E-mail is a Powerful Business Tool

email 78542920It’s hard to learn about e-mail marketing, because if you Google it you get bombarded with ads or links to service providers trying to sell you their solution rather than solid information about e-mail marketing. The first question, of course, is: Are you using e-mail marketing at all, and if so to what degree?

The second question is: How do you know when you’ve outgrown the basic providers from Microsoft Outlook to Hotmail, Gmail, iCloud or even Yahoo? Most of these services are meant for one ups, meaning they were designed for individual not business use.  If you’re really doing e-mail marketing – meaning sending regular messages to more than 25 people at a time – it’s likely time to upgrade to a business service. Why 25?  This magic number is a trigger for many spam filters. There are many definitions of spam, but one clue filters look for in determining if a message may be spam is the sheer number of addresses being targeted.

When it comes to business providers, the best known name is Constant Contact, due to great marketing investments, and personal representative franchise attendance at local business shows. But, it’s not the only solution. There are alternatives, most notably Mail Chimp. Consider this post comparing the two providers. Choosing an e-mail provider is no different than choosing any other type of service provider. You need know how you intend to use the service, how many people you need to communicate with at a time, and then judge the service providers based on price and how they serve your communication needs.

How do you intend to use e-mail? Are you sending out an e-mail on a regular basis, and to how many people? Are youjust sending out a group text e-mail on a seasonal basis, or only when you have a special sale or gained valuable publicity in a local newspaper? Are you sending links to your web site, or sending customer surveys?

E-mail continues to be one of the most powerful communication tools in a marketing arsenal, but as with all ads and communications channels, it should be done by plan and with knowledge not only about state regulations, but with intent to strategically grow your business.

Due to spam regulations it’s not OK to send your message to another company’s list. But small companies also find it hard to build a list of any scale. It’s the reason they frequently try to send their messages to another company’s list or buy a list. Both tactics teeter on the edge of getting your company known as  a spammer because unless you have relationship with the recipient or their permission to hear from you specifically, you are not using e-mail correctly or effectively. Instead, find a way to create a partnership, either by sponsoring  an e-newsletter, or advertising on one that is going to your intended audience.  That’s not spam, but alignment.

The Walk-Away: E-mail is a powerful business communication tool, but only if used wisely. When used aggressively, a good service provider is needed, but which service provider is right for you depends on your strategy and budget.

How Does Social Media Make Money for You?

trust-agentsSmall- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are increasingly asking how they can create a presence on Facebook and other social media sites. But they should also be asking how that presence will make them money. If Facebook or any other type of media doesn’t help you make money, it simply isn’t working correctly for you. It doesn’t necessarily mean the media is wrong, but it likely means you’re not using the media correctly. This is as true of newspaper and TV advertising as it is of Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

I recently attended a webinar by Chris Brogan, a well-known and respected modern media guru and author of the 2010 best-selling book Trust Agents – Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation and Earn Trust. More recently, he’s published the book The Impact Equation subtitled “Are you making things happen, or just making noise?” With 112,464 Google+ followers and 7,062 Facebook likes, you’d think Brogan would be a raving social media fanatic. But, in a recent talk sponsored by Market Wire, an online PR distribution service, Brogan stated, “My bank gives me no loans based on Facebook likes.” And therein lies a huge story.

In an earlier post, Shannon Miranda wrote about Mike Blinder  author of Survival Selling Even in The Toughest Times. Blinder has been known to say most small business websites and Facebook pages are tantamount to having a billboard in a basement. Their digital presence doesn’t work for two key reasons: First because no one sees their page, and secondly because no one would want to. Many SMBs are crazed to get a Facebook page, fearful they may be missing out on some important and cheap social media marketing tool and may get left behind. But even if  you have 7,000 fans like Brogan does, how can it be monetized so a bank loan officer cares when you come a calling? More importantly, how does a small business use Facebook and all the other social media platforms to drive business and create revenue?

It’s worth studying Brogan. If you go on his website, Facebook site, or Google+, you’ll see he’s dedicated to educating people about his areas of expertise. Then, he makes sure his most loyal followers are aware of his offerings and get the best deals on things that he sells from speaking engagements to book sales to online courses. That revenue is what he  shows to his banker for mortgage financing and other financial ventures.

How does this apply to you? 

Let’s pretend you’re a local jeweler and have a Facebook site. Are you merely posting coupons for jewelry or creating posts that hype ongoing sales? Or, instead, are you teaching people about gold and diamonds and new jewelry designers? Can you occasionally post a coupon? Sure, but most SMBs only post sales notices and very few help educate the public, or position themselves as experts in their field.

