Process Makes Perfect

flowchart“Sir, I wonder if you might expand a bit on the topic you discussed this past Friday,” I requested, kicking off another Monday talk.

“You mean picking software, Watson?” The Effective Detective asked.

“Actually, I was more intrigued by the passing comment about process, sir,” I replied.

The Detective gave me one of his sidelong glances indicating slight annoyance, but he answered. “Passing comment, Watson? That was actually the most important point of the whole bloody discussion!”

“Exactly, sir,” I recovered, ” which is why I am asking about it today.”

The Detective looked at me briefly, then, evidently deciding he would rather lecture me than chastise me, he started in.

“Defining a process before selecting software can be the only thing that ensures you don’t make a bloody mess out of the whole thing, Watson. However, the word process can sometimes elicit visions of massive flow diagrams and tables showing decision points and critical path, and other mumbo jumbo that project managers are sometimes so in love with.

“In fact defining a process can be no more than writing a list of a tasks on a piece of paper. The real trick is that it is on the piece of paper, or extremely well thought out in your head. A process is merely a set of steps that you follow to accomplish something.”

“But what if you are unfamiliar with the object of the process. Say, like email marketing?” I objected.

“Well Watson, the obvious thing would be to contract out or hire someone who does understand how to develop and implement a process, but failing that you can still develop a process using concepts that you do know,” The Detective answered, then immediately continued, giving me no chance to interrupt again.

“Let us take your email marketing example. Imagine if you meet someone at a networking event. Next imagine you are holding, oh,  say an interesting photograph. The person you are talking to shows an interest in photography and comments on the photograph you are holding. You offer it to him, if he will give you his address. He agrees, hands you his card, you thank him and shake his hand, hand him the picture and you both go off to meet someone else. When you get home, you pull out this person’s card, along with other cards you collected that night, send them all thank you notes, and let them know you will be sending out regular updates on photography and  other opportunities to get interesting photographs from you.

“You have just designed a process for staying in touch with prospects, providing them information, and the occasional offer. Just replace physical addresses with email addresses and hard copy letters with emails, and suddenly you have an email marketing campaign designed. You simply need to find the features in a software system that matches each part of your process. If the software doesn’t do all of them, then you either need to redefine your process, or find a different software product,” The Detective concluded and looked at me expectantly.

“That simple sir?” I asked raising one eyebrow.

“That simple, Watson. Of course there may be more steps involved, even some decision points that need to be inserted, but in the end, it all comes down to steps on paper. Once you have that, the rest is easy, or you can hand it off to someone else for implementation. Let us move on Watson,” The Detective finished, signalling it was time to take on a new subject.

“As you wish, sir. As you wish.”

Doing the Right Thing, Wrong

oops“Watson, I have a wonderful example of doing the right thing wrong,” The Detective began with an uncharacteristically indirect and confusing statement for our weekly discussion.

“Sir?” I asked, not sure how else to respond.

“Come, come Watson, we all know that we should, as part of any well-managed and useable list, have included our customers or clients, however you choose to refer to them. We also know that one of the reasons we segment a list is to ensure that appropriate information is sent out,” The Detective paused, waiting for me to confirm that I understood. I obliged.

“Yes, sir, of course.”

“So I have a wonderful example of a business doing the right thing: labeling me as a customer and engaging me, but doing it wrong by sending me an offer that I cannot use. Worse, it was actually quite an interesting offer,” The Detective said almost wistfully.

“Can you provide me with details sir?” I asked, now that my curiosity had been piqued.

“What? Oh, of course Watson. I have purchased several cars from a local dealership in the last two years. I am very satisfied with the purchases. Now, what do you think would be an appropriate communication from the dealership Watson?”

“Ah, perhaps an offer for some maintenance sir?”

“Precisely! An offer that I would appreciate, that I can choose not to avail myself of, but definitely something I could use if I was so inclined. That, however is not the offer I received. Received three times in fact. No, what I received was an offer for a discount on activation of a feature that is not available on either of the cars I have purchased from this dealership. Worse, it wasn’t until I had clicked through several pages before I realized there was no way I could use this offer. Not only was I frustrated that I couldn’t use the offer, I was irritated that I had wasted my time clicking through multiple pages before I learned this was something I could not take advantage of.

“So, what do you think the lesson learned here is, Watson?”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep?” I asked, feeling a bit mischievous, and seeing if I could provoke a reaction.

