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Kathy Bayer


Cuba and the Heart of Marketing

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I just returned from Cuba. Wow! That pretty much says it. What an intriguing country it is…

The unrelenting history of one revolution after another. The people desperately trying to free themselves from imperialist rule. Finally Castro’s promised land. But so many promises haven’t been kept that the promised land now looks more like a wasteland. Poverty, repression, and lack of opportunity and freedom all a heavy weight.

Yet… the Cubans are resilient, passionate, and resourceful. Almost every Cuban I spoke to expressed warmth toward Americans. They see the issues between the two countries as a problem of the governments, not the people.

Because they have so little – 90% of their salaries go to the government while they’re provided with housing, rationed food, and free education and healthcare – they’ve cultivated an incredible resourcefulness.

That’s how they’ve managed to keep all the 50s cars going. What a throwback to ride in a 1955 Chevy!

How do they do it? By hobbling things together until they work. In the case of cars, using parts from newer cars and all kinds of things. They can’t get rubber to repair tires so they use the rubber from flip-flops.

Not only are the Cubans resourceful, but they’re also super creative. The music, dance, and art scenes are flourishing. I read that Cuba has the highest number of artists per capita in the world.

In this fascinating land of so many dichotomies, I was struck by the absence of advertising. There was hardly a sign of marketing or advertising except for highway billboards of the Castros and countless posters of Che Guevara.

It wasn’t until I got home that I figured out that the communist government doesn’t promote consumerism. There isn’t much competition between businesses. And the government, which controls newspapers and broadcast media, doesn’t allow commercial spots. It’s not a supply and demand economy, so there’s no reason to advertise.

But with Cuba’s recent promotion of tourism, they’ve had to start to market in rudimentary ways. The main kind of marketing is person-to-person and the storefronts themselves.

The Cubans can hustle. In front of almost every restaurant in Old Havana, someone was perched near the door with a menu motioning to the passersby. I didn’t mind because I actually had some interesting conversations with them and it wasn’t high-pressure. I found the same in many stores.

How refreshing! Personal connections, interesting conversations, and not being bombarded by ads.

If a business wants to stand out, because they have so little to work with, they’re forced to be creative. So many buildings are in major disrepair. But no matter how worn a building is, shops find ways to create fun, whimsical storefront displays out of things like soda cans and magazine cut outs.

I left Cuba with a renewed spirit about the heart of marketing. To feel my experience of being drawn into a store or restaurant because of the person I talked to or the creativity of a simple storefront presentation. These are the building blocks of marketing; everything else is icing on the cake.


The Spirit of Generosity

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I’ve always had mixed responses to end-of-the-year reflection and New Year’s resolutions. But it’s helpful to take a moment to think about what did and didn’t work last year and about what I’d like to accomplish in the coming year.

This year the holiday spirit made me think about it a little differently. I love to give a big party, buy gifts, extend myself more than usual, be with the people I love. And somewhere along the line it dawned on me – what about bringing more of this spirit of generosity to myself?

Rather than making my usual perfunctory lists of last year’s successes and failures, calculating revenue and setting financial goals for the year, I decided to approach it in a new way.

I brought a much bigger heart and mind to the process. I made sure to really celebrate the successes and think about what I did and what others did to create them. And I looked at each of my challenges as learning opportunities. Maybe I didn’t get the results I wanted, but how could I see them as steps along the way? And most importantly I brought a light touch and gratitude for everything in my life right now to the whole exploration. I found I had a lot more space to think creatively about where I’d like to go from here. So my New Year’s reflection became a whole different experience.

Here are some of the questions I asked myself. I hope they inspire your thinking in a more generous and expansive way as we move into the New Year.

  • What are you most proud of achieving last year?
  • What have your greatest challenges been?
  • How have you met those challenges?
  • What have you discovered that’s new and inspiring?
  • What new friends or associates have come into your life?
  • What’s made you really happy?
  • What’s made you really unhappy?
  • What would you like to do more of in the coming year?
  • How would you like to see your business grow?
  • How would you like to see your relationships grow?
  • How would you like to see yourself grow?
  • Where would you like to see yourself at the end of the coming year in every area of your life?

Is It Time to Rebrand?

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Once you’ve got your business up and running, you’re in a flow and seeing success, the question often arises: Do I need a new brand or to refresh my current brand?

In some cases it’s clear – maybe you’ve added new products, identified a different market you’d like to reach, or significantly changed your offerings and pricing.

In other cases it may not be so clear. Your first brand served you well. You’ve found your niche, your market is responsive, your sales are good – and yet, something just doesn’t feel right. Your brand is OK, but you have a niggling sense that it doesn’t represent what your business has become.

