Sharing for Engagement on Twitter

Cat Mandoo too

Content, as we say in the social media biz, is king. Well, that and cats. So cat content is king. But the rest of content is a very close second. It’s what drives the social media machine, garnering likes, gathering retweets, and being spread virally through shares. It’s articles, listicles, photographs, infographics, videos, and so much more. Content is the key to engagement.

No matter the format, be it Facebook or Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram, you’re going to want to share content that occupies that magical space where your own interests and your customers’ interests overlap. Of course, how you share that content is largely determined by which social media platform you’re using. The Vine app, for instance, only posts user-made videos. Instagram started off as a photo-only app, though it now offers video sharing, as well.

Be Concise

When it comes to Twitter, sharing content can be a tricky endeavor. The popular social media site’s 140-character limit per tweet doesn’t allow you to dive into a deep analysis of whatever it is that you’re sharing, like a Facebook or LinkedIn does. Instead, you want to deliver content with a concise but engaging headline with two goals in mind: Users clicking on your content and users retweeting your content.

Be Visual

One of the biggest things that can help is including an image with your Tweet. This used to be more of a hassle but Twitter has recently incorporated images directly into users’ Twitter feed. If you are tweeting a link to someone else’s article, find the author’s Twitter handle and include that in your subject line. This greatly increases the likelihood that you’ll be retweeted.

Be Relevant

You’re going to want your content to be relevant to your message, trustworthy, timely, topical, useful, informative, and personal. And take the time to see what your followers respond to. If you notice that one type of tweet is consistently retweeted more than other types of tweets, thoughtful analysis may reveal what your specific audience is interested in.

Tell Your Company Story through Your Blog: Here’s How

shutterstock_17480242157 percent of companies with a blog have acquired a customer from their blog, according to HubSpot’s 2012 State of Inbound Marketing Report. But those numbers skyrocket to 92 percent when companies post to the blog multiple times per day. You’ll be hard pressed to find a company who doesn’t agree that blogging can give business a boost. But not all blogs or content prove effective. Effective blogging strikes a balance between promotional, usefulness, fun and engagement. Take a look at a handful of companies with blogs that work.

Whole Foods Whole Story

Whole Foods has always been a leader in fresh foods, organic fare and healthy alternatives to ready-made-meals. But they also host a leading blog, Whole Story”, with advice, recipes, news and interviews. Instead of simply posting product info and enticing people to buy from their stores, they also host video discussions with doctors and scholars on topics ranging from conscious capitalism to creativity. Whole Story, with advice, recipes, news and interviews. Instead of simply posting product info and enticing people to buy from their stores, they also host video discussions with doctors and scholars on topics ranging from conscious capitalism to creative cooking.

While their range of topics might be varied, they’re not exactly random. Their public core values include quality standards, organic farming, sustainability, animal welfare standards and community care. People come back for engaging content exploring current events and issues and stick around to see what they should make for dinner.

Marriott on the Move

Unlike many blogs typed-out by the voice of various employees or an outside communications team, founder Bill Marriott pens Marriott on the Move. Although the blog covers aspects of hotel business, he also touches on his own experiences and insights like his rules for tipping and taking care of guests. Why do people connect with it? Bill Marriott gives the huge corporation a name, face and personal voice behind the brand. People may only have a passing interest in his posts about his summer reading list, but the invitation into his personal life and how his business runs is a refreshing change from most corporate blogs.

The Zappos Blog

Zappos is renown for its customer service like free shipping both days and a 365-day return policy. The Zappos blog captures that light and friendly voice their customer service team is known for and posts articles about their products, as well as company events. While their blog focuses more on product than other big company blogs, they execute it with style. Readers feel like they’re a part of the team and a friend of the company instead of glancing through their latest selection of new shirts and shoes.

The BikeBandit Community

Blogging is more than photos and content. In addition to proving images and text, you must foster a community and offer them generous tips. BikeBandit offers tips on group motorcycle riding, buying a used motorcycle and funny motorcycle terms you should know. The idea is to give customers a reason to participate. Always ask your readers to respond to a question in comment field to get the conversation started. By giving your customers a reason to engage, you’re also giving them the tools to spread your content and become your biggest cheerleaders.

