Category Archives: Bowling for Business

Bowling for Business: Ravings of a Mad Man


After years of resisting, I reluctantly heeded the recommendations of friends and colleagues and started watching AMC’s Mad Men. Set against the backdrop of a Madison Avenue ad agency circa 1960, the show features major moral failures on the part of every character. Nevertheless, I admit that I am hooked—mostly because each episode offers a priceless advertising gem.

One of my favorite such moments surfaces in the episode, Love Among the Ruins, where the show’s antihero, Don Draper, steps in to save a large account after a copywriter nearly blows it. A developer whose company is suffering from public outrage over plans to demolish Penn Station in order to replace it with Madison Square Garden, the client complains about the conflict. Draper replies:

“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”

Clients often ask me what to do about negative comments posted to review sites. The knee-jerk reaction is to face the comments head-on, directly addressing each and every objection. But doing so panders to whiners. Instead, make sure you are aware of public sentiment relative to your brand. Respond only to legitimate concerns. And, more importantly, make sure you help shape the conversation, which you can do on any budget.

For Free—

To enter the online conversation, you first need to set up profiles on every available review site. The good news is that the basic packages for these accounts are free. The bad news is that signing up is time consuming.

Although new sites pop up daily, as of this writing, these are the major players:

  • Google Places—Since 97% of consumers reportedly search for local businesses online, provide them with the information they are looking for where they are looking for it. Google has the advantage when it comes to search. So if you want people to easily find your company, create a listing on Google Places. The site not only encourages reviews which will help you learn about what keywords prospects are searching for but also provides data to show where users are discovering your business. Armed with this information, you will be able to make better advertising decisions.
  • Google Alerts—is a great service for listening, since it captures every mention of your company name (and the names of competitors or other key words you enter). If you subscribe, you’ll be notified every time those words are mentioned anywhere on the web.
  • TripAdvisor—Completely free, this site boasts sophisticated search technology which helps entrepreneurs reach out to consumers at the very moment they are researching locations. Business owners list property descriptions, photos, and immediate booking. So TripAdvisor is most relevant to the hospitality industry. That said, the company has recently gotten more into restaurant and other local activity reviews, albeit with a bent toward tourism. Based on this, locals may find it more useful now than previously.
  • Yelp—promotes local businesses in virtually every field, from dentists to hair stylists to mechanics. With approximately 66 million monthly unique visitors in 2011, Yelp has hosted more than 25 million local reviews. In addition to setting up a free account and posting photos, you can use Yelp to have open conversations with your customers.

What’s more, to keep Yelp honest, an automated filter suppresses minority reviews and targets suspicious activity. And advertisers are prevented from changing or reordering their reviews, so users are more likely to trust the information.

On a Limited Budget—

Google Places and Yelp offer paid listings. If you can afford one, it might behoove you to upgrade. But if you do, make sure you track expenses so you can figure out your cost per click. One of our clients did an experimental run on Yelp. Although the cost-per-click for his Google Ad Words campaign averaged $5, the cost of similar ads we were managing for him on Yelp came in at a hefty $20 per click.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Although you might be tempted to start posting immediately after creating a free or paid account on any of these platforms, resist the urge to dive in before taking the time to listen. In the same way you wouldn’t interrupt a conversation at a cocktail party, don’t post until you understand what is going on. Listening will earn you the right to be heard.

Since you can’t be in several places at once, if you can afford to, hire an agency to manage your online reputation. Most social media employees literally live online. So they intuitively understand how to proactively start relevant conversations as well as rapidly react to negative feedback…even if it’s posted by a Mad Man.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

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Bowling for Business: How to Up the Ante in Your Ad Campaign

One of the first advertising campaigns I ran was my own bid for junior class senator at Columbine High School back in the Dark Ages. I’m not sure whether the buttons, posters or personal appearances did the trick. But, remarkably, despite the pathetic slogan: “Put the Luck of the Irish in Senate. Vote Kathy O’Brien,” I won. The experience led not to a love of politics but for the intoxicating ability to influence public opinion through promotion. Although the budget for my high school senatorial campaign was minimal, advertising paid off…as it always does.

