Start Acting Like the Snowflake You Are

you are a snowflake, you are uniqueYou are a snowflake. You are unique, one of a kind. Did your mother ever tell you this? Probably, but chances are it’s long-forgotten along with other remarks which only a mother would say.

Unless you are one of three handsome, bright, talented young men in the Pacific Northwest with the last name of Sircely, I am not your mother, and yet I am telling you that you, yes YOU, are a snowflake. (Go ahead and laugh if you must – I’m being sincere!)

Your business is a snowflake, too. It has its own unique story and is led by you, the one-of-a-kind snowflake. So why treat it like it’s the same as any other business? Why gravitate toward the flock when you could distinguish your business with a marketing approach uniquely tailored to you?

It’s easy to slide into sameness. Templates and themes are ubiquitous. There are online templates for printing your business card and other marketing materials. There are themes for website design, customizable, but rarely well-customized. Stock art photos and graphics repeat themselves on websites, blog posts and brochures. Copywriting guides and software programs teach fill-in-the-blanks, until everything follows the same blueprint. As a result, marketing materials are becoming increasingly generic — looking, reading and sounding the same.

When you appear to be the same as all the others, how do you convince customers to buy from you? Your potential customers want to know: What makes you different and why should I buy from you? What’s behind the workings of your business? What’s your business story?


What Makes You Different?

Your unique story

Your Story: Uncover your unique story – everybody has one. We all have our own personal reasons and passions for doing what we do. Telling your backstory accentuates your individuality and encourages others to connect with you.

Ask yourself:

1. What makes me uniquely qualified to do what I do?

2. How and why did I begin?

3. What have I achieved that helps others trust and want to do business with me?

4. And most important: What do I offer that generates positive responses; what is it that makes me remarkable?


your image, your lookYour Look: Design is a vital element that either draws people in, causes a headache or induces drowsiness. As a snowflake is one-of-a-kind, your website and other marketing materials need to reflect your uniqueness in a way that instantly captures the interest of prospective customers and earns their trust as they delve deeper.

Your look is so important, it’s advisable to invest in a trained graphic designer. Create a logo or type treatment in colors that are appropriate for your business and reflect the story you tell. Tweak that website theme so it’s fully customized, or start from scratch and build something special. Keep your look consistent throughout your marketing materials, from website to print and across all social media to platforms.

If possible, take your own photos or hire a photographer to shoot key images. This gives you a distinctive look and makes you stand out from all the others using the same stock images.


your unique business styleYour Style: Here’s where your remarkableness can shine through brightly. Everyone interacts differently with customers and prospects. What’s your style? What are your personal qualities?

Look into your products, services and how you work with customers and prospective customers. What is special about what you offer, and the style with which you offer it? What is special about how you work with others? What is special about how you care for your clients and customers? How do you serve them? What do you do that encourages people to say positive things about you?


Celebrate Your Uniqueness

Think of yourself as a snowflake, and define what distinguishes you from the rest. Tell your unique story and wrap it into a marketing plan. Tell it everywhere. Have it shine through on your website, in all your print materials, and throughout social media in a consistent, coordinated message that is as unique as the snowflake you are.

Always remember: You are a snowflake. We are all snowflakes. Let’s have the courage to be proud of our differences.


Social Media Marketing Explained: Don’t Be Afraid to Take the Plunge

No Lifeguard - Swim at Your Own Risk

Credit: Harry Sircely Photography

It seems everyone is on social media these days, but actually, that is not true. While user levels are increasing on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and YouTube, a lot of small businesses continue to hold back.

How do I know this? Business owners regularly ask me why they should consider social media marketing and how to get started. Clearly, they ask because they are not yet in the social media picture. Just last week, at a social media workshop sponsored by my local chamber of commerce, most attendees were still wondering what they need to do, where and when. Some expressed confusion, others are afraid of wasting large amounts of time, and most just don’t have a clue where to begin.

Don’t be afraid — it’s easy to wade into the pool. Come on in, the water’s fine. Once you get your feet wet, you’ll begin to understand how this crazy hodgepodge of social media sites can actually move your business forward.


