Questions? Feedback? powered by Olark live chat software

What Is Main Street Anyway?

Main StreetMain Street is white hot these days, or at least the concept of main street is I guess.

So, my question to you my readers is this: In the context of the small business world, what is Main Street anyway?

  • Is Main Street the antithesis of Wall Street?
  • Are Sarah Palin and Joe Biden Mainstreeters?
  • Does Wal-Mart build on Main Street?

“This is America—a town of a few thousand, in a region of wheat and corn and dairies and little groves.” So Sinclair Lewis prefaces his novel Main Street. Lewis is brutal in his depictions of the self-satisfied inhabitants of small-town America, a place which proves to be merely an assemblage of pretty surfaces, strung together and ultimately empty.

From a business standpoint Main Street is a mostly nostalgic thought. Too many Main Streets today are either boarded up or revitalized with ice cream parlors, t-shirt shops and antique stores.

So when politicians evoke the world of Main Street as a way to demonstrate how “in touch” with America they are, who are they really speaking to? Are they speaking to the drug store owner located on a cobblestone street next to the barber? Probably not. While there are certainly exceptions, the only truly vibrant Main Streets I encounter these days exist in neighborhoods like the Bronx, Berkeley or even my own urban neighborhood of Brookside. Main Streets that survive mostly out of density that keeps basic necessity stores in business and the hassle for Target to locate. (Okay Berkeley might still keep Target out by sitting in the trees they need to cut down for the parking lot.)

But, a kind of Main Street exists unseen in kitchens, garages, and online. Small communities of Main Streets exist around ideas and shared interests in places like Twitter, Facebook and mySpace. Entrepreneurs in every size borough, town, city and metropolis thrive and grow as an economic force that few policy makers, politicians and even the media fully comprehend.

So, in my view, Main Street is not a place so much, and sadly, it is almost never a small town street anymore, it is, I think, a state or mind. And that state of mind exists in the hearts, sweat, passion, frustration, ingenuity and creativity of small business owners in every corner of America.

So, small business folks, what is Main Street to you?

How’s Your Personality?

Personality Not IncludedI had a great interview with Rohit Bhargava over at the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. He is a founding member of the 360 Digital Influence team at OgilvyPR, award winning author of The Influential Marketing Blog and author of Personality Non Included, a book that urges business owners to find and communicate a unique voice or personality – particularly in the age of social media.

I believe job #1 for any business, particularly small businesses, is to find a way to stand out, to be different. Doing so in a meaningful way (meaningful to a market segment that cares) is the secret to long term success, word or mouth buzz and ultimately more profit.

Bhargava calls this standing out a companies’ personality and, much like a person, there are styles and attributes that suit some companies and attract some customers. It’s essential that you figure out your style (he profiles a dozen or so) and wear it well.

One of the easiest ways for a company to exhibit their personality is through stories and we spend a fair amount of time during this episode discussing this topic. (A topic I write about often)

The book comes with lots of extra content and a few hidden personality surprises for those who take the time to dig a bit. I for one know that I was pleased to learn that no chickens were harmed in the writing and publishing of the book.

What’s the key strategic behavior of your ideal customer?

Marketing behaviorLast week at this time I sat down to write a post about targeting and it turned into quite a research project all by itself. It started innocently enough by me asking if what your ordered at Starbucks or the local pub said something about you that a marketer could use. (The comments are way better than my post)

The simple answer is, of course it does. And if you could look inside a prospect’s car (of course just knowing the make and model would reveal something) and see that clutter you would know even more, if you could visit your prospect’s house and have them tell you about their favorite outfit or shoes, you would know even more, if you could spend a few minutes reading what’s on your prospect’s refrigerator, you would know even more.

The point is that your prospects and customers do things, act in certain ways, that can help you identify them as ideal prospects and customers. The trick is to pay attention closely enough to see the behavior that I call their key strategic behavior. Discover it and it’s like getting them to raise their hand to be called on.

Now, in all likelyhood, if were able to do the kind of research mentioned above you might actually learn more than you want to know, but it’s also completely impractical to think that you could ever gain that kind access to your customer’s behavior.

But, the good news is that there are very public things that your prospect’s and customers might do that can be great indicators if you start to analyze them.

    For instance:

  • I discovered long ago that business owners who participated at an officer level in local and national organizations related to their industry are more likely to have an interested in long term solutions rather than quick fixes.
  • I discovered that business owners who actively participated in groups like Rotary are more likely to embrace the idea of referrals and networking.
  • I discovered that business owners who sought out professional, but perhaps a bit more entrepreneurial, service providers such as CPAs, attorneys and bankers, were more willing to explore innovative approaches.

I know these are pretty broad generalizations, but they are fairly accurate markers of behavior. They helped me identify a prospect I knew I could work successfully with in a matter of minutes. So, take a look at your current ideal customers with an eye on identifying your key strategic behavior, something you can know about them, that is also a pretty good indicator of what type of customer they might be. If you can get this step right it can change who your target and what you say in all of your communications.

Dig deep in this exercise and get a bit creative, think club membership, community participation, hobbies, reading likes, Starbucks drink, even pet ownership. I once had a customer that came to the conclusion that all of her ideal customers owned big dogs – it’s not really that far fetched of an idea! (puns are always intended here.)

