Blog Archives

Bowling for Business: Armchair Figure Skater

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 8, 2010, in the Biz Press on March 4, 2010 and in the Press Enterprise on March 6, 2010.

Social Media success is more a marathon than a sprint.

I’ve never been much of an athlete. In fact, in kindergarten, I had such a difficult time climbing the thick, giant rope that dangled from the ceiling in our gym that, when I finally achieved the goal, my PE teacher invited me to perform at Parents’ Night. The other invitee was a sickly girl named Lisa who didn’t have eyebrows, skin pigmentation, or stamina.

My lack of athletic prowess is probably the reason I’m such a die-hard fan of figure skating. The polar opposite of me, figure skaters demonstrate power, artistry and precision in everything they do. I’ve been watching every televised figure skating event since Dorothy Hamill won gold at the 1976 Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria. I was one of the few who didn’t tire of endless news reports about Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding in 1994. And I’ll probably see every Olympic figure skating event held this year in Vancouver.

But, along with other Olympic fans, thanks to advances in technology, the way I watch the games this time will be different.

  1. TiVo—instead of enduring countless commercials, I’ll be using our DVR to tape events. If I watch any advertisements this time around, it will be because they catch my attention as I fast-forward.
  2. Website—rather than relying on NBC producers to spoon-feed me the information they believe most relevant, the Olympic website offers information, ad infinitum, about every athlete, venue, competition and affiliated sponsor.
  3. Interactivity—if I’m so inclined, I will be able to connect with the athletes by reading their Tweets, perusing their blogs or watching videos on YouTube. And I won’t be hampered by location or previous commitments since I can access it all, 24/7, on my Smartphone.

So what does any of this have to do with marketing small businesses and non-profit organizations? Just this. Contrary to our cultural training as consumers in a society that expects on-demand entertainment and instant access to anything and everything, when it comes to advertising in 2010, we have to be willing to wait.

Instead of blasting our message to a passive audience, we must recognize that we are on the supply side of the equation. To learn what our target market demands, we have to be willing to listen, engage in relevant conversations, and earn a share of the voice. Social media success is less a sprint than a marathon because social media is all about relationship. And, in the real world as well as Cyberspace, it takes time to build relationships.
For Free—

Ironically, when it comes to social media, the most important step is the one most often overlooked. Unless you take time to listen to what people are saying about your organization, you won’t know what you can offer to the conversation. To do this, do a keyword search for terms relative to your field. Then, when you find the sites where folks gather, put away your keyboard and read. Once you understand the neighborhood, resist the urge to lecture. Instead, engage and contribute so that you become a trusted member of the community.

On a Limited Budget—

If funds are tight, hire an intern or junior staff member to monitor social media conversations and report back to you. But save the heavy-hitting for the folks who understand your brand. To succeed in social media, you have to become an expert in sharing whatever interests your target market. So teach your employees how to take advantage of blogs, wikis, Facebook, or YouTube. A great resource for this is a social media book I’ve touted, before, Groundswell. In it, Forrester researchers Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff provide plenty of social media case studies, along with proof they work.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Instead of joining a social network community, start one yourself. One of the first high-profile companies to do this was Dell. In the early days of social media, Dell turned a deaf ear to complaints lobbed by a customer named Jeff Jarvis, who started blogging about “Dell Hell.” But Jarvis’ discontent struck a chord. Within months, the highest ranking Google search term for Dell was Dell Hell.

Eventually, Dell had no choice but to address the nightmare. Their solution was to create a social networking site called Idea Storm, where customers post ideas and vote on products. The transformation didn’t happen overnight. But, in time, Dell went from cautionary tale to the benchmark for successful business communication, proving that flexibility and persistence pay off for anyone trying to climb the corporate ladder (or a giant rope).

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

Bowling for Business: Don’t Ignore the Voices in Your Head

Your Marketing Strategy Should Feature Social Media

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 25, 2010.

