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  • Aspire » Marketing

    02 Jun
    picture by Magdalena Roeseler via Flickr

    picture by Magdalena Roeseler via Flickr

    A friend of mine and I went to a new restaurant the other day. It’s billed as a cool, new trendy place and we were both looking forward to checking it out. When we got there, there was a bit of a line…and we were thinking “great – it’s a popular place and they’re doing well”.  But a few minutes in line told a different story – here’s what we observed:

    • The place was kind of a mess, several tables hadn’t been cleaned and it just generally didn’t look tidy
    • It was loud, but not in an energizing way, more of an annoying I need to shout to be heard kind of loud
    • And the line? It turns out they weren’t really that busy, it was more that the counter staff didn’t know what they were doing (and on top of that, they were kind of rude).

    To be fair, this was a new place and hopefully they’ll turn things around. The food was good, but not great but more importantly the overall experience was certainly not something that would bring most people back.

    What does this have to do with marketing?


    This new restaurant had spent some solid money on branding, flyers, events and PR to get the word out – they were using several marketing tactics to get people talking and checking out their new restaurant.

    But the greatest flyer in the world, the greatest ad ever isn’t going to impact the experience people have when they actually come into your business or become a customer. What many business owners don’t understand is that every single touch point that you have with someone is marketing.

    Companies don’t get to define their own brand, the customers and the public will define it for them based on their experience (and then they’ll share it with hundreds of people via social media or sites like Yelp).

    That’s why Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) said:

    “Your culture is your brand”.

    And way before that David Packard (co-Founder of Hewlett Packard) said:

    “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department”.

    We’ve all been to that store that is immaculate, with clever displays, super friendly (and genuine) staff and an overall warm ambiance that makes you feel like you’re wanted there. It’s the type of store that you want to buy something in just because you appreciate what they stand for and how they operate.

    Or how about the online retail experiences that educate or entertain first with consistent style and attention to detail?  Sites like The Grommet with lots of informative ideas on new products or ManCrates.com, a company that seems to really enjoy what they’re doing and have a lot of fun sharing their products and ideas.

    The difference is in the details and as Andy Sernovitz said:

    “Marketing is what you do, not what you say”.

    How can you apply this to your marketing?

    The first step is counter-intuitive. You need to figure out who you really are. What do you stand for? What are your core values? That becomes the foundation for everything else.

    Once you’re clear on who you are (which includes ‘Why’ you do what you do), then you can define / re-define your products or services so they align with who you are.

    Also – while you’re reviewing your product or service, it’s a good time to do a pricing /revenue / profitability review.  You don’t want to ramp up your marketing for a product that’s not making money. That’s a sure way to accelerate going out of business.

    Finally – before you even consider creating any promotions, you need to spend some time designing and implementing the customer experience for your product or service. What are all of the touch points that potential customers and customers have with you? Are they positive and do they fit with your brand? Here’s a short list just to get you thinking:

    • How do you answer the phone? Do you do it consistently and does it fit with your culture and brand?
    • If you have a physical space, does it reflect who you are (or at least who you’re trying to be)?
    • Do your front line employees…anyone that talks to customers, really ‘get’ how they need to interact? Should you train them?
    • Does your packaging fit with your message and who you are?
    • How about the little things that aren’t directly tied to the product or service? Bathrooms? Parking Lots? Invoices? Website? Any mailings that go out for anything…? How people dress? How people talk?

    It’s not easy to build this kind of environment and it gets more difficult with larger businesses, but it’s critical if you want to be effective at marketing in the long run – it’s the only way to avoid an expensive marketing cycle (thanks to my friend Cindy Piva for this graphic):

    expensive marketing cycle

    Are you thinking about implementing a new marketing campaign? Maybe it’s time to review the little things first?

    What do you think of this idea? Is it something you’ve considered with your marketing before? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    03 Mar


    If you’re like most business owners, you didn’t start your business because you really liked marketing (unless of course you started a marketing business…).

