Budgeting for Economic Dislocation

August 30, 2009

Each year I prepare a budget for Marketing Innovations. Like many CFOs, I look for guidance on trends and forecasts to predict the economy’s direction. The sources vary, but most are industry specific such as earnings announcements and articles in industry periodicals.

Sometimes, I will look to government sources for a macroeconomic perspective. This year in particular, I am seeking help to decipher the economic tea leaves to determine the economy’s influence on Marketing Innovations’ future revenues.

I was reading the beginning of the CBO’s (Congressional Budget Office’s) Economic Forecasting Record: 2009 Update and was startled by the following statement: “CBO’s forecasting record provides a measure of the uncertainty underlying forecasts under normal circumstances. However, the current degree of economic dislocation exceeds that of any previous period in the past half-century, so the uncertainty inherent in current forecasts exceeds the historical average.”

The CBO report is the Blue Chip consensus for the United States’ economy. I sensed economic uncertainty, but the CBO has confirmed it. Am I better off knowing the best and brightest economists don’t know with any reliable certainty the direction of the economy? Yes, it assures me I was not misreading the numbers and confirms my belief in taking effective measures to conserve cash and move inventory.

Will the economy improve? Sure it will. The question on everyone’s mind is when. Too soon to say for sure, but the key today is to hold on until it does.


My Social Media How To

July 31, 2009

I have shared my social media experiences with friends and colleagues and the same question gets asked repeatedly, “Where do I start?” The same question I had nine weeks ago.

Through trial and error and with the insights of generous people much smarter than me, I am now beginning to understand some of the opportunities social media offers. The chance to participate in a conversation much larger than I ever imagined has introduced me to new ideas and very obliging people.

Most experts tell us in order to be successful with social media one must have a strategy. Mine was to learn about social media tools to influence those responsible for the company’s sales, marketing and customer service strategies.

The information available and the willingness of complete strangers to help you learn really make the social media experience a rewarding undertaking.

In nine weeks, I have made many mistakes and learned a little that might help you jump-start your social media endeavors. With hindsight, here are the steps I would take today.

Think about how you want to be known across the various social media platforms, your user name or screen name. You can choose your name or a variation of it. If the user name is available, great! I was fortunate to be able to use my first and last name. You may choose to use a variation of your name combined with a particular interest or profession. Once you have an idea for a user name, check to see if your user name is available on the various social media sites by visiting a user name check site. Keep it short. Twitter only allows one hundred forty characters per tweet (message) and you don’t want to use too many for your user name.

Check with a web hosting service to confirm URL (Uniform Resource Locator) availability. If you are lucky, it will be. If not, don’t be discouraged, keep thinking. Be creative. It is not necessary to have the same user name for all sites, but it will reduce what you have to remember. This should be done in conjunction with checking user name availability.

I have found many experts recommend a consistent user name or brand identity on the mainstays of social media applications. Check the user name on a webhosting site like JustHost and secure your web site. Then join Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, YouTube, ebay, an email service like Gmail (preferred for Alerts, Analytics, and Reader) or Yahoo!, a bookmark site like delicious, Stumbleupon or digg, a blog site like WordPress or Blogger, a photo site like flickr, a URL shortener site like bit.ly or tinyurl, and share sites like FriendFeed. Be sure to vary your passwords and record them in a secure place with backup copies.

Create your accounts. This will take some time, but be patient. Don’t forget to write down your passwords. Vary them using upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. Each site will give hints on how they want passwords structured. You can go back and change passwords later if you change your mind. Don’t worry about signing up for services you will not use immediately or more than one blog site. Some call this squatting, but others call it intelligent foresight to protect your brand identity preventing others from stealing it and cybersquatting.

Select a picture to use as your avatar or online persona. Many suggest using a real picture of yourself or company logo believing they add authenticity and credibility. Enter your biography on the various sites. The biography is usually restricted to a limited number of characters. Create two biographies and save, one short and one all encompassing. I suggest using MS Word first so the spelling and grammar check will minimize embarrassing mistakes. Then just cut and paste.

Now you are ready to set up Google Alerts to send Internet content on topics of your choosing to your email account. Use tweetbeep to send tweets from Twitter containing subject matter, phrases, hashtags you specify to your email account. These two services will provide current information keeping you up to date and supply sources for future tweets and blog posts.

Follow people you know on Twitter to understand how Twitter works. Visit my bookmarks to locate helpful articles and blogs on how to use these social media applications. Google your question and answers will be provided by multiple sources.

Soon you will be learning more about your profession, hobbies, interests, and current events than you ever thought possible. In the process, you will meet a lot of great people. This is what social media is all about, connecting with others who share similar interests and learning about new ones. Join the conversation.

Enterprise 2.0

June 21, 2009

The integration of social media into the small business workplace will require new tools to create visibility, share knowledge and facilitate communication. Simply suggesting tweets, blog posts and profile updates by employees on their Twitter, WordPress or Facebook accounts about work related topics and an occasional errant personal annotation for authenticity are not long-term solutions.

The reluctant entry into social media by small business has taken a long time to come to fruition considering Cluetrain Manifesto celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. The pressures (or hype) from promoters of the latest technology trends have been successful. Small business must contribute to the dialog to remain competitive (or so the social media gurus would have you believe). Not sure the path to accomplish social media’s objectives will be as easy as portrayed or experimentation is a viable initial tactic.

I am not a writer and am more comfortable preparing worksheets, analyzing financial statements and evaluating operations. However, I am a proponent of social media’s potential. The communication amongst the community will provide benefits beyond the apparent. The challenge confronting small business is how to become a contributing voice.

The tools available to small business today are lacking the visibility, accessibility and integration needed to be aware of the discussions and then to respond across multiple channels. Where are the affordable applications that will take the threads of multiple discussions occurring on different platforms and provide all stakeholders an opportunity to offer their insights?

Providing a landing page with discussions, comments and links to validated repositories will encourage everyone including the CEO to join the conversation. Each of us see things a little differently and should have the opportunity to contribute. To encourage early adoption the process must be as efficient as possible. Individual Google Alerts and multiple searches to identify then decipher conversations are not efficient. Effectively connecting the conversations with the knowledge bearers will enable small business to thrive.

Do you have the answer?

Conversational Marketing

May 22, 2009

Web 2.0 or any of its myriad definitions illustrate the challenge a promotional products company faces today marketing its merchandise to an ever more wired customer.

Which path will lead to rejuvenated sales activity and success? Is it a web site with virtual catalogs, integrated product renderings and customer chat? Is it a concerted viral web presence with tweets, YouTube videos and Facebook fans? Is it something simpler? Great products? Lowest price? Best customer service? Relationships?

A traditional marketing approach is no longer viable to drive sales in this quagmire or is it quicksand of an economy. Yes, everything works in cycles, but this one seems indefinable.

Lawmakers in an effort to protect patients are curtailing pharmaceutical promotions. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is wrestling with specifics of the CPSIA causing enough confusion for some to postpone product-based promotions. Corporate budgetary constraints seem to have done away with the remaining opportunities for promotional marketing campaigns.

Where does one find viable customers? More important, how do they find me when they are ready to buy?

The promotional products industry is not alone. Everywhere you turn once reliable business models are crashing. Banks, autos and even government entities all feel the urgency to find some answers.

My quest begins today.