Kelly Borth

Storytelling is the hottest trend in marketing today, and it’s no wonder. In a world that is moving at the speed of sound, it is nearly impossible to get your message heard. To do so takes imagination, creativity and enchanting your audience in a way that draws them in to hear your story.

When done correctly, storytelling removes people’s awareness that the message is an overt attempt to persuade them, and as a result, it has the staying power to drive them to action.

From the day we’re born, storytelling has helped us make sense of the world. Stories grab our attention and let us have experiences we wouldn’t otherwise have. Stories give us a glimpse into the past and into the future, stir our emotions, and take us places we never imagined.

Storytelling is an ancient art that has evolved in a myriad of forms — from the Bible to books to Broadway to movies and beyond. Creative storytelling captivates audience members, transforming them to active roles, and forms a positive and memorable experience with your brand that gets passed on within social circles.

In 2002, Verizon launched its “Can you hear me now?” campaign. The campaign, as you likely remember, took a Verizon technician to remote areas of the country to test the company’s wireless service coverage. Verizon could have simply stated that its service coverage was good, but embedding that message in a fun and interesting way within the “Can you hear me now?” narrative proved especially effective.

In the first year after the campaign began, Verizon’s net customers grew by 10 percent. In the second year, net customers grew by an additional 15 percent. Customer turnover decreased by nearly 30 percent in the same period.

Simply telling a story, however, is not enough. How you tell it can make all the difference. Here are three things every story needs to give it persuasive power.

Creativity

The first goal of any story is to grab your audience’s attention. Halftime of the Super Bowl has become an event in itself because of the creativity of the television commercials. We pay more attention to a gecko or a talking duck because the out-of-the-ordinary is more entertaining. A boring story will put your audience to sleep, but a creative story accomplishes the first step of directing attention to your message.

Involvement

Once you have their attention, get your audience members involved in the story. The story should become their own. Have you ever stayed up too late reading a book because you just couldn’t put it down? Even though we know the book is fiction, we “get into” it. It draws us in and makes us feel like we’re experiencing the action ourselves.

We relate to the Verizon guy because we’ve all been in a cellphone dead spot and know how infuriating it can be. The “Can you hear me now?” message, then, became our own message because we’ve all said those words before. We become involved in the story — our emotions and thoughts are more pliable. People are more apt to be persuaded and to adopt the message as their own when the story becomes their own.

Connection to the brand

Have you ever seen a TV commercial that is creative and involving, but by the end of the commercial, you forget what product or company the commercial featured? The most persuasive stories create a memorable association with your brand so that when someone is ready to purchase, your brand is top of mind.

So what story are you telling? Now more than ever consumers control what they pay attention to. It is up to you to captivate your audience.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com or @brandpro, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

 

 

As the economy slowly recovers, you need to adapt to the times when marketing your products and services. What worked in 2008 no longer applies in 2013. It’s a new game, and the few businesses doing it right are driving conversation, engagement and loyalty — and winning new business. It is not about abandoning what worked in the past but recognizing that the rules of engagement have changed and developing new strategy.

It is no different than adapting to the marketing challenges and changes that Internet technology brought in the 1990s.

The new social movement is a force to be reckoned with, and in 2013, you need to be ready to tackle this new communication trend. To ignore it will impair survival. It is not too late to get on board, but to do so will take a companywide commitment.

The new marketing paradigm

Sure, businesses are on Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, and have blogs. But most businesses lack social strategy and an understanding of why they need those things. It’s time to understand how to become a social business, and shift the thinking of leadership and marketing to social conversation instead of the traditional push marketing.

The biggest shift is in pushing away from unwanted messaging filled with sales-centered value propositions to engaging in a way that mimics publishers — creating content that answers questions, adds value toward reaching objectives and encourages referral of your company as a credible reference. We need to feed the intense appetite for information by providing something great to talk about and share.

