When most people think about direct marketing, images of junk mail cluttering home mailboxes and in-boxes at work come to mind. But did you ever stop to think about why you were on a particular mailing list?
Theres a reason you receive offers from: record clubs (youve added to your diverse CD collection by buying discs from Neil Diamond and Vanilla Ice); computer catalogs (you recently beefed up the amount of RAM in your computer to a level that would make Tim Allen proud); and lingerie mailers (thats your personal business).
The fact is, that because of your age, income, purchasing habits and other demographic information (and this information is readily available from a lot of sources), you are a prime target for very specific groups of products and services. The good news is that this also holds true for prospective customers of the products and/or services you offer.
Defining the target
Who are your customers? How do you define them? If you target consumers, what is your customer profile by geography, sex, age, income, occupation and interests? If you are a business-to-business company, who buys or specifies your products and services? Can you identify them by industry or SIC code, job title, and also location, number of employees, sales revenues and so on?
If you can define your audience, then you should be able to develop a list to reach your prospects. Your needs may lead to the use of a list-brokerage service or purchase a list from a magazine or trade publication that reaches your target. In most cases, you can choose to receive lists in either diskette or mailing-label formats. At a cost of anywhere between $50 to $200 per 1,000 names, buying a database list can be an excellent investment of your marketing dollars.
Communicating your message
Now that you have a list of prospects who will want your products or services, give them a reason to buy. Create a mailer or series of mailers, but have a particular message in mind. Announce a sales promotion program. Introduce a new product. Send an informational newsletter to make prospects aware of issues specific to their business. This keeps your name in front of prospects while positioning yourself as an expert in your industry.
The key is to strategically plan the information you want to mail. By clearly understanding your objectives, you can better evaluate whether your program is working. What is your call to action? Clearly communicate if the reader should call an 800 number, write to you, or visit your Web site for more information or to place an order.
Qualifying and fulfillment
When calls, faxes and e-mails come into your business in response to your mailing program, have a response system in place. Ask where did you hear about us? This will help you to gauge response from a particular mailing vs. other advertising and publicity programs in place.
Qualify prospects by asking a few simple questions. Survey them to confirm they are the decision-makers. Find out if they have particular needs now, or within the next three to six months. Do they want to place an order now? Do they want a sales representative to call? Are they simply collecting literature for future reference?
Next, do you know how you will fulfill requests for information? Do you have literature, newsletters or article reprints ready for quick response? Its a poor reflection of your company if a prospect requests information and has to wait weeks to receive it. Also, its important that follow-up information is complete and offers some type of value to the prospect. Many companies simply respond by repeating the same information that was in the original mailing.
Set up a realistic goal of response. Variables include the quality of the list, the messages being sent to prospects and the fulfillment and follow-up system in place at your organization. But, remember, measurements of the program will vary if your goal is to educate customers and prospects, rather than to generate inquiries and leads.
The bottom line is that a well-planned and implemented mailing program will put important information into the hands of qualified prospects and set your companys message apart from other pieces in the junk-mail heap.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications consulting firm. Comments and questions can be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In todays high-tech world, public relations professionals utilize an array of techniques, from video news releases to Web marketing programs and interactive CD-ROMs. In the name of improving communications, its easy to get caught up in the frenzy of technology and innovative communications options to constantly outdo ourselves.
But lets remember the simple dynamic of effective communication: a sender, a message and a receiver.
With this in mind, dont abandon time-proven, low-tech techniques one of which is the letter to the editor. Its an effective vehicle to deliver your organizations messages and it will never go out of style.
The sheer volume of print media presents a plethora of opportunities. There are almost 1,700 daily newspapers and 8,500 weekly newspapers in the United States. Thousands of trade and professional journals cater to just about every profession or interest. Titles range from Cat Fancy, Saxophone Journal and Soccer Digest to Waste Age, Modern Bulk Transporter and Chemical Engineering.
Regardless of which publication is important to you and your business, a letter to the editor presents one of the few ways to deliver your message in a pure, mostly unfiltered manner. Unless you pay for advertising space, reporters and editors are the gatekeepers of the printed message. A publication can significantly change your message through its editing, adding information and quotes from other sources, or deleting a key sentence or thought because of space limitations.
A letter to the editor, however, provides you with a vehicle that allows you to state fact and your opinion the more opinionated the better and to directly take aim at any issue relevant to your organization. Tackle issues such taxes, government regulations, labor, industry developments, etc.
