Focus Groups for City of Austin Small Business

As part of an ongoing project with Austin Independent Business Alliance and the City of Austin, I will be hosting two lunchtime focus groups in the first week of November. One is for small-medium businesses with an interest or active operations that involve import/export and the other is for anyone in the arts, as a performer, artisan, producer, publisher, promoter, etc…

These event are free to attend and lunch will be served. If interested, please RSVP as space is limited.
Links to register are provided below.

Focus Group for Import/Export
Nov 2nd from  Noon – 1:30pm
@ Precision Camera
Lunch will be provided
Click for more info & RSVP

Focus Group for People in the Arts
Nov 6th from Noon – 1:30
@ Austin Creative Alliance
Lunch will be provided
Click for more info & RSVP

Write A Better Subject Line

I get a lot of questions about how to write a better subject line. It is possible to write one that makes a big difference in the number of people that stop and read your email. In a previous post, I explained that we all subconsciously categories our emails into three categories – Now, Later and Never. If someone stops on your name then you’re probably not a never. Your subject line – or a headline if it’s on facebook or linked in – is what will help your reader make the decision between now and later. And you don’t have a lot of time.

Typically when someone gets your email, you have about three seconds, total, to get them to stop and read your message. The first second is used stopping on the from name (where it says who the email came from or who posted it on a social media site). From there, you have two seconds left to compel someone to open your message and read it.

Use the 2-2-2 Principle to write a better subject line
2 seconds. First 2 words matter the most. Why does this message matter today? (Today is the third 2)
2 seconds is what you have left after that first of 3 seconds was used stopping on your name. It’s not 2 seconds to read your message, it’s 2 seconds to DECIDE to read it. 1 Mississippi. 2 Mississippi. it’s longer than you might think.

Those first 2 words really do matter. In the quick scan-to-the-point manner that many people sort their emails and social media posts,
they very often only read the first two or three words of a subject line or headline in order to make the determination. To decide whether you are a now, a later or a never.

Why does this email or message or social media post matter TODAY? This third 2 in the 2-2-2 principle is key. You must matter today. If you cannot answer this question, go back and rethink why you are sending this message and how you might make it relevant today. This does not mean that you go to the urgency well everytime – “Today only!”, “By close of business” or “Limited Time Offer” — this can get old and you may lose the weight of the words over time. Instead, this is more about making the message or offer relevant or timely.

People on my email list sometimes see workshop invitations that have a subject line that says something like “15 seats open tomorrow”. It’s compelling and it’s timely. It builds a sense of urgency without over doing it. Sometimes my subject line says “some seats open tomorrow” – but that’s when there are a lot of seats open. “52 seats open tomorrow” isn’t terribly compelling, right? 🙂

I’ve seen people tie their message or offer to a current event so that their subject can be timely and “matter today”.  If you have a lot to say, choose the ONE thing that matters most today to put in the subject line. Be honest, be clear, be brief. Answer the question “why does this message matter today?” as close to the first two words as you can and you’ll get more people to stop and give your emails a chance.

Now, Later or Never – 3 Little Words That Rule Your World

Think about this morning when you opened your email. Most people – especially small business and nonprofit professionals, go through a similar dance with the contents of their inbox. You quickly scan that first page of waiting emails for any major “fires” that need to be addressed and then you start at the top of the page and make your way down the list, quickly sorting each email into one of three categories – now, later or never.

You were likely not conscious of this. And I’ll apologize now for calling it to your attention because the next few times you open your inbox, you will be strangely aware of this usually subconscious process.  You may find yourself cursing me for the next 48 hours each time you begin to fight this battle of priorities – which is the right word for this dance. And you need to be conscious of it, not so much as a recipient, but as a sender of important messages — and for the record, this applies to social media as well as email.  You sort facebook posts and tweets in much the same way.

So how do you make sure your messages and posts fall into the Now category? You obviously don’t want to be a never. And the truth is, a later is a hopeful and well-intentioned never. There are three pieces that play a roll in the Now, Later or Never game.

