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Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

Defining Your Audience: 4 Strategies

One of the most important steps in building a successful business is figuring out to whom it caters. In fact, it should be one of the first things you decide when you venture into the world of entrepreneurship. Your own passion and expertise should guide the creation of your product, but the difference between a hobby and a business is that they do so with a market of consumers in mind. That’s why it’s so important to carefully define your target audience.

In doing so, you’ll want to be specific. Simply targeting “teenagers” or “pet owners” or “hipsters” is only the start. You’ll want to narrow the field to appeal to a distinct archetype, a kind of customer that you can serve better than anyone else. While narrowing the target audience may seem counter-intuitive (Appeal to less people, you say?), it’s actually the case that the most successful small businesses make their money by offering a specific solution to a specific need. “Teenagers with a heavy course load at school,” “pet owners who live in apartments,” or “hipsters with particularly unruly beards” are all target markets that can be served way more effectively, with the right product.

Even if you’re not in the early phase of building an independent business, it’s never too late to define your audience. In fact, it’s necessary to revisit the question over and over, periodically sharpening the image of your customer- especially as your business grows and innovates its products. By consistently keeping your target audience in mind, you’ll be sure to tailor your products in the ways that best ensure customer satisfaction. In that sense, defining your audience is the most important aspect of designing your product. To do so, use these tried-and-true strategies:

Be Specific. Very specific, about what it is your product offers. Whatever makes your product uniquely valuable, whatever sets it apart from the competition, will help you define exactly who you’re selling it to. Selling shoes isn’t specific enough to define an audience. Even selling athletic shoes isn’t specific enough. Even selling basketball shoes still falls short of the kind of specificity needed to pinpoint your target market.

To continue with the shoe example, a sufficiently specific product would be a basketball shoe with added ankle support to avoid sprains. By zeroing in on the most particular aspects of your product, you define who it’s made for. The thin-ankled, regular sufferers of an injury common to one sport, is a narrow but important demographic, one that your company could have all to it itself by focusing on its needs. No, it’s not a “big tent” strategy designed to convince the broader market to buy your shoe, but the aim here is brand loyalty, not mass appeal. That’s the key to small business: the loyalty of smaller markets.

Focus on one person. Literally. A single customer, real or hypothetical, who best represents your targeted market. This may sound like an extremely specific strategy, but it works when you apply what you learn to the demographic as a whole. In business jargon, companies refer to an “avatar.” If you tailor your product to your avatar, it will be popular among everyone who shares his or her key preferences. Your avatar is a stand-in for the hundreds, thousands, or millions of people you hope to target, but through him or her, you target them in a more personalized way.

Have a headline and three bullet points. Come up with a headline that encapsulates what your product is offering to your specific audience. This forces you to really articulate not just what your product is, but who it’s for. Then, come up with three short selling points that would further entice this targeted audience. Think of it as an exercise in marksmanship- by coming up with this headline and these bullet points, you’re forcing yourself to think in terms of what would make a particular audience respond. You’re aiming for the precise needs that you’re in the business of fulfilling.

Here’s how this would look in our sneaker example:

Constantly playing on a sore ankle? Introducing FlexForce:

  • Scientifically proven to reduce the risk of sprain
  • No more annoying braces
  • Play with confidence and without fear of injury

It looks like an ad, and it could be. But the point of the exercise is to cultivate the mindset of identifying the customer, and getting inside their heads to meet their needs.

Build long-term relationships. Once you think you know who your audience is, refine your understanding of their needs by getting to know them as intimately as possible. When you seek them out, envision yourself serving them not for a single sale, but for years on end. This is a relationship, not a fling, and the companies with the most loyal following are the companies that do everything they can to keep a running conversation with their audience.

At Business Republic, for example, we’ve put a great deal of effort into our freecontent- the blogs and podcasts for both the $100 MBA and our software company, Webinar Ninja. The reason we expend so much time and capital on things that don’t make us a dime? Relationship-building. We offer value, and in return we get the opportunity to serve an audience that knows us as well as we know them.

