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First, Best, or Different

Niche Marketing Matters
By John Bradley Jackson

Why Blog?

February 27th, 2008

Why do I Blog? I get asked this question a lot. Yes, it takes a lot of time and brain cells, both of which I have a very limited supply. To blog regularly requires tons of research, fact checking, writing, and editing. It is hard work.

I don’t blog for the money—my blog is free. I don’t measure my success by the number of visitors to my site, yet I have many. The answer is that I blog to help people.

And I suppose that sounds a little high-minded. But, of all things that I do, including teaching at a university, running my own company, consulting with entrepreneurs, writing books, and speaking at conferences—-blogging has the biggest impact of all.

Blogging is my way to share with others who know me and with others who I will never speak with or meet. Some like to call this “thought leadership”— which is a very uppity term. For me, it is the best way to communicate clearly with my target audience—people who want to learn more about marketing, sales, and negotiation.

Because I blog, I have been invited to speak at conferences, quoted in the national press, and have been interviewed on MSNBC. My motivation is not fame, rather it is the desire to teach and help others.

Certainly a by-product of my success as a blogger includes book sales, paid speaking engagements, and consulting. This helps me pay the bills, which is important with two kids in college.

Seemingly every day my phone rings, or I get e-mails from people who I have never met before; they read my blog and want to share an idea or ask a question. That interchange is a thrill to me and its own reward. This is why I blog.

How about you? Can you think of a better way to connect with your target audience?

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.

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Profile of a Spammer

February 24th, 2008

Ever wondered who creates the spam that you get in your e-mail inbox? It turns out that spammers are “very special” people and they might just be your nerdy neighbor next door.

SpamBlockers created the following profile which describes the typical spammer:

    Personal Characteristics

– Predominantly male
– 16 – 35 years old
– Single
– Living in or working from home
– Technically competent (these guys are not idiots)
– Tendency to be involved in other illegal activities (e.g. credit card fraud)
– Consider their activities to be harmless
– Can/will work with other spammers on large campaigns

    Methods Used

– Familiar with spoofing also known as “E-mail Phishing“.
– Uses open relays
– Never uses the same IP address twice
– Sets up a webpage/portal that looks exactly like that of a well known company.
– Sends out spam mail to this companies customers advising them to update their payment information or billing details.
– The customer responds to this by going to the website and entering their login or credit card details.
– The spammer then uses the acquired information to perform other illegal activities as the new identity.

    Favorite Spam Software

– News Blast
– MailBomb
– Prospect Mailer
– Spammers will often have software custom written for them if necessary.

    Amount of Spam

– A single spammer can, potentially, send 84,000,000 (84 million pieces of spam per day).

    Income Potential

– A “good” spammer can easily earn $100,000 per year. Spammers work on a piece rate so the more spam they send the higher their income potential.
– On average 1,000,000 pieces of junk mail sent out will result in 100 “sales” or leads. This in turn generally means big profits for the spammer.

Spammers are people, too—-just really sick people.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.

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Why Customers Buy

February 21st, 2008

“Different isn’t always better, but better is always different.”

– Marshall Thurber, entrepreneur

I like this quote because it sums up my thinking about how customers will buy an offering because of its differences and not because it is similar to another offering. This is true even if the offering is a commodity or is nearly the same as the competition. Ultimately, the customer buys because of the product’s differences not because of its similarities.

Think about it. When a buyer is deciding between two seemingly identical products, the buyer instinctively looks for differences in price, quality, or delivery. With some perception of a difference, the buyer chooses one offering over another. The operative word in that sentence is perception.

Thus, customers will inventory the differences between your offering and that of the competition. But, below that lies the real reasons why customers buy. The reasons are more basic.

It is my contention that buyers buy for the following underlying reasons:

• “Needs” are things that you must have to survive and to function; this includes shelter, food, clothing, and medicine. These purchases are easily justified and are basic motivations for a buyer.
• “Wants” are things that are desired, but not necessary such as wanting an iPod. Wants are tougher for the buyer to justify, but people will buy them because of an innate ability to rationalize almost any purchase. If I buy an iPod I will be happier and more popular.
• “Desires” are wishes or dreams, which can be powerful motivators. You can desire to be famous and this can motivate you take to action or not to take action. Desires can motivate people to change or modify their behavior. If you lose weight, you will be more attractive and this can help make you famous.
• “Fear” can motivate the buyer to take action or not to take action. Fear can create barriers to success by holding people back from taking a promotion. Or, fear can also keep people safe by keeping them from taking unnecessary risks.

With these underlying reasons driving them, customers then seek to justify their decisions with their perception of the differences in the offerings available.

The essence of niche marketing is presenting your product as different while fulfilling the buyer’s underlying reason for buying the offering in the first place.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.

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Writing Great E-mail Marketing Copy

February 20th, 2008

Writing great e-mail marketing copy is hard work. You can always outsource it to a professional copywriter, but you will discover that the good ones are already booked and that they are very expensive. If your budget dictates doing this writing in-house, here are a few ideas, in no particular order.

