Insight for Small Businesses from Mega-Conference 2014

Last week, I attended the 2014 Key Executives Mega-Conference, hosted by the Local Media Association, Inland Press Association and Southern Newspapers Publishers Association. Affinity Express attended and exhibited as a supplier for media companies but, as I sat in on various sessions, I realized presenters had information that is helpful to a wide variety of small business owners and marketers. Here are the points I think you’ll find relevant.

Session: Simplifying Digital Services Selling . . . for Easy Deployment & Big Profits!

This is how other small businesses are spending for online marketing. How do you compare?

  • 12.4% online advertising
  • 15.6 coupons/deals/SMS
  • 72% online marketing services
    • 51.7% web presence
    • 12.9% online ad production (e.g., banners, ads, apps, contests)
    • 12.1% online consulting and research
    • 12.0% online public relations (email/reputation management)
    • 11.3% online marketing support (search engine optimization)

Source: Borrell Associates.

At a minimum, the presenters thinks you should invest in the following:

  • Websites—build an online presence.
  • Social media—establish profiles on the channels your customers use and update regularly.
  • Local listings—claim on Google Maps and other directory sites.
  • Optimization—create links to other sites and vice versa; update keywords on the site for better visibility on search engines.
  • Reputation management—monitor what has been said about your company.
  • Search engine marketing—buy online ads.

If you need help or prefer to work with fewer providers, in many markets you can purchase these services from local newspapers:

  • Sponsored Facebook posts on the publisher websites
  • Native advertising (advertorials that enable an engagement with content—see more below)
  • Listings in local directories on newspaper sites
  • Reputation monitoring
  • Online banner inventory
  • Social streaming (tool that sits on home page and monitors the social posts of advertisers)—70% of SMBs use Facebook but 60% rarely update!
  • Weekly print ads

Matt Lohrmann, classified advertising manager of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Walla Walla, Washington noted: “It’s shocking but 89% of SMBs do not have a mobile-compatible website. When it comes to reputation management, the difficulty is when we give the report to the advertiser and they just sit on the results and do not claim listings or take other action.” In other words, we need to follow through with the marketing services we purchase to get results or we’re just throwing money away.

According to Jerry Healey, publisher and owner of Colorado Community Media in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, sponsored content/native advertising/advertorials are stories provided by advertisers or by content vendors that advertisers can claim. The advertisers’ names are incorporated along with their quotes. As a result, advertisers are positioned as experts in their industries. Articles live for two weeks on the publishers’ website but live forever on the internet. Beyond impressions, this results in ancillary benefits such as authority, ability for advertisers to load stories on their own websites, improved SEO and more.

Daily deals were the subject of the presentation made by Katie Wilson, digital advertising director of The Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa. “Get it Today” is the name of this publisher’s daily deal offering. They started the program four years ago and built email databases 10-11 years ago. Advertisers get a quarter-page print ad on the front page of the Quad-City Times, an email blast to more than 50,000 subscribers, posts on the KWQC and QCTimes Facebook profiles and a minimum of seven commercials the days on which deals are offered. Participating companies get the equivalent of $10K in advertising and guaranteed store traffic.

 

 

Session: Borrell Associates: The 2014 Ad Outlook in Your Market

Since 2008, newspapers and other legacy media like broadcast TV and radio lost 31% of total viewing time or ten minutes, whereas digital channels grew by 27.3 minutes. There is a net increase of1.7 minutes. By 2015, the time spent on digital will grow to 46.4 minutes, but consumers will curtail their total media time by 19 minutes, effectively saying “enough”.

Cable has had a significant decline, as has radio. Yellow Pages is also way down. Newspapers and cable lost half their revenues. The forecast for broadcast TV, cable and radio will be fair to cloudy. Yellow pages will continue to decline. Direct mail is continuing to go down as well and magazines are declining.

Ironically, advertisers continue to pay 4X more per minute of usage to reach the users of one medium: Yellow Pages. This is because of intent. Users tend to be ready to buy. For an average $3,200 investment advertisers got return of $81K from their Yellow Pages ads. In contrast, 82% of people who go online can’t recall the ads they saw.

When asked where they prefer to look for local businesses or services, respondents answered: Yellow Pages 65%, Google 12% and online directories 3%, according to a survey in small markets.

With all of this in mind, Gordon Borrell recommended:

  • Decide what you want to be.
  • Recruit younger staffers and/or people well-versed in digital marketing and listen to them.
  • Be aggressive, clear marketers.
  • Build new products around user intent.
  • Focus more on share than year-over-year growth.

Session: What Will the Digital Natives Do?

John Temple, founding editor of Pierre Omidyar’s Honolulu Civil Beat and former managing editor of The Washington Post, commented: “Our audience is really ‘us.’ We all look at smart phones every day.[As publishers,] we see ourselves as pushing out content when that is not how it works anymore. New platforms come out of nowhere and attract 40 million people. This happens because they have recognized and tapped into a need. There is a nexus of technology and communication.”

This means we have to do a better job of thinking from the perspective of what our customers want or need. We have to respect them and the communities in which they reside. For example, an author published a book on media with a draft chapter so the audience could help him make that section better. The writer approves comments and attaches them to the appropriate content.

Regardless of your industry, go beyond publishing content and have a conversation. We spend time building an audience with engaging content and then we irritate visitors by cramming in promotional messages that disrupt or even ambush them. This approach doesn’t work anymore. Display advertising is not the future. In fact, Melissa Meyers said the goal for Yahoo! is to make the ads as engaging as the content. Advertising has to become intriguing and beneficial.

Otherwise, personalization is an imperative. The tablet will continue to play a big role because it is visual and supports longer articles. Mobile and responsive design are critical for websites.

The technology is out there to help transform business models. Reach out to providers to get support.

 

 

Session: Town Hall/Idea Exchange for Small Dailies and Weeklies

Businesses think too much in terms of products. For publishers, an example of this practice is their tendency to focus on selling individual ad types versus marketing platforms (e.g., mobile or social). There are few platforms but many products within each. Overall, it is important to sell what customers want to buy.

These are tips from Adam Burnham, vice president of interactive sales and service for Affinity Express and the moderator of this session. The comments apply as much to a range of small businesses as to publishers.

  • Focus on what you can do—stop talking about what you can’t do.
  • Build the strategy—base it on revenue growth.
  • Create value for customers—move away from product-based selling and heaving discounting.
  • Hone your effort—target categories with the biggest potential.
  • Enable sales—give your sales people more time to sell.
  • Monetize 100% of available inventory—sell like broadcast TV does—when was the last time you watched something on TV and 50% of the ad spots were not sold?
  • Conduct local business focus groups—accept that you don’t know what you don’t know and stop assuming.
  • Partner, partner, partner—focus on customer service and sales and leverage relationships for everything in which you are not an expert.

The final takeaway of the Key Executives Mega-Conference applies to all of us: change is the new mantra. Regardless of our businesses, we all have to 1) grow revenue, 2) operate efficiently and 3) innovate.

Which of these points resonated with you and what would you add to help small businesses improve their success?