It’s a reciprocal relationship built on familiarity, credibility and trust. Two years into the $100 MBA and a year into Webinar Ninja, we like to think that our audience is well-defined, and that we can meet its needs in ways that other companies wouldn’t think to.

Defining and targeting a specific audience can seem like it’s limiting. Intuition tells us that every product should have as broad an appeal as possible, right? But in the world of small business and independent entrepreneurship, success is built on a guerrilla strategy, taking on precisely defined targets rather than huge swaths of the consumer world. Defining your audience isn’t casting a smaller net- it’s simply choosing to cast it exactly where the fish are.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

Does Your Podcast Need a Blog?

Podcasting is one of the best tools for sharing your passion and expertise online. Free of traditional radio’s restrictions, you’re limited only by your imagination in terms of format, content, and length. Podcasts are also hugely popular with audiences, almost a requirement for entrepreneurs and entertainers trying to build a following without corporate support in traditional media. But as effective as podcasts are, should the content they offer stand alone? Is it necessary to supplement and support your podcast with something written?

If you’re reading this, you can probably guess that my answer would be a firm “yes.” Most of my podcasts for both the $100 MBA and my software company, Webinar Ninja, come with an attendant blog on whatever topic the show covered. Not only does this support and further clarify the information I present on the shows, it allows me to include links and visual aids. Most importantly, blogging in conjunction with podcasting allows my business to appeal to a wider range of potential customers.

As an educational administrator, I had to make sure that teachers knew how to reach their students. The same principles apply to reaching your audience. In teaching, “differentiation” is the way teachers appeal to multiple modes of learning. Some people best absorb information by reading it, some by hearing it, and some by seeing it. By producing content in both audio and written form, you effectively double your chances of appealing to certain consumers and getting your message across.

While it’s possible to have a successful podcast without written content, I don’t recommend it. To give your podcast the support it deserves, it’s better to have at least a show notes page (more on that below). Ideally, though, it’s best to maintain a full-fledged blog.

Show Notes

When deciding what written content to add to your podcast, first understand the difference between a blog and show notes. Show notes simply summarize a podcast’s content and provide links to products, guests’ websites, or any other resource mentioned in the episode. Essentially, it allows listeners to continue their research by following up on the podcast. It can also lead listeners to your podcast through SEO. For those reasons, I consider show notes to be a bare minimum in terms of supporting your podcast.

Without at least a show notes page, anything the listener is meant to take away from the episode will have to be either remembered or written down. This violates a basic principle of business: not throwing up unnecessary obstacles between the customer and the product. With a show notes page, following a link is as simple as clicking, rather than having to recall and enter a web address (and without having to waste “air” time reading out and spelling links and coupon codes).

On top of that, having to visit your page for a link means that the customer is visiting your page, even if it’s only to find something else. In that moment, you have the opportunity to advertise, invite them to join your mailing list, and generally make a greater impact.

Blogging

For really maximizing the impact of your podcast, blogging is the most effective tool. In fact, blogging may do more than just supplement the podcast. In many cases, it may be the sole medium a significant number of customers use. Blogs can be more accessible than podcasts depending on the setting; it’s often easier to read about something when it’s not convenient (or polite) to make noise or wear earbuds. Beyond that, blogging can also give you a massive boost in credibility with your audience.

For example, NPR- a traditional radio station-not only posts their radio segments online, but also a written transcript of that segment on the same page. On social media, they don’t simply post a link to the audio, they post the transcript, with an option to hear the story instead of reading it. This is because NPR recognizes that some people simply prefer to read what they could just as easily hear, and vice versa.

While an NPR-style transcript is a great way to appeal to both preferences, a blog allows you to go even further. By articulating your thoughts in blog form, you go beyond simple transcription. You actually deepen the impact your musings have and sharpen your own grasp of the topic. In the end, this can do as much for your credibility as the best visual or audio segment.

