Monday, August 13, 2012

Other People's Money


As many of you probably know, I'm not only a marketing strategist, but also the CEO of a juvenile products company called CuteyBaby. A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference in Philadelphia hosted by FundingPost. What a useful and informative day! I thought there might be other folks out there who are looking to explore funding their business using "other people's money", so here's a quick summary of some key learnings.

This event was specifically for consumer products oriented companies and investors, but they have a whole range of events listed here: FundingPost.com Events List

Pitching Workshop

If you have an opportunity to attend one of these events, be SURE to attend the pitching workshop. This one was in the early morning, so I had to fly out the night before, but SO worth it. Quick takeaways on informal pitching:
  • be able to say what your company does and why it matters VERY succinctly (20 words or less)
  • tout measurable success (revenue/sales, margin, notable customers)
  • let people know what you have invested already
  • explain why you need (and what you'll do with) their money
  • in Q&A, or if interrupted during a pitch, listen carefully, and directly answer the question

Crowdfunding

There was a whole panel on Crowdfunding* and associated legislative news. To sum up, the SEC is about to pass updated laws that allow you to reach out to the "masses" with your investment opportunity (as of now, you must only approach people you know and/or 'accredited' investors). Since there are a bunch of websites that already let you do different flavors of Crowdfunding (See Kickstarter, RocketHub, and Crowdfunder for examples), it sure sounds like they are all jockeying to be the leader when restrictions get lifted.

One-hit Wonders

During one of the panel discussions, Patrick Raymond, the Co-Host of Invention Hunters (Food Network show), said something pretty interesting. Basically he felt that any new product idea has a selling life of a couple of years - that consumers are fickle. He said it in kind of a flippant way, but point taken for consumer products inventors. It was a good word of caution for people who think they will retire on the next Chia Pet or Snuggie they've been making in their basement. You have to build a company, not just a single product.

Solid Advice from Andy Whitman and Josh Goldin

Some of the best info from the panels and presentations from my perspective came from Andy Whitman (of 2x Consumer Products) and Josh Goldin (of Alliance Consumer Growth). A summary PDF of Andy's presentation "10 Reasons why Investors Pass" is available on his company's website in the Entrepreneur Resources section. There's also a sample executive summary. Both Andy and Josh emphasized how a company has to have healthy gross margin, demonstrated growth, and proven successes to even be considered for VC investment.

My Tips for Attendees:

If you do go to one of these events in the future, here are some tips on how to maximize your experience as an attendee.

1. Do Your Homework

Read all the bios of the speakers and panelists. Figure out who you think might be helpful to your business or who might invest, and make sure you talk to them and get a business card at some point during the day. Don't be shy! They are there to network, too. In my case, there were 6 people I wanted to meet - 4 potential investors, 1 speaker, and 1 fellow entrepreneur. Of course I met a lot more, but I stayed focused on tracking down the people on my list throughout the day.

2. Understand Your Potential Investment/Investors

Venture Capital is kind of a misnomer. Even if you have some traction, I've found that if it's not $2 million in sales or so, no VC firm is going to touch you. Angel groups or individual angels are going to be a better option. If you are pre-revenue and haven't got IP and invested capital, you better know someone. Also, sector matters - investors will tell you what industries or types of companies they like. If you're not one of them, steer clear.

3. You Always Have to Sell it.

The funding fairy is not going to show up at your door. Whether you are going to approach an angel group, individual angel, VC, or set yourself up on a crowdfunding website - you will always have to sell yourself and your business concept in clear and direct language. You will have to find and convince people to invest in your company, and in you. So be confident, take rejection gracefully, and enjoy the ride!
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A cool side note - the photo at the top of this post is an interior snapshot I took at Lippincott House in Philadelphia - this B&B is totally fabulous and I highly recommend them if you're looking for lodging in Philly. Gorgeous rooms, friendly hosts, awesome breakfast.
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*Crowdfunding is a new term used to describe ways of getting people to give money for a business, creative project, or idea. Many websites help people do this with varying approaches - usually by making a "donation" to the founder in exchange for future goods/services. Thus avoiding the SEC "investment" restrictions entirely. See Kickstarter, RocketHub, and Crowdfunder for examples.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What is the deal with QR codes?

