, as well as existing tenants in buildings being revitalized. Talk to everyone who could potentially be affected by the project, and ask them for ideas of other groups you should identify. You don’t want to be blindsided in the middle of the project by opposition from a group you didn’t even know existed.

Learn their concerns. Once you’ve identified all of the possible stakeholders, talk to each group or individual. This seems like a time consuming step, but it will save money and headaches down the road. If there are groups that oppose your project, learn why. Some of their concerns may be relatively easy to address, but ignoring them could solidify greater opposition in the future.

Speak their language. When meeting with homeowners groups, community associations, and individual neighbors, discuss your project in language that is easily understood by both sides. These individuals may not know what TIF is or care about TDRs, but they do care about community impact, pedestrian access, and views. Empathize with their concerns and explain the project in a way that facilitates mutual understanding and open communication.

Listen with an open mind. Although it’s a natural first reaction, don’t be too quick to dismiss any potential opponents as troublemakers or pests. Many developers have benefited from the open exchange of ideas and the input from people who have a vested interest in the positive outcome of a project.

Establish a collaborative process. Create a process that will allow stakeholders to be a part of the decision. Of course, there are many parts of a development project that cannot be open to collaboration, but identify those areas that can be collaborative, and find ways to bring as many of the stakeholders into the process as is reasonable. This gives potential opponents a way to get information and establishes good faith between the developer and the neighborhood.

Overall, be proactive. Don’t wait until opposition arises to get the stakeholders involved. By allowing those impacted by your project to have access to the decision-making process, you can avoid opposition that could cost your company time and money as the project develops.

Judy Morley, Ph.D., is the senior partner of Grasshopper Communications, which specializes in strategic marketing for real estate developers.