Category Archives: Bowling for Business

Bowling for Business: Back to Basics—Five Reasons You Should Blog

Blog to Basics

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on September 26, 2011.)

While we were in junior high school, my best friend Susan and I loved to bake. Unfortunately, we usually pursued culinary odysseys at my house instead of hers. And, because my mother was single and almost always at work, we were often out of staples like flour, sugar and eggs. So you can imagine our lack of success relative to producing actual, edible pies, brownies and cakes.

When I first started managing social media for clients, I let many of them talk me into tweeting and posting status updates while foregoing the pricier blog-post component of full-service public relations campaigns. However, experience has since taught that blogs are as central to successful marketing as chocolate chips are to chocolate chip cookies. You can try to skip the main ingredient. But, then why bother baking at all?

As blogs first started popping up on electronic radar, few of us understood the medium, let alone the messengers. Bloggers seemed an odd lot of whiners who never left their keyboards. Without the endorsement of major metropolitan newspapers or book publishers, they were easy to discount, mock or ignore. But it didn’t take long for blogging to go mainstream.

In the late 1990s, blogs were set up and maintained by programmers who understood the strange computer language known as HTML code. Later, developers built WYSIWYG editing systems on platforms like Blogger and WordPress, which brought blogging to the masses. The more people were able to develop and manage their own blogs, the more they started reading other bloggers’ posts. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, blogging is big business. According to Technorati, the five most popular blogs are:

  1. Huffington Post—54,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors
  2. TMZ—19,000,000 estimated unique monthly visitors
  3. Business Insider—12,100,000 estimated unique monthly visitors
  4. EndGadget—11,500,000 estimated unique monthly visitors
  5. PerezHilton—10,200,000 estimated unique monthly visitors

With millions of hits each day, blogs are fast replacing newspapers, magazines and television news programs as the number one source of consumer information. The reason for the shift? Instead of wasting time wading through extraneous information, Internet users can quickly click directly to the stories they want to read.

5 Reasons You Should Blog

1. Turn yourself into a publisher. Instead of waiting around for editors and writers to deem your content worthy of publication, when you set up your own blog and post original content on a regular basis, you put yourself in the publisher’s place.

2. Position yourself as an expert in the field. If you fancy yourself an expert in your field, show television producers and magazine editors your chops by publishing so much content that they can’t help but contact you for expert opinion. Once you’ve emerged as the preeminent authority in your field, your market share will grow exponentially.

3. Capitalize on market segmentation by blogging about topics that are relevant to your target market. After you post a blog, use social media channels like Facebook and Twitter to alert people about the information available in your posts.

4. Share tips and best practices. Use your blog to evangelize the ideas you care about. One of the great things about blogging is that it’s interactive. Any blog worth its salt provides opportunity for plenty of commenting back-and-forth. Don’t be afraid to post your honest opinion and ask readers to share theirs. You don’t have to agree with everyone in your target market. You just have to demonstrate that you care what they have to say.

5. Develop a hub you can control. If you hired someone to build and maintain your company website, you effectively handed them control over your corporate voice. Take back that power by setting up and maintaining your own blog, as the hub of your professional activity. Building a user-friendly blog to post to on your own is tantamount to claiming the power seat in your office. And that’s as important as buying chocolate chips before trying to bake a fresh batch of cookies.

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

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Bowling for Business: Getting Your Advertising Feet Wet

When it comes to marketing, have yourself committed.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on September 12, 2011.)

My family and I survived another move. Although we’re still unpacking boxes and, in the process, have uncovered more junk than the professional organizers on Hoarders, things are finally returning to normal.

It was just a year ago we last lived the nightmare of packing up everything in one home and toting it to another. So we were reluctant to relocate yet again. But as soon as we saw the location of the condo, all four of us were sold. After eight years of living in Arrowhead, we finally have access to the lake. And we aren’t about to let little things (like lack of a boat, canoe or kayak) keep us from diving in.

All too often, entrepreneurs dabble instead of committing to comprehensive advertising strategies. But, in today’s competitive market, your campaign won’t succeed if you just dip your toe in the water. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge.

I recently met with a gentleman who wanted to hire my firm to handle his advertising. But he barred us from using Facebook, Twitter or a blog. He said that he would turn over the keys to his social media kingdom after we generated media attention for his brand.