Creating a foundation

Being a social business takes a village. Engaging the entire organization is a cultural shift, and the directive for this level of change must come from the top. The CEO must lay the foundation for a social culture that encourages transparency and empowerment.

Communication used to be channeled through sales and marketing. Now we need everyone from the CEO to engineers and human resource teams contributing to the social conversation, each creating their personal brands and centers of influence.

The new game is peer-influenced community marketing. The challenge of marketing is to develop a social strategy, identifying social ambassadors within the organization at all levels, orchestrating the creation of great content companywide, educating ambassadors on the importance of their role and monitoring the conversation and results.

Mobility is a factor

According to business2community.com, 2013 will mark the first time online access is greater from mobile devices than desktop or laptop computers. An estimated 90 million consumers in the U.S. will own a tablet by 2014.

Mobility is changing the way we need to market. Communication needs to be mobile-friendly content. Companies need to shift to mobile sites and mobile advertising. Smartphone users expect to be able to do it all from their mobile device. If we cannot provide this experience, they become frustrated and disengaged.

 

It’s time to move forward

A 2012 Forrester survey of executives and IT decision makers indicated 49 percent expected to make investments in social networking solutions in 2012, and of those, 19 percent described their investment as “implemented, not expanding.”

The early adopters are in the game. The rest are asking, “How far behind are we?” That is the question you should be asking yourself.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com, @brandpro or visit www.greencrest.com.

 

Kelly BorthBuilding a strategy to earn name recognition in the marketplace is more complex today than ever, and increased competition breeds more choices.

The Internet feeds prospects’ desire for 24/7 access to information and, at the same time, has changed the face of publishing. Email provides messaging directly to someone’s personal mailbox. Smartphones connect us around the clock and around the globe. And social media has revolutionized communication by providing a vehicle that gives a voice to the masses.

Much has changed and the new paths have opened the way for businesses to chart their own course. There are fewer barriers to getting your message to your targeted audience (unless you are trying to reach them on their office phone, right?) but many more fragmented choices to reach out and connect with them to get your message heard.

 Develop a well-thought-out strategy

As with all marketing, the best-laid plans produce the best results. Businesses today need an online strategy, an industry strategy and a direct-marketing effort to build exposure.

Understanding what potential customers want and need is imperative to success, as is knowing where potential customers hang out so you know the best opportunities to connect with them.

Chart your own course

The Internet offers no barriers to entry. Unlike having to pitch your story or white paper to an editor to get it published, the Internet freely accepts whatever information you would like to create and share with its open universe of information seekers.

This accessibility means opportunity is at your fingertips to populate that universe with your information. Popular forms of providing information include websites, blogs, press releases, white papers, case studies, educational videos, virtual webinars, various forms of presentations and pictures of products, comparison matrices, social media sites, such as YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, and so on.

Some Internet services, such as those that distribute press releases, charge a fee, whereas posting sites, such as blogs or social bookmarking sites such as Digg, are free. Tracking engagement and turning engagement into opportunity begins with a solid website that effectively communicates your message, is connected to all of the information you have placed on the Internet and is optimized for search engines.

Becoming visible within targeted industries is more traditional. Strategic sponsorships of industry association events, trade shows, informational seminars and forums, as well as advertising and editorial within trade news vehicles — both print and online — are just a few options.

Think of sponsorships as your connection with the industry that can match you with potential customers. You are benefitting from relationships these industry associations have with the individuals and companies you want as customers.

Your direct strategy is about getting your company in front of a prospect so that when there is a need for what your company sells, the prospect is already familiar with you. This can include direct mail, email campaigns (make sure they are opt-in) and invitations to webinars or seminars where you present meaningful information.

Other options include Google AdWords or other pay-per-click campaigns, trade advertising, trade shows, online advertising, etc.

Plan for a comprehensive, integrated approach

To get noticed today, companies need to have an integrated plan of action, one that is comprehensive in nature to reach the intended target audiences. Just having a website is not the answer, nor is just going to a trade show or having a video on YouTube. It is much more complex than that.

