May 23rd, 2013
Anyone who’s ever toyed with the notion of starting their own business and who’s gone so far as to seek expert advice has inevitably heard one resounding mantra: Perfect your business plan.
But in this article, “Everything you’ve heard about starting a business is wrong,” courtesy of SmartPlanet, two successful entrepreneurs argue against devoting significant time to upfront planning and to instead focus on interacting with members of your target market.
Their point is this: It doesn’t make much sense to formulate a plan for the ways in which your new business will operate until you know whether the product or service you’ll offer will appeal to enough customers to make your business viable in the first place.
The subjects in the SmartPlanet article state, “Don’t plan forever and build the perfect machine. Listen to customers, all good comes from that.”
Honestly, I believe that’s an overly simplistic approach to new-business planning. It’s as though the two entrepreneurs quoted in the article believe on-the-street market research and old-school business planning are mutually exclusive components of any business-launching strategy.
I agree that before you devote substantial time and energy to creating an official business-plan you need to know whether your idea will be perceived favorably by potential customers. That’s the most critical piece of knowledge for any aspiring entrepreneur to obtain before seriously pursuing a new business venture.
The article provides a brief profile of a San Francisco clothing company, Taylor Stitch, which, according to the company’s website, was started by three roommates who wanted to design and sell clothing.
Frustrated by their fruitless attempts to plan the logistical components of the future company’s operations, the three founders, “… got creative, measuring their friends in bars. They opened several pop-up shops around the city once they gained a little clout.”
The company now operates online and has a traditional brick-and-mortar storefront.
But the article says nothing about whether they used their market research to help develop a real business plan before they evolved from the guerrilla-style pop-up shop into what they’ve become.
If they didn’t formulate a business plan, my guess is it was because they didn’t need to seek outside capital to help fund their transformation. If that’s the case, good for them.
But in my opinion it’s silly to use their example as a case study for all future entrepreneurs, almost all of whom will need to pursue startup financing. That entails convincing investors—whether banks, angel investors, venture capitalists, or even faceless contributors via crowdsourcing sites such as Kickstarter—that your business has a clear path to profitability ahead of it.
I’m not arguing that pitching a product or service to members of your target market, and then using their feedback to hone your future offering, is less important than crafting a thorough, well-conceived business plan.
But to think that simply by conducting such research and then through clever guerrilla marketing your new business will be off and running, would be overly optimistic and, without a plan to fall back on, potentially fatally idealistic.
May 20th, 2013
If you’re a small-business owner who’s looking to gain a digital-marketing advantage, you need to be spying on your competitors. Not in the sense of traditional espionage, which, admittedly, would probably be a lot more fun than the type of spying I advocate in this post.
To that end, “Key Factors to Effective Competitive Analysis as a Small Business,” courtesy of the website, Search Engine Watch, provides lots of helpful tips for learning about the methods businesses similar to yours are employing to increase their search rankings and turn clicks into conversions.
But even after learning all you can about your competitors’ behaviors, and then implementing a digital marketing strategy accordingly, sometimes your best efforts return disappointing results. Which is why it’s critical for every small business to be in position to take corrective action when a marketing plan goes awry.
But that’s sometimes easier said than done given the fact that even in today’s hyper-analytical world of marketing best practices, at times we face either incomplete or nonexistent data, which obviously adds to the challenge of developing a decisive course of corrective action.
So here’s another Search Engine Watch story, titled “How to Use a Military Concept to Manage SEO in a Data-Scarcity Reality,” which explains the OODA Loop concept.
In short, Observe, Orient, Decide and Act are the concept’s four components, which are then repeated once you’re provided new results based on the previous iteration.
Regarding the OODA Loop, the article states, “With limited data about the causes for loss of visits and leads, using this framework you can make educated decisions to advance your campaigns.”
So while today’s small businesses have unprecedented access to a treasure-trove of data that provides insight into the marketing decisions your competitors make, you need to have a plan in place for those times when your research yields incomplete or even missing data.
May 16th, 2013
Here’s a story from the Marketing Leadership Council regarding Vine, the latest headline-grabbing social media tool.