Great writing requires great proofreading which is extremely hard work (you can trust me on this one since it is very hard for me). One tip on proofreading your own writing is to read it aloud. This helps you catch dropped words and mistakes. Another method is to have someone else proof your copy.

Remember to run a “spell check”. Run it a second time since errors don’t always get caught in the first pass with spell check (believe it or not).

Timeliness is critical to effective e-mail marketing messages. Current events or news references can add timeliness to a campaign. For example, a reference to the rising cost of gasoline or the price of oil might add timeliness to an e-mail from an auto parts retailer.

Keep the e-mail short. While there is considerable debate in the e-mail community about short form versus long form, you must remember that the e-mail’s purpose is to get the reader to take the next step and click to the website or landing page. From the subject line to the postscript, the e-mail should offer the reader the most relevant information in as few words as possible. Customers are busy and many feel overwhelmed by too much e-mail. Messages that are short and to the point are more likely to be read. When writing e-mail text, try to state the ideas in as few words as possible.

The long form argument is that an engaged reader will want more information now rather than later; if you insist on making them click for more information, they might disengage. Generally speaking, short form is preferred over long form. When in doubt, test both and see what your readers think.

Customers will start reading an e-mail from the beginning and read the introduction to see if it’s worth spending more of their time. Readers tend to pay less and less attention to what is written as they scan more quickly through the rest of the e-mail.

To make sure customers read the most relevant information, put the most important information (often referred to as the hook) at the top, followed by the most important supporting information. Each successive paragraph will receive less and less of the reader’s attention and should contain less and less important information. Bullets and images will help the reader scan and focus on your key points.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.

P. S. People always read the postscript—-use it to restate your offer or message.

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E-mail Marketing and Children

February 15th, 2008

For many e-mail and web marketers the youth market represents a major financial opportunity. Yet, the legal risks are high. The website “Xanga” was recently fined $1 Million for COPPA violations, for repeatedly allowing children under 13 to sign up for the service without getting their parent’s consent. Read on.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) is a United States federal law effective April 21, 2000, that applies to the online collection of personal information by persons or entities under U.S. jurisdiction from children under 13 years of age.

It states that a website operator must include in a privacy policy that state how to seek verifiable consent from a parent or guardian, and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety online including restrictions on the marketing to those under 13.

The act applies to websites and online services operated for commercial purposes that are either directed to children under age 13 or have actual knowledge that children under 13 are providing information online. For example:

What this means to the website owner is that you must beware of the underage visitor or registrant. The negative consequences are enormous.

For more information, consult your attorney.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.

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Public Relations Primer

February 13th, 2008

Creating publicity with public relations is a lot of hard work but studies show that PR is 8-10 times more believable than advertising. Getting your name in the newspaper, in the trade press, on the internet, on the radio, or on television helps build credibility and helps build your brand.

A PR strategy has the following essential elements:

• Create the positioning message; what is the one thing that you want your target market to know about you or your firm?
• Write a two- to three-word mantra which describes the message. These will be the words used in your workplace and externally. They must be memorable and believable.
• Test your message with your staff, your vendors, and your customers. How does the target audience receive it? Adjust your message based on the feedback. Test it again.
• Create press releases so that you present your pitch in the form of news. More than a commercial, tie the launch of your press releases to a significant event to create timeliness. The press is always interested in what is timely, informative, and they like it to be a bit controversial.
• Create press kits; when they call, you need to send follow-up materials. They always ask for them. This is done by e-mail more and more; some may ask for paper, so have both types ready.
• Create product evaluation kits; these are great selling tools for customers. Include a sample of your merchandise. This can be done virtually on the web or by mail.
• Create mailing lists for customers, prospects, and everyone else that needs to hear your story. This name development is critical and needs to be an ongoing process; the best lists are built by getting permission from visitors to your website. Lists can also be purchased and PR firms can help with this task.
• Introduce yourself to analysts, industry mavens, and people of influence. This may seem daunting on your own, but if you start asking around and watching for names in the industry periodicals, you will find them. This is also when a PR agency helps a lot. Your goal is to build a relationship with these movers and shakers; it is up to you to stay in touch since they won’t call you.
• Make some noise! This would be press releases, interviews, and events. Be sure you contact PR Newswire, Business Wire, Market Wire etc. Throw a party! Frequency of contact is the number one criteria in a purchasing decision, so you cannot have enough publicity.
• Track your success by monitoring new leads, number of press quotes, and other indicators of awareness. This will help evaluate the effectiveness of your current PR efforts and help with future PR choices.
• Create a constituency with the readership by seeking feedback and involving them in the critique of your PR effort. Heed their advice and modify what the plan. This will also help facilitate the creation of relationships with the press.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.

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Small Company Competitive Intelligence Tactics

February 12th, 2008

You own a small business and don’t have a lot of money for market research firms or consultants. What can you do to better understand your competition?

