Author Archives: Stephen Rhodes

About Stephen Rhodes

President of The Marketing PAD, a full-service marketing and communications company.;

Marketing can be magic but check your hat size

By Stephen Rhodes

I am not a slave to one particular approach to marketing. I am a slave to results.

Many small business owners follow patterns of comfort rather than searching for the right tools for the job. And today there are so many more tools to choose from.

By time I get involved my clients have already concluded that whatever they have been doing is no longer working.  The conversation usually starts like this:

My business has slipped over the last year or so, you know the economy is bad, and I am not getting the same results anymore from my marketing so I think maybe I need to look at something new.

What’s good here is that this business is paying attention to results and has recognized that the old way of doing things is no longer producing the outcome once expected.

It’s also good because this business has some measurement metric, likely revenue or profit, but at least there is a connection between money spent on marketing and the outcome. Return on investment (ROI) for many small businesses is difficult to measure because they don’t have the resources or the tools to connect the dots between marketing expense and sales.

And so many businesses simply continue the same old, same old marketing plan without any real connection to results.

Marketing can be magic but check your hat size because one size does not fit all. That’s why measuring results is so important. A simply question, how did you here about us, is so basic and costs nothing. Customer surveys with a prize can help establish the source of your business and is another inexpensive tool.

So think about this. Do you measure the ROI on your marketing expense? Does it generate the business you want? If not, is it time to move from your comfort zone to a new approach?

Let me know your thoughts in comments.

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What’s excellent customer service?

By Stephen Rhodes

I sometimes ask clients what they are about – what makes them different from their competitor, or what’s their point of differentiation, competitive advantage or value proposition.

Many service-based companies say it’s good customer service, or even excellent customer service. It’s their secret sauce. And for some it’s true, because they express excellent customer service from the clients point of view.

So what is good customer service? Unless you talk on a regular basis to your customers, you probably don’t know. It’s like branding. A brand is not what you think it is, it’s what your customer says it is.

So, if you want to be excellent at customer service, ask your customers what that means to them. And then market your “excellent customer service” as an expression of what it means to your customers.

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Mercury falling

By Stephen Rhodes

Yesterday, Ford Motor Company announced it will cease production of its 72-year-old Mercury brand by the end of 2010 after years of declining sales.

Mercury’s death is the latest in a string of casualties as Detroit carmakers try to cut costs and focus their investment in fewer models. By shedding a mid-range brand that was more and more irrelevant to buyers, the automaker can focus on boosting sales of the Ford brand.

I have fond memories on my Dad’s 1957 Mercury Monarch, a big flashy boat, low to the ground, but long and sleek. Mercury was a solid brand in those days, appealing to the middle class. Edsel Ford, son of company founder Henry Ford, started Mercury during the Depression to fill the market gap between the budget-minded Ford and upscale Lincoln brands.

But for many years now its designs and features haven’t stood out from Ford. It seemed each Ford design had a Mercury equivalent. Change the grill and add the Mercury badge.

Mercury’s North American market share has fallen to less than 1 percent, compared with Ford brand’s 16 percent. And considering the profile of Ford and Mercury shoppers is so similar, it makes more sense to accelerate  the Ford brand.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally sees anything without a Ford badge as a distraction, including Ford’s once-coveted European luxury brands. The company has dumped Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin in the last three years and agreed to sell Volvo.

The automotive sector has seen dramatic turnaround from a year ago. Clearly, unloading some peripheral baggage is contributing to the new order. Mercury  joins Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Pontiac and Saturn among Detroit nameplates discontinued.

Maybe there is hope for the North American auto industry yet. What do you think?

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Jump into social media, but use both feet

By Stephen Rhodes

A few weeks back I wrote a post about the poor communication habits of  some  fairly large companies Rogers, Toyota and Pampers. And  I mentioned that both Toyota and Pampers were struggling with online campaigns.

Chris Lake over at Econsultancy writes “Social media bites Dyson on the ass: fair or unfair?” – an interesting take on a customer and two competitors savvy enough  to be hooked up online, listening and responding, but clearly still thinking through the strategy.

Chris points out that Dyson is dealing with a small social media fire, sparked by Nick Donnelly’s post called ‘Why Dyson Airblade is Shit’.

Dyson at first was responsive, asked questions and offered to check the faulty equipment. Then  competitor Mitsubishi Electric entered the debate, commenting on Donnelly’s blog, that hey we make the same stuff and ours is better.

At this point Dyson picks up its marbles and goes home.

“We entered this conversation looking to locate a faulty machine and clarifying what we felt were factually misleading statements. We feel that the direction that this thread is going in will go nowhere (apart from some interesting fodder for you, Nick) and we’re not willing to play, I’m afraid.”

Chris’s blog post attracted lots of comments, well worth reading.

So why did Dyson exit the fray? They believed they were fighting a losing battle on two fronts – a hostile customer and a competitor and they were on foreign turf – Nick’s blog. Before social media raised “sounding off”  to an art form for anyone with a keyboard and an attitude, the rule of engagement in crisis management 101 was control the message. Clearly, Dyson believed in Nick’s world that wasn’t going to happen.

Dyson’s failing is similar to many companies who jump into social media without knowing why. They are plugged in  because they think they have to be, and not because it’s a well thought out strategy.

If you are jumping into social media, use both feet.

What do you think?

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Does Twitter work for you?

By Stephen Rhodes

Twitter is hard to explain to someone who still thinks marketing is about running ads in the local newspaper. Over the past year, when I have spoken about social networking, I have noticed an evolution of sorts from blank stares to outright engagement.

It’s a little like  the newspaper industry, and many others for that matter, when they first launched websites in the 1990s. They knew they had to participate but they didn’t know why. For many in business today, that’s the challenge with Twitter and other social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr.

Of all the new marketing tools available Twitter is the one that is least understood and potentially the most effective.

Brian Solis has an excellent post I Tweet therefore I am.  He talks about a “community of passionate short-form content creators and consumers.”

Keywords here are community and content, and  the focus on sharing in a way unheard of just a few years ago. It’s like having thousands of people to talk to and thousands to bounce an idea off. Focus groups? Twitter provides a whole community.

Solis says “Twitter’s simplicity is part of its brilliance. The ability to interpret, analyze and in turn, predict behavior, currently sets it apart from most other social networks. Twitter has become a human seismograph, measuring and broadcasting the pulse of not just the Web, but also world and local events.”

Social networking tools are not one size fits all. Like most marketing strategies, you need to establish what outcome you expect and what is the best tool to deliver the results.

Too often people jump aboard because it’s the latest fad, without first considering why. Twitter can open a world of possibilities but kick the tires first. If you are just getting started, Solis provides lots of information on his blog, and Mashable provides a great Twitter Guide Book.

Let me know about your journey.

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