Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Make online marketing work for you

With the rise and rise of the Internet, many traditional forms of business marketing and advertising are falling by the wayside as companies are opening up their eyes to the opportunities available to them from email and online marketing. 

By using the Internet to advertise your products you are able to tap into a potentially global market faster than we ever would have thought possible just a few years ago.
However, whilst this is undoubtedly a very effective form of marketing, you have to be aware of the pitfalls in order to get the best possible results from your hard work. Here are just a few things to bear in mind:
  • Targeted email marketing: It is a good idea to send out carefully crafted emails with information on your latest products or special offers. However, before you do this you really need to have taken the time to build up a detailed database of clients, cross-referenced according to their specific priorities. This way you will only send out relevant emails and won’t risk putting people off. For example, there is not point sending out emails about female beauty products to men.
  • Send newsletters:  Rather than bombarding all the people on your mailing list with junk mail every time you have any news, save it for a regular newsletter. This way all the important information is encapsulated in one single message and you won’t annoy your clients. At the same time, you will be issuing them with a regular reminder that you are out there and continuing to work to keep up with their needs.
  • E-commerce: Make sure your website is optimised for mobile devices. The use of Smartphones is increasing fast, and indeed it is highly likely that the future of business marketing may lie to a large extent in handheld devices. With more and more people downloading information to their phones, make sure you are tapping into this lucrative market.
  • Invest in SEO: Many businesses are still not recognising the importance of search engine optimisation (SEO) in order to keep their website at the top of search engine results. It is all very well having a striking and professional website, but if you have not maximised your online presence by using the relevant keywords or using social media then this will count for nothing. Doing this properly is necessary but can be time consuming, so it is worth hiring in a specialist to do the job for you.

Shouldn’t You Be Using Google+ Hangouts to Connect With More Customers?

What do the Black Eyed Peas, The Muppets and the technology giant Dell have in common?

They are all using Google+ Hangouts to connect with their fan bases.

Before you protest, not another social media site! I’m currently on Facebook and Twitter and they take up too much of my time already, let me explain . . .

At the moment, Google+ has an estimated 40 million users compared with Facebook’s 800 million. But please don’t think of it as “a smaller Facebook,” because it isn’t.

First of all, Google+ Business Pages are easy to create and edit – easier than Facebook in fact. Google+ allows you to interact with your fan base through a mixture of comments, tags, sharing and the soon-to-be legendary, Hangouts.

So what is a “Hangout”?

A Hangout is a video connection between your business and your customers and followers. You can host your own networking sessions, showcase your latest products and services, organize a focus group or a Q&A session – the possibilities are endless.

Many business owners use Hangouts as video conferencing tools, scheduling meetings with suppliers, partners, affiliates or resellers. You can use the Hangout facility to interact with a maximum of 9 other people at any one sitting (10 including yourself). Each Hangout you host will have a specific URL you can use to invite Google+ users to your video session.

Before you host your first official Hangout, I would suggest organizing a ‘dry run’, to ensure you are well prepared and that the sound quality is fully optimized. You might also want to start with fewer people until you get some experience of the facility, as 10 people sharing a conversation is likely to become somewhat chaotic!

I mentioned Dell in the opening of this piece. Dell is the latest big company to announce it plans to use Google+ in its customer service division. It’s quite surprising that many of the larger concerns haven’t yet picked up on the business potential of Hangouts. To be able to connect with your customers face-to-face is a fantastic innovation. Even better – you can then upload videos of those interactions to YouTube. There are huge possibilities for viral marketing here . . .

If you want to ‘hang out’ with more fans of your brand, Google+ Hangouts is well worth a look. You’ll be able to create and share content-rich video productions that spark exciting conversations. Getting more people talking about your brand is what it’s all about. Plus you’ll be in great company.

More people are catching on to the benefits of using Google+ for business. It’s worth signing up to Google+ for the potential of its Hangouts facility alone.

The unwavering popularity of YouTube is testament to the fact that people find the medium of video as a ‘create and share’ tool irresistible. Household names like the Black Eyed Peas, The Muppets and Dell have already come alive to the potential of Google+ as a means of gaining greater visibility and expanding their fan base. Just think what it could do for your brand. If you aren't sure on how this could work for you ask a marketing consultant to give you some ideas.

Use Social Media to Make an ‘Emotional Connection’ that Increases Brand Loyalty

Take a peek in your wallet. How many brand loyalty cards are you currently carrying?

It’s reckoned that the average UK household is signed up to 12 store/ retail loyalty schemes – everything from collecting points to save money on your supermarket shopping and cash-back on credit card spends, to getting a free cappuccino for every 10 purchases made at your favourite high street coffee shop.
It seems all our favourite brands are leveraging the power of brand loyalty – encouraging customers to shop with them more often.