Small Business Marketers Can Win Gold with Lessons from the Olympics

For those of us who are grateful to get a five or ten percent increase in our annual budget, the fact that some companies will invest as much as $1 billion on marketing in conjunction with the 2014 Olympics is astounding. We don’t have those kinds of funds, but we can learn quite a bit from these major advertisers on how to align with events both large and small.

It seems like we just finished digesting the commercials and marketing around the Super Bowl but the Olympics is very different. The global audience of the opening ceremonies is huge compared that of the Super Bowl but the ads from the latter easily outperform the Olympics.

  • The top three Super Bowl ads, combined, have generated 11,466,280 shares
  • The top three Winter Olympics ads have generated 659,701 shares

Regardless of the events and marketing tactics you choose, here is some good advice related to the Olympics to help you be more effective.

  • Consider Format and Duration

The Super Bowl is one night and the commercials are as anticipated as the game. But the Olympics are several weeks long and ads don’t generate the same kind of buzz. Plus, there is quite a bit of repetition, especially for viewers online. Repetition is to the Olympics what creativity is to the Super Bowl.

As a result, it is important to consider the unique qualities, requirements and expectations of events. When exhibiting, you could create a hashtag with your company name and the event. But be sure there is no way it can be misinterpreted (one of the most famous incidents was Susan Boyle’s album party: #susan album party—connect the words and see what I mean).

  • Understand the Type of Ads that Work

Advertising for the Olympics is understated and not as wacky or edgy as the Super Bowl. There are a few approaches that resonate especially well with consumers. Derek D. Rucker noted: “Savvy brands realize the Olympics carry with them a particular zeitgeist that colors consumer sentiment. Ads that are inspirational and heartfelt, playing up the human spirit and achievement are more likely to be remembered, even if they are unlikely to generate water cooler chatter.”

1.Human Story. John Maxham, chief creative officer, Chicago office of DDB Worldwide, said: “The strength of the Olympics is when the puck drops, the human story comes forward and the controversy recedes into the background.” P&G builds on their 2012 campaign, “Thank You, Mom” with the new “Pick Them Back Up.” This touching spot reminds us many of the amazing athletes made it to the Olympics because of the support and encouragement they got from their families. This is by far the most memorable commercial I’ve seen around the games.

 

 

As a small business, a great way to connect and engage with your customers is evoke emotion. For example, jewelry stores often show people being surprised and moved by gifts on special occasions.

2.Spirit of Competition. Century 21 sponsors the men’s and women’s bobsled and skeleton teams and airs ads with the theme “Smarter. Bolder. Faster,” The fast pace gets the heart racing and builds excitement for these races.

In a similar way, BP supports six Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Its ads state that the company is committed to bringing energy to America and this year it will come from a difference source, the athletes.

 

 

Think about your customers’ objectives or obstacles and illustrate with your marketing how you can help them cross that finish line ahead of their competition.

3. Optimism and Hope. Citibank’s “Every Step of the Way” campaign features Julie Chu, Billy Demong, Erin Hamlin, Ted Ligety, Evan Lysacek, Dan Jansen, Picabo Street, Alana Nichols and Rico Roman. It lets consumers decide where a $500,000 contribution will go to help future athletes “reach their full potential through sports programs that inspire.”

In honor of the Olympic debut of women’s ski jumping, Visa features ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson with a voiceover from Amelia Earhart—a great woman who loved to fly (and I agree with Vanessa that the addition of this sport was way overdue!).

 

 

In your promotional efforts, keep in mind that fear and failure will certainly motivate people to take action, but uplifting messages can establish and reinforce a positive association with your company.

4.Diversity. This year a new theme emerged around diversity, related to Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws last year and the international outcry following President Putin’s comments on homosexuality.

Chevrolet capitalized with two ads. One for the Traverse minivan that reminds us what the family looks like has changed but the company still wants to keep them safe.

 

 

For the opening ceremony, Coke ran a longer ad with “America the Beautiful” sung in several languages, a translation of “e pluribus unum” (out of many, one) and images of different people to communicate that America is beautiful and Coca-Cola is for everyone.

 

 

The point here is to make sure you are listening to your clients, prospects and industries to pick up on emerging themes and remain relevant in your promotional activities.

  • Go Beyond the Obvious Opportunity

The best way to market in relation to events may not be ads. For many companies, it may be better to use logos or symbols like the iconic Olympic rings on packaging. When shopping, there are some people who opt for one brand over another because they want to reward companies sponsoring their countries’ teams.

Compared to traditional advertising, social media better enables brands to engage consumers in discussions about surprise victories, individual performances and other happenings like the opening ceremony. This might be true with your events too.

Ultimately, successful marketers must deliver brand messages over the course of entire events through multiple channels. Think in terms of campaigns that can be translated to your website, social media, print collateral and more, versus individual tactics or ads.

  • Watch What Doesn’t Work

Learn from other companies and past ads so that you make the best choices with your limited funds. This year, one commercial that falls flat to me is JC Penney features U.S. Alpine skier Ted Ligety in a remake of the 1996 song, “No Diggity.” It’s a good ad but doesn’t quite work for the Olympics in my opinion. Apparently, I’m not alone. It has reached 35,000 views on YouTube, compared with 14.5 million garnered by P&G for “Pick Them Back Up.”

 

 

Although you can’t spend like Visa, BP and Chevrolet, you can benefit from their marketing wins and losses. A great way to sum up is the comment from P&G’s CMO Marc Pritchard. He told Ad Age that the company’s 2012 Olympics platform was an attempt to build “a perfect storm” of TV, digital, social and PR activity around the games, 34 P&G brands and its corporate image. I hope the Olympics inspire you to make your marketing faster, higher and stronger!

What are your favorite 2014 Olympic ads so far and how have they encouraged you to improve your marketing this year?


Using Digital Marketing to Maximize Trade Show ROI

Building brand recognition and website traffic are “nice” objectives for exhibiting at trade shows but most of us marketing for small- to medium-sized businesses want to generate warm leads and sell (or at least move the process along). With that in mind, here are some ways you can use digital marketing to make the most of every event you attend.

  • Email. If the organization provides lists of registrants in advance, craft email blasts that feature your booth number and focus on the benefits attendees can achieve by visiting with you. Encourage them to make appointments. If you can tie into the content of specific sessions or panels, that’s an even better approach. For example, Affinity Express is exhibiting at the upcoming Key Executives Mega-Conference in Las Vegas. The pre-conference bonus session is on “Simplifying Digital Services Selling . . . for Easy Deployment & Big Profits! Since we design those digital services such as websites, videos and social profiles for the newspapers’ advertisers, as well as provide professional services to make implementation painless for our clients, it’s a perfect opportunity for us to gear our materials to reinforce this theme.

    After the show, use email again to send relevant material on your business. Invite recipients to opt into your newsletter and highlight your website address, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and other social channels to build your following. By the way, when people get your communication, it is more likely they will forward emails to other colleagues than any hard copies of flyers and brochures that actually survive the trip back to their offices.

    Divide your leads into hot and cold and create a follow-up strategy.
     