American Express OPEN Forum

American Express OPEN Forum features a slick and corporate design resembling a digital magazine. The company smartly focuses on their customer base of businessmen and women looking for tools and guidance about running their business. Instead of just blogging about American Express products and services, their content is packed with actionable advice like selling online, reverse mentoring, and taking the pain out of conference calls.

Ice Cream Journal

Get the inside scoop on ice cream and Turkey Hill Dairy with the online Ice Cream Journal. The company lets their eye-catching products speak for themselves with photos and mouthwatering content. They also entice ongoing readership by running user-submitted ice cream recipe contests and giving away prizes. But it’s not just all about Turkey Hill. Recent posts included a story about policemen pulling over drivers and giving away ice cream for their excellent road skills, and soliciting feedback on ice cream filled donuts.

Best Business Uses for Instagram

Short break for a small craft project...

Short break for a small craft project… (Photo credit: sazbean)

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. But in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it rapidity of this modern world, social media suggests that a photo might be worth much more than a thousand words. The right photo at the right time might be worth 10,000 words. Heck, a snap on a smart phone could carry the weight of War and Peace for your business, should everything work out right.

The popular image-sharing app Instagram is an oft-overlooked opportunity for businesses hoping to connect with customers. While sponsored posts that appear in every user’s feed are available (and expensive), the average small business is going to gain Instagram followers the same way they would on Twitter or Facebook: Start your own profile and build from scratch. The more people who opt to follow your feed, the more people you reach.

Show off your goods

With Instagram being an image-based platform, it presents a perfect opportunity to show off what it is that you’re selling.

While plenty of people use the service as a means to show off their products like they were in a catalog, it’s important to note that lots of people online appreciate subtlety in their social media marketing. People take ownership of their feeds and don’t necessarily want their friends’ photos to be interrupted by a commercial. Instead, it can be helpful to present the product in a thoughtful, creative manner.

And for those in the food and beverage industry, what a leg up you have. It’s like Instagram was invented just for you. How thoughtful of them! Half of a person’s Instagram feed is already full of pictures of their friends’ meals, treats, coffees, teas, and cocktails.

Remember: Creative. Thoughtful. Fun.

The photos and videos you can make showcasing your product or business are excellent opportunities for involving customers and potential customers alike in the process. In the world of craft everything—beer, cocktails, cupcakes—more and more people are wanting to feel a part of the processes of production and manufacturing. Instagram is your chance.

With photos and videos, you can take people directly into your woodshed and show them what goes on behind the scenes. Take them to the market with you and document your picking out fresh produce. Getting a little loopy after a long day in the kitchen? Start a dance-off with an employee. A sense of humor goes a long way in a medium like Instagram—anything to get someone to linger over your post for more than half a second.

Another idea is to create demonstrations of how your product works. Or even how your product can be enjoyed. People putting on the clothes you created. Someone enjoying that pie you labored over. Or sitting on that chair you built.

Contests always go over well on social media and Instagram is no different. Offer exclusives and first dibs to your followers.

Remember that on Instagram, just as it is in life, it’s not all business. Let your followers into your life as they do with theirs. Show off your dog, show off your cats. Take a picture of a new piece of art you bought or a beautiful late summer sunset.

Customer Service Kings: 3 Strategies All Businesses Can Employ

customer_serviceComcast profits were $1.99 billion for Q2 2014, up 15 percent from a year earlier, according to the company’s website. But the nation’s largest Internet and cable provider could be in for a rude awakening when third quarter earnings are released due to a bad summer of customer service.

Ryan Block, a San Francisco resident, recorded and uploaded the first customer service call heard round the world this past July. Block called to have his service cancelled, but was instead belittled for more than eight minutes by a retention agent. A few weeks later Youtube user Tim Davis uploaded another Comcast customer service call, this time catching company representatives lying about technician fees. Tom Karinshak, Comcast’s Customer Experience Vice President, said he was embarrassed by the calls and will take immediate action.

Large corporations are typically able to withstand these types of fiascoes. But small and medium-sized companies do not have this same luxury. Amazon, Chick Fil-A, and Trader Joe’s all earned spots on the 2014 Customer Service Hall Of Fame by Zogby Analytics and 24/7 Wall St. for their excellence. Every company can learn a few things from these perennial leaders in customer satisfaction.

