Social Media’s Influential Role

role_of_influencer_todayI have already written about the important role “influencers” play in the purchase process – from the choice of what ice cream flavor to eat, to the complex purchase cycle of an enterprise software solution (link to prior post). This article will take a closer look at how social media has taken on an important role in helping influencers connect with buyers along their purchase journey.

It wasn’t long ago when Facebook was an application just used by college students looking to make plans for the weekend, or to catch up with others on recent news or activities. The amazing growth of members quickly validated how popular and how much value its members place with this social community.

Then, something interesting happened. Companies began creating pages, and the race to add “Friends” began.

I remember considerable apprehension and discussions that occurred in marketing departments about how much time, effort and resources should be applied to this social network, among others. Soon, success stories began to emerge from those businesses selling to consumers (B2C). Then it became clear that these online communities were actually impacting sales and the brand’s perception in the marketplace. Prospective customers were going to social media sites to share product stories, endorse or share an exceptional experience or rant about poor customer service.

Recommendations and referrals became important and seen as endorsements or validations to try new products or see a new movie, as just two examples. The role of influencer has gone digital.

Early adopters began to see patterns. Offer a venue for your customers to speak about their experiences with your product, and other future customers would take note. Add advance notification of a future sale to your followers, and response rates improved. Of course, this connection is most compelling if your own friends are the ones doing the recommendation … but this level of familiarity with referrals is not necessary.

Influencer Segmentation in the Digital World

Today, with the passing of time and the knowledge that has been gained, it is apparent that not all social media sites are the same. For example, Facebook might be a great venue for consumer goods products, those that are not too expensive, and could easily be substituted based on incremental differences or brand perceptions. Yelp, on the other hand, seems to have found a niche in the sharing of service stories, such as eating out at a restaurant or using a hair salon. Travel Advisor, on the other hand, has now become the place to research vacation stays, tourist attractions or other such activities you might do when travelling out of town.

Other social media communities, such as LinkedIn, have proven to be quite effective for presenting thought leadership discussions. This type of discussion indirectly helps shape the perception of your brand. Influencers will take note, and either help or hurt your ability to promote future business opportunities.

Each of these venues has now taken on a critical role – letting influencers expand their reach to be virtually global. This is an enormous responsibility, and one that must not be taken lightly. I now feel almost an obligation now when I take a trip, to be sure to provide my feedback on what worked well, and perhaps what I would suggest to improve, so others can gain from my experience. If we all took this approach, I suspect global service levels would all go up.

Nowhere to Hide in the Digital World

vw_diesel_scandalOf course, we don’t live in such a perfect world. Anytime there is an opportunity for companies to take a shortcut to save time or a few dollars, some will take this less than ethical path. This was recently the case with the VW Diesel Scandal, where a faction within VW thought they could cheat their way to passing U.S. emissions tests with engine-management software that altered emissions during the test cycle.

The proverbial “ball” is now in the court of the digital (and other) influencers. How will this end? How much brand erosion will occur? How much will people forget over time?

As a point of reference, it was just a couple of decades ago when the Audi 5000 had sudden acceleration problems – at least that is what the story was on CBS’s 60 Minutes back in 1986. Interestingly, three years later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued their report on Audi’s sudden unintended acceleration problem. NHTA’s findings fully exonerated Audi. Regardless, Audi sales collapsed from 74k units in 1984 to 12k by 1991. Anyone who experienced this crisis first hand knows that their car became virtually worthless over night – no one wanted to buy a car that could allegedly accelerate suddenly, and potentially run over someone! It took nearly 10 years before Audi was able to make significant inroads back in the US market. The company has always claimed their innocence.

That incident occurred in the 1990s, when digital influencers didn’t really exist, with a company that claimed innocence. Today’s VW incident is totally different, in a very different time. Will VWs fate be more severe? Can they recover? Or, have we all become almost “numb” the fact that some companies will take advantage of its customers if given the chance?

One thing is for certain. If we as digital influencers decide “enough is enough,” we can certainly get our message out there and heard by all – and cause havoc to the brand that cheats or deceives us. And that is a force to be reckoned with. Markets and senior management teams take note – we are all brand stewards and need to take very seriously the role digital influencers play, as part of the obligation in taking ownership in the brands we work for.


Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in creating and executing marketing communications strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Message to Influencers as Part of Your Communications Strategy

ice_cream_simple_purchase_processI find it quite interesting to observe how purchase decisions are finalized. This process is even more fascinating when you look to see how the process has changed over time. As a marketing professional, it is critical to understand just how your target audience makes a purchase. If you don’t understand this process, you will likely waste precious resources, time and effort trying to encourage a behavior that might never occur.

Let’s first take a look at what I would consider to be a pretty basic purchase process – the decision to buy an ice cream at the beach.

A Simple Purchase

The first thing to consider is that this process will vary, depending upon if you are alone or with a group. In all likelihood, you will be with another person. In this case, the decision really isn’t yours alone to make. There is a time factor. Are you late to another destination with your companion? If so, then there will likely be no ice cream for you. L

Alternatively, if the weather is hot, you are with a group that is has time and money, then perhaps the likelihood could be quite high that you will have a cold treat becomes quite high. Not so fast … even in this scenario, there is a possibility that someone in your party is particular. Is it too crowded? Do they have my flavor? Are there Sherbet options? Only after navigating through these final considerations might a purchase be consummated.

As this example hopefully demonstrates, even a basic decision to purchase an ice cream cone at the beach will likely be impacted by the power of an influencers.

A Complex Sale

Given the above hypothetical scenario, one might wonder how a complex enterprise software solution is ever purchased! Sometimes, looking back on deals I was involved with, it is indeed amazing that they actually closed. Consider just some of the variables that must be addressed:

  1. Will the new software be compatible with the company’s existing IT systems?
  2. Will additional training be required?
  3. Can our existing staff support and run the program with training, or will new hires be needed? (If this is indeed the case, re-consider purchasing different software – the point here is to IMPROVE productivity)
  4. Is the new software necessary? In other words, can the problem be solved in a different way using the existing IT infrastructure, perhaps residing in another department or another business unit? Consider if you had just spent $1 billion on an ERP deployment, which still isn’t done, to really see the ramification of this consideration.
  5. Will I, the buyer, be out of a job if this new software is installed? (This might mean you are speaking to the wrong buyer.)
  6. Will this new software support our existing policies and process governance guidelines? Or, will it enable out-of-policy or procedures?


No Purchase is made in a Vacuum

What should now be abundantly clear is that the role of influencer is critical, so cannot be overlooked. As such, your marketing communications program and sales strategy must accommodate this reality. Any concerns or questions presented by influencers must be addressed. Of course, what this means is that topics for communicating to your audience must now include ancillary topics, perhaps some that might not have seemed intuitive when establishing your initial marketing communications strategy.

Sadly, those that neglect this expanded requirement for messaging will hit stumbling blocks at the worst possible time – when it comes time to closing a sale. An influencer may not be able to close a deal, but they can certainly block one by influencing a decision maker to defer purchase, or worse, select your competitor’s offering.

In my next post I’ll take a look at how social media has taken a role in helping facilitate the role of the trusted advisor or influencer.


Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in creating and executing marketing communications strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Social Media’s Role in the News Cycle


Social media plays an important role in the news cycle   (CLICK ON IMAGE TO EXPAND)

It should come as no surprise that the way we get news today is quite different than in the last decade. Daily Newspaper circulation, which stood at 62 million in 1990, fell to 43 million in 2010, a decline of 30% (source: The State of the News Media 2011). There are many reasons behind this decline. One is a drop in advertising revenue, which has resulted in staff reductions, less content and reduced deliveries.

Another reason is a change in behavior. According to the Pew Research Center in Washington DC, news has a place in social media, on some sites more than others (source). See the chart at right.

We are still in transition as new online venues are experimented with. Today, it seems like everyone gets their news in a different way – from a Facebook post to an AP news alert (on a smart phone) to browsing an online news site such as Google News. Of course, some still watch TV, listen to the radio, and, some still read a newspaper.

Don’t confuse this transition with diminishing importance. This change is quite different from the fate of the buggy whip manufacturer … news is still actively sought. It is the delivery mechanism that is changing.

