Blog Archives

Bowling for Business: Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Satisfaction Guaranteed

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on March 29, 2010 and in the Biz Press on April 17, 2010.

Several years ago, we stayed at an international hotel chain in Northern California. When we arrived, we were surprised that there were no pillows in our room. When we called the front desk to ask for a few, the staff informed us that they were out of pillows because, prior to our arrival, several other guests had requested extras. And, naturally, the maids thought it best to raid our room in order to meet the demand.

After we unpacked, we rode the elevator to the lobby. Brianna leaned on the metal railing, knocking it to the ground, slamming it against her exposed toes. Brent bent down to extract the fallen metal edifice from our daughter’s swollen feet and encountered screws and sawdust, which had apparently fallen from the disheveled elevator ceiling.

Ordering food in the restaurant was difficult because the waitress informed us the kitchen was out of, well, food…bread, fruit, coffee, lettuce and milk. Later, the combination of loud party-goers in the atrium and thin walls made us desperate to see the light of day so we could finally end the misadventure and check out of Hotel Hell.

While I don’t normally complain about poor service, when our trip was over, I wrote a letter to recount our experience to hotel management. In addition to a letter of apology, we received a refund for our visit as well as vouchers for a free two-night stay. The next time we were in the area, we threw caution to the wind and booked a suite. Construction was complete. A gift basket welcomed our return. All was right with the world.

I share this story because I believe the Holiday Inn Sacramento Northeast did things right. We live in an imperfect world. Stuff happens. Odds are if you are in business long enough, you will one day inadvertently provide less than stellar service or inferior products to unwitting clients, customers or donors. What matters is how you prepare to respond to the challenge.

For Free—

Establish a customer-centric procedure for handling complaints. Once upon a time, virtually every business man and woman adhered to the adage, “The customer is always right.” Since this is no longer standard procedure, your company will gain favor by letting potential clients know that they matter. For ideas, take a cue from brands that are known for superior customer service such as Nordstrom, Four Seasons, Apple and General Motors.

For what not to do, look to the third annual study done by MSN Money, the Customer Service Hall of Shame. AOL, Comcast, Sprint Nextel, Capital One and Time Warner Cable head the list for what avoid when it comes to handling customer concerns.

On a Limited Budget—

Once you develop superior customer service policies, leverage them in your advertising. Come up with a campaign slogan that includes the details of your customer satisfaction guarantee. Then repeat the slogan in every form of marketing. Add it to your business cards, website, stationery, and the signature line of your email.

Internet users who enter “100% customer service satisfaction” in Google search bars stumble upon otherwise little known companies such as Oak Plus Furniture, Cigna and Fieldhouse. If your business has yet to make its mark, what better way than by guaranteeing satisfaction to otherwise wary would-be consumers?

The Sky’s the Limit—

Entrepreneurs sometimes hesitate to guarantee satisfaction for fear the policy will be costly. But according to a recent study done by McKinsey & Company, “Companies that have a strategic approach to customer satisfaction and make technology investments to support specific business and financial objectives are likely to achieve high rates of customer retention, fast growth, and increased profitability.”

In other words, if you invest on the front end to guarantee customer satisfaction on the back end, you will reap the rewards of more traffic, repeat business and a better bottom line.

And with the increase, you will be able to pop for the little things that make a difference…say, for example, food for your restaurant or pillows for your hotel.

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

Bowling for Business: Take my word for it.

Shout your message from the rooftops. Word of mouth works!

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on Monday, March 8, 2010.

A stray Labrador Retriever we found sitting quietly in front of the dog pound, Maggie was beautiful, loyal, intelligent and, unfortunately, quite destructive. She met me at the door when I came home from school; sat on top of her doghouse instead of inside of it, dumped over the trash cans inside and outside of our house and routinely opened the gate so our other pets would run away.

Fed up with her antics, my parents reluctantly decided to give her to my friend, Lori, and her family. Since Lori lived in the country, they explained, Maggie would be happier and less hyper. Devastated, I sobbed into my faithful companion’s shiny black coat the entire drive to Lori’s house. I’ll never forget Maggie’s sad brown eyes staring back at me when we left. I was certain she felt abandoned, forsaken and betrayed.

The weeks that followed were difficult. Usually a happy, bubbly kid, I was inconsolable, moping around as if I had lost my best friend. So the day my dad drove by Cherrylynn Elementary School during my lunch break, with Maggie in tow, remains one of the highlights of my life. It also marked the first and only time I got into trouble and had to stay after school.

When lunch was over and we went back to our classrooms, I was too excited to contain myself. Regardless of my classmates’ interest or lack thereof, I told everyone the news that Maggie was back in my life. Mrs. Tomasini repeatedly warned me to be quiet. But I was, literally, incapable of biting my tongue.

As punishment, I had to write “I will not speak out in class” 100 times on the chalkboard. Not exactly scared straight, if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Sometimes, news is just too great not to share. And that is the essence of word of mouth marketing.

Word of Mouth is defined by Wikipedia as the passing of information from person to person. Originally the term referred specifically to oral communication (literally words from the mouth), but now includes any type of human communication, such as face to face, telephone, email and text messaging.

Any time you form an opinion and share it using your mouth to speak or fingers to type, you are engaging in Word of Mouth. Where you share the information determines how many people hear what you have to say and whether or not it is passed on to others. Until now, my story about Maggie was heard only by a small group of third graders at an Englewood, Colorado elementary school. But when content catches on and travels, it’s referred to as buzz or going viral.