Professional writers know that writing about something is the best way to perfect their understanding of it, and great bloggers know that a running “conversation” with an audience still depends largely on use of the written word. A podcast or video can be spontaneous and incredibly humanizing, a great way to make your audience feel like they know you. A blog, on the other hand, allows you to showcase sheer authority.

Setting words down on paper (or on WordPress) is the ultimate commitment to your message, going back to when the word was the only way to preserve and transfer information with accuracy. Even though a podcast is just as permanent as a blog, the written word still carries that extra gravitas that distinguishes an expert. If nothing else, good writing displays the kind of thoughtfulness that separates real passion from simple salesmanship.

Separating Notes From Blogs

Depending on how often you podcast, you have the option of combining your show notes and your blog into a single page. If you podcast less frequently than once in a week, it may be more efficient to go this route. However, for frequent podcasts, it’s worth the effort to maintain your blog as a separate entity from your show notes. The blog, though relevant to the podcast, should be able to stand on its own as separate, valuable content uncluttered by references back to the podcast. Theoretically, your audience should be able to follow your blogs without listening to your podcast (not that you want them to).

Maintaining both a regular podcast with show notes and a regular blog creates some complications, however. While the podcast and the blog are there to supplement and support each other, they have to be able to engage consumers independently. This means that you don’t want your podcast show notes and your blog to be confused with each other, especially as regards SEO. For this reason, it’s important to take advantage of a WordPress plugin called “list category posts.” This allows you to customize what categories your various posts fall into, so that blogs, podcasts, and show notes occupy their appropriate spheres. Using it requires a certain level of technical expertise, but there are plenty of resources from both WordPress and elsewhere that explain how it works.

If you’ve never blogged before, getting into the habit and learning the technical skills that will maximize its impact takes some time, and some practice. It’s well worth it. Even if podcasting is your specialty, venturing outside your comfort zone into the world of writing can only add to your skill set and improve your outreach.

Take the time to learn the initial setup processes, and you’ll open up a whole new avenue through which to reach consumers. Blogs add content to your online empire, and therefore value for your audience. Especially given the way search engines work these days (with sophisticated algorithms combing through content looking for “long tail” exposition), a few simple keywords in a podcast title or description won’t be enough. The more ways you articulate what you have to offer, the better your business will do.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing Sales Uncategorized

The Right Time to Launch a Product

When is the right time to launch a new product or service? As a business educator, I hear that question often. Like everything in business, the answer is complicated. It’s highly dependent on who’s asking and what kind of business they’re in, and it comes with a string of “ifs,” “ands,” and more than a few “buts.” The shortest possible answer would have to be “it depends.” The longest possible answer would fill a textbook.

Is the product ready?

To start, the best time to launch is generally As Soon As Possible. I’m a firm believer in Eric Ries’ Lean Startup philosophy. According to this strategy, trying to launch a perfect product is a fool’s errand, and wastes critical time. Instead, release what Ries calls the MVP: minimum viable product. Basically, the product has to work. It has to perform the stated function, and that’s all.

Bells, whistles, and other additions can be added later or included in future iterations of the product. Every product should be released as soon as it can be used, and all of the honing and perfecting you might be tempted to do beforehand can be accomplished while it’s already on the market. This is cost-effective, because it allows you to start profiting from your product before you start tweaking it, and it allows you to take advantage of the excitement your product creates to sell more refined versions later.

That’s not to say you should release something inferior to the public, of course. It simply describes a different way of looking at product development. Namely, product development should be a never-ending process, a lifelong struggle for perfection that’s never actually achieved. Knowing that, why not make money as soon as the product is viable? If Apple waited until the first iPhone could do what the latest ones can, we’d still be flipping open our Nokias.

Sales Cycles

With a minimum viable product ready to launch, the exact time of the year, month, and even week you choose can make a difference. For instance, most sales experts agree that Monday is not a good day for a product launch. Consumers are too focused on the coming week, with its responsibilities and expenses, to be in a buying mood. Fridays are problematic, too. The weekend is coming, and people are in social mode, not consumption mode. Therefore, mid-week, from Tuesday to Thursday, is statistically the best time. Not as overwhelmed as on Monday, but not as carefree as on Friday, consumers are in a headspace conducive to a purchase.

