Saturday, March 27, 2010

Updated Website... New Blog!

It took us long enough, but you know the saying about how the cobbler's kids have no shoes!

Anyway, we've posted a new Website, and in the process, moved our blog, as well... in the future, please look for our regular postings at http://www.aboutfacemarketing.net/Marketing.

See you there!  :-) 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Branding Psychology: What Do Your Logo and Palette Colors Say About Your Business?


In the 18+ years I spent managing marketing functions in large corporate America, there was always a part of it that (somewhat) humorously dubbed me and/or my department "The Branding (or Logo) Police."

That's because marketing and corporate communications is typically the place where branding a company is managed; italways includes guidelines to use the logo, as well as the colors, on pretty much any documentation that leaves the hands of the company.

Now, there were always naysayers who rolled their eyes and tried to break the rules. However, I usually took it upon myself to educate anyone involved as to why it was so important to a) use the right logo, and b) use the right colors.

Let's back up for a minute and talk about branding. The concept is that the "brand" isn't just a logo or color palette - it's everything that touches the target market for a company. The goal for successful branding is simple: Every time a target customer for a particular product or service sees anything related to a particular product or service, the association creates the proper mental and emotional connections that prompt them to purchase and/or continue their relationship with that product/service.

In today's world of marketing, the challenge is rising above the noise! Current statistics show that today, the typical American is exposed to somewhere in the vicinity of 2,000-3,000 marketing messages per day.

Pretty daunting when you think about it, isn't it? That's a LOT of noise! So, though it's always been important, accurate and consistent branding is more important today than it's ever been.

So, once you've done some market research and understand the mindset and expectations of your target market(s), the first thing you must consider is the color palette you use for your company's logo and communications.

As a small business owner, I know it's hard not to slip into the simple mindset of "Well, it's my company, so I'm just going to pick my favorite colors!" Often, I can start working with a company and comfortably recommend changing processes, production, presentation, packaging, messaging, and everything down to the coffee maker in the reception area; however, when I approach the recommendation to change the colors used in the logo and company color palette, you'd think I asked to cut off the person arms!

The typical response, "Well, I really like the colors I'm using. I think I'm just going to stay with what I have." I'll debate that until I turn blue in the face; however, you'd be surprised at how emotional someone can get about their colors!

It's a bad choice.

Although it's not even a conscious thought, color is typically the first emotional response someone has to any brand. There are tons of studies out there that have proven the psychological effects of colors. In large corporate, that was one of the few fights I almost never had to make - in fact, though many people deemed my department the Branding Police (and some even less flattering terms), most people - especially in senior management - understood its importance! In fact, there are consultants regularly hired by large companies to strategically set up lobbies, receptions, and/or retail displays (or any other place a customer would visit and relate to the company) to create the desired emotional response by that customer. This even includes the colors on the wall, carpets, and furniture!

So, when you think about your target customer, think, "How do I want them to feel about my company, product, and/or service?" Then look at your logo and the colors you use - on your product label, business card, Website, brochures, presentations, handouts, and anything else that a prospective or existing client would see - and see if they match that expectation.

Here are some quick, topical guidelines:


  • Cool (Calming, Life-Sustaining) colors: Blues, greens (including turquoises), and white, gray and silver neutrals. On one end, these colors can be soothing and nurturing; if too extreme, the can be too impersonal and antiseptic. They also represent nature, with blue representing water and the sky, and green representing plant life. Combinations of these colors can create a nice, soothing watercolor palette; to warm up a palette a little, you can use deep versions of the colors and/or add some red tones (making blue not quite purple, but warmer).

    Cooler colors appear smaller than warm colors, and even if there's an equal amount of cool and warm on a page, the cool colors will recede and the warm ones will be dominant.

