Friday, December 19, 2014

Taking Your Keywords to the Next Level

Keywords can be fantastic tools for attracting attention from potential customers. They help search engines 'tune into' your content and better match your pages to the queries people enter. Unfortunately, many companies use keywords at a very rudimentary level, failing to capitalize on what this simple optimization technique can do. Here are four ways you can easily improve the keywords you use on your website to bring in more visitors and increase your brand's visibility.

1. Use the language your customers use.

Select keywords based on the way your customers speak. Often there's a difference between how customers describe your industry and how you would describe it. Consider the types of jargon you and others in your industry commonly use when describing your products and services. Then compare that to how your customers tend to speak. If you sell a cloud-based service, for example, don't assume your customers know the latest tech language, especially if you market your products to the average small business. Your keywords, and the language used throughout your site, should be user friendly.

2. Use language based on your buyer personas.

Your buyer personas can offer you considerable insight into your customers' challenges and needs, so use them to help you optimize your content. As you develop your buyer personas and take a look at what motivates people to buy from you, start thinking about keywords that fit with each of these customer types, too.

3. Use your keywords throughout the page.

Look for ways to weave your keywords naturally into your content. When Google crawls your website, it looks at headlines and URLs, as well, to better 'understand' the content. Include your keywords in these spaces to better communicate with the search engines. Add them to your page meta description, too. When a customer sees your page on a list of search results, they'll see the page title, URL, and meta description. Using your keywords in all of these areas will let search engines know what your pages are all about, while at the same time helping the people who are using those search engines know they've found a page that contains the information they seek.

4. Use your keywords naturally.

When it comes to keywords, more is not always better. In fact, more can often be worse. Overusing keywords comes across as forced and leads people to take your pages less seriously. Think about the last time you read something that had keywords placed oddly and used artificially. Chances are, you clicked away quickly. When website copy isn't cohesive, people lose trust. Focus on providing reliable and valuable information for customers along with occasional, naturally placed keywords. This will help you get found organically and help improve your brand reputation.

Keywords can be a valuable tool for getting found and attracting the right type of people. Using them appropriately, according the four points above, can help you improve your keywords and see even more results from your marketing efforts.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

3 Key Marketing Trends to Add to Your Strategy for the New Year

Like many business leaders, you realize that digital marketing is here to stay. But you also know the marketing landscape is changing rapidly, which means that 2015 will bring many new ideas and necessities.

As you look back on your past year's marketing and start developing plans for the year ahead, now is the perfect time to review some of the expected trends for 2015, so you can begin incorporating them into your campaigns. Here are three trends to consider.

The art of personalization

Developing relationships with prospective customers and nudging them closer to conversion is certainly nothing new. We all know that customers appreciate companies who care about them on an individual basis and take the extra time to address their concerns.

In 2015, however, the idea of personalization will go from a 'nice extra' to a necessity. Consumers have started realizing they're in control of more of the buying experience. They'll continue to seek companies who are willing to give them the more personalized attention they deserve.

Personalization must permeate your entire organization. Customers want to bond with you as individuals, not just as a brand. They appreciate hearing your story, seeing pictures, and learning about the people behind the scenes at your company. While such content shouldn't consume all of your digital marketing, you should take the time to develop a one-to-one relationship with your customers.

The role of data

This is another area that will quickly move from trend to necessity in the coming year. While many at the forefront have already started collecting hard numbers to measure the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns, it will become increasingly important for all businesses to follow that trend in the year ahead.

Digital marketing provides enormous potential for data collection. You can learn about where your page viewers are coming from, what they're doing on your website, what engages them the most, what common characteristics they share, and how much money you're spending for every lead and customer. This information will give you the tools you need to refine your campaigns, pinpoint the weak spots, and find ways to improve your efforts, while reducing costs and increasing the number of customers who convert.

Better internal communication

In 2015, efforts at improved communication will play a big part in planning and implementing digital marketing strategies. When you focus on improving communication between departments, two things happen:

  1. Employees have a better idea of what is expected of them and how their job fits into the larger company picture. This increases their work satisfaction and the way they present the brand to the public.


  2. Leads are better managed internally, as everyone has a clearer understanding of the role each team plays in the process. Departments work together in better harmony, and conversion rates improve.



  3. The upcoming year is sure to bring many changes to the digital marketing world. Keeping these three key areas in mind will help you improve your strategies and standing as the new year begins.

Marketing Lessons from Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein has taught generations of children lessons about life from his books of fun and goofy poems. People of all ages can appreciate his wit and what he has to say. As adults, it's easy to forget all those valuable words, but Shel Silverstein also has a number of lessons he can teach us about business and life. Here are four quotes from the famous poet that we should never forget as we begin to build and grow our businesses.

"Anything can happen, child. Anything can be."

This lesson can be very hard to remember in daily life. After all, most entrepreneurs have at least one force in their life telling them they're not going to succeed. Sometimes one of the most important lessons is learning to tune out the naysayers and finding the mental strength to succeed in the face of adversity. Form your dreams, identify your goals, and plot a way to get there.

"If the track is tough and the hill is rough, thinking you can just ain't enough."

Forging your personal path is never easy. While most people intellectually understand there will be challenges, all too often, when these problems arise, they give up.

In business, you must accept the fact you'll face problems and that things won't always go according to plan. Sometimes the challenges will feel like too much. But if you have goals, you need the perseverance and strength to make it past the hurdles. Believing you can do so and determining the steps needed to succeed will give you the tools you need to continue along the path to your goals.

"If there is a book you want to read but isn't written yet, write it."

This quote applies to more than just books. It also applies to industries and businesses. If no one is fulfilling a particular niche and serving customers in a particular way, use that as your window of opportunity. The marketplace is extremely competitive. The companies that succeed are the ones that identify a need, determine a way to fill that hole, and then get their information in front of the necessary audience.

The idea of writing your own book also speaks to the importance of taking initiative. No matter what your position might be, finding ways to anticipate needs and then addressing those issues instead of waiting for someone else to notice the problem is an excellent way to get ahead and find both personal and company-wide success.

"Just 'cause somethin' ain't been done don't mean it can't be did."

This quote also speaks to the importance of taking risks and being willing to be the first one to take a chance. This might mean developing a new product or service to fill a certain niche, or taking a conventional industry and finding completely unique ways to deliver your products and services. No matter what might drive you, don't allow yourself to be limited by what others in the industry have done. Don't be afraid to blaze your own trail and see where the road takes you.

Shel Silverstein has words of wisdom for all of us. Keep these quotes in mind and use them for the motivation you need to move forward. If you need help developing your marketing plan, contact us. We'll be happy to offer guidance as you get started.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Politicians Can Teach Us About Audiences

The midterm elections may have wrapped up just a few weeks ago, but many are already turning their attention to 2016 and who may or may not make a run. In living rooms across America, people are letting out a collective sigh, knowing that when the next political season begins, they'll be bombarded once again with advertisements trying to convince them that one candidate or another has the experience and ideas necessary to take the country in the right direction.

While it's easy to grow weary of political advertising, if you ever stop and just focus on the message, instead of the politics involved, political candidates can actually teach us all a few things about marketing.

Politicians understand their audience

Successful politicians are master marketers. They construct narratives, brand stories, and reputations, and they work to inspire loyalty and admiration. But one of their most intriguing campaign techniques is the art of tailoring their message to the audience they're trying to reach.

Politicians must appeal to a wide variety of voter groups and constituencies. When a politician is speaking with representatives from a certain population, or is developing an advertisement most likely to reach this particular demographic, they'll use language and cover topics that are more important to this group.

Why? Politicians understand that the best way to influence people's loyalty is by tailoring their message to what matters most to each voter group. Generally speaking, young people know that Social Security is important, but it doesn't typically impact their daily life. On the other hand, seniors understand the importance of education and jobs for a thriving economy, but most retirees don't find these to be pressing concerns for them personally.