The time of year matters as well. Naturally, there’s lots to be bought and sold in the weeks leading up to holidays- but launching a product on Christmas day is unlikely to work out. The same goes for minor holidays as well. July 4th or Memorial Day are just as bad a time to launch as New Year’s Day, for the same reasons. The key is to avoid days or weeks in which people have reasons not to buy, either because they’re too busy, or they’re financially stretched.

Of course, the product itself will determine when the best time of year is to launch. January, for example, can work well for fitness equipment or other self-improvement products that may help fulfill New Year’s resolutions. Spring and summer are best for outdoor products. Statistically, May and June are the top months in which cookware and other home goods sell, given that so many weddings take place in the summer. August is best for laptops and other things students will need come September.

It all comes down to what car salesmen might call the Convertible Rule: never try to sell a convertible when it’s snowing. Always look for the right seasonal conditions to move your particular product, and the odds will do a lot of the selling for you.

Your Schedule

Choosing your ideal launch time will also depend largely on your own schedule. Don’t plan a product release on your anniversary, or your kid’s birthday, or during the season finale of Game of Thrones. If you can, try to schedule the launch when both your personal life and your business have as little going on as possible, so that you can devote whatever time and energy will be needed to the launch.

It makes sense to prioritize product launches over other considerations. You only get one shot at this, after all. Inevitably, there will be glitches, customer service issues, press release management, and a host of other unpredictable demands on your attention. It’s important to have all hands on deck, and yourself at the helm, ready to execute the launch with 100% presence. No matter how well you plan it, there’s no way to put a product launch on auto-pilot.

Launch Conditions

When it’s a rocket ship, the good folks at NASA wait for a clear day and a particular alignment of the planets. Just so in business, where there are conditions that have to be met in order for a product to be launched successfully. These conditions have nothing to do with the calendar, but rather with having certain ducks in a row in order to facilitate the best outcome.

First, you’ll have to have established your brand’s credibility enough to justify excitement for your new product. Have you advertised? Sent out emails? Hosted a webinar? If you haven’t already given your consumer base a reason to trust you, it’s time to lay that groundwork down. This way, more customers will be willing to gamble whatever the price of your product is on the certainty that it will meet their needs.

Secondly, make sure that your business infrastructure is prepared for the jump in sales, lest you risk the “catastrophic success” of having loads of orders without being able to fill them efficiently. Is your distribution system in place? Is your payment system glitch-free? Do you have team members standing by for customer service and tech support? Anticipate success, and you’ll guarantee it.

Finally, time the launch in relation to existing products and their performance. Does your product address a shortcoming in something the competition has on the market? Can it supplement another good product, working in tandem? Even your own product’s performance should be taken into account. The best time to launch a new product of yours is when another product of yours is reaching the peak of its success, so that you can ride that momentum into the next wave of sales.

Communication

Launching a product can be as stressful as actually creating one. The best way to ensure that your launch goes well is, first and foremost, to have a unique and creative product in the first place. Beyond that, it’s a matter of communication. Stay in touch with your audience. Use email and social media to build excitement around your product, and be there to usher it into the market.

Expect the unexpected, and be ready to handle questions, concerns and other feedback from your audience. Be open to it, and respond to it quickly and professionally. Step your customer service game up for the occasion, and be honest and straightforward as the response to your launch rolls in.

Stand by your product, and listen carefully for all the notes it hits with your audience. You’ll need to know what went well, and what didn’t- because the day of your big launch is the day you start preparing for the next one.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

You’re ALWAYS Marketing

Marketing: too often entrepreneurs (especially new entrepreneurs) think of marketing as something that’s isolated from the other aspects of the business. The mission of the marketing department is considered to be related to, but separate from, the overall mission of the company. When marketing is an entire industry unto itself, and marketers are expected to be able to market anything they’re paid to, that kind of thinking is understandable.

