Bowling for Business: 2011—Marketing in Review

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

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

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

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

Misses

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

Hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Free–

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

On a Limited Budget–

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

The Sky’s the Limit–

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

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

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

Bowling for Business—KISS to Keep Biz on the Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spend money on the hill!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Just Do Something–Stand There!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Facebook

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

2. Twitter

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

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

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

Bowling for Business: Are Social Media Coupons Good for Business?

Could your business benefit from online group coupon offers?

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on October 23, 2011.)

I love spending time with our daughters and their boyfriends and friends and our granddaughter. But I must admit that, on Sunday afternoons, after a weekend of preparing meals, cleaning, chauffeuring and entertaining, when I assess our checking account balance, gas tank and the condition of our home, I feel a little like a farmer surveying crop damage following a locust swarm.

One of my clients described his recent social coupon experience in much the same way. The owner of a domestic referral agency based in LaVerne, he experimented with Groupon by offering discounted housekeeping services in the Inland Empire. And, as social coupon redeemers so often do, they signed up en masse for housecleaning, drained him and his staff of their time and resources and then fled to the next available online coupon opportunity.

He is hardly alone. In 2010, the owner of a bakery and café in Portland, Oregon called Posies wrote a now infamous blog post recounting her own similar experience:

“(Using Groupon) was the single worst decision I have ever made as a business owner thus far,” she wrote, also revealing she lost $8,000 as well as the good will of many of her existing customers because of the flood of Groupon users and the exorbitant percentage required by the service provider.

How can this be? After all, theoretically, group coupons supposedly benefit everyone—the site, consumer and the business owner. Consumers are said to benefit from lower prices by way of collective bargaining. The business is supposed to gain new patrons. And the site gets a cut from all of the sales. Win/win, right? Not so fast.

I realize that there are slight differences between the many social coupon services. So please allow me to generalize in order to explain the social-couponing process:

  1. The business owner works with social coupon site representatives to craft a great deal.
  2. The sales associate recommends offering a product or service “at least a 50% off” to generate rabid consumer interest.
  3. The business owner agrees to not only deeply discount his or her product or service for the offering but also to pay the coupon site 50% of the final take. (In other words, business owners who offer specials on social coupon sites are usually agreeing to do business at approximately 25% their usual rate.)
  4. The social coupon site emails the world and posts announcements to promote the deal.
  5. Consumers pay the coupon site and rush to redeem the special.
  6. The entrepreneur struggles to meet demand.
  7. Rinse and repeat.

Groupon is arguably the best known in the business, having been declared by Forbes as: “the fastest growing company ever.” But it is certainly not the only company or even the first to come up with the concept of providing coupon savings to groups of people who purchase discount tickets for products and services in advance. Here are a handful of similar sites:

Bloomspot

BuyWithMe (which has recently absorbed several direct competitors)

CheapLocalDeals

CrowdSavings

DailyDealster

EverSave

EWinWin

FlyCoupon

GoogleOffers (coming soon)

HomeRun

LivingSocial (a major player)

SocialBuy

Twongo

YipIt

I believe the ones who benefit most from group coupon sites are the sites themselves, evidenced by the fact that new ones pop up each day. I will admit there is one exception to the rule. If you purchased 9 million more American Idol figurines that you want to unload, you might benefit from selling them through an online coupon site. Otherwise, you’re probably better off to avoid the platform altogether. Although I don’t normally share my personal prejudices about marketing tools, in this case, I feel compelled:

  1. Group coupons destroy profitability within various markets

Once you run a 50% off campaign in your local area in your industry, you will be hard-pressed to get anyone in your sector to return to previous pricing levels. So, if you are comfortable operating at 25% of your current asking prices, then just drop your fees and leave online coupon companies out of the mix entirely.

Otherwise, in effect, you destroy profitability not just for yourself, but for everyone in your field. According to a recent study of Groupon, only 25% of redeemers buy additional products beyond the ones offered through the coupon and only 15% of coupon users come back.

  1. Over time, discounts will erode service levels and undermine customer satisfaction

Even if you can withstand a one-time coupon offer where you collect just 25% of what you normally receive, sustained couponing will ultimately eat into profitability and compromise service levels. With poor service, customer satisfaction will likely decline and you could stand to lose not only unprofitable coupon users, but all of your clients.

  1. You stand to destroy customer loyalty

Offering one-time customers the best deals rewards them instead of your existing clientele. Instead, why not tender loyalty incentives to keep good clients coming back? Besides, do you really want to be known as the cheapest game in town? Is that the best you have to offer?

Instead of focusing on price alone, provide superior customer service and build a reputation based on trust, loyalty and the uniqueness of your brand. If you go that route, you’ll generate plenty of buzz without having to resort to online coupon sites. And that should keep locust swarms and crop damage to a minimum.

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

Bowling for Business: Party on with Pay Per Click

Improve sales by using pay per click.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Free—

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

On a Limited Budget—

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

The Sky’s the Limit—

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

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

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.

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.