airquote marketing

Dear small business whose ad is featured in this photo…social media done wrong
Firstly, you’re not “using” the right term for people to “like” your page on “Facebook”.
I further “suggest” that you actually take a step back with your social marketing “strategy” to find actual “fans” and “customers” to connect with through social media than using a short-sighted “bumrush” to win something that has a $99 “value”.

it’s always the little things

Positive branding comes from positive customer experiences. Most of your brand is built through mundane daily customer experiences rather than polished marketing messages.

The opportunity and danger in this is that there are a LOT of little things that can either be a remarkable delight for customers or a slightly off-key note.

I eat regularly at a place that occasionally offers me a free food incentive on my receipt if I take their online survey. I usually take the survey because … hey … free taco.

At the end of the otherwise well-designed feedback survey, the final screen tells me to write the confirmation number on the line provided on the receipt and bring it in for the free food.

But … there’s no line anywhere on the receipt.

I usually just jot it down in some white space on the receipt and redeem it.

Is the line a big deal? No.

Does the lack of the line offend me so much that I will never set foot in the place again? No.

But here’s the point. If they’re missing such an obvious little thing, what else are they missing in the customer experience?

It’s like a story I enjoy using when I speak to groups about how you never notice your house stinks until you’ve been gone for a few days and return home. Likewise, business owners don’t notice the many things customers do notice because they rarely go through the customer experience for themselves.

They never see the dead plant at the entrance of the building like customers because they enter from a back door.

They never get lost in phone call center option matrix that their customers have to navigate.

And they never notice a line is missing where they say a line should be.

Four Online Marketing Mistakes Small Businesses Make (And How to Avoid Them)

The following is a guest post by digital marketing strategist Seth Spears.

As a small business owner, when it comes to marketing your product or service online, there are two options: jump in feet first as an early technology adopter, or sit back and wait to see if the new methods actually work for those crazy early adopters (your competitors).

In the last few years, the marketing landscape has changed drastically. This is primarily because of changes in buyer habits due to technology advances such as broadband internet access, search engines, social media, and smart phones.

As a marketing consultant to small and local business owners, I’ve seen firsthand the mistakes many of these owners make, usually out of ignorance. It’s very unfortunate, as with a little advance planning, they could save thousands of dollars, and more importantly, hours of time.

So without further ado, here are the top four online marketing mistakes small business owners make, and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1. Poor Website Design, Structure, & Content.

In the rush to get their business online, many small business owners throw up a website as quickly as possible, but neglect the three most important aspects of any site: visually appealing design, ease of navigation, and quality content.

Your website is a direct extension of your business. It’s highly likely that your site is the first thing a potential customer will see when deciding to do business with you. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so what kind of impression is your site leaving with potential customers?

Design: Your business website should not look like it was created on Frontpage 10 years ago, but needs to reflect today’s web standards and capabilities.

Structure: It needs to be easy to navigate, so that visitors have a consistant experience on every page of your site. If I go to your site and have to click the “back” button to return to the homepage, I’m more likely to click the “x” button, and visit your competitor’s site instead.

Content: The information presented needs to be what potential customers are looking for. Who you are, what you do, the products/services offered, and how to contact you.

Without all of these aspects in place, you are giving a negative first impression to potential customers, and probably losing business.

Mistake 2. Lack of Basic Search Engine Optimization.

The way most people use the web is to go to Google, type in the keyword or phrase they’re looking for, and click on the first result. Even if they know the URL of a business they’re interested in, many will still let Google do the work for them, instead of simply typing it in the address bar. Because of this, every website MUST have some basic on-site search engine optimization.

The single most important aspect of SEO (search engine optimization) is the title tag, what you see at the top of your browser when you are on a particular webpage. The title tag tells Google what that particular page is about.

If the title tag of your homepage says “home” your site does not have optimized title tags! (If you’re not in the ‘home’ industry, you probably don’t want to rank for that term.) At the very minimum, your title tag should include the keywords or phrase(s) a potential customer would most likely search for, along with the name of your business. For example, the title tag of Shotgun Concepts looks like this:

Chris Houchens .:. Marketing Speaker | Marketing Author | Shotgun Marketing Blog

Secondly, each page of your site must have a specific meta description. This is the information that Google (or any other search engine used) will show below the link to your site in the search results. (Click here to see what the Shotgun Concepts meta description looks like to Google.) Without it, the big G will pull whatever information it feels is most relevant to the page, without your input. Since you know your business, it’s probably a good idea for you decide what info you want to show up.

Get these two elements correctly in place, and your site will rank much higher for your business/industry keywords.

Mistake 3. Using Social Media as (another) Broadcast Medium

The web has changed marketing. No longer can you simply broadcast your message to the masses and hope your intended customer will see/hear/respond to it. Social media has fundamentally changed all that. Now, past, current, and future customers have a way to communicate with you.

If you have a Facebook page for your business, yet don’t allow comments on the wall for fear of what someone might say, you’re using Facebook to broadcast. If you tweet out a daily special or promotion, yet never follow anyone back or check your @ replies, you’re using Twitter to broadcast.