“I’m not sure I buy into this whole social media thing,” he explained. “So I’ll let you set up those platforms after you get us on The Rachel Ray Show or Good Morning America. You can do it the old-fashioned way by writing press releases, running newspaper ads and making phone calls.”

I told him that his request was akin to asking a plastic surgeon to improve the appearance of a patient’s nose without using a scalpel. I doubt many doctors would be willing to accept the challenge.

Professional communicators have enough obstacles to garnering media attention and public interest in our clients’ products and services, as it is…let alone taking critical tools off of the table. Companies that don’t stand a chance of getting on Rachel Ray can still make a respectable name for themselves, faster and less expensively, using social media. Besides, any successful campaign incorporates a multi-pronged approach.

No matter how little or how much you have to work with, you can cover all of the advertising bases even if you’re doing everything yourself. This is my own short list for managing our clients’ comprehensive campaigns:

  • Print—Although you might not have access to Madison Avenue copywriters, professional graphic designers or funds to purchase big media buys, you can do print advertising as long as have access to a computer and a printer. Start small but aim high. After you’ve built your business one customer at a time, you will be able to hire someone to help refine your strategy.

In the meantime, don’t neglect alerting folks about your brand by using paper and ink. No matter how popular the Internet becomes, there is something to be said for putting your message in writing and getting it into the hands of your target market.

If you can afford to hire a graphic designer and a copywriter, do it. Coming up with a catchy turn-of-phrase and adding visual interest will serve you well.

  • 3-D—Participate in the real world. You need to rub shoulders with folks to get them interested in your products and services. Think chatting with folks at chamber of commerce mixers, networking groups and your son’s Little League games. Get involved in your own community so people have a reason to support your small business.
  • Online—Strange that a relatively new business phenomenon is now compulsory. But it is. Pew Research reports that 58% of people do some type of online research before making a purchase of any kind. Is your company easy for them to find?

For free, you can add your business to review sites such as Google Places, Yelp, Merchant Circle, and Service Magic. You’ll be amazed at how much interest a free listing can generate. And for a modest fee, you can upgrade to a premium listing.

Don’t be worried about the potential for negative reviews. The nice thing about these sites is that you can address concerns and complaints immediately and publicly by posting them directly beneath positive notes or less than favorable comments. So go on in. The water’s fine.

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

Bowling for Business: When it comes to social media, what qualifies as TMI?

Circles of Google Plus Friends

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 15, 2011.)

Long before anyone realized the potential business applications, I created a Facebook account to reconnect with high school friends. The official label for those of us who signed up before anyone understood the platform is early adopter, which is just another name for what we really were—social media guinea pigs.

In those early days, I didn’t understand the subtleties of Facebook features like the wall or messages. I learned the difference the hard way when I posted something to my wall which was meant as a message for one of my closest friends:

I FORGOT TO MAKE A DEPOSIT. SO OUR ACCOUNT IS OVERDRAWN BY $1,000!

Any regular readers of Bowling for Business know that I am pretty transparent when it comes to sharing details about my personal life. But revealing the balance, or lack thereof, of my checking account to hundreds of business associates is not something I routinely do. That type of disclosure definitely qualifies as TMI (too much information).

Several years later, we are all constantly faced with decisions about what to share and what to withhold from our various online contacts, connections, followers and friends. Is Google+ the answer to our prayers or another way to sacrifice our privacy at the altar of electronic transparency?

When I first got word of, I tried to sign up but was directed to a screen that informed me:

Google+ is in beta testing. We will keep your email address on hand and send updates.

In the meantime, friends and colleagues were posting about the fun they were having experimenting with Google+ while Mountain Marketing Group clients forwarded articles about it, asking my opinion. I didn’t have a clue.

Desperate, I finally did what I should have done in the first place—I turned to my own social networks. I tweeted my frustration about #GooglePlus, which fed an update to my Facebook and LinkedIn pages. Within minutes, several friends and business associates offered to send me invitations. Google emailed me a personal invite. And some of my Twitter followers sent hyper-linked invitations.

