Your website is great – too bad your business sucks

This is the story of a locally owned business with a fabulous website.   The website “worked” – it brought a new potential customer into the store and the staff went to work to make sure that a potential new customer  left – never to return.

Our story begins many years ago when  I purchased a small fish tank for my small children for Christmas.   My son chose as “his” fish a specimen called an iridescent shark which is not really a shark but a catfish.  This demonstrates the power of “branding” – because I’m sure my little tyke would not have been nearly as passionate about the prospect of owning an iridescent catfish.

At the time, I encouraged the kids not to name their fish because surely they wouldn’t survive long enough to justify a name.  I was wrong.  That darned fish lived for more than 7 years.   Over the years, I had to buy a 10 gallon and then a 20 gallon tank to accommodate the growing fish.  When he passed – we had to bury him in the backyard instead of flushing him down the toilet… he was that big.

Fast forward to another Christmas when I again purchased small fish tanks for my much older children.  This time the aquariums were more of a “gag” gift – and once again the joke was on me.  We originally purchased 3 fish and awoke the next morning to find a swarm of teenie, tiny fish trying to avoid the bigger fish.  We filled the additional tanks with these “bonus” fish.  A year later we purchased a 28 gallon tank to accommodate our fishy pets.  The new larger tank means purchasing more fishy friends.

This blog post isn’t about looking ahead  and acting accordingly- though it could be.  🙂  This blog post also isn’t about something becoming bigger than you ever thought it would be – and it could be as it happens often in the world of blogging.

This blog post is about being disappointed by the business I found lurking behind the effective website.

There is a locally owned pet store which is housed in a building with elaborate decorative images painted on the exterior.  I’m kind of surprised that it never caught my attention before.  See – even though I’ve driven past this particular pet store dozens — perhaps hundreds of times – the elaborate paintings on the building and the prominent signage never registered with me.  I have regularly ignored this pet store’s signage – until I became an aquarium owner.  Now, the signage declaring this pet store was voted #1 caught my attention- breaking through the cacophony of advertising messages and singing a sweet melody compelling me to come hither.  My inner chatter changes to focus upon this new discovery….

“Voted #1 you say?  Isn’t that giant panda painted on the front interesting and unique?  Gee – I need to check this place out.”

I talk about this phenomenon in my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results.

I didn’t stop at the store on that trip – but I did check out the store’s website when I got home.  The website did a GREAT job of “selling” visitors on why this pet store was indeed the best in the region.   The next day, I piled my family into the car with the intention of filling our fish tank with fishy friends from the interesting and unique pet store we had just discovered.

Unfortunately, the store displayed and described on the website was very different from the real thing.  Warm and inviting?  Hardly.  Try disheveled and stinky.  Forget the fact that the tanks were streaked and dirty and that there was water standing on the floor – what truly horrified me was how the store’s three employees huddled behind the cash wrap area talking amongst themselves.  Despite spending more than 20 minutes in the store, we were never acknowledged and we left empty handed.

I pity the person who handles this pet store’s internet marketing because it’s inevitable that the business owner will complain that “the website isn’t working.”

I can attest that the website DID work – perfectly.  Bravo to the architect.

That website was the reason we hopped in the car and made a trip to their store.  Unfortunately, the store’s employees are the reason we hopped back into our car and headed over to the big chain pet store across town.

We weren’t the only people to leave that store empty handed that day though I have no idea whether the others were compelled to visit based on the signage or the website.  It doesn’t matter – because non of us received any customer service from the staff of this store.

Dear Store Owner:

Your website worked.  It motivate my family to take action – but your staff obviously wasn’t prepared for our arrival.

As a result, one of your competitors “ate your lunch” this past weekend.

Sincerely,

Just one of the many lost customers last Sunday afternoon.

Honestly, I could have forgiven the disheveled appearance of the store’s interior if a smiling, helpful clerk had offered friendly assistance.  A simple acknowledgment of our presence would have gone a long way that day.

You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.  That’s why it’s important that your website makes a great first impression.  However, it’s even more important that your business lives up to the expectations set by your website.

Customer Reviews Set Consumer Expectations

Expectations of your business will literally shape the whole consumer experience for your customers.   This is nothing new. In my post, “Social Media – It’s a Moral Imperative” I wrote about how a movie’s marketing campaign painted an unrealistic expectation of being a comedy – and then delivered scenes of horrific violence and very little “humor”.

The same is true of your business.  Marketing sets expectations.  If you deliver on the promises – if expectations are met – then consumers will be satisfied.  Fail to deliver – and consumers will complain.