The successful politician takes these generalities and develops a message that speaks directly to each respective audience.

Taking the lesson home

If you want to grow your company, you need to do the same thing as these politicians. Take your buyer personas and carefully examine the issues and challenges that impact them the most. Discover what motivates your buyers, where they struggle, and how your products or services can meet their needs. Use this information to tailor your marketing messages, so you can reach your intended audience. Just like different voting groups, your different personas might be motivated by different things.

When you tailor your message and your voice to each potential audience, you'll greatly enhance your odds of reaching them and converting them to your brand. Rather than tuning out the politicians during the upcoming election cycle, take a lesson and learn how to make your own message speak directly to your particular buyer personas.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

3 Marketing Lessons Netflix Has Taught Us

Over the past few years, Netflix has revolutionized how people think about television and movies. As people have become increasingly disenchanted with cable options and the price of TV, Netflix has risen to become a major entertainment provider. Recently, the service has even begun producing movies and shows of its own. Whether you subscribe to Netflix yourself or know someone who does, here are some valuable Netflix-inspired lessons to consider for your company.

Research, research, research

We know it's important to research our potential audience and customers, but Netflix has taken that research to a whole new level. Just consider the research that came with the company's production of its own original shows. Netflix researched everything from viewing habits to actor popularity to the types of shows and movies people like in order to create the perfect recipe for success.

Conversely, Netflix has also shown us the importance of research with its hiccup a few years ago when it split the charges for its streaming and DVD options. While the company did manage to bounce back, people were very upset with the price hike and were so outraged at the company's attempt to rename part of its brand that Netflix had to drop the idea. Knowing where your customers' sensitivities lie can help you avoid such a debacle. A company that was not as popular as Netflix might have struggled to weather the storm.

Solve people's problems they didn't even know they have

Netflix has become popular precisely because the company has mastered this skill. Before Netflix came on the scene, people didn't really have much of a choice besides cable. Netflix came and offered people a solution for watching movies and TV shows. The company was also able to predict customer trends and started producing and advertising a streaming service before people even realized there might be something better than waiting two days for DVDs to arrive in the mail. Netflix stayed one step ahead of its customers, which gave the company a strong reputation as a superior provider.

Encourage word-of-mouth advertising

Word-of-mouth advertising is some of the most valuable in any industry. When people receive a recommendation from someone they trust, such as a friend or a family member, they automatically give the advertisement more credence. Encouraging people to tell their friends and family, and making it easy for them to do so, has been fantastic advertising for Netflix. Just about everyone has seen those little '1 month free for friends and family' cards Netflix gives out to subscribers. These cards make it simple and productive for current subscribers to encourage signups among their social circles. Once these new signups experience the convenience of Netflix firsthand, they're more likely to stay with the company long-term.

Netflix has built success by anticipating customer needs, understanding what drives customer demand, and capitalizing on industry opportunity. As you settle into your chair tonight for a marathon of your favorite show, keep these marketing techniques in mind and see what lessons you can apply to your own business. If you're ready to begin a new marketing campaign, contact us today for assistance.

Just What the Teacher Ordered: The Business-Building Benefit Marketing Reports Provide

By the time most of us graduated from high school, we were well acquainted with researching, writing, and editing reports. College often meant more of the same.

While few would list report writing as a "highlight" of their academic career, those hours spent compiling reports were not spent in vain. Sure, report writing helped many of us learn how to plan out a project and conduct research, but they also taught us a bit about the topics we were researching, too. By forcing us to look in depth at the various subjects we were studying and analyze them from a number of different angles, we gained a far better comprehension of the subject matter than we might have if we had just read the textbook.

It's important to remember those benefits, especially when it comes to marketing your company.

How marketing reports are like your old school reports

Like their high school and college counterparts, marketing reports can also feel frustrating. People often view such assignments as time wasters that are only done because they're demanded by the c-level executives upstairs. In reality, however, marketing reports can offer considerable insight and help everyone better understand the company's marketing strategies and how they can be improved.

When you sit down and really invest the time needed to complete a thorough marketing report, you'll walk away with a much better understanding of your company's current marketing practices, how well each campaign is performing, and how it all relates to your company's bottom line. Without a well-researched report, it can be easy to gloss over weak spots and overlook opportunities for continued growth.

What a marketing report should exam

There are an infinite number of metrics a marketing report can examine, but some have more appeal and a greater ability to shed light on the success of your marketing strategy. Here are a couple to consider.

How much does it cost the company, on average, to obtain each new customer?

Take a look at your total cost in sales and marketing over a given period of time. Then see how many customers you obtained in that same period. Divide the cost by the number of customers, and you'll have your average cost of obtaining a single customer.

Determine what percentage of that cost is related directly to marketing, so you can see which campaigns worked and which ones didn't. Such insights can prove valuable in helping the marketing team improve their regular performance and illustrate the success of any changes made.

How many leads were generated directly from marketing?

Your marketing team should also be able to report how many successful leads were generated specifically from marketing efforts. Begin by calculating the percentage of customers who began as marketing leads. Then look at how many leads started elsewhere (e.g., in sales), but were influenced by the marketing department before making a purchase.

For added benefit, try to break down specifically where these marketing leads are coming from. Are prospects downloading certain ebooks? Do they subscribe to your blog? Did they take an online webinar?

Marketing reports offer valuable information about the state of your company's marketing programs and what can be improved. Although they might be viewed with the same frustration as the school reports of your youth, they can also offer incredible insight and education. So don't overlook the opportunity reports provide to regularly analyze the success of your marketing efforts.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Maximizing Your Use of 4 Top Social Media Platforms

If you don't use social media personally, it can seem difficult to understand why it's such an important aspect of digital marketing. You might be tempted to think, "Well, Facebook is the biggest of the social media platforms, so maybe I should just post everything on there in the hopes of reaching the most people." What you need to realize, however, is that social media is not just a publication service. It's a community.

While there is overlap, different platforms are known for attracting different people and different types of conversation. You're not going to have much luck unless you understand the crowd each one attracts. Here's a quick breakdown of the top four social sites -- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ -- to help you get a feel for each platform and how to connect with customers on them.

Facebook
Facebook is easily the largest platform with an estimated 1.3 billion users. The site is known for being the perfect place for users to develop their individuality. You can use images, text, videos, and just about anything else you can think of. Generally keep your posts under 250 characters to keep your customers' attention, and don't be afraid to ask questions of your page visitors. This is the platform for making your brand seem full of personality and connecting with customers.

Twitter
Think of Twitter as a large, global conversation. There are an estimated 645 million users around the world, and the site has made the news multiple times for helping to start large social movements. It can also help your business.

Generally, you want to start your posts (tweets) early in the day and post frequently (just like a conversation). What's challenging about Twitter is that your posts should be only 115-120 characters long (which makes it easier for others to 'retweet' you). Twitter is also known for the popularity of the #hashtag. Hashtags help to make your posts searchable, while connecting you with your audience. You should alternate between text-based tweets and occasional photos.

LinkedIn
This site is the more professional of the social pages. There are about 300 million users, and most of them are there for professional networking and business information. This trend is reflected in the best posting practices. Posts made before 8am and after 6pm tend to fare better than those made during the day (when most users are at work). They should also typically concern business topics. Your business page and posts should all reflect the more professional aspect of this site.

Google+
Google+ also has about 300 million users, but Google+ offers the added benefit of being connected to Google, which helps make it fantastic for local search SEO. Google likes businesses to use Google+ and has combined it with the old Google business pages. Take some time to build up your profile and cultivate reviews. This can help boost your local search results and make your business seem very appealing when it shows up on a search results page.

Content posted to this site should also be diversified between images, videos, fun content, and educational content. In terms of seriousness, Google+ tends to fall somewhere between Facebook and LinkedIn, making it a good place to connect with professional and casual users.