In hindsight, it’s all quite simple: If you want to play the game, you have to follow the rules. I wasn’t successful trying to sign up using traditional communication methods because the platform, like social media itself, is all about engaging, interacting and sharing.

In the interest of transparency, I have to admit I’m still a Google+ newbie. But, so far, the application seems promising. Here is how social media guru Pete Cashmore of Mashable explains the application:

Google+, a social network operated by Google, Inc., launched on June 28th, 2011 with integrations across a number of Google products, including Buzz and Profiles. One key element of Google+ is a focus on targeted sharing within subsets of your social group, which are what Google calls Circles. Circles are simply small groups of people that you can share to, each with names like friends, family, classmates and co-workers.

Google’s new app allows subscribers to manage connections by corralling them into groups. This is helpful because it will keep users from inadvertently sharing business content with friends and personal posts with associates. The downside is that Google+ uploads anything and everything to users’ streams.

One of my Google+ connections had this to say about the caveat:

The Google+ app instantly uploads photos my camera phone took to my account. I’m not sure if I like that or not—convenience versus automatic upload to the internet?

Another downside to Google+ is that, at least for now, you have to create personal profiles instead of business accounts. Also, since Google ranks search engine results based on the account holder’s associated email address relative to online engagement, involvement and interaction, it virtually precludes ad agency ghost-writing and ghost-posting.

So, at least for now, I can’t examine the tool through the lens of my usual three categories of marketing for free, on a limited budget and when the sky’s the limit. For the time being, Google+ won’t do you any good unless you’re willing to do the work yourself. If you want to tinker around with the tool, email me Kathy@MountainMarketingGroup.net, and I will gladly send you an invitation. And don’t worry—I won’t post your request on my wall.

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

Bowling for Business: Share and Share Alike

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on July 31, 2011.)

As an only child, I was a little late to the sharing party. Playing at home, there was no need to go halves or wait my turn. So when my classmate, Charlotte, grabbed the Colorforms from me during playtime, I smacked her in the face. Confronted about my selfishness by a kind and gentle preschool teacher, I quickly recognized the error of my ways and apologized to my shell-shocked peer.

When it comes to social media, sharing is caring.

As an adult and marketing professional, I now make sharing an important part of everyday life. And if you are an entrepreneur or nonprofit director, I recommend you do the same…in the real world as well as online. More than just posting your own opinions, promotions and experiences for everyone in your network to read and admire, sharing should always engage, enlighten and entertain.

Online and in the real world, you should listen as much as you talk—carefully considering the receiver before sharing any message. This is especially important since Google has recently re-calibrated algorithms to weigh interaction in addition to quantity of raw content to rank search results. Although the X-Robots that crawl across programming code can’t subjectively evaluate content, they now calculate the value of posts and associated authors based on how people respond to them.

Are you unsure about whether your content is valuable? If so, take this brief quiz:

 

  1. Do people “like” your Facebook status updates?
  2. Are connections asking for your input on LinkedIn?
  3. Does anyone retweet your Twitter posts?
  4. Is anyone commenting on your blog?

If you answered “no” to any of the above, consider the adage:

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If your online content falls on deaf ears, are you posting anything at all?

The new gold standard in social media is engagement. That’s why you see so many share-widgets displayed near videos you watch, songs you listen to and articles you read. But when should you click on them to share with your own network and which sharing icons and hyperlinks should you include on your own website and blog platform?

The following is hardly an exhaustive list. But these are currently the most popular ways to share (in alphabetical order). I suggest you select a few instead of cluttering your website with dozens of icons:

AddThis

Delicious

Digg

EVERNOTE

Facebook

Google+, which is currently in beta-testing

LinkedIn

Quora

Reddit

ShareThis

StumbleUpon

Technorati

Twitter

Forward only what you consider valuable. If you can’t find time to read an article, don’t assume your friends and colleagues are less busy than you. Also, resist the urge to forward cat videos unless you own a pet store.

Pikimal and Google+ Circles will make it easy to cherry-pick recipients, since they will enable you to share with friends while sparing business associates. But both are currently in beta-testing. So unless you’ve been invited to take a trial run, your posts will go to your entire network. And over-posting could land your email address in spam folders.