QR code example
Lately I've been seeing these little square digital-looking blobs everywhere. QR (stands for Quick Response) codes are turning up in airports, on supermarket shelves, even on people's business cards and letterhead. My husband (an IT geek) has one on his resume, just for fun.

QR codes originated in the automotive industry. Japanese automakers started using them in manufacturing environments because they could be scanned quickly and hold more information than a 'regular' barcode can. Typical barcodes contain only numbers, while QR codes can include alphanumeric characters and non-roman characters (like Kanji).

We marketing folks (especially direct marketers) get all excited when new technology promises better data, tracking, reach - or presents some kind of new access to an audience. QR code enthusiasts are trying to do this. Unfortunately, much of the implementation falls short. Right now, QR code usage is in its infancy. Marketers are putting them out there, hoping that the cool "decoder ring" effect will bring more people to their product or brand. Since QR codes aren't 'human readable', they are counting on people having smart phones and an app that reads the codes.

It's kind of like putting something in your advertising that's written in a foreign language. If you passed by a billboard in O'hare Airport and there was an otherwise normal looking ad for Tide detergent with one line of text in, say, Klingon language. You'd be curious about that. You might even try to figure out how to translate it. But at the moment you saw it, that text was meaningless (unless of course you speak Klingon). As always, when I analyze marketing efforts, it all comes back to targeting and the consumer. So when DOES it make sense to try a QR code?

1. Your best customers and prospects are very tech savvy.
These are the people that are going to get excited about seeing a code and may actually scan it. If geeks are your best customers, QR codes might be a fun option (or possibly Klingon, too).

2. Your company image or brand is technology oriented.
As a 'keeping up with the Joneses' marketing effort, you might want to put a few codes out there. They cost virtually nothing, and for now, are pretty cool looking. But make sure you read #3.

3. You have something really cool to deliver.
It ought to be worth the consumer's while to scan your code. Include a call to action (i.e. "Scan here to get 20% off your next purchase.") Direct them (via weblink) to special content, a coupon, offer code, or some information that's not available elsewhere. They have taken the time to interact with you, so you need to thank them!

Most importantly, remember that whatever interaction you have with this customer or prospect is likely going to be on their PHONE. So keep it simple and easy to access. Image-heavy sites, huge forms to fill out, or other content that's difficult to see on a small screen will only frustrate your responders.

Want to try it out? If you're curious about how QR codes work, here's an online barcode generator that you can use to create a code like the one at the top of this post. Just type in the data you want to encode and click "generate barcode" to see it on screen.

And here's one more for those of you who are extra cool.  :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Coming out of the fog.

This morning the fog is burning off of the Teton Valley & surrounding mountains outside my window. I'm working remotely at our place in Victor, Idaho. As the fog burns off, I am gaining some clarity of my own. So much of the work we've been doing lately at Allegro is about clarity.

As we work on developing on-demand marketing software applications, create websites, even write and redesign collateral materials - clarity becomes paramount. In today's marketing world, consumers are busy, skeptical, and overwhelmed. Push marketing has given way to go-out-and-find-exactly-what-you-need marketing. More than ever, we must say quickly and clearly what is great about a given product or company.

I have been working with some new recruits on writing pitches and press releases lately. Once again I remind myself - and them - that we must answer the critical inquiry: Who cares?

For any marketing communication you are crafting, I dare you to ask that question. Read what you just wrote - then say to yourself in a jaded, 14-year old's voice - SO? If you are able to answer that challenge, to quickly get your reader's attention and make a bold statement, then you have a chance at cutting through the clutter and getting some action.

Happy marketing!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cheap, Fast, and Green - the Marketing Trifecta

I've been thinking a lot about something my cousin Scott told me years ago. He is a digital illustrator and producer, and he once said, "Remember Ada, in the agency world your clients will have three objectives: Cheap, Fast, and Good. And you will ONLY ever accomplish TWO of the THREE."

Recently I started thinking about this as it relates to Green initiatives. Replace Good with Green and if you follow the logic, you can have:
• Cheap and Green, but not Fast.
• Cheap and Fast, but not Green. .... etc.

