How to Market a Startup

A few years ago a small manufacturer called me in to consult with them on naming a product they were already selling; an accessory to recreational equipment. It was a great product, better than the one the OEM was making. The after-thought of marketing wasn’t neglect, it was just an omission. The company had poured all their effort into product quality and efficient manufacturing processes. They didn’t have the time, nor the mental space, to worry about marketing. But that omission was now costing them money, while delaying the success of the product.


You put everything you have; finances, sweat, emotions, and time, into launching your new business. Then the launch comes, but the people don’t. Should you start worrying? No, you should start planning. If you have already launched your business and are currently listening to the crickets chirp, consider re-launching using this advice. If the above scenario is your worst fear, start planning now to avoid a re-launch, or worse.


The Horse Before the Cart

Getting the product right enables people to have a relationship with you. But marketing is necessary to convince people to have a relationship with you before they have a chance to experience your product. It’s a symbiotic relationship. So while you’re preparing to let everyone ride comfortably in your product cart, let’s groom the marketing horse that’s going to pull it. I’m going to lay out the steps in chronological order as a guide to marketing your startup.


– Determine the Meaning of Your Business

People want the brands they do business with to mean something in their lives. They prefer not to throw away their money on meaningless purchases, and they will become loyal repeat customers to those brands that mean something. What will you mean in the lives of your customers? What impact will you have on their lives? Stay away from “save money.” Start with an emotion, visualize a destination. Example: Self-esteem ; I will look cool.

– Commit to Messaging

Now you’re ready to craft your brand’s message. You need that one thing your brand will say, and repeat consistently, throughout the first phase of your launch. That message will be: The meaning of you business + the impact you will have on people’s lives (see step 1 above). For help on brand messaging, see: How to Handle the Brand Discovery Sequence

– Look and Feel

Yes, it’s exciting to get a logo and business cards, but don’t put the cart before…wait, I already used that metaphor. Just remember this: your logo is not your brand, it is a visual identity hook on which customers will hang all the attributes of your brand. The visual identity is important after you determine the meaning and messaging of your business. Create the visual identity of your business to reflect the emotions and meaning of your business. For more, see What a Logo Does

– Build Your Website

78% of consumers use the internet to research products and services. This is especially true for brand-new-never-heard-of-before businesses. Forget the Facebook page for now. Build a website that answers the questions curious new customers will have. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes: You’ve just heard about this hot new business, what do you do? Google it! This may be your most important pre-launch marketing investment and it may be your first physical contact with a new customer. It should match your look and feel and communicate the brand’s message.

– Define Your Strategy

What tactics will you use to convince new customers to give you a try? And in what sequence will you use them? For example, I worked with a noted international businessman who had written a new book on the advantages of a career in sales. Step 1 was to create the website. Step 2 was to write several blog posts for the website to give it credibility. Step 3 was to record a podcast with a famous sales trainer who endorsed the book. Step 4 was to send out several hundred copies to business leaders. What are your steps?


– Make a Splash

Don’t just run a campaign, get people talking. This means you have to do something out-of-the-ordinary or completely unexpected. One local used-car dealer launched his business with a cheesy TV campaign (I can say that because I produced it) where a knight in a suit of armor chased a sleazy used car salesman away from customers. I starred as the sleazy salesman (by accident). These commercials became the talk of the town and neither the car dealer nor I could go to the grocery store without being asked if we were in the commercials. His dealership quickly vaulted to one of the top three dealers in the county.
If you want to see that campaign, cover one eye and see them on YouTube: Mike Knight Motors TV Campaign

– Be everywhere

This doesn’t mean spend a bunch of money on everything. It means be out in public and accessible if you’re a local business, or be online and accessible if you’re an Internet business. Don’t be stuck in the back office pouring over spreadsheets. Put a face and a name to your company and be seen everywhere you can. Send out press releases, bug the radio stations, produce videos for your website. Be as visible as is humanly possible during the launch.

– Be intriguing

Fascinate people. You have two personalities: The boring you and the interesting you. Put on your most interesting persona and be someone that is out of the ordinary. Dress yourself and your business with a trendy look. Tell cool stories, be flashy. Don’t be business as usual. This is the launch and you have one shot to make a first impression.