For Free

The best thing about sharing is that it doesn’t cost a thing. Anyone can take advantage of free sharing-icon software, which is easy to download and embed on websites and blogs. Here are a few great options:

On a Limited Budget

Hire a graphic designer to create custom icons to complement your brand identity. Talented artists should be able to use your logo for inspiration, so the social bookmarks won’t clutter your webpage. But be forewarned that if you go this route, the icons won’t be immediately recognizable. If you post the light blue Twitter image, or even just the iconic “T,” everyone knows what it stands for. If you alter the color and style of sharing networks to match your website, you could potentially lose a few “shares.”

 

The Sky’s the Limit

Rather than using someone else’s sharing application, create your own. The only reason so many applications exist is because it pays to keep people logged onto your system instead of clicking on and off of it. Sites like Twitter and Facebook, for example, are profitable because they deliver impressive traffic patterns. Just thought I’d share…

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

Bowling for Business: Digital Identity

Like it or not, your online activities will link to you forever.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on July 3, 2011.)

In the checkout line at Costco recently, one of the customer service members noticed that the contents of my cart could feed a small country. So he suggested I upgrade my membership to executive status. I immediately regretted my decision to do so when I arrived at the counter and saw something that rocked my world…a camera. Looking into the lens, it hit me that I hadn’t had time to shower, brush my hair, or apply makeup that morning.

“You aren’t going to take my picture, are you?” I asked.

“Yes, Mrs. Bowling,” Click. “You look fine.”

In addition to wild hair and a greasy face, my new card revealed dark, black circles under closed eyes. My mouth was open. A shadow blocked two of my bottom teeth. I looked like a crazy, drunken hillbilly. And until I am willing to wait in the Customer Service line again for three hours to have another photo taken, like it or not, my ill-fated trip has been recorded for posterity

In much the same way, whatever you do online will be linked to you and your business forever…for better or worse. Long before the advent of the Internet, pop-artist, Andy Warhol coined the oft-misquoted phrase: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

Social media has flipped this expression on its head, to something like: “In the future, we’ll all have 15 minutes of privacy,” or says Scott Monty, who oversees Global Digital Communications for the Ford Motor Company.

In the final analysis, we will all have to weigh the need to promote our business ventures against our desire for privacy. This is particularly true now that executives at Google confirm they have altered search algorithms to factor results heavily on social media. In other words, if you want your website to draw traffic, you can no longer rely solely on keyword research and tagging. You simply have to participate in social media.

Mashable writer Lee Odden explains the interrelationship between SEO and social media like this: “Advertisers that fund social media campaigns can continue to realize the traffic benefit from keyword-optimized interactive content long after the campaign has ended.” In other words, social media can extend the life of your search engine optimized web content. So, whatever it takes, make sure your online campaign includes both.

 

For Free—

Set up a blog. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, a blog is the foundation of any successful social media campaign. So take advantage of the free platforms available and set one up! I recommend WordPress, because content posted to it is search-engine friendly. If you can’t afford to hire a writer or social media manager, you will have to find a way to come up with content on your own. You won’t be able to compete unless you bite the bullet and join the social media revolution. Consider it the new cost of doing business.

 

On a Limited Budget—

If you aren’t a natural born writer or if you don’t have time to write content yourself, hire someone to produce relevant, original blog posts on a regular basis. Once your blog is set up, connect social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to it. This might sound complicated. But it isn’t. All you have to do is create usernames on Twitter and Facebook that somehow relate to the title of your blog and then post short status updates and tweets relative to the blog posts. The more content you come up with, the faster your efforts will impact search results.

 

The Sky’s the Limit—

Don’t underestimate the importance of online interaction. Mountain Marketing Group clients who choose to write their own blog posts hire us to monitor and participate in online conversations and react to reviews posted about their business. This type of research is essential as well as time consuming.

Monitoring the Internet keeps us on top of industry-related news so we can share relevant information with our clients as well as their target markets. Checking the pulse of information posted about them helps us to protect their online images. After all, we wouldn’t want want anyone to come across as a crazy, drunken hillbilly.

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

Bowling for Business: Instead of slashing prices, add value

Advertising Lessons from the Happiest Place on Earth

(This column first appeared on June 19, 2011.)