While this is nothing new – what is new is that we’re living in a world where communication is lightning fast and ridiculously easy thanks to social media.   This creates a world where your consumer’s unmet expectations (realistic or not) can mean an avalanche of negative online reviews .

Setting realistic expectations of your products and services is essential to your business survival.

I’m seeing a worrisome trend – one which is not only being recommended by various “gurus” but also being practiced by business owners who obviously are not aware of the danger involved.

Many businesses – big and small – are engaging in creating their own “reviews” for their business. One popular info product recommends  this course of action – especially if customers aren’t online actively participating in online reviews.  This popular resource recommends that SEO professionals and business owners go out and actively create the reviews they “know their business deserves” by leaving reviews under pseudonyms.

Here’s the hidden danger with this troubling trend.

Let’s say you’re a physician concerned about your online reputation.  You hire someone to  create 5 star reviews for your practice.  Those fictitious reviews are prominently displayed in your local search listing.

Your multiple reviews make your local search listing tops with Google maps and this begins bringing new patients to your office.  These patients are expecting 5 star service because – after all – that’s what it looks like others have been saying about your medical practice. They’re expecting short waits in the waiting room, they’re expecting considerate, competent staff – they’re expecting the doctor to have a great bedside manner – but when they arrive – that’s not what they get.

Perhaps a “real” review of your office wouldn’t have given your practice five stars on every options.  Perhaps a real patient would have rated your office wait time as “moderate” – but real patients didn’t write those reviews so the new patients who came to your office – expecting a brief stay in the waiting room are now fuming as the minutes tick by and they still haven’t been seen.

Trust me when I tell you…

The online review of the consumer who has been disappointed will be far worse than the authentic review of a dissatisfied consumer.

I’ve observed what seems to be a bit of “social justice” happening on these social media review sites.  It seems that when real consumers encounter exaggerated claims of service and satisfaction – they seem to be motivated to respond.  While my personal evaluation of a particular business may have been a 3 out of five – I’ve seen time and time a glowing 5 star -obviously fictional-  review followed by a scathing 1 star review.  Was the 1 star review accurate?  Probably not – but it seems to frequently be issued in response to an undeserved 5 star review.

The worst part about the glowing – but fictitious  – 5 star review is that it unnecessarily sets unrealistic expectations for your product or service.  While a 3 or even 4 out of 5 star authentic review my not be a huge boost to your ego – it is authentic and not only can it serve as useful consumer feedback but it also sets a more realistic set of expectations for your product or services.  This more realistic set of expectations means higher levels of consumer satisfaction which leads to positive online reviews.

After all – authentic online reviews on only a reflection of what is being said about your business in other areas – not only other online sites but offline as well.

Before you spend one penny on an AdWords campaign….

online advertisingBefore you spend one penny on an AdWords campaign – take a walk with me – a customer – through the whole “searching for a product or service” on the internet.

Yesterday – my clothes dryer quit working.  While draping my clothes over the railing of the upstairs over look is an option, it’s not particularly decorative – so the first thing on my “to do” list this morning is to find an appliance repairman.

Right now, it’s easier for me to search for this service online rather than try to find the latest version of the yellow pages.  If I had one of those jobs where you get up, get dressed and drive to an office – I’d be using my cell phone to perform this search as I sat in rush hour traffic.  However, because I don’t have to drive to my office – I sit down at my computer and begin my search for a local business online.

I go to Google and I type in the words “appliance repair [my city + state]” and hit enter.  This, by the way, is known as a “search query”.  These are the KEYWORDS that I am using to find what I need on the internet.  I could have just as easily used “dryer repair [my city + state]| ” or “[brand name] dryer repair [my city + state]”.

I am greeted with several Adwords ads – each containing my search query.  This is good.  I WANT a local service provider.  However, while the ads all lead with my search query terms of “appliance repair [my city + state]”, when I click through to the web site – there is no MENTION of them servicing my city.  As a matter of fact, one of the web pages proclaims proudly that they travel clear up to – well, to a town in the next county.

I’m well aware that each time I click on one of these ads, that each of these businesses will be charged with the click.  I can’t help but wonder how many other people in my city have clicked on that ad only to discover that the business does NOT provide service to our city.

One company has an elaborate flash page which takes more than 20 seconds to load.  That time is an estimate.  As I watched the elaborate show unfold – I clicked away.  I don’t want to be entertained – I want my dryer fixed – NOW!

I come to a really GREAT web site of an appliance repair shop.  It’s a GREAT web site, complete with a cute basset hound puppy as a mascot.  I’m such a SUCKER for appealing mascots.  I picked my pest control company because they dressed their cars up as mice.   With that experience in mind,  maybe it’s best that this appliance repair service is not local.  However, while the basset hound puppy was cute, it took me three clicks to find out the company is based out of a city over an hour away.