Social media has a considerable amount of potential in what it can offer your company. It's a great place to connect with people and show them everything your business has to offer. Knowing the crowds who tend to gather on each platform will help you considerably as you set out to use each to its fullest potential.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How Does Email Fit Into a Modern Marketing Strategy?

Given that most people despise spam email, it can be difficult to see how email can fit into a successful marketing strategy. Isn't blasting potential customers with email part of the old, outdated marketing system that's now viewed as ineffective?

Yes, and no.

Yes -- when you send potential customers unsolicited emails, especially using email lists you purchase from a provider.

No -- when your email messages are used purposefully as a means of initiating conversation with your leads and helping them along the sales process.

The truth is that more than 3/4 of your customers prefer to receive marketing communications by email compared to other methods. It's also true that 95 percent of online customers use email, with the vast majority of them checking their email at least once a day. When used properly, email can be a fantastic way to stay in touch with your customers reliably and consistently. Here's what you should keep in mind to make sure you're getting the most from your emails.

Make sure everyone wants to be on the email list.

The first step to using email effectively is to ensure that everyone actually wants to be on your email list. This means no list purchasing and no generating email lists from random people. Your email lists should be comprised of people who have voluntarily given you their email address. You can use your landing pages, sign ups, and past customers to generate much more effective email lists. Such lists will have a much higher open rate than a randomly generated list. Your messages will be less likely to be marked as spam, and you'll generate a higher conversion rate.

Use email to cultivate leads.

Email is a fantastic tool for taking people who have shown at least a passing interest in your brand and moving them further along the conversion process. Start by creating an e-newsletter comprised of helpful, relevant information designed to help people no matter where they are in the buyer's journey. This will remind customers of the value you have to offer. As an added bonus, when you produce content that people like to share, you can generate even more leads. When people receive information about a company from a person they trust, they're more likely to trust the company themselves.

Use email to stay in touch.

Email is also a great medium for staying in touch with people. Got any past customers you haven't heard from in a while? Reach out to them with an email asking how you can help them reach their goals. How about people who have visited your pricing page but didn't make a purchase? Email them to find out if they have any more questions about your products or services.

Email can even be helpful for taking an interested, sales-ready lead to the final step. After making your sales calls, follow up with emails. By opening multiple lines of communication, you're making it as easy as possible for your customers to contact you.

Spam email has long passed its effectiveness as a marketing tool, much to the relief of everyone. But that doesn't mean email itself is obsolete. Using email effectively in conjunction with the rest of your marketing efforts can be an excellent way to cultivate more leads and bring your company the growth you seek.

Friday, September 26, 2014

How Football Can Help Us Build and Grow Our Business

With football season now in full swing, fans across the country are watching their favorite teams fight for a shot at postseason glory. Football is a sport that requires athletic prowess, analytical skill, and a considerable amount of strategizing. As such, there are many lessons we can apply to the business world. Here are just a few to consider.

Study the competition

Football teams are known for their intense studies of opposing teams. Coaches and players alike will spend hours analyzing footage from past games to get a feel for how their opponents work together, what plays they go to frequently, and what strengths and weaknesses they bring to the field. They use this information to develop their own strategies and to see where their opportunities lie.

As business leaders, we should do the same. It's not enough to just occasionally glance at the websites of the competition. Instead, we should be analyzing their moves, seeing what works for them and what doesn't, discovering where they're failing their clients, and finding whatever else we can glean to help us compete more effectively. This insight will give us the tools we need to make our own businesses stronger, as we compete for customers and leads.

Build a balanced team

Successful football teams look for talented players in every position. Having four starting quarterbacks but no safeties will do a football team no good. The team needs to be balanced and account for every position. When games are starting, how often do we hear comments about how one team will be at a disadvantage because a particular player or two are out due to illness or injury?

The same principle applies to business. Successful companies account for every position, too. This includes:

  • leaders who can help the company see and attain its vision

  • financial experts who are good at accounting and planning budgets to help the organization make the most of its resources

  • marketing and sales professionals who excel at generating leads and bringing in new paying customers to help the business grow

Have a good leader

On the football field, effective leaders are essential. The coaches are responsible for developing the playbook and strategizing what plays to use. A good coach can work magic with a mediocre team, while a bad coach can have a losing season even with the strongest of players. The quarterback is another key position. Quarterbacks are responsible for leading the team on the field, implementing the plays the coach dictates, and keeping the team working together.

In business, leaders are equally important. They must be able to see the company vision and guide those around them toward that outcome. Talents in strategizing, encouraging others, and working in
groups are all important for leaders. Cultivate these talents among your staff, especially those in leadership positions, to maximize the potential of your company.

When it comes to organizing a business, football has many lessons it can teach. Keep these lessons in mind as you tune into this season's games, and see just how much you end up learning.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Make Magic Happen with Aligned Sales and Marketing Teams

When your sales and marketing teams work together and are aligned in their goals and strategies, amazing things can happen for your organization. Studies have shown that companies with marketing teams and sales teams that work well together see as much as a 20 percent increase in annual revenue growth, and no one can afford to ignore that opportunity.

Unfortunately, obtaining that level of cooperation can be a challenge. With a few internal changes and a concentrated effort at aligning these two teams, however, it is possible to bring everyone together.

Begin by establishing definitions

Written, thought-out definitions can be your savior. They give everyone a concrete idea to look back upon and reduce the potential for miscommunication or misperceptions. Here are a few definitions that everyone in marketing and sales should agree upon.

  • What is a quality lead?

  • What will sales do when they receive a quality lead?

  • What level of communication will be expected between the teams?

  • What are the goals for each team?

  • What is the process of handing off a lead from one team to the other, and when should it happen?

Once you've established these definitions, it will be easier to see what each group is working toward and when they're successful. You'll then be able to determine common goals, such as the number of leads expected from the marketing team and how the sales team will handle each opportunity.

Enhance visibility and transparency

When each team can clearly see what the other is working on and whether or not they're reaching their goals, they'll gain a better appreciation for the role both teams play in growing revenue for the company.

To improve visibility and transparency, communication and data are key. Like definitions, data gives concrete facts that everyone can consult and reduces the risk of misunderstandings and resentment. There are several ways to produce quality data reports:

  • Analyze where leads are coming from and how each marketing source is performing.

  • Have marketing team members include highlights of their interactions with leads (such as what content was downloaded), so the sales team can better capitalize on those opportunities.

  • Have sales team members report their communication efforts with leads and results.

Another important measure of visibility is simply to meet together. Gather your two teams together for regular meetings to discuss goals, outcomes, shortcomings, and plans for improvement. These meetings will help to clear the air and get everyone on the same page.

If your marketing and sales teams are too big, consider having occasional meetings with everyone and regular meetings with just marketing and sales leaders. During these meetings, the data will provide you with plenty of conversation topics. Celebrate each other's accomplishments, but if revenue goals are not being met, make sure both teams are transparent about their plans to make improvements.

Aligning your sales and marketing teams can have a wonderful impact on your bottom line, as well as the overall feelings of cooperation among your employees. With a potential 20 percent growth in revenue on the line, the effort is well worth it.

Friday, September 5, 2014

5 Ways To Get People To Pay Attention to Your Content

When it comes to writing marketing content for a company, few things are more frustrating than working hard to develop pieces only to have them largely overlooked. We've all been there: you write something you think is fantastic and eagerly watch your site statistics, only to see your content fail to give you the expected boost.

If you're frustrated with your website traffic stats, here are five tips you can use right away to start drawing more attention to your website and get people interested in what you have to say.

Answer questions your customers actually have, rather than what you think they want to know

This is a common mistake. Many companies develop content based on what they find interesting rather than what their customers actually want to know. A great source of content ideas is your FAQ page and questions you've received through customer email. Also consider what customers ask you personally when they start working with your company or what people ask you when they learn what industry you work in.

Use humor

People are naturally drawn to what entertains them, so consider making a lighthearted joke, especially at the beginning of the piece. This will encourage people to read on to see what else you have to say. Once you hook the reader, you'll have a much easier time getting your point across.