    Specific psychological associations:

    Blue
    : Cool, calming, helps sleep, helps time pass more quickly (too much can dampen spirits)
    Green
    : Same as Blue; denotes harmony and stability
    Turquoise:
    Same as Blue and Green; lighter shades create feminine appeal; darker shades (like teal) are sophisticated; some shades denotes a retro 50s-60s feel
    Gray
    : Neutral, balanced, doesn't evoke strong emotion (too much can feel cloudy or moody)
    Silver
    : Cool like gray, but a little livelier and "more playful"; can impart wealth/riches
    White
    : Purity, cleanliness, innocence (too much can be blinding and cause headaches)

    Cultural associations (if any):

    Blue: In many cultures and religions, can represent peace, keeping bad spirits or evil away; conveys importance and confidence; intelligence, stability, unity, and stability
    Green: Can represent earth-friendly; Ireland/Irish; Islam; spring; paired with red: Christmas
    Gray
    : Mourning, formality; strength, sophistication
    Silver
    : Can represent riches, wealth; glamorous and distinguished; 25th anniversary
    White
    : In the West, it's a symbol for brides; in the East, it's a symbol for mourning and funerals; can represent "Good/Pure" (such as angels); can represent hospitals, doctors, nurses (the medical profession)

  • Warm (Exciting) Colors: These colors rev us up, increase the blood pressure, and get us going, from optimism to violence. In nature, warm colors can indicate the change of seasons or the eruption of a volcano. You can tone these colors down with neutrals and/or a touch of cool colors, or even using pastel versions of the colors, such as pink or peach.

    Warmer colors tend to dominate a picture/image, even if there are an equal amount of cool colors.

    Specific psychological associations:

    Red
    : Take action/take notice; excitement; passionate love; anger; fire; heat
    Pink
    : The "sweet" side of red; large amounts can cause physical weakness in people
    Yellow:
    Happiness, joy, cheerfulness ("sunny"); hazard/warning; cowardice, deceit
    Gold:
    Wealth/prosperity; happiness, joy; somber
    Orange: Vibrance, energy, warmth; stimulating to the emotions and the appetite; fruity, vitamin C, good health
    Black: Considered a "warm" color because of its strength; conservative, serious, conventional; mysterious, sexy, sophisticated
    Brown
    : Purity, cleanliness, innocence (too much can be blinding and cause headaches)

    Cultural associations (if any):

    Red
    : Power ("red carpet"); danger; emergency; stop; in some countries (like China), it represents purity, joy, celebration, happiness, prosperity; communism; worn by brides in the East, and mourning in South Africa
    Pink
    : Femininity; romantic love; playfulness, tenderness
    Yellow:
    Symbolizes families waiting for members gone off to war ("the yellow ribbon"); hazard signs; mourning in Egypt; in Japan, courage; in India, merchants
    Gold
    : 50th wedding anniversary
    Orange
    : Pumpkins, autumn, Halloween
    Black
    : In the West, mourning and rebellion; in China, little boys; the "bad guy"; a mysterious person (like a spy); evil
    Brown
    : Warm neutral that can stimulate the appetite; natural/nature; warmth, honesty, wholesomeness; casual
This is a VERY basic overview of colors and their uses; there are many other considerations when developing a logo and/or a palette, including the strategic effect of certain color combinations and shades.

So, with that in mind, step back and take a look at all of the colors you use in your company. Do they say the right thing about you and your product or service?

(Loose reference source: About.com)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Do You Market Your Business With Sexpectations?


I'm waiting on a phone call from my husband at any minute.

Here's why: Since my daughters are going back to middle school from holiday break this morning, they have a new semester schedule... and one of the electives they put on my older daughter's schedule was incorrect. Since they didn't get this updated schedule until the last day before break, we haven't had any time to get it fixed (it was different than what we were given as her year-long schedule on the first day of school last summer). So, it has to be taken care of this morning; as my husband drops them off on his way to the office, it was easier for him to go in and speak with someone about it. However, there's not a lot of faith that it will be a successful effort, and I'll have to make a slew of follow-up phone calls myself.

Why, you ask? I can think of no other reason than "I'm the Mommy."