– Deliver an experience

You are not selling a product in exchange for money. People are exchanging their time with you with the hopes of collecting a story they can re-tell to their friends and family. That story is the product of a phenomenal customer experience. Remember it’s not the product/service that makes a customer loyal, it’s the experience. Get people talking immediately with an out-of-the-ordinary experience. For more, see: Phenomenal Experience Design

– Hold something back

People expect excitement from a new business, but then there’s often a letdown when the launch honeymoon is over. Have you seen those businesses that can’t keep up with demand when they first open, then one year later, they close. That happened to Krystal burgers here in my home town. People lose interest.

Don’t fire all your bullets during the launch. Hold back one or two things that will wow the customer. Then, right after the launch dust settles, Pow! Hit them again. They will be putty in your hands (see below).


– Reinforce the message

After the first few dates of a new relationship, the fairy tale quality starts to wear off and it’s time to get to know each other. You and your new customers are all giddy over your “first kiss,” but now it’s time to have a relationship. Remember that work we did during the first two steps? It’s time to reintroduce the meaning-based message. Forgot all about that didn’t you? That’s what happens during courtship, but long-term customer relationships have to be based on something more than hype: something meaningful…

– Hit them with the next big thing

… but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a little romance between you and the customer. This is where you give them that one thing you held back: An additional service that you didn’t announce during the launch, an innovative accessory to your new product launch, a special bonus for everyone who purchased.

– Establish a relationship

The launch is only the initial courtship of a long-term relationship; one in which you provide meaning in the life of the customer, and they reciprocate with repeat purchases. During the launch, collect customer information such as email addresses and phone numbers. Get them involved with your social media channels. And then repeatedly reach out to them and ask them to do business with you again.

If you have an impending new product or business launch, you are about to embark on maybe the most important journey of your business life. Why not first spend a few hours on this list.

And happy launching!

The Marketing Spot 101

Turning Entrepreneurs into Marketers


Marketing Education for Entrepreneurs

The Marketing Spot blog is a marketing education blog for entrepreneurs. But after three years and more than 500 articles, it’s a little tough to figure out where to start. So I’m going to point you in the right direction.

The content of this blog is organized around the Four Essential Spots of Marketing:

Branding :: Who you are.

Experience :: What your customers experience.

Conversation :: Inspiring word of mouth and conversation about your business.

Promotion :: Everything you do to actively promote your business.

Start Here

All your marketing activity is connected to, and dependent on, all the other essential spots. In constructing a marketing plan, they must be addressed in a particular order. You must start with branding and move through the sequence above. I have created a diagram to illustrate the connectedness of the marketing spots and explain each spot in detail in this article called: The Marketing Circle of Life. It’s the first thing you should read on this blog.

After reading that article you can begin learning the fundamentals of each spot. From my collection of more than 500 articles, I have assembled the best for each marketing spot. I recommend you read the articles in sequence as you move through each spot in order below:

The Best in Branding

– A collection of 10 articles that help you understand what a brand is, what are brand components, and how you can build your own brand identity.

The Best of The Customer Experience – Next to building a brand, the most important marketing function is the customer experience. In this collection of 10 articles, you will learn the difference between ordinary and remarkable customer experiences, how the customer experience is a powerful marketing platform, and how to map out your own remarkable customer experience.

The Best of Conversation – Creating conversation about a business is tricky, because there are three major platforms of conversation. In this collection of 15 articles you will learn how to stimulate word of mouth, and use social media and PR to generate talk about your business.

The Best of Promotion – This collection of 10 articles will help you understand how to advertise and promote your business including traditional advertising, internet advertising, guerrilla promotion and most importantly, your marketing message.

Dive In Here

If you have read all the articles in the links above you are ready to build your own marketing plan. I have created a free, condensed version of my marketing coaching program, complete with audio-visual tutorials and downloadable worksheets. This eight-part series will guide you step-by-step to building your own marketing plan. Get started here:

Build Your Marketing Plan – Eight part tutorial series that guides you to building your own marketing plan.

But There’s More

Perhaps you don’t have the time, nor the inclination to do it all yourself. Maybe your the type of person that just thinks better with other people rather than alone. You’re in luck, because It just so happens that I make my living working with entrepreneurs just like you! To learn more you, and receive a free, no-obligation initial consultation, see this information on my company website:

Coaching Services – we coach entrepreneurs, helping them build a customized and specific marketing plan while teaching them the fundamental principles of marketing. It’s a marketing plan and a marketing education rolled into one.

