Now Blogging: Moxie and Pluck

Moxie and Pluck logoI am pleased to annouce that I have been invited to join a fun and productive new venture called Moxie and Pluck, a business consultancy that focuses exclusively on helping smaller businesses grow.

Their motto: Purveyors to the Modest Enterprise

This gives you the sense that this group is interested in the whole health of their client’s business. The focus of our advise and activity is on improving the ability of our clients to perform sales and marketing initiatives, but other partners in the group can provide:

  • Legal and business documentation services
  • Administrative services

Small enterprises do not need to add employees to grow. They need to add expertise and seasoned hands that can quickly grow revenue and keep costs contained. That means part-time consultancy engagements with folks like Moxie and Pluck can be just the ticket.

And I have the honor of participating with marketing articles on their blog, too.

I very much look forward to seeing how this partnership develops!


Valentanks a Holiday Tie-in Too Far!

I monitor my sons’ activity online, and so I get all the promotional e-mails that come from their accounts. Most of it is harmless (and a lot of it well done!). Some, though, offer me lessons for my own business.

The e-mail I received late last week from World of Tanks took the cake so far for 2014: A Valentine’s Day promotion for online tank battles!

I understand the urge: Businesses work hard to leverage holidays as promotional opportunities. The holiday is top-of-mind with their customers, and they want to hitch a ride on that awareness. But this tie-in makes a (perhaps intentional) joke of the impulse.

I can imagine the strategy discussion in the marketing planning meeting.

  • “What holidays are coming up that offer us a neat promotional opportunity?”
  • “Well, one of the tanks we have in the game is a Valentine (the British were creative in naming their tanks!). We could riff off of that for Valentines Day.”
  • “Excellent! An inside joke that the gamers will get! Let’s cue it up!”

Where was the saner head in the room pointing out the tenuous connection between battlefield mayhem and love?

Here is the explanation that comes with the “Valentanks” promotion (the bolding for emphasis is mine):

“Some of the most important parts of love involve companionship and a deep understanding of one another. We have Happy Valentanks Weekend to celebrate that, and we think it’s done best with the below Crew bonuses and Platoon-themed achievements, the latter having some lovely bonuses for completion. In addition, it wouldn’t be Valentanks without discounts and bonuses on the Valentine vehicles, plus the Matilda. All this and more in this special event!”

And, just to complete the picture, here is the visual:

The Valentanks promotion

Not many valentine greetings come with a tank barrel staring you down.

The point is, as a marketer you don’t have to jump on every bandwagon (or halftrack) that rolls by. If there is not a real need to tie in to a particular holiday, do not waste your time and energy creating a promotion that can end up more of a distraction than a help. You may create some amusement, but also some consumer confusion.

I could be wrong about this, of course. It may prove to be one of the most successful holiday promotions World of Tanks has ever run. If someone wants to point out in the comments just what might make that happen, please do!


Do You Follow My Work on

Click the logo to open my profile page. Find the "Follow" button near the top.

Click the logo to open my profile page. Find the “Follow” button near the top.

For over a decade I have been an occasional contributor to I started as a book reviewer, and made enough of an impression to wheedle my way into a role as a commentator on Small Business Marketing challenges. That ultimately settled into a column the editor dubbed “Marketing Nuts and Bolts.”

My most recent post shared a topline checklist for stress-testing your current marketing mix.

The most popular post I ever wrote remains one about the plusses and minuses of buying ads in printed yellow page books. Written in 2011, it still gets views, so that topic must still resonate with small businesspeople!

I would consider it an honor if you browsed the article list to see if any particular topic could be of value to you in promoting your business. And I love feedback, so if you find anything particularly enlightening, or boneheaded, please leave a comment with your perspective. I never stop learning. I hope you don’t either!


Citi Impresses Me with Creativity of Price Rewind Service

I have been carrying a credit card from CitiBank around in my wallet since 1990, and have lost track of the shifting cardmember values attached to it: It started as an AT&T-branded card that had calling card benefits, and has morphed without me lifting a finger through other iterations to end up as a Citi-branded card with Thank You Rewards attached.

The card has waxed and waned as my primary credit card over two decades, and is currently not stirring much from its slot in my wallet. However, that may change given the new benefit added this year (or at least, noticed by me!)

Exploring a service called “price rewind.”

I do not normally open e-mails from my financial service firms that start like this:

A Personal Message from Citi Cards CEO Jud Linville (Could this be less enticing?)

Citi Price Rewind

This time, though, having just received e-mails about security breaches from two other vendors, I felt it in my interest to open this one. They surprised me with a gift rather than a warning, which matched up well with my mantra about e-mails having to be Pinatas rather than Trojan Horses (containing gifts rather than self-promotion, in short.)