Your letter can be either reactive or proactive. You can respond to an article in publication that you feel was inaccurate or unfair. Conversely, you can laud a publication on a news story or opinion piece.
Proactive approaches include discussing trends and issues and informing readers of something they may not have known. Write about behind-the-scene knowledge you have that you are able to share without breaching confidentiality or good taste.
Writing a letter to the editor will allow your point of view to be heard loud and clear, usually edited only for space. Because your name and organization are in the signature block, you position yourself as one who is passionate about an issue and taking a leadership position two positive traits. In crafting your letter, pay attention to a few key points:
- Clearly state your message. Support your opinion with facts or rationales. Make sure you include no more than one or two key messages so you dont dilute the power and impact of the letter.
- Keep it brief. Dont write the next great American novel. If its too long, you may lose the interest of the reader and will surely invite the editor to cut the length. An editors choice of what to remove may not be the same as yours.
- Take the high road. Be careful of the tone of your letter. State fact and opinion, but dont take cheap shots. Even if your message is negative, dont allow the tone to be negative. Instead of complaining, forcefully make your point in a positive way.
- Finally, be persistent and be patient. A publication doesnt have to print a particular letter to the editor (and it cant if deluged with letters).
Because youre competing with others for an opportunity to have your message appear in print, make sure your letter is the most informative, most opinionated and most compelling piece it can be.
And if at first you dont succeed, try and try again.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications, Inc. and an adjunct professor at Point Park College. Comments and questions can be sent via e-mail to email@example.com, or by fax to (412) 434-7738. He can be reached by phone at (412) 434-7718.
You pick up the newspaper and are thrilled to read an extensive profile on your companys plans for a new product line that will change the face of your industry. Or you see a piece on the 11 oclock news showing your employees rallying together to help a local nonprofit organization.
In both cases, your company is positioned well and set apart from the competition, either as an authority or leader in the field, or as a company that cares about the community. Both stories have in common the fact that they most likely appeared thanks to a well-planned pitch and presentation to the media.
This type of coverage appears every day for businesses across America or at least the ones that make a concerted effort to achieve a mutually rewarding relationship with the media. Good relationships with the media are not formed without a good understanding of what reporters look for and what their responsibilities are.
Remember, the media isnt the primary target for your messages ... its the readers and viewers of each outlet. The media should be viewed as a gatekeeper of information which can greatly affect a companys image and reputation.
You want the media to publish or air the information you think is important for the public to learn about your company, but you must realize that the media is looking for specific kinds of information. To forge successful relationships, you face the challenge of crafting the messages you want people to get while providing news that reporters and editors desire.
Its important to understand the media when you begin planning your pitches. Make sure what youre pitching is newsworthy. To be considered news, your story must have at least one of the following:
- Impact The topic must affect peoples lives in a significant way.
- Numbers It must affect a large number of people.
- Timeliness The event or news item is recent.
- Prominence Your news involves well-known people.
- Proximity It happened close to home.
- Conflict or other bizarre or unusual elements.
Planning for each medium is critical. If youre targeting the Butler Eagle, your story should affect readers in the Butler area. If youre targeting Seventeen magazine, your pitch had better not be about how senior citizens can spend their weekend leisure time.
Once you have determined that your story qualifies as news, tailor your information to fit the needs of reporters and editors. Whether you are pitching a story to the television, radio or print media, reporters generally look for the same things:
- Timely, cutting-edge trend stories.
- New information, new opinions, examples of trends or of going against the trend.
- Useful how-to information.
Its critical to understand the specifics of each media outlet. Watch or listen to a few programs in the case of broadcast media, or read a number of issues of newspapers or magazines to get a better feel for content, style and reporter preferences and opinions.
Next, make the pitch. This can be done by picking up the phone and making your case to a reporter as to why your story is important to his or her audience. Have the details in writing to respond to requests for a fax or e-mail of the information. If the pitch is more complex, develop a news release with the details, or a simplified version known as a media advisory, which lists the who, what, when, where, why and how.
Regardless of your approach, make sure you are prepared. Editors, reporters and producers are busy people with strict deadlines. Dont have a reporter on the phone and say, I have some ideas to run by you that I know youll be interested in, without having great ideas and being prepared to talk in detail.