Regardless of the fact that I'm not (nor have I ever been) a stay-at-home mom, and my husband is as engaged (if not even moreso) in caring for our children as I am, when it comes to their welfare - whether it's had to do with nannies, preschool, school, medical care, or any product or service related to caring for them since the day they were born - the whole temperament, expectation, and experience has been geared towards me. It's like he's almost invisible, and he hates it! I've often gotten frustrated and asked, "I'm sorry, did I fall into a time warp and come out in the 1950s or something? Are dads not allowed - and not encouraged - to be involved with their kids' schooling and personal welfare?"

Regardless of how far we *think* we've progressed, there are still many false gender stereotypes, and a lot of them are perpetuated in today's marketing and advertising. When was the last time you saw a commercial with kids at home or coming home from school, and there was a :::gasp::: DAD waiting for them with some goodies? When was the last time you saw a family together in a commercial where the dad was anything more than a griping, irritated, cranky sidekick - or just acting like one of the kids himself? Or a cell phone commercial that claimed women or teenage girls did anything besides talk all day? A perfect example of that is the new Virgin Mobile ad campaign; see a link to one of the ads below this paragraph. Though this campaign is purportedly geared towards women, it's done from a stereotypical man's point of view: Not only does it focus on the stereotype about a woman's endless talking, it also makes a lame attempt at trying to empower a woman by including inappropriate "locker room talk" on the phone about her boss. Grrr, I'll just let you watch for yourself:

Virgin Mobile TV ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1myX82TuWA

The funny thing is, I don't think this ad hits the mark on either women or men. It's just sort of lame.

Regardless of how "progressed" we're supposed to be today, these kind of generalities and sexism still pervades a majority of industries... and it causes a lot messaging, branding, and advertising to completely miss the mark to both genders.

I'm not saying that men and women don't have different criteria when making purchasing decisions! Plenty of studies have shown that there are generally two very distinct differences:

  • Men generally purchase based on a check-off list of criteria, so they tend to scavenge Websites, to see if they can find the features they desire;
  • Women tend to really focus on the value they're getting, including the connection or relationship with a product/service/company they feel is best in the long run. With this in mind, it's no surprise that today's fastest adopters and users of social media are - you guessed it - women!
So, unless you have a product or service that is undeniably geared at only men or women - and there are really very few - when you're developing the messaging for your product or service, you have to make sure you address both genders, the way they make their purchase decisions, and how they would relate to it in terms of today's world - not the 1950's!

:::sigh::: Now, if you'll excuse me, as expected, I must call the guidance office at the middle school...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lights, Camera...GULP! How presenting for video is different than a live audience (and some simple tips to get you through)


Credit goes to fellow 919Insider Laura Poole for the idea for this blog, from her great discussion on Professionally Speaking: 6 Keys to Better Presentations (Part 1) - I'm looking forward to Part 2!

"Oh, I'll be fine; don't worry about it! I've presented to rooms of ___ people with no problem..."

Over the years - through my corporate career and beyond - I can't tell you how many times I've heard this when approaching someone about prepping for a presentation on camera! It's funny; this is regardless of position, age, or whether they were a PhD, MD, or growing crops out in the fields (actually, the growers - when I worked with Cargill - were typically much more realistic when I needed them for video, admitting they would probably get nervous and need some practice).

Guess what? Almost every single time, that person who would say the statement above to me would end up thoroughly surprised about how different it actually was when that red light went on and the camera(s) started rolling! Some of the most versed, brilliant, and outgoing people I knew would begin to sweat, stutter, and bumble through what they needed to say, when just moments before, they'd been confident that it would be no big deal.

Here's the follow up statement I would almost inevitably get from the same person who would make the statement above: "Wow, I can't believe how DIFFERENT that was! I don't know why that felt so different - how weird! That light went on and I felt like a bumbling idiot!"

For some reason, that little red light can be more distracting and unnerving than a room of 100 people; this happens regardless of format - interview, structured, discussion/forum, or individual speech; out "in the field," in a closed studio, or even front of a studio audience.

