Tag Archives: marketing

Is Your Business the River or the Rock?

Copyright 2016 Phil McCutchenExactly two years ago I read this very thought-provoking post, “Are You the River or the Rock?” by Dennis Merritt Jones. In it, Dennis made the case that we each have those things we cling to that make us want to resist or manipulate change. Making us a rock. And ensuring that our rock-like selves will eventually be ground down to dust by the river. His recommendation was to let go. Recognize change as a means in and of itself to an end. Even if you’re not entirely sure where that end may be.

I’d like to suggest that in the world of business, many firms cling to strategies, policies, methods, technologies, market segments, or other aspects of their business. These may have gotten them to where they are today. They may be strong players in their market. They may be the rocks of their industry. Successful. Proud. Solid. Reliable. Unwavering.

Who just may be ground to dust by the river of change.

If there is one constant in business as well as life, it is that change is inevitable. Responding to changing circumstances in a thoughtful, forward-thinking, innovative way can be more than beneficial for any business. It can help you grow or prosper. Or even save the business.

applefallFor example, just twenty years ago Apple was at rock bottom, trying to negotiate its sale to Sun Microsystems. For a measly $3.9 Billion. Last week Apple announced its fourth quarter 2015 profits of more than $18 Billion.

Change happened. Apple innovated – and brilliantly marketed – its way out of failure. The Apple board bought NEXT computers, bringing Steve Jobs back, signed a multi-year deal with Microsoft to push Office, and Steve and the Apple team began to innovate for consumers like crazy. Back from the brink of total failure, Apple changed to survive. And prospered accordingly. You could argue that today Apple, in some ways and for many businesses and consumers, BECAME the river.

There’s no doubt that your business is facing some kind of challenge every day. Competitors, regulations, consumer fickleness, cash-flow, whatever. But those challenges are not as important as is how you and your business respond to them.

Here’s another example that’s more recent: Look at how Uber is transforming the “I just need a lift” market. Once you called on taxies, friends, co-workers, or family members. Now Uber has made it easy and cheap to get a ride from point A to point B in many urban areas. How have many taxi companies responded? With legislation, pickets, and other tactics to slow the inevitable. GM, on the other hand, has invested in LYFT, a ride-sharing company. Rocks and rivers.

Change happens. Disruption happens. If you and your business are committed to your market – even if that market is changing – then you have to be committed to changing with it. Innovation and marketing are critical to helping you not only anticipate change, but respond successfully and profitably.

So, is your business the river or the rock? Are you ready, willing, even eager to accept change and use it to grow your business? It may mean giving up what may be a comfortable place for uncertainty, and setting out for who-knows-where. But what wonders there may be there.


What Do You Do When “Plan A” Won’t Work?

Be clear about your goal but be flexible about the process of achieving it.”
— Brian Tracy

Quick, what’s your “Plan B?”

Sometimes “Plan A’s” don’t work quite as well as anticipated.  They often assume, incorrectly, an optimal situation. One that’s unencumbered by reality.

So let me share a quick story about how a marketing Plan B that I had to come up with actually ended up a pretty good success.

Exhibiting at the big computer trade shows is a necessity for small companies that are trying to establish themselves in the market. As the marketing director for a small start-up computer hardware company some years ago, I was tasked with developing our exhibit to launch a new flagship product.

Just weeks before the launch and the tradeshow, I found that the new product would not be ready for demonstration at the exhibit. I had nothing to showcase! My well-laid and meticulously crafted Plan A was in ruins!

I needed a Plan B. Fast!

Brainstorming led to a simple idea — sell the promise. Instead of a big, fancy 20 foot by 20 foot exhibit that cost tens of thousands of dollars, I had a simple 8 foot by 8 foot by 8 foot high wooden crate made. This crate stood out on the glitzy showroom floor like a construction worker at a Broadway opening. Every attendee that walked by just HAD to ask, “What’s in the crate?” The staff and I, dressed in lab coats, gleefully went into our spiel about the new product under development in our labs that would soon be delivered for firms like theirs. Would you like to know more about it?

