Thursday, December 20, 2012

Marketing Your Business in 2013

In small business, you can’t charge into the fray without a plan. From budget to production, efficiency and success depend on careful consideration. Marketing your business is no exception. 

You need to put together a plan, lay it out clearly and follow-through. Creating and committing to a proactive marketing strategy will keep your efforts on track and produce the best results for your company.

Creating and Understanding ‘Content’
If you’ve tested the waters of in-house marketing, you’ve probably encountered mass repetition of the term “content.” Content is a vaguely stated but loaded word, falling under the massive umbrella of any materials used in selling your products. Types of content include…

  • Blogs
  • Facebook posts
  • Tweets
  • Newsletters
  • YouTube videos
  • Website text
  • Postcards
  • Brochures
  • Email Marketing
  • Sell Sheets

Any and all information that promotes your products or showcases your expertise is content.

Great ideas can come from anywhere
There is no limit to the number of great marketing ideas out there. Don’t leave any stone unturned in your search for marketing content that could bring in customers.

1.    To create your own content, start with an old-fashioned brainstorming session. Pool ideas with your employees or co-workers and collaborate on the messages you want to push in the coming calendar period. Build your content plan around company milestones and business cycles. 

2.    Look ahead to holidays; is there any kind of marketing you can create to correlate your products with Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving or Christmas? Tie “minor” holidays into your marketing efforts. You can have an Early Spring Online Sale on Groundhog Day or Mardi Gras Fat Savings Tuesday. Have some fun with it! 

3.    Look to your clients and their needs. What challenges or changes do they face? What have you heard in phone calls or read in email exchanges? Your voicemail and inbox are treasure troves of blog post and tweet ideas.

4.    Which industry trends are on the rise? Which have plateaued or faded? Trade show and conference war stories exchanged between colleagues and competitors alike are loaded with content ideas. Don’t write off any snippet of information from any conversation, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

Organizing Your Content
Next you have to pan the marketing gold from the dirt of hastily-scrawled notes. Extract and organize your ideas using spreadsheets and calendars.  Feel free to download a copy of Terrapin’s own 2013 Content Marketing Calendar for reference.

Slate the relevant content for a corresponding post date and format your marketing calendar to a team consensus. The key itemizations in your document should be:
  • Topic and Title
  • Format (Facebook, Blogger, etc)
  • Planned Post Date
  • Author
  • Tags and Keywords 

Getting Ahead of Yourself
You may want to knock out an entire year worth of content in one document. Or if you’re leery of committing resources to trends and information that might quickly become obsolete, focus on the next quarter.  You know the patterns of the business, so construct your marketing calendar according to the ebb and flow of your industry.

Just note that you are laying out your content ideas on a spreadsheet, not etching them in stone. Ideas can and will change as time goes on.

In Summation
Marketing your business is a necessary and beneficial battle. Putting in the preparation now is a solid investment on two fronts:

  • You avoid the pitfall of struggling for last minute concepts
  • More importantly, this simple document represents a dedicated, ongoing focus toward marketing and growing your business

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Timing and Twitter

From mom and pop stores to corporate chains, all companies have sales and events. But small businesses don’t have the promotions resources enjoyed by their larger competitors. Where your business lacks in national TV spots it can thrive with the free services of Twitter.

Time-sensitivity is a common thread in all small business’ sales and events. Take to Twitter to spread the word and draw a crowd. 

Sale Savviness in the Twittersphere
Sales and promotions are a must of owning a small business, whether you’re in retail, services or run a restaurant. Once you’ve built a solid Twitter following, the network is ideal for inviting your customers to take advantage of your special offers.

Daily promotions require daily tweeting. If your pub offers nightly draft specials, or your consignment shop has a discount item of the day, fire out the relevant tweet the morning or afternoon of the offer. “Come in for today’s IPA Pick, Newport Storm India Point Ale!” or “Half-off Orange Tag items! Today only!” Make sure you include any relevant hours, such as opening and close times.

More focused events, such as holiday sales, require more planning and more Tweets. Whether the sale is a day long or runs for a week, you want to give your followers ample notice of the event while avoiding an overlong bombardment of reminders.

Two days before the event kicks off, start tweeting at the relevant high use hours.  3-4 tweets a day should be just right to pique followers’ interest. Don’t copy and paste the same content for multi-tweet campaigns. Highlight a different item, service or point of interest with each post. Use Twit Pics to give users a feel for what you offer. If the promotion runs several days, send out Tweets over its duration and stress when it will be ending. 

Optimal Tweeting Times
According to Twitter itself, the heaviest use of the network takes place at 9AM, noon, 3PM and 6PM. For maximum effect, post your event information during these time windows. Otherwise you risk your tweets being buried under the pile of relatively unseen posts created outside of these peak hours. 

Tweeting for On-the-Go Businesses
Not all businesses have a fixed location. Food trucks might be a common sight on your street’s curb. These road-bound restaurants need to communicate their schedule with sidewalk diners, and Twitter is the perfect vehicle.

