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: The Rules of the Mobile Road

Should you use QR Codes to promote your business?

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on July 18, 2011.)

Overall, I’m a very safe driver. In fact, if you ask my kids, they’ll eagerly tell you how irritating it is that I so closely follow the rules of the road. I drive the speed limit, observe stop signs, obey traffic signals, use my turn indicators at intersections—the works!

But I have to admit I have a pet peeve while driving on San Bernardino Mountain roads. My husband explains it like this:

If you can’t run with the big dogs…get off the dang road!

While I was on Grass Valley last week, I had the misfortune of encountering a woman who chose to ignore the posted speed limit of 35 and opted, instead, to drive 5 MPH…for several miles. But heck, this is a free country. So she has the right to drive whatever speed she prefers. Let’s face it—few and far between are the drivers who are ticketed for driving under the speed limit. But I have one small request: if you insist on driving at a snail’s pace, please have the decency to turn out so others, who actually have a pulse, can pull ahead.

When the slug finally reached her destination and turned right, I made the critical error of accommodating my passengers’ requests to lay on my horn. As soon as I did, the turtle finally discovered the location of her gas pedal and made a 180-degree hairpin turn until her silver BMW pinned my green Kia to the shoulder. For several minutes, we rode two astride in the very narrow right lane, like battling chariots in Ben Hur.

I finally pulled into a driveway and jumped out of my car to face my nemesis. I tried in vain to raise my voice above the cacophony of obscenities she yelled so I could tell her to learn how to drive! In hindsight, I realize that both of us were at fault…she for driving under the speed limit and I for using my horn to communicate road rage. The entire situation would have been avoided if we had followed the rules of the road.

As licensed drivers, we can either make sure we understand and implement changes and updates to California DMV Code or suffer the consequences of our ignorance. This is also true when it comes to advertising in the digital age. We have the choice to bury our heads in the sand and refuse to adopt modern marketing strategies or do whatever it takes to stay informed.

Case in point? Mobile Tagging. As a business owner in 2011, do you know what it is? Do you care? Should you take the time to figure it out?

Initially designed as a method for tracking inventory at a Toyota subsidiary in Japan in 1994, the most popular form of mobile tagging is the QR Code. These codes are similar to the barcodes used by retailers to track inventory and price products at points of sale. QR Codes store addresses and URLs and may appear in magazines and newspapers or on signs, buses and business cards—in fact, virtually anywhere.

Users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image of the QR code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a webpage in the phone’s internet browser. QR Codes are free and easy for advertisers to create and customers to access.

I should also mention that Microsoft has created a convoluted, personalized mobile tagging platform called Microsoft Tag which has yet to take off. But unless makers retool the complicated instructions, I doubt it will threaten the QR market.

To create a QR Code:

  • Create a call to action so people know what to do once they access your advertising content.
  • Use a free QR Code Generator to enter a destination URL that connects to your content.
  • Out pops a personalized digital two-dimensional matrix barcode consisting of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. Post the barcode anywhere you want existing or potential customers to find it.
  • That’s it. It’s really that simple.

To access a QR Code:

  • Download a free Apple or Android QR Code Reader application to your Internet-enabled mobile camera phone.
  • Scan any QR Code with your QR Reader.
  • Enjoy the content.
  • That’s it. It’s really that simple.

But is the relative ease of creating a QR Code reason enough to do so?

Consider this: in the United States, the total population of mobile device owners (cellphone and/or tablet users) is 84%. Since QR Code Readers are free and hip and trendy (for the time being, at least), mobile tagging is an efficient method for marketing on virtually any advertising budget. In fact, the Social Media Examiner reports:

Storage capacity and ease of use makes QR Codes practical for small businesses.

If you remain undecided and would like a few moments to consider whether the use of QR Codes is right for you and your small business, I have only one request: please don’t ponder it while driving on Grass Valley Road.

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: 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.