Omnichannel Success

The 2014 consumer has many avenues to engage a company, including smartphones, tablets, and of course brick-and-mortar stores. Companies that adapt to this new omni-channel consumer are putting themselves in the best position to succeed long term.

Amazon provides customers three ways to contact a representative: email, telephone, and live chat. The company understands that some people prefer text correspondence while others want to hear a voice. Now any company regardless of size can offer these same conveniences without breaking the bank for hardware.

There are several inexpensive options for cloud-based customer contact solutions to field inbound customer calls professionally and without land phone lines or physical telephones. A 2013 report by MIT found that 80 percent of customers check prices online before purchasing in store. Livezilla and Zopim are two options to consider for real-time chat on your website. Customers will see a pop-up window while checking prices, which creates the opportunity for live representatives to close a sale.

The world’s largest Internet retailer is even experimenting with brick-and-mortar stores. The first Amazon Web Services pop-up store opened near Westfield Mall in San Francisco this past June. Both customers and non-customers can test and purchase its cloud computing solutions right on-site. Ariel Kelman, of Amazon Web Services, told Bloomberg the store will serve as a model for additional physical shops in the coming years.

The Human Side

Mystery shopper and consumer data firm Mercantile Systems continually preaches to its clients that, when it comes to restaurants, customers are more likely to return for good service than good food. A simple, inexpensive way to ensure a positive customer experience is to greet them all with a smile.

Whether you’re in Arizona or Colorado, Chick-Fil-A employees will not only look you right in the eye and smile, but also use the phrase “my pleasure” as opposed to “your welcome.” The easiest way to get your employees to smile is to treat them with respect. It’s no coincidence that Chick Fil-A is the only restaurant to make the 2014 Customer Service Hall Of Fame, while also being rated one of top companies to work for by Glassdoor.

Once someone walks into a restaurant, they have already decided to buy something, most of the time. Give them what they want, which is a good overall experience and not just good food.

The Atmosphere

Trader Joe’s most loyal customers love the wide selection of wines and groceries, but also the overall culture. Employees wear Hawaiian shirts and communicate with one another with maritime bells rather than the traditional PA system. One bell ring lets the crew know that another cashier is needed up front, while three calls a manager to the register.

Market analytics firm Kissmetrics recommends hiring only people that fit your culture and are familiar with your company’s values and mission. Team building activities, like company-sponsored happy hours and holiday parties, will help employees see one another as part of a whole as opposed to individuals. The team mentality keeps everyone focused on a common goal, as opposed to individual accomplishments.

Good customer service simply requires a little effort and a lot of commitment. New customer and higher profits are sure to follow.

Going the Extra Mile: How to Use Twitter to Boost Customer Satisfaction

Image Courtesy of Youssef Rahoui on Flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Youssef Rahoui on Flickr.com

Social media has completely changed the way brands communicate with their customers. Consumers are no longer trapped on their phones, either on hold or cycling through ridiculously long menus just hoping and praying a customer service rep would soon pick up the line. Instead, a customer can hop on his computer or pick up his smartphone to fire off a quick tweet voicing dissatisfaction with a company.

Twitter is a breeding ground for customer concerns, questions, complaints, and (sometimes) compliments. These customers expect to be given something of value in exchange for their loyalty, and they expect that something to happen soon. Above all, brands on Twitter need to be responsive.

The Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study found that, on Twitter, the average response time to a customer service question is eight hours and 37 minutes.

What do users think about this? Data from the 2012 4th-quarter The Social Habit research report showed that 32% of respondents expected a response from a brand within 30 minutes, while 24% still expected a reply within 30 minutes even if they made contact at night, on weekends, or during the business’ off-hours.

This evolution in consumer behavior is changing not only the way brands interact with their customers, but also how they do business at a base level. How can businesses keep up with their customers and better use Twitter as a platform for customer satisfaction?

Have the right people for the job

A properly trained customer service team is worth its weight in gold, as they are the first line of defense in dealing with an unhappy consumer. It’s vital to hire the right people and train them well, as they will be representing brands and interacting with customers on a daily basis. There’s no room for hotheads or Luddites on a brand’s social media team. Twitter customer service reps should be allowed to show their human sides and relate to customers. (For example, reps can sign their initials after their tweets, such as on VirginMobileUSA Care). Creating a sense of trust between customer service and the consumer will build brand loyalty.

