One Step At A Time
We entrepreneurs have to squeeze 47.5 hours into every day, turn a pauper's sum into a royal's marketing budget, and perform The Matrix-like feats on a regular basis to stay lean, mean and competitive. All this space-time continuum-fiddling makes a year seem like, oh, about 33 days. So it's no shock that it's time to cozy up to the year 2001 and all the marketing, public relations and media strategies it demands. With apologies to all the 12-step programs for various maladies (funny, there's no "Entrepreneurs Anonymous"-no one has the time), I offer you 12 steps to marketing success for 2001:
January:Think big. I have a bold proposal for that showcase of Americana, the Super Bowl. (Let it be known that I share a home with a Pittsburgh-bred Steelers fan, a man who wears head-to-toe insignia to the grocery store on Sundays, deep in the heart of Patriots country.) The sheer spectacle of the Super Bowl frenzy has made me fantasize about what could be the "Hail Mary" of all PR initiatives. Here's my plan: Get at least one Super Bowl advertiser, at $1 million-plus per ad, to forgo running its spot and give the money to a charity instead. By giving up just one ad a year, a business could make a tremendous difference. And, on top of being a wonderfully altruistic thing to do, imagine the PR benefits of making such a move! With all the advance hype of Super Bowl ads, the company that stands apart, skips the big show and gives the money away could be a national cause célèbre.
February:Partner up, partner. Partnering is so powerful, many business owners consider it the showcase piece of their plans. "Nearly all our efforts are geared toward establishing strategic partnerships with large, heavily trafficked Web sites," says Michael Diamant, 33, CEO of iClips, a streaming video communications company in New York City. "We have found partnerships to be a much more cost-effective way to reach the largest possible audience rather than trying to market to customers individually."
Chris Yeh, 25, co-founder of Santa Clara, California-based ClickRebates, a customer acquisition and retention tool, concurs: "The name of the game in marketing for 2001 is partnerships. Consumers have so many relationships, they'll be consolidating rather than seeking new ones-companies should make decisions easier, not harder, for their customers."
March:Get this: It's the customers, stupid. It's an easy thing to do: You get so caught up in the day to day, you lose sight of what you're really in business for: to make money by satisfying customers and to earn referrals. "The best marketing comes from satisfied customers," says Lex Sisney, 30, CEO of Commission Junction, a Santa Barbara, California, network that enables online providers to sell products related to their content and earn com-missions. "We have learned to leverage our satisfied customers into top sales agents by implementing an innovative referral program." Sisney's approach was so successful, it accounted for more than 35 percent of all new customers in 2000.
April:Get specific. It's a very rare business that can survive by being all things to all consumers. For most of us, specificity is key-deciding exactly what we offer, to whom, and how to deliver it well. "When you're small, you have to do one thing well rather than many things poorly," says Diamant. You have to be disciplined and not get distracted by every opportunity that comes your way."
May:Love that synchronicity. Asked about trends for 2001, small-business expert Martin Williams, president and CEO of U.S. Marketer.com, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, site that assists marketers in procuring marketing-related products and services, points to synchronicity as the most promising technique. "It would be great to say that e-mail, a space ad or a newsletter sponsorship is the single most effective marketing technique," he says. "But good marketers know that making each of these elements work together is the real key to success."
Williams sees e-mail and the Web making integration easier but also cautions that this ease has raised the bar in the eyes of prospects. "Think of the different pieces of a good marketing campaign as a conductor thinks of an orchestra. Each piece should play well on its own but still be in perfect harmony with the rest of your efforts."
June:Ramp up PR efforts. PR is often relegated to the nosebleed section of the marketing stadium. That's a mistake-done well, PR is a powerful and complementary marketing tool. Dean Luntz, 25, co-founder of Clerity Knowledge Exchanges, a Cincinnati-based provider of technology and integration services, knows the value of public relations. "We leveraged our PR and received substantial interest and investment from major firms involved in technology start-ups. We also closed several high-profile deals."
Kimberly McCall is the president of McCallMedia & Marketing Inc., a marketing, public relations and business communications agency in Freeport, Maine. Contact her at (207) 865-0055 or visit www.marketingangel.com.
July:Hit 'em hard; hit 'em often.Emerging Market Technologies Inc. is an Atlanta-based application service and customer relationship management solutions provider. Founder Jeff Multz, 35, uses regular contact with prospects to stay top of mind. "I've found faxing works really well, and mass e-mail drips work better every year. In 2001, we'll continue to expand our e-mail campaigns." ("Drip" means meting out small dosages rather than taking a "fire hose" approach.)
Williams adds: "E-mail is the leader of the pack when it comes to low-cost marketing. For those willing to put in the effort, the real fruits come from testing offers and [getting] responses."
August:Hire the right people. "I've surrounded myself with talented, kind, loving people who really care about my business and me," says Lane Segerstrom, 35, president of HOWBZR Inc., a marketing company in McKinney, Texas. "That makes it easier to take risks and move forward."
Hecklers Entertainment Inc. co-founder Mike Ragsdale, 31, adds, "Our company continues to recruit seasoned veterans from both old and new economies to develop the best marketing plan for a business at our stage." Hecklers, a Birmingham, Alabama, network of comedy, science fiction, fantasy and games sites, had founders with the wisdom to know their own talents and bring in help when they needed additional expertise.
September:Grab a piece of the pulpit. A great low-dough way to get the word out about your business is through public speaking gigs. For 2001, Seger-strom will spend more time in the classroom. "A great way to generate word-of-mouth about my product and keep me on my toes is by speaking to marketing classes at colleges and universities. When you have professors and students grilling you about your marketing strategies, it really makes you think about what you're doing and why you did it."
Multz will also dedicate more time to getting in front of groups in 2001. "We'll do more speeches on customer acquisition and retention," he says. "I call it 'How to turn customers into raving fans.' "
October:Be consistent. Irene Pedraza, 32, CEO of New York City-based CheetahMail, learned a thing or two about the importance of a uniform message last year. The company, which provides technology solutions to create, manage and deliver permission-based e-marketing, will focus on building campaigns rather than "rushed and piecemeal" efforts. "We will launch a more comprehensive and seamless marketing campaign in 2001," says Pedraza. "We'll execute our plan with enormous strategy and planning and with the aid of a professional advertising agency."
November:Listen to your customers. Alain Hanash, 30, CEO of Multicity.com in Tysons Corner, Virginia, will build customer feedback right into his marketing plan. The multilingual communication tools company will let its customers dictate marketing conversations. According to Hanash, "We need to continue to be receptive and flexible in tailoring how we deliver information to our customers." Cheetah Mail will employ the same strategy when it surveys its clients and builds their feedback into service and marketing efforts.
December:Brand like a champ. Many consumers predicate buying decisions on their comfort with a specific brand. So hitching your wagon to an established brand that complements your business makes tremendous sense. For Jefferey Phillips, 32, president of Ubrandit.com in San Diego, branding is more than just a buzzword; it's his business. Ubrandit provides B2B-branded Internet solutions and sees how vital it is to brand a product or service. "Many dotcoms are in grave danger of running out of cash due to grossly excessive marketing campaigns," says Phillips. "A key component of our branding model is that it's in the best interest of our affiliates to market their products and services to all our customers-and it reduces the marketing burden for Ubrandit."