The “Real Deal” – The Value of Authenticity in Blogging

If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.

David M Ogilvy

It’s no secret that I’ve been a HUGE fan of Cath Lawson for quite some time now.  While I don’t remember exactly which blog post it was that I first read, but I still remember the feeling that washed over me when I discovered her blog.   Was it recognition?  Was it relief?

It was probably a little of both.  After all, I’ve publicly declared that there are times when I feel like I’m the only ” honest politician in Washington” because sometimes, I sometimes get EXHAUSTED by the “self proclaimed gurus and experts” who talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk!  I was half way through reading my first Cath Lawson blog post when I recognized that I had found another “honest politician”, even though she lives “across the pond” from me.

See, Virtual Impax is NOT my first rodeo.  I’ve jumped in and out of self employment ever since the birth of my oldest child and I worked extensively with entrepreneurs and business owners during my time as an AE with an advertising agency.

So it’s only natural I guess that when I had trouble finding a reliable cleaning lady, I decided to start my own cleaning business on the side.  I don’t know WHY I thought that was a good idea at the time.  Looking back, that one was PURE FOLLY!  “Let’s see, I can’t find ONE person who will clean my house properly – I think I’ll start a business where I have to plant my foot in the buttocks of a CREW of people who don’t know how to clean a house properly OR show up for work!”

In the end, I learned A LOT about myself.  I discovered that  I SUCKED as a boss.   I ran my business like it was some kind of charity organization.    I hired women who needed flexible hours and extra money instead of hiring people for their work ethic.   I hired dwarves instead of giants!  I hired people who wanted easy money, not people who took pride in their work!

Of course, my employees used and abused me.  (As Liz Struass would say, “They were people being people.”)   I closed shop when I had a dream that I was working in food prep at McDonald’s.  In the dream, I was stinking of grease and exhausted, but I declared  within that dream that it was better than cleaning houses.

So that’s probably why, when Cathleen would write about the trials and tribulations of running her plumbing company, I could relate.  I recognized the voice of another battle scarred business veteran.

With that said, I don’t know why I was so FLOORED by reading Cath’s offer to run an ad for free on her blog.  I just sat back in shock and awe.

DAMN – SHE’S GOOD!

As a matter of fact, I’d say she’s a MARKETING GENIUS!  No wonder I’m such a fan!  Not only is she a giant, but her readers are as well.   As her readers have been finding this blog, I’m feeling quite privledged to be in the company of so MANY giants at one time.

By the way, I can DEFINITELY tell a difference between Cath’s readers and mine.  Cath’s readers leave comments.  Mine email me or use the contact form.  Either way is good for me!

Word of Mouth Marketing- Turns out what you don’t know CAN hurt you

Word of mouth marketing – it’s the holy grail for small business owners.  In the world of Web 2.0, word of mouth advertising is sometimes known as “viral marketing“. In any case, word of mouth advertising is where you rely on your satisfied customers to spread the word about your products or services.

Word of mouth marketing is a GREAT way to build a business when the message being carried by your customers is positive.   Heck, there is even Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association dedicated to promoting this method of marketing and advertising!

I have a love/hate relationship with word of mouth marketing.  I love that it’s powerful, it’s effective and best of all, it’s cheap!  I’ve built my business solely upon word of mouth marketing – which is the definition of irony because I help small business owners as a marketing consultant and I warn my clients NOT to rely solely upon Word of Mouth Marketing as their sole promotion tool to promote their business because ….

WORD OF MOUTH MARKETING SUCKS WHEN SOMEONE IS BAD MOUTHING YOUR SERVICES

Tomorrow marks the 4 week anniversary of the extraction of my wisdom tooth.  Unfortunately, this is a tale of how important trust can be when it comes to word of mouth marketing – especially when you’re  building a business and a brand.

My tale begins in classic Word of Mouth Marketing fashion.  I was asking friends if they knew of a good dentist and  I was referred to Southport Dental Clinic in Port St Lucie, FL.