  • To the warm leads, send any information specifically requested or literature related to the conversation you had (e.g., a case study on how you saved costs and reduced turn times for a client).
     
  •  To the cool leads, research what each company does and send survey results, tips and tricks for using products, white papers or links to resources you think they would find valuable. Avoid generic messages about how nice it was to meet them at the show and instead focus on helping.
  • Website. Set up a dedicated landing page or website of a few pages branded for your company and about the event. Make sure there is a form to capture email addresses, contact details and questions of visitors. After the conference ends, create a recap document or video that you make available on a landing page. Promote the resource as a guide for people who were not able to attend the conference.
     
  • PR. Write a press release, submit it to a free press release site such as PRWeb.com and post it on your website news page, including your booth number and the details of the trade show. The idea is that your press release appears in results when individuals search online for the event.
     
  • Mobile. Take photos of your booth but also other companies’ interesting products, demos and speakers. Invite your followers to reply. If there are any celebrities or well-known industry leaders, get photos of them and it will result in more visibility for your tweets or Facebook posts.
     
  • Video. Feature a video in your booth that lets visitors learn what you can do for them in case you have a flood of traffic and can’t get to everyone. Ensure your monitor is large enough so that multiple people can see it clearly. It never hurts to incorporate customer testimonials. You can also shoot videos of your best sales people having productive conversations with prospects to answer common questions and feature them on your website. Upload videos to your YouTube channel as well. Typically, it is better to share several shorter videos on individual topics, rather than longer ones to enable people to easily digest the content. Don’t ignore Vine—six-second videos could be used to capture quotes from booth visitors on where your industry is heading.

  • Social Media. HubSpot’s 2013 marketing annual report revealed that social media generated almost twice as many marketing leads compared to trade shows, telemarketing, direct mail or pay-per-click. That’s why it makes good business sense to use social media to amplify your marketing at trade shows. Comment on events in real time. Share reviews of sessions you attend and quotes from speakers you enjoyed. Express opinions rather than sound like one of the event organizers. Be sure to use the hashtag of the event if there is one. Link back to your booth location whenever possible so you are positioned as a knowledge resource for the show. You could even set up a Twitter account using your company name and the event name. Whichever you choose to use, be sure to make the most of each channel, taking advantage of its specific features.
     
  • Blogs. Besides writing your own informative blog posts before, during and after the event, a great suggestion from Gorilla76 is to ask if you can write a guest post on the trade show blog and tell the organizers you will promote it on your social media channels. This way, your company and the show both get extra visibility. But only do this if you can provide useful information, as it would be bad form to publish a sales pitch.
     
  • Twitter. Live tweeting reaches more people than the attendees. There will be many who can’t make it but will follow colleagues or hashtags. An important tip is to make each tweet a complete thought because individuals may see only one rather than a chain of comments.

     
  • LinkedIn. Chances are, if the event has been around for at least a couple of years, there is probably a LinkedIn Group. If so, get involved and provide interesting information and assistance. You can see what the concerns are among the group and tailor the pitch you give in your booth.

After the show, if you know the name and company of visitors, you can try to find them on LinkedIn and send a brief message. While you are at it, follow their companies. If the contacts you made are not ready to buy or they are not the actual decision makers, it’s possible they will point you in the right direction.

  • Facebook. Set up a Facebook event to generate buzz about the offline show. Don’t invite the world, just the people who could participate (e.g., they are in the same city, industry, association, etc.). You can also leverage Facebook ads and target registered attendees of trade shows. Facebook makes it easy, using many factors such as city, profession, people who have liked the event Facebook page and more.
     
  • Pinterest. Set up a board and post your event photos, including those of you with important clients and prospects, exhibits that interest you, the best speakers you heard and people at social events. We all enjoy looking at photos and trying to find ourselves and people we know!

  • Google+. Group all of your leads together in one Circle. Segment the rest of the leads in other Circles, such as those that need to be nurtured, influencers, bloggers and media, and so on. Follow up with Circles based on where the contacts are in their buying cycles.
     
  • Presentations. Create a PowerPoint or other type of presentation specific to the event and its attendees. Instead of a keychain or pen, handout branded USB drives with important information and differentiators. No one is going to read every detail about your company, so be selective. One other point, it is likely your competition will get their hands on these, so choose wisely what you include. Good options are white papers you have written or sponsored, collections of helpful articles from industry experts, templates or tools to help prospects make decisions on your products or services and so on.

  • SlideShare. Upload yourslides to this database of presentations. You can set up SlideShare to collect leads for you at the end of your presentation. This extends your reach beyond the pool of attendees to others interested your products and services.

Lastly, here are a few words of advice for all your digital marketing efforts for trade shows:

1. Simplify. Pick one or two things to highlight. Focus on qualities that make your company unique. People at trade shows are hearing dozens or even hundreds of pitches. They won’t be able to remember everything you tell them.

2. Be visual. Make sure your graphics have a key message of six or seven words at least three feet off the ground. Develop flyers, emails and presentations with strong imagery, evocative headlines and concise copy that communicate key benefits to distinguish your company.

Do you have any other tactics for increasing booth traffic and lead generation at trade shows?


14 Ways to Track Your Competition

There is an entire line of professionals dedicated to tracking the competition for Fortune 500 companies and many organizations have departments dedicated to watching every move of other companies in their industries. But that doesn’t mean monitoring the competition is too expensive or time consuming for small companies. It is an essential part of a solid business plan that will improve your operations, customer service and marketing. And because of all the tools available, there is really no excuse for not monitoring your competition.

Getting Started

  • Define your business’s goals and strategies. When you know where you stand in the marketplace and where you would like to go (e.g., we want to be the number one choice among small retailers in Elgin, Illinois for tax preparation services), the difference between you and the other players will become clearer.
  • Determine who should be followed. Beyond the traditional, direct competitors, you should think broadly to avoid being surprised by new entrants or disruptive market forces. For example, there might be three other local coffee shops. But what if the supermarket down the street opens a coffee kiosk people can visit for a treat while running in for dinner ingredients after work? What if a new line of espresso makers is offered at discount prices and your $5 lattes seem cost-prohibitive? Anticipate what could change and impact your bottom line.
  • Analyze important information. You should determine four things about your competitors: 1) goals (usually in terms of revenue or profits), 2) management assumptions about the market, 3) strategies and tactics in use and 4) capabilities to reach objectives.
  •  Focus on a reasonable number. It is not productive to watch scores of competitors or you could be distracted from enhancing your own company’s edge.
  • Formalize the review. Decide who will monitor the competition, the process, the repository that will be used for information and the frequency of reviews. Quarterly or monthly reviews are advisable but if you only do this annually, you could miss critical developments.

Sources of Intelligence

1.       Sign up for news alerts. Google Alerts are helpful, easy to set up and free. For smaller, local businesses, you might also want to sign up with local newspapers for notifications.

 

 

2.       Review websites. Fagan Finder will tell you about other sites linking to your competitors’, which can reveal alliances, networks, suppliers and customers. WatchThatPage.com will tell you when specific pages are changed so you can hear about new products, changing messaging, new target markets, personnel changes and more. Investigate the directories in which competitors are listed make sure you also listed.

