Data Rules the World (but not the way you think it does)

As humans, we are unique beings. We have a brain and a heart. We have emotions and feelings.

We use our senses to help us make decisions about a person when we meet them. What do they look like? Are they dressed nicely or are they disheveled? Do they smile? How hard do they shake your hand? Do they look you in the eye?

We use past experiences. Do they remind you of someone else that you had a good or bad experience with? Do they work for a company you like or one that you don’t?

We use other information. In what context are you meeting them? Did someone else give you a heads up about this person?

We use all of this data to make a determination about another person. And it is the same with businesses. Our audience uses all of these things to make a determination about whether to do business with companies. What will they think of you? Think of your business ‘courting’ new customers.

    • What is your appearance? Is your website neat and user-friendly? Or is it sloppy and loud?
    • How do you sound? Do you use colloquialisms in your marketing? Or do you sound like a legal contract?
    • Do you look people in the eye? Do you meet people where they are? Or do you come at them from an angle?
    • How hard do you shake their hand? Are you ‘in their face’? Or are you more subtle?
    • Do you smile? Is your marketing light and welcoming? Or dark and off-putting?
    • Did a friend tell your customer target about you? Do you know who your company’s advocates are? And are you engaging with them?

These are all things you need to think about when you are creating your marketing. And it is ok to get a second opinion. We all get tunnel vision about our own businesses and our own work.

If you are looking for that second opinion, contact me to learn how I can help.

5 Ways to make Every Piece of Content Count

These days we are all moving a million miles an hour. For small business owners, you don’t have time to worry about creating a ton of content to feed your various marketing channels. Between social media, your website, possible newspaper or magazine ads…it can be a full-time job. And if you don’t have a full-time creative team, you need to find ways to make the most of the content you are creating. And how in the heck to find more great content?

There are ways to get the most bang for your content so that you can spend more time running your business and less time tracking down and creating valuable content.

FOCUS

What is the use in creating content that won’t resonate with the correct audience? As a small business owner, you should know who your customers are. What do they like? What are their pain points? What makes them happy? How do they get their information? Are they digital savvy or prefer traditional media? Large organizations with full marketing teams often create personas for their target audience. If you don’t have the resources to go through this exercise, one good way to know is to just ask your customers. Use this information to help you focus your content – the topics, the channels, and the design.

OPTIMIZE

You have spent the time to make sure that the content you are sharing will appeal to your audience, that is it on brand, accurate and looks good. Then what do you do with it? Throw it on your website? Create a social media post to promote it? Send it out in an email? You have to think about what surrounds your content. If it is on your website, are you putting alt tags on your images? Are you using keywords to help with SEO? For social media, are you using hashtags that will help your content get seen by more eyeballs? For email, make sure your subject lines make your customers want to open your communication.

CHUNK IT

The best part of different types of content is the ability to take large amounts of content and chunk it up into smaller pieces. Did you write a blog post (like this one!)? Take different pieces and parts to make into graphics or separate social media posts. If you have a whitepaper, use the various graphics within the document to create a one-page infographic. Take one fact in an article and create a podcast or quick video on that one particular topic.

MEASURE

Just producing content doesn’t mean that it is good content. An essential step that many people miss is to go back and track the content that they publish. Do you even know how many people interacted with your content? Are infographics getting more traffic than long articles? Are you getting more traction from Twitter than Facebook? There are a lot of tools that can be purchased that would give you a full picture of your analytics, but you can do enough using the native platforms, whether that be social media or your website platform.

RECYCLE

It is not only good for the planet, but it is also good for your content. After you have measured the content you have published, make sure to re-share the best evergreen content again. Share it on another platform. Or tweak it slightly and share on the same platform. With the way social media moves these days, only a small percentage of people actually see your content the first time. (Yes, this is sad but true, fact.) For example, I typically recreate my blog posts on LinkedIn and include a link back to my website.

All of this can be overwhelming, but good content marketing will be noticed by your customers. And it will pay off when people become more loyal to your business because you are providing information that they find valuable.

What are you doing to ensure customer loyalty?

I was driving on the interstate the other day when I passed two service vans for the same company – A Perfect Climate. I happened to notice that both vans had Riley Hospital license plates. I thought to myself “That company supports Riley Hospital, which makes me want to support them!”  About a mile down the road, I noticed another company’s service vehicle and the driver was texting while driving – on the interstate! That is definitely not a company that I would want to do business with.

This is not marketing. The behavior may or may not be intentional (clearly the texting and driving is not intentional). But it matters. To current customers, to potential customers. These are the little things that make a big impact. These are your employees’ behavior – whether or not they are in front of a customer.

It is how fast you reply to customers on social media (if you reply at all). Can you imagine a customer walking up to you in your store or place of employment and you just turn your back and walk away? That is basically what you are doing when you don’t interact with your customers online. Do you have a contact form on your website? Do you actually reply to people who submit information?

Another recent example I came across was at Kohls. In their dressing rooms, they have several hooks with signs above them. One says “Back on the Rack”, one says “Still Thinking…” and the other says “Gotta Have It”. It is just a little thing, but it really helps when you are trying to sort through clothes that you have just tried on.