The From Name – meaning who the email came from or who posted the social media post
The Subject or Headline – that short title we give our messages to entice a reader to give it a few minutes of attention
Timing – are you sending and posting at the optimum time for your own audience?

The most important of these three is the from name – who sent or posted the message. I’ll write about how to write a subject line that works and how to figure out the best time for your messages and audience in separate posts. But for now, let’s look at the from name.

The from name in an email is where it says WHO sent the email – it’s not the email address but the name that appears in the list of emails waiting for attention in your inbox. It’s most important because relationships and our connections rule the universe in terms of our priorities. WHO the message comes from is your make or break moment between a now, a later or a never.

If you can send from a person’s name, or post as a person (not a brand), you’ll get more people stopping to take a moment and read.
When we get emails or see posts from a brand name, we very often will mentally file these messages as “marketing” – and immediately throw them into the later or never category. But if it comes from a person, we generally pause and consider the message. (which is when your subject line kicks in) so send from a person’s name.

If you think they only know your company name and not YOUR name, then piggy back off the recognition of that brand name by combining your name with the company name. When I send emails to Constant Contact customers, I send from Julie Niehoff, Constant Contact so that they stop because it’s a person’s name but they recognize me from the brand name they work with.

If you have multiple sales people who manage groups of accounts, send to those accounts from that sales person’s name. That is the person they have the relationship with so having them see that name in the from line is going to give you a better shot at winning the battle of priorities.

Stay tuned for posts on subject lines and timing. For now, keep this in mind – it’s extremely important that people on your email list recognize you and reasonably expect to get an email from you.WIhtout that basic and implied level of permission, you will not see real results from email or social media activies. And make sure you are asking your customers and fans to share your messages and offers. You cannot over estimate the power and value of word of mouth.

A Simple Rx for Marketing

For small business and for nonprofits, marketing can sound like a complicated, overwhelming time and money cruncher. It can be intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be. When I explain marketing in a seminar or workshop, I like to break it down into a very, very simple formula that anyone can approach with hope that it can actually be done. When I use the word marketing, I mean something very, very specific. It requires three simple steps.

1. Define an Audience
So, decide on a group of people you want to reach out to. Usually, that means they have something in common – maybe they live in the same area, have purchased the same product from you or maybe they all attended the same event. This can be as simple as pulling together a list of all your customers in the last year. The point is, start with a list.

2. Reach out with a message specific to that audience
This means that you put together a message or an offer that is just for those people. If you’re using a service, like a Constant Contact, you pull in the recipient’s first name for an even more personalized message.

3. Elicit a physical and measurable response
This is the part that makes it marketing. Up to this point, with 1 and 2, we were really in the land of communications. With this third piece, you begin to really market. A physical and measurable response is a click, a reply, a forward, sharing your message on facebook or linked in or twitter. Walking into your store, picking up the phone and calling you, buying something. Any physical act that a person takes as a result of getting your message or offer.

Rinse and repeat. That’s it. It does not have to be more complicated than this. This is marketing in its most basic form. Sure there are many ins and outs in terms of audience segmentation, branding, design, etc.. but in it’s simplest form, marketing is about measuring response.
If something works, you do more of that. If it doesn’t work, you stop doing that.

What real marketing does is provide an environment where you can remove assumption and emotion from your decision-making in terms of where to spend your marketing dollar (or hour of work). Because you are measuring, you know what works. So you can continue to hone your message, your timing and your offers to get the highest possible return over time.

Define an audience. Reach out with something specific to that audience. Elicit a physical and measurable response.
You can do this.

