Month: February 2012

You can’t quantify everything

You can track your registrations, revenue, lifetime value of each customer. You can figure out if a marketing campaign should be repeated or how many trade shows you should go to each year. In fact there are thousands of things you can track within your company. Yet there’s one decision you can’t really base on the numbers, repositioning.

That’s what makes startups so fun. They’re doing something new, they’re doing something no one else has done. Or they’re doing it differently, better. They don’t usually have data to back their decisions. And if they do, it’s one of those fun spreadsheets which shows how taking just .5% of the market will give them $100M in yearly revenue. Yet even without any supporting data they still go full steam ahead, ready to take on the world.

But how about if you’re not a startup? What if you’ve been in business for years, how do you justify a reposition then? You have no data to prove it’s better than what you’re currently doing. You might have a few customers in your new market but that’s nothing compared to the thousands or hundreds of thousands of customers you currently have. You can’t prove the new revenue will supersede your current revenue. You can’t prove your new market will even like you. And if you can prove the new vision is better, then you’ve already repositioned.

So how do you reposition? Same as a startup, you just do. You sit down, figure out what you absolutely love to do, and do it. Of course you want to take into account as much data as you can. Is there anybody out there who will give you money right now who resides in the new market? Are you in this new market? What part of your current customer base fits into your new market? How knowledgeable are you about this new problem you’re trying to solve? Why don’t you like the current problem you had been solving? How do you repostion without running out of money? The list is really endless. But at the end of the day, it’s not possible to absolutely prove one way or the other. There’s no right answer. You just have to go with your gut.

Have you ever repositioned a company or been part of a company which has repositioned? How’d it go?

Five things you can learn from Balsamiq Mockups’ about us page

Balsamiq mockups is one of my all-time favorite companies. Small, profitable, and focused without a bunch of VC money. Just how I like ‘em!

Check out Balsamiq’s about us page (screenshot below). It’s filled with marketing insight you can apply to your own organization. What do you stand for? How are you different? Why should I buy from you? Simple questions. Hard to answer succinctly.

I’m a bit jealous of Balsamiq. For a startup, they’re doing so many things right:

  • nailed their messaging
  • are communicating clearly
  • know exactly who they’re speaking to

We’re still struggling with this – but learning from industry leaders like Balsamiq really helps. Keep reading below to learn five areas of the page that stand out as brilliant marketing.  (more…)

Culture is not a document

You can’t create your culture through meetings. Even if you do more of them. You can’t create it through ping pong tables or weekly happy hours. You don’t create culture through a document, or a presentation, or by doing one nice thing a day. You create culture by doing all the right things all the time.

Every interaction you have with fellow employees, no matter how small, is a huge opportunity to create the culture you want in your company. If you’re rude, or distant, or unwilling to help, then that’s the culture you’ll have, no matter what the culture document says. On the flip side, if you’re excited to help, always 5 minutes early, always prepared, always positive, you’re culture will look drastically different. Asking, “what can I do to help?” will create a much bigger impact than a company lunch each week.

It’s easy to write down what you want to be and forget about it. You feel like you’ve done your job and you can simply point each employee to your document so they know what the culture should look like. But your culture is your habits. What you do, who you are. It doesn’t matter what any document says.

Each person in the company creates their own culture. And each person is effected by everybody else’s. The combination of these individual cultures creates the overall company culture. It’s an organic thing, always growing, always changing. All you can do is focus on yourself and ensure the people you work with already embody the culture you want to be a part of.

So what’s your individual culture?

Why you should have a liberal return policy, even if you can’t measure the ROI

Everyone knows the story about how Nordstrom took back a set of tires. But is a super-liberal ‘Nordstrom like’ return policy right for your business? Is it worth the cost?

And since you’re running an internet-based business, not a brick and mortar business like Nordstrom, maybe this isn’t the best example.

So let me tell you about our return policy. It’s liberal. It’s expensive (for us). And lots of people abuse it. Yet it’s totally worth it. Let me explain…

We’ve had a super-liberal return policy since the first day we lauched Printfection back in ’06. Every piece of custom printed merchandise we send out on behalf of our store owners comes with a 100% no-questions-asked money-back guarantee:

We do whatever it takes to make sure your customers are happy. We even pay for exchanges, including re-printing and re-shipping costs. Instead of shipping the old items back, your customers can donate them to a local charity or give them to a friend.

So imagine you’re using Printfection for your company merch store. One of your employees or fans orders a small t-shirt and realizes they should have ordered a medium. We don’t even make them send back the small. We let them keep it, and send them a medium free of charge. Same for returns: we give refunds without making the customer send back the item. It’s basically honor-system refunds.

Obviously this is really expensive, even at just 1% of orders returned or exchanged, it adds up fast.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve talked about “tightening up” our return policy. It’s a frequent conversation at our monthly financial review meetings. Especially since we know some people take advantage of us, blatantly abusing our generosity.

But I’m thankful we haven’t caved. This kind of policy is basically a super-cheap marketing expense. Similar to how Zappos upgrades everyone to next-day-air shipping free of charge to WOW them.

So if you’re thinking of liberalizing your policies – do it!

Best of all, liberal policies work for more than just returns. All of your policies should be remarkable. Not many companies do it.

Even though it’s hard to measure the ROI of our policy, we try to do it qualitatively. Anytime you have a program that’s hard to measure, make sure you’re sharing the remarkable feedback (you will get tons of it) across your company, especially from the bottom up, so management can see how it’s working!