Don't discount the value of social media

Many smaller companies tend to overlook social media, assuming that with their small size, it won't be worth the effort. Social media, however, is where the conversation takes place. Putting your content on social media is a fantastic way to attract some attention to new blog posts and articles. You should also include share buttons at the bottom of each article. This will make it easy for readers to share the piece on their own social media channels should they find it interesting or informative.

Make the content memorable

The easier it is for customers to remember key points from your content, the more likely they'll be to share it. There are several techniques you can use to enhance the memorability of your content. For example, studies have indicated that telling stories in your content makes it easier for people to remember your key facts. Try incorporating fun stories into some of your posts to entice readers to get to know you. You can also use classic techniques such as including shocking or attention-grabbing statistics in your titles and in the opening lines.

Say "thank you"

When was the last time you thanked your customers? People like being singled out, especially for a thank you. Write posts that occasionally highlight particular customers who've been with your company for a while. Thank customers who speak about your company on social media. And thank people who read your blog by offering them a special discount available only to those who open the post to find it. When customers feel appreciated, they're more likely to develop positive associations with your company and reciprocate by working to develop a relationship with you.

When you set out to develop content for your company website, you want to develop pieces that people will read. Sometimes, however, it can feel as though unlocking the mystery to enticing readers is easier said than done. Keep these five tips in mind, and you'll have much greater success. If you're interested in kicking off your marketing campaign, give us a call today to find out how we can help you get started.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hitting a Home Run in Business Starts with Your Reputation

Baseball has been an important part of our cultural fabric for more than a century. It makes sense, therefore, that baseball has many lessons it can teach us about managing a business. One of those lessons has to do with managing reputations.

Over the years, baseball has survived scandals and strikes that could have easily crippled it: the 1919 Chicago White Sox throwing the World Series; the strike-shortened 1994 season, when there was no World Series at all; the steroid scandals of more recent times. While the sport hasn't escaped completely unscathed, it does remain a popular pastime for many who enjoy playing and watching it throughout the summer and fall.

Fortunately, most of us will never have to deal with issues as powerful as those that have hit baseball throughout its history. Even so, managing a company reputation in the digital area can be a very tough responsibility.

Customers can spread information, positive and negative, about your company instantaneously. While it might seem tempting to just bury your head in the sand and hope such criticism goes away, you can't afford to just ignore what is said about you online. Fortunately, the lessons from baseball tell us that people generally tend to overlook occasional slip-ups or poor experiences if the overall impression of the company is one of value.

The primary step in relationship management should always be to offer customers outstanding value and products. Here are three additional steps you can take to build and maintain an overall positive reputation.


  1. Become an important part of the local community.
    Get in front of customers by sponsoring youth sports teams, having a table or booth at local fairs, or sponsoring charity sporting events. Show customers you care, and give them the chance to interact personally with employees to begin building relationships.


  2. Listen to customers online and in market research, and address complaints sincerely and quickly. This might mean offering to replace defective products, providing coupons or discounts after a poor customer service experience, and issuing refunds when necessary. That might sound like an expensive proposition, but earning a poor reputation online will cost you far more.


  3. Pay close and careful attention to the experience of your customers. Make it easy for customers to contact you and easy to find resolution to their problems when they do. Too often, customers get passed from person to person or find themselves dealing with frustrating automated systems that are little to no help. Customers want to know they're more than just an order number. Show them you care about their experience far after the sale.



Just as baseball has discovered over its long and storied history, managing a reputation can be a difficult proposition. But doing so is essential to the continued growth and viability of any organization. Reputation affects marketing success and whether or not people are interested in what you have to sell.

Fortunately, reputation is not always cut and dried. People are often willing to overlook particular problems in favor of value and an overall positive experience. Following the above advice should make it easy for your company to do just that.

Friday, August 8, 2014

What Shakespeare Can Teach Us About Marketing

Shakespeare was a master playwright who continues to entertain audiences centuries after his death. His mastery of the written word has been admired by people throughout the generations and around the world. While he may have never imagined anything like the Internet or modern marketing, there are still a number of lessons Shakespeare can teach us as we set out to master our own marketing techniques.

Becoming a master of words

Words are a major part of any marketing campaign. We all use words to reach our customers, to develop content that will interest them, and to explain why our products and services are superior. Shakespeare teaches us about the power words can have when they're carefully thought out and used appropriately. People still enjoy reading and watching his plays hundreds of years after they were first performed. That's because Shakespeare was a master at putting words together so they communicated the point to the audience and engaged them in the content.

Creating plots people can relate to and want to read

Shakespeare wrote for an audience that lived hundreds of years ago. Their life experiences were vastly different than our own. Yet, somehow Shakespeare's writing appeals to us as much as it appealed to the people of his day. That's because Shakespeare developed plots that people could relate to on the most intimate levels. His writings involved timeless themes, such as love and jealousy, which are still alive today. Shakespeare completely understood his audience and was able to use the difficulties people face to attract audiences, engage them, and convince them that he sympathized. By building this relationship with the audience, Shakespeare was able to build a loyal following to his brand.

We, too, must answer these same challenge from our own audiences (customers) today. Consumers want to know that companies understand and address their struggles. This helps to build the critical relationship that leads to customer loyalty and improved brand awareness.

Using multiple resources to develop content

No one develops their content in a vacuum. It's estimated that of Shakespeare's many plays, only a couple were actually completely original and developed by Shakespeare himself. This means he was frequently drawing inspiration and ideas from other sources of content. He would use these sources of inspiration to help get his own creative juices flowing. He would develop and embellish on the plots, characters, and themes until the works were completely his own, but still had parts that were drawn from other classics.

As content creators and marketers, we must also be willing to draw upon the experience and expertise of others. The marketing world continues to change, and we must all stay on top of the new methods if we want to remain competitive.

Looking at the successful work of others to draw inspiration can offer help with building our own content, too. As we read and see what others do in their marketing campaigns, we gain a better understanding of what we want to write and discuss with potential customers. Content development has become an increasingly important part of marketing. Listening and reading what others have to say can help any marketer start to develop their own voice, the same way Shakespeare found inspiration for his writing.

When you set out to develop your marketing campaign, you'll likely spend a considerable amount of time reading modern marketing experts and trying to incorporate their wisdom into your own campaign. While these modern marketers will certainly impart a lot of wisdom, don't discount what the wordsmiths of the past, like Shakespeare, can teach you as well. If you're ready to jumpstart your marketing campaign, give us a call today.

Friday, July 18, 2014

You're Never Too Big (or Small) to Innovate

The business world continues to adapt at an astonishing pace. Fifteen years ago, Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, and similar movie rental businesses dominated the market. Soon, however, Netflix arrived on the scene, and cable providers began offering on-demand movie options. The cost and inconvenience of having to stop at a store rather than just turning on the TV or computer meant that these once dominant businesses quickly began to lose ground. Now they're all but obsolete.

What these major corporations can teach businesses of all sizes

There are two ways you could look at the fate of Blockbuster and similar companies. You could either worry yourself sick about your own place within your industry -- or take action and learn from the mistakes these companies made. If you look closely at what happened to these corporations, it's easy to see the importance of market research, innovation, and finding ways to make life easier for your customers.

Some companies thrive at adapting to new situations. Nokia went from being a paper company to one of the largest cellphone makers. Companies like Amazon.com managed to turn entire industries upside down. These companies were able to innovate, capitalize on what appealed to their customers, and become successful.

Lessons to take away

There are two main lessons to be learned here. The first is to never neglect the importance of market research. You probably already know the importance of market research before launching a new product, but don't stop there. Market research is something you should do regularly throughout the year. Intelligent market research can help you get inside your customers' heads and determine exactly what they want that you can provide. The better you can predict the wants and needs of your customers, the more likely you are to successfully remain an industry leader.