Here are a few questions to ask if you’re wondering if it’s time to rebrand:

  • Do you feel like you need to excuse your website or logo when presenting yourself to new clients? Mention that you created it a while ago?
  • Has your basic message changed in any way?
  • Do you want to attract higher-level clients and charge more for your product/service but aren’t sure how to begin?
  • Are you attracting a different clientele than your original audience, and you want to market more directly to them?
  • Do you have this feeling that your logo/website/messaging is old and tired? It doesn’t inspire you any more?
  • Do you feel your business growth is being limited in any way by your visual and verbal message?

If you’ve answered yes to one or more of these questions, it might be time to consider a rebrand or brand refreshment.

It’s important to remember that your brand is your voice in the market place. It’s the first thing people see. It says who you are in a glimpse, and it’s the basis for all your marketing.

My advice to small business owners is: don’t put aside updating your brand, making it sure it’s fresh, current, and a true representation of you. Your success depends on you standing out in the marketplace.


Make Your Marketing Personal

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“I want social…,” so many people are saying these days.

“Social” is the new buzzword – for good reasons. Social media is of course one of the most powerful ways to reach people. But I’m finding, and I hear this over and over, that many businesses don’t really know how to use it or when it’s right to prioritize in their marketing plans.

A strong marketing plan defines the best actions to reach your clients at any specific stage of your business depending on your goals.

You can’t assume you need a particular kind of marketing activity because its successful or it’s the happening thing. You may need some form of social media presence but you shouldn’t assume you have to make it a priority because your competitors use it or you think it’s the right thing to do.

The bottom line of marketing today is no different than what it’s always been – building and nurturing relationships with your clients.

It’s more complex today because the digital world has opened a lot more options. But when it comes down to it, online marketing is just another way to reach out, give value to your clients, and learn about them.

I suggest that before looking at data and how to best reach your target market, you take stock of what you and your team does best, what’s organic to you. It’s important to know where your marketing strengths are and to use them. And then get support in areas where you have less experience and ease.

The most effective marketing strategy combines a mix of online and offline platforms. Online marketing consists of your website and email list, social media (Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn), and marketing through other websites and online partners. Offline marketing includes: in person conversations (talks, meetings, conferences, networking events), print marketing, and direct mail (which is making a comeback).

When developing your marketing strategy ask yourself: what kind of marketing am I best at? If you’re a social media maven, put that at the top of your list. If you’re a great networker, make sure to get out to as many networking events as you can. And then decide if you need help from your team or consultants in areas that you’re less familiar with.

Make your marketing strategy personal to you. Then build it into a whole plan. You’ll feel more tuned in to your clients. You’ll be able to create strong relationships and your clients will feel it. And it will also be easier to define what kind of help you need and how best to utilize that support.


Content Is Still King

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I attended a digital marketing conference last week and one of the main take-aways was that good content is more important than ever in successfully marketing your business.

Good content has always been what sets you apart and delivers your message. But the craft of creating good content on the web has often taken a back seat to the need to produce a lot of content and to be easily found.

One of most powerful advances of the web is the democratization of access to creating and distributing content. Anyone anywhere can share content and engage with content produced by others. This created an explosion of content, and then the challenge of how to stand out.

Search engine ranking, so that your website appears high on a Google search, is one of the main ways to stand out online. As people got more internet-savvy, SEO (search engine optimization) started to take a front seat role in content creation.

But search engines don’t care about the quality of your copy. They just read key words (words that make it possible for people to find your site via search engines) and rank your website.

This led to lots of challenges for writers: Do you write around key words? Or do you write what you want to write, not worry about key words, and sacrifice being found? Do you write your content and try to insert key words later?

You’ve most likely come across websites that are written badly. You may find the same words popping up again and again, and it’s not inviting to read. That’s probably writing for SEO. You feel it when you read something like that. It doesn’t feel like someone is writing to you.

That’s not a good thing. It’s imperative to convey that you care about your readers and you’re offering them helpful information.

So actually you need both – good content that isn’t created solely around key words, but that does take key words into account.

Another factor that’s important to think about in creating content is that our brains are being rewired as we use computers more and more. Now you have to capture your audience in 23 seconds. That’s the average attention span before someone makes a decision to stay with the content or move on.

In the midst of this digital content sea, smart brands are realizing that good writing stands out, and they’re placing more importance than ever on the craft of writing. Marketers aren’t always good writers. So many companies are now hiring professional writers to create their content.

For small business owners, it’s super important to present your business with great content on the web. All of the other parts of your website – design, visuals, videos, etc. – support your content.

The key to a good website is clear, relevant, keyword-rich content that delivers your message with power and conviction. The content on your website should target your audience, engage them, and inspire them to take action.

If you and your team don’t have the time or writing skills to create content that stands out and attracts attention, you might consider hiring a good writer to help you. Your content is king, so it’s worth every cent to make it great.


