The Horse Comes Before the Cart, Part 2

This week I am discussing the important topic of determining your marketing strategies within the context of a comprehensive plan. Launching a marketing campaign (even if it does not involve any hard costs) without a plan is “putting the cart before the horse.” On Monday, I presented a framework for constructing your marketing plan. It begins with defining your goals. Today I will share additional thoughts on clarifying your goals and the tactics to accomplish them.

3. Consider financial and non-monetary objectives. Examples of non-monetary objectives include things like closing percentages, page hits and customer traffic patterns. Be specific! A goal of increasing sales is neither constructive nor measurable. A goal of increasing sales 5% per month for the next six months through a combination of a 4% increase in customer count and a $17 increase in average dollars per sale is.

4. Business goals are rarely accomplished in a straight linear fashion. For example, a 24% annual sales increase is not going to come in equal increments of 2% every month. Your marketing strategies are going to take time to produce results. They are affected by existing sales patterns and seasonality that every business experiences. Establish a realistic timeframe for each goal, with appropriate interim benchmarks to measure short-term progress toward long-term goals. That allows you to take timely corrective action or adjust goals as needed.

5. As you define goals and timeframes and the strategies and tactics to accomplish them, be aware of conflicting goals. Here is a simple example. What is the first thing most retailers do when they want to increase revenue? They hold a sale. In other words, they cut prices! Obviously, the hope is that increased customer traffic will more than offset the lower prices. However, it is still a conflict. Here is another example. Assume you want to increase the average customer purchase in your shoe store from $58 to $75. You therefore introduce a new line with a higher price point. Most customers are only going to buy one or two pairs of shoes. Therefore, while revenue from the new line will go up, sales of cheaper lines will probably go down. Conflicts are not necessary bad, and are often unavoidable. My only point is you need to look at the whole picture. Recognize and manage conflicting goals in your market plan.

6. Specify the purpose or desired result of every marketing tactic. In other words, what action do you hope clients or prospects will take because of a marketing initiative? Your definition of purpose establishes the basis of measurement and encourages accountability. The desired result may include multiple objectives, including the following:

  • Business production
  • Generate new leads
  • Brand awareness
  • Introduce a new product or service
  • Advertise a specific sale or promotion
  • Establish your expertise
  • Increase customer traffic
  • Consumer education

7. Tactics rarely operate in a vacuum. You can sometimes leverage one against another. For example, relationships developed online can be taken offline. A social media connection is a far better sales prospect if you subsequently call or meet face-to-face. Similarly, you might precede a direct mail campaign with a subject matter media blitz via article marketing, blogging, email newsletters, press releases and so on.

I will conclude this topic on Friday, when I will discuss step 4 of your market planning process, monitoring costs and results.

© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle

Bull Horns in Cyberspace, Part 2

On Wednesday, I began a discussion of things we can do to attract attention to our blogs, and some of the mistakes I have made over the past six months as a blogger. Today I will conclude this topic with Part 2 of Bull Horns in Cyberspace.

Here are my thoughts and suggestions for today:

Find your style. A little trick I have learned that seems to work well is to study a new marketing tool, process, etc., and then write about what I learned. For example, I recently wrote a three-part article called Twelve Things I Learned about SlideShare. I write from the point of view of reporting what I know at the end of the process that I wish I had known at the start. I offer advice to those considering using the same tool, and discuss how to be more effective in communicating their message to an ever-widening audience.

Use other social media to promote your blog. I always post summaries of blog posts on Facebook, Twitter and occasionally LinkedIn. Facebook allows a 420 character article summary, LinkedIn 700. Always leave room for a hyperlink to your blog. Consider using a URL shortener like https://bitly.com/ if you are pressed for space. This is even more important to accommodate Twitter’s 140-character limit. Abbreviated versions of three or four articles are also featured in my monthly newsletter, which is distributed free through MailChimp to over 700 people. Finally, I am having some encouraging preliminary results by posting entire articles on SlideShare.net.

Do not overlook the value of paper in promoting your blog. Add your web address to business cards, print media ads, Yellow Page listings (you remember those, right?), letterheads, email signatures and so on. If you really want to go high tech, add a Quick Response Code to allow smartphone users to find your blog easily. For more information on QR Codes, see our March 25 blog post “More Thoughts on Business Cards” at http://bit.ly/i5ikHc.

Encourage reader feedback and sharing. When readers post comments (positive or otherwise), thank them for their effort. I only delete spam, an inevitable byproduct of blogging. I have recently become more active in soliciting feedback. I now periodically end posts by asking readers for their comments, suggestions and criticisms. I also invite suggestions for future articles. Finally, make sure your blog has plug-ins or widgets to promote article sharing through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any other social media vehicle you believe is likely to help capture your target markets. Allow readers to bookmark your URL to their list of favorite sites with the click of a button.