This is SO true - firms that want to quickly implement Green initiatives need to be prepared to spend the money. Firms that expect to save money by going Green need to expect that it will take time. Rushing to do things Cheap and Fast will likely sacrifice Green aspects.

Marketing managers take note! You can help manage expectations by applying the rules above. What initiatives do you have that need to address this issue? Can you break the rule and think of examples that satisfy all three?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

SEO PDQ - Review of Rebecca Lieb's Book

As many of you know, I'm involved in a baby products business called CuteyBaby. As an enterprise today, CuteyBaby primarily exists online, so being found in Internet searches is an important part of the marketing strategy for that business. Enter search engine optimization (SEO) - a constantly moving target that for the most part, I have outsourced in my marketing life. Lately I've been wondering what's "behind the curtain" of the great and powerful search marketers out there.

Rebecca Lieb provided me with a very timely and elegant explanation in the form of her recent book: The Truth about Search Engine Optimization (amazon link). I have followed Rebecca's writing on ClickZ and other online sources over the past several years. Frankly, I was thrilled to see she had written this particular book because so many Internet marketing "how-to" volumes seem to lack substance, and I was in need of practical advice.

First, here is my basic definition of SEO:
Working to improve where you appear (higher the better) on major search engines' (Google, Yahoo, MSN) and relevant niche sites' (i.e. Business.com) search results through ongoing, systematic online content improvement.

Here are the things I found most valuable from Lieb's book to understand and/or implement in my SEO strategy now:

1. What women want.
Research what keywords your potential customers are searching on. For example, when people search on "removable wall decals" or "cloth diapers", I would like CuteyBaby to appear in the organic results (typically left side of the page). But there may be a ton of other relevant or related search terms, too. Use a keyword search tool like Wordtracker or Trellian (both have free trials) or Google AdWords keyword suggester (always free).

2. Text is everything.
Whether it's content, titles, tags, or links - everything a search engine sees about your site is text. Write for people reading your site, but understand how it looks to a search engine, too. Flash and lots of images may look exciting to a human, but to a search engine bot, it's just fluff. Be sure to give your images titles and alt text that make sense.

3. Get organized.
Use a content management system (CMS), or at least name your pages intelligently so that URLs make sense to the reader. I use Wordpress, and will probably continue with that for at least the blogging portion of my site, if not the whole thing.

4. A rose by any other name - not so!
Page titles are absolutely critical - make sure they are appropriate and help search engines know when to show your page as a search result.

5. Make friends in high places.
Look for opportunities to link to relevant external content, and get sites to link to you as well (called reciprocal linking). This greatly improves your search rankings, especially if the sites linking to you are well traveled.

6. Write good copy.
Write (or pay someone to write) intelligent copy that contains appropriate keywords and reads well to a human, too. The more quality text content you have on your site, the better chance you will be found.

7. Buyer beware.
Know that any company promising you top ranking in the major engines for category keywords for $500 is probably selling snake oil. No one has the key to instant search success.

There are over 50 tips/truths in the book, so if you are involved in SEO strategy at all, I recommend getting it. The tips above are just what's relevant to me at this moment. Also, if you are building a site, it really helps to consider SEO when mapping out and writing content - rather than retrofitting later.

Thanks Rebecca, for a great resource.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Marketing Book Binge

I must admit, I binge on information. Perhaps it all started while attending college in Iowa at Cornell College - their one-course-at-a-time system is so perfect for learning to process gobs of information very quickly. Now I find it a valuable skill in this information-rich modern world we inhabit.

Lately I've been tearing through books on social media and marketing. My most recent reads are: Twitter Power, The Twitter Revolution, The New Language of Marketing 2.0 and Guerilla Marketing. So if you are looking for the cliff's notes, or want to decide what's relevant for you to read, here's my take on those titles:


Twitter Power by Joel Comm

This book provides a step-by-step method to create follower-worthy tweets and gain attention on Twitter. It also outlines how Twitter can help as a channel for customer service, brand building, and crowdsourcing. Mr. Comm gives practical advice and encourages testing and measurement (near and dear to my heart) in social media marketing efforts. His chapters on setting up your profile & twitter page will be useful to people getting started on Twitter. More experienced folks will find this book less valuable. Most important takeaways - create a plan, measure results, and stick to it. Like many marketing efforts, building a following and converting customers takes time.


