A “Q and A” About QR Codes

•05/11/2013 • Leave a Comment

Question: Just what IS a QR Code?

Answer: “QR” stands for “Quick Response”. Indeed, QR Codes are 2D (two dimensional) codes that provide immediate smartphone access to online information via a printed resource. QR Codes can appear in print publications, on business cards, on window signs, etc.

What can you do with QR Codes? Learn that and more when you find out the answers to 9 more questions about QR Codes:

Q: How long have QR Codes been around and why were they developed?

A: QR Codes were developed in Japan in 1994 by Denso-Wave Inc., a Toyota subsidiary. Originally, they were used to track vehicle parts in manufacturing.

Q: How do QR Codes work?

A: Think of a QR Code as the bridge between printed information and online content. By scanning a printed QR Code with your smartphone, you can, in seconds, view and interact with a website, “Like” a Facebook page, access contact information, etc. Because QR Codes are 2D, they can store much more information than those UPC bar codes you might find on products in the grocery store. In fact, according to JumpScan, a single QR Code can store up to 4,296 alphanumeric or 7,089 numeric characters.

Q: Are there similar codes in use?

A: Aside from the familiar product bar codes, the QR Code appears to be the most widely used. Microsoft has a “tag” that uses lines of colored triangles to embed information. (USA Today, for example, once used the Microsoft Tag.) And keep your eyes on Google Goggles: this new application lets you take a picture of an item with your smartphone to generate search results.

Q: How could a QR Code help my business?

A: By generating and placing a QR Code on your marketing collateral — including business cards, brochures, ads, signs, and even T-shirts — you can extend your brand beyond the constraints of physical media. Think of QR Codes as a kind of virtual Cracker Jack box. When the consumer sees your QR Code, the inevitable reaction is to scan it; in other words, to open the box to find the prize inside. The prize within your scanned QR Code can be your contact information, your website, your Facebook or Twitter page, a YouTube video, a page from which your book can be downloaded or purchased, a contact form, and on and on.

Q: Is anyone really scanning these things?

A: Oh yeah. A study from early 2011 by Mobio Identity Systems Inc. found that QR Code scanning had increased 1,200% in the last half of 2010. Women and those in the 35-44 year old age group are the most frequent scanners.

Q: How can I get a QR Code scanner?

A: If you have a smartphone, access your “app” marketplace, search for QR Code scanners, review the ones available and download one. I use the ScanLife app for my Android phone and it has worked very well.

Q: Who is using QR Codes to reach consumers?

A: Just about all major companies and organizations – including Nike, Best Buy, Starbucks, McDonalds, Pepsi, Ford and many more – use QR Codes to reach mobile consumers. And by the way, according to recent statistics, more than half of all U.S. adults use a smartphone.

Q: How can I generate QR Codes for my business?

A: You can generate QR Codes for free at many sites on the Web, including <a href=”http://qrcode.kaywa.com/”><b>Kaywa</b></a&gt; and <a href=”http://Qricketcodes.com”><b>Qricket</b></a&gt;. Qricket has a tracking feature that enables you to see how many times your code is scanned.

Q: Can QR Codes be customized?

A: Yes. Sort of. Although QR Codes contain critical information in certain areas of the code’s design, they do have some flexibility, particularly in the center section. You can also embed the QR Code inside another design; just don’t hide it too well.

Bottom Line:

QR Codes can be a great way to extend your reach to an increasingly mobile consumer marketplace. I have embedded QR Codes for clients on a business directory cover, individual listings and ads, as well as on business cards, magnets and bookmarks. Your applications will, naturally, depend on your business growth and marketing goals.


5 Mistakes That Can Wreck Your Business Communications (And How to Fix Them Before They Do)

•05/11/2013 • Leave a Comment

Even the smartest business professionals and most skilled communicators sometimes lose focus.  Competing priorities and tight schedules can cause otherwise diligent people to give less than their best effort.

But if you think others won’t notice, you’re wrong.  If you think glaring goofs don’t send the wrong message, think again.  The truth is that your audience — from co-workers to clients and prospects — will judge your professional competence by how well you communicate.