So let me end there, by inviting you to post your thoughts on CFO America’s blog. What do you like? What do you dislike? Keep it clean and I promise to approve it. Most importantly, what can I do to make the information presented more useful to you in growing a prosperous business?

Bull Horns in Cyberspace, Part 1

Last Friday CFO America’s blog began with the question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a noise?” It concluded by assuring readers that falling tress always make noise. That got me thinking about things we can do to make noise, or rather what we can do to attract attention to our blogs. It also caused me to reflect on some of the mistakes I have made over the past six months (listen to me, the battle-hardened veteran) as a blogger.

Today I will present Part 1 of a two-part article on this topic. Here are my thoughts for today:

1. Pick a schedule and stick to it! The correct blogging frequency is whatever best helps you connect with your target audience. For some blogs that may be daily, for others once a month. Unfortunately, this is not a variable that invites experimentation. Fortunately, it is not so much a question of having the optimal blogging frequency. Simply commit to a schedule and tell your readers when to expect new posts. While most bloggers enjoy writing, too great a frequency can be grueling. I blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, something I have done faithfully except for a handful of holidays. As you gain followers, do not confuse or disappoint them by not keeping your commitment. Here are a few thoughts to help ease the burden of your commitment.

  • Consider using guest writers periodically. That way your readers are treated to different areas of expertise and points of view. It is also a great way to support your friends and network contacts. Hopefully, they will reciprocate and share some of your articles on their website, further extending your reach through cyberspace.
  • Instead of your usual topics or content, occasionally supplement your original writing by sharing (with appropriate attribution) relevant quotes, historical notes, articles and tips written by others. You might also ask readers to suggest topics.
  • Do not give up too quickly. As I said on Friday, Fred Campos of FunCitySocialMedia believes it takes about 100 posts before you begin to build a following. Many bloggers become discouraged and give up before reaching that milestone.

2. Keep posts short, preferably under 600 words. I say this for three reasons.

  • First, readers are looking for “McNuggets” of actionable information, not the English translation of War and Peace.
  • Secondly, the average American adult reads 250 to 300 words per minute. Numerous studies suggest that over 65% of visitors spend less than 2 minutes on a website. Therefore, an entry longer than 600 words will not be read in its entirety, if at all. I should add that the average time spent on CFO America’s blog is three minutes and nine seconds, an unusually long time, but one for which I am grateful!
  • I began blogging by posting excerpts from my book, Highly Visible Marketing, 115 Low-cost Ways to Avoid Market Obscurity. By making blog entries too long, I undoubtedly lost readers before the end of long articles. More importantly, I also ran through my previously written material too quickly. Save some your creative material for another day! A better alternative to lengthy articles is to split them into multiple parts, posting them in consecutive entries. I begin with a brief review of what was discussed in the previous blog, and end by telling readers what to expect in the next entry.

Let me now practice what I preach by ending for today. On Friday, I will present Part 2 of On Bull Horns in Cyberspace. It will discuss suggestions for defining your style and promoting your blog through other social media tools.

Until Friday, please continue to provide valuable feedback and share this information with your friends, coworkers and other associates. Why not add a comment below before leaving today?

 

 

12 Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 2

On Friday, I began a discussion of things I learned about SlideShare.net, a free online slide hosting service. Since that time, my seven files have had more than 3,400 combined views, 2,800 for one file alone.

I shared the first three items on my list. They discussed how to start your profile, upgrade options and social media connections. Part 2 will discuss suggestions for making SlideShare an integral part of your marketing efforts. Here is today’s list:

4. I preach a simple 12-word marketing strategy to clients and friends. It is this: Communicate one message, promoting one brand, to multiple audiences, at no cost. While Friday’s item #3 fully supports this strategy, do not stop there! I issued three free press releases (one of which can be viewed at http://bit.ly/ipIFnF), published this information using several free article marketing websites and periodically retweet links to the presentations.

5. The first slide of a PowerPoint presentation or the first page of a pdf document will appear as a small icon link on your profile page. It should be readable, attractive and descriptive to invite viewers. I display my logo and blog URL on every download. You will also be asked to provide a description, category and tags for each file. Making this information keyword rich makes it easier for interested views to locate you slide shows and videos. Making something keyword rich simply means using certain words and phrases that potential customers are likely to use in search engines when looking for your company, products or  services.