The Social Media Process, Explained

Social media marketing is just one tool in your versatile marketing toolkit. Your integrated marketing mix should harmonize online and traditional offline components to drive customers and prospects to your website, convincing them to either buy directly or contact you via email or telephone.

When asked about social media marketing, here’s how I explain it:

Social media marketing (not just networking, but marketing) is most effective when you use it to support content you are creating. It works something like this:

1.  You have a well-crafted website in place as the hub of your online presence.

2.  You create content on that website – articles, reports, blog posts, things of value to readers – that establishes you as an authority in your field.

3.  Google indexes your content and online searches drive people to your site.

4.  You capture their names and email addresses and build a list.

5.  Once you determine where your target audience spends time in social media, you set up profile pages and get started. Usually concentrate on two social media outlets, otherwise it’s too much. But eventually, you will want to maintain profiles on all the main social media platforms, and these profiles should be branded consistently with the same look and feel. Denise Wakeman, online marketing advisor and founder of The Blog Squad, recommends setting up a Word document containing your business profile, your contact information, and links to all your social media sites. Then, when you need to set up a new profile somewhere, you don’t need to search for the right words or links. In addition, for indexing purposes, Google likes it when your profile is consistent from site to site.

6.  LinkedIn is a no-brainer – you should have a profile page there for professional purposes. A complete profile with recommendations establishes your credibility and authority in your industry. Join logical groups and reach out to share your expertise.

7.  On Facebook, you want to establish a business page where people “Like” you and you can share your own information and other people’s information, publicize events and workshops, comment on things interesting to you and be the expert in your area. This page is separate from a personal profile – the “Likes” are not the same as “Friends” in a personal account, although you can always share posts from your business page on your personal page. Information you post links back to your website, where you capture people’s names and email addresses as they visit.

8.  On Twitter, you post links to your articles, mentioning events and seminars, share articles by others and ideas related to your business and your prospects’ interests. Again, links go back to your own website to draw traffic to your hub.

9.  On Google+, you create circles of interest and again share your articles, your company information and interesting content posted by others. In my experience, the dynamics here promote conversations at a higher level of discourse. A huge benefit is that Google indexes your posts immediately; often articles you share jump to page one of your keyword search, which is fabulous for driving visitors to your website.

10.  Pinterest, the image-driven social media site which exploded onto the scene this year, and YouTube, owned by Google, are two more highly useful platforms for posting content and attracting visitors to your site.

11.  As a rule of thumb, share at least 20 non-soliciting posts of tremendous value for every one that presents a sales offer.

12.  The point of bringing everyone back to your website for name/email capture is that your email list is the most important marketing tool you have – these are people who opt-in and want to hear from you, and whom you can contact whenever it’s important to do so.


Educate, Demonstrate, Build Relationships

Through social networks, you educate and showcase your expertise in a likeable manner that invites people to work with and trust you. Social media is for building relationships, offering valuable free content, showing how you can help others by contributing to the greater good, and demonstrating your passion for your business and industry.

A few tips: Post when you have something to say or share. Don’t force it. Tailor your posts for the different platforms – folksy for Facebook, short 140 characters for Twitter, thoughtful for Google+, pictorial for Pinterest. Sprinkle your posts around, posting an item on one network one day, and somewhere else the next day. Be sure to track your website analytics to see which social media sites are working best for you.

When you first take the plunge, you may have no idea where social media marketing will lead. It’s difficult to start with a focused plan or set marketing goals when you’re not certain how things will play out. But following the main guidelines will set you in the right direction. With a little practice, things will start to make sense and you’ll find your own voice.

If this post was valuable for you, please let me know in the comments! And I encourage you to subscribe to my email list so you receive related updates and notices when new articles are published, usually never more than once a week. To receive free updates, click here.

Tap into the power of anti-selling.

marketing baked into rhubarb pie

Bake the marketing into your offer.

Wouldn’t you love to tap into the strength of powerful marketing materials so you never, ever need to make a cold sales call again?

If you own a solopreneurship or work for a small business or nonprofit, chances are that you don’t have a salesforce working to break down buyer resistance before closing sales. Most likely, you bear a large part of the responsibility of driving revenue by attracting customers, soliciting donations or selling products.