Like any relationship, successful media relationships dont just happen overnight. They are the result of hard work and a commitment to honesty and integrity and can be a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications, a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications firm. Questions can be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Reach him by phone at (412) 434-7718.
Perception is reality. How many times have you heard that cliché? In sales and marketing, it rings oh so true.
I was reminded of this during a recent meeting with a new Atlanta-based client. This company is a proven performer in a special niche industry. The owner knows nearly all of his customers and prospects by name. If not, he knows how to find them.
For the past two decades, customers have learned they can depend on the company for a full line of quality products that have stood the test of time, for service after the sale and for technical problem-solving assistance. But while its product is a good one, it has remained basically unchanged for 10 years, while a number of new, competitive products have entered the marketplace. So, whats the marketing dilemma?
The chief competition is from an up-and-coming company that seemingly introduces one new product after another, each supported with a slick, massive marketing blitz. Therefore, the perception in the marketplace is that of the conservative, reliable company vs. the innovative upstart with new products and new ideas.
People like to associate with and buy from winners. So the new company is gradually eroding my clients market share.
Perception can be expressed in the same way as effective verbal or written communications. Theres a sender of information and theres a receiver. Perception problems occur when the sender is vague or the receiver doesnt interpret information in the intended way.
The key to developing customers most favorable perception of your business is to take a proactive approach to managing your business reputation, which is among your most valuable assets.
Its critical that you carefully craft and control the messages your audience is receiving and understanding about you and your products or services. The next step is to leverage customer response to your best advantage.
Fortunately, my client has a solid base from which to build. However, like many other companies, it needs help in actively shaping, then promoting its reputation in the marketplace. Im encouraging the company to become more aggressive in telling its good stories to existing customers and prospects. If you keep a low profile and think of yourself as quiet and dependable, others may perceive you as having your best days behind you.
Modesty can be a noble virtue in an individual. But a business that doesnt share its success stories with customers is one that is asking for trouble.
Before you can effectively manage your reputation, you need to understand how your business is perceived.
Find out what your investors, employees, vendors, customers and even your competitors are thinking and saying about you. Ask them for honest answers about whats good about your company and what areas could use a little work. Ask for suggested solutions, too.
Next, consider the perception youd like for your company. Develop clear messages that define your business while building your desired perception. Create a strategic, integrated marketing communications plan that delivers these messages with consistency.
Some of your tactics may include advertising, publicity, direct marketing, a Web site, personal sales calls, customer social events and frequent mailings. However, what may be right for one business or situation may not be right for others.
In the case of my Atlanta client, my firm will help it communicate the proven staying power of its time-tested products while touting recent innovations in ways the products can be used, progressive approaches to customer service and technical support. A new graphic look to the companys promotional pieces will add an element of freshness to its perception among audiences.
Regardless of the tactics, the key is to leverage to the fullest your companys reality to forge the best possible perception.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications, a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications firm. Send questions to email@example.com. Reach him by phone at (412) 434-7718.
Sooner or later, it happens. Youre sailing along with everything under control, business is booming, and your major concern is how to keep existing customers happy while you respond to all of the new business.
Then, it happens. Your company suddenly faces a crisis.
A crisis can hit any organization, from the largest multinational corporation to the smallest of companies. The objective is always the same: Quickly contain a negative situation and keep it from turning into a full-fledged public relations disaster.
Consider these three phases of response in crisis communications: the initial response, ongoing communications and follow-up activities. The initial response doesnt have to be anything more than an acknowledgment that something has happened, but the timing can mean the difference between a potential crisis and a real one.
An immediate response is critical. In the absence of information from your business, the crisis will grow. The media will report on the situation with or without your input. You need to acknowledge that you are aware of the situation and are serious about investigating it. If the problem proves real, promise to do everything in your power to resolve it and make sure it doesnt happen again. Provide regular updates.
To stay in control of how the situation is communicated, take the initiative. Depending on the severity of the incident, establish a schedule for regular media briefings. Send out news releases or media updates. Be careful not to overdo it. If you do, youll keep the situation alive just when it may be diminishing in terms of public interest. Trust your gut and rely on common sense.
Follow-up communication comes after the crisis has been resolved. The objective is to control the situation. Issue a statement and report of what happened, and how you acted to end the crisis. Explain the steps that are in place to make sure it doesnt happen again and what you are doing to make up for any inconvenience or damage it caused.