Social Media—You Know You Need To

I made a critical error in judgment last week. Despite reports from the National Weather Service that a nasty storm was on its way, I threw caution to the wind and headed down from Running Springs to Riverside for a professional development luncheon. Having once slid into a BMW on Kuffel Canyon (Yeah. That’s right. It had to be a BMW), I would normally err on the side of caution and stay home rather than risk a return ride on potentially icy roads. But since I’m on the board of directors, I wanted to demonstrate my commitment to the group.

I made it down the mountain and to my meeting without incident. But, on my way home, two tiny harbingers of danger appeared on my dashboard in the form of flashing batteries and brake lights. So, instead of driving straight home, I stopped by my mechanic’s. Adhering to Murphy’s Law, the very minute I pulled my car into the bay, the idiot lights went out. Just to be safe, the repairman ran diagnostics and determined that everything was fine.

After I left, about a block from the repair shop, the warning lights reappeared, and remained lit until my car died just above the middle passing lane, right before a curve, away from all of the rest of the traffic in the dead of night in the middle of a blizzard on Highway 330. Without cell phone service, and with a very full bladder, I reluctantly abandoned my vehicle and accepted a ride from a kind man who was, thankfully, a realtor from Big Bear instead of a serial killer. He drove me up to a clearing and I awkwardly loped home through 3 feet of fresh powder in soggy leather clogs.

By the time I stumbled home and called Auto Club, I discovered that my car was already en route to a storage facility in town. To retrieve it, I would have to wait for the storm to pass and cough up a $380 towing fee, as well $50/day for storage. As I write this, three days later, my husband is shoveling about 7,000 pounds of snow from our driveway so we can pick up my 4-wheel drive, chain-clad, very dead car.

All of the above could have been avoided if only I had listened to the still, small voice that prodded me to skip the meeting. Because I ignored it, my husband and I will be reaping it for some time to come. I share this story because business professionals so often silence the voice of reason when it comes to advertising. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this disclaimer, “I know I really need to advertise, but…”

One local entrepreneur, who shuttered her restaurant after three unprofitable years, wondered aloud, “Maybe things would have been different if only I had advertised.”

Indeed, I wish she had come to us for help. Marketing is as essential to business success as a working vehicle is to safe travel. But don’t take my word for it. Last year, business owners in America spent nearly $61 billion on advertising. They allocated resources to marketing because they understand the importance of advertising for—

  • Making your presence known to potential customers, colleagues, associates and competitors.
  • Maintaining your relationship with current clients by reminding them about the value of your product or service.
  • Strengthening your call to action and message.
  • Introducing new products and services.

Although most business men and women intuitively understand the value of advertising, since budgets are tight, they talk themselves out of doing the very thing they know they need to do. The result? At an alarming rate, Inland Empire businesses are failing to thrive. In fact, experts put the percentage of new businesses that fail, nationwide, within the first five years, somewhere between 50%-80%. The solution? Invest in the advertising strategy that offers the most bang for your buck. And, no matter the budget, in today’s technology-driven environment, that method is social media.

For Free—

The great thing about social media is that the only required investment is time. The top three social media platforms, in my opinion, are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If you focus on these, and post valuable content to each account multiple times each day, you can achieve virtually every advertising objective necessary for business success.

On a Limited Budget—

While social media can be done without access to tons of cash, to be competitive, you have to be willing to find valuable information relative to the interests of your target market and post it on a daily basis. The problem is that most business owners don’t have time to do research and post status updates and informational links up to 90 times each week. Some actually want to spend time running their businesses! So, if you can swing it, spending money on social media management is worthwhile. Most of our clients report an average tenfold return on their investment after just 12 weeks of service.

The Sky’s the Limit—

The nice thing about having cash in reserve is that you have the luxury of paying experts to manage all of your advertising efforts, which frees up a considerable amount of time. Even so, we recommend that every client maintains a connection with their social media friends and fans. Our most successful social media clients post personal messages and stay connected to their contacts to supplement our efforts on their behalf. For ideas about what to post, might I suggest listening to the voices in your head?

