“I built a website- where are the customers?”

With the tough economy we have a lot of new entrepreneurs starting up. Many worked for other people and are getting their first taste of how business really works.

I highly recommend reading The E-Myth by Michael Gerber, which spells out the difference between a business and a job.

We’ve been getting a lot of “beginner” questions lately- and so I thought I’d share some answers:

As to the question in the title of this post- just having a website doesn’t bring customers anymore than having a business on a side street. You still need to advertise,  marker, or beat a drum. Building a reputation requires continuous action and reaction.

SEO be damned- even turning up first on Google isn’t anymore of a strategy than being listed first in the yellow pages- even if your name is really “Aardvark.” Although turning up in Google somewhere is mandatory- but, a quick trip to places.google.com can solve that.

“I want to buy a bunch of email addresses and send out a newsletter to get them to my website so they’ll buy.” Sure- and what do you do with e-mail that comes from strangers? Do you read it all?

“Call the paper and find out why they didn’t write a story about my new business.” Right now newspapers are having a hard enough time writing real news- and getting people to read it. Some have a “press release submission” page on their site- and post everything. When was the last time you went and read it?

“My prices are the best in the {pick one: City, State, Nation, Continent, Planet, Universe} why aren’t people buying from me?” If you are planning on using price as your main marketing tool, get out of business now. It’s hard enough competing with price comparisons a google click away.

Here are some bits of wisdom for all new entrepreneurs:

  • People do business with people they like. Do thinks that make friends- online and offline, and then work like hell to get your friends to talk well of you.
  • Trust is the most important currency in business today, don’t play games with prices, people, or promotion. Mean what you say- stick to your word and under-promise and over deliver and you’ll be fine.
  • Branding does matter. If people are going to talk about you- they need a name to talk about. If we print it on a t-shirt for our employees- will customers want to buy the shirt from you to wear around town? That’s the quick way of figuring out if you have a brand people like- or not.
  • In this economy there are no “safe” moves. Don’t do things like your competition- do things that make them want to be like you. Being flamboyant is cool again- be it with constant self-promotion via social media like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook- or, driving a billboard. Don’t be shy- it’s not going to get your name out there.
  • As a warning- many of you will find that working for someone else isn’t the same as working for yourself, you thought you got rid of your old boss- now every customer is now your boss. The idea that when you own your own business you can take a half day off anytime you want- the correct answer is which half, the first 12 hours or the second 12. Young businesses are like babies- they need a lot of attention.
  • Banks aren’t lending like they used to. Be warned, credit cards aren’t your friends. Learn quickly the value of cash- and never forget it. It’s probably the least pushed part of small business accounting in business school- but, cash is king- you heard it here first. With cash- drive a super-hard bargain every chance you get- and try to get your vendors to finance as much of your business as possible- then they have a real stake in if you will succeed or not.

And if you still are wondering where the customers are- you can always call a good ad agency who can help you find them and deliver your core message. We’re available btw.

Transforming the marketing formula

There is a reason we’re not “The Next Wave Advertising” or even say we’re an ad agency (unless forced into a corner so that people know what little mental box to check off). It’s because back in 1988 we knew advertising was already dying.

What they taught us in “marketing” and in “advertising” was that it’s all about deliver a product to match up the consumers needs with our products and services. Only one small problem in our eyes- consumers who had unlimited choice and the entire globe to buy from- and an abundance of information aren’t rational- they are emotional.

The nice science of the “4p’s” didn’t work. It wasn’t Product, Place, Price, Promotion” - it was what makes me happy. Selling was out- stories were in. People activated when charismatic leaders put on great performances- just look at what Steve Jobs did with Apple- and has refined over the years.

That Apple computer had a position called “Evangelist” was the writing on the wall- not a VP of sales- but a fracking Evangelist. Which would you rather have on your business card?

We thought the most cogent explanation of business to date was one from Peter Drucker- that business only had two tool- marketing (in the broad sense) and innovation- hence our name.

But our methodology was all Apple- it was style with substance. It was stories and sales. It was more about “In Search of Excellence” - the first mega-business best seller book by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman, than about marketing and advertising- we wanted customers to delight in the process of buying things.

One of our hero’s is still David Ogilvy, the founder of Ogilvy advertising- and even though he died in 1999, with the epitaph “I’d like to be remembered as a copywriter who had some big ideas” his firm lives on- and is still generating big ideas for big clients.

Recently, they posted their new take on the 4ps- which they believe as given way to the 4E’s- and we concur:

from Product to Experience

from Place to Everyplace

from Price to Exchange

from Promotion to Evangelism

EXPERIENCE Discover and map out the full Customer Journey on your own brand – in your own country.

Develop your knowledge of new media and channels the way a chef masters new ingredients. Try new things – do something that doesn’t start with TV or print.

EXCHANGE Appreciate the value of things, not just the cost. Start by calculating the value of your customers – and what their attention, engagement and permission are worth to you.

EVANGELISM Find the passion and emotion in your brand. Inspire your customers and employees with your passion.

via The 4Ps Are Out, The 4Es Are In | Ogilvy & Mather.

The reality is that even the best advertising only brought customers to your door- you still had to do the final sale. The best ad agencies in the world now tell their clients- we’re not only going to do your ads- but we’re even going to tell you how to ask for the sale- how to answer the phone. It’s why Burger King has finally found an ad agency in Crispin Porter + Bogusky that’s delivered the kind of growth that BK hadn’t gotten out of the traditional agencies they’d worked for previously. Pull through the drive thru- and the voice on the speaker will say “nice order” after you finish. Crispin has even helped with product development- typically not a part of what an ad agency does.