Here are a few ideas:

• Visit your direct competitor’s stores and talk to the sales staff; it is amazing what people will say.
• Websites can be a treasure trove of information, so dig deep; register on their websites.
• Talk with your customers who are doing business with the competition or used to do business with the competition.
• Suppliers often have keen insight on the health and strategy of your competition; take your suppliers to lunch but beware what you reveal since the door swings both ways.
• You can gather secondary data on the competition from trade associations, and publications. These member fees can give great access to low cost industry data.
• Have lunch with former employees of the competition—they often sing like canaries.
• Put a team member in charge of gathering this data; I bet you and your team have a great deal of info which has never been collected in one spot.
• Watch for press releases, radio commercials, and TV spots.
• Save print advertising and promotions used by the competition.
• If feasible, buy your competitors’ products or services.

When this is complete, analyze your competitor’s products regularly for improvements, weaknesses, and quality trends. Make a short list of anticipated competitor strategies and tactics for the current year. Map out your retaliatory strategies and tactics, including situations to which you will not respond.

He or she who is most prepared wins.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2008 All rights reserved.

P.S. Create a market research budget for next year; it will be money well spent.

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The Executive Summary Sells the Business Plan

February 11th, 2008

The “executive summary” is the first part of the business plan that gets read and may be the only part of the plan that actually gets read. Its job is to get the plan funded whether by an investor or a banker. Many plans are rejected based on the executive summary alone, so perfecting this one or two page document is ultra-critical to the entrepreneur.

While there is no one formula for writing an executive summary, all executive summaries should address the following:

• What is the purpose of this business? What is the mission?
• How is this business different from others?
• Does this business have a sustainable competitive advantage? If so, what is it?
• Describe your offering?
• What is your target market?
• Why will this target market want your offering?
• How will you market to your customers?
• How will you organize your workforce?
• What will you require to get started in cash, people, and resources?
• What is the competitive environment like?
• What are the financial projections for your firm?
• Why should someone invest in your firm?

If you can answer these questions in your executive summary with clarity, the heavy lifting of the business plan is already done.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2008 All rights reserved.

P.S. Here is a tip. Write the executive summary when you have the rest of the plan completed; this way you will be best equipped to write it with authority.

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When Opt-in E-mail Becomes SPAM

February 10th, 2008

E-mail marketers figure that once a list member has opted-in that this means that their readers will read and value their e-mail marketing letters. Well, this is not always the case.

According to blogger Stefan Eyram, “BACN” is a marketing e-mail that many readers agreed to receive, but is not immediately read, if at all. It’s not spam, exactly, because they agreed to it. These messages are only mildly interesting and are not urgent. They idle in the in-box or in a file folder like a magazine stack on the living room coffee table.

The reader might have opted-in to list on an auto parts supplier’s e-mail list and agreed to accept e-mails about sales and promotions. In practice, virtually all the mailings have been for promotions have been for auto parts that the reader did not need or desire. Yet, there is a chance something relevant might come along, so the reader does not immediately delete the e-mail.

Thus, there is a fine line between BACN and SPAM. The danger is that the sender will keep sending the less than relevant messages until the reader opts-out. The risk is that the reader will one day declare this a nuisance and hit the spam button. Too many spam complaints and the sender will be black-listed and develop the reputation as a spammer.

For example, six months ago I bought a used red Corvette and I was quite excited. I immediately purchased a new set of fancy floor mats from an internet auto parts store. Since that purchase, I have received weekly e-mails about auto parts that are totally irrelevant to me such as monster tires for off-road trucks. Initially I hesitated to delete theses messages since my purchase experience was good, but I now have little hope that any of the future messages will be relevant.

What this means to the sender is that they must continue to ask their list for additional or new preferences. Just because someone opted-in one year ago does not mean that they have the same interest today. Also, a periodic campaign to ask members to opt-in again might help improve your list quality and help the sender avoid the spam button.

Beware of assuming that your messages are relevant since BACN can quickly change into SPAM.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2008 All rights reserved.

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Personalize Your E-mail Marketing Letters

February 5th, 2008

A highly effective marketing technique used by successful e-mail marketers is to personalize the e-mail letter. This personalization can be accomplished in many ways.

One way to personalize an e-mail letter is to use the recipient’s organization logo or web site. The purpose of a personalized image is to provide a familiar frame of reference in the most compelling way possible, resulting in the recipient feeling better understood and more comfortable, leading toward better acceptance of the offer.

Personalization can also include personalized subject lines by including information that refers the stated preferences of the customer segment that you are marketing. For example, you can also personalize your e-mail offer by adding a comment that recognizes a customer’s five straight years of patronage. Or, you can refer to recent customer transactions by recommending complimentary products for purchase.

Or, you can incorporate maps or directions to the nearest store or facility. You can reference important dates such as an expiration date. Personalization works because your subscribers feel like they already have a relationship and the dialog is a one-to-one conversation. The goal is for it to feel real and not faked.

The more you personalize your e-mail marketing campaign with information from your database, the more important it becomes to have the correct data. Errors in your data can damage your campaign by showing how poorly you know the recipient instead of how well. Always have default information to substitute in case you are missing data.

You can write your copy so that substituting this default text maintains the flow of the copy. Also, respect the privacy of the recipient and avoid the use of any sensitive information such as financial or health status.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2008 All rights reserved.

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