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

Bowling for Business: Click it Good

Giving a card

Click it Good: A guide to Internet Advertising

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on October 19, 2009

How to use pay per click, banner ads and email marketing to sell widgets

Several people have asked me if the ads that appear in orange boxes throughout my weekly ROTW columns have anything to do with my business and/or blogs.

The simple answer is, “No!”

The ads you see weaving in and out of my text are placed there by affiliate advertisers who want to capitalize on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net traffic to sell their products and services.

I take particular offense to the ad that so often pops up in my pieces, that says, “Lose embarrassing belly fat now.” Since advertisers generally try to place their online ads in places that make sense, I wonder if they checked out my head shot and figured, naturally, the best advertising marriage is weight loss.

Whatever their reasons for associating my writing with an intense desire to lose weight, promoters advertise on websites, search engines and blogs because they know that, despite all of the buzz about free advertising with social networking, in the final analysis, it still makes sense to ante up for business leads.

But what exactly is the payoff and how much do you have to invest in order to secure actual paying customers? The answer is as individual as your business budget. Before we get into specifics about costs and strategies, let’s discuss the three most popular forms of paid electronic advertising.

1. Pay Per Click

Advertisers pay their host only when words and word combinations they successfully bid for, are clicked. Internet searches produce two very different types of results:

Natural or organic results are determined by closely guarded algorithms that match Internet content with search terms.

Sponsored search engine services like Google Ad Words or Yahoo Search Marketing are results that advertisers pay for. These are included in the top two or three search results, as well as to the right of the search screen, inside a light pink box, or noted as “sponsored links.”

2. Display Advertising

This type of advertising is paid per click, per impression or per term. Display ads typically contain text, logos, photographs or other images, maps, and similar items, which appear on the same page as, or on the page adjacent to, general editorial content.

The text boxes that appear inside my columns fall into this category as does the http://mountainmarketinggroup.net ad at the top of the RIMOFTHEWORLD.net masthead. Display ads allow sponsors to effectively target their audience based on publication and website user-profiles.

Banner advertisers efficiently track and measure which websites, blogs or publications result in the highest number of direct responses, known as “click-through-rates.”

Affiliate marketers gain Internet real estate by offering click-through revenue to blog authors and webmasters. Successful Internet writers earn money by allowing affiliate advertising to run on their sites.

One of the reasons we advertise our agency on ROTW.net is because they charge by the month, which is easy on the budget, instead of by-impression, which is a bit unpredictable.

3. Email Marketing

Despite being considered a bit passé in web 2.0, emails remain popular for targeting prospective customers.

At the risk of being blocked as “spammers,” email marketers continue to advertise using this method because it is inexpensive and targeted. Emailing to people who have voluntarily surrendered their email addresses assumes at least a passing interest in whatever product or service an advertiser wishes to promote.

So which method should you pursue? I suggest you choose a strategy based on which budget, below, reflects the amount you can afford to spend on advertising. Remember, before you decide, that most experts agree you should invest at least 4-8 percent of your previous year’s gross sales on marketing.

Tight (I can’t even afford to pay attention.)

When funds are scarce, the bottom line is that you have to advertise. Don’t wait until you no longer have a business to promote. Email marketing is probably your best bet.

  • Gather business cards you collect at chamber mixers and networking events and enter email addresses into your contact list.
  • Create a brief, straight-forward email, with an attention-grabbing subject line, that does not promote your product or service so much as it provides an answer to your end-users point of pain. Focus on what your customers need to hear, instead of on what you want to say.
  • Give your recipients a reason to reply. The best way to do this is to offer a discount or giveaway.
  • Send the emails.
  • Measure your results.
  • If your campaign didn’t work, change it up. Don’t give up until you find the secret sauce.

Limited (I have a few bucks to spend. But I have to be careful.)