[Read more…]

It’s Like Christmas in September: Building Trust Through Blogging

It’s like Christmas morning here today – except it’s the kind of Christmas morning where all your presents are from sadistic narcissists.  When spending the holidays with sadistic narcissistic relatives, you don’t make any sudden moves, you make sure not to take your eyes off of your valuables (or relatives) and most importantly, you don’t have high expectations of what is contained within the packages addressed to you.

My first “present” to arrive today was an actual old fashioned CHAIN LETTER via snail mail! A real live CHAIN LETTER! I mean, I’d heard about chain letters when I was a kid but to actually receive one in my mail box at the end of my driveway – well I just never imagined it would happen to me!

I knew there was something fishy about the letter. It was addressed to my husband, but the return address was of someone I don’t know. Could it be that my husband has another family in Kansas? Perhaps he has a secret identity? As I began to open the mystery letter, a thought flashed through my mind- “Nobody sends anthrax through the mail anymore, do they?” I held my breath as I carefully opened the letter.

Turns out my husband isn’t a spy nor is he leading a double life.  So much for my drama fix for the day.  The envelope contained 4 pages sloppily stapled together.  It lead with, “I’m a retired attorney, so you can trust me.”

I haven’t laughed that hard in YEARS!

When I was able to stand upright again – I wiped the tears from my eyes and kept reading.  The gist of the letter is that you send $1 to each of the 6 names on the list with the request to “ADD ME TO YOUR LIST”.  By paying $1 to add your name to the list, it’s not illegal – according to the letter.  Why would he lie?  After all, he’s a trusted retired attorney!

They say laughter is the best medicine and I’m about to overdose!

It’s official.  The scammers are leaving the internet and going back to snail mail.  WHEW!  I knew if we all kept ignoring those spam emails that eventually they’d leave.  (By the way, the 30% of you who CLICK are encouraging them to stay!!!)

It wouldn’t be Christmas with just one present, so I then went to my email and got a message from a client.

“Is this legitimate and/or do you know anything about this?”

The attached email is typical.

Would you like to earn auto-pilot commissions every time you post to your blog? And at the same time use the Power of Twitter to drive massive amounts of traffic to your blog.

Notice the key elements in this pitch:

  • auto-pilot – aka get something for nothing
  • the power of Twitter – a “magic” program you’ve heard lots about but probably aren’t using
  • massive amounts of traffic- because all you need for your blog to succeed is massive traffic.

Why is it that every one of these programs begins with

“Here’s a no fail, no learning required, minimal time and effort on your part way to achieve massive traffic to your blog!”

Unfortunately, it’s human nature.

I told my client I’d check it out for her and I learned a lot.

First, I didn’t know that the Butterfly Marketing stuff was still being used.  The whole “OTO” thing is a thing of beauty.   It’s a great way to automate the “impending doom” close on the web.   However, when you’ve been burned before, you usually aren’t anxious to put your hand on the stove again.

Here’s the deal for those of you who don’t know the “system” behind Butterfly Marketing.

Offer an attractive free resource via a squeeze page.  (Squeeze page:  where there are only two options – sign up or leave.  You don’t let them “learn more” by surfing the site – they either want the freebie or they don’t.)

Then, when visitors sign up to receive the free resource, they are taken to a page that offers you a ONE TIME OFFER (OTO).  The page is programmed to display only once, so if they click away, they are “robbed” of the opportunity to purchase this amazing product/service.

In this case, they’re selling you a program to create WordPress plug ins even if you know nothing about coding.  You may not know PHP from CSS, but with this system you can create your own WordPress plug in.

Once the sucker – ahem, buyer has clicked away from that appealing offer, you offer another resource – again letting them know that this offer will go away just like the last one did.

“Aren’t you sorry you let the last one go?  If you’re smart, you’ll jump on this chance.”

They’re serious.  They want your money.  Buy something NOW!

If you’re a total tightwad, you’ll say no again because by now all you want is to get to the free resource you were promised.

VIOLA!  You arrive.  It’s a pretty stark page though.  The most prominent feature of the page is that you are offered an opportunity to earn AFFILIATE COMMISSIONS if you’ll promote this program to your friends, family and website visitors. Just because you were too smart to buy doesn’t mean your chump friends and family won’t.