For the past two years, we have bitten the financial bullet in order to buy annual passes to Disneyland for family Christmas gifts. Selecting the handy dandy interest-free monthly installment option, we don’t buy the passes because they are cheap. In fact, our installment payments are probably higher than my parents’ monthly payments on their first house.

Also, we typically squander an additional hundred dollars or so on food and souvenirs with every trip. But we have counted the cost and decided it’s worth the investment to spend quality time with our daughters and granddaughter at the Happiest Place on Earth.

At a time when most business owners are slashing budgets and services in a mad scramble to survive, Disney thrives. Instead of drastically reducing prices and cutting back on their offerings, they continue to invest millions to improve and enhance their products. We would all do well to take a few cues from the entertainment giant:

Diversify.

Disney holdings are too numerous to list. But here are is a sampling:

  • Parks and resorts
  • Consumer products
  • Cruise line
  • Lodging
  • Television stations
  • Television programs
  • Radio stations
  • Magazines
  • Music
  • Books
  • Production and distribution
  • Broadband channels, subscription-based Internet services, websites and cellular services

Although he was a visionary, Walt Disney couldn’t possibly have foreseen the number of related industries his empire would one day include. But, early on, he took steps to ensure his company would never stagnate. In fact, 53 years ago in Anaheim, when he first opened the doors to Disneyland, Walt turned to a TV news reporter and announced:

Disneyland will never be complete. As long as there is creativity in the world, it will continue to grow.

When you sense a shift in consumer demand, don’t waste your time lamenting the good old days. Instead, mix it up. Take a class or hire someone “in the know” so you will be prepared to offer what customers want. For example, if your bakery profits take a hit when health concerns reduce doughnut consumption, add low fat choices to your menu.

Reinvent yourself

I remember the day my industry changed forever. I was at an international public relations conference in 2007 when someone asked me whether or not I tweeted. In my 28 years experience as a marketing professional, I had never heard the term. Naturally, I assumed he was insane. Ironically, I now tweet several times a day.

Due to shifting consumer demand, we have completely changed our service line at Mountain Marketing Group to feature dynamic websites and comprehensive social media campaigns. We could have resisted the shift, like some of our fallen advertising comrades. But embracing the change has invigorated business and keeps things interesting.

Add value

My family and I stood in line for three hours last weekend to see the new Star Tours: The Adventure Continues 3-D Attraction. Disney spent millions of dollars to retool the ride, which features trips to six fictional planets told via 50 different “story adventures.” The fervor proves that people are still willing and able to spend time and money if they believe the investment worthwhile.

Resist the urge to strip your products and services to bare bones; instead, amp things up. The saying still holds true, “You get what you pay for.” Make sure your customers understand the value they get by paying you.

Build client loyalty

During the soft launch of the reinvigorated Star Tours’ attraction, Disney emailed season pass holders early invitations to ride. This type of exclusive offer does more than control traffic. When we weigh our renewal decision in December, rewards like this will definitely factor in.

Advertise

Few brands are as recognizable as Mickey’s iconic ears. This is the result of billions of dollars in advertising. And while most of us have considerably less to spend, when it comes to garnering publicity, we can still learn much from Disney—for free, on a limited budget or when the sky’s the limit.

  1. Have fun. Regardless of the campaign, Disney maintains a sense of humor.
  2. Don’t put all of your advertising eggs in one basket. Positive publicity is often more effective than advertising. Invest in both.
  3. Stick with what works. Downplay what doesn’t. Case in point? I was hard-pressed to find anything online about the history of ineffective Disney advertising campaigns. Instead, I kept unwittingly clicking on ways to pay even more to upgrade my experience as a happy season pass-holder.

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

Bowling for Business: Lighten Up

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on May 24, 2011.)

My husband and I have a standing breakfast date on Saturday mornings. So I usually try to show a little effort by running a comb through my hair and dabbing on a bit of mascara. But, this weekend, we wanted to make sure we got to Belgian Waffle Works before they stopped serving biscuits. So I skipped the makeup and threw on some sweats, an old denim shirt, and a pair of fashion-forward Crocs; and off we went.

An hour later, when my good friend, Kelly, called to say that she was in town and wanted to introduce us to her fiance, I almost chocked on my multigrain waffle. I hung up the phone and stared at Brent.