Personally, I am not—and never will be a salesperson. To me, sales is simply gut wrenching. You will never catch me making a cold call, using highlighted or red-lined text in a marketing letter, or chatting up prospects who seem to wish they were somewhere else. It’s antithetical to my personal chemistry.

Selling is difficult. Some people thrive on sales, and that’s great for them—it’s just not for me. But hey, marketing—for me that’s a breeze.

So how do you win over customers without a hard sell?


Modern selling and anti-selling

Although I came around to appreciating science and math later in life, I avoided these classes like the plague while in school. To fulfill the science requirement in college, I enrolled in a course designed for non-scientists entitled “Modern Physics and Anti-Physics.” The term “anti-physics” sounded intriguing, and the title has stuck with me. While I am no longer anti-physics, I remain anti-selling.

When your sales process is anti-selling, your offer needs to be so irresistible that it sells itself. When your offer and your well-crafted marketing materials do all the work, or at least most of the work, all you have to do is deliver a light, soft, honest sell to close the deal.

The fact is, audiences are generally wary of salespeople. The archetypical used car salesman comes to mind — the plaid suit, wide grin and calculated pressure tactics trigger a natural consumer instinct to run the other way. Even polite people have learned to hang up the phone on a telemarketer. Most people no longer have the time or desire to sit through a sales pitch unless they already are convinced they want to buy a particular product or service, often because they have a problem.

Your job is to convince them ahead of time that they need what your product or service, and that your offering trumps others available on the market.


You don’t have to sell.

For years I’ve been telling clients who share my reluctance to sell that, when properly written, designed and implemented, their marketing materials will do 99%-100% of the selling for them. When your marketing plan is functioning correctly, calls will be inbound; no outbound cold calls required. The remaining 1% of the marketing calls are to warm prospects who come via referrals, or are otherwise predisposed to hearing your pitch.

First, don’t think about the sale at all. Consider how your product or service can help others and change the world for the better. Listen to your prospective buyer’s needs and concerns, and embed your marketing strategy into the creation, packaging and delivery of your products or services. Seth Godin calls this “baking” your marketing into the product. Offer solutions with your own unique perspective, twist or passion. Apple Inc. is a perfect example.

Attract prospects with marketing materials that carry a clear, concise message through a well-designed presentation. Your materials should be attractive at first glance, even from afar. They should put forth a theme and style consistent with your branding, and they should have enough content to draw in prospects, without being overwhelming.

Educate your prospective customers. Focus on the end result for customers, and in the most honest and transparent way, teach prospects how they will benefit from your product or services, or perhaps by supporting your nonprofit. Tell stories and share examples, drawing on the colorful and emotional content of personal experience.

Be informative. Provide step-by-step information on how to purchase your offerings and give clear instructions. Online, you want your prospect to know exactly what to type and where to click on your well-organized landing page. Offline, people need to know where you are located, your hours of operation, and how to reach you by phone. Provide a variety of contact methods so your each individual prospect can choose which option is most convenient, including social media interfaces.

Load your offer with extra value. Figure out what you can comfortably add to the offer that does not greatly impact your bottom line, yet could hold tremendous perceived value to your customer. Maybe it’s a complimentary consulting session or a free sample to get them started. Perhaps it’s an app or add-on to a product, or even an invitation to a special event.

Use soft reminders and cut-off dates. People are busy and they forget, so use casual, low pressure reminders in your communications. It also can be useful to attach a time-sensitive component to your reminder, such as “the price will be going up on Friday.”

Stand behind your offer. Build trust and remove a barrier to the sale by offering a 100% money-back guarantee with no questions asked. This is especially important when selling online. Rarely do people ask for their money back, and if they do, it’s a sale you never would have made anyway. The offer of a guarantee can gently push a prospect over the line to become a buyer, and it drives you to ensure what you’re offering is the best it can be.

To truly embrace anti-selling, take a new look at what you are offering and how your marketing materials are constructed—make them work harder for you and assume most of the selling process. You will be amazed how marketing characteristics of generosity and clarity will convince people to buy. Then rejoice that you don’t need to make a cold call!

