Category Archives: Internet Marketing

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.

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Bowling for Business: Marketing Lessons from Oscar

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

By the time you read this column, the 2011 Academy Awards will be history. And while the events that unfold at each Oscar ceremony don’t affect most of us personally, there is much we can learn about marketing by studying the annual affair:

Image is everything—more viewers tune in to see beautiful people modeling glamorous fashions than because they care about who wins the award for best sound editing in a documentary. This might not be true if the dress code was “Come as you are.” Celebrities dress up (or down…remember Bjork?) because they understand the importance of defining, projecting and protecting their brand.

Entrepreneurs who understand this concept are able to leverage it for increased brand name recognition, customer loyalty and, ultimately, higher sales. When we sign a new website client at Mountain Marketing Group, the first order of business is to create or refine the client’s logo and slogan since these steps are foundational to effective advertising and public relations.

Membership has its privileges— while all members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences cast votes, only a small percentage receive invitations to attend the event. On the other hand, if you aren’t a member, your chances of attending are zip… unless you want to be a seat-filler.

This is also true for business owners and non-profit directors. If you don’t belong to the local chamber of commerce, you won’t be invited to mixers or educational seminars. And if you don’t attend business events, you won’t be able to hobnob. And if you don’t rub shoulders with people in the community where you do business, you won’t be able to build valuable relationships that might very well lead to business opportunities. Other memberships to consider include country clubs, professional associations and service organizations.

Networking is non-negotiable— in Hollywood, they call it “walking the red carpet.” In the real world, networking involves having actual conversations with real people who aren’t holding microphones or asking us who we are wearing.

Profitable business networking requires an investment of time and attention. When you attend a networking event, I challenge you to close your mouth and open your ears. Most of us prefer to spend time with good listeners than with people who never shut their mouths. American financier, stock-market speculator, statesman and political consultant Bernard M. Baruch summed it up well when he said,

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

Social Media matters—As soon as Justin Bieber gave a small clear box of his hair to Ellen DeGeneres, the Twittersphere went into overdrive, with nearly all of the 7,686,188 people who follow Bieber tweeting about the event as if it was the most important story in the world. The highest bid for the teen singer’s locks is currently at $12,000.

The Academy Awards’ ceremony is no longer simply broadcasted on television but streamed, celebri-tweeted, posted, blogged, checked in, stumbled upon, connected and fed to millions of eager viewers, followers, friends and fans. The reason any of this should matter to small business owners is that it’s all about buzz. If you want to take advantage of social media, don’t miss the groundswell. Create a Twitter account and set up a Facebook Fan Page for your organization. Today.

Everybody loves a party—more than the Academy Awards’ ceremony itself, I wish I could into the Governor’s Ball or one of the after-parties hosted by Elton John, James Franco or Madonna. It isn’t that I want to see movie stars up close and personal. It’s that I would love to dine on party fare prepared by the likes of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.

If you want to generate interest in your product or services, host an event and serve great food. Then, once your prospects have eaten, wow them with your professional offerings. People are more likely to respond favorably to sales pitches when they have happy tummies.

Nobody likes a windbag—the best Oscar speeches have been brief:

Jack Nicholson

I guess this proves there are as many nuts in the Academy as anywhere else.

Kim Basinger

I just want to thank everybody I’ve ever met in my entire life.

Benicio Del Toro

I won and I get to scream and jump a little. But I got to go back to work tomorrow.

Steven Spielberg

Am I allowed to say I really wanted this? This is fantastic.

James Cameron

I am the king of the world!

If you are giving your Oscar acceptance speech and the music starts, you need to shut up. The best advertising campaigns have also been brief:

Brylcreem

A little dab’ll do ya.

De Beers’ diamonds

A diamond is forever.

Florida Citrus Commission

A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.

Rice a Roni

The San Francisco treat

Florida Citrus Commission

Wheaties: Breakfast of Champions.