The move from a media creation and buying agency to one as partner and consultant has been difficult for many agencies and clients alike. With the overload of media and messages that the typical customer experiences everyday- there is one thing that will always outperform any ad: an amazing experience with your product or service.

So before the next meeting with your ad agency- instead of asking what the next ad is going to look like- maybe it’s time to discuss what the next customer should experience- because that’s where the money changes hands if it’s done right.

What they aren't teaching advertising students

Had a lovely meeting with a student to review her portfolio today. She’s a few months away from graduation and the el-crapo job market and I’m afraid the years of honing her skills haven’t given her a sharp knife to cut her way through.

Yes, knowing how to use tools like the Adobe Creative Suite is important, but knowing how to use ones brain is why someone wants to hire you.

So, here it it is, in real simple words: your job is to make me more money than I pay you as your boss. And my job is to make my clients more money from the money they spend on advertising/marketing/design/development etc.

Because, advertising only costs if it doesn’t work.

Yep, there you have it. The essentials of business, all in one nice, easy to digest post.

You’ll see those words all over this site (unlike other ad agencies) who talk about all kinds of other things that sound good to MBAs, but, when we get right down to it- we do things to help sell stuff. If it doesn’t sell, it’s not creative, good or worth a dime to anyone.

How does a student need to prepare for that moment of terror when they walk in with their book and ask for someone to hire them, instead of all their other classmates?

Here’s a secret: you are the product. If you can’t sell you- how can you sell other peoples sugar water, netbooks or feminine hygiene products?

Just like any other creative brief, you better have done the research: what’s the industry, who are the leaders, what’s their claim to fame, what did they do better than their competition? If I get one more student through these doors who hasn’t heard of Bernbach, Ogilvy, Chiat, Clow, Fallon, Wieden, Bogusky, Rand, Pentagram, Duffy, etc. I should start cutting off ears and sending them back to their schools. How can you teach this business and not talk about those who’ve changed the industry?

And as much as we like to think it’s all pretty pictures with snappy words, you better understand something about how money is made. What’s a business model, what’s the distribution channel, how does your client make their money? Is it the razors or the blades? How can you make your client money if you don’t know what makes them money? Being able to focus on the right thing, is the first step in making them more money than they pay you. Read a few business books- get cozy with Peter Drucker or Tom Peters. Know what’s made to stick and who is a linchpin. (I should be putting in links galore here- but, I’m already giving you the secret tools to your success, you should have  to work a bit).

Last but not least, the job market you are preparing yourself for isn’t the one that’s there today, but the one for when you graduate and beyond. You better be tapped into what’s the next big thing- not what’s the big thing right now. Hint: Web 2.0 is already well established- start thinking about what happens when your phone has the bandwidth and speed of a desktop machine and is always on and connected. If you don’t know how to run a content management system, optimize for search, build community or produce video don’t even think of graduating yet.

And when you do go in to interview for that job, and you’re sitting across from an old guy like me (face it, men still rule in advertising) it shouldn’t be me interviewing you as much as it should be you interviewing me- because the first job you take will have a lot to do with how much you get to grow. Make sure the passion is still burning in your future boss as brightly as it’s burning within you, because it’s going to a take a super hot fire under your butt to add your name to the list of those who’ve come before and changed this business.

That’s what makes me get up every morning and love what I do. Because, as the saying goes, even a bad day in advertising beats a great day in anything else.

And that’s why you went to ad school in the first place? Isn’t it?

Personality? In advertising? In branding? You bet’cha.

While this is a story about a book, it’s really a story about the transformation in marketing.

There has to be a new authenticity, a new transparency and most of all, companies need to listen to their customers first, and maybe, only respond through action.

It’s not enough to “advertise” or “market” or even “brand”- you have to bring your product to life, and give it a personality. Look at the slides for Personality Not Included: Why Companies Lose Their Authenticity And How Great Brands Get it Back, Foreword by Guy Kawasaki then do what I did and buy the book

The no poser principle

If anyone thinks there is room for exaggeration in advertising anymore, think again.

Truth and authenticity are the true currency of branding in a web 2.0 world.

Back in 1999 some guys got together and wrote a little thing called the “Cluetrain Manifesto” which built a good foundation for future marketers. My favorite one of their theses is number 12:

the cluetrain manifesto
There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

And thanks to web 2.0 and search engines, there is no escaping the scrutiny of not just the press, but hundreds or thousands of empowered web citizens.

Photo of the Psystar open computer mac cloneIf you need an example, look at the recently announced Mac clone being offered by a no-name company called Psytar and what happens when you try to pose as legit without building a credible reputation first:

So exactly who or what is Psystar? We dig a little.. | Technology | Guardian Unlimited
But we thought we’d look further, because if the company’s going to make these big claims about what it can do, why, that’s interesting; but what sort of company is behind it?

The Psystar site talks a lot. OK….

The post opens the door, the comments nail it to the jam. Everything from real estate records to previous sites to business licenses- uncovered by netizens. If you thought political wonks were like rabid attack dogs going after raw meat, look at what the Macintosh Zealots do to a potential competitor for their beloved Apple.

The lesson to be learned is before making a bold move into a market, one must prove ones chops with a proper introduction to the big league. Introductions are more important than ever, with a gradual build to your “big idea.”

Had Psystar prepared the field by seeding key advocates and trusted sources within the Macintosh community before unveiling their game changing clone, they may have had a chance at being taken seriously. Now, they’ll be lucky to get any orders at all- and no chance at a second chance should something go wrong with any of the first units (if they ship).

Better mousetraps can’t be sprung without proper preparation, and poser brands don’t stand a chance at hiding behind any value proposition, until tested and proven.

Time will quickly tell if Psystar is a poser, but, until then, they’ve already dug themselves a pretty deep hole.