The gift: News about an intriguing new service called Price Rewind. Here is the description from the blog post I clicked open from the e-mail:

  • Shop with your Citi Card and register your purchases at and we will search hundreds of retailers’ web sites for a lower price.
  • If the same item is found and the price is at least $25 lower than what you paid within 30 calendar days of your covered purchase, you can be refunded the difference, up to $250 per item.
  • We improved the experience and you now have the ability to upload your receipt at anytime making it more convenient to request a refund.
  • This year, Citi Price Rewind has refunded customers an average of $80 on qualifying purchases.

All this makes me realize that the service has been around awhile (I do not recall receiving any news about this from Citi before, but I may not have noticed the e-mails – which condemns their past marketing efforts, if any were sent to me!)

And this is pretty neat. I get to buy the item I like at a price I find worthwhile, I register the purchase with this Price Rewind service, and it keeps price shopping for me for 30 more days.

Caveat: I haven’t yet tried this, and the need to manually load up my purchase information into the service is a hurdle I may trip over.

Prediction: I may just try this, which is going to move that old CitiBank card back to the front of the wallet while I do.

And, if they take the next step and put an “add to Price Rewind Register” button next to my purchases in my online account statements, I may become a regular.

Take Some Time This Weekend to Honor Veterans

Veterans HolidayWe are all in a mad rush to market our goods and services as the Holiday Shopping Season gets revved up. Lost in the shuffle: Veterans Day!

Take the time to honor the service and sacrifice of our veterans any way you can in your business this weekend (or as I say in my recent Forbes article: Make next week Veterans Week.)

You don’t have to remove or delay any of your holiday campaigning, just find spots to inject some Red, White and Blue graphics or materials right in the center for the next few days. You also don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Use all the stuff you put in storage (digital or physical) for other patriotic holidays.

I recommend some tangible value for the veterans with whom you may work: Special deals just for them, such as a 20% discount for the week, or a gift-with-purchase (make it really valuable, please!)

Add your greeting and Veterans’ specials to your upcoming e-mails and social media posts, and ask your audience to share what you post with their friends and family members who may be veterans.

You know what to do. Just go out and do it! It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. The gesture is the thing. Never forget! Always remember!

I, personally, will be calling all the veterans in my family this weekend. Make sure you do that, too.

Click the logo to open my Forbes blog page. And follow me there: Find the "follow" button at the top. Thanks!

Click the logo to open my most recent Forbes blog article. And follow me there: Find the “follow” button at the top. Thanks!

McKinsey Finds B2B Companies Still Talking to Rather Than Listening to Customers

It boggles my mind that any company would still NOT take the time to hone their marketing messages to hit customer pain points and priorities. Yet a recent bit of research and calculation by the management consultancy McKinsey has found that B2B companies (at least the larger ones) are still talking about themselves more than they are listening to their customers.

If their algorithms were properly constructed, they found a complete disconnection between what sort of product or corporate position the selling entity found critical to emphasize, and the messaging that the buying entity wanted to hear.

Take a look at how uncorrelated the two parties are on what they want to say/hear:

McKinsey Correlation B2B companies and customers


Clearly some of these attributes, such as “promoting and practicing sustainability” and “promoting diversity” have broader objectives for the B2B firm than just building relationships with prospects. But the fact that six prominent messaging priorities for B2B firms have no resonance with their key prospects cries out for a reassessment before shareholders begin to notice and call into question the priorities of senior management.

And the mismatch between the buyer who places a high value on “honest, open communication” is not hearing that from its prospective vendors. In that one point lies a big potential source of competitive advantage for any B2B firm that puts resources behind that particular bit of positioning!

It is also quite informative that the prospects don’t put a lot of emphasis on “global reach” and “shapes the direction of the market.” Perhaps this isn’t surprising, given that their main concern focuses on whether the specific product or service solves their problem. They don’t really care about the overall success of the firm from which they plan to buy stuff.

It is also interesting to see that “low prices” are less of a factor for the buyer than you might think. Price is clearly always a factor in deciding between sources for solutions, but the factors at the top of the chart clearly are where a company needs to focus its message!

Great guidance for content creators and copywriters around the world!

Marketing is Your Organization’s Future – Invest In It!

I found a recent LinkedIn post with the provocative theme that the “marketing department as a separate department is going to vanish.”

Hmm. The people participating in the comment section of the discussion certainly took the position that this was short-sighted and wrong-headed. But all the people commenting were in the marketing profession, so you could say they were biased.

Marketing is the Future. Neglect it at your Peril.

Still, marketing as a function will never disappear, because companies need customers, and the process through which you find and engage with them is called “Marketing.”

You can argue about the details of marketing programming shifting, and the need for better analytics to better focus marketing investments on programming that actually produces business, but some eternal truths will never change:

  • Marketing is the only part of an organization that is focused on the future: Where will we get business next year? No one else in the company asks this question, or is actively working on it.
  • Marketing represents the customer (however defined) within the organization. It keeps track of changing customer needs, it investigates how your current products or services are meeting those needs. It drives innovation to meet needs that are not being met.
  • Marketing works to ensure that when a prospective customer raises his or her hand and says “I am ready to buy” your value proposition pops up. Great SEO and SEM, brand awareness and testimonials as endorsements to move the buyer in your direction. All this has to be thought about and set up well ahead of the hand-raise!