As I search, notice I’m looking for something really specific.  Yet, while the AdWord ads parrot my search terms – when they take me to a page which lists cities two and three counties away – I instantly think I’m in the wrong place.

If a keyword is worth bidding on – then it’s worth creating a landing page for that keyword.

I’ve written before about the importance of landing pages.   If you’re using the web for marketing, you’ll know it’s a numbers game pure and simple.  However,  the key concept is that those numbers include VIABLE prospects.

Once I exhaust searching the paid ads – that’s right, there were 9 ads and not ONE of them mentioned my city as an area they serviced – I move on down the page to the “natural” search.

Natural search are the results that DID  NOT pay to get moved to the top of the page.  These pages are here because they actually contain the words “appliance repair” combined with “[my city + state]”.  Fortunately for these businesses – none of which have an ad displayed – those who DID pay to have their ad displayed couldn’t convince me in 30 seconds or less that they had a solution to my problem.  Because paid search failed me – now I’m off through a hunt through the “natural” search.

THAT IS THE KEY TO USING ADWORDS: You’ve got 30 seconds or less for the page to load and to convince me YOU are the business I need to call.  You’ve paid to be bumped to the head of the list – take advantage of your one time only shot at my business!

Before I get to the “true” natural search, I see Google’s “local business results.”  This yields a better quality of options for me.  After all, there’s a map so I can SEE that each of these businesses is located near me.

I like Google’s local business result.  In order to sign up, the business owner must fill in a form with essential information.  Instead of assaulting me with an audio/video extravaganza – I see the essential facts I need to know – like what brands they service.  I can choose to click on the link and go to their website – or I can click the “click more button and see the results of the form they filled out to open the account. Without exception – I use the “more” button because the web sites are so poorly done.

I begin dialing and call the three businesses listed on local search which service my brand of dryer.

This is the moment of truth.  Across my city, phones begin ringing as I try to become a member of an appliance repair company’s “tribe”.

At this point, I could launch into a rant on customer service.  I’m getting answering machines at 9:15 AM on Monday morning.   These are the people who will be bitching about how the poor economy is killing their business.  Here’s a tip – it’s NOT the economy – it’s your lack of attention and commitment to your business.

Finally I get a busy signal.  It’s a welcome relief.  At least they’re in the office and answering calls – and other people are calling them as well.   I may have a winner – but I have to wait.

As I wait – I move on down the list of results to my search query and find a Superpages.com listing.  Oooo – the all inclusiveness of the yellow pages delivered online.  This sounds promising!  I click and am greeted with a page that lists 15 different paid ads.  FIFTEEN!!!  Many of these are for other search sites.  Just what I want to do on a Monday morning – go on a wild goose chase!

I scroll and scroll until I find the business listings.  However, this positively cryptic when compared to the local business results offered by Google.  I get out of the Superpages site and get back to the number which was busy 10 minutes ago.

BINGO!  The phone is not only ringing – it’s manned by a living breathing person who speaks English fluently.  RELIEF!  I am willing to wait until tomorrow for my dryer repair person if it means my search is over.

Thirty minutes ago, I thought my dryer would be fixed by nightfall – now I’m just glad to know I’ll be seeing someone this week.

By the way, I had to have my oven repaired about 5 months ago.  I was thrilled with the service, but I don’t remember the company name.  If they’d left behind a refrigerator magnet – I would have called them.  I remember the guy’s face and first name- but not the name of his business.  It’s too bad.  I liked him and he did a great job.

Which is why I had to go searching again.  I tried to follow the “path” I used five months ago – but none of the results I saw looked familiar.

Without a well defined, tightly targeted audience… well… Google Adwords then becomes just another way to drain cash from your accounts.  Before you spend one penny on an Adwords campaign, be sure you get inside your customer’s head and find out what they’re  REALLY searching for online.  AdWords is no play to launch a “spray and pray” advertising campaign.

Need help with getting inside your target customer’s head?  Pick up a copy of my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results for a step by step process you can follow to figure out the who, what where and most importantly WHY customers buy.

Please don’t make me explain this to you…

branding boo boosDespite the fact that I am definitely NOT your typical LOGO channel viewer, I recently discovered the reality television series RuPaul’s Drag Race.  It’s Project Runway meets America’s Next Top Model except RuPaul is everything Tyra should EVER hope to aspire to be!  (meow!)

I discovered the show at about the fourth episode and fortunately, LOGO is loving this show as much as I am, so the entire season has been replayed LIBERALLY and quickly filled up my DVR when I set it to “record all episodes at any time on this channel.”