6. SlideShare gives users the option of allowing viewers to download files. Since you are posting files in a very public venue, I see no reason not to allow downloads. Additionally, presentations can be made available only to authorized viewers with any of the upgraded versions. It is then a viable option to share private files that are simply too large to email. An example might be a large contract or proposal in pdf format.

If you do not know how to create a pdf file, download CutePDF Writer at http://cutepdf.com/Products/CutePDF/writer.asp. It is a free version of commercial PDF creation software. CutePDF Writer installs itself as a printer subsystem. This enables virtually any Windows applications to create professional quality pdf documents.

7. SlideShare can be used to promote and support your event marketing efforts. For example, you can make advanced copies of upcoming seminars available online to help invitees decide whether to attend, or provide copies to interested parties who are unable to attend.

8. Users and their followers can post additional information on their wall, very similar to Facebook. I posted a notice of a free seminar based on one of my uploaded files, along with a link to EventBrite for event details. Viewers can also post comments on individual slide shows.

Please return Wednesday when we not only complete the list of 12 things I learned, but will reveal the final two Chinese proverbs.

12 Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 1

“May you live in interesting times” is the English translation of the first of three Chinese proverbs. These are very interesting times indeed for business owners struggling to market their products and services without simultaneously emptying their bank account. It seems not a week goes by that I do not learn about another free or (almost as good) low-cost marketing tool on the Internet.

This week was no exception! CFO America opened an account at SlideShare.net, a free online slide hosting service. Users can upload files in PowerPoint and pdf formats, among others. It is comparable to YouTube, but is primarily for slideshows. Launched in 2006, the website was originally intended as a vehicle for businesses to share slides with employees. However, it has since expanded to host slides and videos for entertainment, educational and other purposes.

SlideShare claims 50 million visitors and 90 million page views per month, ranking it as one of the top 250 websites in the world. The White House used SlideShare to publish President Obama’s birth certificate in
April 2011. The impressive list of blue ribbon users also includes NASA, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IBM, several branches of the U.S. military, Dell and the University of Texas.

Today I present the first of a three-part series on this subject. I will cover the basics of how to get started and how to increase your market exposure. I will complete the series next week.

Here are the first three things I learned about SlideShare that will help you “Avoid Market Obscurity“:

  1. Begin your exciting marketing experience by opening a free account at http://www.slideshare.net/. You will be asked to create a public profile that includes a description of your business, address and contact information, logo or picture, website link, industry, keyword tags, and other basic information. Start by visiting CFO America’s profile at http://www.slideshare.net/CFOAmerica.
  2. Like most “free” online services, this one has several upgraded versions. They range in price from $19 to $249 per month. The extra fees buy customized channels, expanded functionality, visitor analytics and the removal of banner ads, among other advantages. All upgrades include Zipcast, a virtual meeting service similar to the better-known and admittedly more robust GoToMeeting. The advantage is that subscribers receive a customized link to share with their attendees. Those attendees merely click the link without the need to download software or open a SlideShare account. Regular readers already know my advice on this one! Even if these features appeal to you, I suggest you resist the urge to upgrade until after you have had an opportunity to evaluate your experience over the first thirty to ninety days. You may find the additional cost is unnecessary. I should add that the free service includes unlimited slide shows and documents, plus three videos per month.
  3. SlideShare collaborates with social media giants Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to promote and share content. For example, you can embed presentations on your Facebook Fan Page, your LinkedIn profile or your blog. I embedded a document on my Fan Page, a simple matter of coping and pasting a code supplied by SlideShare. The document can now be opened in full screen. Viewers can also like, retweet or otherwise
    share presentations with their followers and connections.

Three of my PowerPoint presentations had over 200 combined views during their first 3 days online. One of my pdf documents (a reprint of this article) was featured on SlideShare’s home page, and was viewed over 1,500 times during its first 36 hours online. I am confident this activity, which puts to shame my YouTube statistics, was largely the result of the other social media services. Take full advantage of these capabilities for maximum market exposure.

Have a great weekend, and please plan to read Twelve Things I Learned About SlideShare, Part 2 on Monday. As an added incentive to returning readers, next week I will share the final two Chinese proverbs.

Surely you won’t want to miss that!

Internet Marketing for Small Business-Part 1

Businesses have long used the Internet as a one-way communication channel to inform and educate customers about their products, prices, locations and hours. One-way communication is no longer sufficient, even for small businesses.

Here are some ideas to expand the traditional and limited marketing role of the Internet for your business without exceeding your budget limitations.