The second lesson is the importance of serving clients. Make it a priority to determine exactly how you can serve customers in a unique way. Customers like convenience and affordability, which is why companies like Netflix and Amazon.com thrive. Determining new ways to make your products and services accessible for customers is a wonderful way to market products and attract a following among new customers.

Before you begin any new marketing campaign, sit down and discuss how you can make your products or services more accessible for customers. Determining your unique niche is a great starting point for any marketing campaign.

Over the years, numerous companies have risen and fallen as technology and the marketplace continue to change. The companies that survive are the ones that can innovate and remain ahead of the curve in determining customer desires. Combining a customer-first attitude with ongoing market research is a fantastic way to take a strong step in the right direction. If you're interested in learning more about how to make your marketing efforts successful, contact us today.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Taking an X-Ray of your Business

From the time the x-ray was invented around the turn of the 20th century, people have been fascinated by the capacity of these rays to capture what lies beneath the skin. When the technology is used by doctors, it can help determine if bones are broken, detect disorders or illnesses, or see how well a broken bone is healing.

As business leaders, we must sometimes look at our own businesses with x-ray eyes: uncovering and treating problems beneath the surface before they get out of hand or cause permanent damage.

Uncovering problems

Few businesses run perfectly. As any company grows, it will experience bumps, bruises, and hiccups along the way. Part of running the business involves being able to lead the company through these times, so you can come out the other side stronger and better prepared for the future. Many times, this involves easy fixes. Perhaps a new employee is needed to handle greater demand or a policy might need to be tweaked to adapt to an evolving workflow.

Sometimes, however, problems are not so easy to fix. Take, for example, customer service. We've all experienced times (as customers) when we've felt like we're being passed around from person to person, trying to find a simple answer to our question. By the time we get our answer, we're so frustrated with the process that we end up completely annoyed with the company. This damages the company reputation and may even cause us to stop doing business with them.

As a business leader, you need to realize that these kinds of deep, penetrating problems cannot be fixed with simple, one-size-fits-all solutions. Sometimes, you need to look deeper and see where the 'bone' is broken -- and how badly -- before you can begin to treat the symptoms and heal your company. Only after you have a clearer picture of what's really going on can you find the right way to fix the problem and make your company stronger for the long run.

Making the repair

If your company is facing a major problem that can't be fixed easily, don't be afraid to go back and start over in finding the solution. While it can certainly be intimidating to think about how long the process will take and how much potential revenue you might lose along the way, it's important to remember that taking the time to complete these repairs properly will make your company stronger over the long haul. This, in turn, will help to boost revenue and make up for lost time. Companies that neglect to make difficult but necessary changes often find themselves losing money (and customers).

So how can you go about fixing tough problems? Start with these steps.

  1. Sit down and plan out exactly what your end goal will be. Providing higher-quality customer service is one possible example.


  2. Work backwards to generate ideas about how this goal can be reached. This will typically involve doing industry research and learning more about what the competition does to accomplish a similar aim.


  3. Educate and retrain all members of the organization about the new methods and procedures, so everyone is on the same page, even those who aren't directly involved with the affected areas.


  4. Invite feedback from customers and employees to see how well the changes are working.



Growing a business sometimes means being willing to go back to the drawing board to see how a key part of the business can be changed and repaired to make it stronger in the future. Don't be afraid to 'x-ray' your business and find ways to help it grow in the years to come.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Are You Attracting Quality Leads or Meaningless Site Chatter?

When it comes to marketing, the million-dollar question is: "Have we been successful in our campaigns?" No company wants to pour money into a marketing effort and get nothing in return. It's common for marketing professionals to track numerous metrics in an effort to gauge the success of their campaigns. Unfortunately, many are monitoring the wrong thing, and that can be dangerous.

What metrics don't matter?

It doesn't matter how many people visit your website. Some people might argue with that and try to talk about brand exposure or sales funnels, but think about something. Say you do a massive overhaul of your website. You really focus on optimizing content, creating a clean and attractive layout, and improving your search engine ranking. Your site traffic jumps by a shocking 200 percent! Wow! Congratulations! What does that mean? Nothing.

The jump in traffic is only significant if the number of conversions jumps with it. If you received 10 quality leads per week on your old site and you receive 10 quality leads per week on the new site, your jump in traffic actually means your site is now performing worse. If you were only monitoring your site traffic, however, you might be tempted to say that the overhaul was a huge success. This can be detrimental to your business in the long run.

The same thinking applies to social media followers or even physical bodies in the store. What matters is quality leads and potential conversions. These are the metrics you should be tracking. Site traffic is only important for comparison purposes to see the percentage of visitors who convert.

Finding quality leads

The most important aspect of finding quality leads is developing content that offers value to your ideal customer. You should have a good idea of the type of customer you're looking to attract. This includes their interests, what matters professionally to them, and what they're looking for.

Build quality content, which will naturally incorporate keywords and help to answer your visitors' questions and concerns. More importantly, when visitors find your site, they'll become interested in what your company has to offer. This will lead to a higher percentage converting. Visitors will come to trust your company as an industry leader who can help them find what they're looking for.

Focus on building a conversion friendly website. Whether a customer arrives on the web page from a QR code or web address on a direct mail postcard or through a Google search, the site should have a clear sitemap, show obvious value for the customer, and make it easy for them to convert into customers.

Customers don't like having to hunt around for phone numbers, addresses, or the chance to sign up for products and services, so don't make them. Prominent, easy-to-use buttons are great additions. Neuromarketing also tells us little tips, such as offering customers choices (even if the choices are meaningless) will improve conversion rates. For example, customers are more likely to sign up for a newsletter that comes with a 'sign me up now' button next to a 'no thanks, I like wasting money' button, rather than a newsletter with just a sign up button.

There's no doubt getting chatter on your site is addicting and exciting. Everyone who's ever built a website knows how enticing it is to watch the number of visitors increase. When it comes to a successful marketing campaign, however, it's important to remember to measure the right things. Visitor counts don't matter unless conversion rates also rise. Spend your time attracting quality leads, and watch the important metrics increase for genuine success.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Carpe Diem: An Important Business Mantra

Recognizing and grasping the right opportunities is important in nearly every aspect of business. Taking bold action at just the right time can take a company from decent to extraordinary, from paying the bills to thriving. In some cases, success itself can hinge on a single connection or contract that opens the floodgates.

If you've been around the business world very long, you know that success is not completely predictable. Some companies with very talented leadership and great ideas never seem to get out of the starting gate, while other companies with lesser talent manage to make it all the way to the top of their industry. The difference often boils down to knowing how to recognize opportunities and then having the courage to take them.

Recognizing opportunity

So how can you ensure you're taking advantage of the right opportunities? The first priority is understanding your niche in the marketplace. Make sure you have a clear idea of how you're serving customers and what you're doing to stand out from the competition. This will help you recognize those unique chances when they come along.

Next, make sure you're always on alert. That doesn't mean you need to work perpetually and check email constantly, wherever you are. It does mean, however, that you must remain alert to opportunities in unexpected places. For example, if you're out at a restaurant and strike up a conversation with another patron, recognize and take advantage of any opportunity you find for a business contact. Similarly, if you're receiving goods or services from another company and notice some way that your company could help them improve, speak up and offer your suggestions. This is no time to be shy or second guess yourself. Strike while the iron's hot, as the saying goes.

Don't expect every opportunity to be perfect. Most won't be. But that doesn't mean they aren't worth your time. Being right and being perfect aren't one and the same. Those imperfect opportunities are often enough to help you grow your business.

Recognizing opportunities and having the courage to walk up and seize them can make an enormous difference in the success of your business. Playing it safe might allow you to pay the bills, but it will also limit your potential growth. Learn how to recognize the appropriate opportunities, take courage, and see just how high your company can go.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Management Lessons From Our Elementary School Days

Think back for a moment to your elementary school days. Chances are, some of your best memories revolve around celebrations. Whether celebrating a classmate's birthday, a favorite holiday, an accomplishment for the class, or even the 100th day of school, everyday celebrations are an essential part of many elementary school classrooms.