So, why does this happen?

To put it simply, we psych ourselves out! A large part of it has to do with almost subconscious self reflection - when you're in front of 100 people, you typically don't have to look at yourself, and watch your own idiosyncrasies. Who's our biggest critic? Ourselves, of course! So, when the camera rolls, in the back of your head, that critic inevitably raises its ugly voice and says,

"Oh, GOD! I HATE the way I look on camera! it's going to make me look so pale/shiny/fat/gaunt/dorky/...; is my hair out of place? Does this color look good on me? I've always THOUGHT it did! Am I going to look like I know what I'm talking about? What if I lose my train of thought, and make a mistake - then it's on record for the world to see!"

With video becoming more prominent as a standard communication medium today, getting in front of the camera will inevitably be a necessity at some point for most business owners who need to interface with their target market(s) - which I think will end up being almost everyone. And really, take it from me - since I've had to use video as part of the marketing and PR mix for more than 20 years - regardless of how many times you've been in front of a room or even a stadium of people, it is different when the camera's rolling!

So, when that situation arises, here are some simple tips that should smooth out the bumps the first few times out of the gate:

  • Don't simply be prepared; really know exactly what you're supposed to discuss/present! Be able to do the whole thing on auto-pilot: This way, if you do still freeze up a little, your brain won't, and you won't lose your content (which would in turn stress you out even more).
  • Engage your emotions. There's nothing worse than watching a robot - and with such an ADD society today, it's even worse when it's on video. If you don't engage your passion and emotions on your topic, you will lose your audience in less than 10 seconds.  
  • Practice in front of a mirror or on home video beforehand. If you know what you look like while you're in the spotlight, you can correct any physical idiosyncrasies to your liking beforehand - so you can quiet that nasty critic in your head before it starts and instead replace it with the voice that simply reminds you of what you want to do to make the best of yourself.
  • Pretend you're having a conversation with someone (in situations when you're alone and looking into the camera). One of the hardest psychological aspects of filming - especially in a closed studio with no audience - is that you can't "read" the faces of your audience to see how you're doing. Even if we don't realize it consciously, what often helps us relax in front of an audience is when we look out and make eye contact with someone who's nodding in approval, smiling, and/or intently listening. When you're speaking to a camera, it can feel like you're in a black hole. Visualizing someone having a conversation with you over coffee can make it easier, and make you seem more relaxed.
  • Don't overfill your schedule on the day(s) of production. Rushed = tense. If you have to run from a slew of meetings to "squeeze in" the video production, many things can happen to get you stressed before you even get there, from spilling a drink on yourself and staining your clothes to spoiling your mood and taking your focus off of the situation at hand. It will show up on camera!
  • Make sure the shoe fits. Unless there's a costume required for filming, wear clothing that complements you color-wise and fits you well. If you're standing, make sure the shoes you wear are comfortable. It's not a good time to wear shoes that are brand new and not broken in, and to women - no spike heels! If you wear something that's too tight and/or uncomfortable, you will definitely be able to tell on camera, and you will come across as pinched.
  • Breathe... and hydrate. If you feel yourself starting to trip over your words, take a moment and take several deep breaths from the heart and diaphragm. Make sure there's water available (preferably room temperature or slightly warmer, with lemon), to help avoid your throat getting dry - so you don't have to clear your throat a lot.
  • Remember the BEST part about video - that it can be edited!!! Except in rare, live situations, if you make a mistake, SO WHAT? You can shoot it again... and again... and again, until you get it right.
Practice these simple tips so you'll be able to keep your confidence and breeze through your video presentation. Remember, you're the expert here - if you weren't, you wouldn't be in this situation. You know what you're doing, so let others benefit from your knowledge, and let yourself shine!

Have you had a surprisingly stressful or nightmarish video experience? Tell us about it, so everyone knows they're not alone!!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"SOCIAL MEDIA IS C**P!" ???


