Tag Archive: social_marketing

Marketing Your Small Business for Back-to-School? Two Key Tips to Clear Through the Clutter

It’s that time of year again— time to get the kids ready for back-to-school. And while you’re buying new school supplies and clothes for the kids, why not think about some new ideas for your small business as well? One smart idea that many small business owners implement this time of year is to market their business with the back-to-school season in mind. With so many families focusing on school, it makes a lot of sense.

Don’t think that your business has to sell services or products to families to cash in on the back-to-school fever. Really, any business can tap into this moment in time. For instance, an accounting firm can put a back-to-school spin on some promotions, such as: “Is your small business’ math not up to speed? Don’t worry, you don’t need a tutor; instead contact the Jones Accounting Firm and get A’s on your next financials.”

The key to marketing your business for back-to-school is twofold: First, you need to have the right angle. Second, you need to have the right vehicle. Let’s look at both.

The Right Angle: There’s no shortage of competition out there when it comes to back-to-school promotions. Here’s why: marketers focus on where people put their attention, and right now, for families, returning to school is getting that attention. So, it’s important to be smart with your marketing efforts so that you don’t get lost in the shuffle.

I once had a master marketer tell me that the key to marketing in a crowded field is “waves and dips.” He explained that while it is smart to catch a wave like back-to-school because it is where the eyeballs are, the key to standing out is the dip. That is, you need to position yourself in a spot where the rest of the wave marketers are not.

What constitutes a dip? Really it is anything that you can do that sets your business apart from everyone else. The accounting firm above did that by tapping into the fall mindset. Whereas most back-to-school promotions are for clothing and office supply stores, Jones Accounting promoted a business that is not normally associated with back-to-school promotions. That is a classic “dip” promotion.

Your dip could be:

A loss leader sale of an item that is not normally found on sale.
An ad campaign that is really different. My dad once brought an elephant to his carpet store in September. While it did attract a lot of kids and parents looking for rides, Dad was not prepared for, shall we say, “Cleanup on aisle 3.” So be careful.The bottom line is you need to be different enough so that you stand out among all the surfers trying to catch the same wave.

The Right Vehicle: One of the great things about marketing today is that there are so many ways to get the word out: Pay-per-click, traditional ads, blogs, Twitter, etc.

While I am a big proponent of all of these new forms of media because they work and generally are very affordable, in this case, I would suggest that the tried is also true. Where are the parents? What do they read, watch and listen to? Wherever your audience is, that is where you need to be.

Some options: go the http://smallbusinessonlinecommunity.bankofamerica.com/community/growing-your-business/salesandmarketing/blog/2012/09/04/marketing-your-small-business-for-back-to-school-two-key-tips-to-clear-through-the-clutter

Staying On Message: How to Ensure Your Marketing Channels Speak as One

by SherroSmall Business Small Business Social Median Lumley.

Social media marketing – Who, exactly, are you? Amidst a veritable sea of sales pitches that consumers must navigate daily, that’s the essential question they are trying to answer when it comes to your small business social marketing. But if your company’s message is muddied or constantly shifting, connecting with potential customers in a way that reinforces trust and credibility becomes difficult, if not impossible.

“The world has changed,” says Sander Flaum, former chairman of Euro RSCG, one of the world’s largest advertising firms. “The whole concept has to be a unified one, because you look like an idiot otherwise. The marketing message has to be consistent. You can’t have one message for one channel and a different message for another channel.”

Staying on message means articulating a single passion or vision across all of the different platforms that your small business uses to advertise or promote itself—everything from Facebook to the phone book, from the graphics on your homepage to the signage on your front door. Keeping the content and appearance of your message consistent builds awareness, reinforces credibility, and fosters customer loyalty, while enabling you to reach multiple target audiences through the medium and style that they each prefer.

Many digital channels, one human voice.

 Photographer and small business owner David Lutz, of Portland, Oregon, recently started promoting his events on Facebook. As one of the top commercial photographers in the Northwest, he understands the value of local marketing, but he also wants to position his business at the cutting edge and push it into larger markets. “Large companies have the resources,” he says, “but how does a smaller business do it?”