“Bah! Watson, you are playing! The lesson is to ensure that your segmentation includes critical information. There is a delicate balance between over-segmentation and not segmenting enough. It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish and who you are dealing with.  The dealership knew what models and years I had purchased from them. They also knew that the option they were promoting was not available on either of those cars. Any one of those pieces of information included in their list could have allowed appropriate segmentation,” The Detective responded, with an irritated tone – exactly the reaction I had hoped to elicit.

“Simply put Watson, the missing key here was not utilizing information readily available to target a message only to those who would be interested; in this case those who could take advantage of it,” The Detective finished succinctly.

“Simple, but not always easy, sir.”

“That is why it works Watson, that is why it works.”

To Double Opt or Not, That is the Question

checkout“I find this discussion about single opt-in versus double opt-in a challenge, sir,” I began my weekly discussion with The Effective Detective.

“A challenge, Watson? Pray, in what way?” The Detective responded with genuine curiosity.

“I see the point in using double opt-in as a way to ensure that people are truly interested in joining your list, but with the vagaries of email these days, isn’t it possible that you will lose some people’s interest? Haven’ t they already shown their interest by filling out the form or asking you to be put on their list?” I explained.

“Ah, that is a problem, Watson. The rise of spam has meant people are all the more cautious. Which is exactly why double opt-in is so valuable, especially when you are giving away valuable content. Let us not kid ourselves, we give away content to educate and entice. We want people to understand that we have something to offer them. Something that can help them, whether it is in their business or life,” The Detective paused, allowing me to, once again, jump in.

“Then why not utilize single opt-in, in fact, why not just take their general interest as a sign that we can begin to communicate with them?” I interjected.

The Detective gave me one of his sidelong glances, indicating he was about to school me in something. I sat back and waited to be schooled.

“Watson, this is what makes our weekly discussions so much fun. You invariably take a ‘devil’s advocate’ side. It is refreshing,” The Detective smiled.

“I try, sir,” getting one last word in edgewise.

“However, with possibly a few exceptions, double opt-in is the superior device. Tell me Watson, do you really want a list full of people who really aren’t paying attention after they have that initial give-away? Or would you rather have a list where at least the majority of members are reading at least some portion of your emails?” The Detective started. I sensed this was a rhetorical question and held my tongue to allow him to continue.

“The answer should be that you aim for quality. Single opt-in is more convenient for the user. However, single opt-ins are more likely to  opt-out of your list. They are more likely to forget that they gave you permission. They are less likely to open anything further from you. The reality is that if some of these huge lists that were built with minimal permission were required to re-opt-in the drop-out rate would be substantial.

“You should want to feed your pocket-book, not your ego. It really is as simple as that,” The Detective settled back into his chair.

“You said there were a few exceptions, sir,” I gingerly brought up.

“That discussion is for another time, Watson.”

“Of course, sir.”

What is Content Anyway?

contentI must have sighed a tad too deeply whilst reviewing my email, because I suddenly felt The Effective Detective’s gaze focused upon me.

“Come, come Watson, please explain your plaintive sighs,” The Detective finally demanded.

“Sorry sir, I must be showing my disappointment with today’s crop of emails from various lists we recently subscribed to,” I answered truthfully.

“Interesting Watson, and what is the root of your disappointment?” The Detective asked.

“Well sir, there seems to be a preponderance of advertisements. If I wanted to be sold, I would watch network television or stroll out to get today’s mail. I was hoping for something better in email” I explained dejectedly.

“I see Watson. Perchance are the majority of these advertisements coming from more product based companies versus service?” asked The Detective.

“Quite so, sir! Construction, photography, fine art,” I agreed with The Detective’s analysis. “I was hoping for something different.”

“Understandable Watson. Many of these companies feel they have nothing in the way of information to offer you. They aren’t like one of the many types of coaches that can offer free insights and tips from their expertise that you can apply. Their feelings are of course poppy-cock, but they have them nonetheless,” the Detective paused to see if I would encourage him or try to change the subject. I opted for encouragement.

“Poppy-cock sir? True, I would prefer something other than an ad, but aren’t some of these companies limited by the product they sell?”

“Perhaps in some cases Watson, but I suspect it is more often a combination of not thinking about their audience and a simple lack of imagination,” said The Detective, warming to his subject. “I sometimes feel that we in the marketing field confuse the issue. We constantly refer to ‘content’, which I think many assume to mean ‘useful’ information or tips.

“‘Content’ can be defined as virtually anything that is not an ad. If you are selling art of any kind, isn’t possible that people who buy art might be interested in the creation process?  If you own a restaurant, mix in some stories about how a dish is developed along with your typical offers. Whenever there is a process involved in the creation of a product there is the potential for interesting stories.