Advertising Age conservatively estimates that ad spending in the United States exceeds $149 billion a year. Marketers in key categories for 2010 were:

  • Automotive
  • Retail
  • Restaurants
  • Wireless Carriers
  • Beverages
  • Beer
  • Prescription Medications
  • Personal Care
  • Household Products
  • Movies
  • Credit Cards

Admittedly, the lion’s share was spent by corporations. But small business owners and nonprofit directors continue to invest despite the economy because advertising in virtually any form pays off. If you currently sell a product or a service to one or more people, whether you know it or not, you are already advertising whenever you—

  1. Sell a great product
  2. Provide a service
  3. Tell someone at a party what you do for a living
  4. Hand your business card to a client
  5. Give someone your phone number
  6. Post to Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter

Whether you run a one-man or one–woman show or a multi-national corporation, the key to increasing revenue is to amplify your existing advertising efforts:

For Free—

  1. Sell a few more units of your product.
  2. Improve customer service.
  3. Instead of casually answering questions about your occupation, take a genuine interest in the people you meet. And look for opportunities to mention how you might be able to help them achieve their professional goals.
  4. Give clients two business cards so they can share one with a friend.
  5. Place your business name and phone number in a free online directory like Yelp or Google Places.
  6. Post a promotion on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

On a Limited Budget—

  1. Instead of spreading advertising efforts too thin, promote just one of your products. By focusing on a single strategy, you will be able to effectively measure the effectiveness of your campaign.
  2. Reward employees for superior customer service. Let your clients know about your commitment to meeting their needs.
  3. Join an active referral group like BRG, BNI or I Take the Lead. These organizations encourage lead generation among their members.
  4. Run a copy of your business card in the local newspaper or phone directory. Test and measure before upping your ad budget.
  5. Experiment with Pay Per Click (PPC) to improve website search engine ranking.
  6. Invest in Facebook PPC, display ads on LinkedIn and contests on Twitter.

The Sky’s the Limit—

  1. Having access to a healthy ad budget will enable you to try several types of advertising so you can test and measure the effectiveness of each.
  2. Run a customer service contest to reward clients who post reviews and take surveys. Clients who care enough to write reviews should be encouraged.
  3. Seek out a leadership role in your local chamber of commerce or professional organization. While this will require a considerable investment of time, it is well worth the effort because you will emerge as a leader in your field.
  4. Increase your current Internet campaign to increase visibility and gain social media friends, fans or followers.
  5. Buy promotional items featuring your company logo, phone number, website address and slogan. Encourage employees to distribute the items.
  6. Google is constantly changing algorithms to rely heavily on social interactivity. And few business professionals have the time or desire to comment to blog posts, comment on Facebook or tweet. So, if you haven’t hired a professional agency to manage your social media yet, do so today. In fact, call Kathy O’Brien Bowling at Mountain Marketing Group and put the luck of the Irish in your campaigns!

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: How to Leverage Newton’s Laws of Motion in Advertising


Queso Dip, made by combining Velveeta Cheese and canned Rotel tomatoes looked great on the television commercial. In fact, the ad convinced my husband and me that we should purchase the ingredients and serve along with chips for dinner. And that first bite was amazing.

But the problem with Velveeta is that no one actually knows what it is. The only thing everyone agrees about it is that it is no way related to actual cheese. Reading the nutrition information won’t help identify its contents. So don’t bother trying.

Whatever Velveeta is made from, it reverts to solid form as soon as it cools. So I can only guess what it does when it enters the human body. But I’m convinced it gains considerable mass and volume when it hits the stomach because, after only a few bites of the concoction, I felt like I had swallowed a bowling ball.

