4 Business Tips You Can’t Ignore

ThinkingHow many times have you said, “If I could do _________________ over, I would do _____________________”? Chances are, you’ve probably said this a time or two.

Does this mean we are just mistake-driven people? Not necessarily. There are some cases, of course, when we act before thinking. However, but because most of us are thinkers (eventually anyway), we often find ourselves dwelling on how our outcome could have been better had we acted differently.

As marketers and other business professionals, this exercise is actually rather important. Whether it be about a decision, a startup, a campaign, an event, or whatever the case may be, evaluating and looking for ways to do it better next time is how businesses grow and improve.

Sometimes these situations involve certain fads or trends and you wished you’d foreseen their fleeting elements. Other circumstances involve the people around you that provided a positive or negative influence.

These types of factors will likely, and really should, change over time. But there are some factors that should remain constant whether you’re starting a business, on a marketing team, and even in your own personal life.

Don’t compromise your values.

Whatever your situation may be, you should hold your values high. If you have a business and are wishy-washy with your core values, you can’t expect for anyone or any other business to take you or your brand seriously. The same holds true for your individual life. If you don’t stand by your beliefs, you will be perceived as flaky, which is neither professional nor complimentary.

Instead, set standards and stick to them no matter how difficult a decision may be. You’ll come out stronger in the end.

Your situation isn’t the end of the world.

When you begin to have a pity party over whatever has gone wrong for you or for your business, understand that there will always be someone else somewhere facing something worse, unless you’re Enron or Bernie Madoff. (Just kidding!)

You get the idea though. It’s human nature to, as my Mom says, “make a mountain out of a molehill.” When it involves us, it’s always big. I’m not trying to belittle any serious situations, but the point is, when we recognize that there are, in fact, bigger fish in the sea, it’s easier to focus on solutions.

Support is a must-have.

If you try to do it alone, you will fail. This is not an easy statement to make, but it’s true. For a company or individual to grow and develop, they need help. So many times, startups that turn into businesses struggle when they grow since the founder(s) doesn’t know what his or her place is. For instance, just because you come up with a great business idea doesn’t mean that you have the ability to execute it fully and lead it into something bigger. This is why a founder will often bring in a CEO or president to lead the business.

Twitter is a perfect example of this principle. As the service grew exponentially, the founders knew that they needed to bring in someone to take the company to the next level and brought in Dick Costolo to lead the microblogging service.

On another note, management and employees also need to support each other. You simply cannot have one without the other. In a nutshell, support is absolutely necessary at all levels.

Don’t give up. Ever.

Whether you are building a business, a division within a company, or yourself as an individual, you can’t quit. Even when the going gets tough, try again. This is easy to say, but not so easy to implement.

There will always be options that seem better, AKA easier. The question is, will they make you happy? Will they allow you to succeed to your full potential? If the answer is no, you must never quit.


What Can Be Learned from Taco Bell’s Marketing?

Up until recently, Taco Bell’s marketing efforts were rather rocky. The popular food chain pushed the mantras of “food-as-fuel” and, of course, “Think outside the bun.” Despite many consumers’ addiction to bean burritos, these tactics did not work. What’s more, the company was hit in 2011 with a lawsuit alleging that Taco Bell’s “seasoned beef” did not consist of meat.

All these issues combined resulted in three years of flat sales and a 1.4 percent sales decline at the end of 2011.

“We were letting [the brand] become too much of a punchline,” said Brian Niccol, Taco Bell President.

However, Taco Bell has turned itself around and credits a variety of factors including social media. In fact, the company is making such an impression that it was named Ad Age’s 2013 Marketer of the Year.

The company created a new tagline of “Live mas,” introduced the Cantina menu in conjunction with Chef Lorena Garcia to promote healthier options, and is testing a Power Protein menu and breakfast.

The biggest driver for the company’s 8 percent increase in same-store sales in 2012 was the launch of Doritos Locos Tacos. Although it took three years to produce the right product, Taco Bell sold 100 million Doritos Locos Tacos within its first 10 weeks. The jackpot idea continues to grow as Taco Bell introduced the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos earlier this year along with the Fiery Doritos Locos Tacos just last month. As long as Doritos are around, could the possibilities for Taco Bell be endless?