Consider these dos and donts:
- DO appoint one person as the spokesperson. (The CEO is usually a good choice).
- DO explain what happened in clear, concise terms.
- DO make your important points at the beginning of your statement.
- DO explain what you are doing to control the situation.
- DO prepare to answer negative questions.
- DO control your temper, even when asked what may seem to be inappropriate questions.
- DONT reply with No comment. It implies you have something to hide.
- DONT lie. Stick to the facts.
- DONT provide lengthy detail. (Save it for a written report).
- DONT speak for any group other than your own. (Refer the reporter to the appropriate group.)
- DONT assume any conversation with a reporter is ever off the record, even if you are friends.
A few words about your lawyers in a crisis communications situation: Dont let them take over. Lawyers often advise clients to say nothing initially, or worse, to deny responsibility. Dont waste valuable time discussing semantics with your legal counsel over this issue.
Remind him or her of how Johnson & Johnson (maker of Tylenol) and Pepsi (syringes in the cans) quickly regained public confidence by immediately responding to cases of product tampering. Point out how the chairman of Phillips Petroleum immediately apologized for the rupture of a storage tank that dumped thousands of gallons of petroleum upstream of Pittsburghs water utilities and offered to assume full responsibility for all cleanup operations and damages.
Before I alienate every lawyer, let me add that I in no way want to demean the role of legal counsel in a crisis situation. Ultimately, good, sound legal strategy is going to help resolve the issue in your favor. My point is that a good, sound media relations strategy is just as important to resolve the crisis.
The one DO that I did not add to the list is one that deserves special mention. DO develop a crisis communications plan, one that takes into account crises that your organization could encounter and defines a series of actions to be taken to keep them from ever happening.
If youre waiting for a crisis to happen before you develop this plan, youre already too late.
Jeff Krakoff is the owner of Krakoff Communications, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications and public relations agency. Reach him at (412) 434-7718 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
But all of this M&A activity isn't confined to just large, global companies. Small, profitable companies are quite attractive acquisition bait to medium- to large-sized businesses that want to attain critical mass or a capability that would fill a vacuum in their own product or service offerings.
Whether your company is looking to acquire or be acquired, a strong and effective public relations program can greatly improve your efforts. In fact, according to a report by Opinion Research Corp. and some of the country's leading merger advisers, corporate image can play a major part in what sells a company and its products-and at what price.
PR and the bottom line
First, an effective public relations plan will help your bottom line. Public relations will create more awareness among your customers and prospects. It will generate leads and inquiries. And, PR can position your company as being progressive, knowledgeable and a leader in your field.
These efforts will increase sales and hopefully build more customer loyalty and a higher customer-retention rate.
PR and corporate image
While most public relations plans focus on generating leads and sales-immediate gratification-implementing a plan to enhance your corporate image is more of a long-term investment, but one that can definitely pay off.
"Goodwill" is more than an abstract concept to describe how others perceive your company. It is an important factor in valuing your company. Your reputation and credibility in your industry-and potential for growth-can be worth a lot of dollars and cents when you sell.
Speaking to your people
A comprehensive corporate-image program will first take a look at the positive and negative images of your company. The next step is to identify the image that you want to project for your company, such as fast-growing, well-managed or positioned for the future. Think in terms of specific ways in which your company is different from the competition and focus on these competitive advantages.
Then identify your audiences and the specific messages to be communicated to each. For example:
- Customers and prospects: Use your internal resources and outside research to identify direct and indirect customers.
Employees-Communicating to this important group can build a sense of teamwork and togetherness, increase employee retention and help recruit talented and skilled workers. As the saying goes, "A company is only as good as its people."
- Investors: Communicate regularly with shareholders about the happenings within your company. Plus, keeping analysts, brokers and the rest of the investment world well informed can help you gain new investors and, quite possibly, suitors for your firm.
- Suppliers: This group can be the lifeline of your firm and needs to be strongly considered when developing your plan.
Industry trade organizations-Become more involved in professional and/or trade organizations to increase awareness of your company and your key managers.
- The media: As with any public relations initiative, it's critical to establish and maintain relationships with local news and business media, as well as regional and national industry and trade media contacts.
The bottom line: Any investment you make in strengthening your organization's reputation and standing in the industry will help you to attract potential buyers and can actually help you increase the perceived value of your company. Or, if you are looking to acquire, a positive corporate image will make you more attractive to the companies looking to sell.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications consulting firm. Comments and questions can be sent via e-mail to email@example.com.