I share this cautionary tale because it demonstrates a phenomenon that advertising executives have long understood. Even though “objects at rest tend to stay at rest,” effective marketing can overcome Newton’s First Law of Motion by persuading prospective customers to get off of the couch, drive to the grocery store and spend money…even at the risk of making themselves sick.

So if your company could benefit from more business, stop sitting on the sidelines complaining about the game. While it is true the economy is basically in the toilet, people have never stopped spending money. They still need shelter, food and entertainment. Engaged couples still marry. Pregnant women still give birth. Employed individuals still take vacations.

In fact:

  • Americans spend an average of $16,895 on housing for every consumer unit (family) every year.
  • We spend approximately $6,372 a year per person on food.
  • According to Top Stock Analysts, the “average” American household spends more than $8,000 a year on goods and services it does not actually need.
  • Market research done for the wedding industry reveals the average amount of money spent on a wedding in the U.S. in 2011 was $18,859.
  • Wise Geek reports the estimated cost to raise a child from birth to the age of 18 is $200,000-$250,000 (not including college). Nevertheless, in 2012 in the United States, as of 3:30 PST on January 29, a total of 4,797,000 babies were born.
  • In 2011, Americans spent an average $2,000 per family on vacations.

Whatever your product or service, someone somewhere is spending money on it. The trick is to find out where they are and convince them to spend their money with you. And you can do this regardless of your budget.

For Free—

While you need a substantial advertising budget to run television promos like the manufacturers of RoTel or Velveeta, you can employ Newton’s Second Law of Motion (“Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.”) even if you have no money whatsoever to spend on marketing. You just have to be willing to do some research and pound the pavement yourself to convince people they should take action.

Start by asking your best customers what they like to do and where they spend their time. Try not to pry. But don’t be afraid to get to know them. If you can figure out what current clients have in common, you won’t have to waste your time advertising to the wrong market. One of my clients wanted to start a cable television campaign. But rudimentary research revealed that none of his buyers watched public access TV.

On a Limited Budget—

If your advertising budget is limited, hone in on areas you can target on the cheap. You might be surprised to discover that guerrilla marketing techniques like standing at the right intersection holding a sign can generate more leads than a sophisticated, expensive campaign in the wrong location.

Once you’ve done the research, make the most of your money. Instead of creating an amateurish banner, leave artwork and production to professionals. If you must, you can cut costs by handing the sign yourself instead of hiring someone to handle the grunt work, but don’t make the costly mistake of hiring an amateur for design; your reputation depends on keeping a professional and consistent image in your marketing.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Find someone to partner with whose product or service compliments your own. ConAgra Foods (which owns RoTel) and Kraft (which owns Velveeta) increased market share and decreased advertising outlay when they came up with a joint marketing venture. Granted, Queso Dip can make you sick. But, as everyone knows: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” So at least the companies figured out a way to put Newton’s Third Law of Motion in action.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Drown Out the Competition

Don't cut business essentials to save money.

(This column first appeared in The Press Enterprise and on January 12, 2012 and on ROTWNEWS.com on January 14, 2012.)

Resist the Urge to Cut Back on Advertising Despite the Economy

Planning a wedding is a little bit like drowning. As a future mother-of-the-bride, I often feel like I’m in over my head. And you know what they say about people who are drowning: Don’t get too close or they might pull you under. It isn’t that we want to kill prospective rescuers–we are just flailing about in a desperate attempt to survive.

During the past four years in a difficult economy, I’ve watched entrepreneurs thrash around and kill the very thing that could potentially ensure their small business survival: marketing.

The silver lining to a recession is that it focuses business owners’ attention on cost control. And keeping overhead low and profit margins should be a priority regardless of the financial environment. But, in many cases, there are much better ways to boost your bottom line and improve cash flow than blindly cutting costs. Like it or not, there is no getting around the fact that you have to spend money to make money. So, as important as knowing which costs to cut, you should make sure you understand which ones to protect.