Consulting Service – If you don’t want the education part will build a marketing plan for you. If you already have a marketing plan and just need direction and ideas, you may also be interested in this service.

Seminars and Workshops

I am also available to present this information as a seminar or workshop to your conference or industry trade association event. Get more information here:

Occasionally, I conduct free webinars for entrepreneurs. You can see recordings of past webinars and get notifications of new ones here: The Marketing Spot Free Webinars

Coming soon: A complete course in marketing for entrepreneurs. I will turn my coaching program into a premium comprehensive online learning program. This will not be a scaled-down version, but my complete coaching system minus personal interaction with me. Stay tuned for more details on my website: The Marketing Spot


Can You Continue to Ignore Mobile Marketing?

More than half of digital media time is now mobile. Does that affect your business? Most likely yes.


Two weeks ago at the BOLO Digital Marketing Conference, Eli Goodman of Comscore provided the sobering numbers in the slide above. It’s not that we didn’t know mobile was important, but maybe we didn’t know just how big that elephant in the room had grown. But before you ride the mobile elephant, you should probably look at this slide:



85% of that mobile time is spent with apps. So really, how much total digital time is actually spent on the mobile web, maybe 8%?

That’s a lot of time spent on apps, and can you guess which app captures the elephant’s share?


If you guessed Facebook, give yourself a gold star.  Facebook reaches an amazing 9 in 10 mobile users, but also performs well on computers, reaching 7 in 10 users there.

It’s important to note that while mobile digital time-spent has increased significantly, it has not done so at the expense of traditional computer digital time. Time spend on desktops/laptops remains about the same.

What Does Mobile Mean to Your Business?

Let’s tackle mobile websites first. You will probably be feeling increasing pressure to create a mobile version of your website to accommodate mobile browsing. It’s the “people don’t like to pinch and squeeze their smart phone” argument, and you want to do something about it. So you could build a mobile version of you website that works better for mobile browsing, or you could go with a responsive design website. I recommend that you do one of the two, especially if your website is more than just a brochure on the web. For more on choosing between the options, see:A Mobile Site vs. Responsive Design

Mobile Ads

Because Facebook is the 800 lb. gorilla holding the mobile elephant’s rope (yea, I’m mixing metaphors), you might be tempted to dive in to Facebook ads. While I can’t make a blanket “you should” or “you shouldn’t” statement on Facebook ads, I think it’s something you should consider testing. If you do, remember that it would be better to send traffic from your mobile ads to a mobile website.

But there are also mobile search ads and mobile display ads through the Google AdWords andBing Ads networks. According to some research, 70% of mobile searches are acted on within one hour. Mobile ads allow you do shoehorn (another metaphor!) your business into the purchase equation late in the game.


Oh great, if e-commerce wasn’t enough, now we have to deal with m-commerce!


Mobile commerce discretionary spending growth is significantly outpacing that of e-Commerce and Bricks & Mortar. People like to shop from their mobile device and they are getting more comfortable doing so, particularly from their tablet. E-commerce is not just for big businesses, 56% of consumers have completed a local purchase of merchandise or services online within the last 6 months. And if we look at the trends, we can see that more of those local online purchases will come via mobile device.

Mobile To-Do List

I’m not sure any size business from local to international can afford to ignore mobile any longer. A good first step would be a mobile-friendly website, and then you can go from there, depending on how much of the elephant you want to ride.

Are you good on this mobile thing?



Admit it. You Have No Plan

Fast Company declares this as “A Nearly Complete Marketing Toolkit for Startups.” Great. Now what do you do with it? Integrate those tools with your marketing plan? Ha! Admit it. You have no plan.


Don’t feel bad. Most businesses don’t. Heck, even marketing consultants who sell marketing plans don’t have a marketing plan.

Some companies like to say, “Maybe not. But we do have  a strategy.C’mon, man! Admit it. You have no plan. It’s ok. The marketing plan police will not show up at your business some day to fine you for operating a business without a plan.

The Major Causes of No Marketing Plan

According to one study, up to 64% of small businesses don’t have a plan. I think that’s grossly understated. Do you wonder why you don’t have one? A marketing plan? I do. Here are some of the reasons experience has taught me.

Major Cause: You have been lured by free tools and promises of automated marketing. “It’s free! It requires no effort!” Just set it and go, and watch the results magically appear. Hooray for marketing!

