From College Grad to Small Business Owner

The New York Times recently profiled a new trend in small business ownership. They identified that due to economic conditions, many recent university graduates who were unable to find work have overcome this challenge by starting their own businesses. The article highlights several success stories including one individual who, after finding himself in this situation, started the Young Entrepreneur Council. This council supports other small business owners by offering free resources, expert answers to questions, and even funding.

These “necessity” owners may differ from traditional owners who began their businesses primarily due to a passion for the craft or a desire for control. This group highlights the fact that the motivations for starting a small business today may create unique challenges for marketers in the future, and marketers should pay close attention to future shifts in the small business population overall.

Getting Good Ideas From Bad Social Media

Social media has given consumers a platform to publicly say whatever they want (a sometimes scary thought.) In 2010, Twitter users sent an astounding 25 billion Tweets.

Does one of those tweets have the rare seed to fuel company innovation? Maybe. But there’s an awful lot of dreck.

Starbucks and Dell offer a different and much more active model for finding new ideas. Here are 2½  lessons we learned:

1 Don’t be passive: Communities that thrive over time do more than passively listen. They give participants a psychic reward by demonstrating their impact. I know for myself that nothing is more exciting than seeing my own idea take flight. Let people know (again and again) how important they are. (See Using Engagement Strategies to Increase Research Participation for more.)

2 Don’t be average: Ask a hundred people for new ideas and you’ll get all the average answers. Ask 10,000 people and you’ll get all the average ideas – and a headache trying to find the one spark of innovation. But when communities interact and build on ideas their hit rate goes up dramatically. (Companies like Spigit are fast developing collaborative crowd-sourcing) (To go straight to the source for these rare creative types see Specialist User Screener)

2.5  PR is good: Generating customer and consumer engagement isn’t a big responsibility for Research. But it is a great reason to maintain a community. Both Starbucks and Dell get a lot of PR mileage while extracting some new ideas. Two for ones are a nice deal – and a lot easier to sell to skeptical senior managers. (More companies invest in social media PR than social media research.)

Here are some examples of how companies are using social media to gather consumer knowledge or source customer information:

Member View: Finding the Missing Link Between Organizational Knowledge and Customer Needs

(This is a guest post by Ken Dutkiewicz, Director of Global Learning and Development at Steelcase Inc. Ken has more than 20 years of experience in the sales training and development function.)

I’ve worked for Steelcase for more than three decades – much of that time in sales or sales training roles.  Steelcase has always had research about office environments and how people work, but in all my years of sales involvement, I’ve never seen us quite nail the marriage of our organizational knowledge and our customers’ needs.

I thought we were getting close when we started working with concepts from the book Escaping the Price-Driven Sale by Tom Snyder and Kevin Kearns, who say:

“People value what they say and their own conclusions more than they value what they are told.”

“People value what they ask for more than what is freely offered.”

This helped reinforce for us that insight is extremely important.  But we still hadn’t figured out how to get customers to ask for more information. The SEC’s Challenger Rep™ profile was the missing link.

After I learned about Challenger reps at an SEC meeting, I realized that ours sales reps lacked the ability to teach customers.  In fact, our average sales rep would say that teaching is something our learning and development organization does.

Once I made this connection, it was clear what I needed to do from a sales development perspective.

Leading Indicators – Week of February 24

  • Could those cell phone signals really be damaging our brains? Well – researchers aren’t sure [WSJ]
  • YouTube is apparently in negotiations with the NBA and NHL to stream live games [Bloomberg]
  • Coke has a new “Happiness Machine” viral video [Mashable]
  • Belgian beer brand Leffe launches dating app [Mobile Marketing Magazine]
  • Are mobile shopping sites driving customer loyalty? [Mobile Commerce Daily]
  • Shoemaker Keds to reintroduce itself,  say “How Do You Do” to millenials [NYT]
  • Are you competing with a demonstrably inferior product? Maybe you can learn from SABMiller’s efforts to beat bootleggers in Africa [AdAge]
  • A preview of the social and marketing platforms likely to launch at South by Southwest [Brandweek]
  • Don’t look now, but eye-tracking technology might have gotten a lot easier (and cheaper) [ReadWriteWeb]
  • The good, the bad, and the ugly: 50 ads starring Oscar winners [Adweek]
  • P&G’s Fairy dishwashing detergent will release a Royal Wedding-themed bottle in the UK [AdAge]
  • Are you on the QR code bandwagon yet? Mashable has a guide for using the nifty augmented reality aides in event marketing [Mashable]

How MITRE Measures the Impact of its Internal Social Network

My Profile Page on Handshake

Last week Google launched Google+, a social networking site, designed to compete—and beat—rival Facebook. Google+ aims to make “connecting with people on the web more like connecting with them in the real world.” Initial reviews have been positive.  I haven’t attempted to use Google’s new toy myself, but as a 7+ year- user of Facebook, I admit that I’ve grown tired of the site…or maybe just the people I connect with on it. My friends’ status updates used to make me laugh, but now they depress and make me feel like a voyeur.

I feel the need to break away from my Facebook-tethered past and Google+ may help me to discover alternative ways to connect, share, and create. While Google+ may not rival Facebook anytime soon, this battle has serious implications for the sharing and connecting that goes on within your organization.

Basically, it puts even more pressure on your organization to employ or develop tools akin to top social networking sites if you want to enable your employees to connect and create value. We at CEC see many companies wasting tons of time and money on employee-sharing platforms that simply can’t compete with employees’ personal options.

Fortunately, there is one company that we think has a solution to rival its Facebook “competition.” The MITRE Corporation. Read More »

Making Social Media Ripples with Small Business

As suppliers to small business, we are pondering creative ways to engage our prospects and clients with social media. Popular forums such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are challenging to use, especially as ECSB research has consistently demonstrated owners do not want to be marketed to in this space. But, here is the good news:

While small business owners do not want to be sold to (by you) in social media, they DO want to hear – or at least do not mind hearing – from you. ECSB asked small businesses:

On which of the following social media networks would you want suppliers to actively participate in (e.g., communicating directly with you)?

From a personal perspective, users react to status updates and vacation pictures on Facebook. As suppliers, it is unlikely we can replicate (nor should we) the same human emotion elicited from a funny vacation picture. But, is there a way to prompt meaningful sentiment with an issue important to the small business community? Is there a way to engage prospects and customers that encourages potentially profitable or meaningful behavior? ECSB suggests:

Try engaging small businesses using motivators such as pain points (life stage or industry) to have them opt into conversations. Or, celebrate milestones of current clients that will serve as testimonials for them to their customers/prospects (and, in turn, for us to our clients/prospects).

  • Celebrate with them using Facebook,
  • Brag about them using LinkedIn, and
  • Hold them up as exemplars using Twitter.

It is not about us. It is about them. Use public forums to demonstrate your support for small businesses and you will resonate more than you think. Make some ripples. Ripples make more ripples.

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