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

Bowling for Business: Insane Campaigns

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

We used to spend Saturday mornings at the Denver Suds-n-Duds, where I played with miniature bottles of Borax and tiny boxes of Tide while my mom fumbled with quarters and battled the ramshackle appliances. Back then, I could sit for hours in front of the dryer watching the clothes spin. (Mind you, this was long before cable TV or the Internet.) So the delivery of our very first washer and dryer circa 1973 marked the end of an era. It also signaled the start of my disgust with all things washing-related.

An only child, it was my job to venture into our cold, dark utility room when the buzzer sounded, to check whether or not the clothes were dry. Why we listened to the timer was beyond me, since, in all the years we owned it, it never once correctly assessed the condition of our clothes. Each load required two or three complete cycles…which meant two or three times I would have to run in the dark, with bare feet, onto the uncovered concrete floor, open the dryer, restart the machine and run back before spiders, dust bunnies or utility room monsters had time to attack. In all of those years, never once did it occur to me to turn on the laundry room light or wear slippers.

What does this have to do with marketing? It reminds me of something Albert Einstein once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Had I heeded his implied suggestion, to change strategies when something doesn’t work, I might not still equate doing laundry with serving time. It is for this very reason I strive to save clients the inherent frustration of habitually sticking with unsuccessful marketing campaigns. It might seem like a no-brainer to pull the plug on a plan that doesn’t work. But, remarkably, when I propose a shift, the suggestion is often meet with resistance.

Sure, the idea might be inspired. The right people might be doing the right tasks and have every base covered. Your campaign might be cheap. But check the bottom line. If you’re not getting the results you expected, something is obviously wrong. If this is the case, switch things up. Just don’t make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

For Free—

For example, if your social media campaign isn’t producing results, don’t assume social media doesn’t work. Instead, change your approach. Swap out your profile pictures and bios. Or post something using a completely different tone of voice. Track everything, and see if the changes affect your results. You might be surprised.

On a Limited Budget—

Review artwork and copy for print campaigns. Does your message show potential clients and donors how your product or service would add value for them or does it toot your horn? There is a distinct difference.

For instance, if you own a beauty salon, focus your marketing on the ways your products and services improve your clients’ appearance rather than on your own expertise and qualifications. It won’t make any difference to customers whether you’ve styled hair for 25 days or 25 years unless that experience directly affects their own heads of hair. Select a tagline that shows the way that your experience will ultimately translate to a better experience for them.

For example, instead of: “We’ve been cutting hair for 25 years,” opt for: “Keeping women chic for 25 years.” Although the difference is subtle, it is critical.

The Sky’s the Limit—

One of our clients initially bristled at the thought of changing an advertising campaign he had been doing with another agency for 14 years because, he said, “We’ve always done it this way.”

“Exactly how much business can you track to these ads?” I asked.

“I don’t know. We’ve never tried to figure it out,” he replied.

After working with him to quantify metrics, we were able to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of his existing approach. Faced with the raw data, he finally agreed to change things up. And for a fraction of the cost of his old campaign, we took an entirely different tact which significantly improved his bottom line. And though revamping an ad campaign isn’t rocket science, I’m certain Mr. Einstein would approve.

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

Bowling for Business: Show and Tell

For maximum marketing impact, use copy as well as images.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 3, 2011.

My favorite day of the week in Mrs. Stanley’s first grade was Friday because that’s when we got to do Show and Tell. Since we had three dogs, a turtle and several fish, and because I loved having an excuse to bring pets to school, I was set for weeks. But my love of the activity extended to other classmates’ treasures as well:

  • Brian made a belt out of paperclips, which he fastened to his chair as a sort of makeshift restraining device.
  • Dawn had a watch with interchangeable face plates and bands, to match every outfit in her extensive closet.
  • Chad routinely forgot to bring anything from home, so he often stuffed part of his lunch into his boot before recess so he would have something to share later in class.

As we begin marketing in 2011, I contend the most successful advertising and public relations’ campaigns will hearken to this elementary-school standby. After all, it is widely believed the use of pictures along with words increases brain activity and aids learning.