If you own a restaurant, you probably wouldn’t consider reducing overhead by cancelling your wholesale order for food. Intuitively, you know that you can’t sell gourmet fare if you don’t have fresh ingredients. Advertising, on the other hand, is a less obvious necessity since it isn’t directly traceable to active income. But the best meals on the planet won’t sell unless potential patrons know where to find them.

I’m hardly alone in my belief that no matter how strapped you are for cash as a business owner, advertising is absolutely the last thing you should eliminate from your budget. The key is to look at your marketing dollars as an investment instead of an expense. The Harvard Business Review maintains that advertising during a recession contributed to profits:

“The rationale that a company can afford a cutback in advertising because everybody else is cutting back [is fallacious]. Rather than wait for business to return to normal, top executives should cash in on the opportunity that the rival companies are creating for them. The company courageous enough to stay in the fight when everyone else is playing safe can bring about a dramatic change in market position.”

A 1979 study done by ABP/Meldurm & Fewsmith revealed that:

“Companies which did not cut marketing expenditures experienced higher sales and net income during those two years and the two years following than those companies which cut in either or both recession years.”

In fact, some remarkable marketing success stories emerged during times of economic difficulties:

  • Procter & Gamble pushed Ivory Soap during the height of the Great Depression. It’s no coincidence that P&G has made progress during every major recession. While competitors cut ad budgets, this company increases spending.
  • FedEx started doing business in 1973 during the gas crisis-led recession. In spite of relying on gas-guzzling trucks and planes to ship packages around the country, they succeeded and grew not only because they could deliver packages overnight, but because they clearly communicated their ability to do so.
  • Kellogg’s and Post were tied for market share in the cereal category in the 1920s. Post cut their advertising budget while Kellogg’s increased theirs by one million dollars. After the recession, Kellogg’s profits improved from $4.3 million a year in the 1920s to $5.7 million in the early 1930s, leaving Post profits in the dust.

In tough times, resist the tightwad tendency to cut advertising. Instead, increase your budget and be thankful if your competition cuts theirs. When rivals cut back, your message will stand out all the more. And that way you’ll ensure at least your company stays afloat.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: 2011—Marketing in Review

(This column first appeared on ROTWNEWS.com on January 1, 2011 and in The Press Enterprise on January 14, 2012.)

For our family, 2011 marks the year our daughter, Lauren, and her fiancé, Kyle, got engaged. Atop Coit Tower in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve, Kyle proposed with an extravagant engagement ring wrapped in an unassuming Taco Bell hot sauce packet labeled Will You Marry Me?

The event melts my heart not just because I’m a mother who recognizes that the two of them are head-over-heels in love, but because, as a marketing professional, I appreciate the fact that advertising played a role in one of the most important moments of our daughter’s life. After all—consider the free word-of-mouth publicity their engagement story will generate over the course of their lives. You just can’t buy that kind of buzz. But you can try. And 2011 was filled with advertisers who did just that.

The Top 11 Hits and Misses that made 2011 a Banner Year:

Misses

  1. FAX Spam. Messages that come through FAX machine tie up phone lines, not to mention valuable ink and paper. Whoever invented this method of advertising should be shot.
  2. Text Spam. Ditto.
  3. Ashton Kutcher. It is an understatement to say that Kutcher made a poor choice to comment about the Penn State scandal on Twitter. In so doing, he emerged as the poster boy for why social media is best left to professionals.
  4. Charlie Sheen. Ditto.
  5. Groupon. Although some would argue that online coupon groups like Groupon and Living Social belong in the “hit” category, I argue the point based on the controversial Timothy Hutton ad which ran during Super Bowl XLV. Taking pot shots at suffering humanity is never a good advertising strategy.