“This will be the first time I’ve met Keith. And I didn’t even brush my teeth before we left the house. My shirt has paint all over it. And I’m not even wearing socks.”

His response put everything into perspective: “I am wearing white socks…with sandals!”

Brent and I have been happily married for nearly 25 years. And the secret to our success is laughter. We agree with Peter Ustinov’s philosophy:

“It is our responsibilities (not ourselves) that we should take seriously.”

I often wish I could train clients to embrace the idea. But since money is tied to success and success is linked to business, too many entrepreneurs have lost their sense of humor, especially in this economy. And that is anathema to effective advertising.

Leo Barnett once accurately summarized the field of marketing: “Great advertising can be boiled down to three simple messages: ‘Here’s what we’ve got. Here’s what it will do for you. Here’s how to get it.'”

But how do you capture the attention of your target market so you can tell them what you’ve got, what it will do for them and how to get it? Most of us are too busy to focus on anything for more than a few minutes. So how can you cut through the noise? Take a cue from the most memorable and successful marketing campaigns of all time. Make ’em laugh. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

The great thing about hilarity is that it’s free. You can incorporate humor into your ad campaigns on any and every marketing budget.

 

For Free—

In social media, pay attention to the types of posts that stimulate feedback. Currently appearing on my own Facebook wall is a video of a talking dog, a video of a stick figure trying to sell social media and a Baby Dancing to Beyonce…hardly fodder for members of Mensa. Even when your purposes for using platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are business-related, remember that your goal is to get your message in front of three-dimensional decision-makers—not pod people.

On a Limited Budget—

If your product is Tums, you can afford to hire writers, directors, actors, famous NASCAR drivers, a professional production crew and special effects editors to create comical videos about food fighting back. But most of us have to settle for a more modest approach.

If funds are tight, invest in a great, short video script and produce it yourself for free (or almost free) on the user-friendly comical movie-making website xtranormal. Then, post a link to it on all of your social media sites.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Experiment with levity. Hire someone with a sense of humor to come up with a trial campaign for your product or service. Once you’ve approved the angle, give it a fair shake by cross-promoting it on your website, social media sites, and in print ads and press releases. Then test and measure online metrics against more formal takes of the same campaign. Some tools I recommend for this include:

Any marketing professional worth his or her salt will show you the results of market research. You can also send a brief survey with a link to your campaign, asking recipients for their opinion. Sample question: When meeting someone for the first time, which is worse? To dress like an unemployed painter or to wear white socks with sandals?

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

Bowling for Business: Chamber Made for Marketing

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on May 8, 2011.)

The TLC show Extreme Couponing kind of freaks me out. I mean, who has 60 hours a week to clip and organize coupons, much less storage for 72 boxes of detergent and 433 tubes of toothpaste, even if the net cost for the items is 12 cents? Don’t get me wrong. I love a bargain as much as any other red-blooded American. But my own forays into the coupon game have proved far less successful.

On the few Sundays a year I actually remember to haphazardly tear coupons from the newspaper, I inevitably leave them at home only to realize the mistake while standing in line at the supermarket. But that doesn’t mean I am throwing in the towel. I’m determined to save money any way I can.

The economy has made it necessary for most of us to carefully measure every single purchase. If it doesn’t cut the mustard, it gets axed. And, in many ways, this is a good thing. After all, why pay for something unless it actively improves the bottom line?

When it comes to marketing, one expense that almost always makes sense is membership in a local chamber of commerce. Services included and fees charged vary from chamber to chamber. So check with your local organization for specifics. But some features are standard:

  • Listing in an online and/or printed directory
  • Hyperlink from the chamber website to your own
  • Networking opportunities at mixers, luncheons and special events
  • Advertising partnership opportunities. (The Lake Arrowhead Chamber, for example, allows members to pay a nominal fee for targeted email blasts.)
  • Access to accurate contact information for B2B marketing
  • Entry to educational classes such as business seminars and economic symposiums
  • The ability to contribute to your local business community. Run for an appointment to the board of directors or volunteer to help pull off a big event.

For some, chamber membership can mean the difference between the successful survival of your business and abject failure. Take Lake Arrowhead, for example. Marketing Director for the Lake Arrowhead Chamber of Commerce, Leslie McLellan, maintains that “social media saved Lake Arrowhead.”