Building a known name in the marketplace takes a commitment to a planned approach and follow-through. And don’t forget the importance of a consistent brand message and voice, as well.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com, @brandpro or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

 

The ability to articulate your message of differentiation or value proposition is half the battle in getting prospects to understand what you have to offer that the other guys don’t.

The other half is getting noticed so that your message gets the appropriate attention and is actually heard. Once your message is heard, the sales opportunity is much greater and the time spent nurturing the relationship to the point of sale will be much more effective.

Understand the challenges

What are the issues that are keeping you from realizing sales? Are you trying to penetrate a new territory where you are unknown? Is there intense loyalty to current relationships? Is your product or solution new and, as such, unproven? Are you more expensive than “lookalike” solutions? Is there fierce competition, so there is just not enough business for everyone? Are your salespeople trained in sales, or are they estimators, engineers, accountants and other professionals who don’t consider themselves salespeople? Understanding the challenges in the selling environment will help you develop a winning strategy.

Develop a strategy

When gathering the facts, consider available budget, time frame, quality of available prospect names and other information that will impact the development and success of a winning strategy.

If completely unknown, your strategy must either be a consistent effort to get your name recognized over a specified period of time or, for immediate results, be a more bold, in-your-face, notice-me-right-now technique.

To break loyalties with existing vendors, your strategy must incent prospects to make a change, to lure them away from existing relationships. Use a trial offer or a gift card toward any purchase.

If unproven, offer a free trial or money-back guarantee. Do something to take away the fear of the unknown.

If more expensive, offer a free trial so prospects can experience the difference, offer a bonus item so it feels like they are getting more or create an environment of exclusivity, such as a VIP membership or service package denoting a higher level of customer service.

If there is fierce competition, get your foot in the door by offering something free that you normally sell, work with trade associations to become a preferred or endorsed vendor or give a portion of the sale back to a cause or charity.

If salesphobia exists, make it easy for your professionals to stay in touch by making the interaction feel like a value-added touch. Arm them with quality premium items to drop off as gifts, host educational events or sponsor trade groups.

Get noticed by being memorable

Being unordinary or extraordinary is the key to getting noticed — all in fun and good taste, of course. This is where creativity can make your company stand apart from the pack. Think outside the norms and find a way to get your message in front of your prospects in a way that they can’t help but notice your company.

Appropriate action to elicit a desired response

What do you want the prospect to do? Purchase now? Pick up the phone and call you? Go to your website? Sign up for a product trial? Request a quote? Make this determination.

In any case, part of your strategy needs to include a follow-through plan, such as follow-up calls, voice mail scripts, emails, articles of interest and similar tactics. It takes eight attempts to reach a prospect to elicit a desired response. To win, you need to get noticed and then stay in the game with a follow-through strategy.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com, @brandpro, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

I have worked with CEOs for more than 30 years, and one constant that I have seen is a lack of clarity about goal setting. CEOs know what they want and usually have a growth number or percentage in mind, but they don’t have clear vision or a plan for how they will get there. This point was confirmed once again during a recent round-table session I facilitated for Conway Family Business Center.

There is a huge advantage for CEOs and their sales, marketing and operations teams to understand exactly where growth will come from. Here are some considerations for establishing a crystal clear vision as you begin setting goals for 2013.

Break it down

Measurable metrics give your goal a whole new meaning. If you could describe your goal in terms of activity, what would it look like? How many new prospect meetings and proposals? How much in proposed new business? How many new customers? How much new growth will come from new or existing customers? What is your annual customer attrition rate?

If your business is broken into market segments or business lines, you should answer these questions for each category of business so you know which ones to support with marketing, sales and operational dollars.

Another important consideration is analyzing market share — are there enough new business opportunities available to reach your growth goals, or do you need to diversify geographically, look for new market segments or expand your product or service offerings?