Kohls

McDonald’s recently introduced its new mobile app (iTunes, Google Play) that includes 5 – 10 ‘deals’ every day. I love this. Would I still eat at McDonalds without the deals? Sure. Do I eat there more because they now offer deals on my phone? Yep. McDonalds has learned what their customers crave and are continually innovating – in ways big and small – to keep and grow their customer base.

What is your company doing in those small moments to keep and grow your customer base? Put yourself in the shoes of your customers. What are their small pain points? Things where they might say “Well, this is a bummer.” or “I really wish they would do this.” about your company? Fix those little pain points to ensure customer loyalty.

4 Simple Ways to Increase Your SEO

As a small business owner, SEO may not be a term that you are completely familiar with. You may have heard it mentioned by your web developer or read about it in conversations about marketing. But what is it and how can you get better at it?

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In the most basic terms, SEO is a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine.

There are people who make their entire living helping businesses with their SEO. But there are several things that you can do yourself to help increase your ranking.

  • Create good content. One of the most important things that search engines look for is the quality of the content on a website. This starts with knowing what your audience really wants (not what YOU want to tell them!).  Content that appears to be spam or only existing to to sell products does not sit well with search engines. Your content needs to more relevant to your audience than your competitors in order to rank higher in search results.
  • Update the content often. Stale information is not quality information.  According to research, websites that created 16 or more blog posts per month saw more than 3.5 times more traffic than those that only posted 0 – 4 times. Have a strong content marketing strategy can help you plan your content around upcoming events, holidays and other dates that are important to your business.
  • Make sure your site is mobile friendly. In 2016, people worldwide started using mobile devices to access websites more than they used desktop devices.  When your audience does visit your website on their mobile device, if they cannot find what they are looking for or the navigation is not clear they will quickly leave and find a site that better suits their needs. This is why Google ranks mobile-friendly websites higher than those that are not. Google even has a tool that allows you to test your website to see how it will perform across devices.

There are a lot of other things that can affect your search ranking, but these few actions will put you on the right path. If you need help, consult an expert. SEO can be complicated depending on the size of your business and the industry that you participate in. There are over 1 billion websites and search engines try to surface the sites that will be the most useful for people. Make your site one of them!

Feeding the Social Media Beast

Using social media is easy, right? Just set up a Facebook page or Twitter account and start posting. Sounds easy. Unfortunately, for businesses, it is not.

“Doing” social media is one thing. Being good at social media is another. Consider this: on most days there are more than 1,000 job postings on monster.com with ‘social media’ in the title. That means that companies are willing to pay for blog-body-image1people who specialize in how to help them reach their customers on social channels. People who know how to craft a post so that it gets the most likes, shares and clicks. People who know whether your video post should go on Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat.

Aside from developing a strong strategy and creating content, you also need to monitor your page for comments, messages, tags and other notifications. That can be a lot of work if you have a large following. Certainly not something that a small business owner should be spending their precious time doing themselves.

Lastly, social media is not really a free marketing channel anymore. Do you know what the best advertising structure is to reach your target audience? How much money should you spend? Should you boost posts or boost your page? Or both?

This post just touches the tip of the iceberg of the considerations when you embark on social media. Needless to say, feeding the beast may be the least of your challenges if you really want to be GOOD at social media and use it as a tool to increase customer loyalty or sales. You wouldn’t try to fix your furnace yourself if you weren’t trained to do so. So why are you still trying to do social media by yourself?

5 Ways to Repurpose Your Best Content

Whether you have a large marketing team and create a lot of content or a single person who does all of the work and has to prioritize content creation, there are several ways that you can use all of that great content in new ways. Be sure that the content you choose to repurpose is evergreen (timeless) and was well-received the first time your shared it.

  1. Break it up. Do you have white papers or long form presentations that can be broken up to social media size nuggets? People often have short attention spans on social media and breaking up your larger content can be an easy way to create a lot of different social media posts.
  2. Visualize differently. There are so many different ways to visualize content. Infographics, text blocks, video, GIFs, lists and more. Find the right ways to show your content (not all content works with all visual styles), pair with your ‘break it up’ method and you have a whole week or month’s worth of content.
  3. Change the channel. Have you traditionally posted on Facebook and Twitter? How about trying a podcast? Or start a blog. Take some of that great content that you have created in the past and post it in a place or in a way that people may not have seen before.
  4. Bundle it. Just like you can take long form content and break it up, you can take short form content and bundle it to create a new experience for your followers. Create a whitepaper from a group of social media posts that have a similar theme. (And don’t forget to collect user data before letting them download your paper!)
  5. Spread the love. Stretch the life of your content by asking your employees or loyal customers to share on their personal social media accounts. Sometimes you just need to push your posts directly to people who would be willing to share it. You can’t rely on them seeing it natively on social media.

No matter how you use your content remember to never use it only once!

Grow and retain customers through community involvement

One of the best ways to ensure customer loyalty and gain new customers is to ‘do unto others.’ People respect companies that support their local communities. It shows that an organization, big or small, is comprised of people that have a vested interest in the areas where they do business – and the people who live in those areas.