“The purpose of regular communication with your tribe is to make a connection, develop a relationship. In our personal lives we regularly make a connection with conversations that span diverse subjects that have nothing to do with what we do for a living. Why should this type of connection be all that different?” The Detective finished.

“Surely you are not suggesting that a plumber should be sending out messages about travel to Europe?” I asked in mock terror.

The Detective smiled, “Elementary, my dear Watson, an article about how plumbing facilities differ between Europe and the United States could be quite an interesting piece! You see, all it requires is a little imagination and thought.”

“I see sir. The issue isn’t so much what you are communicating, but whether it might be of interest to your audience, which allows you to make a connection with them,” I restated the point to ensure I had it right.

“Exactly Watson! Just use a little imagination to discover a connection to your business and you can find an infinite amount of interesting and even fun information to pass on to your tribe. Now, let’s get back to work,” The Detective finished, closing discussion until the next time.

What’s in a Word?

list“Sir?” I prodded, interrupting The Effective Detective’s reverie.

“What?!” the startled detective exclaimed, “Oh Watson, what can I help you with,” regaining his composure after almost jumping out of his chair.

“I don’t require assistance at this moment sir, but I am puzzled about something. I guess you could say I consider it a mystery,” I said, so absorbed in my own thoughts, I didn’t even notice The Detective’s reaction.

“Well Watson, you have started today’s discussion, pray continue with details of your ‘mystery’,” The Detective answered, warming to the challenge.

“Ah, yes sir. You see what puzzles me is what seems to be a misunderstanding of the use of the word ‘list’. I have noticed often in your and others’ presentations that when that word is used, confusion seems to set in. It is as if the word has no meaning, or at least no meaning in the marketing sense,” I explained.

“Ah Watson, you have picked up on an interesting situation. One where the same word can have two different meanings depending on the audience. If you mention that word to an Internet marketer, there is no confusion, they know and understand of what you are speaking. However, I too have noticed the confusion in the eyes of brick-and-mortar product business owners, and professional service providers – even the ones that consider themselves virtual, at least in terms of their office location.

“To the Internet marketer, their list is the heart of their business. It is the thing that allows them to exist, and it is to be nurtured and developed above almost everything else. Unfortunately, too often, to lets call them ‘real-world’ businesses, the ones that see their customers, interact with them directly, their ‘list’ is much more akin to an accounting device. It allows them to calculate profit and loss on an individual basis. It allows them to claim a following in their marketing,” The Detective stopped here for his characteristic pause, designed to give me a chance to interject something that would spur the conversation on. Of course I obliged him.

“So they claim a following in their marketing, instead of marketing to their following?”

“Bravo Watson! An excellent line indeed. You’ve hit the nail on the head! What most non-Internet businesses do is constantly market to the universe of people who aren’t really aware of them, hoping that the message will strike someone’s fancy who is also in the market for the product or service at the precise moment it is being advertised to them. Whereas the Internet marketer will market their wares consistently to the universe of people who are aware of them – the list, knowing that even if now is not the time, next week, next month or perhaps even next year might be, and through consistent contact they will be there to serve,” The Detective responded.

“And to the universe of people not aware of them? Are they ignored?” I asked.

“Elementary dear Watson, they are marketed to as well, how else will you build the list? If, by chance they are ready to buy today, wonderful! But, if not, that is okay as well. They are invited to become part of the community, and will be given many other chances to purchase something,” The Detective answered patiently.

“So it is a constant series of sales pitches?” I asked, imagining a never ending barrage of advertisements to a helpless list armed only with a wastebasket and the delete button on their computer.

“Bah! Watson, that would be suicide for the business. However, that discussion is for another day,” the Detective responded forcefully.

“As you wish, sir.”

Just What is Unique?

Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

“Sir, how does a business handle competition?”  I asked The Effective Detective, launching today’s discussion.

“An interesting query Watson, but unfortunately a tad vague. Can you perhaps make it a little more specific?” returned The Detective.

“Well, I guess the question is more how does one distinguish oneself from the competition when one is in a very similar business that provides similar results?” I re-asked the question, narrowing the focus as The Detective requested.

“Ah, a much better query Watson. I would surmise you ask because the conventional wisdom today is that you need a USP or Unique Selling Proposition to succeed,” The Detective began, pausing for me to confirm or deny the basis for the question.

“You surmise correctly sir.” I answered.

“Excellent Watson, I have been pondering that very question myself!” responded The Detective heartily.