Major Cause: You don’t know how. You were never trained in this marketing stuff and you never read my article: The Ideal Small Business Marketing Plan, nor watched my free webinar:Marketing 101

Major Cause: Not enough time. Hey, you have a business to run.

Major Cause: Unwillingness to commit to a direction and stick to it. There are so many shiny marketing objects out there. Why should you just commit to one?

Major Cause: You hire someone to help you, but you don’t want to take all of their advice. I see this a lot. Clients think they want a plan, but what they really want are some good ideas.

Major Cause: No long term perspective. Many businesses operate without a core ideology. Their purpose is to make money. Without a core ideology, there is no long term vision, and thus no direction. Consequently, there is not pressing need for a marketing plan.

Major Cause: You have the wrong idea about what a plan can do for you. You want a plan to increase sales, but marketing plans are about building a sustainable business by creating relationships with customers.

Is a marketing plan necessary?

Maybe not in the traditional sense of what you think a marketing plan is. I’ve always tried to package my client marketing plans as a series of initiatives rather than a strict marketing plan. Still a tough sell.

In the nifty little ebook, Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday, you will will not find the words “marketing plan” adjacent to each other one time. Holiday’s take on marketing is that,

“…a growth hacker doesn’t see marketing as something one does, but rather as something one builds into the product itself.”

The product is the plan, marketing plans be damned. Holiday’s statement is true, but also incomplete. What he advocates is planning on the run; building a strategy over time by learning what works and doesn’t. A marketing plan evolves rather than being formally written. That’s one approach.

A direction is definitely necessary.

This is the part where I could use some clever metaphor to make you believe that you need a marketing plan. The rudder on a ship would be a good one, or maybe the sails on a sailboat could be another. But I’m just going to ask you to trust your intuition. If you’ve read this piece all the way to this point, I think your gut is telling you that you need something. A formal marketing plan is obviously not a necessity, but a direction definitely is. And it would help if you wrote some of that down, or recorded it in Evernote.

Start with your core ideology: What is the central organizing idea behind your business?
What does that mean you want to do for customers?
From there, decide how you want to communicate that meaning to potential customers and and how you will let them feel it. That’s your direction, and it’s the beginning of your marketing plan.

Your Thoughts

Does it frustrate you that you don’t have a plan?
Do you want a marketing plan?
What do you think a marketing plan should do?

What Great Businesses Do

Which came first, the brand or the business? That’s a trick question. Because in Denise Lee Yohn’s new book, What Great Brands Do, brand and business are one in the same.


So if you asked me, “What is a brand?” …and I wanted to be clever, I could say “your business is your brand.” At which point you might smack me, so I’ll use the definition from What Great Brands Do: The brand is the central organizing and operating idea of the business. And according to Yohn;

Your brand is what your company does and how you do it. Your brand is not what you say you are; it’s what you do.

Throughout the annals of marketing history, perhaps the single biggest challenge for marketers has been to convince businesses to accept the concept of a brand. Why is this such a tough task?

Brand Organization

Well, first, because It requires us to have a central organizing and operating idea! And that central idea cannot be “I sell this wonderful product with all these great features and benefits at a price lower than my competition, delivered by wonderful people who provide great service.”

But just what is that idea and how does it affect your business? One great example from the book is that of Pampers, the disposable diaper business. In the late 90′s Pampers was rapidly losing market share with a product focus on their technologically superior diaper. It was all about the dryness (benefit). But mothers were concerned about their baby’s health and development. Of course, diapers should be dry. Duh!

So Pampers reorganized around the central idea of babies’ well being and development. With that decision they became a great brand and shifted their focus from dryness, to delighting moms and enhancing their babies’ development. Instead of dryness, now Pampers was all about comfort, potty training and a good night’s sleep. That’s the power of a central organizing idea.

And when you have clearly uncovered yours, you take the central idea and build an internal culture around it, then, as Yohn says, “operationalize” your brand. Which means…

Operationalize Your Brand: using your brand as a guide and compass for all activities of your core business operations.

From internal culture to the customer’s experience, your brand permeates everything.

When you can’t see any daylight between what you believe, what you practice, what you offer, and what you say about yourself, you are doing what great brands do.
~ Denise Lee Yohn

Ok, great, there’s the theory, but where’s the practice? It’s in the book, step by step accompanied by helpful tools. And you’re in luck, I managed to grab the author to explain how it works, take a listen to the audiocast below and then check out Denise Lee Yohn’s What Great Brands Do.