Here’s one recent example (of thousands) of how a customer was taken aback by our return policy:

Dear Printfection,

Thank you for your generosity. You are truly a unique company that I am bragging about. I purchased one shirt from you for my daughter. It was too small. My husband quickly ordered another one so that it would be here for Christmas. Unfortunately, it was too big. Ugh! We showed her the shirts on Christmas Day and she loved them. At 10 years old, she understood that it was the thought that counted. We told her we would get her the correct size. When my husband called yesterday to reorder and complete a return, he was shocked that you were so kind and generous. He quickly called me on my cell phone and shared the news with me.

Never in our lives have we done business with such a friendly and cooperative company. We will be sharing our story with our friends and family. You have blessed us.

your happy customers,
The Browns

If that’s not return policy ROI, I don’t know what is! Thoughts?

Give away ownership

The most important thing you can give your employees is ownership. This is their company, not  just yours. At some point during the process of growing your company you gave it away. Our, you should have. As you grow, you’ll never be able to make every decision, or even know about every decision. It’s up to your employees to decide how the company grows. All you get to do is occasionally provide some influence and help point the way. You can either embrace this fact, or fight it.

During interviews, the number one reason I’m told why employees left their last job was they weren’t given ownership. They had no power over their job or over the company in general. When someone has no ownership, they’re not going to work very hard. Instead of getting a 10x boost from each new employee you only get a 1.5x, if that. Because of this, you’re cutting your legs off every time you give an order or make a decision for somebody.

If you are able to give up ownership, the return is unreal. You’ll have way more fun working with peers versus drones. The excitement you’ll all create building a company together, where everybody owns their success, is electric. Your stress will evaporate and your personal output will skyrocket.

You know you’re successful when you can leave for a year and when you return, your company has grown above and beyond your vision. I’m not advocating for year long sabbaticals, but this should always be in the back of your mind.

And this starts with employee number one.

The killer marketing strategy 37signals, Balsamiq, and Copyblogger use to dominate their competition

Are you a fan of “outcast” companies not afraid to think different? Companies like 37signals, Balsamiq, Copyblogger, and Apple? I don’t know about you, but I’m always wondering what makes these companies so successful and how I can copy their formula for marketing success.

Often times, I ask myself, what marketing strategy are they really using? Sure, you can visit Balsamiq’s website and even sign up as a paying customer. But this won’t help you figure out how Peldi went from $0 to $5 million in sales in just a few years.

How these companies appear on the surface, to the naked untrained eye, is much different from the underlying marketing strategies these entrepreneurs are using.

But I think I’ve finally figured out a key aspect to their success. It’s called “the crossroads” strategy:

Basically, you take two ideas that don’t seem to be related, but you find the intersections and you build a business around that. Copyblogger is a crossroads blog. It’s a combination of social media and direct response copywriting. Most people think those two things are quite different. In fact, when Copyblogger started, people thought they were mutually exclusive. So, it’s how to use traditional direct response advertising technique with social media, which is traditionally very resistant to commercialization… there are a lot of places of connection there, but no one’s really done that before. No one’s combined those two before. They’re a very good combination.

Sonia Simone, CMO of Copyblogger

Copyblogger isn’t the only company using a crossroads strategy to make millions. 37signals is doing the exact same thing. They’re at the crossroads of multiple ideas that don’t seem to be related, and are sometimes even thought to be mutually exclusive: bootstrapping a high tech company, writing software that is not downloadable, and building a super profitable company selling software without many features.

We’re using a crossroads strategy too. SwagLove is part high-tech internet startup, part low-tech promotional merchandise. Neither idea is unique, but combined it’s a novel concept.

So the trick is, now that you know the strategy other entrepreneurs are using to grow their businesses, how can you leverage a crossroads marketing strategy to grow your business? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so don’t forget to leave a comment!

Complexity is easy

Complexity is easy to create. Just add all that new functionality your customers want. Give them that 5th shipping option or payment method. Allow them full control over your system and let them decide what to do with it.

It’s easy to create complex systems because you’ve removed yourself from the decision making. You’re now putting all the decisions on your customers. They have to know the best way to use your complex application now. They have to pick the right shipping option or understand whether to do A or B first.

The problem should be evident… they have to make the decisions. You’re supposed to be the expert. You’re supposed to know everything there is to know about your industry and your application, yet you’re letting them make all the decisions. Your customers don’t know anything about your industry or your application, that’s why they’re coming to you.

Simplicity is hard. It’s much harder to write a short sentence than a long one. Much harder to only have the right functionality than all the functionality. But if you’re able to do this. If you’re able to take on the responsibility of making the decisions, you’ll end up with something your customers would never have come up with on their own. And this is why they’ll love you.

Your value is your simplicity, not your features.

How Help a Reporter Out (HARO) grew from zero to 200,000 users

Have you heard of HARO? It’s is a great resource for startup marketers trying to get press coverage.

But that’s not the point of this post. I wanted to share how Peter Shankman, the founder of HARO, grew his company from zero to the largest PR email list in the world:

Did you know I grew HARO from a simple Facebook group to the mailing list of more than 200,000 people it is today? Want to know how I did it? Two words: Customer Service. I listened to every single reporter, member, and source, with every comment, question, and suggestion you had.

So guess what – I wrote a book about how I did it! It’s called Customer Service: New Rules in a Social Media World, and it talks all about how Customer Service is the new PR, Advertising, Marketing, and Social Media, all rolled into one. And guess what – You can grab a copy! If you do, let me know- I’d be happy sign it for you. Grab a copy on Amazon!

If you’ve had a chance to read his new book, let me know your thoughts! And never forget the power of customer service when it comes to building a great business.