The Impact on Public Relations

Public Relations professionals are experiencing this transformation first hand, which has significantly impacted how they do their job. Targeting a single media channel is not a viable strategy anymore to effectively get the word out. Of course, budget dictates how far and wide your “net” can swing. Not everyone can afford to run TV ads. Regardless, communications strategies must now be multi-channel.

Not only has the medium changed, so too has the timeframe. News stories now can occur at nearly any time of the day or night, and seem to break instantly on a global scale. While this speed of access may be great for the general public, it can be a challenge for reporters, editors and PR professionals.

Given this new timeframe expectation, there often isn’t enough time for reporters to adequately research a breaking story – especially when the world is watching and wanting more info. We saw this occur in 2013 surrounding the breaking story of a bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. As a story from the Hollywood Reporter explained, “Questionable information from sources and a rush to be first contributed to a flurry of erroneous media reports.”

Lessons Learned

Since that event, the news industry has learned. Initial announcements, be it from a Twitter feed, blog post or other “real-time” source must first be researched before assuming true. Or, any conclusions based on these real-time media sources should be identified as such. In this way, every source can occupy a place in the hierarchy of how news distribution. As a PR professional, we need to be aware of each of these “roles” that social media plays as news breaks.

The Social Media Role of News – First Responder

Given the widespread adoption of smart phones, it is highly likely access to a live smart phone “feed” will occur as news stories break. It makes sense that the role of social media has become one of “first responder,” giving us the fastest access to a breaking news story. But, accuracy may not be 100%, given its speed. But, as long as PR professionals, news agencies and the public understand what role each communications venue plays, the system works quite well.

As a PR professional, it is important your organization has representation across each of these media, so you can contribute to the “conversation” as news develops and is reported on. In this way, social media plays a role as a communication venue – not one for lead generation. Most organizations now understand this, having invested in building a social presence online as well as continuing to maintain traditional PR network of reporters and editors. The consequence of not maintaining these connections is that over time you will lose credibility by not being part of the commentary as major news stories break, or new thought-leadership stories go mainstream.


Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in creating and executing marketing communications strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+


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What Happens if a Supplier Enters your Market?

Google-wireless-competitor-threatGoogle just announced plans to offer wireless service. What might this mean for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile? How would you respond if one of your suppliers announced they are going “upstream” and will now offer the exact same product or service you offer?

I was amused when I read about this announcement, including the quotes provided by Google, and the reporter’s assessment, so I thought this might be a good topic to explore in greater depth.

To start, the words “Google is now entering your marketplace” are likely to bring considerable levels of concern to most business owners. It just isn’t good to have another competitor – especially if they are Google or Apple – given they often see the world quite differently. These types of companies have a history of being disruptive technology providers.

With regards to the impact of this announcement on the wireless Telecom industry, I suspect it is not all bad news. In order to help understand what this type of announcement might mean to your business, it is helpful to review the Porter’s Five Forces model, as referenced in this article.

Porter’s Model

According to the model, there are five “forces” that determine your competitive environment (the Google announcement clearly applies):

  1. Supplier Power: This force is more from a cost and control perspective … worst case scenario is if you have only one supplier; they can then charge you top dollar, and you have no negotiating ability to achieve better terms.
  2. Buyer Power: This force comes from your buyers – how effective can they pool purchase decisions across channels and geographies to drive down prices?
  3. Competitive Rivalry: This force speaks to your competition. If you face multiple competitors offering similar products, then you don’t have much negotiating strength to drive higher profits.
  4. Threat of Substitution: This force is similar to what competitors you face and how “generic” your product or service is; for example, if your service can be performed by your customers, then a price ceiling exists – above that price will result in zero sales, as your customers will simply do your service or build your product themselves.
  5. Threat of New Entry: This force is the threat of the unknown, so to speak. Worse case is if it costs little in time or money to enter your market and compete … if your profits suddenly increase and anyone can enter your market, then it won’t be long for profits to drop. Those seeking to create or sustain monopolies are trying to address this force.


So What’s Going on with the Google Announcement?

I would propose each of the above listed forces might be in play, with some more so than others. Google doesn’t have a monopoly in providing handsets. Samsung and Apple are viable competitors. Google admitted in the article that the last thing they want to do is to disrupt their current sales model selling Android phones to the carriers; Google must tread lightly.

