Free Marketing!

Today begins the first week where both of my kids are in school all week since May! So, I have some time to blog. We have had a fantastic summer and I sort of hate to see it end, but we are loving this taste of fall and football starting.

I have had the opportunity to do a lot of networking this summer and it has been a lot of fun. I have met with all sorts of small business owners at different events. The thing that I hear very often is that there is not much budget for strategic marketing. I get that. I own a marketing firm and my marketing budget is tight and I know how hard it is to market myself and still serve clients. So what is the best advice I can give someone with a small marketing budget? It is so simple…be the best in your field with customer service. Return phone calls promptly, let folks know if you are running late, if you are out of stock on something help a customer find it even if it means sending them to the competition for that one thing. I see people in our community asking for recommendations for service people or great places to eat often via Facebook and other social media. Almost every time the person leaving a comment says they had a great customer service experience with the business they are recommending. If you have no marketing budget, if you are great with your customers, they will do your marketing for you!

Last spring one of the panels in one of our garage doors split. The door was discontinued, so both doors had to be replaced. I called 3 local garage door places and not a single one picked up the phone and called me back. I have no idea what they margins are on garage doors, but for us it was a $2000 expense which in my opinion warranted a garage door company returning my call. I finally ordered from Home Depot and used a local handyman (who calls back in 24 hours without fail) to do our installation. So now if someone asks me about one of the local companies, I will tell them I was not impressed.

I am not a scientist that will cure cancer, nor am I going to do anything to take care of many of the ills that effect our world. But if I can help a business owner do a little better and be able to provide more for his or her family, then I feel good about my job. As always, if there is anything I can do to help your small business, give me a call!

Jimmy Plan Marketing

I worked in strategic crisis management for about 6 years.  I wore many hats in addition to my marketing role and had several bosses.  I learned so much in those six years about business and personalities.  We worked with a who’s who of companies and we did a variety of things for our clients.  One of the things we were called in to do, often, was to give an expert’s eye to a company’s strategic crisis management plan and to test the client and their teams with various sorts of exercises. 

One of my bosses during my tenure there was a very colorful fellow and one of his favorite sayings was “don’t get caught with a Jimmy plan.”  The client would almost always ask what in the world is a Jimmy plan and his response would always be, “A plan that Jimmy from down the hall says is a good plan.”  Obviously, in that scenario and in my current role I am trying to engage with clients and potential clients and sell them services, but I think that his quip is brilliant.  A lot of times we get so focused on our core business that we forget that it has to translate to the general public.  Having an outsider take a look at your marketing plan is never a bad idea.  Fresh eyes generally see the strengths, but can also point out the weaknesses or tell a business owner how the target market may see their messaging both in good and bad ways.  We have all seen horribly executed advertising or messaging and scratched our head and said “what were they thinking?”  Allocating a portion of your marketing budget to getting outsider feedback can help a business owner to avoid costly marketing mistakes. 

Lemonade Social wants to work with our community business owners.  We can, of course, be your entire marketing department or we can consult with you to make the most of the plans that you have developed yourself.  Give me a call and allow us to assist you in developing a marketing plan that not only guy down the hall thinks is great, but that allows your business to effectively engage with our community.

May God Bless America!

This is one of my most favorite weeks of the year! My kids and I spend the week leading into Independence Day on Lake Martin and my husband joins us for the holiday. My family has had a home on the lake for almost 20 years. John and I got married here in 2009 and my kids love being at Mimi’s and Papa’s house. Every year I am reminded of how we lucky we are to live in our great country, but this year I feel especially blessed.  During my 16 year career, I have spent 10 years working in small businesses.  This year I am creating something that is not only a career passion of mine, but I am working with business owners who have turned their passions into viable enterprises.  What could be more of an American Dream?

There is a huge “shop small” movement going on across America and the statistics are telling.  According to the American Independence Business Alliance, "More than one dozen studies over the past decade show locally-owned independent restaurants re-spend twice as much per dollar of revenue in our local economy than chain restaurants. And independent retailers re-spend more than three times as much of each sales dollar locally compared to their chain competitors. That adds up to a huge difference in creating local jobs and local wealth." 