Warning: Your Lip-Smacking Marketing Message Might Ruin Someone’s Appetite

Blackened shrimp served by BP

Blackened shrimp, anyone?

Show of hands. Would you like some blackened shrimp? Yum. Shrimp is delicious and even the thought of blackened shrimp can stimulate the taste buds.

Now what if this heapin’ helping of blackened Gulf Coast shrimp was being served up by BP? Hold on a minute — that’s a different story.

But that’s precisely what flashes across the screen in BP’s new television ad on Gulf of Mexico restoration which also appears on their website. It’s a slick promotional ad to improve BP’s image and paint a happy face on the disastrous effects of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill that began with an explosion two years ago, on April 20, 2010.

Restoration of the Gulf of Mexico has a long way to go. Phase III of the response activities — containment, countermeasures, cleanup and disposal — was only recently approved on May 9. Locals complain of strange health ailments, contamination, depleted fish stocks, and a crushed local economy. Critics say that BP is dragging its feet on cleanup and restoration. All of this creates a need for the best marketing campaign that money can buy.


So why would BP promote blackened shrimp?

Probably not on purpose. It’s a matter of perception. The company wants to convince visitors that “the seafood is delicious” and everything is getting back to normal along the Gulf Coast. The deck is stacked against BP. Many of us can’t purge the horrific thought of oil gushing from the sea floor, making it difficult to buy into this promotional line.

For the record, the FDA recently reported that Gulf seafood is safe to eat. At the same time, the Associated Press released photos of fish with lesions, sores and other deformities which scientists point to as potential evidence of lingering effects of the oil spill.

Regardless of whether or not seafood is safe to eat, the reference to blackened shrimp in an ad designed to whitewash an oil spill is a careless marketing move. Rather than encourage viewers to move on from the issue, which is the goal of the campaign, the off-message moment only reminds the viewer of the original problem.


How did this happen?

Good question.

Perhaps the marketing department was not paying attention. Perhaps those producing and approving the film are so close to the issue that they do not understand the implications of pairing the dark subliminal message with images of people smacking their lips on Gulf seafood. Could there even be a chance that someone on the video production team was having a little fun and slipped this image in?

The implications are damaging, and it implies that the BP ad department doesn’t understand their target audience.  Do they think people have forgotten? Do they think people will not notice? Is this yet another high-handed attempt by BP to brag about how much they are doing to fix the disaster while ignoring facts that happen to get in the way?


Your messaging needs to be carefully controlled.

Your brand can be damaged very, very easily. Every message you release needs to be carefully considered and viewed through a number of lenses.

Remember how a single mention of blackened shrimp can deep-six the effectiveness of a costly ad. Be careful what you say and how you say it because someone else might hear something completely different.

Most of all, remember that the best way to generate a positive image of your brand is to back up your messaging with integrity and honesty in everything you do.



How the lowly business card can seriously boost your authority.

professional business cardsHave you heard that “Print is Dead”? I heartily disagree.

In content marketing, where you freely share relevant information to attract and convert prospects into customers and hopefully repeat buyers, print materials can be a crucial part of the mix.

There is plenty of room for printed materials in permission marketing as well, where you honor the privilege of delivering pertinent messages to people who anticipate them, rather than carpet-bombing the masses with ads, television commercials or junk mail.

Sometimes your customers are not online.

Sometimes your potential customer is standing in front of you, and you are having an honest-to-goodness face-to-face human conversation. In a fleeting moment, you are asked for contact information. You don’t hesitate. You don’t grapple with pen and paper. You don’t fumble your phone. You instantly produce a professionally-designed business card.

Yes, the lowly business card can still fill an important role.

There was a lengthy discussion last year in a LinkedIn group of communications professionals about business cards: Are they dead? Who needs them? Just bump your phone with someone to exchange contact information.

But your business card goes above and beyond the communication of basic contact information. It carries your business identity and branding elements. It makes a critical first impression with prospects, and can immediately boost your authority. Your card also can augment your sense of confidence when you are meeting and interacting with new people.