Why are these types of celebrations so popular?

For one thing, they offer everyone, including the teacher, a bit of a mental break from the daily grind. When people return from a break, they're ready to sit down and work some more. Without a break, it's easy to get burned out.

Secondly, they help to keep the atmosphere happy and joyful in the classroom. Everyone functions better when they work in a positive atmosphere.

And finally, they offer the teacher and classmates the chance to recognize the accomplishments of the group as a whole, as well as those of individual students. When students know their efforts are recognized, the motivation to continue to perform and earn more rewards is strengthened.

While most working adults are far removed from elementary school, that doesn't mean these basic lessons learned in childhood no longer apply.

What business leaders today can learn from their elementary school teachers

Elementary school teachers understand that the best way to keep people motivated is to celebrate their accomplishments. When you find ways to congratulate people or teams who meet particular goals at your organization, you'll also be encouraging them to continue to strive and accomplish more. Employees who feel as though their accomplishments and efforts are recognized are more likely to feel satisfaction at the workplace and trust that their efforts contribute to company success.

How businesses can create the environment on an adult scale

Working to keep the atmosphere light and pleasant can also contribute to a positive work environment. While most professional environments wouldn't be able function with parties every week, there are plenty of other ways to encourage a positive workplace. Cards, token gifts, bonuses, announcements of accomplishments at meetings, and similar strategies can all help employees feel appreciated. Even personal notes from management will let employees know their leaders notice the efforts of everyone below them. Save the parties for more memorable occasions, such as the holiday season.

Employees who feel appreciated have greater company loyalty. Loyal employees tend to be fantastic company evangelists, while also contributing to the stability of the company. The result is a stronger company that can move forward more effectively. Loyal employees tend to speak positively about the brand to their friends and family, as well as online. Creating a positive company environment will help to make the entire company a welcoming place for employees and customers.

When companies have specific goals in mind, it's tempting to just expect everyone to put their noses down and work. In reality, companies that work to create a rewarding atmosphere where employees feel happy and content are likely to accomplish greater things and have employees who feel more loyal and appreciated by management. How happy an employee feels can have an incredible impact on their productivity. So take the time to foster happy employees, and get started building your company today.

Marketing Your Brand to Every Palate

One of the joys of eating out as a family is the opportunity to let each person choose their own meal. For those with a bit more daring palate, that might mean trying something new. For others, it might mean ordering an old standby they know they'll enjoy. In either case, the person is more likely to enjoy their dining experience because they have the chance to order something that suits their own individual taste.

Distinct appetites and marketing

Just as every person has their own unique palate when it comes to food, your customers have their own appetites when it comes to how they want to receive your marketing messages. Keep this in mind as you plan your marketing campaigns. Work to tailor your message (and media) to address the needs of the various types of customers you're trying to reach.

Begin the process by developing several key buyer or customer personas. Your marketing campaigns should be carefully tailored to address the particular characteristics each of those personas share. For example, if you're marketing for a bank, the ads you use to reach consumers looking to save time checking their balances and making deposits might not be the same ads you would use to reach consumers searching for information on a reverse mortgage.

In the same way, try to tailor your campaigns to address the platforms your customers are using to access your information. Emphasize web links and clickable phone numbers on mobile websites, email addresses and phone numbers on standard web pages, and easy-to-remember URLs on print ads and brochures. For direct mail marketing, target your campaigns based on demographic information, such as income levels, number of children, location, and so on.

The more precise you can make your campaign, the more likely it will be to succeed. Customers appreciate it when they feel as though a marketing campaign addresses their unique concerns and problems. When customers see advertisements that don't apply to them, they tend to ignore them. In some cases, they may even get completely turned off by the company involved. Taking the time to tailor your ads to address the needs of different groups of potential customers is the best way to start gaining new customers and improve the visibility of your company.

Whether it's a night out with the family at a favorite restaurant or a marketing campaign aimed at gaining new customers, remembering the individual tastes of the people involved always makes good sense. A well-planned, well-focused, multifaceted campaign leaves customers feeling appreciated and increases the chance of reaching them when they're ready to buy. If you're ready to get started with your next marketing campaign, reach out to us to see how we can help you make it happen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Writing an Amazing, Effective, Brilliant Press Release

What's the first tool you turn to when you need to get the word out about a new product, service, or innovation from your business? If you're like many small business owners, it's probably not the press release.

While some marketers have pushed the press release into the background -- throwing it under the bus in favor of newcomers like Twitter, Facebook, and banner ads -- this venerable marketing tool has definitely not outlived its usefulness. In fact, some even say that with today's focus on content, the press release is more valuable than ever... that is, as long as it's done right.

We've collected best practice tips and advice from the experts to help you take full advantage of this tried-and-true marketing strategy, so you can write a brilliant, amazing and -- most of all -- effective press release that'll get noticed.

Press Release 101

First, the basics: What, exactly, is a press release, and why does it exist? In a nutshell, a press release is a written update or summary, usually a couple hundred words in length, that alerts the media to news about your business. Whether you've created an innovative solution, are introducing a new service, are planning a big event, or have won an award, a press release supplies journalists with the information they'll need to write an article about you in the press.

At least that's the goal. Crafting your press release to appeal to journalists is key, as they're inundated with information every day. Here's how to make yours stand out.

Make it Accessible

Your press release should follow a standard format, which includes an attention-grabbing (but relevant and accurate) headline followed by a strong opening sentence that gets right to the point. Reporters are busy; assume that they'll probably only read the headline and first few sentences before scanning the rest of your text, and really make that prime (content) real estate work for you.

Within the first paragraph, think like a journalist and address the 5 "W's": who, what, where, when, and why. Use the remainder of the text to support the important information you just shared in the first few sentences.

You Invented a What?

Here's the fun part. Remember, what's huge news to you as a business owner (that new line of tires you're offering is amazing! Your lobby redesign is a stunning example of modern design!) may not be quite as huge to those who aren't directly connected to your company.

But don't get discouraged: Get creative. Find the angle that makes your information compelling -- the angle that makes your press release more like a news article. You need to demonstrate the value of your information; does it solve a problem for consumers? Will it fill a need in the community? Think like a reporter, and turn your press release into news that people want to read and can use.

Short and Sweet

Again, journalists don't have a lot of time to savor each and every word, so keep your message short and sweet. Be succinct; get to the point and say what you need to say in as few words as possible. Your press release should always fit on a single page.

Contact Information is Key

Whatever you do, don't forget to include your contact information! This vital data should go at the top of your document, where it's easy to find. Ensure that you're including the contact data for the person you want reporters to contact, as well. Maybe that's your secretary, your CEO, or a project manager. Whoever it is, ensure that those who want to contact your business can.

If you continually deliver direct, relevant press releases, your recipients will take notice. As your credibility increases, so will your chances of getting that valuable media attention.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Color in Print Advertising: Are You Sending Hidden Messages?

A printed marketing piece -- whether a brochure, flyer, catalog, or letter -- contains many design components. From margin size to font, use of white space to size and type of paper, the elements that go into a printed piece require much consideration. But when it comes to color, marketers all too often make choices based on personal preference, anecdotal evidence, or even hunches.

However, people actually devote time and effort to studying this stuff; researchers have uncovered a large body of quantitative data about the many ways color affects consumer behavior. Their findings can help inform color choices, so printed projects can better reach their intended audiences.

How Important is Color in Marketing?

In a nutshell: Very. A study by the Seoul International Color Expo found that almost 93 percent of consumers said visual experience is the most important factor when it comes to purchasing. Of these, almost 85 percent listed color as the major factor. Even more impressive, a report from the Institute for Color Research notes that most consumers make a judgement about a product within 90 seconds of first seeing it and that color accounts for 62 to 90 percent of their initial impression.