This year while I am eating barbeque and watching fireworks, I will also be reflecting on how great it is that we live in a country where those who start small businesses can truly make a difference in our communities.  From sponsoring little league teams and breast cancer walks to supporting local chambers of commerce that give members the resources to thrive, small businesses not only fulfill the dreams of the entrepreneurs that run them, but they lay the foundation that give our communities their identity and their life.

 From my family to yours, Happy Independence Day and may God bless America!

Ever to Conquer, Never to Yield!

In July of 2012, my husband and I packed up our two little children and the dog and moved to Auburn. To say I was excited might have been the understatement of the decade. Being the family of corporate gypsies that we were growing up, Auburn felt more like home than any other place I had ever lived. We started getting settled and involved in the community and we expected exciting things to begin in the fall and then football season began….and my team tanked (and that might be runner up for understatement of the decade). We had a season of 3 and 9. It was AWFUL. I felt like a jinx. I was decorating my boys’ bathroom in a very classy orange and blue theme and someone commented that was fitting since the season was in the toilet. I was terrified my children might fulfill the dreams of their father and become Georgia fans. They might even prefer to bark over saying War Eagle….the horrors of that season were too many to count.

As a child, I became an Auburn fan the day of the 1982, Bo Over the Top, Iron Bowl. My parents are Auburn Alumnae and huge fans, but that is the day I caught the fever. I grew up in the Pat Dye Era and my freshman year was the 1993 undefeated season. I cheered the Tigers on in Atlanta in 1997 when we lost to Tennessee and again in 2004 when we beat them and still didn’t make it to the championship game. In 2011, I held my 7 month old as the last second clicked off the clock when Cam Newton led Auburn to the BCS Championship we were denied in 2004. I grew up with the Auburn Creed framed in my play room, with a grandfather who was a former Auburn Athlete, a huge wardrobe of orange and blue and a solid tailgate crew that is still strong. I was used to the occasional disappointing season, but 2012 was something I had never experienced before.

As the season was dragging on, I started meeting more people and several owned businesses. I heard over and over how the abysmal performance of the Auburn Tigers was really hurting their bottom lines. I was floored, true Auburn people did not abandon our team due to a bad season. Auburn people were better than that, I thought. It was true that people were still coming to games, but many were not staying to the end. Instead of staying in Auburn and spending money on food, drink and Orange and Blue Under Armour, folks were packing up and heading straight out of town and taking their check books with them.

All of this got me to thinking, how do businesses plan for and market to the fan base that is only here a fraction of the time? Many small businesses in Auburn have 3 distinct markets: the students and their parents, full time residents and the non-resident alumnae/fan. Obviously marketing dollars have to be spent to engage the folks who live and work here. But how can a business salvage a bad football season if they count on alumnae and fans to put their businesses in the black by year’s end? This is a situation that is not unique only to Auburn, but it is one that business owners here must address in order to be successful. One easy answer if you are a retail business is to add e-commerce to your website and make sure that your out of town customers stay connected with you via social media and email marketing and are compelled to order from your establishment even when they are not physically in Auburn or Opelika. For restaurants it is not quite that simple, but there are ways to stay in the forefront of the consumers mind. Do you have products that you can ship to out of towners and are you working hard to stay in touch with this group throughout the year?

So I will end by saying, there are 102 days to the beginning of Auburn Football season. Is your business ready? Call Lemonade Social to discuss how to differentiate your marketing strategy during the most magical time in the south!

2015...A Brand Odyssey

I ran across a meme on Linked In last week that simply said this:

“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is. It’s what the consumers tell each other it is”

And everyone said, AMEN!