Another key factor for Google is the last force – the cost of entry. The wireless Telecom industry has a significant barrier to entry … in the billions of dollars range. If you want to be a national carrier, then you will need to build out a nationwide footprint, and, you will then have to replace it every 7-10 years as new technology advances go mainstream. This is a big investment, and one that Google won’t take lightly. In the announcement, it was mentioned that Google has established wholesale agreements with the carriers, so is not looking to make that big investment today.

What Should the Carriers Do?

Right now, after perhaps losing a heartbeat or two, the best response is that of a calm business partner seeking to expand a mutually beneficial relationship. This strategy is quite common in the Telecom industry, primarily based on the fact that the cost of entry is so high. Revenues get allocated between the carriers, but, it is a big revenue “pie” to share from.

Google explained in this latest announcement that their intent is to test new technologies and to ascertain what innovations are possible from a Telecom or infrastructure provider‘s perspective.  For now, this is likely a true statement. The Public Relations team working at Google should be very careful what future announcements are publicized, as well as the specific wording of such future communications. Clearly it is in both parties interest to maintain a civil relationship. Should the Telecom provider’s relationships sour with Google in the years that follow, then that might not be taking the best long-term perspective, given the enormous buying power of Google – as a customer and as a supplier.


Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+


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Marketing is More than Advertising

I find it interesting when I speak with new acquaintances and they ask me what I do. I’ll typically respond with “I’m a marketer” or “I’m part of a marketing team.” Nine times out of ten, the response I’ll get back is “Oh, you do advertising.” I used to be surprised with this response, given that advertising is really just a small part of the marketing discipline. Now, I have come to expect it.

Of course, advertising is a part of the marketing mix. It comes in many forms, as shown in this recent media share chart.


Average allocation of advertising budget for marketers in 2013. Source: BIA Kelsey.

Each of these categories represent are part of the advertising spend, with each component offering unique advantages and opportunities, depending upon what you are selling and where your audience resides.

But, the role of a marketer is far more than planning a media spend and allocating budget to various communications channels. Marketing is really about understanding customers. Who are they? Where to they shop? What leads to a purchase decision? And, with this knowledge, what can be done to influence and accelerate the process? These are the questions a marketer must understand. With this knowledge, advertising spends can then be established and executed, with hopefully an understanding of what results will emerge.

Working in high tech for the past couple of decades, my advertising spend is highly focused trying to reach a specific audience. I have never worked in a role of advertising to the masses. I do marketing campaigns tied to some sort of “asset” that yields inquires for helping prospects to solve business problems. As you likely can tell by now, I work in what marketers call a “b2b” or business-to-business environment. Traditional advertising spent for this type of marketing is typically more brand or image based, so done only by the largest companies interested in building awareness of their name or presence within a particular market.

The Age of Experience

Today, marketing might be better described as “managing to create and sustain the best customer experience,” which is rewarded by new and existing customers purchasing your goods or services. There are many ways the purchase experience is impacted – from what other customers are saying, to what is published on news sites, to what is involved in the purchase process. (See “Is Customer Satisfaction” article link)

The role of a marketer is to ensure that each of these “parts” of the experience lifecycle all come together to tell a consistent story with a logical conclusion: purchase this product or service, and you will be better off, will solve your problem, or will feel good about yourself for doing so. If any part of the prospective customer experience lifecycle fails to consistently deliver this story, you have a problem. And, this problem isn’t something that just the marketing department needs to worry about … it impacts your entire business.

Let me give you an example. I recently had an experience where I was undergoing a purchase of a product that required some level of knowledge of what options to consider as well as what choices would be appropriate. The owner of this business didn’t think it necessary to train their new sales staff. As a result, I was stuck with someone who had no business being in a sales role – he didn’t know anything about the products, the competition, or how to even proceed forward with the purchase process. This lack of training led to a terrible customer experience, one that scarred the entire process (and one that will lead me to never do business with this company every again.)

Marketing Plan as part of a Business Plan

When preparing a business plan or speaking with a business plan writer, it is important to understand what role marketing will play as part of your plan. Marketing professionals are tasked with a critical role – helping the sales process be effective. This is way more than just running ads in a local newspaper, magazine or a billboard.