  • According to Head First Labs, “When words appear within a picture, or there is a combination of words and a picture, our brains try to make sense of how the words and the picture relate. When more neurons are firing, there are more chances for your brain to get that this is something worth paying attention to.”
  • Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine found that pictures allow patients with very mild Alzheimer’s disease to better recognize and identify a subject compared to using words alone.
  • Swish Video contends that people remember merely 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see and an incredible 70% what they hear and see. So, to effectively promote your product or service, no matter your audience, make sure you do both—show and tell.

For Free—

If you are handling your own marketing and public relations, make much of pictures. Many entrepreneurs understand their own products to a fault. Don’t forget to “dumb down” technical jargon when marketing your product or service so it makes sense to the buying public. One way to do this is with pictures:

  • With blog posts, for example, upload an image and restrict copywriting to a caption. This will remind you to be brief. As a rule, blog posts should contain a maximum of 700 words.
  • Include a photo or illustration with every press release you write. If you have not yet mastered the art of uploading a jpeg from your desktop to an online platform, figure it out. Like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. So don’t let technology stand in your way.

On a Limited Budget—

  • Pay a little extra to include artwork in your advertising. It will be worth it. In fact, if you only have enough cash to buy a small ad, ax the text. No one has time to sift through a sea of words anyway.
  • Experiment with video. You can get a hand-held video camera for about $100. Buy one. Take it to work and start filming anything and everything. Then, edit and upload short, educational bits to YouTube.
  • If the idea of making a video is overwhelming, start with a slideshow. Use a platform like Vimeo, Animoto or Kizoa, which will enable you to use still photos to create short video pieces set to music.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Zappos.com recently reported a 6 to 30 percent increase in sales on items that are accompanied by a video. Quality video content, with correct tagging and intelligent distribution online, has tremendous power to reach wide audiences for two reasons:

  1. Video is a powerful medium for contacting and communicating on a human level.
  2. Video is a powerful tool for engaging search engines.

So hire someone to produce, tag and post short, professional videos for use with press releases, ads, websites and social media platforms. But make sure you keep the clips short or they will likely go un-clicked.

Still unconvinced? Imagine how much more interesting this particular column would have been if it had been accompanied by a video of Show and Tell in Mrs. Stanley’s first grade class circa 1969.

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

Bowling for Business: Forget the Fine Print

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 22, 2010 and in the Biz Press on November 24, 2010.

When writing promotional copy for your product or service, less is more.

When I was in sixth grade, Mr. Khouri called my parents for a conference because, although I was excelling in Honors’ English, I was failing math. Since he wrote math problems on the chalkboard, he and my mother and father decided the solution was a giant pair of gold-rimmed aviator eyeglasses that made me look like John Denver. Not a fan of that particular fashion statement, I often “forgot” to wear my glasses or “accidentally” dropped them behind the back tires of our Pinto or “absentmindedly” flushed them down the toilet.

Unfortunately, there was a seemingly endless supply of hideous replacement frames at LensCrafters, which arrived in rapid succession…each pair unbelievably more hideous than its predecessor. This pattern continued until I finally earned enough baby-sitting money to buy contact lenses.

The horror of it all is probably why I refuse to acknowledge my increasing need for reading glasses. For months, I have been complaining to my family that every food manufacturer, magazine publisher and pharmaceutical company has recently, inexplicably reduced the size of the printing on their products.

Unwilling to consider that the problem might lie with me, I decided the logical thing to do was to start ignoring instructions. After all, at my age, I already know how to lather, rinse and repeat without having to read it on the bottle. Turns out, I am not alone.

With so many things competing for our time and attention, most of us are too busy to breathe. Rather than enjoying the luxury of leisurely pouring over every detail in each article that lands in our email inbox, we are lucky if we have time to skim headlines.

But, ironically, when it comes to creating content for others to read, most business professionals write website content and brochure copy as if their readers have nothing but time. So, if you have something you want to say to current and prospective clients, customers, guests, diners or donors, eliminate the fine print.