Color is also key in branding; a University of Maryland study found that using a consistent color palette increased brand recognition by a whopping 80 percent! Why? It's all about brain chemistry; our neurocircuitry is hard-wired to respond to color. Multiple studies indicate that color significantly improves mental processing, storage, and memory. And if you're still not convinced, consider that colorful ads are read 42 percent more often than black-and-white ads. Readers also tend to spend more than twice as long lingering on a colorful ad than on a black-and-white ad.

These numbers aren't exactly ambiguous -- color matters (a lot!) when it comes to marketing. But which colors are best?

Color Choice for Intended Results

While each individual reacts to colors in their own way, research indicates there are some common themes associated with colors. In fact, certain colors actually trigger biological responses, some of which improve attention and evoke emotions.

Red: Studies indicate that consumers tend to associate red with attention, vigilance, excitement, stimulation, and enhanced concentration. When products are featured on a red background, readers tend to have more positive thoughts about the product if specific descriptors are used, rather than creative or evocative language.

Blue: In contrast, readers preferred emotive, creative descriptions for products featured on a blue background. The cool color blue tends to elicit feelings of calm, safety, and openness, which can open the door to creative expression and exploration.

Yellow and Orange: Like red, these warm colors evoke feelings of excitement and attention. Orange tends to be associated with extroversion and energy, while yellow is often seen as optimistic and friendly.

Green and Brown: Both green and brown are associated with nature, making these colors effective for outdoorsy, rugged, or natural products or campaigns. In addition, green is associated with security, while brown is linked to seriousness.

Pink and Purple: Pink and purple both evoke associations with femininity and sophistication. Purple also connotes luxury and authenticity.

Black: For the ultimate in elegance and sophistication, nothing beats black. Glamor, power, dignity, and high-fashion are all evoked by the use of black.

White: As the absence -- or complete reflection -- of all colors, white evokes feelings of purity, simplicity, and cleanliness. It's also associated with happiness and peace.

When choosing colors or combinations for your print ads, keep these associations in mind. Select colors that support your messaging, rather than subconsciously undermining it.

Do You Truly Know Your Target Market?

Are you preaching to the wrong choir?

While every business owner or marketing department head certainly has heard that basic rule of advertising -- know your target audience -- when was the last time you stopped to ask, "How well do I REALLY know my target audience?"

Say, for instance, you run a landscaping business. You know your target audience includes homeowners in your town. But if you take it a few steps further, you may just discover that your true target audience includes homeowners between the ages of 45 and 65 who live within a five-mile radius of the center of town and who have an annual income over $55,000. Sounds pretty specific, right?

The old adage "you can't please all the people all the time" certainly applies to your marketing efforts. Too many businesses try to be all things to all people, focusing on too broad a demographic. Narrowing your focus can result in a more effective use of your marketing dollars.

If you haven't taken this particular commandment to heart, it's likely affecting your marketing for the worse. Here's how to identify your true target audience.

Playing Detective

Get out your deerstalker. It's time to play Sherlock Holmes. Identifying your target audience involves a bit of research into demographics. Start by compiling a list of customer characteristics, including age, gender, location, income, education, occupation, ethnicity, martial status, and number of children. Now think about the last few purchases you made. How many of these factors influenced that purchase?

Narrow your focus down to the two most significant factors -- we'll call these your core factors -- and then choose up to two "secondary factors" to round out your market. You'll want to focus your research on these core and secondary factors to really get to know your target audience. Find out where they shop, what's important to them, which businesses they frequent (both online and off), and what problems they experience that your product or service can solve.

With those answers in place, it's time to delve deep into your audience and compile the data and information that make them tick. Resources for your research may include:

  • U.S. Census Bureau

  • Google Analytics

  • Facebook Insights (analytics available if your business page has at least 30 "likes")

  • Customer review sites (What other businesses are your customers patronizing on Yelp? What appeals to them?)

  • Your competitors' sites and reviews

  • Surveys or interviews with your current and past customers

  • Hosting small focus groups

Keep in mind that you're also looking for psychographic information, such as hobbies, interests, lifestyle, attitudes, and beliefs. While demographic information tells you who is most likely to buy your product or service, psychographic data tells you why they're interested.

When you're compiling the data, look for common threads that run among your customers. Do they work in similar industries or have similar hobbies? Does your product or service appeal to families with two kids or single professionals? Seeking out similarities makes it easier to target relevant customers.

Develop a Profile

Now that you've gathered your research, develop a "typical customer" profile. The goal? To create an in-depth picture of who your customer is. Your profile should contain both demographic information -- age, location, marital status, etc. -- and psychographic information -- values, attitudes, political leanings, hobbies, and the like.

Your profile will help you determine where, exactly, to find your target audience. Do they tend to live in a certain neighborhoods -- or certain streets in certain neighborhoods? Do they patronize certain businesses because those places reinforce their values? The better you understand your target customer, the more easily you can tailor your marketing materials to appeal to them.

Remember, your customer profile and your target audience aren't static. They'll evolve and change over time, and so should your approach. Determining your target audience isn't a once-and-done proposition; rather, it's an ongoing task that grows along with your business.

Networking Tips Straight Out of High School

Back in high school, there were always a few classmates who seemed to find schoolwork effortless. They were able to easily achieve the top grades while the rest of the class struggled. As finals week rolled around, these students often found themselves inundated with requests for study help. Some would come from friends, but many came from complete strangers who would suddenly try to buddy up with the smart kids in an effort to curry their favor.

Typically, the smart students would react to these requests in one of two ways:


  1. The requests that came from friends -- people the students socialized with outside of class -- were met with assurances of help.

  2. The requests that came from strangers were often dismissed.



Why the disparity?

No one likes being taken advantage of. While it may have been just as easy to offer study help to members of either group, the smart students didn't like people suddenly trying to be their friend, only to be 'dumped' once the other person passed an exam. It wasn't that they didn't want to help. They just preferred to help genuine friends they could trust to actually care about them.

How this relates to networking

People often look for shortcuts to take with networking. They don't want to go through the trouble of building a relationship with a new connection; they just want to know if the person is going to be interested in doing business together or not and then leave it at that.

The problem with this method is the same problem that many struggling students found when they tried to suddenly befriend the smart kids at the end of the year: No one likes to feel that they're being taken advantage of.

When you're on the other side of the relationship, you don't want to have someone approach you and just immediately start trying to sell you. You're more interested in doing business with someone you've already built a relationship with and you trust to be concerned with your business as well as theirs. If a connection that you've gotten to know over the course of several years reaches out and offers you a trial of their new software and invites you to sign up for a newsletter, you're far more inclined to accept that offer than you would if the same invitation came from someone you just met.

Making this principle work for you

Networking takes effort. There's no getting around that. Forming these valuable connections, however, has the potential to really grow a business. To help make your networking overtures successful, keep these tips in mind:

  • Discuss business, but don't try to sell after just a meeting or two.

  • Keep detailed records of contacts, such as meeting dates/conferences, birthdays, anniversaries, and similar dates. Send cards on applicable days.

  • Keep a rotation of connections that you reach out to on a regular basis, such as once every few months to maintain the relationship.

  • When making a sales pitch, frame it in a way so the other party sees how it might benefit them as well.

Networking can be instrumental in growing a business. However, taking shortcuts and trying to sell to a new contact you've just met will probably have the success rate of trying to get the high school valedictorian you've never spoken with to study with you the day before finals. Taking the time to build a relationship can make a world of difference. Keep that in mind when you set out to build your network, and you just might be pleasantly surprised at what networking can do for you.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What You Can Learn from a Stack of Pancakes

Everyone has comfort foods they view as the perfect meal after a long week at work, a stressful day, or even just to wake up to after a long night out with friends. These foods range from a plateful of pancakes to a bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese or Mom's chili. Whatever the comfort food may be, most tend to share a few characteristics on common.

  • They're not all that good for you.

  • They're very filling.

  • Health experts would tell you not to eat them.