This morning, on LinkedIn, I saw a discussion that had been started via the EMarketing Association titled, "SOCIAL MEDIA IS C**P!"

Of course, that attracted my interest; the first thing I did was look at who wrote it (the President of an "e-marketing solutions" company). Next I read the posting, and then I looked at his profile to see what his background entailed.

And had you been sitting next to me at the time, you would've simply heard a big sigh.

This type of comment fascinates me, yet also punctuates a lot of what I've been saying (especially for the past year) about many I have encountered who have decided to focus their recent career in the "e-world" - specifically, those who started as IT and now work in social media (which was basically this guy's background). We have people out in the public saying things like this while totally missing the point, because they decided to enter a field without knowing it's place or real application.

That would be the same as me deciding to go into the accounting world, then walking up to an accountant and saying, "QuickBooks is C**P!" To some people, that may be true - especially those who don't know how to use it, those who are intimidated by it, and/or those who don't have any sound financial practice to their company to begin with.

Here's my advice: LEARN YOUR MARKETING BEFORE WORKING IN THE MARKETING WORLD!

That's the problem today; people don't look at someone's background anymore before accepting what they say at face value, or understanding that person's motivation behind what they say.

So, as a 20+-year strategic marketing veteran, I'll say this: Contrary to what many "gurus" say, social media in itself isn't a be all, end all. It's not a strategy - it's a TOOL that helps to accomplish a strategy. And how effective or ineffective that tool is depends on how sound the strategy is behind it.

So, what you really need to say to make your statement true, with the proper marketing understanding applied to it, is actually:

TOOL USE + NO STRATEGY = C**P

You can't say that social media in itself is c**p - in my opinion, it's actually one of the most effective worldwide "one-on-one" communication tools that has been developed, probably ever. However, as in any other marketing and/or communications tool, if it's used without a strategy or direction in mind, it will do a whole lot of nothing for you. However, if there is a strategy behind it, and there's a plan regarding it's approach, it can actually be a VERY effective medium, especially in terms of:

- target market predisposition to buy
- establishing expertise
- establishing visibility
- adding value to the producer-customer relationship

Over the past 10 years, we've seen a major paradigm shift in the marketing world: What used to be most important to consumers was the PRODUCT or SERVICE; today, it is now that the PEOPLE behind the product or service is JUST AS IMPORTANT as the product or service itself - especially regarding interaction via customer service.

Another important statistic: If you look at research statistics today, 85% of all brand purchasing decisions are made by women. There have been a lot of studies looking at purchasing psychology, too: Where men's buying decisions often have to do with a feature checklist, women are much more aware of the QUALITY of the transaction - customer service, understanding of the product/service, and understanding of the philosophy behind it. It's relationship based. Therefore, social media is a beautiful tool to accomplish this. And guess who is the fastest growing population in the adoption of social media to influence their buying decisions? Yep, you got it - women.

So, you see, I always raise an eyebrow when someone just flat out tells me a TOOL is c**p, whether it's social media, a Website, a brochure, an advertisement, or anything else. Because the first question I ask is, what is the strategy it's supposed to support? The next is, what was your specific objective in using it? Then I ask them to tell me about the rest of the integrated marketing mix that's being used to support that strategy and objective.

99 times out of 100, they can't provide me with a viable response to any of those three.

Enough said.

What are your thoughts on this, in terms of your business?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ad Design Awards? Pshaw... It's BRANDING That Will Help Your Business!


When I was managing the marketing function in my former corporate positions, I was always wary of marketing/ communication/ad agencies that came in touting industry awards they'd gotten from ads or commercials. This was usually because the award typically highlighted the artistry and creativity of the media - and very rarely (actually, I can't even remember an instance of this) because of the solidity of the brand it represented.

People think it's very funny that even though marketing is my profession, I rarely ever take note of commercials. Inevitably, I'll have someone say, "Have you seen that commercial about the _______________?" And typically, I have no idea what they're talking about. But even if I do recall a commercial, it's even rarer that I remember what product or service the commercial represented.