They were hooked. And we generated hundreds of leads, many of which turned into solid sales when we began delivering product.

Read the full story here, as it appeared in EXHIBITOR Magazine.

So, what’s the takeaway for you?

I believe that Plan B’s, often driven by necessity, can be just as effective as your Plan A, perhaps even more so.

Why? Because I believe that in a Plan B you must focus like a laser on reaching your goal through creative thinking. This is not to say that you should throw out analysis or planning. That is sure to lead to failure. It means that you take your analysis and planning and then try to play with the possibilities, the out-of-the-box scenerios that can have an impact. Your Plan B becomes your fall-back, regroup, get-‘er-done solution when or if Plan A goes awry.

In short, your Plan A may be the best you can come up with to be successful under ideal circumstances, but your Plan B can save your bacon when things don’t go the way you expect.


Small Business Marketing in the “New Normal”

A Google search on the term “New Normal” today produced more than a million hits. It’s been in use for a while — going back to the tragic events of 9/11 in 2001.

gm-logoThe term is used widely today, although it applies to the economic tragedy that is still unfolding — such as GM’s new 60% ownership by you and I. That we’re in a vastly different economic world than just a year ago is a massive understatement. The challenge for small businesses is how to prosper in an economy that has fundamentally changed. Here are a few thoughts on how I think small, nimble firms like yours can and should respond to improve their marketing position for profits and growth.

First and foremost, DON’T PANIC!

As volatile as the economy seems, it is still a representative part of the “normal” up and down of business. Yes, times are tougher now for just about everyone (except for some of those in taxpayer funded positions). But it’s important to remember that this down cycle WILL end. The trick is to survive — and position yourself for the growth part of the business cycle.

To that end, you have to very carefully consider the down-stream ramifications of every decision you make if you are forced to make cuts in budget or personnel. Cutting too deeply into the muscle of your knowledge (staff) base can stall innovation, sales and customer relations. Cutting your marketing budget significantly is virtually guaranteed to give away market-share profits to your competitors.

From a marketing perspective, doing the opposite of what your competitors are probably doing (cutting their advertising and marketing budgets to the bone to maintain operations) is actually likely to improve your brand, your position and your profits on the other side of the tunnel.

Second, the value proposition you must have to win a skittish customer with a strangle-hold on their wallet, whether in the B2C or B2B world, has never been more important. The simplistic equation used by buyers that BENEFIT/COST = VALUE has taken on a new and more powerful meaning.

This means that you have to get creative with your product, your placement, your promotion and your pricing. Buyers — those who are feeling enough pain to want to buy or are strategically smart enough — know that they are in control of the purchase. So your value proposition has to offer a convincing and measurable difference from that of your competitor, or you are toast. That does NOT mean you should focus on cutting price to compete. It means that you should give a buyer every possible reason to give you a try without commoditizing your product or service.

Third, your small businesses must rightly focus on the fundamentals of effective business operations. When times were good — say 18 months ago — it was easy to let some efficiencies slide. No more. Not only must you actually cut costs wherever possible, you should consider strategic and tactical investments in business automation, tools, equipment, staff, and yes, marketing that will help improve your long-term competitiveness.

Make your marketing dollars work harder and smarter. Use social networking to get the word out and/or offer special promotions to current and prospective customers. Measure what works and do it again. While some advertising, particularly in print, is difficult to measure, electronic and direct advertising (tried and true direct mail) is absolutely measurable.

Finally, check any negative attitudes you have at the door. Ignore the pundits and the economists and focus on the game — your customers’ and your prospects’ needs. You are in it to win, aren’t you? Keep in mind that advertising and marketing is an investment, not an expense. As such, some of it will pay off and some will not, but it’s the long-term  investor that wins.