Also, look at the average annual sales volume by customer type so you understand how many new customers are needed to reach your goal. When you understand, for example, that $1 million in new business equates to 10 new customers, it is more palatable and much easier to understand what activity it will take to secure those relationships.

Develop a plan in support of action required

When there is clear vision of what needs to be done to reach the company’s goal, a laser-focused sales, marketing and operational strategy can be developed to support the effort.

You should have an understanding of what market segments will provide the greatest growth, what core prospects will get you to that goal, how you will expand your business with your current customers and what you need to do to improve your customer satisfaction and retention rates.

If you adjust your lens a bit further, you can see what opportunities you have to get in front of your core prospects and customers and analyze the best tactical approach to support your goal. And if you take the time to focus even more, you should be able to determine expected outcomes from every actionable activity.

 Track key performance indicators

Many of us are familiar with the term KPIs, or key performance indicators. Most financial reports are viewed historically — a recap of what happened to drive performance toward a goal. KPIs keep us focused on activity that leads toward goal achievement and as such should be reviewed at least weekly.

KPIs can vary greatly by company, but most businesses should track activity such as dollars of proposed business, percentage or likelihood of business to close, number of new leads, new business appointments and similar metrics.

Establish an infrastructure to obtain the level of reporting your organization needs to assure you’re on track and proactively moving toward your business growth goals.

Laser focus is a winning strategy

When employees in an organization can see and understand their role in helping their company achieve its goals, they will succeed in reaching that goal. It begins with laser focus at the top so the mission is clear and measurable. <<

 

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 21-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com or @brandpro. For more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

For many CEOs, it’s still a little mysterious how social media can benefit their business. But best practices do exist that can greatly improve brand awareness and profits. Social media can be a powerful marketing tool — if it’s used the right way. It opens doors for companies to create personal relationships with their current and potential customers online. And with the proliferation of mobile devices, more people are using the Internet to search and buy new products and services.

Your social media marketing plan should align with your company’s marketing goals. If your focus is to increase brand awareness and expose your company to a larger audience of potential customers, you should use targeted online advertising (such as Google AdWords, LinkedIn or Facebook advertisements), online-centered promotions and interactive tools such as YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare.

If you want to increase return on investment, focus on customer service and conversions. A conversion is a desired action that can mean potential new business for you. It can be an actual sale, a lead capture or even an email newsletter sign-up.

To capitalize on this marketing tool, start small and stay focused. Find a few social media sites where your potential customers interact the most and create a company page. Organize a small social media marketing team in your company and establish a brand-focused voice and participation guidelines.

With social media, you and/or whoever is representing your company are the face and personality of your brand. Remember to be friendly. Helpful expert advice is preferred to a sales pitch. Top off your social media marketing by monitoring conversations about your brand. There are free and paid services that can help you do this, but it’s very important for metrics and reputation management.

Imagine if you missed the opportunity to respond to a brand advocate promoting your company. Or what if you missed the chance to put out the fire of a negative comment?

At its core, social media is about participating in a dialogue and adding contributions to a community. Make sure your audience appreciates your company’s contributions.

Here are eight critical steps to developing a social media platform for your company.

Step 1: Observe. Before jumping in headfirst, take time to listen to the conversation already occurring to identify the best way you can add value to the dialogue.

Step 2: Define your metrics. What are you looking to achieve? Increased sales? Brand awareness? Traffic to your website? Credibility as a resource?

Step 3: Define your strategy. Develop a strategy that integrates well with your overall marketing strategy. Choose one or two social media outlets that make the most sense based on your goals and defined metrics.

Step 4: Develop your identity. It is imperative you have control of your identity in the online marketplace. Establish your company username and consistently use it in every social media outlet. Make sure your online persona mirrors the personality of your company.

Step 5: Create the rules for engagement. Remember this rule of thumb: For every 10 to 15 messages where you help someone else, you get to include one message that promotes your company.