The RI Food Trucks Twitter list compiles numerous tweets per day from various Ocean State food trucks. From Mama Kim’s Korean BBQ to Plouf Gastronomie to Rocket Street Food, this list tells followers where and when their favorite nomadic meal provider will be serving.

The list generally gives an hour’s notice of a truck’s arrival and its designated intersection. This gives the lunch hour crowd time to plan ahead. Consider this tweeting method if your small business incorporates street teams or traveling promotions. 

In Summation
Twitter is a free gift that keeps on giving to small businesses on a shoe string advertising budget. Its massive popularity and potential will give your company a fresh and viable web visibility. You put yourself out there on your time; you just have to get the timing down.

Once you’ve mastered the art of timing and Twitter, you just might find an entire new customer base clamouring for your products and services. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Is Facebook Right for My Business?

New social media companies appear to be launching every day
At the end of every online article there’s a social share button that wasn’t there before. How do you and your small business keep up and capitalize on these new ventures?

You don’t need a presence in every social media brand on the web. Different venues suit different industries whereas other business-social marriages don’t mesh enough to warrant effort. So which social media is best for your business?

Facebook Wins with Business-to-Consumer
If you run a business-to-consumer (B2C) operation, Facebook is your social media match. With a reported 1 billion monthly users, it offers the farthest possible reach.  

Potent interaction and engagement capabilities are Facebook’s key brand-building advantages for B2C entities. The network offers a host of marketing options, but how do you attract users who will cross the social bridge and become customers?

Building an Engaged Fan Base
Don’t build your Facebook page on a foundation of grovelling. Hitting “Invite Your Friends” and blasting them all with a plea to like your page will give you some likes, but little engagement.

Start with existing clients and newsletter /mailing recipients. These people signed up for your other content vehicles voluntarily. They care about your product or service, and will actually interact with your Facebook content.

Facebook offers no-cost sign up, so paid ads seem on par with luring you in with free samples, but don’t rule out a small campaign. You can build and run ads targeting user gender, age and a sweeping selection of preferences and interests.

If you understand your brand’s audience well, ads can deliver you an engaged base. Plus, there’s no set campaign cost; you determine your own budget on a pay-per-click basis.

Answering the Content Question
Keep your content original. Photos are a good starting point. If you have a new product in the works, hype up its release with high-resolution images of its development.

Capture shots from around the office or on any company outings to establish a human connection with customers. You don’t want to be an anonymous social media handle. Questions related to your products and services will also spur interaction.  

Try to develop your own niche, scheduled content. Give your users something to anticipate on scheduled days such as videos, graphics or promotions.

Avoid Bad Habits
When using Facebook, your business needs to find and walk the fine line between consistency and nuisance posting.

Bombarding users with non-stop content leads to annoyance and a shrinking “Like” list. On the other hand, going days or weeks between posts results in stagnant user engagement. Post twice a day between the hours of noon and 3PM. This will line up with lunch breaks and “zoning out” in the workplace.  

Keep your eye on the ball and save your opinions and politics for your personal page.  Remember, Facebook users log in to see their preferred content. What do you do when you get an unsolicited game request? You roll your eyes and delete it. Facebook brings out the self-empowerment in people. They control this world, and they will exercise that control.

In Summation
Your business-to-consumer operation can benefit greatly from a Facebook presence. If you develop and implement an effective regimen for your page, it will bring in new prospects and keeping current customers engaged.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Words and the Web: Understanding Keyword Tiers

A car with no key is a useless hunk of metal, much like a website with no keywording is a static clump of code and graphics. There’s no magic bullet to bring traffic to your site and customers to your product. 

Your user-friendly functionality and attractive visuals won’t get the word around for you. You have to spread it yourself with three keyword tiers that Google can grab onto to help your site get found.

Tier One: Who and Where You Are 

Let’s say you’re a sporting goods retailer. You’d stock tier one with variations of your company name and location. For example, you should go with “Jimmy’s Sporting Goods, Rhode Island,” or “Jimmy’s RI.”

The web is a seemingly endless road. Through tier one keywords, customers ask for directions to your site.

Tier Two: Your Products and Services 
Not all users will ask Google to point them toward your stake in the digital terrain. Some people will be searching for products and services in their area using tier two keywords.

Following the sporting goods example, such users might query “baseball equipment, Rhode Island,” or “hockey equipment, Rhode Island.” You offer these products, and you want to be sure your site is optimized with them.

If you operate in a competitive market, properly executed tier two keywords give your small business’s voice extra decibels in a loud and crowded room.

Tier Three: Your Niche 
SEO specificity hits its peak here. If you’re just starting out, don’t bank on tier three landing you on a page one Google search result. It incorporates extremely focused terms not likely to be queried.

This doesn’t mean optimizing with tier three terms is mere diligence. Think of them as an investment.