So, what behavior have identified as telling from a marketing perspective?

Do Just One Thing Better Than Anyone

Beverly Sills, America’s best known opera soprano, died yesterday and I was struck by a quote she made during a past New York Times interview.

“I always had a theory that people became a superstar because they could do one thing better than anybody else in the world,” she said. “I think there was an aria in Julius Caesar called ‘Se Pieta,’ and I used to think I sung that aria better than anybody.”

I love that notion – now think about your business. What one thing can you claim to do better than your competition, better than anyone else in the world. You’ve probably got to shed trying to be all things and strip your business down to doing just one thing better than anyone else.

Maybe you already do one thing, maybe you need to figure your one thing out – either way, narrow the focus of your communication to something you can claim to own and own it.

Seth Godin talks about this very thing in his newest book, The Dip.

Most of the Time Talent’s Not Enough

You’re a talented writer, designer, speaker, consultant, coach, salesperson, but doors aren’t flying open for you. Why not? Talent, I’m afraid, is assumed – a lot of people have talent. It’s the price to get into the game. Talent, married with creativity, however, is how you get out of the cheap seats. (In fact, creativity will allow you to get places with lesser talent than others – oops, potential self indictment)

If you want to make your talent pay off than you’ve got to come up with creative ways to show people how your talent can get them more of what they want (Hint: It’s not about your talent)

If you want to write for a publication, don’t send them your articles, show them how you could help them sell subscriptions, introduce them to potential advertisers and generally bring them more readers – oh, and yes, write a whale of a feature too!

If you want to speak, don’t send your brilliant DVD, go to an organization and show them how you can put on a workshop that will benefit their clients AND you’ve got another organization that wants to partner with them so it would also be a good way to meet some prospects too.

If you want partner with a large organization, don’t send them your brochure, do your homework and find a way to help them partner with a non-profit agency in a way that helps everyone.

If you want another business to refer you, don’t just ask, put the tools in their hands that will allow them take advantage of your talent while getting more of what they want.

Use your talent to create, teach, develop and distribute information and tools and then give it all away in creative partnership proposals. That’s how you use your talent to get to the front row.

What’s the Measure of One Word?

It’s absolutely essential that you find a way to differentiate your business in a meaningful way. I know I talk about this all the time, but it’s that important.

What if you interviewed a handful of clients and asked them this question: “What’s the ONE word you would use that best describes what we do well?” Is it fast, attentive, welcoming, creative, cheap, cool, techie, smart, caring? One word is tough, but you need to get there. One simple word that sums up how you are different. If you can do that, and it’s a word that means a lot to a lot, your marketing job will be significantly easier.

Can’t think of a word? If your business was a car, what type would it be? Why? What are the qualities you admire in people? What color is your business? What kind of music do you sound like? What kind of plant would you be? Why? (Sorry if I’m scaring some of you with this!)

Got your word? Now, how does everyone in your firm define and own that word. Starbucks uses the word welcoming. If you sneak a peak back in the back room of a Starbucks you might find a bulletin board full of “thoughts on welcoming” written by the staff.

What if you asked all your clients and associates to help you come up with your word and then asked them to give your their thoughts on what that word means or how they experience that word. (This would make a very fun activity for a client appreciation party – just add beer.)

If you actually did that you might uncover some incredible marketing material and may even come up with the motivation to inject your word and all its various meanings into everything you do – make your word your filter for every marketing decision.

That’s how a small business brand is built, that’s how you differentiate your business.

My word: practical. How do I know? People tell me, all the time.

What’s your word?

How To Stand Out In Any Crowd

Sam Horn, author of Tongue Fu and POP: Stand Out In Any Crowd, stopped by the Duct Tape Marketing podcast to talk about ways to create memorable company and product names, core marketing messages, and slogans.

Don’t miss her POP! – Hall of Fame (I’m sure Duct Tape Marketing is up for some sort of recognition for creative use of an everyday household item as a metaphor for life as a small business owner.)

This is seriously energetic and creative thinker who has taken, what for some is, mind boggling artsy fartsy work and turned it into a system.

I’m not suggesting she’s made it dummy proof, but she has created a wonderfully simple set of tools that will help you construct one-of-a-kind ideas.

Does Your Firm Suffer from Feature Creep?

I have a software development client that is always complaining about “feature creep.” This is their industry term for a software development project that continues to grow as users determine they need little add ons along the way. Next thing you know, nobody can really remember what the software was supposed to do because it doesn’t really do any one thing particularly well after the weight of the creep carries it down.

I think a lot of businesses do this to themselves in their marketing. In an attempt to appeal to the broadest possible audience they add or make up features about their products and services in order to sound bigger or more impressive – thus creating their own version of feature creep. The net result though is they don’t really appeal to anyone because the message is watered down.

What if you figured out one or two things that your firm can get really good at and communicated that over and over again. What if your business was more iPod like? Here’s what we do, we do it better than anyone and we’re happy about that. What if you trimmed all the fat out of your marketing content and said – this is who we are, this is why we are passionate about it and this is the end result you can expect from a relationship with our firm.

See also: Featuritis