Do you have a business card? What does it look like?

Is your card a do-it-yourself number, printed slightly crooked and popped out of a perforated page? Or is it professionally designed and printed, impeccably branded?

If it falls face down on a desk, is there some sort of message or supplementary information on the back about your offerings, like a mini brochure?

The importance of having a professional business card played out right here just the other day.

Harry Sircely, in search of fertilizer inputs to improve our new vegetable garden, walked up to one of our neighbors who was cleaning up after her alpacas. They introduced themselves and had a long, neighborly conversation about chickens and alpacas and gardens and the usual topic, “How did you end up here on Orcas Island?” She offered him copious amounts of manure and wondered what he might offer in exchange.

“I’m a photographer,” he said. They talked some more. He produced his business card and she was drawn to the stunning images printed on each side. “Oh, you ARE a photographer!” she exclaimed. Apparently these days, ‘everybody’s a photographer,’  and his business card served as evidence, proof of his talent. Professional image conveyed. Contact information delivered. Cost of full color, two-sided card: 3 cents.

Take a few minutes to analyze your current business card.

  • Does it really tell someone what you do?
  • Is the presentation professional?
  • Are the images and typestyle in tune with your branding, and do they convey the image you want to project?
  • Is all the contact information up to date?
  • Are you using both sides, or a fold-over card with four panels?
  • Do you include a QR code to direct prospects to a relevant page on your website?

If you want to bump phones to exchange information with someone, that’s fine. You still need a business card for occasions when the human conversation and the tactile offering of a printed card builds your authority and helps to seal a new business relationship.

One quick fix can clarify your marketing message.

strive for clarityWhether you’re designing for print or for online publication, you want your message to come through loud and clear.

Your marketing materials should immediately grab a viewer’s attention when they visit your website or pick up a brochure. If your digital or printed pages are cluttered and busy, what happens? Your reader becomes distracted and clicks away or turns the page. An opportunity is wasted.

Here is one quick and easy change you can make to tame a busy layout: Narrow your type choices to no more than two, three at the most.

You’ve seen those websites—the ones with a gazillion different typefaces that set your mind reeling, your teeth on edge and your eyes searching for a calm area with lots of open space. You’ve seen crazy product sheets, brochures and advertisements with six or eight fonts on the same printed page. All could benefit from serious spring cleaning to sweep away the clutter and straighten out important content that’s been lost in the confusion.

Comprehensive books can guide you through the art of typography—the entire subject cannot be covered here. But if you adhere to this simple rule of thumb for graphic design—limiting your font use—your marketing materials will communicate more clearly and persuasively.

It’s difficult to look at the font menu with all the available typefaces and narrow your selection to two. But really, only a select few will work best with your subject and project the image you are striving to convey. The use of multiple fonts obscures the message.

To be safe, choose one serif font and one sans serif font. Serif typefaces have little ornaments at the ends of the letter strokes; sans serif fonts do not have this feature (“sans” means “without”). Traditionally, serifs are used for the main body copy and sans serifs are used for headings. Within each family of fonts, you can use bold and italic typefaces, but use them sparingly for maximum impact.

Always print your draft layout if the final version is intended to be published in print. Many times, the same design that looks beautiful on your screen will look clunky and awkward on the printed page.

Don’t miss out on a single opportunity to attract a prospective customer, make a sale or grow your business. Pare down the number of fonts on your pages to allow your concise and consistent message to shine with clarity.

For more detailed information on typography, try these sources (no affiliates):
•   The Elements of Typographical Style by Robert Bringhurst
•   Thinking With Type by Ellen Lutpon
•   I Love Typography by John Boardley
•   Helvetica, a documentary film by Gary Hustwit

Start with a marketing strategy.

chart your course with a marketing strategyIf you truly want to improve the marketing of your business or nonprofit, and you still haven’t developed a marketing strategy, stop right now and develop one.

Regardless of industry or trade, no matter how big or small, your organization needs a strategy to guide the ever-growing myriad of marketing decisions that confront you every day.

You wouldn’t sail off on a cruise without some idea of where you are going. Once you have it in place, your marketing strategy essentially charts your course for strategic outreach to grow your business.