In all of my blog posts I try to give you a little bit of background on me and my life. I am a child of the 80’s, without question. I had a Dorothy Hamill haircut and later on something akin to Jon Bon Jovi in his early videos. I wore Forenza cable knit sweaters from The Limited. In the 5th grade I had two pairs of Jelly shoes. I have never been a blue jeans person, but my brother mowed a ton of lawns to buy those with the Guess triangle on the bum. We were not obsessed with the brand names really, but somehow I think the kids of the 80s were the first generation to be hit in the head with marketers telling us what was going to make us cuter, smarter and more popular.

The 80’s also set in motion some of the biggest marketing and branding case studies in history. From the New Coke disaster, to Apple computers coming on the scene, to Super Bowl Ads becoming big business the era of “Greed is Good” went wild with marketing. All of us can see the swishy checkmark emblem and know we are looking at a Nike product, the cursive writing on a can of Coca Cola is engrained in our brain and that horse and rider on the pocket of a golf shirt lets us know a preppy person is in our midst.

So in 2015, what has changed? In some ways nothing and in other ways everything. Yes, the corporate identity or logo of a company has to be striking and get attention. It has to set you apart from your competition in some way. It needs to shout to people, visually, that if you buy me you are going to be more cool amongst your peers and you are getting something more valuable for your money than a product without name recognition. But getting close to 40 years after the dawn of the Reagan era, a brand also has to stand the test of social media and word of mouth that is faster and more cut throat than in any time in history. In 2015 a brand is not just an attractive visual symbol, it is also what you are to your consumer base and what they say about you on social media. The marketing machine is no longer guys in suits telling us what we need in our lives, it is now a network of everyday people from mom bloggers to our neighbors telling us in real terms why a brand makes their life better and sometimes worse. Marketing is no longer always aspirational, it is now appealing to the consumer in everyday terms. The game is no longer just price or quality, but also value and superior customer service and experience.

So, how is your small business appealing to your customer base and making sure they are telling their friends and family about your brand? Do you truly understand all aspects of your target market and how to reach them through social media and beyond? Do you even completely understand what you want your brand to be and how to achieve that? If any of these questions lead you to scratch your head and ask yourself more questions, please give me a call and let’s get your customers talking about why everyone should be doing business with you!

Who's Your Mama?

So being a mom is the best, hardest, dirtiest, funniest, silliest, most rewarding and scariest job I have ever had. I could bore you with a million stories about my 2 little boys and I could tell you all about how I was told a million times I might never have kids….blah, blah, blah….every mom has battle scars and war stories, but I have yet to meet a mom that would change much of anything about the little people in their lives. We are fast approaching Mother’s Day. There are retailers out there doing anything they can to get folks into to get that perfect gift and make mom feel special. I mentioned in my last blog that I like to shop and I love to throw a party, but I will tell you a secret…my favorite thing about Mother’s Day is the art that is the preschool craft project. If it has a flower made from tissue paper or a hand print from one of my boys, it is going to make my Mother’s Day. Somewhere along the way, preschool teachers figured out that moms do not really want a handbag or new clothes or an edible arrangement from their kids (maybe from my husband). These saints that love other people’s children almost as much as their own realized that if your kid made you something and presented it from the heart, that even the awful mom in the movie Tangled might melt. I think they figured it out because so many of them are moms themselves.

So what does all of this have to do with marketing for small businesses in our lovely village? Every single client I have worked with in the past 4 years has had to make an impression with moms and women. When you Google “marketing to moms,” these are some of the statistics that come up:

  • 75% of women identified themselves as the primary shoppers for their household
  • Moms represent a $2.4 trillion market
  • 64% of moms ask other mothers for advice before they purchase a new product and 63% of all mothers surveyed consider other moms the most credible experts when they have questions
  • Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases including everything from autos to health care

When I meet with clients and start chatting about what they intend to do in the community to promote their businesses, almost invariably I ask what they are doing to get in front of moms and do they understand what a powerful marketing asset or liability moms are. In other words, like the interwebs confirm, moms talk to each other and for better or worse, the impression you make on a mom is going to follow you!