Ultimately, though, that approach can be detrimental. Thinking of marketing as a completely separate sphere can actually damage the brand in the long run, and hurt the business overall.

That’s why it’s important to commit to a philosophy of integrated marketing. The key to great marketing is not to see it as a separate chore, but as part of who you are and what your business is. Your brand, your identity, and your philosophy has to be woven into every aspect of the culture of your business. Your marketing message is not a facade to be plastered onto your business. Instead, it should be part of the foundation.

Integrating Your Marketing Strategy

Even if your business has a marketing department, or certain team members who are understood to be the marketers, marketing should be something that everyone feels responsible for. In a sense, every employee of the company is part of the marketing department. Every single time a team member interacts in even the most seemingly insignificant ways with the public, they’re marketing.

Anyone who talks to customers in any capacity- not just through ads but even in customer service, is marketing. Every answer to every email is marketing. A complimentary mint at a restaurant is marketing. A greeting at the door of a shop, the design of your invoices, the layout of your website: it’s all marketing. Each little act of communication with the outside world adds a brushstroke to the overall picture of your business, just as much as your advertising does. The sooner you realize this, the more control you’ll have over your company’s image.

Getting Marketing Right

There are a few steps you can take to ensure that your business is marketing itself well. Start by inculcating marketing into your office culture. Communicate clearly with your entire team, and make them understand that every one of them is in the marketing “department.” Make this clear during the hiring process, and reinforce it along the way.

At Business Republic, we take this approach with all of our employees. The software developers for our webinar platform know that the software itself is an act of marketing, of communication with our customers that’s going to have an effect on our brand. Our customer service professionals know that the way they handle customers’ needs informs our image and what we represent. When we compose blogs, we do it in the honest and straightforward way that we like to think defines our approach. Even the team members responsible for accounting are marketers: if a refund or invoice isn’t handled properly, it tarnishes our reputation.

Second, be social media mindful. Your online presence is an important aspect of your marketing footprint. That might sound obvious, but it’s not just about shooting ads out into the Twitterverse or making sure to post enough on Facebook. It’s about the way you interact on social media, that you take the time to converse with people and respond to questions or even mentions. Good social media marketing isn’t just about the content. It’s about the willingness to engage the online community and thus “market” ourselves as actual people, not just content producers.

Lastly, it’s important to interact (and not just advertise) in the physical world. At conferences, trade shows, and any other industry gathering, the way you treat other people is all part of your marketing. Every handshake and conversation is an opportunity to define yourself and your business. This isn’t meant to be understood as glad-handing or politicking. Rather than cynically schmoozing with others, commit to being a genuine member of your industry’s community, one that cares about and interacts with other people as if they’re…people.

Marketing Through Customer Service

The people who work in customer service do almost as much marketing as the people in the marketing department. Handling customers’ needs with genuine commitment to their satisfaction is only the beginning. Customer service will have the best impact on marketing when it’s done with empathy, even in the face of unreasonable behavior. Dealing with irate or just plain arrogant customers, while never pleasant, is an opportunity to make a bold statement about your company’s approach to customer service, and therefore really help define the character you’re trying to market.

Even the most patience-testing haters, when extended courtesy and respect, can become your most loyal customers and horn-tooters. Some will be truly impossible to please, but when a person is shown patience when they’re being less than their best selves, experience dictates that they’re likely to become your most vocal supporters (after they’re done apologizing, of course).

Marketing Your Character

Improving your marketing isn’t just about your approach to advertising, or even just the business culture you try to instill. In the end, the best way to perfect your image and brand is to improve your own personal character, which all of us can and should do.

When you stay humble, refuse to let success inflate your ego, and keep yourself guided by a personal commitment to honesty and respect, people can’t help but associate that with your business. To paraphrase the Buddha, don’t be a jerk. You’ll find that people’s feelings about yourself and your team are the greatest factors in influencing your company’s brand, no matter what your ads say.