Whether you are helping clean up a park, working at a local food bank, or reading to school children, doing your part to help the people who support your business not only helps them, it helps you as well.

According to a study by Harvard Law School, companies who engage in corporate social responsibility can be seen as providing value to customers on a number of different levels. This increase value proposition leads to more loyal customers. Even customers who are willing to evangelize on a company’s behalf.

Don’t know where to start? Small local business are in a unique position to have a positive impact on their communities.

  • Partner with local schools. Schools are always in need, whether it be for supplies or your time. Does your business sell something that a local school could use? Could they use volunteers to help with activities like reading to students or organizing events? Do your employees have expertise in a particular area that would be interesting or useful to students?
  • Partner with community organizations. Whether it is a food bank or a beautification project, organizations are often made up of volunteers and are often in need of help. They also often need money. You could offer to underwrite or host a fundraising event.
  • Sponsor a local team. Find a local youth sports team that is in need of a sponsor. By providing funding to these teams, the burden is lifted from parents who often have to pay for things like uniforms, snacks and travel. (And those parents will thank you.)
  • Organize a drive. Partner with a local organization who is in need of items (clothes, food, supplies) and have a competition among your employees to see who can bring in the most items.

By participating in community outreach activities and allowing your employees the time to volunteer, you also have the added benefit of more engaged and loyal employees. Many companies have a ‘Day of Caring’ in which they either plan an entire day of community activities or allow their employees a day to participate in their favorite community outreach.

Do you have a unique community outreach program? Share with us in the comments or on social media.

 

 

Loyalty programs: Good customer service or necessary evil?

When it comes to customer loyalty programs, there are two schools of thought. The first is that providing enticements to customers should not be necessary and is a cost without great reward for the company. The second is that offering rewards to your customers is just good business and inspires, well….loyalty.

Over the past few years, rewards program companies have cropped up. Some are better than others. Some understand the nature of customer loyalty and some are just going through the motions. If you will be looking to start a customer loyalty, be sure to do your research before choosing a vendor. Once you start, you are stuck with what you purchased unless  you want to give your customers whiplash and degrade customer loyalty.

So should you employ this type of customer engagement? That depends. You first need to ask yourself some questions:

  • Are you customers repeat customers? If you sell something that people don’t buy very often, having a customer loyalty program probably won’t change that.
  • What reward could you offer that will get your customers to come back? If you own a restaurant with a very high price point, getting a $5 credit after 5 visits is not most likely going to be a reason to come back.
  • Can you use a loyalty program to encourage customer referrals? These types of programs aren’t just to bring current customers back, but can be used to garner new customers as well.

Do you have a customer loyalty program? How is it going? Have you had growing pains? Let us know about in the comments or on social media!

What is your excuse?

It’s a new year and for many people that means a fresh start. That could mean resolving to lose weight (we’ve all been there, right?) or stopping a bad habit. That is great for individuals, but what about for your business? There is no better time to plan a fresh start that could help you grow your business in 2017 and beyond. But for many small business owners, they don’t think about the new year as a fresh business start.

What is your excuse for not making this time a fresh start for your business?

Don’t have the time?

Make time before it is too late.

Don’t know how to make the change?

Find someone who does know how.

Afraid to fail?

You can’t succeed if you don’t try.

Fear change?

Progress does not happen without change.

Don’t have the resources?

Get creative…where there is a will, there is a way!

Don’t let excuses get in the way of a successful 2017.

5 Ways to Create Authentic Content

There has been a major shift in marketing in the last several years from ‘selling’ to ‘telling’. Consumers have become more savvy and are no longer keen to traditional marketing tactics. One of the ways to reach your customers is to be real…authentic. How do you do it?

  1. Leave your body. Figuratively, at least. You are the subject matter expert for your business, but that is not always a good thing when you are trying to create content for non-subject matter experts. You need to avoid using technical or industry jargon. If you need to, have someone that you trust who does not work in your industry read your content before you post it.
  2. Don’t stock up. When creating visuals, try to use ‘real’ photography instead of stock images. If you are a restaurant, hire a photographer to take some nice photos of your food. If you have a storefront, use photos from your actual store of your actual products. Use real people in your photos (make sure to get consent). Take photos and videos of your staff enjoying themselves or talking about your business or products.wordle
  3. Don’t do it. Let me clarify…don’t do it yourself. Give creative license to your business’ advocates, your loyal employees and customers. That is the most authentic content you can find. It gives them a sense of ownership and a bit of the spotlight.
  4. Tell a story. People do not want to be sold to. They want to be given all of the information they need to make a decision on their timeline in their own way. Weave your story and sprinkle in information about your product or service. People respond better if they hear a story rather than a sales pitch.
  5. Be human. This is probably the hardest thing for business owners and marketers to do (ironically!). Write like a person, not like a business. It brings a sense of personal touch to your content.

If you are going to change to a more authentic approach, do it slowly so you don’t throw your followers for a loop. Find the ‘voice’ that works best for your business by testing different phrases, words and imagery.