    But if you’ve been in business for any time at all, you’ve probably realized that it’s pretty important to find ways to get people to hold up their hand and say “I’d like to learn more about your stuff.”.

    That’s marketing.

    And it can be really challenging (even for marketing professionals) to find a consistent, viable way to get people to hold up their hand and approach you.

    In Jay Baer’s book Youtility he makes a lot of great points, but it all starts with the observation that we are all being buried by promotions coming at us from every possible angle – the marketplace is really noisy and it can be almost impossible to be heard…especially if you sound just like everyone else.  The central point behind Youtility is that you have a choice when it comes to marketing in today’s environment.

    You can either be amazing or you can be useful – and it’s really difficult to be amazing, especially on a consistent basis (just ask those companies who are spending millions on clever ads or trying to go ‘viral’).

    Useful however, is a lot more straightforward. If your business solves problems (either as a product or a service), then you are already useful.  The question is how can you extend that usefulness and turn it into free marketing?  Side note – if your business isn’t really solving problems, you’re not going to be in business very long anyway…!

    Here a few examples that might get your mind moving towards how you could develop some Youtility type marketing:

    Taxi Mike’s Dining Guide

    If you ever go to Banff  (beautiful ski resort area in Canada) then you’re going to want to check out Taxi Mike. Although Banff is fairly small, it’s really busy and there are a lot of taxi companies you could choose from. However only one of them has created a really helpful dining guide to help you figure out what bar or restaurant you should check out while you’re in town. It’s a comprehensive listing that’s updated very few months and distributed out to places all over town (and on his website). So whatever you’re looking for, Taxi Mike’s guide can help you find it.  And if you’d like a ride to get there, his phone number is conveniently listed on the helpful guide as well.  Simple, useful and something any traveler will appreciate (which happens to be the group that Taxi Mike wants to be friends with).



    Kleenex Cold and Flu Predictor

    Obviously Kleenex knows a lot about cold and flu season – it’s a big driver for their primary product line. Using that expertise and data from the Centers for Disease Control, Kleenex has created a web app that can help you get ahead of when the next outbreak is coming to your area.  Check out My-achoo.com and enter in your zip code to get the forecast for your area in terms of how likely colds and flu are to be in your area over the next 3 weeks. On top of that, the site is loaded with tips and ideas to help you weather cold and flu season as well.  This one is a bit more gimmicky and it’s hard to say how useful it is in terms of predicting the flu for your family, but it is helpful and it’s a creative way to share their knowledge.


    Client Kudos Sunday Snippets

    Over the last couple of years, I’ve told everyone I know that they need to be signed up for John Stevenson’s Sunday Snippets. John is the founder of Client Kudos (and a friend of mine) and I don’t know that I could find a better example of how to add a ton of value to your potential clients (and lots of other people as well). Every Sunday John sends out a snippet…a short article that highlights great ideas that business owners and professionals would benefit from. They’re quick, easy to read and add a lot of value. They also highlight how John and his team think and indirectly illustrate a lot of the ways they help out their clients. Could your business have your own version of a Snippet like service that you could offer?



    Ikea Montreal Moving Day

    Another Canadian example (maybe they’re just inherently helpful…).  I’m not sure why, but in Montreal a large number of people end up moving to a new place on July 1st – those crazy Canadians call it Moving Day.  Over the last couple of years, the Ikea stores in Montreal have jumped on this bandwagon by giving away moving boxes to the 225,000 people who are moving. The boxes are 85% recycled material and printed with clever moving related phrases and also offer a discount to the Ikea stores. People who move are also likely in the market for new furniture and a good group for Ikea to make friends with.