My most favorite former client is a company in Opelika that does HVAC installation, service and repair along with spray foam insulation. The product is not sexy at all. No one drives by anyone’s home and is jealous of what your HVAC system looks like, no woman can wear spray foam insulation as a fashion statement and no woman has ever made another woman jealous by getting an HVAC service contract for their anniversary. BUT, this company sees the value in educating the women decision makers on why they need to keep their HVAC in top working order, how air quality is affected by more than just how often you change the HVAC filters and they provide outstanding customer service. They understand what some huge advertising firms don’t, women are not shallow and unintelligent. These guys get that women are savvy and are not just making a decision for themselves, but are looking at the impact of their decision on their entire family. This company understands that they can be known as the guys who are jerks and give women the “little lady” treatment or they can be the guys that get rave reviews from their female customers when someone puts out a crowd source request on Facebook for a good HVAC company. They see the power in these statistics and like the preschool teachers that I adore, they are marketing in an effective way to the key decision maker in the home.

So remember your mom this year in a way that is going to make her feel incredibly special and loved. And if you are a small business owner, remember all of the moms in how you approach your marketing strategy. Remember that Lemonade Social is run by a mom that will figure out a way to get you in front of peers and help you grab some of the $2.4 Trillion that is out there to be spent!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Tooting your own horn?

Lemonade Social has been up and running for a couple of months now. I am so excited to be out on my own and working for myself. So far, I have been fortunate and the business is picking up projects. I have also had the opportunity to speak to students at Southern Union State Community College at their 2nd Annual Ready to Work Soft Skills Seminar. And if you have read this far, I have to come clean and tell you that writing the last 3 sentences has made my stomach hurt and caused a scowl on my face that could lead to frown lines and crow’s feet. Everything I have said is true, so why is it making me cringe? Well because I am as southern as a butter bean and anything that borders on “tooting my own horn” makes me come close to breaking out in hives!

There is a funny story about how I chose marketing as my life’s calling. I started out at Auburn as a speech pathology major. I made it through my junior year in the curriculum and figured out that I HATED it. I mean the word loathe would be putting it lightly. So sitting on the bed in 209 Dobbs Hall on a fine spring afternoon, I picked up the phone (it was corded and I used a calling card) and with shaking hands dialed the number to my dad’s office. He picked up and I immediately burst into tears. Once he made sure I was not bleeding and got me calmed down enough to understand me, he sort of caught that I hated my major, that I wanted to change and I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. So he asked me what I loved to do most in the world, through tears and sobs my 21 year old self replied, “shopping and throwing parties.” He chuckled, which was good since I knew he was calculating in his head how much this was going to cost him, and said “Shug, you need a marketing a degree.” So off to the business school I went…

So my love of shopping and party planning got me this degree that pays me to “toot the horn" of others so to speak. I am really good at sitting down with a business owner and talking about what they do and why they are passionate about it. I can put together a plan and shout from the rooftops why everyone in Auburn and Opelika should call them for whatever good or service they provide, but when I sit down to do it for myself I am so afraid of sounding pompous or uppity that I second guess everything I put on paper, say to a group of students or post on social media. Until yesterday, I thought this might be a problem that was unique to me and my business, but apparently it isn’t. I sat across the table from a very successful professional consultant that I hope to make a client. Over the course of the conversation he mentioned a couple of times that effective marketing scared him in some ways because he was afraid of sounding cheesy or like a know it all. I left the meeting excited about the opportunity to potentially work with this gentleman and as I was recapping the meeting in my head a light bulb went off. A lot of business owners, especially those with small town enterprises, must have some of the same fears that I do about “tooting my own horn.” That revelation is huge for 2 reasons, 1) it helps me relate to my clients in a new and exciting way and 2) it helps to give myself permission to tell people that I am good at my job as long as I can back it up with client success stories. So, is tooting your own horn at the next class reunion something I recommend? No, absolutely not. Is tooting your own horn something that I think you can effectively do for your business, or better yet, allow me to help you do for your business? You bet!

Thank you for reading my little walk down memory lane. If Lemonade Social can help you and your business toot its horn, please call me!