Be online when customers are

A customer can tweet at any time of day, including outside of business hours. If they tweet at a corporate handle, they will expect a response and they will expect it now, even if it’s 3am and the social media manager is asleep. Businesses are expected to provide around the clock support, but this isn’t always practical for the businesses. Instead, a brand can clearly state the days and hours that someone from customer service will be answering tweets. It would also be prudent to give customers another way to get in touch, such as through email or phone.

Stay engaged

Don’t wait for a customer question or complaint to come in. Instead, be enterprising! Post tips, tricks and other useful resources that customers can use to solve their problems. With tweets like these a business might be able to reduce the number of customer complaints that come in each day.

Don’t delete

If a brand fails in a particular instance of customer service on social media, they may be tempted to delete the post. Don’t do this. People will remember what a brand said and they may have already screencapped the response, making it possible for the incident to make the rounds on other social sharing sites. Remember, nothing is ever truly deleted from the Internet. Instead of creating an atmosphere of perceived impropriety, own up to the mistake and correct it quickly. Users will appreciate the correction more than they will a perceived deception.

Always be monitoring

Stay ahead of the game. Brands should use monitoring tools and alerts to be notified when customers are talking about their products on Twitter. Users expect companies to find them rather than the other way around. Companies should also consider sentiment analysis along with their monitoring. Are customer comments positive or negative? Set up these alerts to track brand name as well as related keywords and hashtags. A timely, appropriate response will be greatly appreciated by consumers.

Keep it simple

With only 140 characters to utilize, it can be difficult to answer more complex or personal questions on Twitter. Businesses should know when to move the customer to another mode of communication like email or a phone call. Take the time to identify what types of complaints or questions should be elevated to the next level of customer service and outline a response for your Twitter team to use to notify the customer. Twitter is best used for short and simple responses to straightforward inquiries.

Get personal

Treat customers as individuals. Nothing irritates the Twitter audience more than a generic response. Rather than replying to tweets with the same canned message, personalize each response. The tone of each reply should be appropriate for both the message received as well as the customer herself. The response will not exist in a vacuum – others will be able to see it and the tweet may be shared with others.

Consider starting a separate customer account

Rather than crowding a brand’s Twitter timeline with customer service responses, consider creating an entirely separate support account and pointing customers in that direction. For example, Nike operates a separate @NikeSupport account to address customer concerns and complaints. The account is incredibly responsive, having sent over 312,000 tweets while the branded @Nike account has sent just over 15,000 tweets. A separate customer service account also better allows brands to use social media management tools to monitor and organize the customer support account. Team members can filter with keywords and hashtags, and better study the analytics.

Twitter can be a great tool for providing exceptional customer care as well as cultivating customer loyalty. The social media analytics company Simply Measured found that, as of March 2013, 99% of brands are on Twitter and 30% of these have an account devoted to customer service.

The numbers don’t lie – it’s critical for brands to solve customer problems on Twitter.

About the Author

Dave Landry is an online business journalist, personal finance manager, and debt relief counselor in Southern California. When he’s not writing about debt management, he enjoys researching and sharing his knowledge about social media techniques, business communications, and globalization.

How and Why to Get Started with Video Advertising

shutterstock_206087227Print ads, online display and text ads, video ads. My how advertising has progressed. If you are still depending on the written word and photographs to drive your marketing campaigns, you really need to keep reading. This article can change the face of your business. It can help you get more customers and attract better customers.

You do want more and better customers, right?

Why has video advertising boomed?

There was a time when magazines were widely read — cover to cover. That is NOT the norm today. Sales of magazines have plummeted in recent years, notes a study by the Pew Research Center. Television is suffering, too. Once the top of the crop pick for getting your brand and products known, television advertising yielded ground to Internet advertising, filling your computer screen with flash videos and obnoxious pay-per-click banners that got in the way of your online journey.

Google heard your moans and built an empire catering to those who want to find something on the Internet. They determined where the line marking your limit of advertising tolerance was, then began backing off, toning down the advertising frenzy and working hard to return search engine results that would match the intent of your query and not drive you away (to Bing or Yahoo).

Along came apps (applications) and a mass exodus to mobile technology. Seeing an opening, app developers began planting deceptive ads in their products. Once again, Google struck back, warning developers to stop and applying new policies to the situation, notes Julian Evans.