Borders, Thanks for the Memories

I still remember the first time I went to a Borders bookstore with my mom when I was a kid. It’s weird that they are closing…. Borders has been around a long, long time (like me) and while technology may have moved the company out of bounds, (hello ireaders) the people in that company, the good ones,
will continue to contribute in other ways, in other formats….and other kids, my kids, growing up now, will still learn to read and learn to love to read. Although, some may need help with physically turning pages…i mean, my three year old has mastered the art of the thumb swipe …18 months ago…
I just have to believe that the people running Borders at all levels will find a way to be a part of the future of reading going forward. Maybe not as a corporation, but as individuals – we are all moving forward. It sometimes goes so fast that it feels surprisingly similar to going backward. Don’t be fooled by the illusion.(and maybe turn off the cable “news” shows once in a while. You’re likely to jump off a cliff if you watch any of it too long. Plus, you can read/watch it on your phone or tablet anyway)
So, Borders, thanks for all the great books and for the great service – and seriously, the clearance aisle. good times. You will be missed.

ps – kindle, nook and ipad, i do so feel the love. Amazing technology, Ingenuity and progress – what’s not to love?

Am I Too Old For SXSW Interactive Week?

No. I refuse to consider it. I’m not old, I’m in my prime.
(my 13 year old tells me that 42 is not a prime number)
I’m actually not too old for SXSWi. I don’t buy into the numbers game of age anyway. But I looked around and realized that I was older than most of the presenters and that was a little jarring. Onward.

I was called “M’aam” a lot this week. But I checked that off to being in Texas where people call each other m’aam and sir all the time out of habit. That’s not a sign.

The moment that forced me to question my age appropriate-ness of the week was this: I found myself standing in a circle of colleagues and friends (yes, most of them are  younger than I am) and realized that we were all standing in a circle, TEXTING each other. No one was talking but it wasn’t silent. We were laughing in unison at jokes and photos that other members of the group were sharing via text message. Honestly, it was creepy once I woke up and looked around and realized that I was standing within a few feet of everyone, and we were not talking to each other! Some of these people are my favorite people in the world to talk to and I haven’t seen them in months and it was my big chance to catch up.  What the?

When did we lose our human-ness to our phones? When did people talking to each other become passe? I feel like a female Rip Van Winkle who just woke up and is walking around Austin trying to figure out what the hell happened. So many people walking with their cell phones taking their attention that cars cannot drive on the streets. Throngs of texting humans clogging the roads, not even aware that there are cars trying to pass. It’s rude, but it’s also stupid.

At one point, a co-worker of mine who is really plugged in (in a good way) took my phone and added me to something called “mygroup” – it’s a new app that lets you create a group of people who can text each other all at once, and I can see the value of this. None of my griping here has anything to do with the app. But my husband happened to be standing in the same circle with all of us… and he wasn’t in the texting group, so our silence was rude, but not as rude as our collective giggles at inside jokes made via text.

On the way home, we secretly renamed the mygroup app “iClique”. Again, no fault to the great app that would help me greatly if I had a group of teens at an amusement park and needed to reach all of them instantly. It’s agreat app.

There was a great episode on Bewitched when I was a little kid where Ben Franklin came forward in time and looked around at the world we had made and the goofy hijinx of the show was all about washing machines and dish washers and modern gadgets that he couldn’t have imagined. And he was impressed. … I can’t shake the feeling that Ben Franklin would not be impressed with people who stand together in a room and send text messages instead of talking.
Say it aint so, Ben.

I don’t actually think I’m too old for interactive. I don’t think age has anything to do with what I experienced. But I do think it’s important to realize that interactive is a word we throw around when we talk about video games and ATM machines and self-check-in at the airport but what the word really refers to, especially in the context of business and marketing, is HUMAN interaction. You to me, me to you.

Tools that make one-to-many communication easier are wonderful. Please believe me. I LOVE technology. But when people take the tools to a level that remove the human experience, we’ve lost a piece of what made them valuable in the first place. Efficiency is great. Cost savings – I’m on board. Mass email? Clearly people, I’m a fan. But those work better when we put ourSELVES into the communication. Relay our emotions and thoughts as people and pull back the curtain to show people who we really are.