In what may qualify as child abuse in the Midwest (but not in Florida where bestiality is still legal -as long as the animal in question doesn’t exhibit distress over the violation), I allowed my 14 year old son to watch the Drag on a Dime episode with me.

My two older children remember exactly where they were the first time they saw RuPaul in all her glory.  Somehow, my youngest didn’t know who this 6’4″ supermodel of the world was until he joined me in watching the show.

Thus the title of this blog post… because my son had a REALLY hard time wrapping his brain around exactly WHAT RuPaul and the other lovely drag queens were all about.

One question was, “Do they wish they were born with women’s bodies?”

My answer, “No, sweetie.  There is definitely the “change the make and model” option via surgery which is covered in GRAPHIC detail in an episode of South Park – but I’m pretty sure than none of these gentleman WANTS to be a woman all day, every day.”

This brings us to the branding/marketing portion of the program.

Branding Lessons from America’s Favorite Drag Queen

The RuPaul “brand” is a study in authenticity which is kind of ironic if you think about it.  I mean, I’m touting a DRAG QUEEN as a study in authenticity – but RuPaul has never claimed to be what he appears to be on stage.  He admits that he’s a master of illusion!

Because he is such a master of presentation (e.g. hair and makeup) and most importantly “illusion”, he became a spokesperson for MAC cosmetics in 1995.  Who better to demonstrate the transformational powers of the right make up than a drag queen?

However, there are several essential branding lessons every business owner can learn from RuPaul – but I think the most important one is:

Be consistent in your presentation and representation of your brand.

RuPaul has NEVER denied being a man in a drag.  Love it – hate it – he is what he is.

He’s a 6’4″ tall black drag queen sporting a platinum wig.  Take one look at him and you won’t be surprised when he opens his mouth and out spills something outrageous!  Mac cosmetics didn’t have to wonder if he would appeal to the middle aged housewife in the Midwest when they chose him as their spokeswoman – because that wasn’t the audience with whom he was supposed to connect!  He was voted Queen of Manhattan in 1990.  Mac wanted the ultimate urban socialite and they saw that in RuPaul.

As you peruse RuPaul’s site (click on the image above- it goes there) – you’ll notice that MOST of the time, RuPaul is in character and most of the time he’s in character, he’s sporting a platinum blond wig.  He may be wearing some of the most AMAZING fashions  – but his “look” never deviates.

Since the “real” RuPaul is bald, I don’t know his natural hair color but I’m pretty sure from his complexion that platinum blond is NOT what grows out of his head (or any other part) naturally.  He has complete control over his hair color – yet he almost always chooses to portray his character with platinum blond hair.

RuPaul COULD choose to appear with a dazzling and ever changing array of hair colors -yet  he chooses only one most of the time.  RuPaul has found a look that “works” and he’s stuck with it.

By choosing a look and sticking with it, RuPaul doesn’t have to “explain” himself and his brand over and over!

A HUGE problem many business owners encounter when it comes to “branding” and “advertising” is that they often get tired of a campaign at precisely the moment when the brand or the campaign is starting to make an impact on their audience.

If RuPaul were following the path of America’s largest retailer – he would have traded in his blond wig (a.k.a. fired his ad agency) of 20 years and “revamped” his image.  In my opinion, RuPaul trading in his platinum wig for a more sensible “brunette” is the moral equivalent of Walmart dumping the little smiley face guy.

RuPaul could choose a new hair color –  WHY WOULD HE?

The blond wig WORKS so why change it?

The same question can be asked of companies large and small.  Walmart isn’t the only huge company to suffer from this affliction.  From “new Coke” to the “new US Army” – why oh why change something that is WORKING?

If you follow local advertising – you’ll see examples of local businesses who change their branding on an almost daily basis – to the point of not HAVING a single cohesive branding thread upon which to hang a marketing message.

In the end, RuPaul has been very deliberate and equally consistent in crafting and delivering his own unique “brand” of entertainment.    The clothes change, but the character doesn’t.

If a drag queen who can change her hair color as quickly and easily as she changes her shoes can stick with a consistent hair color for more than 2 decades – why would your business want to change it’s branding essentials?

If your branding is broken – fix it!  However, just because you “can” doesn’t mean you SHOULD.  It could be that what’s broken is NOT the marketing – but something else.

Find out BEFORE you start fixing something that used to work!