Hits

  1. Viral Videos. 71 million YouTube clicks of an amateur video of a wedding party dancing up the aisle convinced marketers of the unprecedented potential of the viral video. Now professionals spend billions producing spots they hope will capture the imagination of the public, such as the case with Volkswagen’s tiny Darth Vader to the New Old Spice Guy Fabio.
  2. Flash Mobs. Because of their potential to go viral when recorded (see above), flash mobs have become big business, evidenced by the T-Mobile Flash Mob Video to the success of the T-Mobil Royal Wedding to the wink of the “flash mob canceled” commercial by AT&T.
  3. Television. Although I specialize in stretching advertising budgets, so rarely recommend TV ads to clients, there is something to be said for sinking a boatload of money into a well-conceived, top-flight campaign. Take Allstate’s “Mayhem like Me” series or the catchy new “We Are Farmer’s” jingle. You don’t have to spend billions on marketing. But if you can afford it, why not?
  4. Product Placement. While we’re on the subject of spending big money on advertising, I feel compelled to mention the method which has seemingly become the default for creative directors on Madison Avenue. Case in point? The 2-1/2 hour Tom Cruise commercial for BMWs, Ghost Protocol. Sorry, Morgan Spurlock…but Mission Impossible 4 was obviously The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
  5. Pinterest. Admittedly, Pinterest was not created as an advertising medium. But, take note…neither was Facebook. Already the number one source of traffic to the virtual consignment shop Etsy, Pinterest will likely emerge as a major advertising player in 2012.
  6. Kyle’s proposal—especially if we could figure out a way to get Taco Bell to pay for the wedding…

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: How to Use Pinterest to Promote Your Business

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 19, 2011.)

One of my family’s Christmas Eve traditions is a White Elephant Gift Exchange. For the uninitiated, the cruel process goes something like this:

  1. Purchase a gift worth $5.
  2. Wrap it up so it looks like a million bucks.
  3. Draw a number to determine the order you will be allowed to select one of the gifts.
  4. When your number is up, choose from the wrapped gifts or steal a previously opened gift from someone else. (Once the item has been swapped three times, it is “dead” and can no longer be stolen.)
  5. Drool over the “dead” gifts.

A game also referred to as Yankee Swap, Chinese Gift Exchange, Dirty Santa, Thieving Secret Santa, Parcel Pass, Christmas Swamp Thing, or Pollyanna, it never ceases to amaze me that, on a holiday honoring the birth of the One whose very life was an act of lavish generosity, we celebrate by joyously stealing trinkets from family and friends. I broach the subject because I believe the reason we covet the popular white elephant gifts is not because of their inherent value but because of something which is extremely precious in the field of marketing—buzz.

I’ve written about buzz in previous Bowling for Business columns. But, since my last post, several new social media channels have emerged…the most popular of which is an image-based site called Pinterest. Named by Time Magazine as one of the 50 Best Websites of 2011, Pinterest is a virtual online bulletin board (called a pinboard), which enables members to organize and share web-based images. People use pinboards to plan weddings, decorate homes and organize recipes. Often described as addictive, the site allows users to browse pinboards to discover images from people with similar interests. And, once invited, you can create pinboards of your own in subjects from soup to nuts (literally).

Although purists shudder at the thought of turning any mindless free-time activity into a marketing tool, as business owners, it is our job to figure out how to convert addictive free-time pursuits into tools for generating interest in our products and services. If this was not the case, there would be no such thing as product placement, television commercials, newspaper display ads or pay-per-click campaigns.

Of Pinterest, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing, wrote: “Smart marketers are starting to wake up to the buzz and branding power of the growing Pinterest community.”

So how might you use Pinterest for your business? The good news is that you can use it to regardless of your marketing budget:

For Free–

Before you pursue any avenue for advertising, I suggest you get to know the platform inside and out. Otherwise, you will run the risk of intruding instead of investing, which would undermine your credibility in the online community. So spend some time browsing Pinterest. Once you find a subject of interest, you’ll be hooked. I love perusing categories like holiday cookies, home décor and humor. Unless you are somehow able to secure an invitation to Pinterest without being wait-listed, you will have little choice but to browse instead of create. And browsing is free.