3.       Check their keywords. Use the Google keyword planner. Log in, go to Tools and analysis and search your desired keywords, plug in a URL and get ad group and keyword ideas, as well as find out how much in demand various keywords are.

4.       Pay for financial information. Dun & Bradstreet and InfoUSA provide detailed company information including but the services are expensive. Instead, check local libraries to find out if they provide access to such subscriptions.

5.       Become a client. If you can buy a product or use a service, you will have first-hand knowledge of what you are up against with competitors. Test the experience online and in-store. Experience the buying process and evaluate how products are sourced, merchandized and priced.

6.       Visit trade show booths. Pick up competitors’ materials. You can view demos or new products in person and ask their teams questions (It’s easier if your company name isn’t on your badge!).

7.       Call to inquire about products. You can get in-depth information about pricing and what is popular, which can also help you determine what your customers are willing to pay.

8.       Follow their blog. Chances are you’ll find out about new features, partnership launches and hires, as well as insight into company culture.

9.       Browse social media. Like your competitors and follow their key personnel. Check social media for the problems and negative comments other companies have experienced and then learn from their mistakes.

o   Facebook, Pinterest and Flickr photos can reveal numbers of employees, computers and other technology in use, future plans and culture.

o   TweetDeck and TweetBeep will let you know if someone mentions the competition (or you, for that matter).

o   LinkedIn tells you who your competitors interact with (change your settings to anonymous if you want to be stealthy). To do this, take a look at full profiles and go to the “Activity” sections of the pages to see connections. Use search to determine who is hiring and recent hires. Former employees are listed on the Company statistics pages.

10.   Get on competitor mailing lists. What better way to know what products or positioning the competition is pushing than to have them tell you? You can also gauge how effective their email or direct mail marketing is.

11.   Ask your staff. Anyone who directly interfaces with customers probably has a perspective on the competition and should be tapped for insight. You can even offer small incentives like free lunches or movie tickets for the best information received each month.

12.   Subscribe to industry magazines, newsletters and websites. You will know if the competition gets any coverage. A bonus is that you’ll learn which reporters and editors cover your space and can start building relationships by providing relevant information and perhaps becoming a trusted source that is quoted frequently.

13.   Watch the stock value. If competitors are publicly-traded companies, you can set up your computer or smartphone to automatically notify you of changes.

14.   Tap online reputation management services or software. I wrote about reputation management in last week’s blog post and referred you to services such as: Reviewtrackers.com, Netvibes, Reputation.com and Trackur.com.

Now What?

Once you gather all of this intelligence, it’s time to create some order so you can take action.

  • Develop SWOTs. Use your research to document your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Be brutally honest about weaknesses and threats. Revisit monthly to ensure your are increasing strengths and capitalizing on opportunities. Here is a template.

        

  • Create a strategic group map. Plot your company and competitors on a grid against two variables that are most critical to success in your industry (e.g., pricing and quality). This will illustrate the strategic space that is open. Here is an example using major retailers.

  • Target three marketing improvements. Decide the most urgent priorities from a marketing perspective. Maybe one competitor has mouthwatering images on its website that entice consumers to buy their chocolate. Then work on your website to better display your candy. Another competitor holds contests that drive store traffic. Why not launch a free chocolate per month promotion? If there is a company with a great catalog, you can make it a priority to update your print materials.

You don’t necessarily have to use the same tactics, events and channels as competitors. Rather, your goal is to make sure all the marketing elements that make sense for your business are better than those of the competitors and reinforce your unique brand experience. According to Craig Fleisher, a former president of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, “Competitive intelligence is part of the day-to-day operation—part of the fabric of the enterprise.” If you make a regular process of it and take advantage of available tools, you can track your competitors easily and effectively in just a few minutes per day.

What other methods have you used to track the competition? Have you learned any information that changed your marketing strategy?


Reputation Management Drives Revenue for Small Businesses

We all do it—use a search engine to find a local business and learn more about them. That’s why good reviews online can refer hundreds or even thousands of customers to your company. But negative reviews, news and employee comments can be disastrous to your reputation and your bottom line. There are numerous opportunities today for your brand to be trashed on review sites, social media, etc. So it is critical to be proactive in managing your online reputation and to establish a positive presence that can counter anything that is published in the future.

Sites such as Yelp, YP.com, Citysearch, Frommers, TripAdvisor, Google+Local, Foursquare, Angie’s List and others (some of which are industry-focued like Edmunds.com for car dealers) are based on user-generated reviews for local businesses. They have mechanisms in place to stop spammers from posting false reports and business owners from falsifying high ratings. For example, reviews from new Yelp users or those without connections or photos are likely to be filtered out.

These sites are important because:

  • 92.5% of adults regularly or occasionally research products online before buying them in a store (BIGresearch).
  • 83% of consumers say online reviews influence their purchase decisions (Opinion Research Corporation).
  • 20-50% of all purchasing decisions rely on word of mouth recommendations as a primary factor (McKinsey Quarterly).
  • 4 out of 5 consumers reverse their purchase decisions based on negative online reviews (Online Influence Trend Tracker survey).
  • A one-star difference in reviews on Yelp may result in five to nine percent in business gained or lost (Harvard University).

Do It Yourself

You can quickly sign up for free Google Alerts. Netvibes and Trackur offer free tools for basic services too and Twitter feeds are used by four million users.

You should also conduct simple searches on Google, Yahoo and MSN for all of these that apply: your name, company, brand(s), product(s), high-profile employees and handles/user names. Results will vary based on your location and search history so you should log out of your account on the search engines first. If you are searching on Google, use a shortcut for disabled personalized search. Once you’ve done these searches, you can use a basic spreadsheet or list to decide whether you need to take additional steps. Record the number of negative and indifferent comments, in addition to those that are not about you. This is a sample reputation management worksheet from Outspoken Media.

Some of the most common problems in order of severity are:

  • Industry perceptions
  • Corporate scandals
  • Personal scandals
  • Hate sites
  • Competitor attacks
  • Complaint sites
  • Legal documents
  • Bad news coverage
  • Trademark infringement
  • Fake profiles
  • False information
  • Negative comments

Successes and Failures

Here are a couple of examples of how monitoring your online reputation and responding is so critical.

1. A customer of Overstock.com tweeted about the online retailer’s customer service.



This is the original tweet from an excited customer.

 

Overstock re-tweeted the comment to its followers and it inspired a flurry of people chiming in about their positive experiences.

 

2. In contrast, Prince tried to shut down three fan-generated sites to protect copyrighted material. One fan wrote to prince.org to say, “The more I think about it, I say just drop him, remove all content, let him have his way. It’s obvious he doesn’t want us as fans anymore, so why should we want him.”



Prince tried to protect his material but ended up losing some avid fans.