I think everyone would agree that media coverage of your company is a good thing. That is, of course, unless a "60 Minutes" camera crew is waiting in your reception area to discuss rumors of illegal workplace practices.
In most instances, though, being profiled in the media provides a forum-one in which you can communicate key organizational messages- that money can't buy. Many companies are keenly aware of this. You probably have noticed some that seem to constantly be in the news. They obtain media coverage and valuable space in front of customers, prospects, investors and other important audiences because they understand how to effectively work the media.
But are they saying the right things in the interview, and are they making the most of such opportunities? This month, I'd like to focus on the interview process and how to make it work for both you and the reporter. First, you need to clearly understand the reporter's perspective.
Reporters work under constant deadline pressure. They look for exclusive information, drama and/or controversy in a story, something that will make their report stand out from their competition's. They will ask straightforward-if not blunt-questions. Most reporters value responsive, knowledgeable sources and will return to those who consistently offer good quotes and reliable background information. They value honesty and integrity. If you don't know the answer to a question, admit it or offer to get back to the reporter after you check things out. Never lie or say "no comment," either of which makes you appear that you have something to hide.
Now here are several tips to help you prepare for all types of media interviews:
Print interview tips
Newspaper or magazine interviews may take place in person or over the telephone. Key points in your preparation should include:
- Know something about the publication. Read the most recent issue and look for articles written by the interviewer so you know his or her style and can provide a positive comment to "break the ice."
- Bring notes. Have notes available with key points you want to make. Even a lengthy interview can seemingly go by quickly, and key points might not be expressed.
- Avoid rambling. If you find yourself rambling or drifting off the subject, don't try to awkwardly find your way back. Simply interrupt yourself and refocus with a phrase like, "The point I want to make is . . . ." or "What's really important here is . . . ."
Television interview tips
Television is definitely the most intimidating media source. Unless your interview is scheduled as part of a news or informational program, interviews slated for newscasts may range from a 7- to 40-second sound bite, even if you spoke to the reporter for a half-hour. So keep in mind the following:
- Keep eye contact with the reporter. Don't look up or down and don't look directly toward the camera unless the reporter is in a studio and you are in another location.
- Be concise. Try to keep each answer to 20-30 seconds.
- Be yourself. Don't be afraid to be expressive or use your hands while talking. However, watch for visible nervous reactions, such as rocking in your chair.
- Smile. Even if the show is on a sensitive issue, smile when you're introduced and when the program or your segment ends.
- Think key messages. Since most of what you say will be edited out, provide a couple of strong, positive "sound bites" to ensure that your key messages will be conveyed.
Radio interview tips
As with print and television interviews, the length may by very short for a news broadcast or longer for in-studio programs with in-depth analysis. So remember:
- Know the format. Try to listen to two or three shows before your interview. Get to know the interviewer's style and typical program content.
- Words rule. While television provides an image of you to the audience, radio provides only your voice. Avoid answering with gestures. No one, except the radio host, can see your head nodding up and down. Create an image or picture for listeners and avoid jargon.
- Admit to a disagreement. If you don't agree with a statement made by the host or reporter, say so in a polite way.
- Emphasize points. Use introductory comments like "I'd like to say this about that . . . ." or "It's important to note . . . ."
The most important thing to remember is that, while you can't control what the media say, you can always control what you say and how you appear to the reading, viewing or listening audience. Prepare, know your subject, be confident, be honest and enjoy yourself-unless it really is "60 Minutes" in your reception area.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications consulting firm. Comments and questions can be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We talk a lot about oral and written communications, identifying and retaining customers and planning and implementing advertising, direct-marketing and public relations programs.
Yet unspoken and unwritten communications-often just as important as oral and written-don't garner much attention. I'm talking about gestures and how they affect the messages you send, especially when your company has overseas locations, co-workers born in other lands or customers across the globe.
Ever told co-workers what a great job they're doing on a project and given them the thumbs-up gesture? If you used this gesture in Nigeria, Australia and other spots, you'll most likely end up being told where to place that thumb of yours-or worse. In Australia, ""thumbs up"" means ""up yours.""
If you are a University of Texas Longhorn football fan, you may be feeling especially proud of this year's Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams. If you want to use the ""hook 'em horns"" (vertical horns) gesture, be careful. In Italy, this type of gesture means you're telling someone that his or her spouse is being unfaithful.