“And, sir?” I prompted.

“Ah, elementary my dear Watson. There are actually two responses. One direct, one a little more indirect.

“The direct response is that there is some confusion as to what it is that actually must be unique.  From what I have observed, the most common belief is that your uniqueness is tied to your process. This is especially true in the service professions,  consulting/coaching in particular.

“The conventional wisdom is that you need some new and creative breakthrough to get the results your prospects desire. Maybe you have a new, never before done way to generate leads, or motivate people. If you have such a thing, congratulations, but my observations are that such unique breakthroughs are fleeting as people will rapidly reverse engineer and copy them. You can try and delay the inevitable with lawsuits and such; something that larger companies seem to take delight in doing, but that is horribly expensive and inefficient.

“The reality is that what makes your business unique is most likely you. I recently read that a large percentage of Tony Robbins franchisees don’t do all that well. That actually makes sense. They aren’t presenting anything unique, and in particular, they aren’t Tony Robbins! However, I suspect if you looked more deeply you would see that some of Tony Robbins’ disciples do quite well. Why? Because they take what he has given them to teach and made it their own. They have injected their own personalities into the material. They have their own presentation style. They may change the emphasis from one point to one they feel is more key to success for their particular client. The specifics don’t matter. What is unique is the service provider themselves; that is where the connection with the customer will be.

“Which leads us straight into the more indirect point. Simply put, if you can out-market the other providers in your space, you will win far more than you will lose. You will develop the relationship with the prospect, you will prove to them that you can solve their problem, and you will show yourself as a trusted partner. If you can do a better job of marketing than your competitors, if you can be in front of your prospects more often and with relevant content, then it is possible your USP could be simply that you were there for them when they needed you,” The Detective took a long breath as he concluded.

“You do need to deliver on your promises though, sir,” I added.

The Effective Detective raised an eyebrow. “I can always count on you to state the obvious, Watson.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Lions or Tigers or Both? Oh My!

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

“May we start off with a discussion of tactics today sir?” I began, hoping to get some specific questions answered.

The Effective Detective raised one eyebrow – a sure sign I had caught him just a little off guard, before responding.

“If you desire Watson, and what specific tactic would you care to discuss?”

“Should a business advertise on Facebook™ or Google™?” I shot out the question quickly before The Detective changed his mind.

“A nice direct question Watson, and the answer is also quite direct,” started The Detective with that half-smile that made my stomach drop; it would seem I had walked into a trap. “The answer of course is one, the other, both, or neither,” The Detective finished with a smile.

“That is hardly a direct answer sir!” I loudly objected, knowing that I had already lost and the conversation would move along the direction The Detective wanted.

“It is as direct an answer as your question allows, Watson. You provide absolutely no context as to the nature of the product or service this hypothetical business that is placing the advertisement provides. No context as to their market. Indeed, I would assume from the very question, this company has given no thought at all to their market, and certainly not to their marketing,” The Detective said in response.

“Yet, it is a common question that deserves an answer,” I tried again gamely.

“Rubbish I say!” exclaimed The Detective, “Besides the rather sarcastic reply I gave there are only two other appropriate responses to that question.”

“Sir?”

“The first: ‘Well that depends, what is your product or service, and how do you know that anyone on either of these platforms will be interested?’  The second: ‘If you are looking to do a test to determine whether there is a possible market for your product or service on at least one of these platforms, than do both, but be sure to limit your investment to fit your research budget.’

“There really are no other effective answers,” The Detective quietly finished.

“That is it?” I asked, for some reason expecting more.

“Wait, yes, there is one other reply. ‘If you haven’t done the research, or aren’t doing research, then advertise on neither.'”

“Another sarcastic one,” I noted.

“I’m sorry Watson, but those are the only responses I could possibly give. After all, I am not The Social Media Detective, I am The Effective Detective. Blindly plunging into the latest marketing trend like Social Media is a terrible mistake. You need to give it some thought, acquire and analyze the data before you spend a lot of time, and possibly money.”

“Always back to the data eh sir?” I responded.

“Quite so, Watson, quite so.”

Ground Control to Major Tom

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Image courtesy of sscreations / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

The Effective Detective looked particularly intense today as he shot his first question at me.

“Watson, are you aware of the term ‘Signal to Noise Ratio’?”

“I am sir, in what context?” I answered.

“Context? Oh. Quite right Watson. The marketing context,” The Detective smiled, acknowledging one of the rare times I had confounded him, if only for a moment.

