Trailblaze & Grow Category: Uncategorized

Marketing is Quantitative

Merging Hard Facts With Creativity: Balance the Art and Science of Marketing

As data collection and tracking methods grow, the marketing world has shifted from a qualitative to a quantitative focus. Marketers are increasingly using data analysis, systematic observation, testing, and measurement to better understand their customers, prospects, and influencers. They are studying broad behavioral patterns and using these actionable insights to create campaigns that improve business outcomes.

 

In other words, the rise of big data has turned marketing into a science. Similar to the likes of Newton and Einstein, brands are hypothesizing, testing, and refining experiments based on data. They are also beginning to embrace ideas from other scientific disciplines such as psychology, sociology, neuroscience, economics, and computer science.

 

Balancing Hard Facts With Creativity

 

Statistical analysis can be intimidating, especially for the many marketing leaders who come from creative backgrounds. Instead of crunching numbers and relying on data, many prefer to focus on their own gut feelings, opinions, and intuition. This is the traditional “art” of marketing, and though it is still important and relevant, it is not the only side of marketing that matters.

If you only embrace the art of marketing, you can still end up with beautiful marketing assets and collateral — but these materials will not necessarily speak to your target audience. For example, TBGA once worked with a client that had been sharing a story that its audience was not interested in hearing. But after we interviewed industry analysts and conducted market research, the resulting data helped the client realize it needed to restructure its narrative. Once it did, the brand doubled its pipeline.


A key to embracing the science of marketing involves overcoming a psychological quirk called confirmation bias. Many leaders will opt to focus on specific metrics that tell them they are on the right track, ignoring any data that tells them otherwise. The beauty of data, however, is that it is inherently objective and unbiased. Gravitating toward flattering metrics completely defeats the purpose.

Other leaders, meanwhile, fail to question whether they are using the right data, whether there are other factors to consider that are not represented within the data, and how much weight they should be giving the insights they glean from the data — and this can cause problems, too. If you do not ask the right questions (or if you fail to ask any questions at all), your marketing programs may not provide your desired results, and you will not be able to pinpoint exactly what went wrong.

 

Balancing Art and Science Is a Challenge — But We Can Help

 

Today, data analysis should play a vital role in every brand’s creative strategy, and it should also help brands craft their quarterly goals. It should fuel every campaign you create and every milestone you set.

If the thought of embracing the science of marketing seems daunting, TBGA is here to help smooth out the process.

We are a team of data-driven marketers who come from a variety of backgrounds. We have a proven track record of helping brands establish key metrics, test hypotheses, analyze data, ask essential questions, and, at the end of the day, tell a story that moves the needle.

We help our partners achieve their objectives and uncover insights through an integrated data analysis of their clients, their offerings, and the circumstances of the money they make.

We can help you do the same. Ready to get started? Contact us today for a one-hour consultation!

 

Photo credit: stratman² (2 many pix!) / Furniture Fair / CC BY-NC-ND

Would Your Business Benefit From a Fractional CMO?

Launching and growing a business is exhilarating — but it is no easy task.

Sheer enthusiasm and effort will only take you so far. It might help you get the ball rolling and raise a few rounds of funding, but there will inevitably come a time when your growth will stagnate. When that day comes, it will be in your best interest to stop bootstrapping and start surrounding yourself with proven experts who can help carry your brand to the next level.

This is especially true when it comes to marketing. To hit your next growth goals, you will need to bring in a seasoned marketing professional who knows how to develop an integrated strategy that effectively promotes your brand and converts people into customers. This requires experience in generating leads across multiple channels, managing people, and managing a P&L.

In other words, you need a brilliant chief marketing officer who understands what success looks like and knows how to deliver it. Unfortunately, finding this capable person is often easier said than done, especially for small to midsize businesses.

 

Finding a Fit

At Trailblaze Growth Advisors, we have seen companies waste tons of time and money trying to recruit and hire full-time CMOs. It usually looks something like this:

First, you may turn to your personal network to see whether a friend (or a friend of a friend) is looking for a job. Most of the time, this approach will not yield top-tier talent — and it could easily present an awkward situation in which you jeopardize a friendship by telling someone, “Sorry, you are not the right fit for my company.”