For those wondering how to navigate the treacherous waters without becoming irrelevant, getting lost, or getting penalized along the way, one form of advertising is booming right now, and you absolutely must check it out.

It is becoming impossible to ignore video advertising.

The Second Most Active Search Engine on the Planet

Let’s look at just one platform for video advertising: YouTube. Plunking down a mere $1.65 billion, Google added YouTube to its ever-expanding empire in 2006, reported NBC.

Savvy advertisers know that A) Google IS search, B) YouTube is part of the Google network, and C) Today’s consumers love brief, impactful videos. Take a look at Adweek’s list of The 10 Most Watched Ads on YouTube in 2013 to see why.

Here is a quick-start, three-step action plan to get your video ads up and going. Don’t question it, just do it. Begin with YouTube, then consider other options for placement, if you wish — but why not start at the top?

Plan your campaign: In this regard, video campaigns are no different from any other marketing endeavor. You want to consider questions like these:

  • Who is my intended audience?
  • What do I want them to think or do?
  • What is my call to action (CTA)?
  • How will I follow up with those who respond?
  • How many videos will I release, and when will they be released?

Film your videos: Great videos start with exceptional copywriting. The camera and characters tell the story, but you need a writer to write the story. Don’t skimp here. You want maximum effect: the right people getting the right message. Check out this YouTube lesson: How to Make a Short Film. What makes a good short film? “It’s short!” Keep it simple, relevant, and attention-grabbing. How do you do that? It all begins with writing. For the technical aspects of filming, all you really need to get started is a camera (even your cell phone camera) and someone to operate it. Brush up on the basics of lighting, make sure your sound is clear and has enough volume, choose the setting, and let the camera roll. Gather a professional crew, if you wish, but amateur videos can make a big splash on YouTube. Remember: Your job is to get your message across, not win an Oscar.

Upload to YouTube: This part is crucial. Not the upload process, that is easy. The critical factor is making sure you have your YouTube account set up properly to receive and broadcast it. Consider these tips:

  • Keywords: Determine which words and phrases your target audience would use to find your product or service. These are your “keywords.” Don’t repeat them endlessly, but definitely use them appropriately. Make sure they appear in your filename, title, description, and tags.
  • Metrics: Your YouTube dashboard provides everything you need to get started. You can track the number of views, sources of traffic, minutes watched, engagement, and more. Why is it important to monitor performance and engagement? Metrics allow you to know the TRUTH of the situation. Step out of your own preferences and view the interaction actually taking place with your audience. Metrics are invaluable.
  • CHEAT: Visit the YouTube channels of those already experiencing success with video marketing. Examine their practices ruthlessly, and don’t feel like you are cheating by copying their best practices. After all, we all learn from one another. Take a look at the LifeLock channel, for instance. The company markets identity theft and fraud protection products. See how its copywriter makes the message all about YOU? Note how it uses prime keywords effectively on the About page, how it links to social media channels and website, and how its titles key on its brand. Take advantage of the second most active search engine in the world to look at channels in your niche. Watch to learn.

Your video marketing efforts can easily start and end at YouTube. The possibilities are huge. LifeLock, for instance, has amassed almost 6.5 million views. Would that many eyeballs and ears being exposed to your message be of any value?

Get to work. Your customers are waiting.

Harley Davidson: A Case Study in Smart and Savvy Marketing

shutterstock_113746351Harley-Davidson is a company that represents freedom, heading out on the open road, and enjoying life in a free-spirited and independent way. Although Harley-Davidsons are, at their core, motorcycles that allow people to get from point A to point B, they are definitely more than a form of two-wheeled transportation.

Thanks to some very clever and brilliant marketing techniques, Harley-Davidson has risen above being a regular motorcycle manufacturer and has transformed itself into a beloved and familiar company. The following marketing techniques may help explain why Harley-Davidson is synonymous with freedom, tradition and quality:

Embracing the future while remembering the past

As Corporate Design Foundation notes, while other motorcycle companies might be producing bikes that bear a scant resemblance to their original models, Harley-Davidson has retained many of the classic features and elements that help to set the brand apart from the competition. For example, while newer models might have updated safety equipment and advanced technology, they still include many of the traditional parts and accessories that help to make a Harley a Harley. From the V-twin engine and huge speedometer to gas tanks shaped like teardrops and other details, a 2014 Harley-Davidson will resemble a 1974 or 1984 model in many ways.