Social media is a dialog, not a monologue. It’s (should be) a back and forth conversation between you and your customer (or future customer). If that scares you, good! It means you’ll work harder to provide a valuable product or service. It also means that customers will be choosing to do business with those who listen to them, rather than just advertise to them.

Social media is a three-spoked wheel, one-part marketing, one-part public relations, and one-part customer service. Treat it like such and your customers will love and thank you!

Mistake 4. Lack of Consistency

Your web presence can be one of your biggest marketing assets, but the key is consistency. Just like any other area of business, you have to set expectations and live up to them.

If your website has a blog, update it regularly. Whether that is once a month, once a week, or every day, be sure to keep it consistant, as your visitors will have an expectation, and if that expectation isn’t met, they’ll begin looking somewhere else for what you offer. If you can only spend an hour each day from 4:00-5:00 PM on social media, that’s fine, but set the expectation upfront and live up to it.

If a new customer came to your place of business and you had 4th of July sale signs prominently displayed (in August), they’re probably not going to take your business very seriously, no matter what your excuse. The same holds true with your web presence.

Keep your website updated. Be consistant in your social media usage. Treat it as another aspect of your regular business activities and your customers will get to know, like, trust, and buy from you regularly!

There you have it. The top four online marketing mistakes small business owners are guilty of, and how to resolve them. Are you guilty of any of these? Which ones? What steps have you taken to correct them? Any others I’ve left out? Leave a comment below to let us know!

Seth Spears is the chief strategist/principal of Spears Marketing, a digital marketing consulting firm specializing in WordPress web design, local search engine optimization, social media, email, video, & content marketing, brand strategy & consulting. He is a small business crusader passionate about helping small businesses grow through targeted, online marketing, direct-response strategies, and fantastic customer service. You can follow him on Twitter & Facebook.

just DO something

I saw a friend at lunch today and our conversation centered around business, the economy, and the fact that everyone seems to be on hiatus. They’re waiting for things to change before they get back into full gear.

Our talk reminded me of this quote that my junior high health teacher made me memorize (don’t ask):

Upon the plains of indecision lie the blackened bones of countless millions, who at the very brink of victory stopped to rest, and resting there died.

(btw, my version of the quote is actually inaccurate. See Adlai Stevenson’s actual quote here.)

There are too many businesses sitting and resting. People seem scared to either expand operations, do intensive marketing or start new businesses because of uncertainty. But whether its high gas prices, healthcare turmoil, anti-business politics, or other factors, it will always be something.

In reality, now is an excellent time for you to make your move because everyone else is standing still.

In the future, will you say “My business idea failed because of X” or will you say “My business idea failed because I sat on the sidelines for years waiting for the perfect moment which never came”?

Hopefully, you will be able to say “It was a rough time to jump in, but we overcame X and we were very successful”.

learning marketing from local media

So your {insert local media outlet} is offering a free seminar that will “teach you how to market your business”.

How benevolent of them to offer such a community service.

I’m amazed at how many small businesses are suckered into attending these events and don’t realize the true motivation behind the “seminar”.

If the radio station is sponsoring this knowledge fest, I’ll bet you my hat that they will try to convince people that radio is the best option. The newspaper seminar will tell you the printed word is the way to go. The TV station’s seminar will tell you why radio and newspaper are a waste of money. And now added to the mix, you have agencies that have a small social media following teaching the way to Facebook and Twitter bliss.

Think about this: Would you go to the “How to choose the best place to buy a car” seminar hosted by the local car dealership?

The truth is that every advertising medium has strengths and weaknesses. It depends on what you’re trying to communicate and who you’re trying to reach.

Just because a salesperson has the words “marketing consultant” on their business card doesn’t mean you should listen to them about your overall marketing strategy. They’re doing their job trying to capture as much of your marketing budget as they can. You should never let someone sell you advertising; you should buy it.

The only reason to ever go to the local media outlet’s seminars is that they typically offer some really good deal to the attendees. If you’re planning on buying from them anyway, it’s a good way to save some money. It’s like going on vacation and sitting through an hour of a timeshare pitch just to get free theme park tickets.

And shame on marketing speakers who lead biased events like this.

the one where I’m motivational

I think I’ve met this guy and many others very much like him.

When you’re in marketing, people come to you and want you to help them tell others about their crazy ideas. And sometimes, by the time they want to “slap the marketing on“, they’ve already convinced themselves that their idea is a no-brainer home run winner.

And oftentimes, it’s not.

The guys in Seth’s post reminded me of a guy who has pitched a couple of ideas to me. Each time, he spoke in nothing except hyperbole. He had the best legal team. He has the best business plan. And after he uttered one phrase, I stopped listening to him…

“There’s no way that this can fail”.

Well, there’s always a way that something can fail. You may have a great plan that takes care of everything you can control, but there’s no way to accurately predict and plan for thousands of market variables that you have no control over. Even “foolproof” plans don’t account for things like a giant meteor impact destroying all life on the planet. (hyperbole!)