According to a recent social media survey from Social Strategy1 and Office Arrow, nearly nine out of 10 small business owners recognize social media does or will impact their ventures, yet half still say there’s too much social media to manage. Additionally, 44 percent of small business owners are concerned that social media can feed an “information overload,” and negatively impact a business’s image. While these fears aren’t completely unfounded, social media remains a powerful way to bundle and multiply the effectiveness of a small business’s integrated marketing strategy.

To marshal his social media marketing forces and keep his message consistent, Lutz’s company website, blog, and Facebook pages are all linked. He also has the ability to simultaneously post to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, making communicating that single message via all of these channels as simple as posting to one.

And as social media marketing giants like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook have struck deals and formed partnerships, communication between the different applications and platforms has gotten even easier for users.  (For a quick and easy how-to, check out Mashable’s articles on syncing social media, such as this one: “Twitter to Facebook, Five Ways to Post to Both.”)

Whereas Lutz’s previous methods of reaching customers mostly included art shows, galleries, and direct mailing, he says his new social media marketing focus is mostly digital, with an emphasis on his website, online store, and PDF versions of his catalog. “My goal with all of the social media marketing  media is to drive people to my website home page, from where I get business,” he says. And while his Facebook page lets him showcase frequent photo updates, his business’s website is more content-rich, with consistent images.

Match your message to your social media market

“Your social media marketing and PR is meant to be the beginning of a relationship with buyers, and to drive action such as generating sales leads,” says market strategist David Scott. Here’s the rule: “When you write, start with your buyers, not with your product.”

Ernie Valdez, of Ernie’s Paint and Body Shop, in San Marcos, Texas, says with a wide range of customers from ages 16 to 80, his company’s slogan, “Just take it to Ernie’s,” works well because it solves a problem. Rather than selling any particular product or service, Valdez likes the idea of giving the customer a simple, reassuring answer to an age-old question: “How will I get my car fixed?”

For years Ernie’s advertising has included occasional TV commercials, billboards at the nearby college stadium, and local little league sponsorships. Now, with an increasingly saturated market, Ernie’s is expanding its marketing channels by adding an online component, highlighting its 25-year history and expertise on the company website, while also positioning the company as a trusted cornerstone of the community.

This tactic of sharing with the world your business’s expertise and developing messages that your buyers want to hear is a wise move, says Scott. Small businesses gain credibility and loyalty with buyers through content, he adds, so smart marketers will deliver messages targeted directly at their audience.  When the message and image are consistent, such as with Ernie’s, the reward is a loyal customer base.

In marketing, it pays to sweat the small stuff

Consistent marketing and social media marketing also involves choosing psychographic symbols that trigger a repetitive recognition in the customer. These brand standards can encompass something as small as an email signature or as broad as a musical melody (think Intel’s distinctive “bum-bum, bum-BUM”). The four most important elements are: logo placement and sizing, consistent graphic symbols and shapes, specific font styles, and, finally, color, which is perhaps most important because of its link to memory retrieval and emotions (think red for Coca-Cola and brown for UPS.) A good starting point for finding a cohesive color palette is Color Scheme Designer, a free online tool used by graphic design professionals.

Once the brand standards and social marketing message are set, some companies stand by them forever, but they don’t have to be etched in stone. “When a company begins to lose market share, this is when it’s time to change the message,” says Flaum. As a cautionary tale of strategy and marketing gone awry, Flaum cites one of the world’s top brands: Ford. After losing market share and dropping from the 30th to 41st most valuable brand in 2007, he notes that Ford acted quickly to refocus its operations and simplify its image—killing off its under-performing mid-range brand Mercury and selling off its expensive, luxury marques Range Rover and Jaguar.

Nowadays, a small business may reach its customers through a retail store, a website, social marketing media, direct mail, email, or even text message and online chat, making it possible to tap multiple market segments and socio-economic groups of consumers. However, to build the trust and loyalty essential to strong customer relationships and long-term success, all of those various marketing channels must speak with a unified voice, so the customer can answer that key question “Who are you?”