On the backend, the company also refined its marketing message. Taco Bell now strives to reach the “millennial” customer. Social media really became critical with this shift as well since the company did not simply run to Facebook and Twitter. Instead, they utilized social networks such as Vine, Pheed, and Snapchat first. This, in addition to offering exclusive peeks and deals to social media followers, only helped Taco Bell connect with the target market it wanted to reach.

The Good News

On the positive side, it’s always good to see a brand turn itself around. We’ve seen companies such as GM and Domino’s reinvent themselves after many attempts. Apple, of course, is probably the best example of successful reinvention after Steve Jobs returned to the company and made it not only into an extremely valuable brand, but also developed a sense of status to accompany it.

So, the good news is that it is possible to turn a brand around. It just takes a lot of hard work and creativity.

The (Potentially) Bad News

Although the story doesn’t always end badly, failure is possible. This is why it is of the utmost importance to think carefully about new brand messaging. There are, of course, cases when planning could not have predicted the outcome, such as with the BP oil spill. But, creativity and advertising cost money. Beyond this, it could cost a brand its image, which is sometimes irreparable.

As for Taco Bell, it seems to be putting its eggs in the Doritos basket. The question is, is it sustainable?

While this remains to be seen, other brands need to strategically approach new branding and messaging. Although innovation is good, creating a fad is not. No matter how much it may seem like it at times, marketing is not a game. Learn this lesson early before you harm your brand.

Why “Best Practice Advice” for Starting a Business Isn’t Enough

Key to starting a business

What is the key ingredient when it comes to starting a business? While the answers likely vary from person-to-person and business-to-business, the fact that inspiration exists is what really matters. What makes one person excited doesn’t always bring the same excitement to another person. The same is true for business.

There are so many guides, books, webinars, conferences, and many other forms of “best practice advice” that it is often challenging to sort through the noise to get to the actual helpful advice. Many buzzwords also fall into this category as some experts profess inspiration lies solely in a term or mindset.

So, what’s good and what’s not? And, how can you discern one from the other?

The Copycat Mentality

Debbie DownerOne of the biggest mistakes in “getting inspired” is trying to find it in the same way someone else did. Gary Vaynerchuk is a fantastic speaker and role model, but not everyone that listens to him speak, reads his books, and watches his online shows is going to be as successful as he is. I promise I am not intentionally trying to be a “Debbie Downer.” I am, however, trying to be realistic, which is important when starting a business. Having big dreams is one thing, but setting realistic expectations is another.

Talent Ain’t All That

As important as it is to find the right talent, there are so many other factors that go into starting and building a successful business. In addition to talent, skills that enable execution and motivation of projects are critical. Ideas are great, but if there’s no way to develop and push them out, they will not result in profitability for a business.

Need or Want: A Must-Have

It doesn’t matter how hard you work or how “cool” your product or service is, if it doesn’t meet a need or a want, it probably isn’t going to sell. This is why it pays to have the right product. It’s not always about great marketing; a product that fits has to exist too.

Defining Success: Hmm…

What determines success? That is the question. To some the answer is money. To others, it is building awareness, creating a niche, raising the standard, and many other factors. In the end, it all goes back to goals. If you fulfill your goals, then you’re successful. No, you may not make a million dollars but most young entrepreneurs don’t set out to make that. It’s all about perspective.

Ultimately, a business’s success is determined by the business itself. It is okay to look to other business models or experts to see what they have done, but it is important to use discernment when doing so. Your business is unique to you, and because of this, the “key ingredient” may be something completely different from all of the known business greats.

Image of “Debbie Downer” courtesy of NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

Why You Need to Care About SOPA

If you didn’t notice the black outs happening across the web yesterday, it’s probably because you were playing hooky from your computer. If you haven’t heard the buzz going on about SOPA it’s probably because you don’t watch or listen to news…or read the web…or…well…let’s just say it’s been everywhere lately. But even with all the buzz and all the “SOPA is bad” talk going around, a lot of people are still very unclear on what it all means and why companies like SugarSpun oppose it. We thought we’d take a few minutes to put up a post and share some background and our stance.

What are SOPA and PIPA?

If you aren’t familiar with SOPA and PIPA, here’s the one minute recap. SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) was introduced last October in the House in an attempt to crack down on copyright infringement on the web. PIPA (Protect IP Act) is the Senate’s version of the bill. Free speech advocates are concerned about the implications of some of the word choices within the bills. There are concerns over who exactly is responsible or any potential infringement and how the accusations will be handled.