Press the play button below and listen to Denise Lee Yohn describe how to do what great brands do.

The Entrepreneur’s Edge

The Entrepreneur’s Edge -Coming Soon!

A complete resource center of marketing tools, tutorials and educational materials for small business owners and solo-entrepreneurs. Created, hosted and managed by small business marketing experts at The Marketing Spot Blog.

You will have complete access to all materials for one, low monthly charge. The site will have:

Complete marketing courses in:

– Building Marketing Plans for Small Business
– Branding
– Building Remarkable Customer Experiences
– Word-0f-Mouth
– Social Media
– PR & Publicity
– Advertising and Promotion – Online & Traditional

The Edge will feature:

– Audio/Video tutorials
– Webinars
– Ebooks
– Tools
– Templates

The Passion Conversation

Love your customers? Engage them passionately? Heady stuff, wouldn’t you say? Especially when it’s advice coming from your typical marketing firm. But this is Brains on Fire and they ain’t typical. This advice is directly from their new book: The Passion Conversation.

My good friend John Moore is one of the co-authors of the book and he asked if I would participate  in a Virtual Book Tour for The Passion Conversation. It’s a deep dive into the emotions of word-of-mouth marketing, most likely deeper than you are accustomed to from the slate of social media books on the market.

After I read the book, I fired these questions off to John:

Can any business be made talkable, or is a business just naturally talkable? Are there some businesses that just are not worthy of conversation? How do you know?

John Moore: I contend nearly every business category is talkable. However, for some business categories it’s much more difficult to get talked about. Academics have noted that brands used in public are inherently more talkable than those used in private. Seeing someone walking down the street holding (and thus, visually showing) a Starbucks cup is more likely to spark a conversation than toilet paper you use in the guest bathroom of a friend’s house.

However, toilet paper can be talkable. Charmin has for years made toilet paper talkable through its now-classic pop-up restrooms dealio in Times Square during the Holidays and through its “Sit or Squat” clean restroom finder mobile app.

How can we find what’s talkable about our business?

John Moore: One place we recommend in the book is to learn (or in some cases, relearn) the Founder’s Story of how and why the business you work for began. Almost always there is a story to be found that that shows how the company founder set out to make meaning in the lives of customers rather than to start a business that just makes money. We have a whole “Passion Exploration” exercise in the book where we walk you through the importance of learning the “Founder’s Story.”

You do a great job of defining and explaining the different types of conversations. Now that we understand, how do we use that knowledge to start conversations for our business?

John Moore: A Functional conversation about brands is one that’s factual, nuts & bolts stuff. Usually this conversation starter is best to spark with current customers so they can explain to their friends how a product/service works.

When someone showcases his or her uniqueness to others visually and publicly, that’s a Social word of mouth conversation starter. We see this happen all the time online through social media with friends who socially signal their uniqueness by publicly checking in at swanky restaurants and sharing their latest vacation adventures with status updates. This also happens offline in the real world. Think about people carrying around their reusable Whole Foods shopping bag. That simple act socially signals to people that they are a Whole Foods shopper and that association conveys something to people, which can lead to a word of mouth conversation.

People engage in emotional conversations about brands because they spark strong emotions ranging from love & hate to shock & awe to giggles & glares. Brands that invoke strong emotions are more likely to spark word of mouth conversations.

You talk about loving your customers and customers loving you. Does this naturally occur, or can you just decide to start loving your customers?

John Moore: In order for a business to have customers fall in love with the business, the business must first fall in love with its customers. A business can’t just turn on the love switch. That’s convenient love and not unfailing love. In the book we quote a well-known bible verse from 1 Corinthians that talks about how love is patient, kind, not boastful or proud, is always hopeful, and endures through good times and bad. This is love you can’t fake.

It comes down to building a company culture that is focused on showing love to its customers. Building and living a company’s culture doesn’t happen with the flip of a switch. It takes time, patience, care, and over-the-top respect for customers. Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton, and Zapposhave all built company cultures around loving their customers in unfailing ways.

I’ve also heard you speak about baking word of mouth into the business. Are we really just talking about business building here?