Many of the top brands like Starbucks and Coca-Cola have long recognized the increasingly important part that social media plays in their customers’ lives and are using it to their competitive advantage.

Using established interactive social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to bring together fans of your brand makes perfect sense, because you will be harnessing the ‘share’ potential of the Internet.

But how do we define brand loyalty? And is it necessary to make the distinction between someone who will buy that 10th coffee from you just to get the freebie, and those who love your Java recipe so much, as well as the ambiance of your cafĂ© bar, they’d never go anywhere else regardless?

If you belong to a Frequent Flier Programme, ask yourself whether you would still fly with that same airline if a competitor launched a significantly cheaper, but similar service in terms of standard and quality. And if you’re someone who checks price comparison sites regularly, as an increasing number of us do these days, then brand loyalty may not be something you’re driven by, as much as value for money.

As creatures of habit, many of us shop at the same places, at pretty much the same times, week on week, whether the retailers concerned have a loyalty scheme in place or not. These shopping ‘repurchases’ are justified through considerations such as convenience, price, service, or quality. You see, ‘repurchasing’ is not the same as loyalty.

True brand loyalty is achieved when our brand makes an emotional connection with its audience: We love it that Innocent smoothies are 100 per cent fresh fruit and no junk; that Apple computers are cool; that Lego has built a great online community we can be a part of; that Harley-Davidson represents the “adventure of a lifetime.”

And, as fans of brands, we love connecting with those brands via social media, because they reward us with something extra for our loyalty. There’s newsletters, competitions, giveaways, online interaction with fellow enthusiasts – all the extra stuff we get for free, just for signing up to their sites. And here’s the thing, we’re getting an exclusive deal other people are missing out on because they choose not to be a part of that community.

These socially-connected brands have established an emotional rapport with their followers that that goes way beyond ‘repurchasing’ and creates ‘fans for life’.

By using social media to engage and communicate with your target audience – and by offering exclusive deals to those who follow you – your brand could do the same. A recent study found that 37 per cent of Facebook users who have ‘friended’ a brand, cited ‘product discounts and special promotions’ as their main reason for doing so.

Consider how your brand might use Facebook Pages and other forms of social media to connect with more like-minded people who could become valued customers. What emotional message might your brand build its fan base around? And how will you reward your followers for their loyalty and thus create fans for life?

Creating exclusive offers for your online community is a proven way to establish a fan base and encourage more sign-ups. As well as making more sales, you will have a ready-made focus group that will help you with research into your current business, as well as ideas for developing and marketing new products and services.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

What does a marketing consultant do? And why would I need one?

In broad terms, a marketing consultant will analyse the market potential for what your business does and help you develop products and services that satisfy the needs of the end consumer.

They will also work alongside other members of your team within the various departments: sales, operations, marketing, finance, and so on, to determine sales strategies, communications and promotions that will complement the business.

To do this effectively, your marketing consultant will need to fully understand the way your business works and also the buying behaviours of your target customer.

They can also help you launch new products and services and help organize marketing promotions. As well as delivering these ‘hands on’ services, a marketing consultant will track, report on, and review your marketing events and advertising initiatives.

Your marketing expert can also create and deliver professional marketing presentations on behalf of your business, specifically tailored to your target audience. This can be a huge asset to your business, as gaining a reputation for great presentations can do wonders for your image.

Did you also realize that hiring a marketing professional to train your staff can be a really effective way to fire up your employees’ motivation levels and boost productivity. Even if you know a bit about marketing yourself, the consultant will bring a wealth of fresh ideas to the party and ensure that your team is performing as well as it possibly can.

If you’ve ever been on one of those team building weekends (usually somewhere wet, windy and remote, I might add!) you’ll remember that even the most reserved or reluctant participant usually returned with a newly-found sense of enthusiasm and purpose. That’s generally how it works anyhow . . .

A marketing consultant will have exactly the same effect on your team – without the dodgy weather conditions. He or she will instil self-belief into your marketing team and help them perform to the optimum level – both as individuals – and as a unit.

One of the most important attributes of the personnel of a sales and marketing team must surely be passion. It’s easy to become stale when you’re using the same old scripts to sell products in the same old way . . . with the same predictable results. The only way to change that is to inject some new life into your methods and procedures.