Some entrepreneurs have not only conditioned themselves to believing that their idea is failure-proof, but they also have trained themselves to ignore those who question the idea. The motivational speakers and books will say not to listen to people who say “no” and will trot out stories about Fred Smith getting a C in college when he described his idea for FedEx (which is not true) or Charles Duell, the commissioner of the patent office, saying in 1899 that “everything that can be invented has been” (also not true)

But, in reality, listening to constructive criticism is a good thing and something that you should seek out. If you really believe in your idea and really think it’s impenetrable, then you should encourage others to try to poke holes in it. Some of the most valuable and least appreciated people on your staff are the Devil’s Advocate and Debbie Downer. They’re keeping your feet on the ground while you’re reaching for the stars.

I’m not trying to kill your idea. I have many crazy ideas of my own. I’m lucky to have people around me that tell me to go for it. But I also have people who can see the problems with my line of thinking.

You should be optimistic and be confident in the possibility of your success. And without a doubt, you have to believe in yourself. If you don’t, no one else will. But you should also be pragmatic and work for your success by making your idea as bulletproof as possible.

Just don’t drink your own Kool-Aid. (or Flavor-Aid)

bad realtor ads

got a realtor bad adI have expressed my general dislike of poor marketing techniques of local REALTORS® before. (Has the National Association of REALTORS® also registered® the overuse of ALL CAPS®?)

But now there’s a one-stop shop to highlight the worst of the worst. The blog realADtors showcases some real estate ads that probably will remind you of some of the horrible stuff you see everyday. In fact, you can submit bad ads. It’s like the Cake Wrecks of real estate advertising!

(found via jetpacks)

so bad it’s good

On the local level, small businesses develop their print/broadcast creative for ad campaigns in 1 of 4 ways:

  1. Some entrepreneurs are either creative or stole somebody else’s good idea. (the best ideas are always stolen ideas) These people either have a good marketing head or they hired someone who knew what they’re doing. Some of this local “homemade” advertising is as good (and some is much better) than what would come out of a traditional agency.
  2. Some small businesses waste their marketing money on generic template or spotrunner type ads where they just stick their logo and phone number in a generic ad and then wonder why they get generic results. (If your whole business can be represented by a generic stock photo, then it’s not going to be hard for a competitor to replace you.)
  3. Some let the graphic artist burger flippers down at the radio/tv station or newspaper develop their entire marketing philosophy for them on the assembly line
  4. And then there are the people who have no idea what they’re doing, but still decide to create their own advertising. For me, these have always been like watching car wrecks. It’s horrible, but you can’t look away. In fact, some of these ads are so bad — they’re good…like enjoying a really bad movie.

The comedy duo of Rhett and Link have capitalized on local bad advertising from this 4th group with their “Custom-built, Micro-Budget Commercials for MicroBilt Customers” series. They took a few real small businesses in North Carolina and made a farce out of a farce.

(Update: If you’re reading this through RSS, you may have to click through to the site to see the following videos)

One of the spots, Black and White People Furniture, is getting some buzz because of the racial issue and the simple fact it’s so bizarre.

There are lots of businesses that are the one stop shop like Bobby Dennings:

And the Cuban Gynecologist Auto Salesman is just odd:

Even though these spots are causing the phone to ring for these local businesses, I’m not ready to advocate that you change your tv campaign. But it’s a growing trend for professional marketers to “Astroturf” a grassroots phenomenon both online and in traditional media with a tongue stuck in their cheek.

The key to all marketing, homemade or store-bought, is grabbing attention and keeping that buzz.

expecting this call

Concerning this MediaShift post:

Hi! I’m calling from your local newspaper. As you may know, over the past few years our industry completely missed the boat on how to succeed online. As a matter of fact, we’re still arguing with each other on how to compete and win online. The reason I’m calling is that we’d like for you to put your trust in us to handle your online marketing strategy!

I will agree with the post’s point (and have said before) that the concept of “mass media” on the web does not work and that old-media can’t seem to get that idea out of their heads.

The big problem I have with the idea is the concept of a media property operating as as any sort of marketing or ad agency. I’ve witnessed the fast crash/burn of a media property that tried to start an ad agency. And I’ve seen several media salespeople who “help handle” all the advertising for a small biz client.

In case it’s not obvious to you (and apparently with the number of small buisnesses who do it, it’s not), media properties and salespeople are a bit biased to have your money spent with them. It’s not the best idea to trust all of your ad/marketing dollars with someone who has ad space to sell.

focus on the wrong things

Most people starting a business spend entirely too much time, energy and money playing house rather than marketing the business. They focus on setting up a corporation, printing business cards, pens, etc. And all that seems like a lot of work and they’re busy. But they’re not in business…not yet.

Here’s how you need to allocate your upfront time:
1% – do I have legal and financial structures in place to do business (copyrights, bank accounts, etc)
49% – Do people want to buy what I’m selling?
50% – Do I have a marketing plan?

You’re not really in business until someone gives you money for what you’re in business for.