Then, you may elect to post an online job description, which will lead to a deluge of résumés and cover letters. Sifting through them in search of someone with the right experience and attitude for your company is no short order — and that is assuming you or your hiring manager understand what the right CMO candidate even looks like. From there, you still face several rounds of interviews and salary negotiations before you can potentially fill the position with a great candidate.

Or perhaps you will choose to hire a headhunter to do the dirty work for you. This can be a huge investment not only in commissions and headhunting fees, but also in the time required to on-ramp the hire.

All of the above options could easily cost your company more time and money than it has to spare. We estimate that it could take you up to a year to find the right fit, negotiate mutually beneficial terms, and incorporate the new hire into the fabric of your company.

If your growing business is looking to improve its marketing results today, we strongly recommend you take a different route.

 

Hire a Fractional CMO

Fractional CMOs are basically on-demand executive-level marketers. Like traditional CMOs, their ultimate goal is to supercharge your current marketing efforts, identify new opportunities for experimentation and growth, and provide mentorship to your in-house team.

However, there are two big differences between fractional CMOs and traditional CMOs: Fractional CMOs will cost you much less money, and they are equipped to have an immediate impact on your marketing ROI from day one.

Trailblaze Growth Advisors’ fractional CMOs are industry veterans who have embedded themselves in a wide variety of businesses across multiple industries. We know exactly what it takes to help companies like yours achieve their next growth goals.

Sure, you will be working with an “outsider” — but this outsider will lend an impartial eye to your company’s inner workings. We will make honest suggestions regarding your current tactics and strategies, provide input on future initiatives, and put a plan in place for follow-through. Just as importantly, a TBGA fractional CMO will put all the necessary metrics in place that illustrate your marketing ROI.

Last but not least, we can serve as a stopgap while you search for your future full-time CMO. Our fractional CMOs will ensure your company does not lose momentum as it takes the time it needs to find the perfect permanent hire.

 

If your company is stuck in a rut and is struggling to accelerate its growth regardless of how much time, money, and effort you invest toward the cause, it is time to consider partnering with TBGA and hiring a fractional CMO.

Contact us today for a one-hour consultation to learn more about how our marketing veterans can accelerate your brand’s business growth.

 

Photo credit: Latente 囧 www.latente.it via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Why Your Marketing Consultant’s Pedigree Matters

Hiring a marketing consultant based on the power of her sales pitch is akin to hiring an airplane pilot based on how sharp her uniform looks. This limited amount of information provides you with little to no idea of whether this person can actually help your business soar.

Unfortunately, too many small to midsize companies make this very mistake, hiring marketing consultants without first taking a close look at their credentials and pedigree. In fact, quite a few of our current clients hired us to help them rebound from consultants who did not live up to their slick sales pitches.

 

For example, before working with TBGA, one of our clients hired a senior marketing consultant who used his fun, personable attitude to win them over. However, once it came time to get to work, it turned out he was not the right fit for them.

Our client’s entrepreneurial environment required a consultant who could establish metrics, set priorities based on ROI, push his priorities throughout the organization, and most importantly execute on the plan — and this gentleman was in over his head. He always seemed to be working hard, but in the end, it turned out that he was just spinning everyone’s wheels. There were no quantifiable results to speak of.

The consultant was frustrated, the client was disappointed, and neither party walked away happy. Although we were grateful to have an opportunity to fix the resulting mess, we want you to get it right on the first try.

Pedigree Matters

Ivy League MBAs, previous jobs at blue chip companies, firm handshakes — these should never be the sole reason you hire a consultant. Pedigree is not about any experience; it is about the right experience.

You need to make sure a candidate’s experience will dovetail into your unique needs. If you do not know exactly what you need, you should hire a consultant who can help you identify them.

At the very least, your consultant should have experience working at companies that resemble your own, carrying out tasks similar to the ones you have in store, and delivering the real-life results you want to see.

When looking at a candidate’s track record, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has this person ever spearheaded the launch of a new business or product line?
  • Does this person typically have access to a large budget and team, or is he or she an expert at maximizing minimal resources?
  • Has this person ever built and led a marketing team, or does he or she typically work in isolation?
  • How does he or she measure success?