According to the rules of strategic marketing, that's a sacrilege, and a waste of money (and creativity) - because that means I've lost complete connection of the imagery and visualization with the brand. This article has some more good commentary in relation to the problem with a lot of today's advertising and branding.

As my 13-year-old would say, that would be an "Epic Fail."

First of all, let me clarify branding: Contrary to what many believe, it's NOT simply the logo and tagline - it's actually everything that represents your product/service and company. As a business owner, you also need to remember that the biggest key to branding is consistency, consistency, consistency!

So think about it; your brand includes:

  • The obvious company name, tagline, logo (but be careful here, too, that the name is appropriate... remember the "Nova" story...)
  • The colors you use on everything - NOT JUST the logo, but also any signage, labeling/packaging, business cards, brochures, advertising, Website, social media landing pages, any PowerPoint presentations... anything that represents your product or service to the end customer. That would be called your "color palette," and be careful about the colors you choose! Many people simply pick their favorite color(s) and don't realize that there are tried-and-true psychological associations along with them. For example, yellow can be bright, sunny, and warm, but it can also mean deceitful, crazy, and sick, depending on how it's used (but that's a blog for another day). Just remember that if your colors conflict with the message you'd need to convey for your business, you will have difficult conveying what you need to.
  • The tone and approach in the way you actually communicate to your target market, which includes anything written or spoken. This is a BIG one, and includes brochures, PowerPoint presentations, news releases, press conferences, social media, email, and even who answers your phone, as well as how it is answered.
  • Customer service interaction
  • The way you and your employees present yourselves (including clothing) when facing your target market(s)
  • Hmmm... let's see... you get the point, right? Pretty much EVERYTHING!
In many respects, today it's become very easy to start a business because of the great templates and tools that have been put out there. But in the quest to be able to start out looking "professional" on the cheap, the understanding of branding has often become sidelined, which can actually hurt a small business. I can't tell you how many times I've been talking to a business owner - even one who has been in business for several years - and yet their business card is still a template from an online printing source, their brochure was done in-house from a different Microsoft Word template, their Website was done by their next door neighbor(/sister/brother, etc.), in a template provided by their Website hosting provider (plus, their email address doesn't match the business URL), and the "Welcome" sign is negated by the grumpy or sneering old (or teenage) relative at the front office/desk... typically, all look, read, and feel completely different from one another.

As Americans, today we get slammed with an estimated 1,500-3,000 marketing messages per day (depending on whose numbers you look at). If everything you put out from your company looks and feels different, and there isn't a clear representation of what the company needs to convey to its target market(s) from the sign on the door to how the customer is treated when they walk in (or go to purchase on the Website or at a store), there's no way to rise your voice "above the noise" and create any kind of brand.

So, what do you do? Sit down for an hour or two, alone or with others who are responsible for the well-being of your company, and answer these questions:
  • What does my target customer want from my product?
  • How do they want to feel about it to purchase it?
  • How do they need to feel about me and my company to be able to retain them as a customer?
  • What is my competitive advantage? If I don't have one now, can I shift my focus so that I do have one?
  • How do I need to communicate that/those?
Then, as you think about your product/service and its day-to-day presence in your target market's (s') world, every time you make a decision about something - whether it's your logo, Website, a Tweet, or how you (or an employee) respond(s) to a customer issue - make sure the way it's presented consistently conveys what you answered in the questions above. Everything.

So later on, when they recall feeling good about your product or service, it usually won't be because of some zany, bizarre ad or commercial that won a bunch of awards in the ad world; it will be because they had a positive, consistent, personal, and relative experience with your brand, from A to Z.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to Basics: What is YOUR Definition of Marketing?

When I give someone an overview of what I do, I typically use an explanation based on the definition supplied by the Marketing 101 college textbooks. However, if the person hasn't taken Marketing 101 in college (and I'm sure many haven't, or it's been awhile!), I initially get a vaguely interested but puzzled look. It usually isn't until about 5 minutes of discussion when comprehension actually sinks in -- and that's where the interest begins.