Step 6: Monitor your success. Update your metrics monthly. Give the campaign at least two to three months to stabilize. Free measurement tools include Google Analytics, Google Blog Search, Twitter search, TweetDeck by Twitter, etc.

Step 7: Measure and tweak. Analyze each strategy to determine where you hit or missed the mark.

Step 8: Promote your

campaign. Add all widgets and URLs to employee business cards, email signatures, company website, press releases and advertising. Build relationships with others in your niche.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 21-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com or @brandpro, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

According to Wikipedia, “bang for the buck” is an idiom meaning the worth of one’s money or exertion. The phrase originated from the slang usage of the words “bang,” which means excitement, and “buck,” which means money.

My “best bang theory” is that for companies to take advantage of and benefit from a best bang for the buck strategy, they must approach it from a position of strength and knowledge — not by “shooting from the hip” (another idiom). They need to analyze market segments and saturation levels, degree of reach, penetration and cost and make a decision that very logically will deliver the best bang for the buck.

Analyzing marketing segments. Understanding your market position is an important step in the process. Know where you have the greatest growth potential — it could be through new customer acquisition, but it could also be through current customer relationships.

Is there potential to grow market share? Which markets and/or products provide the greatest profit margin? Your bang for the buck will be determined based on the degree of opportunity and profit growth.

Degree of reach. You should have a marketing plan with strategies for how you will grow your business within select markets. If you don’t, get one. Analyze each marketing tactic based on the degree of reach within the potential prospect base.

A trade show, for example, may be a great marketing strategy, but it may only reach 10 percent of the market — those who attend that show. That does not make it a bad marketing tactic.

My point is that you should know what your degree of reach is for every marketing dollar spent. You should be able to look objectively at the cost per thousand of prospects reached. If you do this, you will have a better sense of which tactics deliver the best bang for the buck.

The penetration factor. Meaningful market penetration is necessary in order to assure your marketing message is heard by the prospects that have a need, that you have provided sufficient opportunity to gain purchase consideration and that prospects respond.

Marketing penetration can be determined by the probability of frequency of messaging needed to elicit a response. Not all marketing tactics require the same level of frequency, so it is important to understand best practices for each.

Ultimately, your goal is to reach an adequate level of market penetration to optimize results. So, your bang for the buck strategy and consideration needs to address degree of penetration within chosen markets.

Oh yeah, the buck. Underspending can be as ineffective as not spending at all. And, if there is no committed marketing strategy, you spend a little here and there, try this or that and in the end have very little results. You sum it up to “marketing just doesn’t work.”

I couldn’t disagree more. What doesn’t work is the approach. So when factoring in the above points, you should be able to delineate what you can do to get the best bang for the buck.

Just make sure you are spending enough to get adequate results. You don’t want to be “pennywise and pound-foolish” (yes, another idiom).

The best bang theory. Starting from a position of strength makes sense when you really think about it. The smarter you are about your market position, the greater results you should see from your marketing investment.

Take an assessment of how effective you think your current marketing program is. Is it 50 percent effective, 25 percent effective or 75 percent effective? If you could increase that percentage and put that money to work in smarter ways, how long would it take for you to make that change?

Invest in developing a strategic marketing plan that defines your company’s market position and maps out a strategy for how you best compete and how you are going to increase market share. That’s my best bang theory.”

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 21-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com or @brandpro. For more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

I love sponsorships, and if structured right, they can be one of the most strategic marketing partnerships for your company’s new business development efforts. I have used sponsorships as a part of a successful marketing strategy for years.

Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned as well as tips to get the most mileage from your sponsorship dollars.

Will you reach your target audience?

I often use sponsorships as a vertical marketing strategy. Industry, trade and business associations, organizations and conferences can often help you reach a desired group of prospects that might otherwise be challenging to identify or get to.

If you can reach a high percentage of your target customers through a sponsorship, it is worth further exploration.

Find the right fit

Look for the venues and opportunities that provide you with the closest match to the target audience you want to reach. If you don’t see an opportunity that feels like the right fit, create a sponsorship program to propose one that is.