In The Social Media Examiner, blogger Casey Hibbard recounts the way McLellan and the Lake Arrowhead Chamber has used social media since 2009 to bolster business activity at a time when advertising budgets were slashed. Since the chamber used social media to promote the Lake Arrowhead area on behalf of member businesses, the entire community benefited.

Whatever your marketing budget, don’t miss out on opportunities to leverage your chamber membership to even greater effect.

For Free—

Consider combining your own social media efforts with the activities of your local chamber by hosting a social media summit. If the movers and shakers in your community can agree to use common Twitter hashtags for promoting community events, cross-promoting via Facebook Fan Pages and dividing and conquering blog topics to market community events, everyone will benefit.

 

On a Limited Budget—

Instead of acting as if you live on an island, collaborate with leadership and members of your local chamber to save costs and multiply the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns. Sharing costs for production, printing and distribution of traditional marketing materials for community events will stretch your advertising budget. And, maybe even more importantly, the more creative business minds who gather to brainstorm, the better.

 

The Sky’s the Limit—

If your business is located in a metropolitan city, take a cue from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber, which recently developed a formal training program they call the Supplier Network, which has business members gushing:

Without this program, I never would have expected to get my foot in the door with a Citizens Bank or Comcast, let alone secure a contract with the Delaware River Port Authority.

I developed an invaluable mentor relationship with an SN instructor from Astra Zeneca.

The series has been indispensable in my company’s development.

If your firm has resources sufficient to sponsor such a program, give it a go. The possibilities are endless. For example, why not host an educational seminar, tweet about it along with your local chamber and share costs to produce discount coupons? I would follow the tweets and might even clip the coupon myself…not that I would remember to bring it with me to the event.

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

Bowling for Business: The Running Woman

Although plagued by guilt, I learned a valuable business lesson from my third grade fun run.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on April 25, 2011.)

I can’t fathom there exists an exercise more torturous than running. I’ve always felt this way. In fact, the only time I ever cheated in school was because of the sport. When I was in third grade, my PE teacher stood at the corner, stopwatch in hand, to time us individually as we ran 743 miles around the perimeter of the entire white brick school building.

At first, I surprised myself by having a little bit of fun while the warm sun beat down on my back and a cool breeze brushed against my cheeks. Then, two minutes into the grueling physical fitness test, I hit the wall. My legs felt like logs. My heart raced. I struggled to breathe.

Panic set in as I struggled to determine how I could convince my body to cooperate. Miraculously, I rounded Tufts Ave and started up Sherman when it hit me: I might be able to make it if I cut across the grass on the back side of the school outside of Mr. Bowen’s line of sight. I didn’t even care that the kindergarten classroom windows faced the grassy yard. To this day, I don’t know if five-year-olds and their teachers watched me as I ran. All that mattered was survival.

When I emerged at the end of the course, Mr. Bowen stopped the timer and told me that my score was good enough to save me a repeat run the following day. I smiled. But guilt plagued me. The next morning, I tearfully confessed to a teacher who was more surprised at my poor time than at my deception.

Taking pity on me, he said,

If that’s the best time you could run just half of the distance, I won’t make you redo the entire race. Just promise me you won’t join the track team.

Looking back, I wish Mr. Bowen had made me repeat the run because you can’t succeed if you cut corners…in PE or in marketing. Believe me—I meet business men and women every day who try.

At first, out of desperation, prospects say:

I don’t care how much it costs. Just help me build more business and then there will be plenty of money for advertising.

Then, after my agency’s efforts bear fruit and business is booming, customers ask if there is a way to “get the same results for less.” Unfortunately, however, when it comes to marketing, the adage applies: you get out what you put in.

The good news is that you can choose what it is you want to invest. If you are low on funds, opt for guerrilla marketing techniques which require sweat equity instead of cold, hard cash. Or, if you are short on time, use the capital you have on hand to hire someone else to do the dirty work. If you are like the rest of us—short on both time and money, read on:

For Free—

Guerrilla Marketing is an unconventional system of promotions that relies on time, energy and imagination rather than big bucks. Typically unexpected and unconventional, this type of campaign is often interactive and targets consumers in unexpected places.