As small business owners and nonprofits, the responsibility for all of this rests on you. You must find a way to jump through the screen. Do this by writing in conversational copy – which just means that you write the way you speak. Use photos of yourself to make up for not sitting face-to-face and be honest. Above all, just be you.
People will respond and your business or your organization will grow.
This is the real secret to good social media marketing and engagement. Be yourself and interact.

SXSW Music week starts tomorrow and none too soon — I’m sure the panelists will stil be younger than me, for the most part. (I am on a panel on the 16th! ) But I also am planning to have a better time driving downtown. Musicians often look up because they are trying to see who that smokin’ guitar player is, sitting on the corner with a case on the ground taking change.

I love Austin. Long live SXSW.
ps – I will be speaking with Martin Atkins at Momo’s tonight, at PartySmart hosted by the Austin Music Foundation.
Free to the public! Free MmMpanadas. Come see us!

Ten Things I Learned in Line at the Super Bowl.

I’m a Packer’s fan by marriage (18 yrs) , so when the Pack made it to the Super Bowl this year and it was to be held in Dallas, a mere three hour drive from our house in Austin, I knew it was only a matter of time and money before my husband exclaimed, “we’re going to the Super Bowl baby!”.  And he did, and we did.
And it was ….a learning experience.

I grew up in Dallas and was a Cowboys fan by geography… and I went to the same chuch that Coach Landry went to so it was practically part of my religious upbringing. What’s that word? Indoctrination? I didn’t like it when Jerry Jones fired Landry (I think I was a sophmore at UT by then) And I wasn’t thrilled to learn that Jones had moved into the Dallas home that my aunt and uncle had built back in the day. But – none of that was on my mind as my husband and I packed up for our big adventure to the Super Bowl. Our team was in the game, we found tickets at face value (miracle!) and we had a babysitter for the kids. Life was good. Until we got to the stadium and this line was waiting for us.

This is the line we waited in for 3 hours. My husband took this pic by holding up his cell phone and the line looks the same all the way around us in every direction. We posted them on facebook and, one of his photos ended up in the Milwaukee paper a few days later.  (Can you say Social Media? More on this later…)

In the first 2 1/2 hours, we moved from this spot to over by that grey box in the photo. No joke. It was a zen thing just to get thru it. Needless to say, we had some time to think.  Here are TEN THINGS I LEARNED (or realized) IN LINE AT THE SUPER BOWL.

1. Park at the airport.
Brilliant. This was my husband’s idea and it so worked. He figured, it’s always easy to get transportation to and from an airport so we drove to DFW and parked in the short term parking lot. I ran inside for a quick bathroom break and found a great little souvenier stand with official Super Bowl stuff at red line prices – we grabbed a bunch of stuff for momentos and gifts and threw it in the back of the car. We didn’t have to pay full price and we didn’t have to lug any of it around the stadium. So great. We hopped in a cab and were dropped off a block away. Same going back — easy peezy lemon squeezy. We also took hilarious photos of ourselves having a two-person tailgate party at the airport. We are dorks, but happy.

2. Be nice to each other.
Seriously, when did it become okay to blow smoke in a stranger’s face or spill beer on them? Most of the people surrounding us in the line were very nice, very polite and genuinely seemed to be out for the greater good. But it only takes one or two people to turn otherwise happy, patient people into animals. On the bright side, we ended up standing next to the mother and father-in-law of the Packer’s Kicker (Crosby, #2). It was a brush with greatness for the day.

3. Come on, people, no cuts.
What is this, 7th grade lunch line? We are all in the same place trying to get into the same event. We all paid ridiculous money to do this together.   And, der, we all see you cutting in line. We see you moving the barriers and jumping the walls and we get it, you need to get in there. You are tired of waiting. So are we. Karma is a bitch. I’m convinced you will meet her sooner than later.

4. I cannot stress the importance of good signage.
There were no signs telling you where to go at the big game. No signs said “You are in the right place” or “Go here to enter the stadium”.  We researched online beforehand and knew what gate to report to, but it was suddenly closed (Secret Service were everywhere, hey Dubya) and so we went with everyone else to the next gate. Big mistake.