    UTEC – Billboard that makes water

    This one is really cool. UTEC is a University in Lima, Peru that specializes in Engineering and Technology and they constantly need to be attracting smart students who want to learn to do cool things that matter. Lima is the capitol of Peru with about 7.6 million people…but it also happens to be located in a coastal desert region…they’re right on the ocean but they only get about 1/2 an inch of rain every year.  However because they’re right on the ocean, it’s incredibly humid there – close to 100% a lot of times. The end result – a lot of people struggle to get enough drinking water.  Enter UTEC and their new billboard – which is engineered to act as a water collector and creates drinkable water (with some electricity needed) and sends it to a faucet at the base of the sign.  This one sign has created 2500 gallons of water in just 3 months…according to UTEC that’s enough to support hundreds of families with drinking water.  There’s a much more in-depth explanation in this article. Or check out this great video:

    Click here if you can’t see the video.

    Unfortunately there’s not a silver bullet when it comes to marketing, but a little creativity and a goal to make something really useful can take you a long way.  What useful marketing have you seen…or developed?  Share your thoughts below – we’d love to hear from you.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    Rock City Barn picture from Brent Moore via Flickr

    20 Jan
    Photo by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

    Photo by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

    It is really noisy out there…and I’m not talking about the kids on your street…although that may be true as well.

    I’m talking about the noise in the marketplace. You know the overwhelming avalanche of information that we’re all subjected to every single day. Being on the receiving end is difficult and we’ve mostly developed filtering strategies to keep us sane.

    But if you’re a small business owner trying to be heard over all that noise, you’ve got an even bigger challenge. People won’t buy your stuff if they can’t hear you and don’t know what you’re doing.

    And if you sound like everyone else, then you’re just part of the noise and it’s unlikely that you’re marketing is helping you.

    That’s the premise of Marty Neumeier’s book ‘Zag – the #1 Strategy of High Performance Brands‘. You can summarize the idea to a simple thought – if everyone else is zigging, you should be zagging.

    What’s your Brand?

    Most entrepreneurs and business owners don’t think much about branding – they’re too busy running their business, but it’s critical to your success, especially as Marty Neumeier defines it:

    “A Brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company.”

    Your brand isn’t your logo or your latest ad campaign, your brand is what your customers or potential customers feel about you. They get to decide, all you can do is educate them – think of it more as your reputation. A great reputation can push you to new heights with little effort…a bad reputation (or brand) will make it impossible for you to succeed.

    There’s a great infographic from the book that you may have seen before that really summarizes different aspects of marketing, including branding – which one seems most compelling to you.


    Aspects of Marketing from Zag by Marty Neumeier

    The problem that most business owners have is that they don’t really have a Brand…they don’t necessarily stand for anything or they sound like everyone else in their industry.

    What do you stand for? What’s the promise you’re making? Are you fulfilling that promise?

    One way to test this is to do an ONLY check…you need to be able to simply and concisely fill out the following sentence – the first blank is your industry / category and the second blank describes your Zag…what makes you different.

    The ONLY ___________ that __________.

    If you can’t come up with an ONLY that’s meaningful and fairly short, then you don’t have a Zag and you need to give it more thought (the majority of the book is a 17 step audit process that helps you think through how to develop your Zag).

    Your potential customers want to understand you. They want to know what makes you different from others in your industry – and that difference has to be meaningful and radical.  Something like: “The Only Bank on the corner of College and Metcalf.” doesn’t cut it. It may technically be true, but it’s not meaningful and certainly not radical.  Compare that to: “The Only bank in Kansas City that is proactively helping small business owners succeed.” If you’re a small business owner, which of those is going to be more intriguing to you?

    Note – having a great Only statement is critical, but it will backfire in a huge way if you don’t hold up the promise across all aspects of your business. It’s not just something you say, it must be what you do and who you are every single day.

    Some other possible examples:

    Chipotle – The Only fast food Mexican restaurant that uses organic, healthy ingredients and fresh food made right in front of you.

    Southwest Airlines – The Only major airline that puts the customer first and makes it fun to fly.

    ProCore Resources – The Only Salesforce.com consulting company that focuses on your business processes before considering the technology solution.