Welcoming younger riders with open arms

While the typical Harley-Davidson owner is probably a Caucasian guy in his 50s, Forbes notes the company is working hard to embrace a younger generation of motorcycle riders. As The Knee Slider note, the company does an outstanding job of creating more budget-friendly rides that pay homage to the youth market. This approach seems to be working quite nicely; the company now owns just under half of the 35 and under sales demographic.

A good example of a low end yet classic Harley is the Iron 883, which is an affordable motorcycle with low maintenance costs that still exudes that classic Harley look. Even though they might not be able to afford the same $50,000 hog that their daddy drives, younger motorcycle aficionados can still make themselves look the part by visiting a motorcycle store online like MotoSport, purchasing needed riding and safety gear, and hitting the open road on their more budget-friendly ride.

Sharing the company’s rich history

Another reason the name Harley-Davidson resonates with so many people is the company has freely shared all sorts of details of its history with the American public. From the military motorcycles used by soldiers in World War I to cross-country motorcycle rallies and much more, Harley-Davidson has not been afraid to share its story with people since 1903, when William Harley, along with his buddies Arthur and Walter Davidson first opened the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, the Library of Congress notes.

Through the decades, the company has revealed its ups and downs with the public, which helped to further endear Harley-Davidson to the collective psyche. The company’s history has been used for marketing along the way with outstanding results; for example, when Harley-Davidson celebrated its 90th birthday in 1993, more than 100,000 people came to celebrate at an event that was referred to as a “family reunion.” In addition, the Harley Museum is a popular destination for motorcycle fans of all ages who want to learn more about the history of the popular and iconic American company.

Data Visualization: the Way of the Future, or Just a Trend?

datavizWith so much data being created in today’s world, it can be a tremendous task to organize and understand it.

Despite being considered “boring” by many people, data has its place in the business world. Research from Statista found that the top three leading benefits for using big data in business were greater insights into the customer experience that could be worked into new strategies, the ability to analyze consumer feedbackto determine what products customers want, and better understanding customers’ opinions on current products and services.

Data visualizations are especially useful on the web, because they both catch the reader’s eye and allow the reader to more quickly consume important information.

In 2012 Column Five Media and business intelligence company DOMO worked together on an infographic that illustrates the rate at which data is created in one minute online. For example, every minute Google receives over two million search queries, the mobile web receives 217 new users, and Instagram users share 3,600 new photos. The numbers have only grown over the past few years, which raises the question: How can this data be understood and be made actionable?

At its core, data visualization better allows end users to “see” and digest data, which results in a greater understanding of the numbers. It is a broad term that applies to any attempt at helping audiences understand data by putting it in a visual model. With data visualizations, people can more readily spot trends and patterns within data, which helps them communicate their thoughts and ideas faster. In business, this enhanced speed of thought can be good news for the bottomline.

The upside of data visualization is that it makes data more easily accessible to more people. The downside is that these visualizations can become complicated or confusing. Creators of data visualizations could also potentially embellish or misrepresent data with their visual interpretations, whether intentionally or not. It is therefore important that content creators strictly adhere to codes of ethics (such as that created by the Society of Professional Journalists) and remain mindful of their audience.

Researchers from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined what makes data visualizations memorable for the average viewer. They found faces and “human-centric scenes” are generally easy for people to remember while images of landscapes are not. The research also showed that certain things in particular made a visualization more memorable, for example colorful or dense visualizations. Surprisingly, the researchers found that unusual chart types such as tree diagrams are more memorable than more common place one like bar graphs and pie charts.

The researchers from Harvard and MIT also raised an excellent point in their findings: being memorable isn’t the most important part of a visualization. Rather visualizations need to be easy to understand, context appropriate, and accurate.

Today’s data visualizations are certainly more sophisticated than ever before in the past, but the most important point remains the same: a data visualization needs to factually represent and summarize the data while allowing the viewer to make conclusions based on that data.

About the Author

Nick Rojas is a journalist and business consultant based in Los Angeles, CA. and Chicago, IL. You can follow him on Twitter @NickARojas.