Our roster of marketing experts is deep and diverse. Some of us have held senior leadership roles.

 

We are a hands-on team of collaborators; no one at Trailblaze gives advice from the sidelines. We know that your specific goals require specific solutions, so at the start of our relationship, we dive in and embed ourselves into your business.

From there, we are constantly in pursuit of perfection. We always strive to be on the cutting edge, proactively seeking new research, new technology angles, and new information. We utilize modern-day tools and tactics that will help us deliver the results you desire.

Best of all, we back up our talk. We set clear objectives. If we do not meet those objectives, it is probably because we have exceeded them.

 

We at Trailblaze Growth Advisors provide more than a savvy sales pitch; we provide proven marketing expertise that will help accelerate your growth. If you are searching for a consultant who is a passionate, determined problem solver with a proven track record of success, contact us today for a one-hour consultation.

 

Photo credit: levork via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Pricing Banner

Developing Your Pricing Strategy

A comprehensive pricing strategy is critical in capturing and defending market share. By establishing differentiated pricing strategy for your offerings based on customer priorities, a company can sell expand its customer base, increase customer satisfaction and revenues. The most effective strategies for price differentiation include:

Temporal Tiering

Changes in customer demand are not random. Most companies do the majority of their business during a certain section of the day (or week), and this is largely the result of customer scheduling constraints. By offering discounts during times of low-demand , you can cater to price sensitive customers to improve awareness without degrading the profitability of your current customers won’t be able to take advantage of it. Thus, you’ll gain revenue from new customers without sacrificing revenue from old ones.

Since consumer preferences also vary by time of year, you can offer discounts on a seasonal basis. This is why tax preparation software companies so often offer bargain basement prices to customers who buy their software in February but gradually raise the price as it gets closer to mid-April. Customers who make a point to get their taxes done ahead of time can take advantage of the discount, but most other customers will wait until closer to tax day, ensuring that the companies will still sell plenty of software at full price.  Conversely, offering discounts during periods of high seasonality may be necessary to defend your market share such as back to school season for PCs, software, school supplies and clothing.

Volume Discounts

Another effective discounting strategy is to lower unit prices as the purchase volume increases. Volume discounts can help ensure that your most loyal customers receive a relative decrease in unit price as they increase their spend with you. This will attract consumers who seek long-term savings but won’t affect the habits of transactional customers who only buy your product for immediate use. This is an effective strategy for selling services and non-perishable goods, as there is no disadvantage to buying such goods in bulk and using them over time.

B2B SaaS companies use volume discounts to expand adoption across an organization. You can establish baseline prices for individuals to use your software, but then create various “business packages” to appeal to businesses of varying sizes. Businesses that buy it for 3 employees receive a 10% discount, and if they licenses for 10 employees, they receive an increasing per license discount.

Driving Conversion

Discounts need not only appeal to prospective customers. You can also use them to upsell and cross-sell current customers. Consider a software publisher that provides both word processing and tax accounting products. When customers download or subscribe to its word processing software, the company offers a discount to or a free trial of its tax accounting software during checkout. This may encourage customers to buy its tax software during off-season, pushing the competition in the tax category aside.

Another trick is to offer customers a simple, or lite, version of a product with a clearly defined upgrade strategy to upsell customers to an advanced set of features. Using the word processing software example above. Using the word processing software example above, rather than offering a discounted version of its tax software, the company can offer a free basic version of its offer such as a 1040EZ filing.  The customer can be sent to an upgrade path once he or she has indicated that additional support is needed.  The company can provided a more advanced version or additional services or support for a small additional fee, convincing the customer to spend more money than he or she had originally intended.

You can increase conversion rates and revenue per transaction through bundling by allowing consumers to buy multiple products together at a lower price than they would have paid if you had sold them separately. Say you sell language learning software, charging $30 for the beginner’s program and $40 for the intermediate program. You can get more customers to buy the intermediate program by offering the two together for only $60.  Amazon uses this strategy effectively when selling items such as books, music and accessories.

The strategies above are just the tip of the iceberg.  As always, set your hypotheses and test, test, test.  However, as you set your test strategy, keep in mind that it is harder to raise than it is to lower price.