So what does this have to do with the marketing efforts of businesses? Other than saving embarrassment the next time you talk about the University of Texas at your favorite Italian restaurant, the point is that nonverbal communication is extremely important if you want to be understood and get your point across.
Experts claim that 60 percent of all our communication is nonverbal. I believe it. When someone presents information to you, or tells you a story or joke, what makes it memorable? It's mostly in the delivery. It's in facial expressions such as a raised eyebrow, a smirk, animated waving of the arms and hands. If you simply said what you had to say in a monotone, let's just say you probably won't be asked to entertain clients at your next business function or dinner party.
Since we live in a global economy, it may be valuable to think about how our gestures can be taken out of context outside of our borders. Roger Axtell, author of ""Gestures, the Do's and Taboos of Body Language around the World,"" lists the top 10 gestures and examples of body language most commonly used by North Americans:
Shaking hands We are taught to shake hands with a firm, solid grip. But when Middle Easterners and Orientals shake hands, they favor a gentle grip because, in their cultures, a firm grip suggests aggressiveness.
Eye contact We are taught to look others directly in the eyes. To do otherwise is often regarded as a sign of shyness, lack of warmth or weakness. But in Japan, Korea and other countries, direct eye contact is avoided since it's considered intimidating or may indicate sexual overtones. There goes the old ""use a firm handshake and look 'em straight in the eyes"" advice from your father.
Waving To us, this can signal hello or goodbye, or that we're trying to get someone's attention. Throughout most of Europe, this signals ""No!"" It could easily mean waving goodbye to a hot prospect.
Beckoning Beckoning by raising the index finger (palm toward one's face) and making a curling motion with that finger could land you in trouble Down Under. In Australia and Indonesia, this gesture is used only for beckoning animals and would be insulting to humans. Unless you are in the animal training business, this can't be good for client relations.
""V"" is for victory Displaying the index and middle fingers in the shape of a ""V"" usually means victory or peace. But in England, when this is done with the palm facing inward toward the face, it's the same as signaling ""up yours.""
The OK gesture Forming a circle with the thumb and forefinger with the other three fingers splayed upward means ""O.K."" in our culture. However, in France, it means zero or worthless. In places including Brazil, Russia and Germany, it's the signal for a very private bodily orifice. Either way, it sure doesn't mean A-OK.
Space relationships North Americans generally consider standing about 30 inches apart, about an arm's length, to be comfortable. But in Oriental cultures, people usually stand farther apart. In contrast, Latin Americans and Middle Easterners stand much closer.
Touching In general, North Americans are not touch oriented. Good friends may occasionally touch a forearm or elbow. With very good friends, they may place an arm around a shoulder. But hugging is almost never done among casual acquaintances. Latin cultures enjoy hearty embraces and warm pats on the back. In the Middle East, two Arab male friends may be seen walking in the street hand-in-hand and all it signifies is friendship.
So next time you're traveling in Australia on business, refrain from beckoning an associate with your curled index finger just to give him a hearty ""thumbs up."" It just may take your business down under.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc. Comments and questions can be sent via e-mail to email@example.com."
But technology unwittingly may create a sense of disconnection with your customers, encouraging indirect communications instead of the personal, one-on-one approach that is still needed to really prosper.
One simple way to get personal with your customers is to host an open house. Its an opportunity to educate your customers, suppliers, financial backers, local dignitaries and even your employees and their families about how your business works. It helps break down communication barriers and increases these groups understanding of, and appreciation for, your business and your products or services.
Create your own excitement
Among the secrets of effective marketers is an ability to create excitement out of the ordinary. While your daily operations may seem mundane to you, you should be able to identify many meaningful occasions for hosting an open house. How about celebrating a business anniversary? Or building an event around demonstrating a new piece of equipment or showing off the capabilities of a new computer system. Or holding a grand opening or rededication ceremony.
Without getting into the logistical preparations needed to pull off an effective event, make sure your open house location looks its best for your guests. Spruce it up. Correct any safety problems. Arrange for refreshments. Plan employee participation. And, perhaps most important, decide exactly what youre going to show off to your customers.
For instance, say youre a printing firm that has just made an investment in a new five-color press. Plan to demonstrate to your customers how this equipment improves your capabilities (quality, speed, cost, etc.) and how they stand to benefit.