On a Limited Budget–

Once you are invited to create a Pinterest account, figure out how to convert your offering to a compilation of beautiful images. The thing that sets Pinterest apart from Google Images is the quality of photography. So don’t create a board unless it features high-quality, low resolution, web-friendly pictures. It might be worthwhile to hire a professional photographer once you’ve developed a marketing game plan. The images you pin should hyperlink to your website or social networking hub. If you can’t tell the tale with images, go a different route.

The Sky’s the Limit–

Pinterest has become the number-one source of traffic to the online sales site, Etsy.

But a beautiful online bulletin board with hundreds of followers on Pinterest will only be effective if it is part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. So, hire someone who knows what they are doing to set up and maintain your Pinterest account. That way, you will be able to ask them to photograph and post pictures of the White Elephant Gift you steal this year from Grandma.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business—KISS to Keep Biz on the Hill

To save the mountain, keep your busines on the hill.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 4, 2011.)

As soon as winter weather blew into Lake Arrowhead, I started experiencing insomnia. For weeks, I tossed and turned, double- and triple-checked the thermostat and added blankets to our bed, all to no avail. I’m embarrassed to share what proved to be the simple solution to my sleeplessness—socks. That’s right…all it took to warm me up so I could drift off to sleep was to slip into a toasty pair of socks.

In Lake Arrowhead and the surrounding area, we are experiencing a chronic problem of another kind—the impending death of our mountain community. Over the past three years, we’ve all watched in horror as businesses of every variety have shuttered at an alarming rate. Vino 100 in the Village, Betty’s General Store in Blue Jay and Tony’s Mexican Restaurant in Cedar Glen are a few of the most recent casualties. The good news is that the solution is just as simple as warm socks on a cold night.

Do you, like me, enjoy the convenience of not having to drive down the 330 or the 18 every time you need to:

  • Pick up groceries?
  • Grab a bite to eat?
  • Buy necessities like underwear, dog food and medication?
  • Find last-minute gifts?
  • Work out?

Although Bowling for Business is usually written to entrepreneurs, let me depart from my usual format to speak directly to consumers. We can blame local vendors for limited inventory, high prices and inferior customer service until the cows come home. But if we don’t make a concerted effort to keep businesses open on the hill, eventually, we will lose the luxury of living in an active, beautiful mountain community. Lake Arrowhead will become a ghost town.

And we’re hardly alone. Small businesses and towns across the country are dropping like flies. But statistics are hard to pin down for several reasons:

  1. Definitions vary about what constitutes a small town. For purposes of this column, we will defer to The Huffington Post, which defines a small town as anyplace with a population of fewer than 50,000.
  2. Community leaders gamely hide facts for fear reality will sound the death knell. So figures are often fudged. For instance, administrators insist that 80% of The Lake Arrowhead Village is currently occupied. But one need only survey the local landscape to more accurately assess the situation. Creative displays and signs promising “another exciting store coming soon” belie the sobering reality that far more space is available than leased…not just in the Village but across the mountain entire.
  3. No central database exists for reporting closure of a business or small town. So, while towns and small businesses open with pomp and circumstance, they tend to die with a whimper.

When all is said and done, like the rest of the country, those of us who make this area our home are suffering the harsh realities of a down economy. Job loss is up. Housing prices are down. Discretionary spending is low. So how can we affect the future of Lake Arrowhead?

Spend money on the hill!

Now, admittedly, doing this is not always possible. For instance, I recently tried in vain to locate a hot holiday toy called the  vtech InnoTAB by shopping locally at Mr. G’s for Toys, Little Folks Bookshoppe and Radio Shack. But I struck out. When I asked one of the proprietors why I couldn’t even order the product, he explained that large companies like vtech require minimum orders of 25,000 units, which is why the toy is only sold at big box stores.