  • Find a website whose users match the profile of your customer-base and which provides banner advertising payable by term instead of by impression.
  • Hire someone to design an ad that will produce a direct-response.
  • Commit to the strategy for at least three months.
  • Measure your results.
  • If your ad doesn’t bring in revenue, alter one element of the ad, or its location, at a time.
  • Use the revenue generated from your campaign to pursue a second form of Internet advertising.

The Sky’s the Limit (Money is no object. And, yes, believe it or not, some business owners fall into this category, even in this economy).

Experts agree that people need five touches with your organization or product before they will make the move from prospect to client. Since your advertising budget affords you the luxury to pursue all five at once, results will be swift. I suggest the following:

  • Hire someone to develop an effective ad campaign.
  • Buy associated ad words on Google or Yahoo.
  • Send an email blast to introduce the campaign.
  • Invest in Pay per Click display ads.
  • Run banner ads on high-trafficked websites and blogs.
  • Watch the money roll in.

Bowling for Business: Lurk Alive

man at a desk

Are you and Internet Lurker?

by Kathy Bowling

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on October 12, 2009.

Our house is such a cluttered mess, walking from the living room to the kitchen is like navigating landmines on the Mekong Delta. Between the dog toys, shoes, old homework papers and abandoned board games strewn across the floor, I’m lucky if I make it out the front door without spraining an ankle.

I can relate to the mother from the comic strip, Family Circus. Whenever something spills or breaks, she asks the kids who is responsible. The answer is always the same, “Not me!” And, in the distance, a little gremlin named “Not Me” flees the scene. Apparently, he heads for my house. Because anytime we ask our girls who left a bowl of cereal and congealed milk on the coffee table, they refer to him.

But the actual reason for the mess is that my home is filled with passive consumers instead of active contributors. Our kids just don’t consider it their responsibility to help with the running of our household. Many people on the Internet share our daughters’ passive attitudes. Read, research, rinse and repeat. While this tactic might work for hobbyists, when it comes to business, you need to take an active approach.

And according to Internet statistics’ pundit Jakob Nielsen, the door for action is wide open. In his heavily-trafficked online Alertbox, Neilsen says, “In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.”

So where do you fall? Are you a dynamic contributor or a passive lurker? Wikipedia defines an Internet Lurker as a person who reads discussions on a message board, newsgroup, chat room, file sharing or other interactive system, but rarely or never participates actively.

In case you’re still unsure of your status, here’s a little quiz to help you figure it out.

Are You a Lurker?

1. If you read blogs but never post comments, you might be a lurker.

2. If you join chat rooms just to follow other peoples’ conversations, you might be a lurker.

3. If you sign up for newsgroups but never add to article threads, you might be a lurker.

4. If you have no need for your keyboard while you’re surfing the Net, you might be a lurker.

5. If you didn’t realize you are allowed to comment on blog posts, in chat rooms and in news groups, you might be a lurker.

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, the good news is there is hope. The verb to “de-lurk” also appears in Wikipedia. De-lurk is defined as taking initiative to start contributing actively to a community having been a lurker previously. (And I’m not making this stuff up.)

So how can you turn the tide and de-lurk? Web 2.0 is all about conversation. Contributors add to the discussion by setting up and regularly posting to their own blogs. Critics respond to other peoples’ blogs, adding comments to discussion threads on social networks, and replying to online conversations.

Josh Bernoff, of Forrester Research, and one of the authors of groundswell, defines the groups, as follows:

  • 21% of online US consumers are Creators
  • 37% are Critics (those who react to content created by others)
  • 69% are Spectators.

My ad agency, Mountain Marketing Group, has discovered a similar phenomenon among our church and para-church clients. In many charitable organizations, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. So, when it comes to influencing decisions, who do you suppose has the most say? According to ICWM.net, the short answer is that the power belongs to the movers and the shakers.

Since so few people on the Internet create original content, consider the opportunity to shape the business or non-profit landscape if you have the courage to get off the bench. If you’re game, here are some simple steps to take you from lurker/spectator to industry thought-leader.