I don't think I'm bad at explaining myself. Quite the contrary! However, in our ADD, 500mph society, I'm still striving to find the succinct explanation that encompasses the real breadth of marketing -- and how that helps small and medium businesses -- within a 30-second commercial.

It's almost impossible, because there's so much.

I think everyone in business should take Marketing 101, because it's really the basis for any company, small or large! Without the basic understanding of how the 5P's interconnect and how they're pertinent to get any product or service to the marketplace, you'll fall short.

First of all, let's talk about the actual definition of marketing, because if you ask 5 different people what marketing is, you'll very typically get 5 different responses. So, let's start at the definition resource, Mirriam Webster, and take a look at their definition:
Marketing: An aggregate of functions involved in moving goods (or services) from producer to consumer.

Pretty broad, huh?

Typically, when I do a presentation about the marketing puzzle, this is how I start. I ask several people in the audience about their personal definition of marketing, and then I show them this one. It's usually pretty eye-opening.

Because contrary to what many believe, marketing isn't just an ad, logo, promotion, Website, news release, launch event, or Facebook page. It's much, much more than that -- and thinking it's "fluff," something expendable, or something that doesn't need a lot of focus will hurt any company, small or huge.

It's the heartbeat of any organization, feeding oxygen and vigor to all functions throughout!

So, let's get back to the basics. The marketing model used to be based on the 4 P's; today, they're the 5 P's (thanks to today's socially based society, adding "People" to the mix):
  • Product (or service)
  • Price
  • Place (or distribution)
  • Promotion
  • People
I'm going to dive right in! Though I'm going to cover all 5 of these over the next several weeks, I'll just start right with good ol' number 1:

Product (or Service) - Know Thyself

Today, I'm focusing on the first of the 5 P's: Product (or Service). Seems simple, right? Many people get into business to do something they're good at, and/or to do something they enjoy. And it's true: These two elements are crucial. However, there's much more to what you offer than that.

When you're starting or expanding a business, first you should do a little bit of market research. Why, you ask? You just know your product is the best? That may be; however, before you're even out of the gate, there are many things you should consider. You can do a lot of the research yourself, or hire someone to do it for you. However you do it, you need to understand not just what you think, but more importantly, what your target market thinks:
  • Is there an adequate market for this product/service in the current world? You might be the best darn portable typewriter repair person in the world, but how many people have typewriters today? If you're set on repairing typewriters, is there possibly a market with antique shops, or something similar? I can't tell you how many companies have failed because they had a great product or service, but no market, or one too small to sustain the company.

  • Do you have competition, and if so, how are they perceived? There's something to say about the terms "Keep Your Friends Close, But Your Enemies (aka Competition) Closer." Are they perceived as the best? Worst? Why? What do they do that's good to replicate, or good to avoid? Learn from their mistakes... and their successes!

  • Why is your product/service better than the competition, and does the target market perceive it that way? In marketing, this is called your differential or competitive advantage. Make a list, because these will be your key message points for your target market. If you don't have these, CREATE THEM! How? Find a way to make your product/service different and better than the others. Create a new niche, approach, or packaging. Change the playing field. Do something that will make you stand out above the others competing in the same space... or, simply create your own space. How do you think Baskin Robbins took the corner on the ice cream market? Or Ben & Jerry's?

  • How should this product/service be packaged? Sometimes, your packaging can be a differentiator. It can store better, stack better, fit better (as a product), or be more convenient, easier to use (as a service)... the list goes on and on. Find out what people think. Try it out in real life situations.
Knowing the answer to these questions is the basis for your business plan, as well as the brand and messaging your company develops. At the end of the day, what's most important is communication between you and your target market... and if you don't even know the answer to the questions above, you're starting out with 2 strikes against you!

Coming up next... Where, oh where does my product(/service) go out? Oh where, oh where should it be?