What’s the better question? “How can I position my business as the go-to resource in my area of expertise for my  community of motivated clients?” Facebook and Google+ will likely be part of the answer, but only a part.

The Walk-away:  The key to business marketing is not more marketing, or even more social media marketing. It’s knowing the right question to ask and then getting it answered both for your own positioning and to drive the right customers to walk in your door.

Advertising Extends Seasonal Sales Cycles

Being in a seasonal business can mean one of three things:

  1. Your business is seasonal catering to a defined seasonal market. Summer amusement parks fall into this category.
  2. Your business is located in a seasonal market, but isn’t generally considered seasonal. Grocery stores that cater to local residents, but see an increase in sales during tourism seasons share this category.
  3. Your industry is considered seasonal.  Many retail businesses fall into this segment, with high holiday and back-to-school selling seasons.

carlegsRegardless of your category, great marketing helps you either broaden your season length, or create additional seasons. For instance, some category 1 B&Bs previously known only as for summer destinations have successfully positioned themselves as off-season resorts in addition to their regular high season. By advertising these new selling propositions to both standard clientele and new customers looking for different or more cost-effective vacation experiences, these B&Bs have effectively created a second sales season that didn’t exist several years ago.

When in a category 3 business with a seasonal selling cycle, it’s important to stay abreast of ever-changing consumer trends to ensure that what has traditionally been your key selling season hasn’t changed the game. The auto industry is a great example of how consumer shopping patterns have shifted just within a two-year time period.

Take a look at the table below from the US Census, which tracks retail sales by category every year. In 2010, two years after the recession hit high gear, auto sales by auto dealers were highest in December as consumers waited for late year models to go on sale.

Percentage of Auto Sales by Auto Dealers in 2010

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
7.3%
7.2%
8.4%
8.3%
8.5%
8.4%
Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
8.4%
8.5%
8.1%
8.3%
8.6%
10.2%

Sales in December were 2-3 points higher than any other time of the year with January and February being the off season. Traditional car advertising followed this pattern, tending to run heavier during the holiday seasons and staying low during the early winter months.

But, buying patterns have changed and if a car dealer today is still buying advertising based on the 2010 model, they would be missing a significant amount of  2012 buyers, who are far more consistent in buying cars throughout the year. Check out the buying patterns for 2012 below.

Percentage of Auto Sales by Auto Dealers in 2012

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
8.0%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
8.2%
8.4%
8.6%
8.4%
8.7%
8.8%

This new data set shows that consumers are actively buying cars all year long with December still being a key buying month, but no one group of months being significantly different from the others. What was once a semi-seasonal business has evened out.

What this means is advertisers not adjusting their media plans to attract consumers all year long are missing those consumers who are actively in the market at any point in time. The data is available from the government for most key industrial codes.

The Walk-away: Assumptions made about key selling times of the year can cause businesses to unnecessarily miss key selling opportunities. The recent past is not always a good indication of current or future buying trends.

SOURCE: Monthly Retail and Food Service Sales, 2012 Sales, census data, http://www.census.gov/retail/mrts/www/data/excel/mrtssales92-present.xls

Visibility and Traffic in Advertising

billboard_77386345What do business locations and advertising have in common? Both, if chosen and used carefully, bring the two elements of visibility and traffic to foster business growth. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) generally have an easier time understanding the importance of location and visibility in choosing real estate than they do with choosing advertising, but the principles are the same.

A business that can’t easily be found loses traffic – both planned and serendipitous. If a trip to a business is planned, and it’s too hard to find the location, a consumer can simply give up. And if the location is not easily seen from main roads, a business can lose impulse traffic from those just passing by.

The same holds true for business advertising regardless of medium. For instance, outdoor bulletins on unlit billboards can’t be seen at night and the extra fee for billboards with lighting is likely worth the expense in added visibility for evening hours particularly during winter months. On TV, ads positioned at 2AM or even 2PM have far less visibility than ads positioned during prime time or news hours. In newspapers, ads positioned on key editorial pages and designed large enough to dominate share of space gain much higher visibility than ads that are smaller and stacked with other ads. There are different ad positions for higher visibility and targeted to specific audience based on your advertising objectives.

The key to ad visibility is clarity and not making a consumer choose between viewing your ad or someone else’s. It’s the reason that half billboards (where two advertisers each take one half of a billboard) are never recommended. Motorists barely have time to read one ad while speeding by at 60 mph, much less two.