The object of guerrilla marketing is to create a unique, engaging and thought-provoking concept to generate buzz. What’s not to love?

You are probably well aware of some popular guerrilla marketing techniques. But have you tried them?

  • Fliers on windshields
  • Dancers holding posters on street corners
  • Yellow Pages and classified ads
  • Billboards
  • Amateur videos
  • Street art
  • Bumper stickers
  • Tiny slips of perforated paper tacked to community bulletin boards

 

On a Limited Budget—

Guerrilla campaigns aren’t always free. In fact, advertisers make a living because of their ability to think outside the box. If you can’t afford to hire a professional, ask friends for unconventional ideas for promoting your business. Sure, some of their ideas might blow. But you get what you pay for. Besides, even advertising pros have off days.\

The Sky’s the Limit—

If you have the option, hire a team to come up with something that is truly inspired. Here are examples of some successful guerrilla marketing campaigns conceived by Madison Avenue giants:

  • The Hollywood Sign Who knew?
  • Product placement, which is said to date back to Thomas Edison, who, after he invented the motion-picture camera, shot movies of people on a train with advertisements for his own products on the side of the boxcars.
  • The Goodyear Blimp I’ve actually ridden this thing and it never occurred to me that I was sitting inside a flying billboard.
  • Nike’s Gone Running Campaign Though market research reports the campaign has been a rousing success, I remain skeptical. Not even Nike could convince me to run.

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

Bowling for Business: I Advertise, Therefore I Am

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on March 28, 2011.)

I advertise, therefore I am.

Last week in the restroom at Costco, I managed to activate the automatic soap dispenser, which efficiently delivered one gallon of foam onto my waiting hands. But, as is typical, despite flailing my appendages wildly in front of the sensor at numerous angles, I failed to convince the faucet that I was an actual human being in desperate need of rinsed hands.

Since the paper towel dispenser was also an automated model which refused to cooperate, I kicked open one of the stall doors and grabbed 57 toilet seat covers, which popped out in one solid chunk, and tried, in vain, to wipe the liquid coating from my hands. Then, I watched in horror as a tiny five-year-old girl approached the sink and navigated all of the automated equipment entirely without incident.

Looking back, I remain convinced my troubles were not the result of any mental defect or motor skill-related disability but simply a matter of perspective. I failed to trigger the sensors so they were not aware of my presence. Are potential customers aware of yours?

I often meet entrepreneurs who wrongfully assume that their existing advertising campaign is working simply because they have an ad campaign. But where you are advertising is just as important as the method you are using. And, while my marketing columns don’t usually delve into metaphysics, this aspect of marketing begs the question of unperceived existence, first posed by philosopher George Berkeley, who is believed to have authored the now-famous riddle:

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Don’t make the mistake of investing big bucks in a marketing plan that might never reach your target market. With a little research on the front end, you will be able to maximize your Return on Investment with any marketing budget.

For Free—

Trial and error is the best way to test advertising strategies when you are counting pennies. The method is so effective, in fact, that even corporate giants, who have access to millions of dollars, rely on it. Like casting a line and waiting to see if anything will bite, if you are using the right bait, you can try several different places to fish until you discover the perfect spot.

And, no matter your product or service, the best place to start testing your advertising is in Cyberspace. Why? Almost 78% of people who live in North America are online each day, according to the World Internet Usage Statistics website. Where else could your advertisements boast that reach?

  • According to Pew Research, only 39% of people read a newspaper each day.
  • The Association of Magazine Media say that while 85% of American adults read at least one magazine per month, most are opting for the electronic versions of their favorite publications.
  • MSNBC reports that teens and young adults spend more time online than watching TV.

On a Limited Budget—

A little market research can go a long way in helping you pinpoint your online audience. Where Neilsen was once unchallenged in the sophisticated collection and evaluation of television viewing information, Forrester is emerging as the gold standard for Internet market research.

You can pay either of these or lesser-known, less expensive firms on retainer or per project. Although spending money on research might not thrill you, the promise of discovering your target market’s habits so you can effectively communicate with them should.

The Sky’s the Limit—

If you have the luxury of doing so, cover all of the bases like the big guys:

And, lucky for them, they manage to do it all without getting their hands dirty.

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