Clay Shirky gives you the background and brief on SOPA in less than 15 minutes in a great video from TED.

Some of the best points Shirky makes are on the motivation behind SOPA and the change in competition for eyeballs over the past several decades.

A few decades ago, there was almost no competition for publishers and media companies. Sure, there were newsletters going out in the mail and short wave radio programs sharing alternative viewpoints, but it wasn’t until the maturation of the Internet that anyone…literally anyone could publish their thoughts and build an audience for free. The Internet is what finally put Johannes Gutenberg’s Printing Revolution into the hands of the public. A homeless man can walk into a free library and use a free computer to access a free blog service to publish his thoughts for the world. The barrier to entry is zero.

That’s not good news for the people who make their money putting out content. The more points of view being shared, the more competition for attention there is.

What Was With the Black-out Yesterday?

Consumer driven content sites like Wikipedia stand to lose the most should SOPA go into effect as written. You can find an interview with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales over at CNN. After explaining why the team at Wikipedia voted to go dark in protest of SOPA, he goes on to make some excellent points about the attempts to introduce new legislation to combat online piracy.

[quote author=”Jimmy Wales – Wikipedia Co-Founder”] Within the U.S. the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (PDF) notice-and-takedown provisions have worked very well. The question of whether foreign sites pose a legitimate problem is I think something that has not be sufficiently studied. It is a valid question. But when it comes to First Amendment concerns, censoring the Internet is never going to be the right answer. The right answer would be something like the alternative OPEN Act. I’m not necessarily supporting that one, but I’m saying, ‘Gee, we need to take a look at other possibilities here.’ We also need to take a look at whether this is the right thing to be worrying about in the first place. One of the things that we know is that spending on entertainment is actually up. So I view this as a bit of a power grab for Hollywood, crying wolf over something that’s not as big of a problem as they make it out to be.[/quote]

Ok, That’s Nice..But Really, What’s the Big Deal?

If you’re still wondering what all the fuss is about, head on over to Gizmodo and read their super simple explanation of the problems with SOPA. This is the section that should REALLY catch your attention:

[quote]Perhaps the most galling thing about SOPA in its original construction is that it let IP owners take these actions without a single court appearance or judicial sign-off. All it required was a single letter claiming a “good faith belief” that the target site has infringed on its content. Once Google or PayPal or whoever received the quarantine notice, they would have five days to either abide or to challenge the claim in court. Rights holders still have the power to request that kind of blockade, but in the most recent version of the bill the five day window has softened, and companies now would need the court’s permission.[/quote]

And if that didn’t do it, think about it from this perspective:

[quote]SOPA also includes an “anti-circumvention” clause, which holds that telling people how to work around SOPA is nearly as bad as violating its main provisions. In other words: if your status update links to The Pirate Bay, Facebook would be legally obligated to remove it. Ditto tweets, YouTube videos, Tumblr or WordPress posts, or sites indexed by Google. And if Google, Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, etc. let it stand? They face a government “enjoinment.” They could and would be shut down.

The resources it would take to self-police are monumental for established companies, and unattainable for start-ups. SOPA would censor every online social outlet you have, and prevent new ones from emerging.[/quote]

What’s Our Take on all this?

Here at SugarSpun, we’re concerned about SOPA. We’re concerned about anything that tries to add new layers and laws and enforcement to something that is already illegal and enforceable. Piracy is already illegal. Piracy can already be fought. This new law doesn’t change that, it simply changes the enforcement. Changing the enforcement has the unfortunate side effect of making life more difficult for everyone online who ISN’T breaking the law. As a small business, we’re also concerned about anything that puts us in a position to have to spend money to defend ourselves when we’ve done nothing wrong. The power handed out by SOPA could put us into that very position.

Jen has had her share of run-ins with bullies who wanted to claim copyright infringement to get their way. She fought them off. But she had the community and social media on her side for that fight. The next time around, it might not be such a humorous topic and help might not be so available. We don’t want to see our clients placed in these situations either and we certainly don’t want the bread and butter of our marketing efforts (social networks) to be damaged.

Piracy is wrong. But this is not the way to fix it.

What Can You Do?