Who else in the organization is tasked with doing all of this? You cannot succeed in business without marketing, so how could anyone say that the Marketing Department is old-fashioned and fading away?

This graphic from outlines current marketing responsibilities

This graphic from outlines current marketing responsibilities.

What do you think? Is marketing simple enough that its tasks can be parceled out between operations, sales and non-marketing executives?


Gerd Leonhard on the Future of Marketing

I like this presentation, especially slide 26 about “the end of lying.” The pursuit of truth is the better long-term strategy:

Being genuine and truly caring about the well-being of the customer, and their environment, can forge a long-term relationship that offers a steady flow of mutually profitable exchanges.
Gerd Leonhard Future of Marketing Presentation


Product Packaging Always Offers a Chance to Promote – Even on Check Refill Orders

All products that you can physically hold in your hand come in packaging to the consumer. That packaging is real estate for benefit messaging, as most of us know.

Consumer Packaged Goods companies (naturally) have know this for years, and many a junior product manager at Clorox, Quaker Oats or Proctor & Gamble took their first responsible steps in building a marketing skill set by designing packages that met all product branding and regulatory disclosure requirements and still left plenty of space for marketing messages. A lot of thought went into what should occupy each square inch of marketing real estate on a cereal box, say, or a cleaning fluid bottle.

Other industries took longer to cotton onto this opportunity, especially the financial services industry. Clearly they are cluing themselves in, however, and the proof was in my mail this week. I received two orders for fresh checks, for two different bank accounts:

Examine the images to the right, and you will see that Bank of the West has done a better job of using their available marketing messaging real estate.

Check Refill Packaging

Bank of the West and Chase have the same basic message to start. Bank of the West goes one step further.

Both made a claim on the front of their packaging:

  • Chase: “Your checking account comes with way more than will fit in this box.”
  • Bank of the West: “Checking that comes with the features and services that you want.”

Round One to Chase. Their claim is more intriguing, and makes no claim to knowing what I want.

  • Chase stops there, however, and does not back up its claim. No other panel of the check box has any messaging on it.
  • Bank of the West takes the next step and backs up the claims with six messages under each item in the check folio.

Round Two, and the match, to Bank of the West!

I agree with those who may say that the business account check packaging got more marketing attention than the personal check order, as business accounts tend to be more profitable for banks.

Check Refill Packaging, product packaging

Bank of the West has a valuable service underneath each item in the kit.

I still think Chase missed a chance to print suggestions for services that could further engage me as a banking client.

To quibble a bit with Bank of the West:

  • I cannot find all the service suggestions/messaging until I pull off the packet of checks, and only two of the four service messages will appear right away. Important suggestions about mobile banking and using my account’s debit card are still under check packets I may not use for months.
  • Chase’s box (albeit with no messaging printed on the inside or back) did fold into a nice, tidy easy-to-store shape. Bank of the West stuck me with a more awkward folio shape that will require a change in how I store checks!

The advantage still remains with Bank of the West in this packaging competition!

Share any packaging brilliance that you have seen lately. I would love to see images of them!


Your 30-Second Pitch: Grab Your Chance to Impress With Simple Clear Language

In marketing, you hone your pitch to fit into 140-character tweets and 100-character keyword ads. These shoe-box-sized spots for product messaging really challenge the copywriter to get to the point.

The same rigor goes for your 30-second, or elevator, pitch. You cannot ramble, you cannot drift off on a tangent. You must deliver one succinct, memorable sound bite that is so compelling that it buys you more time (right then or later) to make your case in more detail.

The only immediate goal of your pitch is to buy yourself time with that audience to have a longer conversation. Your close must also end with a question that hooks the listener:

Have these planned in advance, too. They should all revolve around this basic idea: “What are your pain points in this area?”
Translate that into whatever it needs to sound like for the particular audiences you wish to attract.

Couple shaking hands

Your chance to pitch can happen any time. Are you prepared to sound naturally on-the-spot?

I wrote about this in more detail in a Forbes column last week. If you read it, let me know what you think!

A second key success factor in delivering a sterling 30-second pitch is to practice it until you can deliver it without thinking, and then develop the knack for tailoring it on the spot to your audience. Another way to think about your goal is to internalize your pitch so that it wears on you like a second skin, and rolling it out is a natural as breathing.

Third: Speak in plain English. Drain your pitch of buzzwords and cliches. Expunge it of technical terms. If your value proposition cannot be understood by the common man, keep working at it until all of your friends and everyone in your family nods their head in understanding the first time they hear it.

Let me know if this makes sense. Have you put the work in to hone your pitch to perfection? How did you know you had succeeded?