 

What You Can Do

  • Avoid responding online. Adding your comments on sites such as Yelp, PissedConsumer.com and RipOffReport will only increase the visibility of the bad reviews. It is better to respond to issues privately and try to resolve them.
  • Act immediately. Resolve problems as soon as they occur and before customers post negative reviews. Offer incentives. The cost of any discounts or refunds is small in comparison to the loss of dozens of new customers that can result from a single bad review.
  • Go public. If the problem is severe enough, you can reach out to the media directly to explain and even apologize publicly to affected customers, as well as to announce changes or corrections you’ve implemented to prevent issues in the future.
  • Leverage the insight. Negative feedback gives you an understanding of how customers view your company so you can handle situations that arise. Solicit comments by placing a review form on your website.
  • Provide help. You should publish useful and relevant content consistently because it counters any negative reviews that might appear. Content should be posted on your website, on social media channels, on guest posts and more.

Reputation Management Services

You can stay on top of customer reviews with subscription services such as Reviewtrackers.com, Netvibes, Reputation.com and Trackur.com that aggregate and alert you of any comments about your business. They range from $20 to $500 per month. These are some of the capabilities provided:

  • Track your visibility online
  • View and update business information on directories
  • Compile local business reviews and ratings
  • Report on social media comments
  • Indicate peaks and valleys in social mentions
  • Compare your reputation to competitors

There are also companies that can repair damaged reputations by helping to remove negative information or pushing it further back in search results so it doesn’t get as much attention.

Some services will provide a dedicated social media professional to post to social media channels using best practices, use Facebook ads and audience targeting and solicit more positive reviews. They can also guide you how to find an attorney and the process of legally removing content. Whatever options you select, it is a good practice to get reviews and speak to actual customers.

The most important message is do not ignore any disparaging reviews. You can use these opportunities to respond, highlight your strengths, generate new positive content and transform unhappy customers into brand evangelists. By the way, you should also respond to the positive reviews, even if only to say thank you.

How have you monitored your online reputation and have you been able to turn issues into testimonials?


Small Business Marketing Ideas from the Big Brands

As a marketer, do you dream of having a big brand and the budget that goes along with it? Well, you may be surprised how much you can take from major companies and their tactics to improve the results for your marketing at a small company.

To set the stage, the top trends for 2014 predicted by Forbes are:

  • Content marketing continues to grow. Marketing to the masses through techniques like ads on TV or radio is becoming less effective. Producing valuable, engaging content designed for specific audiences yields better results.
  • Diversity is important to social media marketing. New sites are introduced constantly. Brands have to operate on several to reach the most potential customers, increasing overall complexity.
  • Images and visuals perform best. Many of the emerging social media sites are visual. Furthermore, most blog posts that are shared extensively incorporate arresting images. Infographics have become more common.
  • Less is more. As a result of our hyper-connectivity and highly-digitized lives, consumers are craving simpler campaigns and messaging. The most successful ads and content are likely to be the ones that are easy to digest.
  • Duracell Commercial Featuring Derrick Coleman of the Seattle Seahawks

    The newest Duracell commercial features Seattle Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman, who triumphed over his hearing impairment

    Mobile-friendly content is essential. Forbes notes that “87 percent of connected devices sold by 2017 will be tablets and smartphones.” It is important to provide an acceptable experience to users on these devices.

  • SEO and social work together. The goal of search engines is to provide the most relevant and high-quality content, so Google and others factor in the social shares that content gets when delivering organic search rankings. That is why many companies are including social share plugins and encouraging visitors to share content.

Considering the trends and priorities, there is some general advice small businesses should follow:

 

  • Weave personality into everything. Take a look at your logo and your tagline. Carefully read through your website copy. Listen to how customer service answers the phone. Packaging is also important. The way your customers see products in person, in photos or on websites can make a major difference and advance your image.
  • Show up. Whatever you do, commit to it. Consistency is important. If you publish blog posts three times a week and then drop off to once a month, you fail to meet the expectations you set among your readers.
  • Always be closing. Sales and marketing drive business. That does not mean you have to be as aggressive as Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, but you should be listening and moving your prospects toward buying in a professional way.
  • Produce solid content. Larger companies have the money to hire people but you have the latitude for creativity with your materials.
  • Be interesting. Even if you think your business is boring, there are ways to sound intriguing. Interview your customers and find out what they think is special or even exciting about you. Then highlight these features. What is essential here is to be specific to your customer and stay focused, rather than try to be relevant to everyone or attempt to go viral.
  • Evoke emotion. I really love the new Duracell commercial featuring the Seahawks’ Derrick Coleman but I know that my services are not going to bring a tear to the eye of clients (unless, we’re late delivering a design and clients shed tears of anger!). But there are a range of emotions such as fear of failure, aspirations of success, sense of security and more that you can trigger when you fully understand your customers.

Here are some other tactics to employ in 2014.

Website

Heading into a new year, there are three major trends for websites. As with messaging and marketing campaigns, simplicity is in demand for websites—reducing clutter and features and/or design elements that are not needed to improve usability. Storytelling is being combined animation and user interactivity and responsive web design is the new standard so sites render properly on every type of device.

  • Make sure your site views well and is easy to use on a desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone.
  • Own your site URL and set up analytics.

Mobile

ExactTarget surveyed 2,500 global marketers on their top 2014 priorities and 41% said 31-50% of subscribers open their emails on mobile devices and 24% report that their emails are opened on mobile devices more than 51% of the time.

  • Confirm that your site is easy to navigate, attractive and intuitive for mobile users.
  • Ensure contact information is easy to find.
  • Highlight the calls to action.

Email

The survey revealed that 68% of marketers surveyed say email marketing is core to their business and 88% believe that email marketing does or will produce ROI for them.

  • Make the offer look like an offer.
  • Convince readers they will learn something by reading on.
  • Repeat the call to action.
  • Fulfill offers via email.
  • Make lead nurturing part of your campaign plans.

Social Media

According to Marketing Profs, 34% of global marketers surveyed said they are seeing ROI from social media marketing, but 52% believe it will produce ROI eventually. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the most popular channels and Google+ has the highest planned adoption rate in 2014 (18% of respondents plan to introduce). In light of the point above about image-centric content and the need to work on multiple social sites, it might pay for your business to try these tips.

  • Consider publishing videos of your employees on YouTube. Every company can’t be Old Spice, but you can showcase your products and services through short videos featuring customers talking about their experiences. You can also show videos about your activities in the community.
Walmart features employee videos on YouTube.

Walmart features employee videos on YouTube.

  • Display photos of products and people on Instagram.
Starbucks 2

Starbucks show interesting product placement shots.

 

  • Spotlight your locations and unique features on Vine.Spotlight your locations and unique features on Vine.
     

Other Tactics

  • Conduct contests. You don’t have to have a big budget. You can even partner with other companies who offer complementary products and create a unique package that drives engagement for all the businesses.

Whichever of these methods you try, there are several marketing advantages to being a small versus a large business. You can be much more nimble and can implement ideas in days or weeks rather than months, thanks to fewer layers of management and streamlined approval processes. You can be closer to customers because you are probably helping to support them day in and day out. If necessary, you can rebrand yourself if a concept does not work or the company has evolved in a different direction. Lastly, it is likely you are not weighed down by the past and are more willing to try new and innovative tactics.