Oh, and there’s your promised freebie – a WordPress plug in that will automatically “tweet” your Twitter account.  I’ve got to confess, at this point, I’m worried about installing this on a blog I care about.  These people haven’t done ANYTHING to gain my trust.  Am I jeapordizing my blog AND my twitter account by using this?

We live in a world where it’s hard to TRUST anyone these days.  The other morning, I was listening to a local radio show where they were talking about a video they saw on YouTube.  The topic of discussion – was the video “real”.  Despite video evidence, they were still unsure whether or not this phenomemnon was true.

We live in a world where you can’t believe your eyes or your ears.  The Bejing Olympics was full of fakes – from fireworks to birth certificates.  If you live in the US, you’re being bombarded by political propaganda disguised as “news”.  What’s real?  What’s fake?  What can you trust?

One of the drums I pound frequently here is that your blog is a GREAT way to build trust with potential clients and customers.  It’s hard to “fake” your expertise over the course of a few hundred blog posts.

How do you use your blog to create trust with your readers?

Sex Sells – But You Already Knew That

Using sex to sell everything from beer to boats to men is nothing new.

The television show Family Guy parodies this phenomenon by telling the story of Peter’s stone age ancestor who invented the wheel. Unfortunately, the caveman Peter can’t seem to sell his wheel until he strips his wife down to her undies and places her next to the wheel. This inspires the cavemen in the audience to utter such things as “Pretty lady stand near wheel. If I buy wheel, maybe pretty lady will stand by me!”

Using sex to sell products to men is nothing new. However, angering the other half of the population, now that’s a bold and inspired move being made by BMW’s recent offensive campaign.

Progressive Gold says in the post For now you can still buy a Beemer with your dignity intact. The question is, should you?

The air of innocence suggests virginal chastity, yet the pose of passive abandon says ‘here, take me’.

The makeup is deliberately designed to accentuate the dewy skin, pouting mouth and cherubic curls of extreme youth; yet the direct gaze gives an implicit promise of sexuality.

It’s all very carefully done and just to make sure you get the message, it’s made explicit in the slogan. “You know you’re not the first”.

Oh well, that’s all right then. Lech away at the child.

Pedophilia is not sexy- PERIOD!

Salon doesn’t question the model’s age in the post Used Women are like cars but does state:

Plenty of delightful messages are implied: Used BMWs are like soiled sexpots — dirty but fun to drive. Or: A used BMW won’t tell you to go faster or slower. It lets you drive. Maybe even: Driving a used car doesn’t require protection!

Tracy Clark-Flory ends the post with this simply MAHVELOUS dig: ” You stay classy, BMW.

To quote another campaign: PRICELESS!!

Yes, it seems there’s quite an uproar brewing over the particularly distasteful ad by BMW. (Follow the link to see the visual and if you’re a man, have a Kleenex ready.) The print ad is an obvious attempt at generating free PR for BMW. It’s got to be. There’s no redeeming value to the ad otherwise.

The ad was brought to my attention initially by Yvonne over at Lipsticking-Marketing to Women Online in the post BMW – No Woman’s Answer to Transportation: Please Leave the Dealership. Yvonne got the heads up from Andrea over at Muse Communications, who doesn’t think much of the advertising executives who created the campaign. Her post inspired me to post a tongue in cheek post The Lazy Ad Executive’s Path to Success: Using Soft Core Porn to Sell Cars

But this party is just getting started. The Ask Patty blog is on board with the post BMW’s Shameful” Greek Used Car Ad as is Copyranter in my car is a woman, my right foot is my penis.

Sarah left a helpful comment coming to BMW’s defense, but alas Sarah doesn’t give a way to check on her identity. Probably a way for BMW to slip on a robe when they discovered they had wandered into a cocktail party dressed in the same attired as the woman in the Bluefly ads. (a.k.a. Naked at a Cocktail Party) Besides, if the ad is a FAKE then why, oh why doesn’t BMW sue the dirty bastards who are slandering their brand?

Mary Schmit calls the ad Very Tacky and Very Stupid. I couldn’t agree more.