5. When you invite 100,000 people over, you might want to bring in some extra staff for that day.
In the three hours we stood in this one ten-foot space, we did not see a staff person, a security person or anyone official except for police officers brought in to watch the line cutters (no one showed up to help an elderly woman who fainted in the line, regular citizens helped her…which lead to several of us considering a fainting spell to jump in line but what was that about Karma?)

6. Pee before you leave the house.
Sorry to be crass. My mom will be mortified that I wrote the word “pee”. But this cannot be said enough. There were grown men walking in the mob with cups that had been full of beer, now full of… well, you get the picture. It was disgusting. I know they didn’t see it coming and all that, but really? You couldn’t pour that out in the grass somewhere? Not for nothin’, it would have helped to have port-a-potties NEAR the line…but that would mean they anticipated the line, and well… I think it’s clear that not much was anticipated about the line.

7. Maybe pack a lunch or at least a snack
Three hours in line when you have saved room for a stadium hot dog and a beer to kick off the festivities is a long, long wait. I usually have crackers or fruit chewies or at least gum because I’m a mom but I had cleaned out my purse. No snacks. Low blood sugar. I think I may change my name to Karma.

8. Thousands of unamused people forced to spend 3 hours together with no food or drink or facilities or communication from inside the event WILL chant your name with a healthy dose of negative feedback. There was a big jumbotron outside over our heads with a short loop of commercials for beer and Snickers bars and every once in a while an image of Jerry Jones would pop onto the screen provoking a unilateral cry of “Jerry Sucks!”. I’m guessing this is not what the man had planned for this day in his own history.

9.When your team wins the Super Bowl, it is difficult to have a bad time 
Once you get in, even if you miss all of the pre-game activities (hello, Maroon 5, I missed you) and getting your photo with the Lombardi Trophy …oh yes, that was on the docket…and you put up with the drunk 40-something ex-cheerleader waving her “Terrible Towel” in your face and the running to your seat while Christina Aguilara flubbs the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner and you’re sure you just mis-heard her because you are loping up 14 flights of stairs to take your seat in time for kick-off, and you get there and the game is awesome and your team wins and your husband is as happy as he was when your kids were born (though he says it’s a close second, you know he’s lying to be nice) It is really, really hard to be irritated by the line and the mismanaged experience and expectations.

10. Apologizing does help.
I mentioned earlier that after that awesome day, my husband posted some photos of the line experience on facebook. One of them did end up appearing in the Milwaukee paper a couple days later.  At 9:30pm the next night we got a call from an NFL Exec (will not tell you who) apologizing for the experience we had in line and also apologizing that they could not offer us tickets to the next game or money for our tickets because they were first focusing on the 400 PEOPLE WHO HAD TICKETS AND WERE TURNED AWAY. Oh yes, that wasn’t a rumor. It happened to people. Google it if you want details. My husband joked with the woman on the line and said thank you for calling and assured her that we didn’t need tickets or money (huh? wait… ) but that her call meant a lot and he really did appreciate her taking the time.

And we did appreciate it. That was amazing. How many people did they call? It was nightime, they called from their personal cell and gave us their personal number.
Was the experience perfect? No.
Was it worth it? Yes.
Did the phone call help? Oh yeah.

The bad news is that complaints have a tendency to go social (i.e. facebook, twitter, etc)
… the GOOD news is, complaints have a tendency to go social. That’s not a typo.
Social = your opportunity to turn it around.

If your customer experience stinks, your marketing is a waste of time. Well, unless you are the Super Bowl. There’s a lot of range there. For small business and nonprofits, it does absolutely matter. You rely on word of mouth and repeat business. It’s not likely I’ll go to the Super Bowl again, that’s not really a repeat purchase kind of thing. I’m not a celebrity or a Kardashian. heh. But it was totally 100% worth it.

Amen. And Thank you to the unnamed NFL exec for the call. So nice. 🙂
Go packers!