To increase sales and improve service, businesses should offer interactive capabilities for customers to place orders, make inquiries, request bids, and download product catalogs and service manuals. Many businesses now use the Internet to allow patients and clients to book or change their own appointments. It can be a very useful tool to help reduce lost revenue by sending an email or text message to confirm scheduled appointments. Online customer access need not be a cost prohibitive luxury viable only for “big box” retailers and national catalog companies. Multiple studies confirm it is a necessity for many types of small businesses. For example:

  • In an October 18, 2010 article titled A Cheery Holiday Forecast, Thad Rueter of the Internet Retailer reported on the results of a survey by The National Retail Federation. The survey found 44% of consumers ages 18 and above planned to shop online during the 2010 Christmas season. Of consumers who earned at least $50,000, 55% would shop online. Perhaps more telling of emerging trends, 27% of U.S. consumers who own a smartphone were expected to use it to research and buy products.
  • An article titled 8 Ways Fullservice Operators Can Build Sales was published by the National Restaurant Association in their 2010 Restaurant Industry Outlook Forecast. It reported that 41% of consumers sur­veyed said they choose new restaurants because of e-mail promotions. Close to 30% said they would likely opt to receive e-mail notification of daily specials. Another 56% visit restaurant websites, 54% view restaurant menus, 54% use the Internet to learn about restaurants they have not patronized while 25% have made reservations online.

If your business uses or is considering using gift cards, look at Panera Bread and McAlister’s Deli websites. Both offer the ability to sell, recharge and check card balances online, a real customer convenience. Providing printable coupons online is an even easier customer benefit you can offer.

On Friday, I will discuss email marketing and surveys as a marketing tool for your business.

Word-of-Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 6

Even if you use outside assistance to design and develop your social media platforms, generating fresh content remains your responsibility. Quite simply, no one knows more about your business than you do. Demonstrate that fact by sharing the body of material you accumulated in becoming a recognized expert. However, resist the temptation to share it all at once. Building a following in cyberspace is a marathon, not a sprint. As with blogging, develop a consistent conversational style and reporting pattern.

Here are a few pointers to get the most social media mileage out of your content and maximize its effectiveness:

  • If you have a document with multiple bullet points, break each into a separate post.
  • End each post by briefly telling readers what to expect in your next entry, and when it will be published.
  • Most content can be reformatted and repurposed as appropriate. For example, press releases and articles can be posted on Facebook and other sites as well as your blog. A 1,200-word article can provide a lot of content at 140 characters per tweet. Facebook status update fields have a 420-character limit. LinkedIn has a 700-character limit. Other social networks each have similar limits. With a little practice, you will probably find, as I did, that communicating your message within those limits is usually quite easy to accomplish.
  • You can supplement your original content with relevant quotes and articles written by others, or simply pass along helpful advice and suggestions you come across in your daily business. Numerous websites provide extensive quotes on every business subject. One example is www.brainyquote.com.
  • Timely material can be re-circulated or retweeted periodically.
  • Unless supporting a particular point of view is a deliberate part of your branding and marketing strategy, avoid expressing religious and political opinions or supporting controversial agendas that might alienate potential customers.
  • Have several people proofread and review your content. Check your pride of authorship at the door. Do not be afraid to use someone who will look you in the eye and tell you if you have “an ugly baby.” My son’s unbridled desire to correct his father makes him an extremely effective proofreader. Another friend’s frank comments often bruise my ego. I typically stew about them for a day, and then incorporate most of his suggestions.
  • No one cares about trivial matters like what you ate for dinner unless of course you are a food critic or Kim Kardashian. Maintain an air of business decorum and professionalism in your social media platforms.
  • There are numerous social networking tools available free online to help you monitor and simultaneously update multiple sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Those tools currently include Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Ping.fm. Most also provide upgraded versions for a fee. It is a truism of any free-market system that whenever a product or service becomes an undifferentiated commodity, those offering it can only compete on price. It is inevitable in the fast-paced world of social media that as soon as someone develops a new Internet-based service, someone else will figure out how to make money by offering it free. Therefore, periodically ask your social media active friends and network contacts whether they are aware of any new tools.
  • Finally, the ultimate purpose of social media marketing is to build business relationships. All relationships require two-way communication. Do not get so consumed in posting content that you neglect to respond to direct messages or DMs. Try to establish a dedicated time every day to answer your DMs.

I will conclude this series about social media marketing on Monday with some final thoughts. Enjoy your weekend.

Word of Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 5

I confess that I have yet to add YouTube to my social media marketing arsenal. That is probably to my detriment. Although you can post pictures and links to videos on most social media platforms, YouTube is specifically designed as a video sharing site. Many people therefore think of it primarily as a source of entertainment. However, YouTube is also the most popular search engine. The company was founded in 2005 and bought by Google in 2006. YouTube reported an excess of 2 billion downloads per day in May of 2010.