Once your business and products start to take off, you want your unique items to have a foundation web presence. Back to Jimmy’s Sporting Goods, let’s say the shop is carrying equipment for all of the major sports, but wants to eventually be the local go-to for custom lacrosse gear.

They’d lean heavily on tier one and two keywords, but not so much on tier three examples like “Jimmy’s Extreme LaCrosse 3500 Stick.” But, they would want to lay groundwork to build this product’s searchability over time, turning this specialty item into a tier two term as it gains visibility and popularity.

In Summation 
Remember, your site is not going to attract eyeballs based on merit. Approach keywording and SEO for what they are; crucial components to your site’s success.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Three Phases of a Successful Email Marketing Campaign, Part 3 – Reporting, Review and Revamp

You’ve compiled your email campaign recipient list, crafted your message and sent it out. Unfortunately, your work is never done with email marketing. 

Your email campaign is like a car, needing regular inspection and upkeep stay on the road. Consulting your campaign reporting tools is that trip to the mechanic.

Get the Broad View 
Your email campaign service comes equipped with reporting tools, offering at-a-glance performance insight and in-depth data.

Your reporting dashboard is a vital signs monitor for your email campaign, measuring opened and unopened emails, opt-outs, click throughs, among others.

Be Open to Change 
The dashboard scratches the surface, it’s time to dig deeper.

The open rate tool tells you how many recipients opened and read your mail. An email-by-email evaluation is your best bet.

If your open rate falls short, go back and do a postmortem of underperforming emails. Divide your contact list in half or into thirds. Send out your next email at different times of day to these groups and gauge which one yields the best results.

Other reasons for lackluster openings could be…
  • Unrecognizable or Spammy-looking “from” names
  • Equally shoddy email addresses 
  • Overlong and muddy subject lines 

Go back over your content strategy to ensure you're executing it properly.

Over-the-Top or Under the Radar? 
Email marketing is a stricter baseball hitting count; TWO strikes and you’re out. Your first swing and miss was the unopened mail. Strike two is opt-outs.

Are you sending your email too often? If bombarded enough, people feel as if their inbox is the landfill of the web. You also don’t want to disappear for months at a time and then abruptly ask to crash on their inbox couch.

Send out a survey polling recipients on their desired frequency of mailings. Take another look at your opt-in language. What tone of frequency did you establish on this successful form? What kind of content did you promise? Make sure the pitch matches your product.

Cash in the Chips You've WON 
While trying to remedy any failures of your email campaign, don’t neglect to capitalize on the successes.

Reach out to your regulars, recipients who consistently opened your mailings. Your reporting tools also offer a click through feature. This tells you who accessed your website or blog via the mailing.

Your message resonated with these recipients. Use this appreciation to make a customer out of a contact.

In Summation 
You’ve paid for the email campaign service and the collected data. Consider the reporting tools to be a marketing currency mint. Now make sure you re-invest it wisely.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Three Phases of a Successful Email Marketing Campaign, Part 2 – What to Say and How to Say It

Last time on the Terrapin Shout Box, we covered how to put together your email campaign mailing list. Now that your signup pitch worked, what’s your message?

You Can't Land Anything with a Bare Hook 
When your email comes in, your recipients will ask, “What’s in it for me if I open this?”

Start with a punchy, concise subject line. For example, Clear our shelves, stock your closet or 5 Can’t-Miss Sales Tips. Make an effort to work in numbers. Using “5” instead of “five” makes for a more readable subject line.

Some bad subject line habits to avoid include use of words like Free! and Advertisement. Check your own spam folder and make a list of what’s in those subject lines. These words will likely get your email tagged with the exiled princes offering you $1 million.

Just remember, if a song has a catchy intro, you’re more likely to keep listening. You don’t want your recipients to skip ahead to the next “track,” or the next email in their inbox. 

Keep Your Momentum Going 
Your content has to keep reader attention now that the subject grabbed it, just don’t count on a long attention SPAN. Keep your message tight and to the point.

Supply the reader with appealing, diverse content. Don’t repeat yourself. Shake things up from mailing to mailing. Good starting points for content are:

  • Expertise
  • Industry Trends
  • Company News
  • Special Offers

Include eye-catching but not overbearing visuals. Follow the written content philosophy of clean and tight. Don’t turn the mailing into a “Nascar” by overloading it with graphics and color. 

What is Your Email's Endgame? 
Is your email’s purpose to keep the line moving to your site or a download? Maybe your goal is a “call today” scenario. Either way, a clear call to action (CTA) is a must.

Lay out your CTA in simple, clear terms. It could be as basic as a post-text button or hyperlink labelled, “Click here to download,” or “Check out our latest deals.” 

Not to Be Overlooked... 
Check back next time with Terrapin for our wrap-up email campaign post. Here’s a quick checklist of other email campaign best practices:

  • Use a consistent format, but don’t be afraid to experiment with subtle changes
  • Offer HTML and plain text
  • Make your email readable with images disabled
  • Address your recipient by name; no one wants to be called “Dear subscriber.”