Sources:

Photo credit: BPPrice / Foter / CC BY

Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup: Bridging Gaps, Startup CEO Guide, Product/Market Fit and more!

As you know, we share two of our favorite articles and blog posts each day.  For those of you who do not have time to read each of them, we have compiled the top 5 articles that have been shared the most:

1. Bridging the Gap Between Business and Tech Teams http://ow.ly/2ZlZsn  via Ara Howard and the Unreasonable Group

2. Hot Seat by Dan Shapiro: A Book Every Startup CEO Should Read http://ow.ly/2ZlZrZ via Brad Feld of the Foundry Group

3. Americans Prefer Not to Work for Family-Owned Businesses http://ow.ly/2ZlZsJ Scott Shane in Small Business Trends

4.  Even Collaborative Cultures Need Space for Introverts http://ow.ly/2ZlZs2 via Ilan Mochari in Inc. Magazine

5. Four Steps to Achieving Product/Market Fit. Great products and competitive prices cannot capture market share alone.   via Trailblaze Growth Advisors

Shameless Plug:  I was featured as a StumbleUpon Innovator.  Learn a little about what makes me tick…  http://ow.ly/OcrGq via Andrew Levine of StumbleUpon

What was your favorite?

Product-market fit

Four Steps to Achieving Product/Market Fit

Many startups fail because of the dreaded product/market fit.  Marc Andreesen claims that market is the most important factor in a startup’s success or failure. Great products and competitive prices will not help your company capture market share on their own. To build a solid customer base, gauge consumer desires and build your products to fulfill them by focusing on:

1. Discerning Needs

It’s important to gauge the desires of your target market. You should read review sites and perform a competitive analysis, but the best insights come directly from consumers, or businesses, depending on whether your are B2C or B2B. Survey past customers to see what they liked and didn’t like and open your website to public reviews. Open surveys and review requests demonstrate transparency, honesty, and trust in your customers perceptions. If you don’t have customers, lean on your network or offer your product for free to those who take your survey.

Remember, many consumers look beyond functionality and price. There are many inputs into the value equation, including strong values, ease of use and design can improve the marketability of your brand and maybe capture a price premium.  For example, TOMS “One For One” value proposition drives price premiums and fuels word of mouth marketing.  The company that capitalized on the power of good design, Apple focused on slick design and usability to overtake the consumer electronics category.

2.  Beta Testing

Beta testing can be used to confirm that your product meets your target market’s need, as well as identify the most highly valued features of your product or service. After bugs found during internal (alpha) testing have been addressed, the company offers a select group of customers the opportunity to try the product out. These customers report their experiences to the company, allowing for further improvements before the product is released to general audiences.

Beyond finding bugs, beta testing is useful for getting customers to share their favorite product features, which may be different than the ones you expected. For example, a language learning software publisher may include a microphone to practice pronunciations as well as a feature that translates whole sentences from the target language. While the company expects consumers to focus on the pronunciation feature, it is prepared to update its messaging hierarchy if beta testers report that they valued the translation feature more than any other feature.

Lastly, beta testing can create a buzz — good and bad.  This is why the product must go through extensive alpha testing prior to the testing phase.

3.  Solidifying Your UVPs

With a few changes in messaging and offerings, your company can become wildly more successful.  Once you know what customers want, begin fine-tuning your messaging. Begin building your messaging hierarchy by mapping needs to features to benefits.  Next, understand what your competition offers and describe how your business uniquely delivers these to develop your unique value propositions (UVP).  Focus on using language that your customers will easily understand and avoid company-centric language.

Sometimes you will have to bundle more functionality and service levels into your baseline product. All the features that set you apart from the competition add to your value proposition, even if customers do not pay for them. If your business provides better customer service than the rest, make sure your marketing reflects these superior service levels. Customers may not pay for you to talk on the phone with them, but knowing that you’ll quickly and politely answer their phone requests may earn their loyalty and even encourage them to spread the word.

