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Friday, September 25, 2009

Michael Benedict Discusses Deluxe & Small Business Marketing

Michael Benedict What comes to mind when I say "Deluxe?" If you think 'checks,' I'm with you. 100%. In fact that was my reaction when I received an inquiry from Deluxe to sponsor an ad on Flooring The Consumer. Next, was 'why?' I accepted the sponsorship on condition that I speak to and interview someone from Deluxe to better understand the 'why?' That's how I met Michael Benedict, who focuses on small business marketing at Deluxe, and discovered that Deluxe is more than the check company and Mike is serious about delivering value to his small business accounts.

C.B.: Mike, tell me about yourself and your role at Deluxe.

Mike: First of all, I really like small, independent businesses. I've been marketing to them for over 12 years, and make a real effort, professionally and personally, to find and visit independent businesses. I'm a Marketing Director for the Deluxe Corporation and focus on identifying and developing new industries. I'm working on two industries where we have a particularly strong presence - Retailing and Construction. One of the things I enjoy most is getting a list of our customers and spending a day visiting them. Recently, I spent most of a Friday in Hoboken, New Jersey on Washington Street speaking with Retailers. It's great to speak with folks directly - hear how business is going, understand how well we're serving them and figuring out how we can help them.

C.B.: Tell me about Deluxe. As I mentioned to you, I think of Deluxe as the check company but it has evolved into much more than that.

Mike: We are the check company. But we're undergoing a transformation to help small businesses with some of their key pain points. We've spent a lot of time listening to our customers to better understand where they need help. What they've communicated back is they need help with their marketing - especially in this economic climate. The challenge is marketing is often perceived by small businesses as complex and costly. Yet, it's so critical. With about 50% of small businesses not surviving past their 3rd year, they really need to get their name out there. They also need to think about how their current and potential customers can find them (more on this below).

Deluxe has (and is continuing) to reinvent itself to help small businesses easily and affordably get and keep customers. For example, we can help them create their business logo, design and host a website, develop email campaigns and even design, print and send direct mail for them. We go further by offering personalized apparel and promotional products. For Retailers in particular, we have an extensive Retail Packaging line under our Bags & Bows brand.

But we're more than just a bunch of products and services. We've taken time to tailor these products and services to help specific types of businesses like jewelers, builders, automotive repair shops, etc. We also have a wonderful, helpful sales organization that will hold a customer's hand through the process - a small business doesn't have to do this all on their own.

We go further by helping small businesses understand how they can get and keep customers, by offering free white papers, educational videos and articles. One of the things I've heard again and again over the years from small businesses is they know their craft, their area of specialization -- e.g., I know how to cook great Indian food, I'm a great electrician, I know my area of consulting, etc. -- but they don't necessarily understand how to promote and manage their business. This is why we're developing content for them, tailoring it to their type of business and putting it on deluxe.com/shop for free.

C.B.: Who are your customers?

Mike: Mostly very small, independent businesses. We work with all kinds of businesses, whether they be an auto mechanic, florist, dentist, manufacturer or builder.

C.B.: What are their biggest issues? How do you help them?

Mike: Their biggest issue is getting more business. And that requires them to market themselves, ongoingly, in addition to all their other responsibilities. But it's especially critical now, and not just because of the economy. The rapid expansion of ecommerce, mcommerce [mobile commerce] and social media means even local businesses need to have an online presence. There are still a number of small businesses that still don't have websites, and that's leaving money on the table.

I'll give you an example. I recently relocated to New Jersey from Massachusetts. I live in a heavily urbanized area, with a large number of small businesses. Like most people, I search for products, services, restaurants, etc. on Google. So, if you don't have a website, much less one that's optimized for organic search [aka SEO], you won't be found. I read a statistic where about 40 million Americans relocate every year. As a small business, ask yourself how people know you exist? If someone new moves into the neighborhood, how can they find you?

C.B.: You’ve sponsored an ad on this blog, why? What are you hoping to achieve?

Mike: I reviewed dozens of blogs and liked your focus on helping the independent retailer. It fits well with our strategy of providing more content for retailers. I also believe retailers, and small businesses in general, need to invest more in social media. Your blog's emphasis on social media is refreshing and needed!

C.B.: Are you doing this with other blogs?

Mike: Yes. I'm linking to the construction blog www.markupandprofit.com. It's a wonderful blog with all kinds of great advice for the independent contractor, from how to promote their business to how to manage the books. Its author, Michael Stone, is an industry veteran who has a strong pulse on independent contractors and how to help them. He just completed several educational videos and white papers for us, and has spoken at our trade booth at the JLC Live Show.

C.B.: What do you like most about social media?

Mike: It's a wonderful venue to ongoingly interact with and listen to our customers and small businesses in general. You hear their pain points. For larger companies like ours that have customers nationwide, it's a critical tool to stay in touch. We have thousands of conversations each week with our small businesses through our Inbound and Outbound call centers, so social media is another point to listen, join the conversation and offer advice. We especially like the real-time feedback social media offers - you can go out to Twitter during the day and see and respond to the latest posts. We also use Twitter @DeluxeCorp to inform small businesses of great articles, tips and events to help them Get and Keep customers. We want to provide thought leadership in this space as well.

C.B.: How has Deluxe’s marketing changed?

Mike: There's a lot going on! We updated our corporate branding, launched marketing campaigns that are focused on specific industry segments and re-launched our website. We're also providing more educational content like I mentioned such as webinars, videos, white papers, articles and blogs that help specific verticals market themselves. We're trying to be as close and relevant to the customer as possible.

I think the biggest change though in our marketing is small businesses will see we're so much more than a check company. We can help them with so many aspects of their marketing, and they have the comfort of knowing what they're purchasing is backed by a company that stands behind its work. When I speak with small businesses, so many of them are trying to do marketing on their own, or relying on a family member or friend to help them. In the same breath they'll also tell you it's taken 6 months to get their website up and running, or that they tried to get a logo designed and we're not happy with the outcome. And they spend a lot of money in the process. It's not uncommon to hear a small business owner say they spent thousands on a logo or website design. We can help them in these arenas (and many others) at an affordable price and back it up with a strong guarantee.

C.B.: What about establishing your own voice online? Do you see that happening?

Mike: Deluxe is definitely expanding its voice online. You can find us on Twitter and we'll be launching on Facebook shortly. We're also in the process of setting up a blog. Stay tuned for more!

Thank you, Mike!

Were you aware that this 90+ year old company offered such a range of services? Deluxe seems to be -- in addition to the checks -- a few parts VistaPrint, several parts GoDaddy [with whom I do most of my web-related transactions], and perhaps some PIP printing & marketing services. But also more.

Do you have questions or reactions for Mike? Ideas for him to consider?

Any surprises relating to marketing and small businesses? I was surprised to hear that 50% of small businesses don't survive past their 3rd year. And that marketing is as much of a challenge. No surprise about the need to be found online [that is the subject of an upcoming FCW article].

I've enjoyed my discussions about small business dynamics with Mike and comparing notes on examples of creativity and success across industry segments. I look forward to more conversations and I'm particularly eager to hear how Deluxe's marketing continues its online evolution!

You can reach Mike via email at michael.benedict@deluxe.com.

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