Small Business Marketing- The Yellow Page Directory’s Place in your Marketing Mix

The recent post “Does your small business need to invest in yellow page advertising?” a comment was left stating that “the internet is for browsing – the yellow pages are for buying. ”

I’m sure that comment was left by someone who makes his or her living selling yellow page advertising.  It’s a GREAT line – but it exposes an essential “truth” .    It acknowledges is that people – in general-  are going to the internet FIRST to research their purchasing decisions.   When they don’t find the answers online that’s when they pick up the yellow pages to buy.

With that in mind, yellow page advertising does have a place in the marketing mix for many businesses.  However, the printed yellow page directories are making the death march to extinction and if that is the sole way you advertise your business – you might want to start working on a new marketing strategy .

I got my start in a  “traditional” advertising agency in the mid 1980’s because there wasn’t any other KIND of advertising agency way back in the stone age.   In those days we wore primitive clothing fashioned from animal skins and chipped pithy marketing messages onto cave walls and onto stone tablets by firelight. Even as we battled sabre tooth tigers along the way to client meetings, we still recognized the need for our client’s business to be listed in directories.

In those days (as now) the yellow page advertising representative’s opinion was that our clients needed a full page, four color ad in the yellow pages.  As the appointed keepers of the advertising budget – we at the agency held a different point of view.  The result were many heated and lively exchanges and as a result, I have few friends in the yellow page advertising industry.  😉

It’s my belief that a business (big or small) that is engaged in a strategic marketing campaign created with the target customer in mind doesn’t NEED a huge display ad in the yellow pages.   Those dollars can be much more effective when spent in other media.

In my book,  Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results, I recommend business owners devote about 7% of their marketing budget to listings in directories.  That’s not a lot but it’s more than enough if you’re spending the other 93% wisely.

For example, if you are a brick and mortar business owner who is in the heating and air conditioning business – then I would NEVER recommend that you stop advertising your business in the yellow pages.  However, I would also not recommend you spend the majority of your advertising budget there either.

Remember – by the time someone is looking for your business in a directory – they’ve already made a decision to purchase.   That’s why I recommend that the other 93% of your marketing budget should be spent influencing people to choose your business BEFORE they decide to purchase.

Wouldn’t you rather be talking to prospective customers BEFORE they’ve decided to buy?

The yellow page advertising rep desperately wants you to believe that the prospective customer who is picking up the yellow pages is operating from a “clean slate”.   In this fantasy land, your yellow page advertising rep will provide LOTS of “documentation” which “proves” your prospective customer opens the yellow pages and INSTANTLY picks the largest, most colorful ad. However, that’s not how advertising works in the “real” world. The example I use to get people thinking about how the yellow pages really work is to choose something they don’t need every day -like  finding a roofer.

The exercise goes something like this- pick up a copy of the yellow pages and start looking for a roofer.  Pay attention to what’s going through your mind as you scan through the pages.  Chances are you’ll notice that you’re searching for is a name that is FAMILIAR!!!

See, the only way the largest most colorful ad in the yellow pages is going to “win” is if you have absolutely NO CLUE of what roofing company is reputable in your area.  Otherwise, the race is going to to go the business with the “best” reputation – the one that is MOST familiar!

For example, yesterday as I was driving to the grocery store, I heard an ad on the radio by a local roofing company.  Right now, I can’t tell you the name of the company – but if my roof started leaking tomorrow – that ad would be having an influence on me.  It would be working on my subconscious as I began my search for a roofing contractor.  That roofing contractor’s name is going to be familiar and I’m more likely to call him than anyone else in the directory.   If I hear his ad again today, that familiarity will be strengthened.   If I hear that ad another 120 times I’ll probably be able to recite the roofing company’s name off the top of my head.   (That is how advertising works.)

Here’s the rub: If I were to pick up the phone and call, if  the receptionist were to ask how I “found” their business – I’d say, “The Yellow Pages!”  While that would be true – but that wouldn’t be the WHOLE truth!   The roofing contractor’s radio ad would literally be the unsung hero of his marketing campaign.

FAMILIARITY BREEDS BUSINESS!!!!

Smart business owners will have a marketing strategy in place with the goal to build familiarity with their customers.  One way to breed “familiarity” is to create a website that reaches customers while they are searching for answers!  Grab customers at that point and they’ll rarely find their way to the yellow pages!

The problem is that most small business owners have websites that do NOT come up when people are searching for answers to their GDP – Goals, Desires and Problems.

As long as your competitors don’t have a website that provides answers to the GDP of the target audience, then it becomes a game of one upsmanship within the confines of the yellow pages.  However, if you discover how to reach customers BEFORE they head to the yellow pages – how to put your website in front of those prospective customers when they’re researching their decision – long BEFORE they’ve decided to buy – well – then suddenly  the size of the ad in the yellow pages really doesn’t matter at that point, does it?