If yours is a service company, say an architectural firm, showcase your best recent work. This could be in the form of a multi-media computer demonstration, or as simple as photos and drawings mounted neatly to office walls. As a retailer, point out your new or unique merchandise, varied displays and new approach to plan-o-grams.
While the open house may spur temporary excitement around your business, true success lies in your ability to sustain the momentum as long as you can.
Thats a lesson which one small mill owner didnt learn. After investing heavily in new machinery, the owner decided to conduct a mill tour. The new computer-controlled machinery was in place and humming smoothly. The equipment suppliers experts were standing by to answer questions. The mill was freshly painted, the weather cooperated, and even the employees work clothes were cleaner than usual. Everything seemed to click.
However, the mill owner never looked beyond that day. He never sent sales letters to remind guests about their visit (and his new capabilities). Since he didnt take photos of the tour, he couldnt include them in his print ads or brochures. He didnt bother to publicize the open house in trade magazines. He failed to mention it in his company newsletter or on his Web site.
In short, he severely short-circuited the marketing potential of his open house efforts.
In contrast, a small specialty retailer closed three stores located within five miles of one another, consolidating operations into one single store. Instead of suffering from negative publicity, the retailer took the offensive by inviting the media to an open house, where they were shown how customers would be better served by the new, larger store. Thats the story that appeared in the newspapers, on TV and on the radio. To sustain the momentum, the retailer sent copies of the articles to corporate customers and key suppliers.
Open houses are a time-tested marketing tactic. Its a way to bring your marketing tools sales letters, brochures, advertising, publicity, etc. to life. And with proper follow-up, it can lead a long, positive effect on your marketing efforts.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications firm. Reach him at (412) 434-7718 or e-mail your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not surprisingly, theyre also consistently rated the best in their class for customer service.
Superior customer service differentiates the superior product or service from an average product or service and an excellent company/customer relationship from one that is marginal and easily severed.
In todays sometimes jaded world of business, you have to exceed customers expectations, satisfying them in a way that captures and maintains their loyalty and creates a bond strong enough to withstand the efforts of competitors who will try to woo them away.
The strong customer service program begins internally, with a knowledgeable and loyal employee base. Companies that are consistently rated top in their class share six basic characteristics:
1. Top managements commitment to focus its organization on the customer.
2. Decision making that answers the question, What is best for our customers?
3. Many two-way channels to exchange information with customers and gauge their satisfaction.
4. Having processes, systems and procedures for making decisions sometimes on the spot.
5. Employees who are not only understanding, but also accountable for serving customers externally and internally.
6. A compensation and incentive program linked to measured customer satisfaction.
Customer service and profitability
The Public Affairs Group Inc. (PAG), a national marketing research firm based in Washington, D.C., has researched many Fortune 500 companies on customer service and has found a strong connection between loyal employees and loyal customers.
That means customer loyalty is ingrained into the culture of the best companies. The connection flows from employee training and retention to customer loyalty and retention.
The PAG also found that companies driven by customer service and customer loyalty are focused on the long-term view of profitability. The typical business experiences a customer turnover rate of between 20 and 25 percent.
If a company can retain just 5 percent of the customers that it might lose, the PAG has determined, profitability can increase 30 percent or more, depending on the industry. The PAG data show repeatedly that customer retention and growth are aligned. Good customer service increases corporate profitability.
Communication also is critical to the customer service process. Superior customer satisfaction requires frequent communication with customers, employees, investors and suppliers.
It begins with top management visibly articulating customer service messages and actions, and extends through every level of the organization. It includes frequent training of employees and vendors. And it means employing technology to gather information and manage from the knowledge gained especially for customer personalization of message and product/service.
Customer service building blocks
Some steps to consider when building a customer service program include:
- Send sales people to work for a while at the offices of your best customers.
- Reward business generated from existing customers.
- Participate with customers on their turf. Use meetings and events to demonstrate your desire to make a positive impact on them with your product or service.
- Invite customer input. Include customers in planning retreats to share their perspective. Encourage them to brief you and your staff about their industries.
- Build a reward system for customers who refer new business
- Use customer service councils as a medium for receiving feedback.
Superior customer service is an integral element in retaining customers and generating a new, higher level of loyalty. Ultimately, improving customer service and communicating its effects will help you become a more profitable organization.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications firm. Send your questions or comments to email@example.com. Reach him by phone at (412) 434-7718.