4.  Generating Demand

Demand generation begins with an effective messaging hierarchy and marketing mix that is focused on the target market. The optimal marketing mix will vary wildly by the target market and the available budget.  If possible, test your way into every channel.  Once you understand the proper mix based on your target and budget, you will be in a better position to create an integrated marketing plan that optimizes PR, social media, email, search and other forms of advertising.

The above steps are as much art as they are science.  I recommend getting advice from people who have experience in achieving product/market fit to help guide you through the (at times frustrating) process.  There are no shortcuts.  The road is paved with unexpected learnings and well-executed pivots.

Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup: Joining a Startup, Staying Lean, Thought Leadership and more!

As you know, we share two of our favorite articles and blog posts each day. For those of you who do not have time to read each of them, we have compiled the top 5 articles that have been shared the most:

1. Small, Young, Cash Strapped and Lean? Good.  http://ow.ly/2ZlZsb via Brady Josephson of Huffington Post

2. How To Create A Thought Leadership Strategy That Supports True Innovation http://ow.ly/2Z716T via SAP

3. 5 Things Every Startup Should Know About Hiring http://ow.ly/2ZlZs9 via Carlo Cisco of Tech.co

4. Why I Left a Big Tech Company for a Small Startup http://ow.ly/2Z717j via Adrienne Wiessman

5. Building a Culture that Ensures Your Company’s Success http://ow.ly/NJTrV via Trailblaze Growth Advisors

What was your favorite?

Strong Culture

Building a Culture that Ensures Your Company’s Success

Entrepreneurs often overlook company culture during their first weeks in business. While many prioritize other aspects of their business, they risk sacrificing a potential differentiator. A company’s culture is vital to securing a good reputation, encouraging employee loyalty, and fostering collaboration with other businesses. Whatever your other responsibilities, it’s essential to begin building a corporate culture from day one by:

Veering Toward Values

The first step is to identify specific values that you can easily be put into practice. Generic values like equality, innovation, and employee safety are good at the start, but focus on values that relate specifically to your business. If your company provides home insulation services, for example, you have the potential to reduce your customers’ household energy use and associated pollution, so environmental sustainability will be an easy value to promote in your ordinary business practices. Likewise, if you work in software or network design, information security and privacy protection are ideal values.

For example, Trailblaze Growth Advisors ties its values to helping firms of all sizes improve their appeal and increase profitability. Our values include:

  • Hands-On Operations – The Trailblaze team doesn’t advise from the sidelines. We involve ourselves in your business as directly as possible and offer practical solutions for specific problems.
  • Pursuing Perfection – We constantly seek new information, learning as much as possible, so that we never encounter a problem we don’t know how to solve. Whenever our efforts fall short, we learn from our mistakes and improve our company.
  • Cultivating Collaboration – We incorporate as many experiences and opinions as possible, working with experts from all fields to find the best solutions.
  • Guaranteeing Our Goals – We set clear objectives and always fulfill or exceed them.

Draw Up Documents

Once you’ve decided on values for your business, make sure to articulate them to employees and customers alike. Write all of your values down, incorporate them into training programs, and devote a page of your company website to them. The sooner you make your values clear, the easier it is for your employees to embody them, and the quicker your business will gain a reputation for them.

Articulating company values also gives your employees a chance to become involved in the emerging corporate culture. Encourage them to read through the values, identify omissions, and make suggestions for improvement. The more involved your employees are in this process, the more motivated they will be to promote your company culture and the better that culture will reflect your employees’ attitudes and actions.

Construct a Culture

Putting your company culture into action means giving credit to every employee who promotes that culture. Any of your employees’ actions that embody your values, however small, should be met with praise. Consider holding monthly ceremonies in which you publicly recognize employees who promoted your values and reward them with raises or prizes. Keep permanent records of these achievements on your website or on plaques. You must also negatively sanction employees who fail to live up to your values, giving them an ultimatum to comply. One unfaithful employee can give the whole company a bad reputation.

As the leadership team, you must embody your company’s values in all areas of your life, and not just at work. If one of your values is sustainability, for example, consider insulating your home, installing solar panels, and biking to work. The more commitment you show to your culture, the more it will be taken seriously.