Branding and Me

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I was interviewed before a talk I gave recently and thought I’d share it here – a little about my own story and reflections on changes in branding and marketing.

Why are you passionate about branding?

I’ve been a storyteller my whole life. As a child, I was always concocting stories and finding ways to weave visuals and music with storytelling. I love the way words and images create a multidimensional story. I look at branding as a concise form of storytelling. In a glimpse, people get who you are and what your business is about. I also discovered I have a talent for bringing out people’s uniqueness. In college friends would always ask me to write their bios when they started looking for jobs. I have so much fun unearthing what makes a person or a business different and special. My passions took me into the publishing world first at Doubleday and then at a nonprofit where I ran the publishing arm.

Why is branding so important?

I’ve also started several small businesses. And I’ve seen in my own experience and with my clients how important it is to be really clear on your story and brand from the get go. I’ve watched many small business owners with great ideas start a business and do well because they’re passionate and committed. They may have a simple logo, maybe created their own website and it worked for a while. But unless they invest in getting super clear on their brand, they won’t be able to reach their ideal clients effectively and consistently. This can create a lot of confusion in running a business, in deciding how to market, in spending more marketing dollars than necessary, and it can stall business growth.

How have the processes of marketing and branding changed over the past few years?

Change is happening faster and faster every day. And people are changing. That’s why marketing and branding has changed. People don’t see themselves as passive consumers any longer. They want to be involved in their purchase decisions, they want to engage and they expect attention. You can’t just market to people, you have to create a context for an authentic dialogue. And you have to be interested in what your clients say; let them help shape how you develop your product. This, of course, has led to the rise of social media marketing in the last several years. It’s more important than ever to find out who your clients are and what they really want and need. Marketing research has also changed. Data isn’t just collected in traditional focus groups or surveys, but social media plays an integral part in learning who your client is.

Plus our attention spans are shorter than ever. This means having a good brand is critical because people need to “get you” in a few seconds. And you need to communicate through your brand that your product/service will offer something meaningful to your client’s life. Because we have so many brands to choose from, purchase decisions are now about much more than just the product/service – they’re about how our lives will change as a result of the purchase.

In this context of so much choice, your business needs to stand out more than ever. You need to be better than ever at what you do, your brand needs to grab your client’s attention, and your content needs to be relevant. Consumers want content and experience delivered quickly and easily. And there’s so much content out there, an important way to distinguish yourself is through good quality, relevant content.

The desire for engagement, experience and content has fueled the emergence of Facebook live, periscope and other live video platforms. Delivering content live is more engaging and creates an immediate experience. It’s easy to do and cost effective, so many businesses are gearing up to making video, and especially live video, central to their marketing efforts.

What’s one small thing a business owner can do to “stand out”?

Know and clearly articulate what makes your business unique, and the value you bring your clients. Then position yourself as an expert in your field by sharing your opinion and knowledge. Consistently build your reputation through your content and relationship with your clients. Establishing yourself as an expert will make you stand out and create a marketing momentum for you.


The Soul of Your Brand

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I just stumbled on an article in Huff Po: “How to Launch a Brand: Lose an Ego, Gain a Soul.” It’s an interview with Fabian Geyrhalter, founder of Finien, a Los Angeles branding company.

He’s done work for Pfizer, Lilly, W Hotels, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to name a few. I can see from the interview why he’s been so successful.

He says that products that compete based on price and features can never really become a brand. They’re not able to distinguish their products or touch their customers deeply enough to make it in today’s marketplace.

But he goes on, “A company that has soul does not need to compete on price; ever. Soul is what connects a product or service to a human’s emotion; a soul searches for a soul.”

I think that’s awesome. It cuts through the material bottom line and puts the power in the peoples’ hands.

Don’t you feel it right away when something you buy really does it for you – makes your life easier, or more fun, or more efficient? It’s like someone’s thought about you and your needs and preferences. Of course, Apple is a perfect example.

And isn’t it more appealing to buy a product from a company that has a purpose, a story, a mission, something that touches us, rather than a company that just produces stuff?

So I think this is a great question for small business owners to think about in creating or refreshing a brand.

What is the soul of your company? Who are you touching? How do you want them to feel? Are you reaching your clients’ soul?

The thing is, your soul doesn’t lie. Either it’s touched or not. And it’s up to us as business owners to find out what that means.


6 Marketing Trends for 2017

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There are lots of new directions in marketing as we head into the New Year. I’ve distilled what I think are 6 of the most important trends for small business owners to be aware of:

1. More focus on customer experience

While customer experience has always been central to successful marketing, it’s gaining more and more attention as one of the hottest topics of the year. Businesses are taking their customers’ responses more seriously than ever and putting more resources into improving customer experience.