GE-EcomaginationIn closing, one of the best lessons comes from GE. In recent years, marketing has made the company accessible, so it feels human and approachable. There is also a strong culture with people feeling passionate about what they do. And they established familiarity; making the brand real to a diverse audience. Regardless of the size of your company, if you could do the same, you’d be a marketing superhero.

What lessons have you taken from big brands and applied to your marketing?


Promote Your New Website--Free!

Whether you are launching or revamping, going live with a new website is an exciting event for your business. The promotion should begin in advance of the launch and go beyond the date when the site goes live. In fact, you can get generate buzz and anticipation of the coming change and improvements as much as three months in advance and two months afterward.

Here are a few tips before you before you announce the site is up and running. 1) Test the website and ensure all the features are working, pages load properly, etc. 2) Get a fresh set of eyes to look and ensure visuals and copy are effective. 3) Set up Google Analytics to track visitors and find out what is being viewed and what visitors find valuable.

Website Design

Once you have taken these steps, here are some free ways you can promote your website and drive up traffic.

  • Alert your internal team. Make sure the sales and customer service teams are notified ahead of time on the details of your plan and equip them with approved communications to ensure consistency.
  • Generate a press release. Distribute to your local outlets and/or any niche publications that might be interested in your company. Alert newspapers, magazines, websites, bloggers, business journals and other media. Some free press release sites are PRLog.org and PRWeb.com. These releases might get picked up by some media outlets and they can help your search engine optimization by providing links back to your site. Focus on your website’s unique selling points, why the content is relevant to visitors, the launch date and what makes it different from competitor sites.
  • Send to your email list. You can ask clients to forward your emails onto their colleagues, friends and family. Your opt-in email list should be notified as well.
  • List the website in online directories. Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp and others have online directories for businesses. When you list your company, you’ll show up in certain search results, especially if searchers are looking for local businesses. One recommendation is to keep the business details exactly the same in each directory to maximize visibility. This article has tips on ranking well in Google Plus Local and other directories.

 

  • Google Local VisualUse social media. According to a Nielsen study, internet users spend 21.3% of their time on social networking sites and the average U.S. internet user spends about 33 hours per month with eight of those hours on social media (PQ Media). You can use social media to promote your website to achieve high visibility at a low cost and all of your profiles should link to the website. Twitter is a good place to start and Pinterest is especially good if you have visual content that relates to your site's target audience. Link social media back to valuable content such as articles and case studies. [Twitter visual]
  • Investigate social media catering to your industry. This will enable you to be specific and share useful information and tips to build word-of-mouth advertising. Some examples from Search Engine Watch include:

Trip Advisor Visual

  • Comment and offer help on blogs. Provide assistance and you will build authority on the subject matter. Always include a link to your website, especially if you have articles or pages dedicated to the topics.
  • Add the ability to forward to all electronic promotions. Make it easy for readers to share your information.
  • Submit directory listings and set up accounts.
    • Claim your Google Local Business listing. This SMB website resource will tell you how to manage the listing.
    • Set up and verify a Webmaster Central Account at Google.
    • Set up a Bing Webmaster Tools account and verify it.
    • Make sure Bing and Yahoo Local listings are up-to-date.
    • Update and optimize your description and URL at YP.com.
    • Update or create your XML sitemap and upload it to Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools.
  • Request reviews. Let customers know you have listings on Google Plus Local, Yelp, YP.com, SuperPages.com, Merchant’s Circle, CitySearch and other third-party websites and encourage reviews. They are more effective and credible than testimonials because it is hard for businesses to fake them. Even if you have not created a listing yet, you might have been added by a client. Do a search and see if your company appears. If so, claim your listing. You can announce your new website and even offer a discount or incentive for customers who mention they found you on one of these sites.
  • Build a map at Google Maps. Add descriptions of your retail stores, other locations and points of interests nearby. Make the map public and embed it on your website. Add links to relevant content on your sites if possible.
  • Ask employees to promote the site. Beyond sharing with their colleagues, friends and family, suggest that your employees link to the company profile page from the employment section of their bios on their personal Facebook pages.
  • Leverage SEO. Improve the page rankings of website pages and drive more traffic to your site. Try a free keyword tool for researching website optimization and then add a page to your site to focus on the top phrase(s) you uncovered. The keywords should be used throughout your content but don’t overdo it. This will turn off your target audience and search engines. Optimize your pages with meta data, headings and subheadings, keywords, internal links, images, etc., so search engines can properly index your site and potential leads can find your content. If you are using elements such as photos, image maps or JavaScript on your website, include text in the alt tag so search engines have something readable.
  • Create valuable content. If you don’t have compelling and relevant content on your website, visitors will never come back and others will not share or promote it. Writing a blog can be an effective way to market your website because it illustrates your expertise and uses many keywords to improve SEO./li>
  • Offer something free. Provide special reports, white papers, case studies and similar interesting content in exchange for email addresses and build your email list.
  • Get reciprocal links. When you have links on other websites to your site, you increase the chances of visits and can improve your search engine ranking since Google and other search engines use inbound links when determining page ranks. However, the goal is for quality not quantity of links. You can search for and identify relevant sites you would like to link to your website and make requests in exchange for linking to them. Check a website’s ranking with SEO tools such as Page Rank Lookup, Link Popularity Tool and Google’s Toolbar.
  • Page Rank Lookup VisualUpload to YouTube. Make a slideshow of products or record a how-to video. Once you do this, you can write a new page and embed the video on your website. It is even better if you add a transcript of the video and you should optimize your title and descriptions.
  • Include the website address on all marketing materials. Everything from your business cards, brochures, sales sheets, coupons, email signature, fax headers/cover sheets, labels, packaging, invoices, catalogs and any other information that reaches potential customers and referral sources should prominently display the URL. If you have a monthly newsletter, be sure to mention the website and special features that will be of interest. If you exhibit at trade shows, feature the URL in a poster, on a tablecloth or on the display graphics.

Something else to consider if you already have a website before and are creating a new version, be sure you set up 301 redirects. They are snippets of code that forward search engines and visitors trying to reach URLs on your old site to the appropriate replacement pages on the new site. They are important to preserving the SEO ranking you achieved with the old site.

Lastly, it’s a good idea to request feedback from clients and prospects about the site. This can make people feel connected to the company and enable you to either confirm you are meeting their needs or get great ideas for enhancements.

Have you found any other free ways to promote a new website that you recommend?


Marketing Resolutions for the New Year

New Year CatAs I get ready to take a few days off around the holidays, I was thinking about 2014 and what I want to do differently to continually challenge myself. Plus, I am in the process of welcoming a new team member and saying goodbye to one who has become a terrific asset and friend. So I created a list of marketing resolutions to capitalize on what has changed and developed in 2013.