John Moore: Yes and no. We are talking about baking remarkability into how a business does business not just one day… but every day. Seth Godin in PURPLE COW said it best, “Remarkable marketing is the art of building things worth noticing right into your product or service. Not just slapping on the marketing function as a last-minute add-on, but also understanding from the outset that if your offering itself isn’t remarkable, then it’s invisible — no matter how much you spend on well-crafted advertising.

In the Heroes in Recovery case study you quote someone from the company saying they were not trying to make everyone their customer, just trying to get everyone interested in what they are advocating.  What’s the benefit to that? Why should a business start a conversation that does not lead to business?

John Moore: Marketers today refer to this as “content marketing” or in the old days, a “soft sell” approach. The Heroes in Recovery story shows how by breaking the stigma of addiction being about anonymity to being courageously open about your sobriety journey, it positions the Foundations Recovery Network (FRN) as having a distinctive approach. This distinctiveness will cause people to want to learn more and in doing so, they may choose to recommend FRN to someone they know or perhaps they may choose to help themselves by attending an FRN facility.

And finally a little question just for fun. John and I are both grads of Baylor University….

Do you believe the Baylor Bears can win the NCAA Football national championship?

If the Bears can go undefeated then they might end up in the championship. That’s a lot to ask given how competitive the Big 12 is. As a Baylor grad (class of ’92), I’ve endured nearly two decades worth of un-competitiveness. I ain’t about to think about winning national championships, I’m just happy Baylor is able to field a highly competitive team. These are truly heady times for Baylor athletics.

How do You Build a Great Brand?

Let’s say you could start over again and re-design your company. How many times have you dreamed about that? But now it’s different; you have experience, and you’ve read the Steve Jobs biography, you’re ready to do it right. So let’s rebuild your company from the ground up into a great brand. Ready?

Ok, wait. How do we do that? Well, I guess we have look to other examples, right? Let’s start there.

Sidebar: What is a brand?

What does a great brand look like?

We are immediately approaching the question from the wrong direction. Do you see the trap here? Because if we could judge a great brand by its looks, then it would be possible for anyone to have a great brand, wouldn’t it? We could simply hire a great designer and put all the pieces in the right place. Voilà, we have a great brand. But we know that doesn’t happen, don’t we? So what is the right criteria?

What does a great brand do for people?

It’s more complicated than that, don’t you think? Because really, most of the answers are abstract: “A great brand makes people feel good about themselves.” or  “…gives people something unique.” or “…let’s people be part of something bigger than themselves.”

For example, take this statement by Sara Bittorf, Chief Brand Officer of Boston Market. When asked how she planned to reinvent (code: start over again) the Boston Market brand;

“We have a great brand that was built on this idea of not just putting dinner on the table, but making a mom or a dad feel good about that meal and providing a great family experience. We want to bring the brand back to its former glory and bring that emotional connection back to our customers.”

Very noble but also nonconcrete. How do you use that as a model? You can’t, because it’s not really a model.

What does a great brand feel like?

Here I think we can make some headway. If there’s one thing that defines a great brand, it’s “feeling.” The best brands in the world make you feel something. Emotions are involved, opinions are rendered, your subconscious is tapped.

Does that mean we can put our finger on the “top three feelings” and then craft a great brand? Hardly. Again, we go back to the branding paradox: if there were a template for a great brand, a way that we could just glue pieces together, then it would be simple to build a great brand, and everyone would have one. But they don’t. And choosing from a bulleted list of emotions we want to ignite in our customers won’t change that.

Where does that leave you?

The starting point for having a great brand does not include the words: “What does.” There, I said it. There is no template for building a great brand. Great brands don’t “do” …they just “are.”

I believe there are no real questions you can ask that can truly define a great brand. Great brands just are. You can definitely use hindsight to look at how an Apple became a great brand, but you cannot use that as a model.

“Holy crap,” you say! I just read all this just for you to tell me there is no way to make a great brand? You did. But what I DID NOT say is that you couldn’t be a great brand.

What Makes a Great Brand?

It’s like asking what makes a great person. How do you answer that question? Because there is no one thing that makes a great person. Great people are just great people, and two great people may be total opposites from each other. But what they are is real, and what they are is original.

A great brand is like a person. it is a one-of-a-kind creation with a unique blend of personality, gifts, and soul. That blend is usually an extension of the owner, founder, or person who runs the company. That’s why no one will be the next Apple, because no one will be the next Steve Jobs.