Theoretically, food should be optimized to provide our bodies with nourishment. Foods that don't provide optimal nourishment -- and might actually hurt it with excessive calories, salt, and fat -- should not be desired. However, as humans, most of us like to enjoy our foods. Hence, the popularity of comfort foods.

What purpose do these foods serve?

Comfort foods fill a very specific role in our lives. For some people, favorite comfort foods remind them of their mother or grandmother's cooking when they were growing up. Others might just take pleasure in the savory taste.

These foods tend to fill us up, make us feel warm inside, and allow us the opportunity to take our minds off whatever might be worrying us or stressing us. They're not the foods we eat every day. Instead, they're a special treat, and that's part of their appeal.

The next time you're feeling stressed and decide to turn to a bowl of cheesy, carbohydrate-laden deliciousness to help take the edge off the pain, look down at that dish and see what you might actually learn from it.

What can be learned from Grandma's pie

As already mentioned, comfort foods fill a specific role. We don't turn to them for nutritional value or health. We turn to them for comfort. In other words, these foods have a specific niche. Your business must also determine its niche and be able to articulate exactly what it is you do for people. The same way not all food can be nutritious, easy, or cheap, not all companies within a given industry can fulfill the same needs for customers.

How to identify your company's niche

There are two main criteria your company should examine when looking to identify your niche. The first is what your customers are looking for. No industry is so over-saturated that every possible customer need is already being met. Perhaps there's a distinct specialization that's underserved, or every company focuses so much on lower prices that they fail to address the quality customer service and customer assistance that's being sought. Determine what it is that's lacking within the industry.

Secondly, discuss what unique skill sets your company brings to the industry. Perhaps several of your founding members have a background in a particular area that could help guide your company toward a specialization. Bring these two criteria together to determine the best niche for the company.

Identifying a key niche helps distinguish your business and secure its place as an essential player in the industry. Remembering that your company cannot be everything to everyone should help you determine what exactly you bring to the table and how you can use your skills to an advantage. If you're looking to begin identifying and advertising to a specific niche, contact us to learn more about how we can help.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Printing: Greener than You Think

Everyone who's worked around printing has undoubtedly heard the same mantra at least once or twice: Save a tree -- don't print. While it's true that climate change is a major challenge facing our nation and the world, the idea that printing is contributing to deforestation is a misconception. Research indicates that the number of trees in the U.S. is actually on the rise. Tree farming -- the source of most paper products -- is the cause.

In reality, printing is a sustainable industry that actually benefits the environment. Let's debunk a few of the myths surrounding printing... and discover why it's greener than you think.

Myth #1: The Number of Trees in the U.S. is Declining

Actually, the opposite is true. Statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization indicate that forest growth has exceeded harvest for more than 60 years; in fact, forest growth volume is 380 percent more today than it was in the 1920s. That means that the country is actually home to 20 percent more trees today than on the first Earth Day in 1970.

What's behind this growth? A few factors, including:

  1. Expansion of national parks

  2. Population shift from rural to urban areas

  3. Sustainable tree farming



Number three is especially significant for the printing industry. Every day, those who privately own and manage forests, tree farms, and tree plantations plant about 4 million trees -- or three times as many as they harvest.

Myth #2: Printing Kills Forests

Only about 11 percent of harvested trees are used to make paper (while 53 percent are used for fuel and 28 percent for lumber), so that "think before you print and save a tree" saying isn't accurate.

In fact, printing actually contributes to the increasing number of trees. How? When there's a healthy market for sustainably grown trees, landowners are much more likely to continue using their land to grow and maintain forests, rather than sell land off to developers. The more land that's used for sustainable tree farming, the less pressure there is on primary forests to produce wood fiber.

Myth #3: Going Digital is Better for the Earth

As it turns out, not so much. Do you know what materials are used to manufacture those iPads, smart phones, e-readers, and laptops? Let's compare e-readers and books.

Materials: An e-reader requires extraction of 33 pounds of minerals and 79 gallons of water; a book requires two-thirds of a pound of minerals and 2 gallons of water to produce.

Manufacturing: Making an e-reader requires a heavy energy input of about 100 kilowatt hours of fossil fuels and produces 66 pounds of carbon dioxide; a book requires 2 kilowatt hours and produces about a pound of CO2.

Health Impact: The adverse effects on human health -- such as toxic emissions -- of making an e-reader are 70 times higher than that of making a book.

Disposal: E-readers contain toxins that can leach into ground water if not properly recycled; a non-recycled book decomposes in a landfill, generating about twice as many emissions as the manufacturing process.

A few other facts to consider: In the U.S., more than half the energy expended on paper manufacturing comes from renewable resources, and printing is a one-time input of energy. Digital devices, on the other hand, require constant energy. Plus, Americans generate more than 13 million tons of e-waste per year. Overall, the environmental impact of one e-reader is equivalent to about 100 books, according to the New York Times.

Given the numbers, it's easy to understand how printing contributes to a greener Earth.

Why Choose Newsletters?

When it comes to business marketing outreach tools, it just doesn't get much more venerable than the newsletter. In fact, some even describe the newsletter as the perfect intersection of tradition and technology.

Indeed, it's hard to top a well-designed newsletter that's filled with useful, relevant information and thoughtful graphics and images, especially when it's printed on attractive paper. A well-done newsletter simply screams "high-quality," an impression that rubs off on the business that distributes it.

The newsletter's history itself is inextricably entwined with commerce and marketing. Let's delve into the background of this classic marketing tool -- and explore the new ways that newsletters meld tech and tradition.

Newsletters: The Early Days

Historians believe that the first newsletter was created in 1538, decades before the advent of newspapers, but the first documented newsletter appeared in England in 1631. Titled "The Continuation of Our Weekly News from Forrain Parts," this newsletter disseminated news of happenings in foreign lands.

Across the pond in the New World, the "Boston News-Letter" made its first appearance in 1704. Many other newsletters followed, and the medium grew popular through the 18th century. By the mid-1800s, many newsletters had morphed into newspapers, a trend that continued until the 1900s.

In the early 20th century, businesses sought a new way to communicate with their customers, stakeholders, and other businesses. Though they'd long been placing ads in newspapers, companies needed a way to disseminate long-form information. Newsletters filled this gap.

The first business newsletter is believed to have been published in 1904. Known as the "Babson's Report," this newsletter provided financial and investing advice. It was soon followed by the "Kiplinger Letter," which provided business and economic forecasting trends. It still does today.

These early newsletters generally consisted of a single, typeset page that read like a letter from a financial institution to potential investors. Over the next decades, the trend continued to grow as businesses recognized the power of newsletters to build a customer base, serve as cost-effective advertising tools, and improve brand loyalty.

By the 1930s, the corporate newsletter craze was in full swing. A range of industries, from fashion to finance to farming, embraced this powerful marketing tool as a way to drive sales. In some cases, the newsletters themselves were used as moneymakers; for instance, paid subscriptions to stock market tip newsletters still exist today. In most cases, however, marketers realized the value of newsletters in building relationships with customers.

The Rise of Relationship Marketing

For decades, newsletters have been used as an essential tool in what's known as "relationship marketing," a method that emphasizes developing loyalty, retention, and long-term relationships by providing customers with solutions and information they actually need and can use. In today's marketing world -- which sometimes feels like it's characterized by an overwhelming amount of digital noise -- the classic printed newsletter stands as the iconic relationship marketing tool.

Why? The newsletter offers a level of practicality and usefulness that customers value, especially in an age of "interruption marketing." Consider that the newsletter:

  • offers practical, relevant information that customers can actually use; in other words, they see the newsletter as a benefit.

  • is long-lasting; unlike a TV or banner ad, the newsletter can be perused at a person's leisure, placed on their desk, and taken up again when the time is right.

  • provides credibility in a way that only printed materials can.

  • melds seamlessly with digital marketing by complementing online campaigns and pointing customers to websites.

As evidenced by its long, rich history, the newsletter is here to stay. Are you taking full advantage of this powerful marketing tool?