  • Enhance and leverage the brand. We used a strategy agency to help us hone our plans for the next three to five years in terms of new markets and services. Not every company has the resources to do this and it was a first for Affinity Express as well. But that means we have an excellent opportunity to make sure we are completely integrated. We can reorient everything we do around our brand and the promise it carries. As Marketing Thingy suggests, marketers should go beyond advertising to every communication piece, the structure of our offices, the forms we use and programs we develop. The point is to use the brand like a lens to view everything we do. Even if you didn’t revisit your strategy like we did, you can still focus on integrating your brand.
  • Produce great content. We have been deep into content marketing for a while now but I’d like to broaden to more formats and increase visual marketing this year. There is a good rationale as nearly 40% of U.S. companies use blogs for marketing purposes and companies that blog have 55% more website visitors. On top of that, 90% of companies market with custom content today. Content marketing is less expensive and more effective than traditional mass marketing and it is more appropriate for the digital era. If you are seen as an expert on relevant topics, you will build a larger following. The components of a content marketing plan are:
  1. High-quality blog with frequent posts

  2. Content in a variety of formats such as presentations, white papers, etc.
  3. Visual marketing on YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram and on your website
  4. Content distribution plan on social media, your website, etc.
  • Develop a keyword strategy. When we want to find something, typically, we use a search engine. That’s why it is essential to determine what keywords your customers are using to find you. As Hubspot advises, you especially want to concentrate on long-tail keywords because they are associated with more qualified traffic and people who have progressed further down the purchasing path. Affinity Express done a good job in comparison to competitors for important keywords but it’s time to expand now that we plan to target several new sectors and are offering a complete range of digital services.
  • Be more social. I still hear objections from internal people about using social media for business and requests for “proof” that it impacts the bottom line of the company. We saw Facebook’s IPO in 2012 and Twitter’s public offering in 2013, indicating that social media is not going anywhere. But all you really need to know is that people are using it. That means marketers need to do more not less with social media in order to have meaningful conversations with clients and potential customers. While Affinity Express already has profiles and posts often on several channels, I’d like to do more to customize and build specific content for each.
  • Get mobile. Along the same lines as social media, it is critical to be mobile-ready. I’ve said many times this year to my CEO that I don’t want to hear we are building any other tools or assets that are not mobile-compatible. Thank goodness we have got a new website that will live up to the mantra! It doesn’t matter whether you are B2C or B2B, global smartphone use will reach two billion by 2015 and a majority of people use them to access emails and information. Forty percent of mobile users will click another mobile result if a site is not mobile friendly and 46 percent say they are unlikely to return to a website they had trouble accessing from their phone. If you want to go beyond a mobile website, you can write mobile optimized ad copy, use mobile bid modifiers and create mobile-optimized landing pages.
  • Improve email. We implemented a contact management system in 2013 after many, many years of suffering without one. Now I want to be sure we get our contact list in shape. Constant Contact recommends we all take the time to:
  1. Find out who is actually reading our emails: We should review reports to see who opens emails and create a separate list to send more targeted promotions.
  2. Learn what interests people: See the content that attracts people by leveraging click-through data and consider segmenting lists based on how they engage with you.
  3. Fix problems: If addresses bounce every month, fix or delete them.
  • Track activities and measure. Now that we have a contact management system, a larger sales force, a growing trade show calendar and more, I want to be sure we are measuring and reporting on all of our activities to ensure our small team does not wasting a minute on anything without value. For example, we will look closely at how each blog post performs and which releases or resources are downloaded from our website to determine the type of content in demand. Think about doing the same for your marketing efforts. As Social Media Today notes, “Smarter metrics are necessary in order to obtain clearer insights and more accurately measure ROI.” The Content Marketing Institute offers ideas on how to do this and an interview with Jason Falls with real world examples of social media measurement.
  • Learn new techniques and tools. This one is big for me because the deadlines of the day can be so overwhelming that I find I did not do anything for me (which in turn helps my company because I might become more productive, better informed, etc.). Going forward, I plan to take a three-pronged approach:
  1. Attend seminars—I can network at the same time.
  2. Learn online—Both with my colleagues and on my own.
  3. Tap into emailed sessions—I should be able to spare an hour here and there for compelling topics.
  • Teach others. I hope that my experience in marketing, as well as my tenure with Affinity Express will give me the basis to teach my team and others in 2014 so they can enhance their performance, their business success or even their lives in the same way I benefit so frequently from them.

Beyond the resolutions above, I like the perspective shared by Curt Hanke. He resolved to take more time to think and explore, leave the office, be proactive (i.e., offense rather than defense), get additional perspectives and allow himself to fail at times in order to improve. That seems like a great attitude to maintain heading into an exciting and challenging new year.

How are you planning to ring in the new year and  improve your marketing efforts in 2014?


Build a Compelling Elevator Pitch for Your Business

Whether you are selling your products or services, looking for investors or simply updating your Aunt Sally on what you do at a holiday party, you need an elevator pitch. It is not a tagline or description of your industry. As Chris O’Leary states, “an effective elevator pitch is designed to give the audience just enough information that they will have a sense of what you are talking about and want to know more.”

The term comes from the concept that you might find yourself in an elevator with the perfect prospect, investor, etc., and only have the time of the journey to entice them about what you do.

The first thing to know is that, when crafting an elevator pitch, you have to write it down. And you will revise it multiple times before you are done. You should also say every new version out loud because it is supposed to be a verbal pitch and has to flow properly.

Second, the target length can vary but most experts suggest an elevator pitch should be no longer than 30 seconds. Elevator PitchThird, you will have to customize your elevator pitch for specific audiences, but there are certain elements you should include for an effective elevator pitch.

  • Address the problem or pain that your business addresses.
  • Follow up with how your solve it.
  • Detail who has this challenge (i.e., the target market).
  • Explain how big the market is for the solution.
  • Stress the main benefit you provide.
  • Figure out what makes your company different.
  • Make it exciting.

The goal is to intrigue and engage, versus telling someone all there is to know about you. You can’t be everything to everyone so determine your niche and go for it. You should also have a hook (e.g., you could ask a question, “Have you ever felt held back by lack of time and wished you could clone yourself so you could get everything done, when you want it done, the way you want it done?”). Think about why you are in business and what gets you motivated and out of bed in the morning. That should be included in the elevator pitch. Another point to consider is your specific qualifications to solve the problem and/or the people behind your business such as prominent investors, board members, associations or business partners.

Here are two examples from Business Plans Kit for Dummies.

  1. “I’m a health-information specialist. I produce a world-class newsletter, send email updates and establish client relationships in an effort to support health and wellness for people 50 and older. Working with individuals, HMOs, physicians and health and fitness centers, my business is a leading player in helping people maintain healthy lifestyles by providing summaries of medical advances and practical lifestyle advice, as well as access to leading medical professionals.”
  2. “Our business translates medical breakthroughs into people language for the fast-growing 50-plus age group nationwide. Basically, we shrink the latest medical findings into news capsules that we feature in a monthly newsletter. Our subscribers include HMOs, clinics, and fitness centers—plus 15,000 individuals who receive targeted emails addressing specific health conditions. We’ve won advertising commitments from more than 50 marketers who want to reach our audience of health-conscious older Americans.”