But, whenever possible, we should exercise our local options because buying local matters. In fact, Mickki Langsten, Executive Director of the Mile High Business Alliance in Denver, which has an active “Buy Local” program says,

“Each dollar spent at a locally-owned business re-circulates in a community six times more than a dollar spent at a non-local business.”

So, if you want to join a gym, check out Curves Lake Arrowhead. The owner, Candy Fairchild Krelnikov, understands the importance of investing in the lives of her members. In addition to supporting client weight-loss efforts, she organizes field trips and shares beauty secrets like tips about makeup and hairstyling products.

Further demonstrating her commitment to the local community, Candy is organizing an informal group called Women in Action, made up of business owners who wants to meet to informally discuss business best practices. The first meeting will be held at Hot Shots in Blue Jay, at 1 p.m. the first Thursday of every month beginning in January.

If a similar group exists for men, I’m not aware of it. But the Chamber of Commerce encourages entrepreneurs of both genders to take advantage of mixers, meetings and business events held throughout the year, including the mountain-wide economic summit held annually in Big Bear.

So, the next time you shop or go out to eat, consider the cost of driving down the hill…not just in gas and time, but in terms of the potential long-term affect your decision might have on our local economy. Enjoy the fact that, for now, at least, you can still buy socks without having to leave the mountain.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There!

Don’t Just Do Something–Stand There!

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 6, 2011.)

One of the reasons we moved to Lake Arrowhead is because we love the snow. But dealing with it poses a myriad of associated problems, including (but not limited to) getting stuck on mountain roads. Last winter, my husband and I were driving separate cars up the hill one winter night when we became trapped behind a line of cars that were stuck in a snow bank on Highway 330.

Legend has it that the first car to get stuck was not equipped with 4-wheel drive or chains. And instead of waiting patiently for someone to help push his vehicle out of the way, he repeatedly gunned the engine, which only managed to dig the wheels of his Smart Car more firmly into the snow. His actions resulted in a 30-car pileup that shut down the road for hours and generated thousands of dollars in local tow-truck revenue.

I deal with the same type of fallout virtually every day in my work as a marketing director. Instead of starting fresh with advertising and social media campaigns, I spend much of my time digging clients out of messes they create before bringing me on board. So, I implore you; if you don’t know what you are doing when it comes to marketing your small or medium business, please—don’t just do something; stand there!

You might wonder just how much trouble an unprepared entrepreneur can get himself or herself into when it comes to advertising. You might be surprised. Let me share a few real world examples:

Websites—although it took awhile (especially on the hill), most business owners finally realize that a website is a necessary part of doing business in the 21st century. But with budgets tight, hiring a web developer is not always an option.  To wit, my team and I are often brought on board when functionality is compromised, homemade sites crash and/or metrics reveal low traffic patterns.

One client recently called us in a panic, when the e-commerce site he built himself froze immediately after the first order came in. He ended up paying a rush fee to have us build him an entirely new site that could handle plenty of hits. Had he come to us at the onset, we could have built him something fantastic at a fraction of the cost.

Social Media—more often than not, we devote the first several weeks of clients’ social media campaigns undoing the damage unwittingly done by well-meaning folks who set up accounts without knowing what they’re doing. Here are some common mistakes:

1. Facebook

  • Setting up personal profiles for business accounts. When Facebook was new, people tried to circumvent the system by setting up business accounts as personal profiles. One Mountain Marketing Group client initially registered his hair salon “first name” as The Loft and “last name” as Hair for Men & Women. While the maneuver tricked the Facebook robots at first, eventually, many such accounts were locked. The good news is that Facebook recognizes honest mistakes and now offers the option of easily converting erroneously created personal profiles to business pages.
  • Creating a group page instead of a fan page. Facebook groups are for organizations and clubs, not businesses. So if you want to promote your company, don’t set up your Facebook account as a group instead of a page. The problem with group accounts is that most are scheduled to be archived. And once a group has members, the only way to delete it is after all of the members leave the group. And convincing busy group members to leave groups is difficult, if not impossible.