“Wait,” you say, “I don’t have time!” In actuality, a marketing strategy doesn’t need to consume a lot of your time, it just requires some honest thinking to develop a working plan. A marketing strategy is an internal working document. It does not need to be formal, it just needs to be done.

Once your marketing strategy is in place, you can concentrate your resources, no matter how large or small, on opportunities most likely to increase sales and maximize profitability for sustainable growth.

A series of steps.
I recommend developing a well-crafted marketing strategy through a series of steps, taking into consideration the unique qualities that distinguish your company from the rest of the pack. Your strategy becomes the foundation of all your communications, content and messaging—on your website, on social media platforms, and in brochures, advertisements, letters and proposals.

Are you ready? Follow these eight simple steps to develop your marketing strategy:

Gather materials.
Assemble materials you have on hand: a mission statement, an elevator speech, a company profile and your biographical statement. If you don’t have a mission statement or short description about your business, you’ll find these important elements will emerge as you continue to develop your marketing strategy.

Define your prospective customer base.
Exactly who is your target customer? Who wants to purchase your products and services? Jot down your primary customer’s features such as age, lifestyle and disposable income. If you’re selling to businesses, define the size and industry, as well as the end user, and identify the actual decision-maker you’ll need to convince to make the sale.

Often, it’s easiest to visualize your target customer base if you create simulated personas for your primary prospects. You then can hold these images in your mind as you create your marketing materials and write your content.

Identify your ideal client.
You’ll find some types of clients are more attractive than others. Perhaps they have the potential to become repeat customers, bringing you sustained business over long periods of time. Others are simply a joy to work with. Who is your most desirable client?

For example, the owner of an interior decorating company might define her ideal client as an upscale, affluent homeowner with impeccable taste and sophistication who:
•    appreciates the finer things in life;
•    views interior design as an art form, not just window treatments;
•    recognizes that interior design needs to flow and carry through connected spaces within the home;
•    is not afraid to make decisions;
•    trusts the designer and values her services;
•    interacts positively and pays gratefully for services rendered.

As you define your ideal client, you may come up with secondary personas for your prospective customers. In the case of the interior designer, a secondary prospect would have the same ideal qualities, but would seek services for a commercial space or upscale office.

Describe your offerings.
Detail your products and professional services. How do you interact with customers when delivering these products/services?

Put yourself in the shoes of the potential client. What would your customer want to know about the buying process? If the purchase involves more than just an online shopping cart, what are the steps? Are there designs, drafts or customizations? Is there a logical sequence to the delivery of your services? Do they need to prepare for a consulting session, and if so, how?

Define your limitations.
Limitations might affect your service area or product availability. Do you sell worldwide or are your products and/or services limited to a certain geographical region? Perhaps your clientele is regional, such as a computer repair service, or even hyper-local, such as an auto repair center or an ice cream store. In addition, there may be limitations on the products you create; an artist might complete only a certain number of paintings each year.

Detail your skills.
List your qualifications, then dig more deeply to identify your special qualities, skills and talents.

Develop your narrative.
What’s your story? Every business or nonprofit has a compelling background story to tell. Often, it’s this narrative that identifies the unique qualities of your business, and differentiates you from competitors.

Apply your findings.
Considering your offerings, your prospective customer personas and other findings, decide how to implement your marketing strategy in a permission-based manner that reaches customers on their own terms.

Look for the perfect balance of tactics to reach the largest numbers of your target market in the most efficient ways. Consider a mix of marketing vehicles such as your website, content creation, website landing pages, email marketing campaigns, online and print advertising, social media and public relations. Even direct mail can be appropriate under certain circumstances.

Once you have charted a course and solidified your strategy, you will be amazed at how structured your marketing becomes, how easy it is to have all the right words at your fingertips, and — instead of dithering over decisions — how relieved you will be to say to an ad rep who calls out of the blue that you’re sorry you can’t advertise in his publication because it doesn’t fit with your marketing strategy.

Do you have a marketing strategy in place? If you do, don’t hesitate to share your experiences. If you have questions about how to develop your strategy, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.