Today’s marketers have much more responsibility to look at the entire purchase process – from how a product or service is introduced to a prospective user, to what the purchase process is like. Without a clear focus on the entire process, a company’s financial future is limited, to say the least.

Those companies that are too small to justify hiring a marketing person or staff must rely upon themselves to review their own customer purchase experience, and to then address any shortcomings that might be identified. Unfortunately, this can often be a difficult exercise when there are likely other pressing needs involved with running the business. Ironically, it is in these situations where the greatest price is paid and the greatest opportunity for improvement is available.

Perhaps the first step to raising awareness of this opportunity is to get the stereotype of “Marketing is advertising” out of our heads.


Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Is there a Link between Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty?

customer_loyaltyFew would argue the importance of customer satisfaction. Every business owner strives for happy customers. In practice, however, what does it mean to achieve customer satisfaction? What makes a happy customer? Are they more profitable? More loyal?

Fortunately, considerable research has been performed on this subject, which will be quite helpful to address these questions. The first challenge is to understand what is actually going on versus what business owners think is going on. According to Lee Resources, 80% of companies say they deliver “superior” customer service, but only 8% of people think these same companies actually deliver this type of service. That is quite a perception gap. A big part of the reason why such a gap exists is that most unhappy customers don’t tell you – only about 4% – according to “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner.

Conclusion: for every customer complaint you receive, realize there might be another 25 you’ll never hear.

Why Care About Happy Customers?

Beyond the ethical and philosophical perspectives on why it is important to spread good will to others – happy customers are simply more valuable, so can add more profit to your business. Selling to an existing, happy customer is far easier than selling to a brand new one. The probability of a successful sale to a new prospect ranges from 5-20% … that success rate nearly quadruples to 60-70% if a relationship already exists (source: Marketing Metrics). Not only does the probability of closing a sale increase dramatically with existing customers, but the cost to sell to new customers is significantly higher – about 6-7 times greater. Lastly, about 91% of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again, which ultimately will shrink the pool of prospects you can sell to (source: Lee Resources).

From a public relations or brand awareness perspective, happy customers tell better stories to their friends, co-workers, and others. Anyone who has tried to get an unhappy customer approve a case study knows what I am talking about here … it just doesn’t happen.

Author Pete Blackshaw suggests that happy customers tell their stories to three friends and that angry customers tell 3,000 – at least in today’s world of social media connectivity. As it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience (source: “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner), one negative experience can ruin a good relationship. The only one who will be happy when you deliver poor customer satisfaction is your competition. About 3 in 5 Americans (59%) would try a new brand or company for a better service experience (source: American Express Survey, 2011).

So What Makes a Happy Customer?

It turns out, a lot of happiness can be gained (or lost) each time an interaction occurs between your company and its customers. According to Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in their book “The Challenger Sale” (see page 47), they explain that customer satisfaction (i.e. happiness) is not the primary driver of customer loyalty:

  • 53% of customer loyalty is related to the purchase experience
  • 19% of customer loyalty is attributed to brand and impact
  • 19% of customer loyalty is based on product and service delivery

In other words, customer loyalty comprises many factors, some of which is tied to satisfaction with your product or service, some is tied to your brand – but most is tied to the purchase experience. Based on these figures, it appears that a loyal customer may or may not be happy; they may simply be content enough to remain a customer, but not necessarily “happy” enough to purchase additional products or services. Alternatively, a happy customer is likely a loyal one, so will be more likely to purchase future items, and, will stick with you during the process. The key is the experience they feel each time an interaction occurs – be it good or bad. It is all about how you conduct yourself during each communication.

Based on these findings, the surprise might be the importance of the purchase experience. How easy do you make it to do business with? What is the initial experience for new prospects when they either come into your store, visit your website, or come in contact with one of your partners? The answer to these questions will be an important factor on what customer loyalty you will experience in the future – and that experience will have significant impact on your bottom line.


Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Build vs. Buy: What is the Best Path to Grow Your Business?

As a business owner (or an aspiring one), an important consideration is the quest for future growth. From a strategic perspective, there are really only two choices: grow organically or by acquisition. By “organic,” I simply mean to grow by closing more deals, through efforts such as expanding your sales force or introducing a new product line.

When writing a business plan, it is important to consider each of these growth strategies – whether you are starting a new business, or expanding an existing one.

This decision is actually quite important, with big repercussions as to what your company will ultimately become. Given the significance of this choice, it is smart to carefully consider both options.

Grow Organically

If you are starting a business, then the biggest challenge is what I’ll call “finding your way.” Starting from scratch means you don’t have any processes in place. Everything is a variable, so picking it all right the first time is highly unlikely. Instead, you will pick an initial path to pursue. Then, you will spend a lot of time adjusting and evaluating that decision. This process will then continue until you start getting traction and find the right path for growth.

Having a long “runway” with sufficient funds to make a few changes is critical for long term success. Early mistakes can be costly – a big one could sink the company. So, it is necessary to plan for some setbacks. Other suggestions are to surround yourself with as many experts as you can, and to have a well thought through business plan.

Grow by Merger or Acquisition

This option, in many ways is the exact opposite of organic growth. First, existing processes, employees and a business plan are already in place. If you are seriously considering the purchase of an existing business, you must see something desirable – enough to buy it! So, your challenge is how to integrate the new business into your existing company – from a people and process perspective, as well as from an IT systems and go-to-market strategy.

Alternatively, if you are considering starting a business through acquisition, then the one integration challenge is that of acclimating yourself to being the new owner or manager. Process “integration” is not really an issue … it is more your evaluation of the existing processes. What makes sense and what doesn’t?

business plan writing helps M&A strategy

In many ways, an M&A strategy is similar to the decision to have a dog. This is a picture of my own dog, Rusty.

In many ways, I see the success of a business acquisition to be akin to getting a new dog as a pet. Here are three ways I see these two activities to be in close alignment:

  1. There are many different types of dogs, and there are many different types of companies – you need to research the strengths and weaknesses of each if you want a good fit with your existing lifestyle, and/or the culture of your business. For example, if you live in an apartment in NYC and don’t have many “jobs” for a dog to do, then getting an Australian Sheep dog might not be a good fit. Similarly, if your company has rigid processes and procedures, then purchasing a startup out of the Silicon Valley with a young management team might not be a good fit either. It is really important to match the culture and temperament of an acquisition to your existing company or family to achieve a good fit.
  2. If you don’t spend time with your new acquisition, then the relationship will sour – this holds especially true with a puppy. Young dogs have a lot of energy, so they will either play games with you, or chew up your clothing, furniture and anything else they can find if you are not around. In the same way, employees at a newly acquired company will be looking to see their new role. If you don’t quickly give them guidance and a compelling reason to be part of the newly combined entity, they might lose interest and leave. The amount of time you need to invest in this task is going to be more than you thought. And, this requirement doesn’t go away after the first 60 days. If you are not ready to invest the time, re-think this acquisition decision.
  3. New dogs and new companies need clear lines of demarcation to know what behaviors are acceptable – for those of you who are parents, you know this analogy applies with young children too. We all need clear direction on what is expected and how we are to perform to achieve success recognition. Without this communication, pets, employees and children will come to their own decisions, likely pushing boundaries to new levels in search of a definitive line.


A careful evaluation of “build vs. buy” will help avoid surprises before you have made an investment in either a new company, or a new member of your family. Once the decision has been made, it is usually quite difficult to undo … and will cost you a lot of time, effort and resources. Plan ahead to avoid the pain and achieve the gain, and go into these transactions with eyes wide open.


Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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When the Price of Free is Too Much – The U2 Album Giveaway

Bono, lead singer of U2The band U2 and Apple partnered this month to do a remarkable promotion and awareness activity. Every iTunes user received a copy of U2’s latest album, Songs of Innocence. When I heard about this offer, I couldn’t believe it. I saw a television advertisement showing the band playing a song from the album. Then, at the end of the ad, it was explained that the album would be available for free to iTunes subscribers.

I am a big U2 fan, so was thrilled at this act of generosity. And, as a marketer, I couldn’t help but think about what the terms of the agreement might have been. Clearly, both Apple and U2 stood to gain from this promotion – Apple from getting new subscribers, and U2 from having Apple pay millions to promote their album.

A New Promotional Trend for Music?

Of course, this is not the first time music has been given away for free. Many artists offer promotional songs or live recordings as a way to generate interest and awareness.

But, U2 is hardly in need of any new promotional campaigns. They have sold more than 150 million records worldwide, won 22 Grammy Awards, and have been designated by Rolling Stone magazine as perhaps the “Biggest Band in the World”. No, this is not a band seeking awareness. Something more is going on.

An Act of Generosity

An interesting story has unfolded as part of this give away. It turns out Harriet Madeline Jobson issued a complaint to Bono (the lead singer of the band) stating, “Can you please never release an album on iTunes that automatically downloads to people’s playlists ever again? It’s really rude.” The comment came to light in a Facebook Q&A the band released on their fan page.

To Bono’s credit, he apologized, stating: “Oops, I’m sorry about that. I had this beautiful idea and we got carried away with ourselves. Artists are prone to that kind of thing: [a] drop of megalomania, touch of generosity, dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn’t be heard. There’s a lot of noise out there. I guess we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it.”

There was no need for an apology. It was a gift. If you don’t like a gift, don’t use it. Contrary to Harriet’s claim, you had to download the songs to make them active on your iTunes library. If she didn’t want the songs, she simply could have chosen to not download or listen. What is remarkable is the level of conversations that are now going online right now.

As you might expect, folks are taking both sides. What is interesting, though, from a marketing and pricing perspective, the adage on pleasing people holds true: “You can’t please all the people, all the time.” Even at a price of free, not everyone is a “taker.” This is an important point to consider when pricing your product. And, to those economists out there, the laws of a downward sloping demand curve can only be projected so far … there comes a point when that curve flattens out. :)

A Final Word on Publicity

The famous PR quote is that there is no such thing as “bad” publicity. Here is another example where that saying is still true. The amount of coverage of U2s short Q&A video on their Facebook page is nothing short of phenomenal – it has gone viral. In two days the video was seen by 1.4M fans. Most marketers would be very happy that type of coverage. And, let’s not forget the comments – the 5 minute video has been shared 12k times, a hash tag of #U2NoFilter was created that is now trending, and there are nearly 4k comments on the page already.

Demonstrating his wisdom, Bono responded brilliantly, reinforcing his “cool” status and spokesperson expertise. As marketers, we can all learn how U2 played out this interesting experiment. They were bold and brave enough to try something new, realizing that some would take offense or not understand their actions. Time will tell if other bands will follow … I’ll keep my fingers crossed, as I really like musical gift!


Here are two other pricing articles  you might find interesting:


Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+


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5 Reasons to Choose a Niche When Starting a New Business

Select a business niche when writing a new business planThe Wall Street Journal recently published an interesting article on Artificial Intelligence (AI), written by Christopher Mims (see article). The article describes two new businesses that are making great strides in how AI can be used to help make our lives easier.

What struck me as most interesting, however, was the incredibly narrow focus these businesses have with regards to what they hope to accomplish, and the value proposition they offer. As Mims points out, this is actually a very smart approach – one that is in complete alignment with my own perspective. If you seek to launch a new business (and write a new business plan as part of the process), then you too can benefit from this strategy.

In the WSJ article, one of the new businesses described is, which seeks to help simplify the task of making calendar appointments with others. We have all experienced this challenge. It can be an annoying and time consuming. The investment community agreed. The company was recently funded with $2.1 million to develop their virtual assistant called Amy (see announcement). Considering all the tasks an administrative assistant could do, it is notable that the company will just address the task of making appointments.

Here are 5 reasons why this is a good strategy:

  1. Once the development work has been completed and it is time to start generating awareness or “buzz” for the company, the message of simplifying the task of calendar appointment setting is crisp, easy to understand, and will resonate very well with nearly everyone that hears it. Another term for this strategy is KISS, or Keep It Simple, Stupid.
  2. The focus on just one task means that the “use cases” or examples of problems that can be solved will be equally focused. Employees will quickly become experts at the challenges tied to setting appointments when you can’t see each other’s calendars. Training time, effort and cost will be minimized, as will time spent on the phone doing customer support.
  3. Sales cycles should be accelerated, or at least simplified. This will likely also lead to streamlined support and future sales leads, helping the company to grow at this critical point of its life.
  4. Market awareness programs will be better understood to yield better results. Given the overload of information that potential customers hear every day, the chance to quickly address a common challenge will resonate well, resulting in greater retention and brand recognition.
  5. Future expansion decisions will be simplified, and cost less. For example, if the company sought to ease appointment setting, time card completion and file storage, then you will have new complexity when deciding the best direction for future growth. Where do you invest next? Time card tracking, appointment setting or file storage? Having initially invested in all three services, you will likely continue that strategy, and it will cost you more resources and investment. Alternatively, going with a very narrow focus to a specific audience offers a more cost effective approach to expansion. Getting just appointment setting right, for example, could then be applied to several different types of user profiles, ranging from corporate business workers to small business owners to “soccer” moms. This type of expansion will be much easier and cost effective to execute, so will have a greater chance for success.


So why don’t more business startups pursue such a narrow focus and strategy, including how they write their business plan? Experience has taught me that when working for a small startup it is very difficult to say “no” to a new sales opportunity. The sales and/ or management team is afraid to see a possible sales opportunity walk out the door. When you are at a startup, things are tight, so every possible sales angle takes on greater attention. But those with the strength and discipline to do just one thing, and do it well, will be rewarded with less risk and, hopefully, a better chance of survival.


Gordon Benzieis a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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While Content May Be King, Conversation is Queen of Market Awareness

king_and_queen_marketing_awareness2Numerous articles have been written on the importance of what we marketers refer to as “content” in order to drive market awareness, lead generation and other sales support activities. Simply stated, you need something to say to gain the attention of your prospects and customers. Google, Bing and the other search engines reinforce this concept – you simply can’t achieve good search engine placements without quality, relevant content that is frequently updated on a regular basis.

As has been mentioned in this blog and other publications, a blog is a great place to showcase your content. Blogs offer a great “home” for you to build a collection of articles and stories that share a common theme, which in aggregate support your brand and help future customers to find your business. Any business plan writer you meet with should have a strong understanding of this topic too – if not, it might be time to find another writer!

Is Good Content Enough?

Here is where you have to ask yourself “what’s next?” Now that you have invested the time and resources to write a collection of articles, how do you now build relationships with your readers, current customers and potential clients? The reward for getting engaged in these conversations is substantial, and includes:

  • Enhanced likelihood these people will read and follow future announcements
  • Improved response rates to future offers
  • Increased chance of that person will ultimately become a customer

Learning by Example

One area where marketers can learn how to drive increased conversations is from the world of e-commerce. Some of the online retailers are quite good at creating a series of interactions that create a group of engaged prospects that likely will become future customers. For example, we all know that if we order a product from a website, we will get an email soon thereafter confirming our order. This is a good thing – we like to have a record of what we just bought. Further, if we receive an email the next day indicating our product has shipped, this is also a nice message to receive – my order is on its way. Then, sometimes you even get an email indicating that the order has shipped, with complete tracking information. Follow up emails might even include customer satisfaction surveys, another great opportunity to suggest or induce conversation.

The conversation, however, doesn’t stop once the order has been shipped and received. Instead, it is highly likely we will get a follow up email from these retailers in a few weeks or months from now, suggesting a similar product for us to order. For some of us, this is an annoyance, and we will opt out. But, for others, this is seen as a nice thing, as a way to make future orders easier to manage and accommodate.

Here is where public relations and social media professionals might take note. What can we learn from the retail establishment as a way to increase our conversation “quotient”? One challenge is we don’t have the same access to contact information that e-tailers do, such as an email address. And, with privacy laws and concerns, it is unlikely this will change. One approach is to add a call to action or value proposition that can then facilitate better access to this data. A newsletter sign up, for example, might be an angle that promises notification of new stories of interest, or of when a new blog post goes live.

If you can accomplish the right mix of content and conversation, then you are worthy of “royal” lineage. You will then have addressed both the king and queen of marketing awareness, through a marketing-based approach to public relations and brand awareness!


Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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