You can admire other brands and learn from them, but You can’t copy them and pretend to be a great brand. That leaves us with only one answer to the question we ask here: You don’t build a great brand at all.


You simply be the great brand that you are. Within every entrepreneur is the potential for a great brand, but that potential is rarely revealed. The entrepreneur is too busy looking for a model, a formula, a step-by-step process that can be copied. This can only yield, surprise, a copy, and an artificial brand.

So if you want to be a great brand, I believe all you have to do is unleash the real you. You have the ingredients already: values, beliefs, personality, unique gifts, soul. But do you let them shine? Do you really reveal the ‘interesting you’ to your customers? Do they experience your passion? If there is one thing we can learn from Steve Jobs, is that he wasn’t anyone else but Steve Jobs. He didn’t try to copy anyone.

What you see, what you feel, what you experience from great brands is not what makes that particular business great. It is the natural extension of someone’s soul. They believed in themselves  and their ideas so much that they did not hold anything back, and then naturally created a business that was a great brand.

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Don’t Mess With My Groupon!

I will confess a bit of title hyperbole when I wrote Monday’s article: Email Coupons: The New Way to Kill Your Business. The topic incited several passionate responses in the blog comments, on Twitter, and through email. The response was fairly evenly split, but those who supported the Groupon and LivingSocial coupon discount schemes, were probably more passionate, some questioning my judgment. I’ve had a couple of days to reflect, and thought it would be wise to clarify a few things.

First, I still think it’s a bad strategy for local and small businesses. Some argue that it’s a good way to introduce new customers to your product or service. It’s not. It may be a good way to get some foot traffic, or website traffic, but it’s not a good way to introduce a product or service. A customer’s first impression of your product should not be, “I got it for half price.” First impressions last.

Now, let’s look at this from the customer’s perspective. Are they participating in these half-off promotions so that they can be introduced to new products? Nope. They’re doing it because they want a deal, because they want to save money. Unless your brand and your business is focused exclusively on low prices and deals, those aren’t the customers you want.

Admitting Failure

If a business has to give 50% off its product or service to get people to try it, that business has to admit failure. Failure to communicate value, failure to reach enough people with their message, or failure in pricing. Somewhere that business has failed to convince enough people to buy their stuff at their current price. So they think they can give the business a booster shot with 50% discounts. But it doesn’t fix the underlying problem.

Is there a better way? Yes. Unfortunately, it’s probably not what the Groupon groupies want to hear. The better way takes more time and a long-term perspective. The better way is to construct a solid brand identity, then build an experience and a promotion plan around that identity.

If a business is in desperate straits, they might be tempted to try Groupon or LivingSocial, or some other 50% off promotion with a local newspaper or TV station just as a short-term solution. But rarely are short-term solutions really solutions. My experience is that they’re the gateway drug into more short-term solutions, and soon the business finds itself in a constant search for the next instant fix.

Coupon Success

Now, I’m going to surprise you. I’m going to share with you my personal story of coupon success and maybe it will give you an idea of how to judiciously use coupons and discounts. A few years ago, I gave a potential client a coupon good for one month’s free service. That’s right, I gave my stuff away for free. Nearly four years later, that business is still my client.

Here are the differences: First, they had expressed an interest to buy and asked for a proposal. Second, they did not ask for the coupon, I gave it to them during my proposal. Third, it was a big ticket item. While I’m not the most expensive consultant around, I’m not a $20 purchase. Finally, there was no cost of goods. It cost me no money to give them the coupon, just my time (which I would have been giving them anyway had they purchased). It was the only time I’ve ever personally offered a coupon. And I’m not sure if I will again.

So, can a business have success with discount strategies like Groupon and LivingSocial? Of course. But not most businesses. If you do decide to use this 50% discount strategy, heed this advice: Don’t offer the discount on your marquee product or service. Don’t train customers to think they can get your primary product for half off. Give the discount on a related product or service. If they want the good stuff, send the message that they have to pay full price.

A Word About Perspective

This blog is written for entrepreneurs and small business owners who actively run their own business. It is directed to small to medium-sized businesses who operate on a local level or within a narrowly defined niche. All the advice I give on this blog is a product of my practical experience. It’s the same advice I give to my clients. In fact, this post is a result of a client sending me an article and asking my opinion.

I appreciate the opposing opinions. But it doesn’t change my mind, as I’m sure I have not changed the minds of those who embrace Groupon. If you have a discount success story, please share it here. I’m always willing to learn.