Twitter Revolution by Warren Whitlock & Deborah Micek

This was one of the early books about Twitter (back when Chris Brogan only had 8,900 followers). The authors' excitement for the medium definitely comes through. This book answers the question - "Twitter - what's all the fuss?" pretty well. I found it a little disjointed and shallow; kind of like Twitter! Most important takeaways - start a conversation, be genuine, connect with lots of people, and be open to where that takes you.


The New Language of Marketing 2.0 by Sandy Carter

A publisher sent me this book after seeing one of my reviews. Frankly, I was flattered. Once received, I found the subtitle off-putting. My first thoughts - What's with the marketing ANGELS? Is it a religious thing? An ill-chosen acronym?

It took me some time to read this book. It has about 3-4 times the content of any other marketing book I have picked up in the last few months. Kind of textbooky. BUT - I have kept it on my desk and referred to it several times due to its meatiness. There are a lot of case studies from huge companies. The author is an IBM exec. The part I liked the best was the chapter called "Fish where the fish are and use the right bait." Sounds simple, but it's so easy to forget when you are jazzed about your product or service and "like, EVERYONE could use one of these" thinking. This book is an excellent choice for anyone who does marketing for or in a large enterprise. The perspective is mainly from global firms, HQ'd in the U.S.


Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson

This book is in its 4th edition. Definitely worth owning, targeted to small and mid-size business owners & marketers. I like the very hands-on approach from this author. Guerilla Marketing is focused on outreach. What you can do to get your message out there to the right audience...understanding your product and market, then communicating with them as cheaply as possible. There is not a lot about what I'd call "pull" marketing like online search and social media. But this is good, get-down-to-business and get local marketing strategy. This book is great for small to medium sized business owners that sell products or services to a niche, or local audience. Key takeaways - read chapter 7 on saving marketing money.

At the risk of lengthening an already-long blog post, I'll give my 2 cents as a marketer. Consistency is hard, but it wins. Just look at the number of abandoned Twitter accounts, or in-progress online shopping carts, or direct mail in recycle bins. Regardless of the channel you choose, you have to be consistently there - talking, listening, informing - reaching out to people who are likely to buy what you sell. Be passionate. Remind people of how your product or service will make their life better. Then tell them again.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Twitter does not make you cool.

Lately I've been talking to clients, prospects, and colleagues about social media. Reading books and articles; really diving in to it. So many marketers are trying to get their brain around how to leverage this new channel. So many folks are writing articles about how social media is a game-changing paradigm shift for marketing. Here's my take: it's not.

What's really different about social media (sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or LinkedIn)? To some extent, you can't buy your way in. People have to WANT to listen to you - or they don't. Most any company with the cash can get lots of eyeballs with 30 seconds at Superbowl halftime. But which commercials actually realize benefit to that investment? The ones that have something interesting to SAY!

So, unless you're Ashton Kutcher, you better have a solid strategy going in to this social media world. Or your "tweets" (on any platform) will be falling on deaf ears. Here are some tips on what to put in your social media strategy:

1. Personality.
Your social media presence should have a real person (or people) attached to it. People have to care about and connect to the voice of your company.

2. Consistency.
You have to be there consistently, and be patient - it takes time to build credibility and presence in the social world. It's like dating. Don't make a marriage proposal on the first date.

3. Authenticity.
Be honest. People will instantly recognize if you're not.

4. Remarkability.
Do something that is unusual in your business - or unusual in general. Be incredibly funny, or candid, or opinionated, or generous. Then talk about it. This is the way to go "viral" and get broad-based attention.

I'm reading several books about social media marketing right now. Stay tuned to my blog for an overview of Twitter Power, The Twitter Revolution, The New Language of Marketing 2.0 and Guerilla Marketing next month.

Want marketing advice? Email me at ada@allegrolink.com - I'd love to help you.