If you’ve never considered the benefits of outsourcing your marketing activities to a dedicated professional, now might be a good time to find out how having a consultant on board, could boost your business in so many ways.
A marketing consultant can add real value to your business on a day to day basis. They can work alongside you seamlessly, in conjunction with your team or departments for optimum results. If your marketing efforts aren’t reaping the rewards you’d like, perhaps it’s time to take a look at how the services of a marketing consultant can really help your business take off.

Big Ideas for Small Business Marketing

In the EU, a small business is generally defined as one having fewer than 50 employees. Small businesses offer so much potential for offering a truly personal service to your customers, often at very little extra cost.

Here are some simple ways to improve your small business marketing:

Make Your Customers Feel Special

Good customer service is essential in these ultra-competitive times. Even something as simple as a hand-written ‘thank you’ note tells your customers you appreciate them. Added extras need cost no more than a few pence extra on top of your service costs, but they can add goodwill to the transaction resulting in repeat business and recommendations.

What Does Your Business Card Say About You?

Does it have a high-remembrance ‘must-keep’ factor? Most business cards are tossed away within a day or so of collecting them. What can you do to make yours stand out? What about a business card with a notepad attached? Or a card with a money-off coupon, or a discount off the next order?

Review Your Core Customer Base

It’s almost certainly a fact that 80 per cent of your business will come from 20 per cent of your customer base. But can you weed out those customers who are not making you money? Do you know what your break-even point is? Continuing to service customers who are unprofitable to your business prevents you utilizing your efforts on finding customers who are and will continue to be in the future.

You Do Have A Mailing List Don’t You?

If you have a web presence you should consider producing a newsletter and encourage your customers to sign up. Don’t think you have to produce an eight-page booklet every two weeks – when more than likely, a one or two-page document will suffice. The key is to start small. The most important thing is that you create your newsletter at regular intervals and tell your prospects when they can expect to hear from you.

Position Yourself As An Expert

The Internet provides a wealth of opportunities for business owners to connect with prospects and like-minded people through online forums and groups. For example LinkedIn currently allows you to sign up to a maximum of 50 groups. It’s not unheard of for business consultants to use these introductions for their prime source of income. Think of ways you might be able to assist others without focusing on the payback and you could be pleasantly surprised at where it leads you.

Befriend Local Media

Editorial coverage in your local newspaper or a trade publication is perceived as more credible than paid for advertising or advertorial features. It is said that the best press releases need to be ‘new-sy’ or ‘now-sy’, so if you have a fresh, interesting story to pitch to the media, either compile a press release yourself, or employ a PR expert to do it for you. If you decide to do it yourself, then split your content into paragraphs for readability and make sure your press release is no longer than one side of A4 paper (double-spaced). And make sure you include your contact details so the journalist can follow up.

There are many simple ideas you can utilize to encourage new and repeat business. Small business marketing can be both creative and cost effective and often you can bring an element of truly personal service to your communications and transactions that the ‘big boys’ struggle to do well.

Marketing Companies – Not All Are Created Equal

Googling “marketing companies” will yield you 8,910,000 results (as at the time of writing this piece). These range from the one-man or one-woman bands, to those with a dozen or more staff. Some of these companies will have been around for a decade or more, while others will have been operating five minutes.

So how do you know you’re hiring the right people to market your business effectively?

What do you look for in a competent marketing outfit?

You might decide you prefer to deal with a local marketing agency for the added convenience of having them on your doorstep. However in practice, you can rarely nip in and check up on their progress without making an appointment. Plus technological advances such as Skype means you can still conduct meetings whenever and wherever suits.

Initially, it’s a good idea to spend a couple of hours or so researching on the Internet. Most marketing companies’ websites will include case studies of the companies they have worked with and will frequently include testimonials.

From your research, draw up a shortlist of 3-5 agencies to meet with. If you’re requesting that they pitch their services to you, bear in mind some agencies will charge a fee for this. Also establish whether the team pitching will be the same people working on your account should you appoint them. Rapport is all important and you don’t want to appoint an agency only to find someone you haven’t been introduced to is in charge of your account.

When inviting agencies to pitch, it is helpful to give them some background to your business, the key objectives you want to achieve and an idea of your budget. You should also provide them with an outline of the sort of contractual agreement you are seeking.

During the meeting/ pitch you will need to consider:

• Is the agency right for you in terms of size? Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.

• Which fields are they expert in? Is this compatible with your needs?

• How do they charge? By the hour? Based on results? Are their fees negotiable?

• With regard to fees, how do they measure effectiveness?

• Are they a full-service agency? Or are they limited to traditional advertising elements?

• First impressions (most important) . . . do you like them?

At the end of the pitches, it may become quite apparent who the most suitable marketing company is for you. Either one agency will be obviously better in terms of ‘fit’, or you will have to choose solely on grounds of the likeability factor.

