Who is Sara Blakely?

Do you know who Sara Blakely is? I didn’t until I came across this article – 10 Marketing Lessons From Sara Blakely. She is a founder of Spanx, Inc., an apparel company that focuses on pants and leggings. She introduced a footless pantyhose.

What are the 10 lessons we can learn from her? The article is a good read (and you should read as it takes only under 5 minutes). The key takeaways I got are the following:

  • Be unique. I like that she suggests that you should be able to tell yourself in 30 seconds how you or your product differ from others.
  • Failure is nothing more than just a signal to you that you are in the wrong path. Embrace it and try again.
  • Plan and setup goals. I do it every week. I list what I need to achieve each week and each month.
  • Think big. You may or may not achieve it but you should set a goal to achieve something bigger than yourself. Something that could change the world. Something that would help customers have a better life.

I summarise her points from 10 to 4. I think my next move would be starting up my own company. I have been working for other people for too long.

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Programs VS Campaigns

I explained to my colleague yesterday that we cannot rely on having marketing campaigns (e.g. promotions, contest) to sustain the business. My reason is we would never have enough resources or ideas to run 40-50 campaigns. We need to have 1 or 2 long term programs as a backbone with some campaigns as necessary.

I differentiate the 2 terms as the following – marketing programs are longer term marketing activities that consistently generate performance for the business. Marketing campaigns on the other hand have shorter term expectations, with specific purposes.

We need both. But, you will be more efficient if you can have one or two successful, backbone programs and run campaigns on top of them.

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Your cost structure

I was asked this question by my senior management team multiple time. The question is – how can we reduce our product cost per unit? They also put pressure on me to increase the offer price in order to reduce our cost per unit. The problem is it is not that simple.

Everyone knows that in any cost structure there are fixed cost and variable cost. In our case, the fixed cost contribute more than 55% of the total cost. It means we have inefficiency in our operations. By increasing the offer price, it means we pass our inefficiency to customers. As we are in a hospitality industry, customers can always buy holiday packages somewhere else. There are a lot of cheaper deals out there in the market.

The only 2 ways to reduce our cost per unit in this situation is 1) reduce our operational costs (e.g. reduce the size of the call centre) or 2) sell more packages even though it means we have to reduce the price (to drive more quantity to dilute the fixed cost).

It looks to be an interesting year answering the same question.

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Customer segmentations

Do you think we focus too much on millennials as a business? I do. I don’t mean to say that they are not important. They are a new generation with a different kind of behaviors. They possess different behaviors when compared to other generations because of the environment they grew up with. However, they are not the only generation that we should focus on. In fact, I am not sure if we should focus on customers based purely on demographic factors like ages, genders, etc.

Segmenting customers bases on psychographic or behavioral factors are something we should look at. Why? I am in mid 40s. But, I like many things the millennials like. I like new gadgets, new smart phones, new social media sites. Better yet, I have higher purchasing power than the millennials.

My point is when imagine who your customers are (aka your customer personas) think about their behaviors. Your “David” persona could be males, love technologies, like adrenaline travel experiences, drive expensive cars, watch Netflix. As you can see, David could be anyone across 3 generations – Millennials, Gen X, and Gen Y. The important bit is you have to craft your message to David about what he likes to get his interests, regardless of his demographics.

Get your customer personas right. Craft relevant messages to them. This is a formula for success in 2020.

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Are there bad customers?

It might sound harsh and bad for any business. But, I think there are bad customers out there. By ‘bad’, I mean the customers that talk or spread information about your business in a negative way. You can call them a ‘detractor’ from an NPS (Net Promoter Score) perspective. Some of them are worse than being a detractor.

I experience this situation myself. There are a few bad customers. No matter what we do, they are never happy or satisfied. They always find something to criticise the company, the product. They spread bad words on social. Their goal is to ensure that other customers get their messages and their opinions.

My way of dealing with them is not ideal. I first tried to assist and provide the best service I could to them, with the hope that I can change their mind. In doing so for a year and they are still the same, I gave up. Now, I only monitor them. I had to remove 3 of them from our social groups.

My thinking process is there are about 99.9% of our customers that we need to look after. We should not spend 90% of our time dealing with those 5 or 6 bad customers. You wouldn’t be able to change their minds no matter what you do. If possible, just let them go.

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SEO is overrated

Don’t get me wrong. I believe SEO is important. I google almost everything that I don’t know or want more information. The point I want to make here is that we should write or create content for the benefits of customers. In other words, we create content with customers, not bots, in mind.