The second paragraph starts with a sentence about the company’s innovative product and audience. The next sentence talks about how the business works. The third sentence refers how the company makes money and the forth illustrates the acceptance of the market. It is less self-centered and clunky (e.g., "health-information specialist"), with no jargon so it is the better option.

The Business and Entrepreneurship Center offers a template for building an elevator pitch:

  1. [Name of your company] provides [name your products or services] for [describe the segment of the market you will serve] who [describe the problem this solves].
  2. [Enter one sentence that tells why this business is needed and by whom.]
  3. [Make a statement about the size and/or growth trend of the industry.]
  4. [Write a sentence or two, no more, to address your qualifications to run the business.]
  5. [Make an honest, upbeat, substantive and credible claim about the business potential in terms of sales or profitability.]

One of my pet peeves is industry lingo and complicated language. If you are a yogurt shop, don’t talk about different types of bacteria, talk about how you offer a healthy and delicious snack. Try to eliminate techno-speak and convoluted terms or you potentially alienate your audience and anyone who is not in the business. The elevator pitch should be delivered with enthusiasm and in easy-to-understand language.

You should also be specific whenever possible versus tossing around general statements such as “we’re going to take the market by storm.” Yawn.

Once you have your pitch polished, practice it constantly. You have to do this until it comes out naturally and is second nature to you.

You should also get feedback on the pitch from employees, stakeholders and others not as close to the business as you to ensure it is clear and compelling.

The final elevator pitch should be shared with all employees and reinforced constantly so there is one message for the organization. Recently, we designed business cards with our elevator pitch on the front and major service categories on the back. These were distributed at a sales meeting we had in Atlantic City with new hires and existing team members.

For more help, this YouTube video clip from Tim Berry offers tips on crafting the elevator pitch.

Ultimately, the goal of the elevator pitch is to generate interest, prompt questions and begin to develop a relationship with the listener. It helps you introduce yourself and break the ice in networking situations. You can also use your elevator pitch to clarify the target audience and business goals for your own use and become more confident in business settings.

When was the last time you polished your elevator pitch?


Small Business Holiday Greetings

According to a Constant Contact holiday survey, 31% of small businesses say winter is their busiest season, 65% expect 2013 revenues to exceed those of 2012 and 52% say holiday customers become repeat, loyal customers. With this data in mind, why wouldn’t you use holiday greetings to thank customers and prospects while building relationships, increasing sales and acquiring new customers?

The custom of sending greeting cards can be traced back to the ancient Chinese, who exchanged messages of good will for the new year, as noted by the Greeting Card Association. The early Egyptians shared greetings on papyrus scrolls. The first published Christmas cards appeared in London in 1843, when Sir Henry Cole hired the artist John Calcott Horsley to design a card that could be sent to friends.

Award-Winning Embroidered Holiday Card Every year, Affinity Express selects a famous painting to interpret in embroidery and creates a small number of cards. For the 2012 card, we featured van Gogh's "The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum" and won a Golden Needle Award from Stitches Magazine!

 

Holiday cards for businesses should include:

  • Logo and slogan or tagline
  • Contact information
  • Social media profiles
  • Website address

Your greeting should be generic to avoid offending anyone’s beliefs but you do want to stand out in the pile of messages your customers and prospects receive. Ruff Haus Design has some advice on crafting holiday sentiments:

  1. Save time by ordering pre-printed cards. Standard greetings are okay, but sign cards and, if possible, address them by hand.
  2. Tailor your approach. You should spend more time adding a personal note for the best customers.
  3. Leverage email. It is acceptable to send email greetings, although it is better to make the salutation specific to the person rather than “Dear Customer”.

Some examples of wording that businesses can use are as follows:

  • Thank you for being our valued customer. We wish you a beautiful holiday season and blissful year’s end.
  • Sending you warm wishes of gratitude this holiday season for your ongoing business, support and referrals. Happy Holidays!
  • Best wishes for a happy holiday season and our sincere thanks for your loyalty and goodwill throughout the year.
Facetivus Facetivus is the offering from Iris Worldwide, which featured videos of staffers getting eggnog, pies and various other items thrown at their faces in the name of charity. For each video play racked up, the agency donated a dollar to Hurricane Sandy relief.

 

Holiday cards can be created cost effectively and professionally at these websites:

VistaPrint Holiday Card Option This is one of the many options available from VistaPrint for printing.

 

Since the major cost in ordering cards is in the set-up, the Small Business Advisor notes that you will probably find that adding another 50 or 100 is a nominal cost, especially compared to placing a second new order later. And you never know when a card will break through and generate a sale.

During the holidays, you shouldn’t limit yourself to reaching customers through greeting cards. You can also write letters to give thanks for whatever your clients did for you in the past year, describe plans or aspirations for the next year, include some news about your company or the year’s activities and provide an invitation or other call to action (e.g., test a product, receive a free gift or sample, get new information, etc.).

It is even better to reach out in multiple ways to stay top-of-mind. Build on printed cards with:

  • Ecards. Keep greetings brief (30 to 60 seconds at most) and engaging for best results. You could show images or video of your offices or stores and employees.
DrafFCB Holiday Card DraftFCB deserved some recognition for their innovative holiday greeting in 2011. If you typed your address into a snow globe, a picture of your house appeared. Then it would snow in front of your home!

 

  • Enewsletters. Offer suggestions on how to use your products to solve problems or improve enjoyment of the holidays (e.g., wrapping tips, recipes, shipping deadlines, etc.). For example, if your products make great last-minute gifts, reinforce how stress is reduced by having them on-hand.
  • Gifts. It is not critical to spend a lot on items as long as they are perceived as valuable to customers and/or tie in with your business. For example, if you are selling festive apparel for the holidays, an “emergency kit” of safety pins, bandages, stain remover and more that women can stash in their purses could work.
  • Coupons/discounts. Along with your thank-you messages, send out encouragement for future purchases. If you distribute offers via email, be sure to share them on social media as well. You can encourage people to share the promotions with their family and friends.
  • Social media greetings. Tweet and post on all your profiles. You can show a personal side with photos of employee holiday parties or customers using your products. If you can publish tips for the holidays, your will position yourself as a resource for customers.
  • Mobile greetings. Happy holiday messages can be sent with last-minute gift ideas or solutions, as well as images of new product releases and special savings that can be redeemed using smartphones.
Western Carolina University Holiday Greeting Western Carolina University created a long-form greeting that paints a wonderful picture of the culture and campus.

 

  • In-store and invoices. Hand out greeting cards at the checkout with discounts for post-holiday shopping to show your gratitude for purchases. If you print and mail invoices, you can include cards and coupons in the same envelope.
  • In-store events. Host a gathering for your customers. To make it even more attractive, offer babysitting and free gift-wrapping. Depending on the time of day, you can serve wine or hot cider and finger foods. A hair salon could offer discounts on products and reward points for booking hair and spa appointments for the future.

How do you thank customers and spread holiday cheer at this time of the year? How has this changed from print to digital or multichannel formats?

Affinity Express Digital Card 2012 Affinity Express emails a digital card every year to express our gratitude while showing what we can do for clients.

 


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