In our fast moving, uber-connected world, the only way to compete is to establish, nurture, and sustain your relationship with your customers. And that means LISTEN, LISTEN LISTEN. Create whatever systems you need to give your customers the opportunity to engage and share feedback, and incorporate what they say into your business strategy. Let your customers lead.

2. Greater personalization

With the plethora of content and marketing vehicles vying for our attention, businesses have to work harder and smarter to capture new customers and hold existing ones. Where mass customization has led the way for several years, now personalization is the trend.

In an age where people value tailored experience, whatever can be individualized in any way attracts attention, whether it’s a product, experience, or simply more responsive purchasing process. At every touch point, businesses are finding ways to authentically and directly connect with the customer.

3. More and new video content

As it’s gotten easier and easier to share quality video content, there’s more and more demand for it. And now, real-time video like Facebook Live has become a hit in the online marketing world. It’s a direct way for brands to engage their customers quickly, directly, and cost-effectively. And as customers in the digital space are looking for more human contact, real-time social interaction is more important than ever. Live video creates high-touch engagement with your audience in a way that no other social media can.

4. Email marketing

There’s nothing new about email marketing, but as so many other online marketing channels have opened up, businesses have given a lot of attention to social media in the last several years. Yet statistics show that email marketing is one of the most effective tools – and it’s on the come back.

According to the 2016 Email Marketing Industry Status from Adestra, revenue from email has increased proportionately by 28% in one year. Success in email marketing – as in all online marketing – is all about giving your customers valuable and relevant information.

5. Expert blogging and social media

As a result of the impact of social media and blogging, many businesses have put more focus on SEO than on creating quality content. Almost everyone blogs, but how many do it well? People see the difference. They don’t want to be sold to. This is the age of creating and disseminating good content. If your content isn’t interesting and informative, visitors won’t stay on your site. Many businesses are realizing the importance of putting resources into developing excellent digital writing that positions them as experts in their field.

And in social media, it’s important not just to provide valuable content, but also to engage your audience, ask for your customers’ experience and opinion, offer games and challenges. The point it to build an active relationship with your audience.

6. Different measuring

As traditional ways of doing business are continually breaking down, it’s important to measure marketing efforts in new ways. Figuring out your ROI on your marketing budget isn’t linear any longer. In addition to traditional ROI from sales, it’s important to include metrics on customer satisfaction and retention, as well as employee engagement. Social media platforms are one of the most effective ways to collect this data.

So back to my first point. 2017 is about really listening to your customer and incorporating their feedback into your business and marketing strategy every step of the way.


Branding Lessons from the Campaign

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We’re in a different world than we were 3 weeks ago – one that no one expected.

Where do we go from here? That seems to be unfolding every day. While we’re finding out where we’re going, there’s also a lot to learn from the election and campaign we’ve just been through.

One powerful lesson is: what makes a successful brand?

You could look at the result as Trump creating a stronger brand than Hillary.

Whether or not you agree with Trump’s message, the fact that the less experienced politician carrying so much baggage and character flaws, was able to garner the support he did, says a lot about how well he read his target market and responded to their fears, concerns, and desires.

Fear and frustration from income inequality, the perception of losing jobs to immigrants and trade deals, the feeling that our politicians are not looking out for us, all became some of most intense motivating factors in the election. Trump appealed to these concerns in a way that hit the emotional “sweet spot” in his supporters. That’s exactly what any successful brand does.

Trust was also a big issue in this campaign. Strong brands are based on trust.

Many of us have lost trust in our government and financial institutions. As brands, the government and Wall Street are weak. Hillary was seen as the establishment choice and associated with this lack of trust.

Trump used this knowledge to create his platform of change.

Despite the fact that Hillary has so much more experience than Trump, offered much more savvy content on policy, and maintained a professional demeanor in the face of Trump’s irrationality and crudeness, many American voters were still largely motivated by the possibility of change.

Also, Trump used social media to raise his brand awareness throughout the campaign. While many of his communications were questionable at best (the 3am tweets), they kept him in our consciousness. They reminded us that he doesn’t follow conventions; he’s not establishment. As much as they brought into question his character and ability to be President, they continued to strengthen his brand.

Trump’s brand wasn’t about character or experience – it was about change. So you could say that he stayed on brand throughout the campaign. And because he read his target market well, and appealed to their most intense fears and desires, he was able to win an election where no one thought he’d get past the primary.

So now we’re left with a big question: what happens next? All we know is that things won’t be like they have been. It’s not clear yet how this change is going to unfold or how it will affect our country.

But wherever we go from here, Trump’s campaign can be seen as a lesson in how strong branding can take what seemed to be an impossible task to stepping over the finish line.