For those not in the know (which, until recently included yours truly), Vine is a mobile app that allows the recording of video clips no longer than six seconds. Each clip, also called a Vine, is automatically looped in perpetuity.
Vines are now appearing with increasing frequency via Twitter, Facebook, and as embedded content on web pages.
Honestly, I’m not quite sure what to make of this new technology. Will it prove to be yet another disruptive force in the ever-evolving world of content marketing?
At first glance I’m not sure how effective a six-second video loop can be at communicating a brand’s allure. But as you’ll read in the article linked to above, creative examples of the tool’s potential are becoming more and more common, including this Vine from major global brand, Bacardi.
Are you familiar with Vine? Do you think the tool can be used as an effective attention-grabber for your small business?
Also, if you’ve encountered a Vine you think demonstrates particularly strong creative execution, please provide a link in the comments section below.
May 15th, 2013
In two earlier posts, “What is a Modern Marketer?” (parts one and two), I briefly discussed the ways in which marketers have evolved (or should be evolving) in sync with consumers’ increasing adeptness at independently mining the troves of available information to assist the buying process well before engaging a company’s sales staff.
From part one: “Not so long ago it was the traditional marketer whose role was to provide the information that influenced buying behaviors, whereas today’s consumers have already sourced much of the pertinent information needed to make a purchase decision. So it is that most companies simply cannot succeed unless they recognize that today’s customers are savvier than ever.”
In part two, I provided links to several studies that demonstrate the increasing importance—and effectiveness—of video as an integral component of any small business’ overall marketing strategy.
Much of what’s included in the phrase “modern marketing” should also be considered “content marketing,” because of the clear requirement for marketers to ensure they’re delivering timely, informative content (not necessarily company- or product-specific) that can be easily found by potential customers during the information-gathering phase of their buying process.
Recognizing that buying behaviors have changed in-line with more widely available online content, including social channels, customer reviews, blogs, videos, customer forums, etc., is the first, and most critical step toward becoming comfortable navigating the new era of modern marketing.
How close is your business to becoming a true modern marketer? Here’s a quick and easy two-part assessment to give you an idea, courtesy of Oracle.
In future posts I’ll dive deeper into other important modern-marketing components, including social media, search-engine optimization, analytics and more.
May 13th, 2013
Innovation is a loaded word. And while most connotations are positive, many also conjure images of the downsides of innovative technologies, such as labor force reductions due to workplace automation or potential environmental degradation as a result of cutting-edge natural-resource extraction methods.
Another example that’s currently making headlines comes from Google, a company that’s largely seen as synonymous with innovation. The company’s latest foray into Cloud-connected hardware has arrived in the form of Google Glass, a much-hyped technology that’s now in the hands of a select number of non-Google employees who paid $1,500 for the right to become the device’s earliest adopters.
But despite the new technology’s undeniable coolness factor, concerns over Google Glass’ privacy implications are becoming amplified, as discussed in this San Jose Mercury News article.
So when it comes to innovative ideas with seemingly zero negative connotations, examples are relatively difficult to uncover. Which is why I found this story, courtesy of SmartPlanet, so refreshingly encouraging.
The article discusses an innovation so conceptually simple, it’s amazing to consider the potential magnitude of positive impact the technology holds for much of the world’s non-industrialized, off-the-grid populations.
It’s called the Soccket—a soccer ball that generates electricity. Developed by Uncharted Play, a startup founded by four Harvard University students, the Soccket represents a truly innovative answer to a vexing problem: How to deliver electricity to those segments of the global population who have to rely on unclean, potentially dangerous methods of illuminating their dwellings come nightfall.
The company’s founders realized that in many such populations, soccer (or, football as it’s known outside North America) is an almost universally enjoyed pastime, and kids are seen playing with hand-crafted soccer balls made from whatever suitable materials they can muster.
However, once playtime ends, many of those same children return to darkened homes in which studying is impossible, and where, because of the darkness, adults are unable to earn extra income by working longer hours crafting the products that are the livelihoods of so many third-world families, such as making tortillas in countless Latin American villages.
Since the development of the first viable Soccket, pilot projects have shown that after just 30 minutes of play, the ball produces three hours of electric light via a small plug-in LED lamp.