For Free—

When money is tight, you might be forced to do your own marketing. If this is the case, be brief. Without benefit of a professional writer or editor, and since you’ll be writing about something with which you are intimately acquainted, you will probably be prone to ramble. So here are a few words of advice:

  • Write whatever you want in a stream-of-consciousness style. Don’t even worry about adding punctuation or breaking your thoughts into paragraphs. Just get it all on paper.
  • Tear up what you wrote. That’s right. Toss it. Don’t worry. You know the material. Creating a disposable first draft will help you stay on track with your second.
  • After you finish writing your second draft, reduce it by at least 50%.
  • Then, get a second opinion from someone outside of your industry, who can alert you if you unwittingly used insider terminology.
  • Use plenty of headlines, sub-headings and bold print to divide copy. Nothing turns off readers more than an endless sea of words.

On a Limited Budget—

Hire a freelance writer. If you are preparing a newspaper advertisement, find someone who specializes in writing punchy ad copy. If you are producing a corporate brochure, commission a professional who specializes in formal business writing. Few writers excel at all styles. And the benefit of using contracted professionals is your ability to hand-pick the right people for every project.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Hire someone to create a campaign centered on a very clear message. The more you try to say, the more you will dilute your message. Take a cue from these successful ad campaigns, and associated short-slogans:

  • Nike: Just do it.
  • Mountain Dew: Do the Dew.
  • Kay Jewelers: Every kiss begins with Kay.
  • Burger King: Have it your way.
  • KFC: Finger-lickin’ good
  • Taco Bell: Think outside the bun.
  • Bounty: The quicker thicker picker-upper
  • Subway: Eat fresh
  • BMW: The ultimate driving machine
  • Avis: We try harder
  • AT&T: Reach out and touch someone
  • Visa: It’s everywhere you want to be
  • Skittles: Taste the rainbow
  • Yellow Pages: Let your fingers do the walking
  • Miller Beer: It’s Miller time.
  • Home Depot: You can do it. We can help.

And, my personal favorite—LensCrafters: Eyes love LensCrafters. (Hey, I never said a slogan had to be true in order to succeed.)

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

Bowling for Business: The Pay it Forward Proposition

It pays to pay it forward.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 8, 2010 and in the Biz Press on November 10, 2010.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more depressing movie than Pay it Forward.

Spoiler Alert: Although the premise of doing things for the sole purpose of making the world a better place to live is one I support, I wish the screenwriters would have framed the story in something other than the murder of a 11-year-old cherubic everyman played by Haley Joel Osment when he was still adorable (before his voice changed).

With that said, paying it forward is worthwhile not only in Hollywood but also in the real world…especially in business. The general idea is to selflessly give to three people without expecting anything in return. Then, the three people you help should do the same until the impact is felt in large scale. It’s a small but revolutionary idea. And I can’t think of a better time than the holidays to give it a try.

I propose you use whatever line of work you are in to pay it forward in your own little corner of the world. If you take the time to open your eyes, you’ll discover that opportunities abound. And they come at several different price-points:

For Free

One of the services we offer at Mountain Marketing Group is ghost-writing for social media accounts such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Our goal is to build a foundation and then teach our clients how to build on it by maintaining the accounts on their own. Although many choose to retain us in lieu of riding solo, most enjoy the process of learning how to provide industry-specific, valuable content to the folks in their target market.

But we usually have to repeat our social media strategy numerous times before it actually starts to sink in. Experts in my field agree the ultimate goal of social media is to contribute and engage instead of directly selling. But providing something for nothing is counter-intuitive to savvy business professionals who generally measure success by terms like ROI and “the bottom line.”

Like it or not, we are living in a brand new world, where we can no longer pretend we have cornered the market on anything! The Information Superhighway has made it necessary to honestly represent your offerings. But don’t worry; sharing information will not make you irrelevant. On the contrary; you will emerge as a leader in your field. For example:

  • If you sell soap, write blogs about secret ingredients and tools of the trade. Don’t worry; you won’t reveal anything that isn’t already posted online.
  • If you teach Latin, tweet key phrases and uses for the dead language.
  • If you make blankets, provide Facebook status updates when fleece and flannel go on sale.