If you want to read about what need to be done, SEO wise, you can read this article. There is nothing new there but the first point is clear – good content is still king. I used to read a blog post which was written for an SEO purpose. It was weird because it followed all SEO recommendations to target the bots.

Write for your audience. Offer solutions to your customer’s problems. It may take a little bit longer for someone to notice. But it’s worth it. That’s my SEO recommendations for 2020.

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Creating your own ecosystem

Do you have your own audience? If you don’t, you will have hard time as I do. We often want to drive short and long term performance, we normally do this through campaigns or promotions. When we have offers, the next thing we need is who to send the offers to. In my case, we have to pay for other companies’ audience. It’s expensive and is not effective. That’s why we start to create our own audience or ecosystem.

We use Hubspot as a CRM system. We invite customers to join our environment with content. We nurture them with content. And, from time to time, we offer them promotions. We still have a long way to go. Maintaining meaningful and engaging ecosystem is not easy. It requires a lot of things to be right e.g. content, segmentation, etc.

If you are interested to create your own audience, you can start with a Facebook group. It’s free and easy to setup. Please understand though, there are a zillion Facebook groups out there. You must ensure that your group add value to group members.

Having your own ecosystem is rewarding. But, it requires a different thinking. I encourage you to to do it.

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Top of the funnel

Seth Godin raised a very good point in his blog today. If you have interesting and valuable content or solutions at the top of the funnel, you don’t have to worry too much about conversion at the end of the funnel. Your content will keep people coming to you, some will be converted. Because of the volume at the top of the funnel, it will take care the conversion by itself. This is the situation that you and I want to be. But, let face it, it’s not easy.

Why is offering valuable content or solutions so difficult? The main reason is that many of us is driven by short term gains. In my case, we are measured on daily and weekly KPIs. Building good reasons or relationships with customers are not in our marketing book. Whether we like it or not, the company has lasted for more than 10 years.

The bad news is the world has changed and it’s hard to know when we will become irrelevant.

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Old vs new economies

I am in Thailand visiting family at the moment. There is a common trend here in the news and social media that the Thai economy is going downward. Some people complain it’s hard to make money and the economy in general is very bad. Is it true?

I cannot say I know the answer of this economic question. Instead of answering it, I ask myself another question. Is the economy bad or does consumer behavior change? I have one silly example. I like to read Japanese cartoon books. I had to go to the cartoon book shops every time I came back to Bangkok. What different this year is I don’t. I now buy cartoon books from a book shop app. It is convenient and I don’t have to carry 10+ cartoon books. I just carry an iPad (with 10+ books in it). I was told later that those book shops were closed.

I still buy those cartoon books i.e. I still spend money. I just don’t buy them in a printed format anymore. Does it mean the economy is bad? Not necessarily. But, one thing for sure is my consuming behavior has changed. If you cannot adapt to the new wave of the changes, you will struggle to earn revenue in the same way.

You cannot blame anyone else but yourself. We are in a different world now.

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Online Community Management Tips

I have an opportunity to manage the company’s online communities. I am not sure how I ended up doing it considering English is not my first language. And, of course, most of the customers or the community’s members speak English. Below are what I learn from doing this task for a few years now.

  1. The communication skill is more important than the language skill. I used to worry if I used the right words or if my grammar was flawless. I don’t think about it anymore. The reason I am doing this is to help my customers. As long as I achieve this goal, everything else is secondary.
  2. I cannot get upset or angry, at least customers cannot know that. Some customers are unbelievable (in a bad way). I have to remain professional and hide my true feeling from social media.
  3. All interactions are two way communications. Remember this – those interactions are conversations like when you sit in a meeting room with full of participants.
  4. If bad things happen (complaints, bad news, etc), I have to be quick to acknowledge that I am now aware about those things. I then have to inform the PR team and my management team. I keep monitoring the direction of the conversations. If a conversation goes in the direction I don’t want it to, I need to create a diversion or a distraction.
  5. Mostly importantly, I am dealing with humans. I should expect the unexpected. But, if I genuinely care, customers will protect me.
  6. I have to tell myself everything about the reason why I am doing this job. I have to stay on track and cannot get distracted to whatever force that is thrown at me.

Being an online community manager is not like walking in the park. I have to stay true to myself. It’s not the job that anyone can do it. It helps me learn so much about our customers.

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