So not only does the comparison between such innovations as Google Glass and the Soccket put into perspective the quality-of-life disparity between modernized and third-world societies, it also helps demonstrate that while some innovations carry potential downsides, others prove to be entirely beneficial, and hugely impactful for those whose day-to-day lives are immediately affected.
May 10th, 2013
In an earlier post I briefly discussed the common—yet false—assumption that print is dying.
Now there’s this story, courtesy of Fast Company, which shares a compelling reason why digital simply cannot completely replace print. The author of the piece cites a report by Scientific American in which the science of paper versus screens is thoroughly examined.
The gist, as noted by the Scientific American writer and reported by Fast Company, is that by holding a book the reader gains a “tactile sense of textual topography” not possible with digital media.
From the piece: “…you have physical markers like left page facing the right page, the hanging corners, and the shifting of the weight in your hands as you advance from cover to cover. This gives you a sense of narrative context: holding a book, it’s obvious where the individual page relates to the whole of the text, which makes it easier to create that mental map of the text’s meaning.”
I encourage you to read each article in its entirety. But before you do, I’ll share a comment posted by my manager, Shell Haffner, in response to the Fast Company write up:
“We are human and simply put, print creates a human connection. And even in today’s seemingly digital-first world, print is still very relevant. According to a study published in the Journal of Research in Reading, reading online may not be as effective or rewarding as the printed word – furthering the point of this article. That same study found that physical manipulation (i.e. scrolling) distracts our focus from what we are reading resulting in an inability to absorb digital media in the way we would absorb print media. This same notion is proving itself to be true in business as well. A study by McPheters & Company used 30-second TV ads, full-page four-color magazine ads, and Internet banner ads in standard sizes, and employed eye-tracking software to determine if Internet ads were actually seen by respondents. Study results found that the magazine ad had 83% of the value of a 30-second TV spot while a typical Internet banner ad had 16% of the value of a 30-second TV commercial. A pretty drastic difference.
In short, many studies are pointing to a physical touch of paper helps create a connection in our brains. As humans isn’t connecting with each other what we all want?
That’s not to say that digital is bad. All signs point to print being able to peacefully coexist with digital in all facets of life. Indeed, digital adds an extra dimension. Another sensory input to the brain. Together, print and digital can enhance communications of either medium alone.
I discussed the above points and more with Gordon Kaye, editor of Graphic Design Magazine USA and some other industry professionals in our latest “Ask the Experts” episode – some of the insights might surprise you. The replay can be found on the Xerox YouTube page.”
(Note: Here’s a link to the aforementioned “Ask the Experts” segment.)
May 7th, 2013
By Paul Criswell, Xerox Product Marketing Manager
We’re here in beautiful Scottsdale, Ariz. this week for an important printing-industry event — the Photizo Transform 2013 MPS Conference.
This is where we as Xerox (a printing technology manufacturer and solutions provider) come together with other vendors, Channel Partners and industry experts to talk about the current state of managed print services and the ways in which we see the industry changing.
People have been talking about the paperless office for years, and the fact remains that people still need to print. The printers, copiers and software are changing with the times and our products continue to evolve with the market. This week will be spent discussing the future of document technology and how we, the technology experts, can make you, our customers, more productive and reduce your business expenses.
The Xerox Mobile Print solution is a highlight at this year’s show and is the exclusive mobile print solution for the conference. Did you know you can print from your mobile device to all Xerox ConnectKey multifunction printers? Our software even allows you to print from your device to other non-Xerox devices, giving you the freedom to print when and where you need your documents.
Also at the show we are highlighting our newest ConnectKey MFP – the ColorQube 8900. The device combines our exclusive Solid Ink technology into a workhorse multifunction printer that not only gives you fantastic color output, but also delivers real cost savings with our Hybrid Color billing plans.
As Dylan once wrote, “The times they are a changin’,” and so is Xerox. Our Mobile Print solution, as well as our ConnectKey and Solid Ink technologies, allow businesses big and small run more efficiently, securely and cost-effectively.
We help you manage your documents so you can focus on what you do best – running a successful business.