The Walk-away: One key to advertising success is to insure that ad placement gives you a great location for consumers to see you and that the ad is positioned  in such a way as to be clearly visible without fighting with other ads for consumer attention.

Six Types of Ads for Effective Marketing

group legs 45363100How do you know if an ad works? If your only answer is “by sales,” then you’re missing the point of most advertising and are likely shorting yourself on the full marketing power ads can bring to your marketing mix. Here are 6 of the more common categories of ads and how they might work for you:

1. Image Ads – Used to make your brand top of mind for key audiences. By definition, these tend to be larger-sized ads, beautiful, well-designed with little writing but a big message, because they are geared to create an “image.” They are generally done by large brands, but should not be ignored by smaller retailers and brands. If possible, co-op dollars can be used to help promote image ads locally.

2. Traffic Drivers – Also frequently considered loss leader ads. These are used to get customers into a store enticed by a great bargain. The upselling and real potential sales come after the customer is at your site. Inserts and sales circulars are generally traffic driver ads.

3. Impulse Sales – Used to create demand for a product that may be unknown to a consumer. It’s a type of traffic driver, but unlike the loss leader can be for a high-end item such as the iPad mini or Google Nexus tablet during the holiday season. A key point of an impulse sale ad is “limited time” or “limited inventory.”  Mobile ads are generally impulse sale ads, but print and online display ads can create impulse as well.

4. Foundational Positioning Ads – These are used to differentiate you from the competition and introduce you to new customers. Grand Opening ads if done well can be positioning ads, creating a foundation for letting the consumer know who you are and why you are worth a try. These types of ads can and should be run in some periodic schedule so your value proposition is clear at all times. Portions of a foundational ad can be included in other ads, and frequently summarized are seen as tag lines, but a true foundational ad tends to be larger and provide proof of performance or positioning.

5. Good Neighbor Ads – In a sense, they are a type of foundational ad, but with a very specific purpose of proving your involvement and commitment to the community. They are distinctly separate from sales and can be sponsorship ads of charitable organizations, or “hats off” ads to local service providers. They only ring true if done outside of any disaster PR efforts. For instance, BP ads for the Gulf Coast are not Good Neighbor Ads. They are mia culpa ads used to regain some lost reputation. Good Neighbor ads are truly philanthropic and in line with a company’s mission or local commitment to a cause. They create affinity for like-minded consumers, but have no sales initiative.

6. Employee Motivational Ads – Many company’s say employees are their greatest asset, and way too few take out ads to let the world know how much they value their employees. These can include service award ads, welcome our new employee ads, honor our high service level employee ads. It’s hard to measure the goodwill they create, but they are usually framed and pinned to employee’s walls to show how much the external publicity is valued internally.

All ads, by definition, are Engagement Ads . They should make people want to be affiliated or involved with your brand, product or service to some degree or another. But, they are not all geared toward an instant or short-term sales.

The Walk-away: Ultimately every business needs sales to stay in business, but different ads serve different purposes. Each is a worthwhile investment if you are clear on your goals and are measuring results accordingly.

Market Research: More Lessons from Political Campaigns

Presidential elections always bring out the big guns in terms of pundits, pollsters and politicos. As always, there are many things to be learned for business marketing from political marketing – both good and bad. Here are some take-aways on market research.

Pundits are wrong 50% of the time. Opinions matter, which is why opinion leaders and early adopters are so important in marketing plans. But the opinions that matter are those who either vote or can influence a voter. People pay attention to pundits because of their perceived ability to influence, but the truth is New York Times blogger Nate Silver has conclusively proven that pundits are wrong 50% of the time. His new book, The Signal and the Noise, finds that pundit predictions are as consistent as a coin toss. In your business, who are the real opinion leaders that can drive traffic to you? It’s more likely a PTA president than a political leader.

Pollsters also get it wrong. Pollsters are the market research arm of many campaigns, so how come with modern models and algorithms they also don’t always get it right? According to Sarah Dutton, Deputy Director of Surveys for CBS news, most polls are “snap shots in time” rather than predictions. See her explanation in this video from CBS Sunday Morning.

For businesses, the moral is to be careful of research results. If the questions aren’t right, the answers won’t give you what you need for future planning. Here’s a case in point. Years ago, when asked if they needed a fax machine, most businesses said “no.” Within 1-5 years of that survey, fax machines were critical to day-to-day business. The reason for the missed predictions was that the people asked had no experience of fax machines to know they even desired one. Today, the question is moot.