Rainmaking From Online Clouds

money exchange

Bringing in new clients, improving cash flow, and finding new sources of capital are a perennial challenge for every business—for small businesses even more so. But now, thanks to the Internet and social media, entrepreneurs have access to many of the same powerful marketing tools, business networks, and customer groups that were once the private domain of Fortune 500 corporations. The trick, of course, is how to use these new tools correctly.

The first step on this road to increased prosperity, however, often proves to be the most difficult—getting buy-in from the business owner. But according to Mitch Joel, author of the book Six Pixels of Separation, a company that foregoes its online potential is missing a big opportunity. “Use the cloud,” he emphasizes. “The Internet can and should be one of the most powerful channels to convey your ideas and thoughts.”

Pull-Quote-Tall.pngSo what is so different and important about tapping into groups of people gathered together online in places like social media groups? The answer is like-mindedness, trust, and among other things, engagement—it’s the idea that these people already want to interact with you and your business.

Michael Stelzner, author of the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report says that over the course of the last three years, social media has moved from an uncertain strategy to a permanent fixture to, now, a primary tool of businesses of all sizes. “Almost all marketers find that social media helps them stand out in an increasingly noisy marketplace,” Stelzner points out. In fact, the study found that 88 percent of respondents said social media helps get them increased exposure. Additionally, 72 percent of those surveyed saw increased traffic and subscriptions as a result of social media.

Online networking

Malena Jackson is the founder of the Global Association of Family Travel, in Valencia, California. It’s a business she relentlessly markets through social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as through traditional methods such as local Chamber of Commerce meetings.

While Jackson acknowledges that face-to-face customer interactions still hold more value, she remains committed to online networking even though only five percent of her business currently comes from social media contacts. Approximately four times a week, Jackson sends out Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter messages to her clients, which include hotels and resorts around the world who want to know more about capturing the family traveler market. “I’m always planting seeds,” she explains.

She also uses YouTube and Facebook to post short, three-minute videos that touch on family travel topics and consistently communicate her marketing message. “Social media allows you to be the expert if you do it right,” she says. When it comes to interacting online, Jackson says it’s all about letting people in and having a two-way conversation with customers and colleagues. “They want to be a part of your world.”

Online prospecting

Stephan Laenen founded his graphic design company, Image Creation, in Atlanta 10 years ago, later relocating to the Pacific Northwest. However, like Jackson, his customers come from far and wide. And he attributes some of his recent success in connecting with potential new clients to following up on LinkedIn after real-world networking events.

Laenen says when people come to his business via a social media site such as Facebook or LinkedIn, they are 80 percent bought in to your business because they trust the people who referred them. That makes converting them into real-life customers that much easier, he points out.

“When you do cold calls or advertising, you’re throwing a lot of work out there and the customers may or may not come,” Laenen says. “By nature, I’m not a sales person, I’m more of a customer service type. It’s easier for me if they are sold already.”

Online funding

Crowdfunding is another innovative way for a small business to use online resources to their benefit. So how does it work?

According to a recent Wall Street Journal profile, these online financial aggregation sites “provide platforms for entrepreneurs to get funding from various contributors, often friends, relatives and members of their community.” Best of all, the article notes, “the funds don’t need to be paid back because they’re not loans. However, many entrepreneurs give their contributors some of the products or services their start-ups sell as a way to show appreciation.” There are now several of these sites, such as Peerbackers, IndieGoGo, RocketHub and Kickstarter that let entrepreneurs tap into like-minded souls for relatively quick cash.

In New York City, Charles Hobson, founder of Vanguard Documentaries, is a veteran of the documentary film making industry and of fundraising. But for his current project, a film about the historic Flatiron building in New York, he created a Flatiron Film page on Kickstarter. For various amounts starting with as little as five dollars, people could become backers of the new project and, in return, get mentioned in his film’s credits. And though Hobson fell short of his official goal of raising $25,000 in three months, he was still able to contact the nearly 50 volunteers who did sign up and get them to directly contribute more than $5,000 to help create his film.