YouTube is free, and has many practical applications for small businesses. You can prepare and upload amateur videos with most cell phones and digital cameras. Here are four YouTube tips:

  • If you believe a picture is worth a thousand words, YouTube videos may be priceless. Your videos can be used to demonstrate your products in action, showcase samples of your work, record customer testimonials, address frequently asked questions and serve almost any customer educational purpose that arises. Videos can be made more user-friendly and accessible through the auto-caption feature added in early 2010. Captions can then be translated into other languages. This means the hearing-impaired and non-English speaking audiences will have access to the information and marketing messages contained in your videos.
  • YouTube allows users to set up personal channels or home pages. This affords the opportunity to present video messages in a customized environment consistent with your brand’s use of colors, logos, marketing taglines and so on. The channel can also display user data including contact information, web addresses and pictures. Finally, users can organize videos in logical groups or sequences through playlists.
  • Use your other social media outlets to cross-promote YouTube videos.
  • Again, study what your competition is doing on YouTube. Look at a few viral or most popular videos to see what characteristics make them popular. Adapt the lessons learned to your own situation.

On Friday, I will continue this series with some suggestions on getting the most social media mileage out of your content while maximizing its effectiveness.

Word of Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 4

Last week, I introduced the topic of social media marketing as a low-cost, effective marketing tool for your business. Like everything else in business, success in social media marketing requires that you prepare a plan.

Develop a social media plan that includes target dates and milestones. It should incorporate several platforms with a consistent message and theme or look. Each platform should be linked to your website or blog. Fred Campos, a social media expert and founder of FunCitySocialMedia likes to compare social media marketing to a three-legged stool. Following his analogy, I ultimately selected Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as my three legs. Again, visit www.alexa.com to find the best matches for your target market.

I also have two websites, one of which is the WordPress blog that I mentioned earlier. The other is a “landing pad” that presents a three-minute video and invites viewers to join my mailing list to receive a free publication that explains my services and business approach.

My social media platforms always carry a summary of blog postings. To the extent possible, Twitter, Facebook and both websites have a similar look as to color scheme, graphics and narrative theme. While LinkedIn is far more limiting in its graphic design options, it does allow your logo and picture. And it is hard to argue with free!

Your followers can greatly magnify the distribution of anything you post by making it available to their contacts. They do that on Facebook by simply clicking the “Like” button. On LinkedIn, they recommend you. On Twitter, they “re-tweet” your comments. Whatever it is called, encourage your following to share your content for maximum exposure.

YouTube is the most popular search engine, and now exceeds 2 billion downloads per day. I confess that I have yet to add YouTube to my social media-marketing arsenal. On Wednesday, I will discuss this exciting social media platform.

Word of Mouth Has Gone Global-Part 3

This week, we are discussing social media marketing as a cost-effective marketing option for small businesses. Let’s pickup where we left off on Wednesday.

Evaluate social media marketing as a platform to build brand awareness and share content with your customers and target market. Use it as a vehicle to provide your customers with a voice. Encourage feedback. Social media marketing is all about consistent communication in channels selected by your markets. Avoid the trap of thinking it is about technology. Moreover, remember that ultimately you are connecting with individuals, not faceless companies and organizations. Consider these points:

  • Individuals all have birthdays, families, homes, hobbies and other personal characteristics and interests that they will occasionally mention online. Apply what Dale Carnegie said about making friends by being interested in other people rather than by trying to get people interested in you. Remember the personal stuff.
  • It is very likely that you will eventually attract hundreds and even thousands of followers on your social media platforms. It will not be possible (or even advisable) to attempt to develop relationships with all of your connections, especially since many will be in distant areas that effectively disqualify them as realistic prospects. However, for those online connections that are realistic customer prospects, cultivating an offline relationship greatly increases the prospect of a sale.
  • Try to exhibit a conversational style, but keep in mind that your conversations will be online and therefore accessible to virtually the entire planet.

Having decided to move forward with social media, the first crossroad you will come to in your analysis and evaluation of social media is whether to do everything yourself or hire experts. Make an informed decision. There are plenty of free or low cost resources available to you. Begin with an Internet search or by spending a few dollars on one of those 1,618 books and videos. Talk to your social media savvy friends and associates, perhaps starting with your “screenage” children. Having done my research, I decided that while I could muddle through the maze myself, the time saved and professionalism gained by hiring a consultant was worth the small investment. I should also mention that I met my social media consultants at a free seminar they sponsored. Look at what competitors and others in your area are doing. Make a list of what you like and dislike about each. Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In this situation, it may also be the cheapest.

We will continue with this subject next week. Until then, have a great weekend.

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