Numbers guys get trendy. Aggregators such as Nate Silver tend to get closer to the truth because they combine all the polls and crunch the numbers to figure out actual odds. There’s a reason bookies make money. They understand odds. It’s the reason aggregators also do well. They can compile the wisdom of everyone else and figure out trends and patterns. For businesses, the lesson is to differentiate between one snap shot of feedback from an emerging trend. It’s the trends that will tell you your odds of success or failure.

The Walk-away: In a place like Atlantic City that runs on odds and gambling stakes, it’s interesting to know that a semi-pro poker player and baseball statistician aficionado, Nate Silver, has a current better track record in predicting elections than pundits. It shows that numbers matter, and whether you’re counting cards, runs batted in, electoral votes, or foot traffic – you need to be working with a full deck to understand your odds for interpreting outcomes in business as well as politics and poker.

Media Planning Requires Data over Ego

Here are three key tips for creating an effective media plan that gets your ad message out to potential customers:

  1. Never assume you are the customer.
  2. Don’t buy media to reach customers for your company based on your own habits.
  3. Don’t buy media based on your family’s media habits, particularly your mother’s.

The first two tips were recently re-emphasized in a study presented by the Media Behavior Institute  (MBI) during Advertising Week. As reported in Media Daily News, it found that “media pros are much more likely to be heavy users of digital media – particularly mobile and social – and are much less likely to use traditional media such as TV and radio than average customers.”

Since media pros are frequently those making media buy recommendations to business owners, it’s important to always look at data when evaluating a media plan. Can you define your core demographic and geographic reach? Is the media buy based on reach numbers targeted to your potential customers where they live and work?

Unfortunately, entrepreneurs are more likely to shoot from the hip and buy media that is either inexpensive or matches their own viewing habits. It’s the key reason behind so many car dealers pitching themselves and their families on late night local TV.  It’s an ego buy, not necessarily an effective buy — hence tip 3. Just because your mother saw you, doesn’t mean a potential customer did, nor was necessarily motivated to buy.

When buying media keep in mind this quote from MBI’s executive director of marketing Mike Bloxham:

“We all view the world from our own eyes. If we find as a community that we are markedly different from the communities that we are trying to communicate with and engage for our brand clients, that is a real challenge.”

The only antidote is data. Ask for it from any media or ad agency representative and then make your media buy accordingly. The key is objectivity. Keep your ego and mother out of it and you’ll increase your chances for an effective decision.

The Walk-away:  As your mother used to say – Never judge another person until you’ve walked in his or her shoes. Advertising is the same. Write an ad from the customer’s point of view and place it based on the customer’s media habits not your own.

Ad Lessons from Political Campaigns – Part 2

‘Tis still the season of political advertising and now that both major party conventions are over, the real advertising begins. If you ever think the age of big media advertising is over, just check on political campaigns. Yes, modern campaigns now effectively use social media, BUT (and it’s a big BUT) in addition to mainstream media, not in replacement of it. Why?

Candidates Need to Be Credible.

Just because a candidate says he’s the greatest doesn’t cut it. People can too easily ignore that message

The key is gaining credibility in endorsements. It’s the reason candidates value them so highly. People like to know what others are thinking and endorsement lets them jump on a trusted bandwagon. Consider your business as a candidate for consumer trust and dollars. To gain their trust, or vote, you need to be credible.

How can you gain credibility? Do what the candidates do. Get interviewed, get written about, get quoted.

How to apply it: Read the business and other sections of your newspaper and look for opportunities to pitch yourself to the appropriate editor. If there’s a new business section, send the business editor a press release on your new opening. If there’s an ongoing feature on wellness, and your business is in fitness, let the editor know what your area of expertise is and how you can offer information that may be of use in a story.

Not sure how to get started? Contact a local PR pro. If you’re comfortable doing your own PR, just make sure you’re pitching the right people about your story or area of expertise. Here’s one way to electronically pitch a story to The Press. But the best way is to get a name and contact them directly.

THEN:  If you’re printed, promote your coverage. Put a quote in an ad; frame the article and hang it up in your business; tweet about it on Twitter, or post a link to the story in Facebook. You can now promote  your increased credibility just as the candidates do!

The Walk-away: People are more receptive to advertising messages from credible sources. Use third-party mentions  by a credible source as proof that you’ve got “great legs, and soon the rest of the community will be checking out your “legs” (ahem, ad claims) as well.