    What’s your Only?

    On the surface, it’s a simple exercise but for most it’s a huge challenge to come up with a meaningful Only statement…and without that you don’t have a Zag and you’re getting lost in the noise.

    What Only statements can you think of? What’s the Only statement for your business? Have you thought about it before?

    We’re still working on the Aspire Only statement (I don’t know that you’re ever completely done) but for now it’s something along the lines of:  “Aspire is the Only Business Consulting / Coaching firm that uses experienced, certified Professional Business Coaches to help Kansas City business owners win the game of business.

    Share your thoughts and examples in the comments below – we’d love to hear them.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    03 Dec
    Thanksgiving Leftovers

    Picture by KThread via Flickr

    After 3 or 4 days of creatively combining leftover turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and other trimmings we often are left with the dilemma of should I make one more meal of this or toss it.   Whether or not you care to admit it, a similar scenario plays out in your business life as well; there are always “leftovers”…and the question is ‘what can you make of them?’.

    If you ask any company to list their top 5 or 10 customers, most can rattle them off without even thinking.   They are the cream of the crop, the 20% generating 80% of the revenue.  The ones you can’t wait to serve and look forward to all the great things you are going to do with them as both your business and their businesses grow.   Everyone at your company knows the importance of these accounts and they may even receive preferential treatment when they call.   They are the ones that have your private phone numbers and your personal email addresses.   If there was royalty in business, you would crown them.

    The Leftovers…

    But those aren’t your only customers.  The “leftovers” remain.   They’re the ones you don’t have as much time for.  Some have potential, but you never have been able to grow their accounts.  Some are not easy to reach so you put less effort into building the relationship.   And a lot of them simply are using a competitor for the bulk of their needs, giving you little or no business, and you don’t see the point in wasting your limited time chasing a dead end.   But they are your customers and any of them could one day potentially be one of those top customers.

    A recipe…

    In the same way a seasoned chef (or an aspiring chef) can create a great casserole out of the leftovers from a Thanksgiving dinner, your leftover clients and prospects may have the potential to become something significant for your business as well. The issue is how do you manage them, stay in contact with them, and let them know you are thinking about them?   Thanks to technology the challenge in doing this has gotten a whole lot easier.

    Here’s 5 simple ways to make your business leftovers part of a future main course.

    1)      Newsletter:  If you have a newsletter, make sure they are on the distribution email list (with permission)  Tip: A newsletter should have an education focus rather than a selling focus.

    2)      Blog:  Again, focus on education, distribute via social media outlets.  Message is typically more targeted and overall length should be under 600 words.

    3)      Consistency:  Any strategy for creating touch points: Email, Newsletter, US Mail, phone calls, etc. should have a level of consistency.   Blogging regularly 1X/month is better than packing a week full of daily posts followed by 3 weeks off. (Even better is posting once a week like clockwork…).

    4)      Send them some business.   If you have never read The Go-Giver,  put it on your Christmas list or better yet, buy it for yourself now and give a few copies as gifts this year.   “It is in giving that we receive”  – St. Francis of Assisi

    5)      Expect nothing in return.  This can be the hardest thing to do in our instant gratification world.  This doesn’t mean you don’t ask for orders or wait for them to always make the first move.  It means you stay the course…every No is usually one No closer to a Yes!

    If you have any successes you would like to share about how you handle the “leftovers” in your business, share them here, we are always open to new suggestions or ideas.  And certainly if you have a favorite Thanksgiving leftover recipe please share that as well – I am sure other Aspiring Chefs would love to give it a try!

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    02 Sep
    Think Differently about your marketing

    Photo by JD Hancock via Flickr

    If you want to start winning at marketing,  you need to start thinking differently. Let’s face it, marketing is hard. For most of us, it’s an unnatural way to think and it’s not really our thing.

    However…marketing is critical to your long term business success and growth. In fact, whatever business you’re in – you are also in the business of marketing, whether you like it or not.

