Sep 20, 2010

People Take Pleasure in Rituals

Today I fled the house while my wife, Luda, was getting ready to go to the City. I figured a quick trip to Starbucks for some coffee would be just the ticket—and it was. I must have been unusually observant this morning because for the first time I noticed stenciled on the door to the coffee shop this “saying”:

Take Pleasure in Rituals

All morning, I’ve been thinking about this gentle command.

It’s not just because it’s smart marketing (make Starbucks your ritual daily stop and they sell not one espresso, but 300 this year!), but because it defines a lot of what I am seeing in today’s small business market. There is inertia out there that I have been tempted to blame on the economy but which is more likely a manifestation of one of our core behaviors: we take pleasure in doing things we can do on “automatic.” Such rituals offer comfort. And we change them only with great difficultly.

Luda and I talked about these matters in the car. When a person buys office supplies, for example, it‘s easier to call Joe at the office supply store and have him deliver XYZ than it is to get on the Internet and start price shopping for a supplier. Of course, as Luda pointed out, at least for professional services – legal, medical, dental, etc.—trust in the provider a person knows is probably more important than simply performing a ritual. As usual, Luda’s point is valid—BUT it seems to me that complementing that trust factor in returning us to vendors we know is our expectation of transacting our business smoothly, with no hassles, no surprises, no new formats, codes, procedures, etc. to master.

But what about visits to a health club? Let’s say that you’re a member of Fitness USA, and a new club opens up. The cost is about the same, but the facility is beautiful and has lots of shiny new equipment. Why doesn’t it get all the business? Perhaps because of the power and the appeal of ritual. Customers are used to the other place, and without feeling any strong dissatisfaction, they don’t have sufficient reason to forgo the familiar for what’s new.

It also helps to explain the mental dislocation associated with job loss. People who become separated from their daily occupations also lose connection with the places, people, and activities loosely associated with their particular physical location or work environment. It’s hard not to be getting that regular paycheck—but it’s also hard to be forced to give up the “rituals” that went along with it.

Luda shared another perspective. As an immigrant from Russia (she moved to the USA over 30 years ago), she and other immigrants had to deal every day with the loss of rituals – activities performed and items employed almost automatically. Nothing was done the same here as it had been done in Russia. “My head hurt, trying to think through every single life action,” she recalled.

How can this tendency help service businesses?

Is there a way you can position or deliver your service that would help your customer participate in a new “ritual” that is closely associated with your business? Like Starbucks’ encouraging customers entering its stores make frequent and regular visits, can you create a ritual opportunity for your customer? Maybe a regular newsletter, a weekly check-in call, a complementary newspaper subscription, or delivery of a monthly business book of your selection (with a note). Perhaps there’s a way to combine a customer-pleasing ritual with the routine delivery of your service. Instead of working against human nature, trying leveraging this tendency. You will keep your customers longer, they will be happier and, maybe, be more willing to tell others what a great job you are doing for them.

Are you already using rituals that strengthen your relationships with customers? I would be interested in learning how you use our natural preference for ritual in your service business efforts. Please share interesting stories with me. I will write in a future blog post about the most interesting examples I receive.

Sep 13, 2010

Integration is the Key to Small Business Development Success

When I talk to groups of small business owners, the frequent question is usually about how to get more customers.

“The approaches that have worked for years aren’t working in this market!” they complain.

Yup, the marketing techniques have changed to keep pace with the evolving customer attitudes. Consider this interesting observation, recently published by Juniper Research, a major market research company:

Sixty-six percent (66%) of consumers responding to an offline advertisement visited the web site of the company advertised or a search engine to learn more. Fourteen percent (14%) called a phone number from the advertisement.

This simple observation supports the experience of many and the recommendations of almost every professional marketer I know: to be successful, your strategy must include PUSH marketing (ads, so called “interrupt media”), PULL marketing (like websites, Facebook business pages, review sites, etc) and PERSONAL marketing (networking events, Chamber events, speeches and public presentations).

To be successful in your integrated marketing effort, you would be well advised to become familiar with some of the best practices in each of these areas. A complete briefing on that would call for a book (hmm) but let me give you ONE idea to focus on in each of these areas.

When designing your PUSH marketing materials, I strongly recommend mixing graphics with text. If the graphics are relevant to the text and the audience, marketers who routinely follow this approach can enjoy a response rate 2.5 times greater than that enjoyed by promoters who do not.

When considering what to serve up to your prospects on websites and blogs, the guiding principle should be relevance to your target audience. Forget about fancy visual effects, if it is relevant it will be persuasive. To insure relevance, many times marketers use “micro-sites” or customized landing pages to insure that the searcher gets exactly what he is looking for. Someone searching for a patent law resource might be directed to the patent law landing page of a large site devoted to a range of services provided by a large law firm. Because the searcher does not have to go digging for the information he needs, he is more likely to be favorably impressed by great content.

Ready to start networking and building your personal contacts? Yes, business mixers are great, and even joining dues paying networking groups can work for some people. But the key to building momentum from your personal networking is making a lasting impression. It is hard to do that by trading “elevator speeches”. Instead of approaching this effort with a self-interest focus, try instead to figure out how you can help the people you meet. Can you introduce them to someone you know? Can you invite them to a meeting or steer someone to them that will provide a service they need? Focusing on the needs of the other guy will get you noticed in the long run, and will compliment your other marketing efforts.

Pursuing an integrated approach to marketing your business and growing your network is not a short term strategy but it can be cost effective and successful in the long run.