Calling it an “excellent vehicle,” Hobson says he would definitely try rainmaking through online crowds again, despite his initial, mixed results. “This is a good way for you to connect with people,” he says, adding that this is especially true since “in this economy, it’s more difficult to raise money.”

Is Your Small Business Digitally Dressed for Success?

Make sure your website and other digital tools are as effective as possible

By Sherron Lumley.

Nowadays, the morning commute may be a sideways roll out of bed, then a flex of the index finger to power on the computer. We can attend a conference call in pajamas and chat online with a client over a bowl of cereal.

So what does it mean to be dressed for success when we don’t necessarily have to get dressed? The nature of interaction between businesses and customers has changed in the digital world, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the power of a first impression, a three-to-seven second event. A typical website visitor stays about 44 seconds then moves on unless this first impression presents a reason to stay longer.

“I call that short attention span theater,” says Stephen Goebel, Creative Director and owner of ToeShark Visual Communication in Henderson, Nevada. “Marketing must be crystal clear to engage people instantly and keep them around long enough to continue the conversation,” Goebel says. ‘
Know Your Netiquette

In the 1975 bestseller Dress For Success, author John T. Molloy popularized the concept of power dressing to convey authority and competence. Today, this competitive edge is just as relevant as it was then. “Your site can help position you as an authority—and you should aim for that,” says Drayton Bird, author of Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing. “Since most people seek information on the web, those who seem better informed are seen as better.”

Although content is fundamentally important, the brevity of website visits means that the visual element is crucial. An effective website is visually digestible, clean, simple and clear. It is focused and includes a value statement, so people know what the message is. “The human mind loves order,” says Goebel, who holds a masters degree in Visual Communication from the Pratt Institute in New York.

Beyond the Website

Although a company website is usually the most significant element of the digital marketing mix, as in all marketing plans, the medium should fit the objective. “I am all about results and top line revenue, more people through the door, more calls on your phone,” Goebel says. However, not all of his clients need or want a website. There are other digital resources available that are increasingly mainstream and easy to use.

“Social media is imperative now. I drag my clients into it. Setting up Facebook and Twitter is a must, and then you have to use these tools,” Goebel says.

Charles Hobson, founder of Vanguard Documentaries, has seen numerous technology changes come and go over the last four decades, but that has not changed his underlying love for documentaries and storytelling. His award-winning company has launched a website, Facebook page, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and he regularly uses Skype for phone calls and videoconferencing and Google Docs for digital document sharing.

“I was always into technology,” Hobson says. “I’m what’s known as an early adopter.” Nowadays, he uses Skype’s free videoconferencing and Google Docs to communicate with colleagues abroad and he currently has about 1700 followers on Twitter. “My phone is always beeping,” he says. Twitter is a viral marketing medium, the modern day word-of-mouth, so it’s important to keep in mind that digital communication is not a one-way street.

Encourage feedback

In The New Handshake, by Joan C. Curtis and Barbara Giamanco, the authors talk about how to properly toe the netiquette line. “Do not talk constantly about yourself or your business,” they write. “Online, you listen by responding to other people’s Tweets and by joining a conversation in the LinkedIn discussions,” they say. Being able to listen to customers is one of the most useful aspects of interactive media. A company can know, practically instantly, customer response, and from this a business can learn and improve.

This consumer participation is what makes digital marketing so revolutionary. Therefore, providing an opportunity for interaction is going to be a top desire of a successful web strategy. The Vanguard Documentaries Facebook page features a preview of a work-in-progress documentary about the Flat Iron Building in New York. Visitors can watch the short film, make comments, send a link to others, and if they want, become backers of the film for as little as five dollars. The page is linked to Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative projects.

Figure as a rule of thumb that the annual marketing budget for a small business should be ten percent of the gross revenue for the year. To get in the game with a professionally designed website of eight to ten interlinked pages will cost about three thousand dollars.

When hiring a professional to design a website, it pays to shop around. To check credentials or find a website designer, head to the American Institute of Graphic Arts website.