  1. Comment on this article thread. I’d be honored to be your first.
  2. Do a search on Technorati for blog-posts that are relative to your areas of interest and expertise. Read and comment on any that strike a chord.
  3. If you have not done so already, set up a free blog. For tips on how to create a blog, check out the Bowling for Business post.
  4. Once you’re on the map, set up a free account that will help you check out Internet conversations in real time, so you can comment at will. One well-known site for this type of monitoring is FriendFeed. Another, relatively new but highly intuitive way to do so is with backtype, which creators describe as “a real-time conversational search to surface what reputable people are saying about topics and web pages that interest you.”

Following these steps will establish your company or organization a leader in the field. All you have to do is lurk alive.

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

Bowling for Business: About Face(book)

Hey Culligan Man

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on 9-28-09

Every September 24 since I could talk, I’ve told anyone within earshot that it was my birthday…family, friends, the Culligan Man. Typically, the polite, sometimes somewhat perplexed response was, “Well, then…Happy Birthday.” With that wish, I would merrily go on my way, eager to share the message with the rest of the world. In the early years, cashiers, waitresses, tax attorneys and used car salesmen would ask my age.

Thankfully, I no longer field that particular question…probably because I am old. But maybe it’s also because I no longer blurt out my birthday. This year, thanks to Facebook, I didn’t have to. When I booted up my laptop this September 24, I was greeted by dozens of well wishes from Facebook friends who responded to the Facebook-generated birthday notification. With that simple application, I became a bona-fide FB fan. (Admittedly, not everyone is a fan of this particular feature.)

According to the Facebook Factsheet,  Facebook was founded in February 2004 as a “social utility designed to help people communicate more efficiently with their friends, family and coworkers…in a trusted environment.” Five years and more than 300 million active users later, Facebook is the second most-trafficked PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) site in the world, running thousands of databases and serving millions of queries a day. Also of note, the fastest growing FB demographic is people who are at least 35 years old.

The reason FB is popular is that it is exceedingly user-friendly. Anyone with even a cursory understanding of how to type on a keyboard and upload a photograph can use it. And, like all successful social networking websites, Facebook is free. Although it might have initially appealed mostly to people who wanted to reconnect with faraway friends, it has slowly emerged as one of the premiere ways for business men and women to exchange ideas and share information.

According to the Social Media Bible, the reason for the transition is all about networking, “By developing and cultivating networks, your organization can create an opportunity to develop the trust that may result in more sales.” Just like in the real world, relationships that start off social in Cyberspace sometimes lead to business deals.

Consider one of our clients at Mountain Marketing Group. He set up a Facebook account about a year ago, at the urging of a high school buddy. “At the time, I had no ulterior motive for setting up the account. But it was easy and free. So I figured, ‘Why not?’”

Initially adding people to his network only if he knew them in the real world, Dave eventually started broadening his horizons by including friends of friends. Within a few months, his network numbered in the hundreds. Since many of his Facebook friends have hair, they sometimes need cuts and color. By casually mentioning a fundraising cut-a-thon on one of his posts, he said the “accidental advertisement” convinced several people to make the leap from casual Facebook friend to real world hairstyling client. And Dave is hardly alone.

Consider the sitting president. Many pundits attribute the success of his campaign to the way he and his team leveraged social media. According to his publicists, “The goals of the campaign were to increase our number of Facebook fans; raise awareness of NYTimes.com as an interactive news center; and engage the Facebook community in a conversation about the election outcome.”

What’s more, Obama’s social media strategists said, “We increased our number of fans more than three times in just 24 hours — from 49,000 to 164,000 — and in the process far exceeded our 2008 goal of 100,000 fans. Possibly the greatest success of this campaign, however, is that our fans continue to rapidly grow…into a powerful, free word-of-mouth network that we will leverage for future marketing messages.”

Facebook has been equally effective for apolitical non-profits. According to a recent post by Rob Bergfeld’s  SmartBlog on Social Media, the online director of the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), Wick Davis, said that LFA’s Facebook strategy increased donations by 790 percent. Yes, you read that right…790%.