This type of advertising has very limited endurance. Trust is hard to gain and easy to lose. How many affluent women will think twice about purchasing a BMW in the future as the result of this ad?

I really, really, really hope the approval of this campaign wasn’t the case of a man’s blood to the brain being reduced and his IQ being reduced to 1. When the brain BELOW the belt is allowed to make the decisions – things to badly no matter which gender you are.

Do You Measure Customer Service By Satisfaction or by Complaints?

communication

When it comes to business, measuring is an integral part of success. While measuring sales, marketing even web visitors is common, many businesses fail to recognize the need to measure customers service… and with good reason.

Measuring customer service is hard and quite honestly, most businesses are not created with customer service as part of their business DNA.

Customer service as part of a company’s DNA is the absolute best description of what it takes to truly deliver on the customer service front… and it’s so not mine. That phrase totally belongs to Ben Yaskovitz. It’s in Tip #4 of his latest blog post Using Great Customer Service as a Differentiator.

What an elegant, descriptive way to describe the perfect delivery of exceptional customer service.

Ben goes on to tell of his own customer service testimonials from his start up Standout Jobs.

Exceptional customer service has earned him not only testimonials but also new sign ups for the service. Obviously customer service is part of the Standout Jobs DNA.

This really contrasts with my own experience with another start up. However, a more recent and horrible tale is tole by Marketing Pilgrim Andy Beal who writes a tale of customer service gone bad with his blog post Office Depot Joins the Reputation Deadpool.

In a nutshell, Office Depot put out some ATTRACTIVE bait to capture a new customer by offering a great limited time offer of a special low-low price on a Toshiba Laptop. That’s the way it works. A a business, you entice a customer to try your product or service with an offer that is too good to resist. Office Depot even sweetened the already sweet deal by offering next day shipping. You can’t build a successful business on profit margins this thin, but it’s necessary to win new customers.

Then, as you fulfill the order, you amaze the customer. You meet or exceed their expectations with the hope of winning that customer as a steady customer for life… or at least, the next few years.

In Andy’s case, Office Depot was trying to woo him away from his “steady” office superstore, Staples. At the very least Andy expects flowers, a nice dinner and a movie. Poetry, a moonlight gondola ride and ridiculously expensive champagne would have sealed Staple’s fate as soon to be “used to be”. Instead, Andy was stood up and then sent a bill for flowers he never saw and a dinner he never ate. Andy’s devotion to Staples has grown ten fold as a result of the experience. Meanwhile, Office Depot’s brand is being drug through the streets after being tarred and feathered.

Obviously customer service is NOT part of Office Depot’s DNA.

Kelly over at Maxiumum Customer Experience writes:

Your customers are skeptical. There are customers who want you to provide delight, and then there’s this lady. Depending on your industry, there may be thousands lined up behind her. At this point she’s not looking for delight. She’ll take a discount or some other special offer, but what I heard in her voice says it’s not what she’s looking for.

She wants to know somebody at this company cares.

BRAVO Kelly!!! That’s a hit the nail square on the head kind of observation!!!

Does anyone at your company care?

Trust me, if there isn’t anyone who cares, it’s going to show. It’s surprising how a truly sympathetic ear can take the edge off of the burning rage that builds when you feel you’ve been reduced to a number.

How do you measure customer service?

Leadership Tools offers these as ways to measure customer service quality.

  • Customer Attrition Ratio = number of customers leaving / total number of customers (for the same time period) – the higher the ratio, the less likely it is that your company is consistently delivering quality customer service.
  • Sales Growth – your reputation precedes you. If people are still buying from you, and referring others, chances are they are happy with the service and they are loyal to your organization.
  • Customer Survey Results – directly asking customers to rate the service level they receive is by far the best way to measure service quality.
  • Customer Complaints – be thankful for each complaint that comes to your attention. You can only provide a thoughtful response to customer issues once you are made aware of the issue. When customer’s complain they represent not just their issue, but perhaps an issue that is affecting others.

However, it’s all for naught if customer service isn’t part of your company’s DNA. It’s cool to care about your customers. Pass it on!

