Marketing: Excuses are just missed opportunities

Seth Godin had a great post on his blog the other day about small businesses and their tendency to be, well, whiny.

He shared an anecdote about ordering from a small company via Amazon. When he was told that he would have to wait a month for a re-shipment, he inquired why it would take so long. He received a reply that, at least in my interpretation, was pretty snarky: “Thank you for your inquiry. To answer your question we are NOT a big company like Amazon we are actually a small company, That is why it does take us a little longer than others.”

Seth’s point, with which I agree wholeheartedly, was that a small business needs to offer a great differentiator. Of course you will lag behind the big guys in some arenas, but you have to differentiate (positively!) somehow. In the case of this small business, if you can’t compete on the quickness of completing a re-order, why not do something else–something that your huge competitor can’t do–like including a signed card apologizing for the delay, calling personally to explain the situation, or adding a fun and unexpected extra to the package?

I know a lot of this community is comprised of small distributors who find themselves in situations where customers expect more than they can deliver. The internet brings opportunity in the door, but it just as quickly takes it away when someone posts a negative comment about you or finds comfort in the arms of your competitor.

There is a little tough love in this post, but embracing what might be a downfall and turning it into a positive experience for your customer can really make all the difference. I know I personally am more loyal to companies with which I feel I have a connection and I know that I’ll maintain my loyalty as long as they explain why they do things the way they do them.

For example, there’s a small mechanic shop that does all my oil changes. Because they have few people on staff, it can take forever to get a good appointment time. However, I once needed new tires and they didn’t have them in stock. Instead of telling me to come back in two weeks because they were just a small shop that couldn’t keep everything on hand, they found another store in the area that had the tires and sent one of their employees out to get them on the spot. Although they’re not always the convenient choice, that one memorable experience made me so loyal that I’ll never consider going elsewhere.

Don’t make excuses; make loyal customers.


Sustainability: Kosher Green

I’ve really noticed an uptick in green discussions here in the print industry. As mentioned, WTT just had a whole green week and, almost overnight, every e-newsletter to which I subscribe has added a section on the environment.

Now, I will be the last person complaining about all this. My enthusiasm for the topic of sustainability has been well documented on this blog, but with any encouragement must come a note of caution (especially on this front). I’ve written about greenwashing a few times, and I’m extending the reminder yet again. As more green discussions happen around you and you’re more tempted to quickly latch on, don’t forget that honesty and authenticity are really at the forefront of this issue. Your customers want your commitment, not your slapped together, “but it has green font!” marketing campaign that really has no chops.

Last week, Brand Channel had a great article, Grading Green: The Watchdogs CMOs Must Appease, that discussed the leading groups that are working to regulate the green front. As the article points out:

In the lawless and unregulated landscape of going green, it became clear that someone, somewhere, needed to step in to provide some semblance of order and a credible means of measuring the myriad of ways companies can go, and pretend to go, green.

I definitely recommend reading the article as it describes the top three watchdog groups and what they’re looking for.

Then yesterday I was reading Seth Godin’s marketing blog and came across this post about the impending backlash against all the green marketing consumers are currently seeing. Seth’s argument tackles the idea of authenticity in a different way; he suggests the power of proof, especially when consumers get sick of all the green marketing and just want the bottom line:

The power of a number is the effect we saw when they put a number on restaurants (Zagats) and wines (Parker) and gas mileage (the EPA). People notice a number, and they work to improve it.

Seth’s thoughts on the topic are very interesting, especially considered in conjunction with the Brand Channel article. The warning signs are clearly flashing and we’d all be wise to heed the alarm.