For instance, you might want to reach office managers within a specific industry. The trade association may or may not have specific programming for office managers. If there is not an existing program, work with the association to create one. Check with them to see if they would entertain a sponsorship of all or a portion of the scheduled or unscheduled programming.

Know what you want in return

In developing strategic sponsorships, I rarely select a menu option. Many times some of the best sponsorship opportunities are not on the list. Be creative and don’t be shy about asking for what you need.

For instance, possibilities include a list of attendees, opt-in email addresses, the ability to conduct an attendee survey and stage presence, among others. Most organizations are willing to work with you. The more successful the sponsorship, the more likely you will continue it. You want it to be a win-win for both of you.

Assign someone to oversee this investment

Not unlike an advertising campaign, if you commit the budget and sign the contract, make sure you run the ads.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but reality and experience has proven that this can be one of the greatest disappointments when it is all said and done. It is up to you to make sure you get the full benefit from the sponsorship — don’t leave it to the sponsored organization to coordinate.

Make sure all promises are fulfilled

This may include program invitations and ads, logos on signage, lists of attendees, a promise of an attendance number or exposure at a certain number of programs annually, speaking opportunities or presentations, etc.

The more customized your sponsorship is, the more likely it is that some of the special features of the sponsorship will be overlooked by the sponsored organization’s staff.

Be organized and ready

Make sure your company is organized and ready to take advantage of all of the opportunities the sponsorship offers.

Add your logo and/or profile to the organization’s website and post content, make sure sponsorship tables are strategically filled (rather than last minute whoever-can-make-it arrangements), put out company promotional information at every meeting and make certain your team is present at scheduled events to build relationships and get your company known on a personal level.

Follow up on all potential opportunities

So you received the list of attendees, what’s your follow-up plan? You should have one ready to be implemented.

Also have a goal for your team to uncover and build a first-name relationship with all attendees during the course of the year. A good sponsorship will provide you with opportunity to become known to individuals you seek to have as customers in a manner that is easier than you can accomplish through more traditional sales and marketing means.

Don’t let these strategic opportunities pass by.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 21-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com or @brandpro. For more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

If I did a Google search, I am certain there would be numerous authors who have written about building lasting customer relationships, yet as I speak to CEOs around the country, this question inevitably surfaces.

I have built my business on valuing a long-term customer relationship over a short-term gain.

If your goal is to build customer relationships that last for the long-term, here are eight tips you may want to consider.

Set your sight for distance. Focusing on building customer relationships that last for the long-term requires vision far beyond an impending sale. A short-term focus or placing too much emphasis on the short-term sale impedes long-term vision.

Most of us are old enough to know that vision weakens over time, too. Don’t let the lapse in years change your relationship focus. Maintaining keen vision requires regular check-ins and adjustments.

Choose the right customer. There are many customers who need your product or service, but are they the right relationship for your business? If your focus is long-term customer relationships, chances are you will find yourself walking away from prospects that are looking for a short-term solution.

It is difficult to build an organization that can cater to both disciplines.

Listen to get to the heart of the issue. Effective listening is an art. It is also a conversation. To obtain a full understanding of how your organization can help another company over the long-term requires listening, digging, dialogue and asking more questions.

Your ability to ask the right questions and thoroughly grasp the issue will give you the perspective you need to find the right solutions. This may be an investment of hours, months or years. Usually if you fully understand the issues at hand you can fix the problem.

Understand the long-term goals. Put yourself on the executive team by working toward the same long-term goals. Know where the company is heading and why. This will be a key to developing long-term strategic solutions.

There is a difference in fixing short-term issues and planning for long-term solutions. Most often it’s the long-term strategic solutions that drive the best investments for the short-term fixes.

Earn customers’ trust. Do what’s right. Do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it. Deliver what you promised. It may sound like a cliché, but if the customer is going to put the company’s future in your hands, the customer needs to feel that you are the most capable person or company to handle the job.