Increasing Blog Traffic: Trolls and Drive By Readers

attracing blog readersThere’s a new “increasing blog traffic” tactic being touted (I wish I could remember where I read this now) where leaving troll like comments is being encouraged as a way to increase blog traffic.

When I use the word “troll“, I’m not talking about a fictitious, mythological creature who is obnoxious, hideous and dedicated to achieving evil ends.

Instead, I’m talking about someone who fits this description of a troll at Wikipedia

An Internet troll, or simply troll in Internet slang, is someone who posts controversial and usually irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum or chat room, with the intention of baiting other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.

In essence, an internet troll does share the mythical creatures bent for evil, but it’s important to remember that a troll is not offering his/her authentic opinions, which may or may not offend someone. Instead of commenting to share an opinion, the troll offers comments with one intention – to stir the emotions of other readers.

While troll like behavior is being touted as a great way to increase blog traffic, I’d have to guess that instead, this kind of post just merely creates Toxic Conversation.

The quality of readers you attract with troll like comments are what I call “Drive By Readers”.  They may subscribe to your RSS, but they provide little value to your blog other than boosting your RSS subscriber count.  If they came as the result of your troll comment, they’re seeking emotional juice.  They’re at your blog to see more of what you delivered via the comment section they just read.  They’re at your blog with the purpose of seeing who you shredding now.

If your goal is to be a Blog Shock Jock, then leaving troll like comments will be a great investment of your time.

trollHowever, the other side of that coin is the blog owner where you’re making those disruptive comments.  As a blog owner, it’s hard to know what to do about Trolls. Defining troll like activity is the first step and sometimes that’s the hardest step of all.   Wikipedia has an explicit DNFTT (Do Not Fee The Trolls) policy.

Trolling is a deliberate, bad faith attempt to disrupt the editing of Wikipedia. Ignorance is not trolling. Genuine dissent is not trolling. … They are only trolling when they are motivated by a program of malice rather than ignorance or bias. This requires a judgment of the personal motivation for another’s action.

And that my friend is the problem with defining a troll.  A troll is defined by his/her INTENTIONS and usually it’s hard to determine those intentions with a single comment.    Is the person leaving frequent comments really a troll, or just someone who needs educated?

The advice I frequently share with clients is this: your blog is YOUR playground.  You provide the playground so you can make the rules.  If you think someone’s comments are troll like, then it’s your right and privilege to enforce a strict DNFTT policy.  In other  words, if you think it’s a troll, then it’s a troll.

Have you had problems with trolls on your blog yet?   If so, how have you handled it?

Blogs as a Means of Building Trust through Communication

BLogs are a great communication tool which is why they’re GREAT marketing tools for the business involved in making intangible sales.  Trust is a huge issue when you’re selling “nothing but air”… which is all you’re selling when you’re selling your knowledge and services.

However, in order to establish a rapport with your target audience, you must first demonstrate that you are indeed qualified to speak on the subject.  Which brings to mind a joke that recently appeared on Comedy Central.com:

A guy was seated next to a 13-year-old girl on an airplane. Being bored, he turned to the girl and said, “Let’s talk. I’ve heard that flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger.”

The girl, who was reading a book, closed it slowly and said to the guy, “What would you like to talk about?”

Oh, I don’t know,” said the guy. “How about nuclear power?”

“OK,” she said. “That could be an interesting topic. But let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow and a deer all eat the same stuff… grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, and a horse produces clumps of dried grass. Why do you suppose that is?”

The guy thought about it and said, “Hmmm, I have no idea.”

To which the girl replied, “Do you really feel qualified to discuss nuclear power when you don’t know shit?”

Your blog readers are asking the same question…. what basics do you need to demonstrate your understanding of before you engage in the real conversation with prospective clients or customers?

One thing about blogging… it’s hard to hide what you do and don’t know over the course of hundreds of blog posts.    Blogging is great when you’re open to engaging in the Art of Transparency.  However, if you don’t know shit… then blogging can be a real pain.

Trust Building Business Practices

The letters on the soap box I stand upon frequently around here read “Building Trust”.  Blogs are great trust building tools.  They offer businesses the opportunity to begin the difficult process of building TRUST with potential clients and customers.