According to a September 2010 Study by Pew Research, 54% of people conduct online research before buying anything…regardless of whether they end up making the actual purchase in the real world or in Cyberspace. So providing information to fuel their inquiries is a great way for you to pay it forward.

On a Limited Budget

Use some of your profits to fund a charitable organization. While I can’t show you a ledger to prove the value in contributing outside of your own firm, I can personally testify to the benefits (both personal and financial) of paying it forward by giving. Since we are near year’s end, perhaps the idea of donating is a tad more attractive now than at other times? Whatever it takes, go with it. Put your money where your mouth is.

The Sky’s the Limit

Sponsor a charitable event. Since sponsorship usually comes with PR-related perks like corporate attribution and public acknowledgment, some may argue this is not a true “pay it forward” activity. But I maintain you are paying it forward whenever someone else is the beneficiary of your benevolence. So select any organization that makes sense to you.

Call the executive director to set up a meeting so you can determine the needs and availability of the organization. Now more than ever, non-profit groups are in need of folks to pay it forward. According to SiloBreaker, due to the recession, donations to our country’s 400 largest charities declined this year by 11%. And that figure is even more depressing than fictionalized homicide.

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

Bowling for Business: How Not to Suck at Social Media

Take steps so you won't be a social media spoil-sport.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on September 27, 2010 and in the Biz Press on September 30, 2010.

For reasons I will never be able to explain, in seventh grade, I joined the girls’ basketball team. I was just 5′ 2″ and about as athletic as an armchair. But, all the same, I woke up every morning while it was still dark and walked to Goddard Junior High School to stumble through drills and miss free throws. Although I sat on his bench the entire season, the head coach never learned my name. In fact, he even called me Jackie at our end-of-the-year banquet. Looking back, I wonder why my parents didn’t tell me I sucked. Didn’t they realize it is sometimes necessary to be Cruel to be Kind?

The same is true of social media. So please allow a departure from my regular column format this week. At risk of offending, I would like to share tips intended to keep you from missing the mark in your efforts to engage in social media.

Top Five Mistakes to Avoid in Social Media

1. Don’t ask connections to write you a recommendation on LinkedIn.

Sure, the option is there: “Can you endorse me?” But there is also a poke button on Facebook. That doesn’t mean you should use it. Instead of fishing for referrals, why not proactively write unsolicited recommendations for your own connections, thereby guilting the recipients into returning the favor? Once they see your glowing review, they will likely respond in kind.

2. Don’t tweet about what you’re eating.

If you aspire to leverage social media for business, eliminate the mundane. When it comes to your meals, unless you’re dining with Anthony Bourdain or ARE Anthony Bourdain and you’re trying deep fried monkey toes (eaten off the bone), your menu probably isn’t worthy of a post. That’s not to say it isn’t relevant to tweet or post about a good restaurant, an interesting dish or a great recipe. But, “had meatloaf again” doesn’t cut the mustard.

3. Don’t complain about your job, your boss or your relationships.

You might have had a rough day. But unless you want to be Debbie Downer, get over yourself. Using social media websites to complain is not only in poor taste but it can actually cost you your job. The now infamous Cisco Fatty incident is a cautionary tale about loose online lips sinking ships. A 22-year-old at UC, Berkeley, tweeted:

Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.

A Cisco employee saw the post and responded with his own tweet:

Who is the hiring manager? I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the Web.

To keep yourself in check, assume everyone you know is parked in front of their computers reading your status updates and Tweets in real time. They probably are.

4. Don’t use your social media accounts to SPAM.

Does anyone really think that a constant stream of impersonal tweets that address half a dozen Twitterati saying, “Hey, you, check out this product,” will really attract anyone who cares? Have you ever read such an ad and clicked through to buy the product?