Engender Evolution

As your business grows, attracts new customers, and responds to changes in technology, your company’s culture will have to adapt. Encourage your employees to discuss your values and find new ways of promoting them in the changing market. Your company will change, but as long as it remains committed to its core values, it can continue to garner respect among employees, customers, and the business community.

Don’t overlook something as crucial as culture. Check out our sources to learn more about founding a company on strong values.

Sources:

  • #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amorusa
  • http://www.inc.com/eat-big-fish/why-successful-start-ups-need-to-build-a-culture-of-overcoming.html
  • http://venturebeat.com/2012/05/14/startup-culture-tips/
  • http://www.forbes.com/sites/groupthink/2013/10/04/how-to-build-a-great-company-culture/
  • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-hill/small-business-success-advice-_b_1564803.html;
  • https://hbr.org/2015/04/why-company-culture-is-a-misleading-term; www.entrepreneur.com/article/242141

Photo credit: Orin Zebest / Foter / CC BY

Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup: Unicorns, False Assumptions, New EU Tax Rules and more!

As you know, we share two of our favorite articles and blog posts each day.  For those of you who do not have time to read each of them, we have compiled the top 5 articles that have been shared the most:

1.  Why False Assumptions and Wrong Metrics Can Kill Your Marketing Success  via Susanna Gebauer

2. The 3 Competitive Defenses of Enduring SaaS Companies  via Tomasz Tunguz at Redpoint

3. The Most Important Advice I Could Give You About Unicorns http://ow.ly/2YLPTO via Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures

4. How Will the EU’s New Value Added Tax (VAT) Rules Impact US Based Businesses? http://ow.ly/2YLPTv via Ed Leiber and Small Business Trends

5. Simple Market Research for Your Business Plan   via Trailblaze Growth Advisors

What was your favorite?

BusinessPlan

Simple Market Research for Your Business Plan

Whether you are a massive corporation or a fledgling startup, understanding your market is absolutely essential. Without a deep understanding of your industry, your competition will quickly outflank you and leave you wondering where it all went wrong.

Fortunately, there are more resources for conducting business research than ever before — provided you know how to use them.

The following is a basic roadmap that can help you analyze your industry and draft a coherent business strategy that you can use to grow your business as fast as possible.

Before investing in any strategy, one of the first steps you must take is market research.

Would you play a game like Risk without knowing the rules? A few might decide to do so, but those are the people who often find themselves outmatched by the people who spent the time to understand the mechanics of the game and perhaps even some possible strategies.

Business works the same way, except, of course, for the fact that the stakes tend to be much higher — your career and your money, your investors’ money or both. It makes sense, then, that you should spend some time conducting market research on your particular industry, which you can then use to inform your overall business strategy.

What does market research actually entail?

The first step in conducting market research is to look at what competitors are doing and saying. Often, you can get a fairly clear picture of an industry by reading company blogs and publications to which industry experts frequently contribute. You should also be able to find news stories about market strategies that other companies — in other words, your competitors — have utilized. Instead of wasting precious time and resources learning from your own mistakes, you can instead learn from the mistakes and successes of others in your industry. Right off the bat, this will help close the gap between you and the more established players in your field.

It’s also important to understand how the industry itself measures success. What does a promising and/or successful company look like? How did it get to where it is? What are the key performance indicators that are used to measure one company’s success against others?

You should also learn about the size of the overall market and any specific or related sectors that could come into play. Knowing whether and where the industry is growing is important, as well.

It’s also critically important that you understand the regulations on the federal, state and local levels with which you will need to contend. Not only that, but in today’s politically volatile environment, it’s just as important to stay abreast of where the political winds are blowing with regard to your industry, so you can be prepared if and when regulatory changes come knocking.

Finally, you need to understand what you need to get started. Do you need investors? What are operating costs going to be as you grow? What expenses will increase with size, and which will benefit from economies of scale?

Once you have analyzed the answers to these questions, your business strategy should start to naturally take shape. Of course, it can be helpful to consult with an expert (or a team of experts) that really knows how to market your business, so your business strategy can be leveraged within your particular industry.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources on the Internet, as well as marketing experts available for hire, who can help ensure that your business is as successful as it deserves to be.

Photo credit: Bert Kaufmann / Foter / CC BY