Are you guilty of these goofs?  Are you prepared to fix them?

##Not knowing (or respecting) your audience.%%  Your readers are smarter than you might think and they deserve your best.  Show them the ultimate respect — and optimize understanding and response — by considering their common traits beforehand.  FAST FIX: Communicate with your audience in terms of their education and background, as well as their grasp of technology and industry jargon.  Do you know how much detail they expect?  Are they pressed for time?  Do they share any other characteristics that might affect overall perception of your message?  From the answers to such questions, try to imagine a “typical” reader and direct your communications to that fictional person.

Not charting your course.  Got writer’s block?  It’s less likely if you first identify your message goals and determine the content framework.  FAST FIX: Take notes, outline or “mind map” key content.  Visualize your desired results and you’ll have a much better chance of achieving them.

Not using your creativity.  Targeting your audience and charting your course puts your message on the right track.  To keep it moving, get creative.  Dare to stand out.  FAST FIX: Think about messages, or even specific words or images, that get your attention.  What makes them appealing?  Adapt similar cues to your business and marketing communications IF they work within your essential standard of professionalism.

Not using design elements.  Creative and effective communication isn’t just about words; it’s also about presentation.  Appealing visuals can hook your audience and keep them hooked.  FAST FIX: Examine your layout.  Would extra white space help?  Would photos, illustrations, diagrams, symbols or icons enhance readability?  If so, use them (in moderation, of course).  Think also about typography.  As a rule for printed media, use fonts with serifs (character baselines or “feet”) for body text, and fonts without serifs for headlines, subheads and call-out lists.

Not sweating the details.  Is your vocabulary anemic?  Is poor spelling destroying the power of your communications?  If so, it’s probably time to dust off that dictionary and crack open that thesaurus.  NOT-SO-FAST FIX: Take your time navigating the 7 C’s of successful communication:

CORRECTNESS: Strive for error-free content, spelling, grammar and usage.

COMPLETENESS: Finish your thoughts, data or arguments.

CONCISENESS: Use fewer but stronger words.

COHERENCE: Be consistent in content, format and tone.

CREDIBILITY: Exhibit candor, give credit where it’s due, exude confidence and strive for balance.

CREATIVITY: Take calculated risks in theme and presentation.

CLARITY: Be unmistakably clear.

Bottom Line:

Ignore these common mistakes and you’ll run the risk of a communication breakdown. Master these fundamental fixes, however, and you can send the right message time after time. Want to learn more? Contact me to find out how to make your expertise shine with messages that communicate, illuminate and resonate.

Words of Wisdom: Learning, Living, and Believing In Your Dream

•07/03/2012 • Leave a Comment

Rather than offer specific business-oriented commentary this time around, I thought I’d share some quick snippets of wisdom and inspiration from others. Consider these observations for success in life and business:

On Getting Started:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
~ Dr. Seuss

“The longest journey you will ever take is the 18 inches from your head to your heart.”
~ Andrew Bennett

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

CLICK HERE for additional gems from (among others) Shel Silverstein, Confucius, Mother Teresa, Thomas Edison, and yes, even Yoda:

Business Hurting? Maybe You Need a “Brand-Aid”

•08/04/2011 • Leave a Comment

One of the projects I’m working on is helping a client “rebrand” his company. To assist in that process, I presented him with some guiding principles to consider. Some are intuitive, others less obvious, but I thought I’d share them here in case you are wondering if your brand is healthy or needs a “brand-aid”.

What IS a healthy “brand”? Simply put, a healthy brand is the <em>trustworthy, memorable (and referable) essence of your company’s values, people and products/services</em>. In other words, it’s an accurate summary that consumers can understand, remember and share with others. That’s a pretty tall order, and not easy to accomplish, but adopting a brand — and more importantly — <b>being</b> that brand is essential to the health of your business.