Abusing social media channels is as offensive as spamming email inboxes. At the risk of being redundant, let me remind you that social media is about engagement. You need to interact and react instead of blasting your message. Pay attention to what others in your network are saying. Be part of the community that cares enough to share. The most important thing to remember is that social media engagement takes time, just like building relationships in the real world.

5. Don’t be a lurker. Vote for your social media pet peeve.

This column was never meant to be a one-way conversation. So I would love to take the opportunity to invite you to participate in the discussion by suggesting point number five for this article. Please comment with your own social media horror stories. I would love to hear from you. What irritates you the most about social media?

Come on. You can do it. How else will we figure out how not to suck?

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

Bowling for Business: Set Yourself Aside

Consider your target market's perspective.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 30, 2010 and on the Business Press on September 1, 2010 and the Press Enterprise on September 4, 2010.

It was a bonehead move for my counselors at Summer Fun Day Camp to take a van full of impressionable seven and eight-year-old kids to see the 1971 Vincent Price horror movie, The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Filling my nightmares for years, the film featured a disfigured physician methodically killing the surgeons who had failed to save his wife following a car accident.

One scene in particular sent me repeatedly running to my parents’ room in tears. Dr. Phibes juiced Brussels sprouts and drilled a hole through the ceiling above his victim’s bed so he could pour liquefied vegetables all over her body. Then, he sent a swarm of hungry locusts to crawl down a tube, where they devoured her entire body.

I recently purchased the movie so I could face my fears some 40 years later. Instead of a hideously scary, realistic portrait of terror, as I had recalled, my second viewing revealed a hokey, campy farce. The Brussels sprout scene, in particular, is absurd. The locusts ate all but a cheesy plastic skeleton and her entire head of hair. It was all so preposterous that, as an adult, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

It all boils down to perception. Teenage counselors probably didn’t realize the movie choice would freak out their campers. To select more suitable fare, they should have looked at the field trip from our perspective. This is a concept I share with clients, who often choose advertising campaigns based on their own opinions and experiences instead of the needs, ideas and prejudices shared by potential clients and/or donors.

“I like this kind of advertising. So I’m sure my clients will like it, too,” explained one Mountain Marketing Group client.

“That’s fine,” I told him. “But let me ask you something. If you didn’t own the company, would you be in your own target market? Is this a product that you would buy?”

“Well, I have an iPod.”

“Yes. You have an iPod. But is your best customer a middle-aged white male who will buy one or two sets of headphones in his lifetime, or is it someone else?”

“I’m not selling to the end consumer. I’m selling to wholesalers who buy in bulk. And most of the buyers are girls in their 20s and 30s.”

It was then that he had his aha moment, realizing that the methods that persuade him may not be the same as strategies designed specifically to reach potential customers in his target market. A typical entrepreneur, intimately involved in every step of the business, from conceptualization to manufacturing to marketing, Rick found it difficult to set aside his own frame of reference. But once he agreed to do so, we were able to launch an effective social media campaign that catered to his customers instead of to him. And you can do it, too.

For Free—

To gain fresh perspective, ask for outside input. You can do this even if you run a one-man (or one-woman) show. Just make sure you ask the opinions of people who fit your Ideal Client Profile (ICP).

In The E-myth Revisited, Michael Gerber says business owners are often too close to their own enterprises to accurately identify the best overall picture of their own ideal clients. So make sure you ask around. It might take some detective work. And bear in mind that it’s entirely possible your current customer list does not yet include your ideal client.

On a Limited Budget—

When funds are tight, take advantage of books on tape, DVDs and webinars, which provide ready access to the best business and marketing minds in the world. Here are a few authors I recommend:

Ken Blanchard: The One-Minute Entrepreneur

Seth Godin: Free Prize Inside

Guy Kawasaki: The Art of the Start

The Sky’s the Limit—

With effective market research, you can determine the need for your service, a product’s likelihood to sell, target-market demographics, and desirable storefront locations. There are numerous ways to uncover this information—from online research to focus groups to counting customers. When money is no object, the most effective method for determining and catering to your ideal client is to hire a market research firm to compile data and prepare a report.