Trust is so hard to gain and so easy to lose, which is why business owners must pay careful attention to follow trust building business practices.

Building trust is such a HUGE part of marketing and advertising, yet I don’t hear anyone talking about trust and marketing in those terms. Marketing is just an invitation to your business. Advertising is paying to deliver those invitations.

However, if you aren’t engaged in trust building business practices… how can your marketing invitations build trust as well?

Trust is a HUGE deal for anyone engaged in making Major Sales.

5 Essential Trust Building Business Practices

1: Under promise… over deliver

Trust is established when behavior matches expectations. Set the expectations too high and you’ll destroy the trust you’re trying to build with current and potential customers.

The easier software way of creating marketing messages is to scream “Bigger Faster Stronger” . However, the dirty little secret that marketing professionals know is that when you set expectations too high, return rates can run 25% and higher for products marketed in that fashion – for services, those rates can run even higher.

However, when your marketing messages set realistic expectations and you end up delivering more than your marketing messages promise – well, that’s what it takes to ignite the holy grail of marketing… word of mouth advertising!

2: Transparency = Trust

If you’re transparent with your customers as well as with your employees, then you’ll be laying a foundation for building trust.

Transparency’s hard when you’re not being authentic.

For example, I have a friend who works in sales training for a large company. The company has been calling for employees to make sacrifices for the good of the company. They’ve had to turn in their corporate credit cards and they’ve had to share hotel rooms on trips. Imagine their surprise, not to mention disgust, when the CEO drove into work one day in his brand new Bentley.

Word of the CEO’s new ride spread like wildfire throughout the company. Within a few weeks, sales had taken a dramatic downturn and suddenly, the sales training department was assigned the task of coming up with outlining a new marketing campaign to increase sales. (Don’t you LOVE how corporate works!)

Oh, did I mention that the top 6 sales reps left the company in the three months following the CEO’s new car purchase?

Transparency’s hard when you’re not being authentic. Losing trust almost always hurts the bottom line.

3: Focus on meeting your customer’s needs.

When your customer does business with you, it’s because your customer expects you to provide a product or service for them. They are not patronizing your business merely to fatten your wallet or improve your bottom line.

Your customers are doing business with you to meet their needs – to satisfy their wants – to solve their problems. When your focus is upon meeting your customer’s needs… you’re automatically engaging in trust building activities.

4. Make it easy for customers to buy….

I am AMAZED at how hard some companies make it to do business with them. If I, as a potential customer, have to chase you down to get you to take my money, how hard is it going to be to reach you when I have a problem AFTER you have my money and I’ve become your customer?

Trust me, if customers are having to chase you down for the opportunity to buy your product or service… you’ll soon be facing competition that will make it easy to buy the product or service you’re offering. PERIOD.

5: First Impressions Mean a Lot!

Trust is so hard to gain but so easy to lose and little things mean a lot, especially in the beginning.  Dead links on a website… a typo in the sales letter… a forged testimonial…. all can destroy the trust needed for a potential client or customer to make the move from potential to paying.

The obvious point to make here is make sure all your marketing materials make a GREAT first impression.  The old “design vs content” debate doesn’t apply.  Design + Content = Professional Presentation!

For example, I was visiting a blog about business blog consulting.  The design is less than crisp and professional, so that should have been my first clue.  There are 6 different business blog consultants who publish articles on this blog.  They’re great articles… but when you click to learn more you get broken links and error messages.

If you’re in the market for a business blog consultant, you’ve got to ask yourself… are you willing to trust these people with your business blog?  If the links on their own blog don’t work – links which promise to lead to you to the information you need to go about HIRING them- how can you trust them to build links on your blog that work?

Hey, believe me, I know that broken links happen ALL the time.  However, this wasn’t just one broken link – it was several.  One was simply the result of putting two sets of [http://] in the link.  The thing is- these people claim to be blog professionals and that’s a rookie mistake!

Blogs are great trust building tools.  When done correctly, they offer businesses the opportunity to begin the difficult process of building TRUST with potential clients and customers.