Among the first to successfully systemize word of mouth marketing was Trip Advisor. Founded in February 2000, the free website provides a forum where customers can write reviews and share opinions, favorable or not, with Internet users. Amazon.com and eBay were also early adopters of the practice of publicizing unbiased customer reviews.

Of course, there are inherent risks associated with allowing folks to share their opinions. People expend effort to communicate only when they are passionately driven to do so for one of two reasons—a great experience made them fans or a negative incident turned them into foes.

In the Gas Pedal book I highly recommend, Word of Mouth Marketing, author Andy Sernovitz examines how the world’s most respected and profitable companies get people to talk about their company, their causes, and their stuff through the power of word of mouth. The nice thing about this particular form of advertising is that you can implement it regardless of your marketing budget.

For Free—

Make it easy for folks to share their opinions about your products and service. To do this, first, make sure you provide excellent products and superior customer service. And then, add a public forum to your website. But don’t censor negative feedback or you’ll appear disingenuous.

On a Limited Budget—

Have your webmaster add plenty of links to “share this post,” “comment,” “subscribe,” “follow us”, “join our community,” “tell a friend,” and “share your experience.” The easier you make it for visitors to participate in your online community, the more invested they will be.

The Sky’s the Limit—

While you can’t pay for word of mouth, you can hire someone to help you publicize legitimate comments from your existing fan base. People trust people. Professional communicators know how to gather the best feedback, give full attribution and strategically position testimonials to let existing customers advertise your offering. Take my word for it.

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

Bowling for Business: Confessions of a Professional Spinster

All effective public relations is based firmly on the truth.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 28, 2010

While I was growing up, my best friend, Lori, and I used to play in the woods near her home in a small rural suburb of Denver. We would leave her house in the morning and stay out all day, trying to make it back home before dark. But sometimes, our vivid imaginations would carry us away, causing us to lose track of our play-time curfew. On such occasions, when we finally arrived at Lori’s house, we were greeted by her very unhappy mother, who had quite a set of lungs for a woman of such an advanced age. (Everyone seems old when you’re in grade school. At the time, Judy was all of 28.)

To try to ward off the lectures, Lori and I manufactured elaborate cover stories on our way back to her house. On one such occasion, we told her mom that we had been kidnapped by factory workers at the abandoned DuPont factory in Louviers. An impressive sleuth, Judy somehow saw through our tall tale and promptly called my mom to ask her to pick me up. Lori and I learned a valuable lesson that day. No matter how creative the spin, a lie is a lie.

As a public relations practitioner, I try to disassociate myself with unscrupulous folks in my field who have yet to learn the message. Popular culture portrays us in shades of gray, with television shows like Spin City and SPINdustry and movies like Thank You for Smoking and The Hoax. The prejudice can probably be traced to our predecessor P.T. Barnum who had a knack for finding and exhibiting people, animals and a range of oddities, many of which were hoaxes, such as the infamous Feejee Mermaid.

But leaders in our field know that the only way to successfully pitch anything is to make sure all promotions are based firmly on the truth. Wikipedia defines Public relations (PR) as the practice of managing communication between an organization and its publics, which gains an organization or individual exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that provide a third-party endorsement.

What sets PR pros apart is our knack at taking any given company or individual’s reputation, activities or incidents, and reinterpreting them from the Point of View (POV) of the client to the POV of the intended target market. A timely case study of this is the recent public relations’ nightmare faced by SeaWorld Orlando. Global news coverage started shortly after the attack when an animal trainer drowned after being dragged underwater by a 12,000-pound killer whale during a show called (of all things) Dine with Shamu.

Further complicating the incident is the fact that Shamu is the name generically used for the killer whales at the theme park, according to Steve Baker, president of a theme park consulting and management company called Baker Leisure Group.

Shamu is the SeaWorld icon. Shamu is SeaWorld.

So how do you convince potential park guests that Shamu won’t dine on them? I believe the order of the day for SeaWorld is honesty. Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, Inc., a management consulting firm, concurs,

The big task (for SeaWorld professionals) is to be honest with the public and the media as they conduct their forensic study on why the accident happened, because that will determine how SeaWorld is perceived in the future.

If I were on the public relations team for SeaWorld, the first order of the day would be the prompt removal of the tagline currently posted on the Dine with Shamu section of the theme park website. “It’s exclusive. Intimate. And unforgettable.” no longer seems appropriate. It will be interesting to watch the actual SeaWorld PR team in the weeks to come. No doubt they’ll be pulling out all the stops to get SeaWorld back on track. Tools at their disposal include the same ones your company or non-profit group can employ.

For Free—

Dust off your phone book and call an editor to introduce yourself. If you take time to get to know their editorial needs (without wasting their time in the process), they might give you an idea or two for potential coverage. The most important advice I can give you about press relations is to learn to be a resource instead of a pain in the neck.

And, on June 15, the Public Relations Society of America’s-Inland Empire Chapter, is hosting a free event, Speed Consulting at the Speedway, for businessmen and women in need of pro-bono PR.

On a Limited Budget—

Hire a freelancer to write a press release about a new product or event you want to promote. Then, subscribe to a free or low-cost electronic press release service such as E-Releases, I-Newswire, BusinessWire, PR Log or PR Newswire. The social media releases we post get clicked an average 215 times. