GUEST BLOG INTRODUCTION: Just as business was gradually opening up a bit, new Coronavirus cases have increased dramatically worldwide. Marketing advice for small businesses trying to navigate this unprecedented territory is extremely important. We thank our guest blogger, Kally Tay, for her insights. Having more than 20 years as a manager in various industries, she founded a career website to help others to thrive in their jobs. Featured on numerous platforms such as WordPress Editor’s Pick and AllWomensTalk, her website MiddleMe.net discusses difficult and sensitive issues like workplace abuse and discord among coworkers while providing practical advice on how to handle those situations. We encourage you to read more about her in her bio.
The coronavirus pandemic has definitely changed the way many businesses conduct their business. They are now forced to try out several strategies to help them keep afloat, especially now that people are not going out to shop due to the fear of the virus.
Small businesses have it rough most of all because they have limited options available to guide them through the pandemic. Fortunately, these options are enough for small businesses to create an effective marketing strategy for their business to remain afloat even during this crisis.
To help you out, here are some ways on how you can do it in the most efficient way:
Always Focus On Open Communication
Maintaining an open communication with clients has always been a major marketing strategy for businesses even before the pandemic. It is a way to show customers that they are open for business and can assist with their daily needs.
But, with the pandemic changing the way businesses do business, having an active and open communication can help customers know you are still available for clients. Keep your customers updated through social media, text and even through your website and let them know what services you have to offer. You can even post your contact details on Google’s My Business Directory so people can search you more easily if they need a certain product or services.
Show How You Can Help During This Pandemic
When you are showcasing your business to customers, they don’t look at the promises you offer them. They remember you with the services and products that you offer. Since they can’t see your products and services in person because of the pandemic, you can show that your services and products still matter during this time.
To do this, spotlight the products and services that can help improve customer lives during this pandemic. Be honest and sincere when doing your campaign and provide discounts for frontliners and anyone working in the field in your area.
Check Out Your Loyal Customers
Got loyal customers who always check your products and services? If you do, do they know that you are still in business despite the pandemic. If they don’t know you are open, how can you rake in sales and stop them from trying out other brands that offer the same stuff as you do?
Check out your loyal customer database and reach out to them through social media or email. Since the pandemic has closed down many businesses, competition is not very fierce and you can use this opportunity to ramp up your brand for new users. Use the time wisely and you can definitely rake in these clients easily to your midst.
Put The Customer First
In business, the adage “the customer is always right” is a constant thing that must be followed religiously. During this time of pandemic, it opens up a great opportunity for your business to reach out to your customers and see how they are doing.
Since people are not allowed out, especially those who are vulnerable to the disease, they depend on businesses and other content creators to give them something to look forward to. They use the content to alleviate their fears and also pass the time because they exhausted everything they can do at home.
With this in mind, you can give your customers tips on how they can use their time wisely at home with the help of the products or services you have to offer. You can also offer advice on other things related to your business that your customers may not have realized before. For example, if you are offering your accountant services before, you can put in advice on your website regarding how they can save money even while at home.
Boost Your Social Media Presence
For several small businesses, it is no longer plausible for customers to visit you in your brick and mortar stores because of social distancing and other coronavirus prevention measures. If you want to keep people still checking out your offerings, you will need to find other ways to sell your product or services.
Social media is a great place to do this, especially now that people are looking online for everything they need. Customers can check your social media pages for what you offer and reach out if you need it. However, if your social media page isn’t up-to-date or your campaign strategy is all wrong, then it can be hard to get the conversion you need to make a profit. Look into how you update your social media and provide credible information that visitors need. If you stay consistent with your brand and offer relevant information, visitors will definitely check your brand often and peruse your products and services.
Use Your Creative Mind To Think Of New Ideas
With many people now stuck at home and running out of things to do, it is a great way for small businesses to offer solutions to this problem.
You can start selling things like coloring kits or startup planting kits for customers to use on their idle time or offer tutorials on how to photo edit or produce the next big viral hit. It doesn’t have to be related to your business. So long as it can help customers pass the time, it is a great way to get people to remember your business.
Stay Flexible And Learn To Adapt
If you want to market your small business during the coronavirus pandemic, it is important that you remain flexible. You can never tell what will happen next during this pandemic and you need to be on your toes for any changes that may affect your business. Learn how to adapt with these changes and be as flexible as you can for your customers who may need your services during this time.
It is unclear as to when things will go back to normal and for small businesses, this uncertainty can be disturbing. However, utilizing the best strategy available, like the ones above, can definitely make a difference and reduce the losses your business may be having due to the pandemic. See which of these tips above can help you and faithfully cultivate them because when you do, you will see things improve gradually.
The three categories of activity identified in the headline above have both similarities and differences.
Since correctly recognizing the term that best describes you could have some bearing upon the way in which you brand your operation, we are using this article to explore these different categories. That said, be aware that branding does play a key role in each . . . and you should understand that your personal brand may (but does not necessarily have to) play an important part in shaping your company’s brand.
Small Business vs. Entrepreneurship
According to the website DifferenceBetween.com:
“The difference between small business and entrepreneurship mainly depends on the persuasion of growth. If the owner/owners of the business are content with the manner in which the business is currently operating and do not wish to engage in more growth opportunities, then it can be categorized as a small business. On the other hand, if the entrepreneur/entrepreneurs operate their business with a clear and creative vision and are interested in expansion opportunities, this type of business is an entrepreneurship. Since small businesses do not pursue growth, they remain small or medium scale throughout their lifespan. However, this does not mean that they are not successful; some small businesses may be cash rich.”
Entrepreneur vs. Influencers
According to a National Geographic article entitled, “Influencers: The Modern Entrepreneur,” the following applies:
“Entrepreneurs are people who organize, manage, and take on the risks of a business. They often start a new business in response to a perceived need for a good or service. An influencer, on the other hand, is someone who has the power to affect or change people and their behavior through social media—often to get them to buy something. Influencers who start their own business certainly fall under the first part of the definition of entrepreneur, as they are managing their business and taking on risk.”
Typically, small businesses build brands overtime that reflect the product and/or service being provided. The process involves finding the qualities that set the business apart from others and developing strategies to reinforce those traits and communicate them to customers. Each interaction with the general public and consumer audience then plays a part in refining the brand to reflect the feedback received via comments, reviews, complaints, and sales. This process of evolution should be never-ending. (See our articles designed to help you get started building a brand.)
Very often, the brands of both entrepreneurs and influencers seem to take on the characteristics of the personal brand of the individual(s) involved. (That said, a strong personal brand can be useful to a small business, too, which may not necessarily be seeking growth but would want strong customer retention – an attribute that could be helped by loyalty to an individual.)
Common Qualities of an Entrepreneur/Influencer
An Inc. magazine article entitled “10 Essential Characteristics of Highly Successful Entrepreneurs,” indicated that these individuals tend to be: creative; passionate; motivated; optimistic; future-oriented; persuasive; flexible; resourceful; adventurous; and decisive. In my experience, many of those kinds of words also ultimately end up being among those that define the brand of both the person and the company.
When I first started at GUARD (pre-Berkshire Hathaway days), the company was small (15 employees) and had been founded by a pair of entrepreneurs who had sketched the original structure of the organization on a napkin over lunch. Frankly, each of the words identified by the Inc. article describe this husband and wife team very well . . . and also became the kinds of words that applied to the culture, products, and services of the company.
In the early days in particular, GUARD was an entrepreneurship that was independent, creative in thinking outside the box in developing unique products and services, flexible in responding to marketplace opportunities, resourceful in stretching available capital, future-oriented in building toward a big long-term goal, etc.
Understanding that personal and company brands tend to merge can be important in either choosing to intentionally build a personal brand OR in making sure steps are taken to separate the brand of the entrepreneur from that of the company. Very often, this choice should be one of the first made by small businesses.
Ways to Enhance Your Personal Brand
Patrick Ambron in an Entrepreneur magazine article (“Is Your Personal Brand Losing You Business?”) identified four fundamental steps that could be taken to have a strong on-line foundation for a personal brand.
- Claim your domain name.
- Build a personal website.
- Set up profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
- Do some basic search engine optimization.
(i.e., Use your actual name wherever possible and link all your various pieces of online content to one another.)
Taking these steps can be very inexpensive and (using readily available tools) should be relatively easy. (Learn more about personal branding.)
And So . . .
If you are an entrepreneur or influencer (or perhaps both), assume your personal brand is going to become part of your business. Therefore, you better start paying close attention to the kind of statement you are projecting. If, on the other hand, you are a small business, ask yourself whether customer sales/retention would be improved by linking your identity to that of your company brand . . . or whether you want the two to make a different statement.
Fonts. Oh, how I love fonts. They can make the simplest design unique and elegant. With the right font, your company name can transform from mere words to a professional and striking logo. So, how does a small business owner make best use of their branding budget (mine is usually $0/mo) to obtain the fonts that are perfect for the job?
The obvious answer . . . you can search “free fonts” on google and see the results. Unfortunately, the majority of the fonts in those search results are “free for personal use,” meaning you can use the font for a decoration for your son’s birthday party but not to create your business’s logo. However, “free for commercial use” fonts do exist, you just need to dig a little deeper for these gems . . . or simply view the list below, because I’ve already done the digging.
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A favored resource, I’ve recommended this site many times. About a thousand *free* fonts are available, and they’re presented in a wonderfully searchable format (it is google after all). You’re able to type in your sample text, select the size you want to preview, and choose your desired font characteristic(s); then, your search results populate accordingly. According to google, “You can use [the fonts] freely in your products & projects – print or digital, commercial or otherwise.”
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While this web site does have fonts for sale, hundreds are also available free for commercial use (as they promote right in their company tagline). Fonts are organized by category (i.e., san serif, serif, display, etc.) as well as by other useful attributes (i.e., language, number of font styles included in font family, etc.).
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The majority of fonts available on this site are free for personal use; so, be sure to select “commercial use” as a filter in your search, and you’ll still have thousands of results to peruse.
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Another site in which most of the free fonts are for personal use, you have to look a little closer to find the free commercial fonts. Click the “Font Categories” at top and within the “Special” section, you’ll find “Free Fonts for Commercial Use.” At the time of this writing, the count of free commercial fonts was over 12,000, so the choices are still plentiful.
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I will provide a disclaimer that web sites from this point down are probably only recommended for true font enthusiasts (like myself). The casual font appreciator will probably not appreciate needing to create an account (albeit free) for access to the free font selection . . . or the regular emails that result (though you can unsubscribe to those; I personally enjoy seeing what’s new in the world of fonts from week to week, but that may just be me). Now that I’ve mentioned the inconveniences, the benefit is that these types of sites usually have nicer options available. If you decide to go this route, Font Bundles gives you access to everything in their “free fonts” section, including a new font added every week.
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Another site requiring a free account for access, this source is actually one of my favorites. They have a “Freebies” section of their web site, in which you’ll find a rotating selection of hundreds of free fonts. However, my favorite membership perk is their daily emails, each linking to a free font – only available that day. I enjoy having a free digital treasure delivered to my inbox each morning. Well, sometimes, the freebie isn’t a treasure, but I can just delete those; no hard feelings.
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Similar to Creative Fabrica described above, you need an account for freebies, and they are regularly emailed to you. At Creative Market, however, you get one email per week letting you know about six available free goods, which can include fonts, graphics, stock photography, templates, etc. I would say in general half of the six free goods are fonts. One nice aspect of this site is that every time you download one of their free goods, its saved for you in your “Purchases.” If you download your free goods every week like I do, hundreds of fonts will be available in that section – all with a nice sort feature and large, graphic preview.
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Do you have a favorite source for free fonts (for commercial use) that I missed? Let us know in the comments section below!
BTW: If you get to the point you have so many fonts, you have troubles sifting through your choices, read this story next: Finding the Right Font: A Review of the Best Available Font Viewers.
I first encountered the term “personal brand” over a decade ago. At the time, I worked with an individual who could always be counted upon to incorporate the latest “buzz words” and concepts into his daily interactions. The two of us were meeting with our boss at the time, and he made a passing reference to the personal brand I had established for myself, which included certain work habits we had been discussing in general terms. After the meeting (and getting over my initial reaction of, “Huh?!”), I went back to my desk and started running some Internet searches to better understand the way in which working long hours, caring about grammar, and having a certain overall love of words had created a so-called personal brand for myself that apparently led other employees to expect to see those qualities in me even before I was formally introduced to them.
What did my search results yield?
My co-workers were right. A person can, indeed, consciously and/or unconsciously create “personal brand” qualities by regularly professing belief in those values and trying to support those words with accompanying actions on a regular basis.
In this instance, I was very fortunate because I was not the least bit uncomfortable with my so-called brand profile, which (while hardly very charismatic or exciting) was nevertheless useful in an occupational environment and had me liking the description well enough to try my best to sustain this image over time.
The lesson to be learned from this message?
Whether you are aware or not, you may already have a personal brand. If you do, learn what the brand is. If you are content with the brand you discover, find ways to reinforce that image in people’s minds. If you are not happy with the perception of you, begin to plot a strategy to create a more desirable personal brand.
Just remember – as is the case with all branding – the one you attempt to create must resonate with others and be consistent with their experience of you. Otherwise, the brand won’t be “sticky” enough to last.
Official Definitions (as found on personalbrand.com)
Personal Brand: “A personal brand is a widely-recognized and largely-uniform perception or impression of an individual based on their experience, expertise, competencies, actions and/or achievements within a community, industry, and/or marketplace at large.”
Personal Branding: “The conscious and intentional effort to create and influence public perception of an individual by positioning them as an authority in their industry, elevating their credibility, and differentiating themselves from the competition to ultimately advance their career, increase their circle of influence, and have a larger impact.”
BTW – Yes, I know the above definitions have some grammatical agreement issues, but using a direct quote means you reproduce as is. (However, I’m including this thought to show you one of the ways in which I can reinforce my personal brand, which includes being a bit of a grammarian!!)
Why Bother? What Can a Personal Brand Do for Your Small Business?
When someone is closely identified with a company, the personal brand of that individual and the brand of the business tend to interact and merge.
For example . . .
When I hear the name of the international corporate conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, I see the face of Warren Buffett, not any of the names and logos of the hundreds of companies owned by the parent. Consequently, Berkshire’s brand has become – at least in part – synonymous with the personal brand of Mr. Buffett (a no-nonsense image based on facts and accomplishments, a brand willing to live by results . . . not expectations, a brand that embodies basic fundamental values, and a brand that is not swayed by transient fads).
Just check out the web site at www.berkshirehathaway.com. Simple. Basic. Not self-Important. Relying upon substance, not style to win audience.
Need another example?
Apple and Steve Jobs. If Microsoft and Bill Gates define the mainstream, Apple and Jobs were the contrarians that carved out a place – in part – by excelling at qualities not associated with the mainstream, including personal style and individual ease of use. In other words, Jobs’ personality merged with Apple’s identity.
Consider the small businesses you have known. I suspect that many (if not most) of these companies have a brand that reflects many of the same qualities as the owner. Therefore, efforts to build your company’s brand can be enhanced by attempts to establish your own personal brand.
How Can You Go About Building Your Personal Brand?
You start by making sure you live the qualities you want associated with you personally. Otherwise, the brand won’t resonate and won’t stick. Then, you can consider taking some very conscious actions to cement your brand:
- Embrace networking. Use every opportunity to meet people and introduce yourself and your brand.
- Grow your online presence. Use blogs, forums, and social media (such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) to create a voice and personality for your brand.
- Ask for recommendations. Testimonials are a great way of creating trust and enhancing the authenticity of your brand.
- Get featured in the media. Position yourself as an expert in your field and make yourself available to reporters. Over time, more and more will turn to you for comments.
- Participate in forums, conferences, and events that feature your area of expertise. Personal contacts of this kind will get your name and face out and into the public eye.
Remember, you must live your brand consistently and practice these strategies regularly. Some people even find the act of creating personal vision and mission statements to be useful. Regardless, your goal is to create an identity that will stay associated with you over time, though you should make sure your personal brand continues to evolve and change as the world does.
Bottom line – A Quote from Pia Silva
“With so much content and so many small businesses popping up online, a brand that connects to a person’s face is much easier to trust faster. It takes less time and effort to build a relationship with a personal brand as compared to a business brand.”
With the rarest of exceptions, advertising does not sell your product/service. While you can strike gold every once a millennium (think – Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” campaign) and actually author an ad that creates a need and desire to make a particular purchase, the typical role of advertising is much more mundane (and less satisfying) –communicating the availability of your product/service to the right targeted audience via a well-chosen media vehicle at the right time (i.e., buying time).
That said, everyone who has ever created an ad dreams of producing the perfect one that entertains, sells, evokes a brand identity, and remains memorable years after the campaign is done.
As these remarks imply, good advertising involves a combination of contributions (especially at large companies) ranging from those who correctly identify an audience to those who understand the media outlets that best serve that audience to those that finalize the right cost-effective media buys that balance the often conflicting demands of size, frequency, cost, and placement. Of course, the final contributor to the process is the person or teams of people producing “the creative.”
As the typical small business owner, you will often be the party wearing all of those hats! Therefore, you may be comforted to know that most ad designs encompass a handful of typical elements, which – when known – will be helpful in creating your ad copy and deciding upon the ways in which these elements interact . . . and perhaps even enable you to determine the ones that must be eliminated on a specific occasion for a particular reason.
How does brand factor into this equation?
Well, advertising is one of the many ways in which you can promote your brand. Conversely, your brand generally provides the vast majority of the content to be included in your ad copy while also defining the visual elements that get incorporated into the design.
The basic parts of an ad include:
- Caption (and/or Sub-Head)
- Body Copy (including the Sales Pitch)
- Contact Information, Logo, and Call to Action
That said, understand that the only real rule is that the art of creating a successful ad has no real rules, only exceptions. While 90% of the ads I created probably involve most or all of the elements mentioned above, my favorite one broke all of those rules. Specifically, I created a half page black-and-white ad done in reverse (white text on a black background) that basically included a single, huge, lowercase word (i.e., because) as a well as a logo and contact information. While I could write volumes about the reasons I like that ad, I’ll simply explain that lots was communicated very simply in a manner that captured the attention of a person leafing through the publication. While the piece did rely upon some prior brand presence to automatically communicate certain details to the reader upon seeing the company name, I also believe the ad helped define our style and attitude . . . and, therefore, became part of the brand.
The ad was (as I already mentioned) very much an exception. The vast majority included the various traditional structural elements that I will now briefly describe.
With the competition for attention very intense across all media, the first job of your ad is to be seen (not passed over), and your headline and illustration are probably the elements best suited to the job. Three quarters of all my ad designs have started with a headline I thought was capable of grabbing our share of the readers’ attention. (Yes, I’m tempted to list the top 10 headlines I’ve created that succeeded . . . but decided to spare you that exercise and move on to the next key element.)
The photo or drawing included in your ad is obviously key to grabbing attention. Some people – particularly graphic designers – would argue that the illustration is the most important factor. That said, the artwork can be essentially descriptive and show an attractive image of your product or service in action, OR the graphic can grab attention by being clever or arrestingly different in some way – perhaps even relying upon humor (i.e., “Where’s the beef?”).
If you personally have artistic skills, this element of the ad can be great fun. If, on the other hand, you are more of a writer or pure businessperson, you can still create a successful ad on your own – using photos or artwork available from some of those free sources already discussed in earlier blog articles. (See FREE Pictures Are Also Worth a 1,000 Words (and Can Help Promote Your Brand)!
If you are going this route, be prepared to spend lots of time paging through stock images until you’ve found just the right one to make your point. (Also, don’t forget that most phones now include cameras able to produce sufficiently high-res images that can be the key to capturing your product/service in action; if you have the eye, the equipment is already in your pocket.)
Caption (and/or Sub-Head)
Your caption obviously relates to the illustration you’ve chosen and generally provides a key opportunity to introduce brand qualities most likely to result in a sale. That said, you will no doubt find times when the caption is eliminated either because the artwork is self-explanatory or does not offer the opportunity to highlight your brand. If people are shown, the caption may be the best chance to provide identification and further humanize the brand while giving a face a name that might be memorable to all or a portion of your audience.
The ability to include sub-heads is obviously dependent to a large degree upon the size of the ad. For a half page or less, chances are you will skip this element. For larger sizes, your sub-head provides an extra opportunity to grab attention. Or, perhaps the sub-head just gives you a chance to continue your major headline further down the page – pulling the reader into your content.
Body Copy (Including the Sale Pitch)
You use your body copy to describe your product or service to the audience, being sure to employ language that highlights those qualities that define your brand. Frankly, repetition of that information in circumstances like advertising is one of the ways in which brand identity is created. In selecting the words to include, you want the most sales worthy qualities of your brand and repeat them in every ad you create. Also, be sure to use this space to highlight and explain any special promotions that might be happening at the time.
How many words should you use? Frankly, long copy vs. short is one of the age-old debates in advertising among designers, business owners, experts, and amateurs. You’ll find everyone has a firmly held opinion . . . and the jury is still split even among the luminaries in the field – all of whom are recognized as the best and most reliable source of information.
Frankly, I’m a word person . . . so I tend to think “more” has a better chance of being effective than “less.” In support of this position, I’ll turn to David Ogilvy – one of the founding fathers of advertising – who was an advocate of long copy, especially for more complicated, technical, and expensive products. He stated: “All of my experiences say that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short. I have failed only twice with long copy.” (David Ogilvy – Ogilvy on Advertising.)
My preference/bias duly noted, I’ll offer the following to balance my prejudices:
- My favorite ad that I’ve created has (as already mentioned) basically one word (without further explanation) as the focus.
- My blogging partner probably has a belief that (at least in comparison to me) less is more when talking about ad copy.
- More of my ads probably ended up having less copy than I preferred because my bosses generally believed that more words than could be counted on 10 fingers were probably suffering from “wordiness.”
In the end, my advice is to include just the amount of language that seems right for a particular ad. I believe each will be a bit different, and you will inevitably have a sense of the right quantity to make your point and pitch your product or service because – in the end — sales and reinforcing brand identity are the point of this exercise.
Contact Information, Logo, and Call to Action
The final elements of your ad are very basic ones that should never be forgotten. Include your logo, address, phone, fax (WHAT’S THAT??!!??), e-mail, and/or web site. (Exception: If you are channeling all responses in a certain way, all other contact information can be excluded.)
You should also make some sort of statement that clearly tells your audience what to do next. For example:
- For more information, contact us at ____________________.
- For more information, visit our web site at _______________________ and be sure to submit a customer service request form.
- To order today, please __________________.
- To speak with a live representative, ________________________.
You get the idea. Worth mentioning is that the nature of responding to any advertising and promotion should be determined in advance and used in all situations. Perhaps, that process will involve setting up a special phone extension, a post-office box, or web landing page used exclusively for that purpose. The advantage in taking such a systematic approach is better collection and assessment of data resulting from your efforts and immediate recognition of an inquiry coming from a sales lead that, therefore, enables a high level of customer service to help close a potential sale.
Branding and Your Overall Design
The elements discussed above are the ones at your disposal to mix and match in creating your ad. When employing them, you must be absolutely certain to remain consistent with the rules described in your Style Guide, which will outline the fonts, colors, and perhaps even available types of illustration as well as highlighting key boilerplate language to be included. Your ad must always conform to these rules while expressing the brand qualities you want to highlight as memorable and sales worthy.
While much of the discussion in this article is applicable to both print and electronic advertising (especially electronic ads that basically mirror print equivalents), be aware that e-banner ads have typical very small sizes that create their own special challenge . . . and call for a separate future article to discuss some of the techniques to be employed and pitfalls to be remembered.
Meanwhile, good luck and have fun. Ads provide you with a great opportunity to explore your creativity and to benefit from customer responses/sales leads!
You can work to provide the best customer experience imaginable – sealing a rainbow and a hug with your perfect product in its perfect packaging – and you will still have the occasional unhappy customer. Sometimes, the issue is simply bad timing . . . a perfect storm in your customer’s life that culminates with your product underperforming in some perceived way (that’s more often a result of the person’s current frame of mind than actual underperformance). Sometimes, the fit isn’t a good one; the product or service isn’t what the individual expected (possibly even because he or she didn’t pay enough attention to the sales pitch or product specs prior to purchase). Regardless, one day you will be on the receiving end of bad publicity from an unhappy customer, and you’ll want to know the best way to handle the situation. Below are some different approaches with the selection of the right one dependent upon the specific circumstances of the bad press.
Sometimes, no response is the best response.
I have had a really hard time with this one in the past. It’s just so against my nature to not share my point of view. However, this approach can be the right choice when . . .
- The customer discredits themself in the process . . . either by sounding a little crazy, exhibiting below average intelligence, or complaining about something that clearly isn’t the product’s fault. In other words, if your average person would read the quote, review, or feedback from the individual and not be convinced (for whatever reason) that your product was at fault, then just walk away. Your work is done. No input needed.
I found this gem on Bored Panda as part of 41 Of The Most Hilarious Amazon Reviews Ever to beautifully illustrate my point.
Here’s another great one from The Best Social entitled These 16 Amazon Reviews Are As Funny As They Are Unhelpful.
- You have the potential to do more harm than good. Whenever you receive bad publicity, take a step back and try to look at the big picture. Does this negative press have the potential to negatively affect sales? If so, by how much? For how long? If the potential fallout is minimal, walk away. Count your losses and call it a day. Another important variable . . . how angry does this customer seem to be? When helping my son with his science homework recently, I was reminded by Newton that all actions have an equal and opposite reaction. If you counter your opposition, the chance always exists that they will find another way to strike back (especially if you’re dealing with one of those customers in the midst of that perfect storm in their life).
Turn an unhappy customer into a happy one.
This route is my favorite. When you see a problem that has a solution, strive for resolution. Regardless of whether you saw the complaint on facebook, on yelp, or in your local newspaper, the approach is largely the same. Reach out to the customer, let the person know you saw their issue, apologize for the misunderstanding (usually one exists in these situations), and try to remedy the problem. Upon reaching happy conclusion, I never ask for the individual to undo their negative press. Simply apologize, fix the problem, and thank the person for giving you the opportunity to do so. The majority of the time, the person will not only undo the negative, he or she will rave about your customer service. However, do be prepared for the small minority of people who have had their issue resolved and do not undo their bad publicity. In those cases, you then need to decide whether the potential fallout is bad enough that you need to take further action. If so, read on.
Mitigate the damage.
Sometimes, your customer’s problem is unsolvable (or he/she is unmoved by your solution) AND the associated publicity does have the potential to substantially impact your business. In those cases, you need to act, BUT always approach these situations with great caution. If you choose to respond by providing a quote to the reporter doing the story or as a direct response in a public venue (facebook, yelp or other review web site, your product web page, etc.), be sure to do the following:
- First and foremost, be respectful. Do not speak at all negatively about the person or situation. If you do, readers will empathize with the customer. They will picture buying your product, having a problem, and being spoken to in that same negative manner.
- Apologize . . . carefully. Despite whether you feel you’re at fault, your customer feels he or she has been wronged in some way. You have a public victim. That said, you’re probably not looking to claim full culpability either, so choose your words carefully. Apologize: for the misunderstanding, for the terrible experience that’s been endured, etc. Don’t say, “I apologize that my product was the cause of a terrible experience for you.” The difference is subtle but important.
- Address the situation directly. This is the time to share your side of things. Nicely explain the issue from your perspective. Your goal is for a potential customer to hear both sides and agree with you . . . or at least feel your fault is limited enough that they would still patronize your business. I dug up two examples for you of 1-star reviews I’ve received that I felt warranted a response.
- Focus on increasing your positive publicity. Work to counteract the negative message that was conveyed. For example, if a customer’s complaint of faulty workmanship on her home got media attention, try to get press coverage on all the beautiful work your company has done. That could mean applying for some recognition in your field (annual awards, etc.), which could then be promoted. Another route would be to introduce a new guarantee on your workmanship, which could be publicized. If you’ve done a job that was unique or special in some way, you could try to pitch the story to a reporter as a feature. In my line of work, when a product gets a negative review that needs to be addressed, I send messages to other customers who have purchased the same product, asking if they would be willing to share their experience. During this pandemic (while sales were at their worst for me), I needed to take this step. Here was my message:
Hi there. I would like to personally thank you once again for your purchase. During these hard times in particular, the fact that you are purchasing products from small businesses means so much — to me and my family. So please accept my sincerest thanks.
An additional step that is very meaningful is leaving a review. IF you have the time available AND you were happy with your purchase, I would greatly appreciate you taking a few minutes to write a positive review for the product. I think people often don’t realize how important an impact their voice can have — especially for a small business.
If you didn’t end up loving your purchase, please respond to this message and let me know. I can either help you troubleshoot or I can personalize your product for you (if applicable), and I can work to improve the product for future customers.
In conclusion, I sincerely hope you never have negative press. (For a good article on proactive prevention, check out Great Customer Service is a Zero Cost Strategy by Business Management Blog.) For the unfortunate though likely day that you do encounter an unhappy (and vocal) customer, I hope this article makes you feel a little more prepared. Have any questions or comments? We’d love to hear from you. Scroll down to “Leave a Reply.”
When some people hear the word branding, they automatically picture advertising campaigns aimed at familiarizing the world with the merits of a specific product (i.e., a brand). While advertising can certainly play a part in successful branding, this article will start by asking a basic question that should help provide perspective:
Do you need to run ads to build a successful brand?
The answer, of course, is “NO.”
In fact, traditional advertising can be a pretty expensive proposition – the equivalent of using a cannon to kill a mosquito. (Well-known national magazines can charge six figures per placement for an ad. According to The Balance Everyday, “The cost of running a full-page, four-color ad in Vogue is $180,324 as of 2019.”)
That said, a consistent, modest, investment in an ad campaign overtime can make a difference in the success of branding your small business. You just need to be smart about the way you pick and manage your effort.
- Find ad vehicles that specifically serve your targeted audience. For instance, trade publications are frequently less expensive than general-interest vehicles . . . and typically speak more directly to your audience. (Think of a three- or four-figure cost per placement as opposed to five or six.)
- Don’t see the costs stated on a rate card and assume that’s the amount you must spend. Special packages can often be negotiated that reflect considerable savings – especially in return for a long-term commitment. (Worst case – You have nothing to lose by asking!!)
- Have realistic expectations. Since advertising is not cheap, you naturally expect a sizeable return on your investment. However, conversion rates tend to be low. (Just search the Internet for the term “ad conversion rates” to glance through some of the discouraging measures being discussed.) If you have a clear sense of what an ad can and cannot contribute to your business, you will manage the effort more successfully.
- Set up systems to track the performance of your campaign. Unless you have a way of identifying those leads originating from your ads, you’ll never know whether or not you’ve been successful. For example, use the contact information included in the ad to channel responses (perhaps offering a specific phone extension appearing only in an ad to route calls or creating a special Internet landing page to collect ad inquiries).
- Understand that size matters . . . as well as frequency and originality in determining just how well an ad campaign performs. For example, don’t expect to reach a significant portion of your potential audience from a single appearance of an ad. Perhaps after three placements you can assume you’ve been seen by everyone likely to pay attention. Rem: Every ad faces a tremendous amount of competition and clamor to gain even part of the attention of your audience. Frequency, including duration, can help ensure that your message is eventually seen as well as size (much harder to miss a full-page ad than a quarter!). Furthermore, the quality of the creative does play an important part – you want an ad that refuses to be ignored perhaps because the headline or artwork is so arresting that a person just cannot flip the page without looking.
- Contemplate the use of different media, knowing that tastes vary greatly. Some people will only see or hear a video or audio ad, totally oblivious to messages in print. Similarly, you probably want to include a mix of print and online advertising to reach the greatest possible audience. Typically, you should plan an ad campaign, not just an ad. In other words, build a multimedia effort for the greatest possible likelihood of success. Run ads that are reinforced by web site messages, supported with direct mail, enhanced by telemarketing and events, etc. You want to get your message out in as many ways as possible to ensure the widest possible reach AND support your investment of ad dollars.
- Follow through. Ads alone seldom consummate a sale. Typically, an ad will generate some interest that requires further contact in a timely way with additional information and the superior customer service needed to close a sale. The success of your ad campaign may, in fact, hinge on the careful orchestration and preparation given to your follow-up efforts.
So . . . how much of my annual budget should be devoted to marketing in general and advertising in particular?
I will not even try to offer a general answer to that question. (If you search the Internet, I’m sure you’ll find a percent of gross revenue quoted as a recommendation of the Small Business Administration. However, you’ll also see lots of opinions that state that benchmark is not good enough in all circumstances. However, be aware that your marketing budget must cover a multitude of activities: advertising, public relations, promotions, social media, sponsorships, collateral, events, etc.)
That said, I will offer an example from my personal experience. I worked for a company that – during a period of 25% per year growth in sales – had a modest advertising budget that was national in scope, relied heavily upon regional trade publications (over three dozen in fact), and never came close to the kinds of expenses I’ve seen associated with ad budget recommendations. So, you CAN make advertising work for you by being careful and managing all aspects of the process.
Since much more can and should be said about advertising, we have two additional articles planned on (1) the basic elements needed when creating an ad and (2) the preparation of content for on-line advertising, including a breakdown of the various sizes you need to accommodate when developing your ad copy.
Every business should have a custom thank you card on file – the piece gives you the opportunity to express appreciation to your customers, employees, business partners, or anyone else deserving of thanks while reinforcing your business’s brand; also, I love gestures that have double-duty impact at minimal (almost no) cost.
So, in case you don’t already have one of these gems saved on your hard drive, I’m going to take you through the process of making a 2-on double-sided 5×7” branded Thank You card in Microsoft Word.
1. Open Microsoft Word and create a New Blank Document. Change the margins of the page by selecting the Layout tab (at the top), clicking the Margins button, selecting Custom Margins, and changing the Top, Bottom, Left, and Right margins to .25 inches.
2. Click the Insert tab (at the top), click Text Box within the Text section, and select Simple Text Box. Click the outline of the rectangle, hover over the center handle of the bottom line, and click and drag downward to increase the size just a bit. Then, right click on the rectangle, choose More Layout Options…, click the Size tab, input a Height of 5”, select Absolute within the Width section and input 7”; click the Position tab and uncheck “Move object with text” from the Options section. Next, right click the rectangle and select Format Shape. Format the Fill as No Fill and the Line as a Solid Line, Black, 1pt in Width, and Dashed. Now your text box is ready to be customized.
Click the content within the rectangle, which will select everything, and press delete. Set the alignment to centered by pressing Ctrl + E and then type “Thank You”. Press the enter key to advance a couple lines spaces and then insert your logo (Insert tab > Pictures > This Device > browse to the image file for your logo > Insert).
Now you’re obviously going to want to do some formatting. I decrease the size of our logo to 1” in height (the width automatically adjusts proportionately), change the font of “Thank You” to Candellion in 80 pt. and add some line spaces.
3. With the rectangle selected, press Ctrl + C and then Ctrl + V to make a copy. Click and drag the outline of the second rectangle to move about a quarter of an inch from the bottom of the first and horizontally centered on the page (indicated with a green guideline).
4. Duplicate the page: press Ctrl + A to select all the content on the page, press the Insert tab (towards the top), click Blank Page in the Pages section (at top left), and then Ctrl + V to paste the content from the original page onto the new page.
Next, go to the second page and delete the content of the text boxes. You’re going to want to type your message here. (I used the Calibri font in size 11.) Copy and paste the content from one text box to the next (or type different content) and then remove the border of each box. (When you print double sided, the printer will offset the reverse side some small amount and the boxes won’t line up perfectly; therefore, you can just leave the boxes on the front as your cutting guide.)
5. Save your file, print double sided on card stock, and cut!
Good luck. Stay safe.
If you have any questions or comments on this topic, we’d love to hear from you. Scroll down to the comments section at the bottom of this page.
People are feeling overextended, underprepared, angry, sad, stressed, and scared. Your customers, your staff (if you have one), you, and I are all likely experiencing some sense of these heightened emotions. The extent to which these feelings exist in each person vary greatly as do their specific circumstances. Generally speaking though, our “fight or flight” survival instincts (the body’s natural response to stressful stimuli) are lingering closer to the surface than usual.
During times of crisis, you see evidence of this all around you: the individual yelling at the cashier for the store’s “1 per person” limit; the beeping and yelling over that sought-after parking spot; and even an increased number of heated social media discussions that seem to have the voltage turned up a bit. The beneficiaries of my stress . . . ? These days, I find myself triggered by my children’s complaints of boredom (I suddenly channel my grandmother: “Be thankful you’ve got nothing to do, or I’ll give you something to do!”). And God bless the telemarketer that calls my phone this month.
So what does all this have to do with your business’s customer service? Chances are, your customers will have less patience than usual. The person (or people) who works with your customers (even if that person is you) will probably have less patience than usual. “The perfect storm.” Unfortunately, any intense interactions will likely not be forgotten once the storm has calmed. As illustrated by the info-graphic below, a disgruntled customer will process their feelings in one (or more) of a number of predictable and unfortunate ways.
How can we prevent ourselves from alienating customers during hard times? Recognition is an extremely important first step. One parenting mantra often repeated is, “Your child isn’t giving you a hard time; your child is having a hard time.” This twist on perspective can easily apply to individuals of all ages who are having a hard time. Before answering a phone call or responding to an email, take a moment to remember all the potential scenarios that people (including you) are dealing with right now: serious health issues among family or close friends, loss of income and trouble paying bills, homeschooling children – in many cases – while working from home, etc. Acknowledge all the weight that you and everyone else is carrying around. Taking that moment will make a world of difference, I promise.
Going one step further, you may even want to solidify some more relaxed (short-term) customer service policies. Formalizing a revised posture is particularly beneficial if you have employees that will be working with your customers during this time. Having finite rules (that have been relaxed) will help your staff navigate this confusing landscape.
Good luck. Stay safe.
If you have any questions or comments on this topic, we’d love to hear from you. Scroll down to the comments section at the bottom of this page.