By setting up a simple Cause application, Davis said, “When I took over as the admin for the Lupus Foundation of America’s cause in Facebook in mid-January 2009, our cause had less than 3,000 members, and had raised $630. Since I had no idea when our Cause was created, I had no idea how long those figures had been at that level. I’m pleased to share that as of today (6 months later) LFA’s cause now has more than 21,200 members. And during that same 6-month timeframe, we’ve raised a total of more than $5,700. And those figures only represent LFA’s ‘official’ cause in Facebook.”

So, whether your goal is fund-raising, building a virtual farm, poking people just for the heck of it, generating traffic for an industry event, or announcing your birthday to the world, the answer is at your fingertips. Just do an About Face.

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

Bowling for Business: Big Game Hunting

Small Scale Hunting
I’ve never been much of a hunter. I think the huge deer head that hung in our family room while I was growing up scared me. But, if I was a hunter, I would hire someone who knew what he was doing to show me when and where to score the big game. From what I’ve been told, rabbit hunters are able to go it alone, shooting scores of little bunnies without much effort. But if a bunny murderer wants to start scoring big game, he or she has to get help so he’ll know where to go.

Big Game Hunting
In much the same way, business owners who advertise their own products and services may experience success on a small scale. Creating their own logos, writing press releases, producing fliers and brochures using MS Publisher and the like, they might be able to generate a few leads. But folks who want to bag big game need to hire a professional.

newspaper picsBig Game Marketing
At Mountain Marketing Group, we help clients play on a large scale. We understand the tools of the trade and know how to point potential customers to our clients. We don’t just create a brochure. We don’t produce products. We focus on results. Instead of just writing media releases, we generate press interest. Rather than printing an ad, we develop a campaign.

Using the latest technology as well as tried and true methods, we promote clients in the following industries (to name a few):

  • architecture
  • automotive repair
  • beauty
  • bookkeeping
  • business consulting
  • carpet care
  • church and para-church groups
  • claims management
  • computer technology
  • construction
  • education and e-training
  • finance
  • insurance
  • law
  • medicine
  • pest control
  • tax services

Timid?
While you may be overwhelmed with terms like social media marketing, blogs, DNS servers, content management systems, and the like, we get it. We know how to use these marketing tools and more to help our clients reach their target markets.

So, if you are content to kill rabbits, then go it alone. When you’re ready to bag the big game, remember Mountain Marketing Group.

I Blog, Therefore I Am?

Blog Link

So welcome to my very first blog entry. At my Lake Arrowhead advertising and public relations firm, Mountain Marketing Group, lately I’ve been the Pied Piper of social media, sharing the importance of setting up blogs and the like. But, like the cobbler’s kids who do not have shoes, I have failed to consistently create dynamic content of my own.

Aren’t you glad that is about to change? I’m sure I have lots of important ideas to share and links to provide. I just have to get the hang of this thing first.

In all honesty, this isn’t actually the first time I’ve tried to blog. I just didn’t realize, previously, that all of the great blogs I was writing on my own website were not being seen by anyone.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, did it really fall? So, sure, no one read what I wrote. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable and important. Right?

Lately, with the economy in the toilet, the thing at the top of business owners’ minds is how to make a living. First, the good news. It is still possible to make money despite the economy. After all, it isn’t as if all of the cash in the universe spontaneously combusted. It’s just that no one knows exactly where it is. As a marketing and public relations professional, it’s my job to answer that question for my clients.

So my tip for the day is to encourage my clients to do as I do, not as I say. This message is for you:

Dave-Give us some tips to keep our hair under control in the wind.

David-You can’t find a photo of yourself smiling? Or at least not frowning?

Chris-Let us know how to put together a notebook with decorating ideas

Scott and Dave-You guys are already pros. But why not share some of your expertise with your client-base? Give us a boon.

Creating a blog is obviously quite easy. Even a marketing director can do it.