2. Twitter

  • Forgotten usernames and passwords. Since Twitter is a free service, when it comes to customer service, you get what you pay for. And, all too often, clients forget usernames, passwords and associated email addresses and then set up secondary accounts with alternate business names. So, by the time we come on board, we are left without options.
  • Abandoning an account after setting it up. It is just as foolhardy to set up a new Twitter profile and leave it unattended as it would be to lease a suite, hang a sign and then ditch the office.

So, what’s a budget-conscious business owner to do? Nothing! I implore you: if you don’t know much about electronic advertising, resist the urge to act. Instead, wait! Save your money and invest a little at a time instead of digging yourself in…that is, unless you enjoy supporting the tow truck industry.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Party on with Pay Per Click

Improve sales by using pay per click.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on October 9, 2011.)

I enjoy hosting parties. But I have to be honest. It isn’t so much that I like to prepare food, decorate the house and entertain guests as it is I love having an excuse to get my family on board with cleanup before everyone arrives. Intuitively, my usually clutter-prone kids and husband understand that we should put our best feet forward where visitors are concerned. So, pre-party, no one argues with me about embarking on an archaeological dig to remove dirty laundry so we can rediscover whose room is whose. When company is due, everyone is on board.

Are you careful to put your best foot forward where advertising is concerned? I pose the question because, left to their own devices, it’s common for entrepreneurs to make the mistake of creating marketing campaigns from their own points of view instead of from the perspectives of their target markets.

In a recessed economy, where budgets are tight and maximum return on investment is critical, you don’t necessarily have to hire a professional to manage your marketing efforts. But if you go it alone, you’ll need to find a way to make sure the money you decide to spend is actually reaching the people who are most likely to purchase your products or services.

One of the most popular promotional avenues of late is pay per click (PPC). So, although I’ve written previous posts about it, I think the topic is worthy of additional attention. Depending on the way it is used, PPC can either quickly suck your bank account dry without delivering a single paying customer or effectively direct scores of sales to your online or physical store.

Since there are dozens of ways to use PPC campaigns, how can you be sure to use the right platform in the right way to produce the right results?

Here are a few PPC providers. (But the list is by no means exhaustive):

So which platform should you use? Since most PPC campaigns operate in much the same way, the trick is to advertise where your prospects go instead of where you do. Clients often tell me they don’t want to use one platform or another because they “never visit that website.” Unless you fit into your own target market, that isn’t the parameter you should use.

Instead, research to determine where your best potential customers are spending their time. Then, use that place to put your best foot forward. For instance, if you provide a service, consider advertising on review sites. According to a survey conducted by eMarketer: “Consumer reviews are significantly more trusted—nearly 12 times more—than descriptions that come from manufacturers.”

Another survey, done by Econsultancy, showed that 90% of consumers online trust recommendations from people they know and 70% trust opinions of unknown users. So, if you provide a service that can be reviewed, consider advertising on a review site. Since you can’t legally solicit positive reviews, the best way to take advantage of review site traffic to promote your own product is to purchase PPC on review sites. Here are a few to consider:

For Free—

Although you won’t likely be able to employ someone to do market research for you without spending any money, you can always do research on your own. To find out which websites your customers rely on, ask them. And take advantage of the free listings available on virtually every review site.

On a Limited Budget—

If money is tight, you might want to use the resources you have to hire a research firm to determine which PPC site to try. These firms can determine where you would find the most bang for your buck. Another option is to experiment on several sites at once to determine which sites provide the highest click-through rates.

The Sky’s the Limit—

In a perfect world, you should find a company to research your target market and manage your campaign. Pay per click is time intensive. The Facebook ad team advises running at least10 campaigns concurrently to experiment with different combinations of messages and images. Imagine the potential time drain of managing multiple campaigns on several sites at once. If you can swing it, getting as many people on board as possible is a party.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.