“Yes, sir. The marketing context would refer to the vast amount of content available to just about everyone via print, advertising, radio, television, and of course, the Internet, compared to the relatively small amount of content that is applicable to one’s particular situation.”

“Excellent Watson, you have been paying attention and absorbing the lessons from our adventures well,” The Detective congratulated me. “But now the million dollar question, how do you increase the Signal to Noise ratio?” The Detective asked with a slight smile. A smile more related to the hunter zeroing in on his prey than the previous smile he had given me.

I hesitated, with a vague sense of disquiet that a misbehaving school boy experiences shortly before he is rapped across the knuckles. “Umm, I would have to say have more quality content, aimed at a particular audience sir.”

The Detective threw back his head and laughed, “You truly have been paying attention Watson! Bravo! But there is still a  missing piece.”

“Sir?” my figurative knuckles now smarting slightly.

“The audience Watson. Even if you have but a relatively small audience, how can you ensure the appropriate content is reaching your specific target or targets?”

“I am not sure I am following you, sir,” I responded feeling a tad confused.

“It is quite simple Watson,” The Detective started, with a trace of irritation in his voice. “The issue is getting your signal through to the right people, the people who are listening for that signal through all of the background noise of their daily lives. Good, strong, valuable, perhaps provocative, content,” The Detective paused, winding up for the delivery.

“Pray continue, sir.”

“But there are always multiple channels of content being sent out, the noise as it were. If the difference is extreme, say your sports channel vs a political channel, then the need for segmentation seems less. Your content will tend not to overlap. But what if the channels are less distinct, say fitness trainers, some who specialize in weight loss vs others specializing in aerobic endurance?

“Segmenting your audience and generating such specific content becomes more difficult,  but extremely rewarding. Because your content is aimed specifically at their concern, instead of the general universe of people who are fitness conscious, or in the wrong niche, and most likely bombarded with messages from any number of fitness based sources, the Signal to Noise Ratio increases dramatically, and there is a far greater chance that the content will be read, and the benefit attributed to you,” The Detective paused again, eyeing me, as if he knew the question I was about to ask.

“Yes Watson, I have made this point before ( A King Needs a Queen ), but the concept of niching things down even further is important. It is easy to believe that we have something to say to everyone in a generalized market, and perhaps we do. But the real world says unless you have a really powerful transmitter, you’re better off fine tuning the frequency.”

“Reach fewer with more impact,” I replied.

“Quite so, Watson”

 

A King Needs a Queen

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Image courtesy of podpad / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I had a burning question to ask The Effective Detective, so I took the initiative to open the conversation. “Sir, I have noticed you have a propensity lately to sigh when you hear the phrase ‘Content is King’. Is there a particular reason for this?”

“I see that your observation skills continue to evolve in a most positive direction Watson,” The Detective answered. “And yes, I would say that I have begun to feel a sense of melancholy when that phrase is bandied about,” he finished heavily.

“I’m confused sir, don’t you advise most stridently that business people need to make useful content the priority in their marketing?” I asked, puzzled at his answer.

“Yes, and I still insist that content is key, Watson. However, I have noticed a propensity among our marketing brethren to spew content randomly as if the entire world could benefit. It may be excellent content, but it is being randomly spewed nonetheless, and that is causing a couple of problems,” The Detective’s voice began to get more animated, a sure sign he was warming to his topic.

“What would those problems be, sir?” I asked, cutting to the chase.

“First, it creates a type of ‘the boy who cried wolf’ scenario. You asked for your audience’s attention by claiming you had something to say that was important and relevant to them. If your audience is then given a steady stream of messages that are frequently not truly relevant to them, or worse, is all about the author instead of his or hers audience – which by the by is most certainly NOT excellent content, then when one does happen to hit the right topic, you have already been tuned out. No one is listening to you anymore, you squandered the trust you were given,” The Detective explained.

“Not to be impolite sir, but if someone wants to gum things up for themselves why is that an issue for anyone else?” I responded to his explanation.

“Ah Watson, an excellent question. That is the second problem. You see, it is an issue for all others because it creates a sense of distrust  of all of us that are trying to deliver content. We are all painted with the same brush, fairly or unfairly. It diminishes our sign up  and open rates because visitors begin to assume that you will bombard them with useless messages just like others. While there is nothing we can do to prevent others from sending irrelevant content, we can avoid it ourselves by remembering a simple truism.”

The Detective paused, prompting me to encourage him to continue. “And what would that be sir?”

“It is quite simple Watson: If content is King, then The Target must be Queen.”

“Corny, but effective sir.”

“Quite so, Watson.”