If you meet or exceed those expectations, then you’ve established trust.

Demonstrate sincere interest in the long-term relationship. Tell customers often that you are in the relationship for the long haul. Back up those statements with actions that demonstrate that same long-term commitment. Meet regularly — not just once a year. Keep them on your radar.

Send them information that will help them in their business. Include them in educational venues you feel they will benefit from attending. Introduce them to strategic partners or relationships. Know the names of their spouse and children and their interests outside of work.

Deliver solutions that bring results. This is certainly a requirement if you are going to build a long-term relationship with a customer. Then don’t stop — keep delivering results. Businesses evolve, economic conditions change, people come and go and market dynamics change. Nothing is stagnant, so your solutions need to evolve, too.

Give them VIP status. Show and share your appreciation regularly. Let your customers know how important they are to your company and extend special privileges for loyalty.

Don’t fall prey to thinking that because they have been a long time customer, they will more easily forgive you. Yesterday is but a memory — today is what counts.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 21-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com, @brandpro, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

“Value-added” has become one of those terms that has grown in ambiguity in recent years. The term has been overused, improperly used in some cases and often misunderstood by marketers.

At the 2012 Columbus Presidents’ Forum hosted by The Entrepreneurship Institute, the question of how to use the concept of “value-added” was asked in a breakout session I was facilitating. It occurred to me that if one CEO was curious about this, there are probably others out there with the same question.

The term was defined and popularized in 2000 by renown marketing professor Peter Doyle defined and popularized in his last book, “Value-based Marketing.” He labeled the “differential advantage” as giving customers a reason to choose your products. According to Doyle, it has four important components: value to the customer, uniqueness, sustainability and profitable delivery. All four components must be present.

Defining market value

Let’s take a look at definitions of market value and value-added. Marketing value at its core is presenting a product or service to potential customers for a perceived fair exchange of benefit and cost. It is commonly expressed by the following equation: Value = Benefits/Cost.

Online encyclopedia Wikipedia states that value-added refers to "extra" feature(s) of an item of interest (product, service, person, etc.) that go beyond the standard expectations and provide something more while adding little or nothing to its cost.

Putting it together

If we put it all in the proper perspective via the definitions above, value-added can be a very powerful marketing tool.

It makes sense that before we can address value-added, we first must address the whole value equation. Are the products and/or services we offer to our target market perceived as valuable? If not, there is obviously some work that needs to be done before we can move on.

If there is value, is the value great enough to cause uniqueness or market differentiation from our competitor’s products and/or services? If not, what benefits, features or additional value can we offer to achieve a differential advantage? And since the market expects us to offer this added value at little or no cost to them, how can we add value without significantly adding to our production or service costs?

Ah, this is where the value-added equation gets tough. It is unlikely that most of us can come up with the answer on our own. We will probably need to pull our product development, production, sales/supply chain and marketing teams together to brainstorm on potential solutions. Then we will need to test the market to make sure the value-added component increases the perceived worth and satisfaction in the eyes of the customer, thus achieving a differential advantage.

This means it takes an investment of time and probably an investment in further product and/or service development. I know we all want an easy answer which, by the way, is one of the causes of ambiguity around the term value-added. If it were easy, there would be no real increased value because the fourth component needed to achieve differential advantage — sustainability — would not be achieved.

The fact that it is hard work and takes deep organizational thought, investment, discovery of special capabilities to deliver something of higher quality at little cost and input from the market is what creates the true value-added components needed.

Make the investment now

As the economy continues to recover, investing in the discovery of the value-added differential advantage for your products and services will catapult you ahead of the competition when market growth is in full swing. If you wait, you will lose precious time and opportunity to grab market share.

Why not make it easy to choose your product or service over the competition — it’s a no-brainer in my book — just as your value-added component should make the selection of your product or service a no-brainer for potential customers.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 21-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com or @brandpro, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

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