Appointing the right marketing company for your business can be a daunting task. By following the above process you should have a good indication of the agency that would be a good partner for you. Don’t underestimate the power of gut reaction – it has frequently been proven a reliable indicator when determining winning partnerships.

How Marketing Companies Can Boost Your Web Presence

Marketing companies that specialize in building and maintaining first class websites can be brilliant news for your business. Having a great website that is easy to navigate – and easy on the eye – is an absolute must for every organization or business. Any business without a web presence will not be taken seriously and will probably be viewed with suspicion.

A really effective website can bring so many positives to your business. Having a website that works for you can improve your reputation by telling more people what you do and how well you do it.

Here’s how you can help your chosen website designer create the perfect business website for you:

1. Using your business goals, clearly define what results you want your new website to deliver.

2. Identify which audiences your website will cater for (customers, prospects, researchers, investors) and define what needs and expectations each type of visitor will have when they come to your site.

3. Make sure your website is built from your customers’ point of view. Too much of the ‘what we do’ approach can be a turn off.

4. Flash introductions may have a reputation for being cool, but the majority of your customers hate them (sorry.) I read recently that the second most clicked on words on the Web are ‘Skip Intro.’

5. The same goes for music or audio introductions. Some people will be at work when they land on your site and could be embarrassed by a sudden blast of Katy Perry, or whatever you have as your musical welcome.

6. Include prices where you can. People are automatically wary of sites which don’t include prices. They might be led to think you’re too expensive for them and try one of your competitors instead. If you can’t provide exact prices, aimed at least to offer a ballpark figure.

7. Avoid pop-up windows. Does anyone like them?

8. Make your website easy to navigate and include a call to action on every page. Make sure your website copy is easy to read. Use bite-sized chunks of text or short sentences.

9. Review the success of your website at regular intervals. At worst the content should be revised monthly, at best, daily. Providing fresh, engaging content at regular intervals will keep your visitors coming back for more of the same.

10. Advertise your website (and email address) on all your marketing and promotional materials. Also use it on all online and offline communications such as direct mail, ecommerce and news releases. Now you’ve got a great website, be sure to spread the word!

A successful website requires time and commitment. It’s not enough simply to build a website and leave it to its only devices. It’s like planting a tree and expecting that tree to grow and bear fruit without having any care and attention lavished on it.

So once you have your great website up and running, don’t forget to plan your content, plan your marketing and watch your business grow and ‘bear fruit’.

The Essentials Of A Marketing Plan

A marketing plan is usually part of your overall business plan, though it can be produced as a stand-alone document.

Effective marketing is crucial to the success of every business venture. Your marketing plan is the road map you will follow to achieve your goals. It lists your objectives and the actions you will take to achieve them.

Your marketing plan should not be a ‘static’ document – rather one you refer to and review on a regular basis.

In order for your marketing plan to be workable, it’s vital that everyone on your team knows what is required of them and when.

You should:

1. Set realistic, clear and measurable targets.

2. Set deadlines for achieving each target.

3. Determine a budget for each marketing activity.

4. Decide who in your team is responsible for each activity.

5. Brief your team/ colleagues on the details of your plan.

6. Set reporting guidelines, so that each member of your team can provide feedback at regular intervals.

It is generally helpful to include a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis in your marketing plan. Most likely you will already have completed one for your business plan, in which case you won’t need to start from scratch. A simple review/ update will normally suffice. A PEST analysis is also helpful for identifying and acting on opportunities and threats within your industry. PEST stands for:

Political and legal changes such as new regulations.

Economic factors such as interest rates, exchange rates and consumer confidence.

Social factors such as changing attitudes and lifestyles, and the ageing population.

Technological factors such as new materials and growing use of the internet.

Every marketing plan begins with an Executive Summary – an overview of the plan – though in practice it’s better to write this last to ensure you don’t leave anything vital out.

Your Business Strategy is also a vital part of your plan. It outlines:

Your Mission Statement.

What your business does/ is about.

Key business objectives.

Strategy for achieving objectives (overview).

Use the SMART acronym for each of your key business objectives and you won’t go far wrong:

Specific: We need to attract 10 new clients this quarter.

Measurable: How will you know when you have achieved your objective?

Achievable: Do you have the right resources in place to reasonably enable you to attain the objective? This usually comes down to people and money.

Realistic: Having a target which is considered unreasonable will only demotivate you and your staff. Great targets will stretch you and your resources and serve as a means of motivation.

Time-constrained: There must be a deadline for achieving each objective and this should be clearly stated in your plan.