Three Predictably Irrational Pricing Strategies That Get the Sale

The rational way to handle pricing is to declare your price, tell customers everything you’re going to do for that price, list all the wonderful benefits, then ask for a purchase decision. That works in a rational world, but as it turns out, people aren’t rational when they spend their money. In Predictably Irrational, behavioral economist Dan Ariely dives into the forces and thought processes that guide purchase decisions. From his book you can glean three pricing strategies that will not only help customers decide to purchase from you, but also be willing to pay a higher price.

Contextual Pricing Strategy

When customers buy, they judge in terms of relative advantages, not in absolutes. For example, a customer considering a purchase with you does not look at your product and its price tag, and then vote yes or no.

“most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context.”
Dan Ariely – Predictably Irrational

Let’s say you’re an interior decorator (insert your profession here) and you present your bid to a potential client: $699. You think it’s a great deal. In fact, you’ve knocked $100 off your normal price to make sure you get this client. Does the client think it’s a good deal? The answer is, they don’t know…unless they’re able to put it in context.

This is why people get bids from multiple vendors. They really don’t know how much they should pay for something. People want to be able to compare to make sure that they’re not spending more than they should. So what should you do? Adopt a contextual pricing strategy.


You should never present just one option with one price to a potential customer. Give customers choices. But the key of contextual pricing is to offer related choices so that customers feel comfortable making decisions. You already know that given three choices, customers will most likely take the middle choice. So offer three related price variations, with the middle option being the option you want them to buy.

This is especially important for service businesses selling an intangible product that is not easily comparable. It’s an easy fix to add two additional choices to the mix. But what about retail businesses? Avoid one-of-a-kind items sitting on shelves isolated from comparable products. Give customers three related choices at three different prices.

Decoy Pricing Strategy

Decoy pricing: Offering a slightly less desirable version of the product you really want customers to purchase.


When you have contextual pricing in place, you’re ready to tackle decoy pricing. Decoy pricing is giving customers three choices; 1) The product you want them to buy at the price you want them to buy, 2) A slightly less-good product at a slightly lower price (the decoy), and 3) a similar product but not quite the same as what the customer wants.

Take a floor covering store, for example. A customer has asked for a quote on laminate flooring. You present them with three choices, 1) The laminate product you want them to buy, 2) a laminate product that is a little cheaper, but is not as resistant to scuffs and moisture (the decoy) and 3) a new vinyl flooring product that looks like laminate and costs about the same, but it’s not laminate.

You know the customer won’t choose option (3) and you don’t want them to choose it anyway. You include this choice in the mix for two reasons, to give the customer a third choice, and to focus the customer on the choice you want them to make between option (1) and (2).

Why do this? Ariely found that people…

“tend to focus on comparing things that are easily comparable, and avoid things that cannot be compared easily.” And remember, “people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context.”

Offering customers three choices allows people to put things in context. Ariely also surmised that decoys help people make decisions, and his experiments showed that when faced with a decision between two similar products people will most often choose the slightly better product, even if it costs slightly more.

Anchor Pricing Strategy

Anchor pricing: when we encounter a new product (and new business) we accept the first price that comes before our eyes and from then on that price becomes the anchor for what we are willing to pay for that product.

Ariely found that “once we buy a new product at a particular price, we become anchored to that price.”

This why the elevator pricing strategy does not work. A common business practice is to entice new customers with lower prices, thinking that once customers are on the ground floor, they can be taken up the price elevator to higher profits. That elevator never gets off the ground because the customer’s price anchor won’t let elevator go up. The anchor pricing strategy is to set the customer’s anchor at a higher price.

When you first come in contact with a customer, set the anchor high. Introduce them first to higher priced options. They will judge all future purchase decisions by that anchor. Later you can give them lower-price options, which they will judge against the higher price. This is really important and the point is driven home by Ariely:

“But price tags by themselves are not necessarily anchors. They become anchors when we contemplate buying a product or service at that particular price. That’s when the imprint is set. From then on, we are willing to accept a range of prices but as with the pull of a bungee cord, we always refer back tot he original anchor. Then the first anchor influences not only the immediate buying decision but many others that follow.”

Be careful even talking about price with a customer on the phone, if you mention prices lower than what you want to sell, you are setting a price anchor in the customer’s mind.