Here are a few options:

Market Research.com claims they have the best research offerings and expertise to make sure you get the right report every time. They do.

Vizu offers a full suite of customer-focused online market research survey solutions.

Polldaddy—software for data collection, which is more affordable than hiring a market research firm to handle everything for you. Polldaddy gives you the ability to collect data about virtually everything, from how to promote your product or service to evaluating age-appropriate entertainment options for skittish seven-year-old campers.

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

Bowling for Business: Info on the Go

Provide info-on-the-go to potential and current cilents and customers.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 16, 2010 and in the Biz Press on August 18, 2010.

After borrowing my sister-in-law’s mobile phone in 1988, I was convinced that cell phone technology would never gain much of a following. As attractive and portable as a cinder block, it came with a 42-page instruction manual that was as user-friendly as the directions for programming the clock on an early-model VCR.

I noticed a sharp contrast while hosting a garage sale last weekend. Several customers walked up and down the makeshift aisles while feverishly tapping on tiny touch screens. When I asked one girl what she was doing, she said she was checking eBay to compare prices. It’s a brave new world.

Today, well over 250 million people in the United States use cell phones on a regular basis, which puts the mobile saturation rate at 82.4 percent. I have constant and immediate access to such statistics courtesy of the Information Superhighway delivered directly to my trusty Blackberry Smartphone.

Gone are the days of painstakingly searching for answers in reference books at the local library. If you have a question, just key it into your PC, laptop or handheld device and the answer will appear within seconds. Unlike a browser such as Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, which power keyword-based Internet searches, Q & A sites like ChaCha are designed to answer very specific questions via Internet and/or text message.

One mobile question & answer website I often reference is ChaCha. My kids use the word as a verb, as in “I cha-cha’d” this or that, which might sound strange. But so once did “googling.”

ChaCha was founded in 2006 by a disgruntled Jet Blue flight attendant who purportedly cussed out a passenger, cracked open a beer and activated the emergency slide to make his escape. When he launched ChaCha, the site joined the ranks of popular Q & A platforms such as Yahoo! Answers, WikiAnswers and Ask.com.

These sites are significant for small business and non-profit managers because they offer cost-effective vehicles for interactive target-marketing. Let me explain. If someone wants to know why bug bites itch, they can enter the question on Ask.com. Immediately, organic (unpaid) search results appear in response. Then, immediately thereafter, related, paid text advertisements show up by companies including Terminix and BedSBug.net. And relevant, colorful banner advertisements appear at right. The smartest Internet advertising strategy includes all three.

For Free—

Build SEO so your website ranks high in organic searches. The most effective way to do this is to set up and regularly post to social media websites such as a blog, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Resist the urge to use your social media sites to do direct sales. Instead, provide relevant, frequent content to your target market, so the name of your organization will appear when potential customers, clients or donors ask questions related to your field. In this way, you earn your position as a noted expert.

On a Limited Budget—

Pay for text advertisements that appear underneath natural results. The great thing about this type of marketing is that you only pay when someone clicks thru to your website. Ad rates for sponsored results are usually set by silent auction. The more competition there is for any given phrase, the higher the price. If you want to investigate this option, check out several Q & A sites, since rates vary greatly. Some sites to compare:

  • AnswerBag
  • Askville
  • LinkedIn Answers (Business-Focused)
  • Lycos
  • Minti (Parenting)
  • Point Ask
  • Trulia (Real Estate Research)
  • Yedda

The Sky’s the Limit—

Develop colorful banner ads so visitors can click-thru to your website. The term “banner” comes from the general shape for such advertisements, which is a short, wide strip that is usually placed at the top of a webpage. In his book, How to Grow Your Business on the Internet, Vince Emery says that a click-thru rate of 1 percent is normal, while 10 percent is outstanding.

Although display ads are considerably more expensive than either text-based or social media positioning to gain Search Engine Optimization, no one can argue the appeal of sharp graphics and a clever turn of phrase. But then again, Internet advertising probably won’t ever really catch on.

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