4 Ways Your Marketing Fails

Trier

Trier (Photo credit: sazbean)

Marketing is easy, right? Well, it doesn’t really have to be difficult, but it does require some forethought and planning. More importantly, it means understanding the entire point of marketing: explaining to potential customers what your product can do for them. Unfortunately, a lot of marketing out there fails at even that…

1. Customers Can’t Tell What You Do

Sometimes people think they need to use big phrases and keywords in their marketing and they forget to speak to who is important: people. If someone visits your website, or walks past your store, or sees your ad or your Facebook page, they should immediately be able to tell what it is you do. The best marketing sums this up in a short phrase that can often be used as a tagline.

2. Customers Can’t Understand How You can Help

Marketing too often is caught up in features.  Our product does X, Y & Z.  That’s great.  How does the fact that it does X help me? While it may be clear to you that a pressure washer that has a 1200 PSI is a good buy, how does a potential customer know why that’s a good (or not so good) number. What applications is 1200 PSI pressure washer good for?  When should they consider more, when should they consider less? If you think in terms of benefits to the customer or how you can solve specific problems, your marketing will be much more effective.

3. Customers Can’t Tell You Apart From Your Competitors

MBA-types like to talk a lot about competitive advantage — what sets you apart from your competitors.  While this is a lofty, intellectual concept, it really is important.  Not only from a business strategy, but also in marketing.  To boil it down: why should someone choose you over your competitors? This should be obvious from all of your marketing efforts.

4. Customers Don’t Look to You to Solve Problems

Customers buy things because they have a need.  Sometimes that need is just for those trendy new shoes, but often times they’re looking for something to solve a specific problem.  This is especially true of services and business-to-business products. Do you know what types of problems can be solved for your product or service? Do you specifically address those problems and how you can help in your marketing? There is great content ideas here for blogging and social media….

What other ways does marketing fail?

Find the Funding You Need to Market Your Business

shutterstock_196752404The Small Business Administration suggests small businesses with revenues under $5 million allocate up to 8 percent of those revenues toward marketing. That figure could be split between brand development efforts such as creating content for websites and blogs and the costs of marketing campaigns, advertising and events. However, that percentage assumes a business has margins of 10 to 12 percent after other expenses have been covered.

It’s tempting to think you don’t need marketing if your business is strapped for cash. But remember, marketing is an investment in your future sales, and without public awareness of your services or products, business will fall flat. So how do you come up with the cash to fund a marketing push if you don’t have those margins? We have some simple tips on how to raise cash for your marketing push and build momentum for a thriving sales cycle.

Get Creative

Crowdfunding is an innovative way to raise capital and market your company without digging into your own pockets. Sites like Kickstarter enable users to post their project, set a deadline and financial goal and ask people to pledge money, with the promise of specific incentives. For example, if you’re working on opening a design studio, people who pledge money could be promised a discounted logo design or similar service. Showcasing your project on Kickstarter or a similar crowdfunding site also helps spreads the word about your business and can attract thousands of viewers to your project.

Another option to creatively fund your marketing campaign: Look for assets you hold that can be cashed in. Stocks and bonds fall into this category, as do retirement accounts such as an IRA and 401(k)—but be careful with these, as you risk early withdrawal penalties and fees. If you receive regular payments from an annuity or structured settlement, you may be able to sell your future payments to a company like J.G. Wentworth for a lump sum of cash now, which you could then use to help fund your marketing push.

Get a Grant

To find open business grants, start at Grants.gov. Use the keyword tool and plug in the word “marketing” to find everything from marketing improvement programs to programs for investment in microentrepreneurs. Also check out the National Association for the Self-Employed; it offers grants of up to $5,000.

Get a Loan

Big banks may offer the traditional road map to business loans, but it’s often easier to find help at a local credit union. Credit unions typically offer lower fees and less stringent qualifications on loans. Credit unions are nonprofits that are controlled by members represented by a board of directors. Because they are controlled by their members, such institutions are often more vested in their surrounding community and businesses.

You also may be able to crowdfund a business loan. Sites like LendingClub.com work as a debt-based crowdfunding community to connect borrowers with lenders and investors. Apply for a loan from $1,000 up t $35,000 and a corresponding interest rate. Lenders earn an interest rate on the money loaned, and borrowers often get a lower rate and less hassle in securing their loan than through a traditional bank.