The New Way to Mail a Message – Every Door Delivery

Forget all the fancy social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+. Well, at least forget them until Direct Mail Legsyou’ve got the basics covered, meaning mail — from snail mail to e-mail to the newest type of mail — Every Door Direct Mail™.

Advertising is about getting your message delivered to the right customer. Mail is one of the original ad delivery vehicles, and although now out of favor, can still be an effective way to reach a geo-targeted audience, especially if done in a modern way. Direct mail, the original mailing mechanism through the post office, is now expensive and inefficient leading digital age advertisers to move from snail mail to e-mail. But, the surprise and delight factor is not the same. Whereas “junk mail” was frequently fun to receive; spam is not.

Unlike email, direct mail is a tactile experience. To this day, with the exception of  bills, everyone generally still  loves getting mail. It’s the reason direct mail will never totally go away. But, now, a new affordable replacement is literally on everyone’s doorstep – targeted house delivery, or Every Door Direct Mail. How’s Every Door Direct different from Direct Mail?

  • The piece is not personalized. Although not as strong as a personalized piece, for the greatly reduced cost, it gets your message directly into the home. The plus side is the mailer also doesn’t have to preprint addresses on each piece.
  • It can  be geo-targeted, something extremely valuable particularly for local retailers and service businesses. Do you want to reach all households in a particular zip or carrier route? This does it.
  • The mail is  still “delivered” by the postal service (USPS), but all the paperwork is done by the Every Door vendor.
  • The piece can range from a door hanger, to a flyer, or even an item in an envelope. In other words, you don’t have to abide by Postal standards for size or weight.
  • It’s a lot less expensive. Whereas a first class piece can range from 37 cents to well over a dollar depending on size, a Direct Delivery piece is generally less than 20 cents per household.

Today, targeted house delivery is available through a series of private party providers, including local newspapers. In South Jersey, The Press of Atlantic City is making the service available, just as other providers are across the nation. Is it an option for you? It is, likely, at least an option you should explore by talking to your local Every Door Direct representative or call (609) 272-7002.

The Walk-away: Direct mail has evolved with more options for unique targeting and creative designs to cut through the clutter. Walking to get your mail is still exciting when you get an unexpected delivery message in a unique way.

Packaging – The Frequently Overlooked Marketing Key

Every marketing student learns about the five “p’s” of marketing – Pricing, Place, Product, Promotion, and People. The missing “P” is packaging, which some will teach is part of Product, and others will claim is part of Promotion. Either way, it’s frequently the forgotten child of marketing that can spell business success or failure.

A key case in point is Coca-Cola. Without a doubt, Coke is always discussed in conversations about great brands. Recently, the story of Coke was featured on CBS Sunday Morning, itself a perennial news brand. As the story goes, Coca-Cola was so successful, that me-too products popped up around the globe. In a marketing meeting, Coke executives realized their brand franchise was in danger, and decided to invent brand packaging – the now iconic coke bottle – so that even in the dark, by feel alone, a consumer would know “the real thing” from a substitute. When aluminum cans became the norm, color became a larger concern for differentiating the brand, and Coke’s “red” became another text-book marketing example of the importance of color in serious brand management.

How does this apply to you if you’re a small to mid-sized business not of Coke caliber? Don’t underestimate packaging as a key differentiating factor. Packaging means everything from how you label your business to how you package your goods and services. Consider these examples:

  • Where The Art Is – This party decorations firm located in Paramus, NJ was literally started out of a garage. The decorations are unique and memorable, with many centerpieces kept for years to come in the homes of the guests and/or hosts. Under each piece is the company’s label with contact information. If you want a party decorator years later, you’ll be able to find Where The Art Is due to a simple packaging label.
  • Chico’s – Now a well known women’s wear franchise, the store endeared itself to women through a wrinkle-free travel line that was also figure forgiving. Priced high, consumers don’t feel cheated as each purchase is carefully wrapped generously in beautiful tissue paper and each bag is tied off with rainbow ribbons. Both touches are not necessary and add extra expense, but both are part of the Chico’s experience and brand.
  • Two Tin Crows – This unique gift store in Northfield, NJ (outside of Atlantic City), makes sure that gifts are beautifully wrapped using bags folded just so. It’s a simple technique, but one done exquisitely by the owner. It takes the added expense of gift wrapping off the consumer and makes the purchase that much easier. The point of these three examples is that it only takes a little extra effort to make your packaging work wonders for you as a differentiating value proposition.

The Walk-away: Take a look at your packaging, from your windows to your logo. Are you doing all you can to put your best look — if not foot — forward? Packaging is a Key “P” in Marketing.