How do you build a healthy brand? Read on:

What are the core components of a brand? Obviously, your company’s name is a key part of your brand identity. Large companies with huge marketing budgets can create brand identification even if their name doesn’t embody the essence of their products or services. Think Nike, Sony, Cadillac, Georgia-Pacific, Apple (all with registered trademarks held by their respective owners, of course). A smaller company, however, might be better served by giving a hint as to its services within the company name. My company, Chenoweth Content & Design, provides — you guessed it — content (i.e., writing, editing, etc.) and graphic design services.

I must admit that I find it downright vexing why so many small, local businesses insist on using a name like Last Name and Associates, or XYZ Solutions, or Knick Knacks & More. (At least we know that KK & M deals in knick knacks, vague as that might be, but what on earth comprises “& More”?). Of course, your company name can’t list every service you provide or product you sell, but give us a clue and you’ll stand a better chance of creating a memorable brand.

Some people think that’s all there is to it: name = brand. But a successful brand goes far beyond this. Other obvious elements include your logo, your website, your marketing collateral, signage, etc. Because these visual elements are usually front and center, many people stop here in developing their brand, but let’s dig deeper:

Other brand essentials: Your brand should also reflect and include your positioning statement and marketing messages. From your unique selling proposition and tagline (you have these, don’t you?) to your talking points and supporting content, your marketing communications must reinforce your brand. If they don’t, you risk confusing consumers and causing them to look elsewhere.

Your day-to-day operations activities and how you serve your customers are also key to creating and bolstering your brand. This includes not only your products and services, but also the staff who deliver them, and HOW they deliver them. Customer service is indeed an essential part of your brand; for your current customers, it is probably the <em>most</em> important part.

For targets who are not yet your customers, however, the most important factor in your company’s brand is this: their perception of what your company does, what it stands for, and how it can serve their wants and needs. Ultimately, no matter how neat and tidy the other components are, if the consumer doesn’t perceive your brand as meeting their requirements — even if it truly does — your brand-building and brand expression need work.

What can a healthy brand do for your company? Your brand can be threatened by a failure in any single facet. Get all these facets working in sync, however, and your brand can consistently illuminate the benefits of doing business with your company AND will do so in a way that resonates with targets so that it is “top of mind” when their wants and needs must be met. A moving target to be sure, but a necessary lofty goal.

Essential questions/considerations: How can you begin to assess and fine tune your brand? The first step is to answer these key questions:

  • Who are your ideal customers (current clients and desired targets)?
  • What are their pain points, their wants and needs?
  • Who are your competitors (business rivals, do-it-yourselfers, etc. And don’t forget that, in most cases, doing nothing IS a choice for the consumer)?
  • What are your competitors’ promise points (how do they suggest that consumers will benefit from using their services)?
  • What are your own marketable products/services and expertise?
  • How do you deliver these products/services and how can you deliver them better?

Bottom Line:

Branding is an ongoing process of analysis and implementing lessons learned, but by answering these questions, you can more effectively determine the best brand for your company. What’s more, you can then position your business for strategic targeting, competitive differentiation, day-to-day marketing and operations, and overall success. If you’d like to discuss your brand challenges, contact me. You might discover that you need a radical brandectomy, but more likely, you’ll find that making a few simple changes can restore your brand, and your business, to better health.

The 5 Dimensions of Effective Marketing Communications

•04/07/2011 • Leave a Comment

Marketing can encompass many functions, operations and decision points. It can mean different things to different people in different organizations. So you’ll notice in the title of this article that we’re NOT focusing on the entirety of marketing, but rather on marketing communications.

Now, you might think that marketing communications is synonymous with advertising. Indeed, advertising can be one facet. But marketing communications really includes much more and it requires that you embrace and execute the 5 D’s: define, design, develop, devise and deliver.

DEFINE Your Target Market: It’s hard to measure success for your marketing communications if you haven’t clearly defined your ideal customer. This essential step can be the most difficult. For many of us it’s tempting to say that we can serve anyone and everyone. The problem with that is that it’s difficult to get specific and actionable referrals with such a loose definition. Success Coach Tom Barnes (find him on TipTopics.com) tells of a financial planner who determined that nurses were his ideal customers. Being that specific led the planner to serve not only nurses but others stemming from these leads. People want to make referrals. You can make it easier for them by tightly defining your target market.

Keep in mind, however, that some ideal customers might be surrounded by gatekeepers. Want to sell to a CEO of a major corporation? Your initial target, then, should probably be someone already professionally or personally connected to your ultimate target. LinkedIn and Facebook can be good resources to help you identify these referral partners.

What are the rest of the 5 Dimensions? Read on:

DESIGN Your Distinctive Brand: With your ideal customer, target market and initial targets identified, you can more expertly design or fine-tune your brand. Simply put, a healthy brand is <em>the trustworthy, memorable (and referable) essence of your company’s values, people and products/services.</em> It’s an accurate summary that consumers can understand, remember and share with others. Your brand should clearly convey what sets your business apart from competitors. It must appeal to your target market. If it doesn’t, either your brand is off track or you are pursuing the wrong prospects. Remember, a well-crafted brand sets the tone for all subsequent communications.

DEVELOP Your Marketing Presence: With your brand established — including logo, tagline, key marketing messages and your Unique Selling Proposition — you can create or update your marketing collateral and website. Design these so that they are brand- and message-consistent across all media. In other words, someone reading your brochure should come away with the same impression as someone visiting your website. This is not to say that these are necessarily designed or written to be identical (after all, each medium is unique and requires a different approach), but they should nurture the same overall image of your company.

DEVISE Your Marketing Communications Plan: With cornerstone identity pieces in place, it’s time to plan and deliver your marketing communications. By devising a strategic and focused marketing communications plan you’ll stand a better chance of actually connecting with your targets. A communications plan is necessary because creating relationships through marketing communications is a marathon, not a sprint. Thus, your communications plan should determine the best media (print, web, email, social, video, etc.) and timing for delivering your messages over the longer term.

DELIVER Your Messages: Now that you’ve planned your work, it’s time to work your plan. Remember that your ultimate goal is to convert targeted contacts into customers. Raw talent alone won’t make this happen. Neither will a noble purpose or passionate drive. Hard work, a strong brand and appealing marketing collateral are key factors, but it’s in the execution of the plan — the delivery of well-crafted individual messages — where your company will shine and help you gain the trust required to create a lasting professional relationship.

For this to happen organically you must deliver the right messages in the right way to the right targets at the right time via the right media. Simple, huh? Of course not. Professionalism is key. No matter how well you’ve built the foundation, if you stumble in delivering your messages, you’ll face an uphill battle. If you don’t feel confident that you can communicate professionally to present your company in the best light, seek help.

Bottom Line:

By strategically and professionally implementing the 5 D’s of marketing communications, you can more easily convert targeted contacts into customers. If you’d like to learn more about any of these five dimensions, contact me. I’ll be glad to help you define, design, develop, devise and deliver the kinds of marketing communications that can help your business connect and succeed.

The Key to Business Marketing: It All Comes Down to This

•05/15/2010 • Leave a Comment

Why do we do what we do? Why do we seek what we seek? There’s a reason.

Why are we in the business we’ve chosen? Why do we surround ourselves with the friends we keep, the groups we adopt? What one thing colors our surroundings, influences our purchases and informs our opinions, our prejudices? There is one reason, one underlying human pursuit at the core of everything we do, every thought we have, every decision we make.

First, what it’s not: No, it’s not money, although that can be a part of it. Nor is it fame. It’s not love or harmony (although that comes pretty close). It’s not really about tranquility or peace on earth or doing the right things at all times for all people. (Who amongst us is that centered, that noble?) No, the singular pursuit that shades every decision in every moment is something that is, unfortunately, not even always in our best interest. But understanding its good and bad aspects can help us succeed, in business and in life.

Here’s what it is: Comfort. Simply put, we like being comfortable. Conversely, we dislike and tend to avoid or minimize those things that bring us discomfort. On the surface, then, life should be easy, right? Do that which makes you comfortable and all will be right with the world. Well, obviously, it’s not that simple.

Understanding the comfort zone, part 1. The first thing to understand about the concept of comfort is that what may be comfortable to one person might be excruciatingly uncomfortable to another. To be in a room full of people might energize Mary but terrify Frank. To be the center of attention gets Jimmy all jazzed up but makes Corrine cringe. We each have our comfort zones, even if their boundaries seem fuzzy or incomprehensible at times. Why, for example, does a person stay in a job they hate or a relationship that is toxic? Probably, at least in part, because making a change is stressful and stress causes discomfort. Thus, the pain in the “known” is more tolerable (i.e., more comfortable) than the uncertainty of the unknown. So yes, even uncomfortable situations can become comfort zones.

Understanding the comfort zone, part 2. The second thing to understand is that comfort zones are cocoons often made from in-the-moment decisions, and not long-term perspectives. We dwell in our comfort zones, and our comfort zones exist in the present. Thus, it’s easier — in the moment — to choose to do something that is clearly not in your long-term best interests or to postpone a decision that clearly IS in your long-term best interests.

The comfort zone challenge for the businessperson. As in other aspects of life, then, the best business decisions often lie outside our personal comfort zones. If you are trying to get someone to make a buying decision, for instance, the biggest challenge can be to move the target away from the status quo (their comfort zone) to a place that offers the uncertainty of the not-yet-experienced: the discomfort zone. You, as the seller, of course, know unequivocally that the prospect will be better off by making the purchase or entering into a professional service relationship with you. But your perspective doesn’t automatically change the prospect’s unconscious and unvoiced objection: “I’m more comfortable staying where I am instead of sticking my neck out and risking a mistake, especially if others might witness that mistake and judge me because of it.” Too bad, really, because the discomfort zone, frightening as it may be, is where growth occurs. It’s where challenges are faced, where confidence builds, where success happens. The wise person will be open to the discomfort and will stretch those boundaries. Success will come, and so will failure, of course. But the wise person learns and tries again and again, always stretching and enlarging the comfort zone.

Bottom Line:

How can you leverage the concept of comfort zones for business success? First, understand that people are prone to inaction and are generally content to dwell in their cocoons. That is the first step to overcoming this inertia. Next, sense their unstated objections and ease their fears so you can get them comfortable with you — or the product you represent — as a solution. If the prospect contacted you, they’ve already admitted that they need help. Thus, your opportunity is golden: ease their fears, comfort their discomfort, and give them confidence that you are the perfect choice to help them solve the problem at hand. How do you do that? 1) Listen with interest, 2) be authentic, and 3) share nuggets of your knowledge and expertise before expecting to get paid for it. These are the cornerstones of successful marketing today and there are many resources available to help you accomplish these goals.

Got questions? Step to the edge of your comfort zone and contact me. Chances are we’ll both learn and grow from the experience…and our comfort zones will get a little more, well, comfortable.

Are You Positioned for Success?

•04/22/2010 • Leave a Comment

Nearly forty years ago, in articles published in Advertising Age, marketing gurus Jack Trout and Al Ries introduced the concept of “positioning” as a key factor in effective marketing. Positioning is, essentially, creating a positive image that consumers will keep in mind (and, ideally, act on and share with others). It stands to reason, then, that when the consumer is ready to buy, the well-positioned company — or even a professional solopreneur — will be among the short list of preferred providers.

But is positioning still as critical today? If so, how can you strategically position your company in the minds of consumers? And finally, can positioning be managed and maintained against brand reputation threats?

Understand this: It begins with the consumer. Simply put, to properly position your company in the mind of the consumer, you must first identify and understand that consumer. While large brands might have different divisions dedicated to connecting with diverse demographic segments, the smaller business is usually better served by a more singular focus. This requires brand differentiation (more on that later) and it requires identifying those common characteristics that amalgamate into an ideal (i.e., targetable) customer.

While some companies spend millions on demographic and psychographic research, the smaller enterprise leader can often reach actionable conclusions by simple observation and thoughtful decision making. For example, if your business serves consumers who must visit your Central Indiana location, don’t waste valuable time and ad dollars using media that equally targets Eskimos. Doing so just adds to the marketing noise, delivers unqualified prospects, and diverts your focus and attention. To combat this, be observant, know your community. Watch. Listen. Think. And yes, you can do some internet research or, better yet, ask your local librarian to assist you in understanding the demographic makeup and buying habits of consumers in your service area.

Okay, so you’ve identified your ideal consumer. Now what?

Differentiate and find your niche. Armed with information about your targeted consumers, you can make informed choices for branding and positioning. This demands differentiation from your competitors, and THAT, of course, demands knowing how (and to whom) your competitors market. Again, simple observation and competitive awareness are essential. The logical next step, then, is to take what you know about your ideal consumer and market to his or her particular wants and needs in a way that is different from your competitors. This might not be as tough as it sounds. In this era of niche marketing, companies that try to sell to everyone often end up selling to virtually no one. Successful companies, however, know this and tighten their focus. In doing so, they typically leave lucrative markets open to the competition. Niches create opportunity. Differentiation bridges the gap between that opportunity and success.

Want an example of competitive differentiation: Think Verizon vs. AT&T. Think “maps” vs. apps. Think service reliability vs. “techno cool”. You get the picture. And while these two duke it out for the lion’s portion of mindshare and brand loyalty, opportunities arise for smaller competitors to succeed in the niches. I use just such a niche provider now, by the way. Suits me fine; serves my needs better.

Deliver messages that matter. Another important consideration for positioning is the factor of trust. People like to do business with people they like, and people they trust. This is why personal referrals are, and will remain, the best form of advertising. Word of mouth presents the greatest opportunity for success, but also the biggest threat. People talk. That’s a good thing. People talk. That’s a bad thing, too. It depends on your level of service and how much confidence you have that, at the end of the day, consumers will say nice things about you and your business. If you don’t have that confidence, perhaps marketing shouldn’t be your most immediate concern.

But if your customer service feedback indicates a thumbs-up consensus, and you still need more sales volume than word-of-mouth can deliver, it’s time to craft messages to showcase your expertise, to position yourself as a trustworthy authority who can address the unique needs of your targets. The best way to position yourself as a go-to expert is to share your expertise, in small doses of content, so consumers can make informed choices. Do that and they will, even if subconsciously, credit your guidance as a contributing factor to their own growing actionable intelligence. Of course, there will likely come a point in the giver/receiver relationship when the receivers will no longer be capable of acting on their own and they will truly need an expert. Where, do you suppose, they will turn? To whom will they refer their friends? Who will earn their Facebook- and Twitter-posted accolades?

Understand this: It ends with the consumer, too. Like I said, people will talk. They will say nice things and make great referrals if you earn that distinction. But they will also talk and say not-so-nice things if you disappoint them. That possibility puts your brand at risk, and so, despite your best efforts at positioning via taglines and core messages, the consumer can hijack your marketing. With social media, this is easy; thus, it’s a threat. These days, it’s not enough to merely launch branding/marketing/positioning campaigns; you should also monitor, manage and react to how those initiatives are received. Again, if the perception is that your service doesn’t match your promises, the dissatisfied consumer may speak loudly AND carry a big stick. Dell Computers faced an angry social media mob mentality in 2005 when media blogger Jeff Jarvis ranted about his Dell experience. Others piled on and Dell was forced into damage control mode. How did they react? Among their social media consumer engagement initiatives were directives to understand that conversations can quickly go global, and to address dissatisfaction head-on. According to Paul Chaney, writing in The Digital Handshake, they also promised “teamwork, transparency, and frequent, consistent communication.” Have they succeeded? In many situations, probably; in others, maybe not. But the corporate stance is valid, the battle worth the effort (if not always winnable).

Bottom Line:

To succeed, you must first understand your consumers and position your business to satisfy their wants and needs. To make sure they see you as a trusted authority and go-to expert, frequently share how you differ from your competitors. Provide free information that can empower people to make informed decisions. And when you’ve earned the right to serve the consumers you target, serve them in a manner that is consistent with your positioning. If, despite your best efforts, the consumer is dissatisfied, act quickly — before their rants gain widespread attention — to protect your brand (and to correct any internal deficiencies that led to poor service). Do these things, and you will be well-positioned for success.

Want to learn more about how your business can be better positioned for success? Contact me. Let’s start a dialog.

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