The great news is support is already dwindling for the bill. Mashable reported yesterday that PIPA co-sponsor Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, Arkansas Sen. John Boozman and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch have all pulled their names from the bill. SOPA co-sponsor Arizona Rep. Ben Quayl also pulled his name. Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry have also announced plans to pull their names from PIPA and SOPA as well.

While this is great news, SOPA’s lead sponsor, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith stands by the bill and intends to move it forward.

There are several things you can do at this point in the game:

Break Your Goals into Supportive Goals to Make Them Achievable

Here’s the thing about goals. They’re well intentioned and broad in focus and we wave them around as if we’re really proud of these lofty ideas we hope to achieve. But unless we take the time to create a plan of action to reach them, they rarely amount to more than warm-fuzzy inducing line items.

The problem with the way most people reach goals is that they do it without a proper plan. They establish a goal of increasing sales and then they rush off to social media sites to try and boost their sales. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. Generally, it’s dumb luck either way.

Successful Marketing Relies on Formulas

Think back to your days in advanced math in high school or college. Remember how it was never enough to get the proper answer? You had to demonstrate your work and show the steps it took to get there? There’s a basic concept in both math and science that requires you to “reproduce” your work. This is why math and science rely so heavily on formulas.

The world of marketing is really no different. Yes, there’s an extraordinary amount of creativity required in the creation of your message…but the processes are incredibly formulaic. Relying exclusively on the creativity with little regard to process will not only make it difficult to replicate success, it will also make it difficult to learn from you failures.

This is why your process can’t move into the creative realm once you’ve defined your top three goals. It must move into the realm of supportive goals.

Break Down Your Primary Goals into Supportive Goals

Just like those annoying math teachers who wanted to make sure you understood the process, I want to impress just how important it is to follow a process when you are building your social media strategy. I’ve already written about the need to establish goals and even walked you through the concept of developing high level goals.

Today I want to explain how you take those top level goals and break them down into smaller, supportive goals. Following this process will help you reach the point where you can select your social media strategies based on what will help you achieve your goals rather than what “everyone else is doing.”

(If you haven’t read my post “Understanding the Three Primary Goals of Social Media,” you may want to take a quick moment to go get some background.)

Step One: Examine Your Top Level Goal

Let’s say one of your top goals for social media involvement is to monitor the conversation around your brand. Perhaps you are launching a new product or perhaps you’ve been suffering from a lot of negative conversation online and you are ready to address it.

The temptation with this goal might be to jump in the conversation and start listening to everything that’s being said. A better plan is to sit down and consider a few smaller goals first. Think about the various goals related to monitoring your brand. Your list might look something like this:

Each of these four sub-goals are a very important part of how your primary goal integrates into social media marketing plans. They’re also necessary to define so you know you are taking the steps needed to actually reach the primary goal.

Consider how they all work together:

  1. Select a Monitoring Program: It’s not enough to simply want to monitor, you need to decide the depth if information you wish to collect and how you’ll be organizing it. If you’re a small company with a few mentions, a free tool like Google Alerts may do the trick. If you’re a larger brand or you need the ability to sort mentions by sentiment, you’ll need to research and purchase a more powerful tool.
  2. Determine a Plan of Escalation: If you’re taking the time to track the conversation, you also need to have a plan for responding to it. You need to sit down and ask yourself what deserves a response, who will give the response and how to track the follow-up and results.
  3. Parlay Coverage via the Blog: One of the biggest benefits to monitoring the conversation is the fodder it can provide for your blog. Whether it’s pointing out a mention, responding to someone else’s thoughts on your posts or simply writing content to address common concerns or compliments, it’s important to have a plan in place to use what you learn from the conversation.
  4. Engage with Influencers: Another benefit to monitoring the conversation is seeing who is talking about you. Taking the time to review these conversations, research the person talking about you and then engaging them in conversation can be essential steps toward building the relationships that will help you improve your brand’s online presence.

Each of these sub-goals plays an important role in allowing you to leverage social media to reach those higher level goals. If you move too quickly toward implementing your goals, it’s easy to overlook them. While you may still experience a level of success without taking this step in the process, you’ll decrease your chances of success significantly.

Don’t rush into social media. Take your time and take it step by step. You’ll find you’ll build a fuller, more comprehensive strategy that provides better direction and more concrete results.