    “Business only has two functions – marketing and innovation.” – Peter Drucker

    If your potential customers haven’t heard of you, if they can’t find you, then they can’t buy from you – it’s that simple.

    What does it take to have a marketing mindset? Effective marketing doesn’t just happen, it’s an ongoing process and it’s driven by the way you think.

    Do you have an effective Marketing Mindset?

    Here are the top 10 ways you need to start thinking differently about marketing (check out the links if you want more ideas):

    1. Be Intentional

    You have to recognize that every possible contact you have with a potential customer is marketing. That starts with your website, but also includes how you (and your employees) dress, how you interact with people (are you friendly, engaging, interested?), even how you answer the phone. It’s all marketing and you need to be intentional about it.

    2. Understand what your customers think

    It doesn’t matter what you think about your business or product / service, what matters is what your customers and potential customers think. You’re not trying to solve your problems, you have to be solving their problems.

    Are you taking time out to really understand what your customers want and need?

    3. Be Active with your Marketing

    Word of mouth is great – but if you only rely on passive marketing you are heading towards failure. It’s difficult to figure out what kind of marketing will work for you, but you have to keep trying. You have to actively find ways to promote and engage – and you have to do it ALL THE TIME…! Even if Word of Mouth is the best way for you to be successful, what could you actively do to promote more word of mouth…or to have it happen more consistently?

    4. Be Diverse

    At any given time, you should have several marketing activities going on at once and it should be a healthy mix of tactics. You should be creating valuable content, building relationships, getting referrals, have an effective website, participate on social media and potentially be advertising in some way. It’s the consistent combination of getting in front of people that will keep you top of mind.

    5. Have fun with it – be enthusiastic

    Have you ever had dinner at a great restaurant and had a surly waiter? Probably not a great experience for you. People are extremely sensitive to enthusiasm and respond very well to positive, fun attitudes. A great attitude starts with the business owner and continues with the right employees. Stop taking yourself and everything else so seriously.

    If you don’t enjoy what you do, if you’re not proud of it…why would you expect anyone to pay you for it?

    6. Have a clear target

    If you’re trying to talk to everyone, then you’re not going to reach anyone. Who is your best customer? Build your marketing around your best customers, solve their problems, engage them in discussions…that’s how you will have your best success in reaching people.

    Could you narrow your marketing message down more than it is today?

    7. Follow Up and Follow Through

    If you aren’t following up with potential customers in a timely and consistent way, you are wasting your time (and you’re not going to be in business for very long).  It’s hard to imagine going to all of the effort of building a great marketing strategy, getting potential customers to raise their hands…and then not following up with them as soon as possible – but it happens all the time.

    And it’s not just leads – the last time you were at a networking event, did you follow up with the new contacts you met?  Even just to say thanks or let’s get together?

    8. Give a lot of value…and then give some more!

    Your customers are looking for help and they are willing to pay you…once they know you, like you and trust that you can actually help them. The best way to do that is to give away great stuff – add value, educate them. Make sure that when your potential customers find  you, they are blown away with how much you can help them…even before they buy your stuff.

    Are you giving away great stuff right now? Are you educating?

    9. Be Different

    The marketplace is really crowded these days and if you want to be noticed, you’re going to have to stand out. That doesn’t have to mean loud and crazy advertising, it could be as simple as truly exceptional service…or even just having a really clean bathroom.  Another way to go is to be truly remarkable…it’s not easy, but it will put you into a category of one if you can pull it off.

    How much do you stand out from your closest competitors?

    10. Be Consistent

    It’s not exciting, but the only way all of this other stuff works is if you are doing it every day, every week and every month. You can’t win by making a big splash just when you have some free time – you have to carve out consistent time and effort and show up and take consistent action.

    If you’re doing a great job on all 10 of these, then you’re likely exploding with success. If you’re falling short where could you improve?

    What do you think? Did I miss something? What would you add? What’s not important? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach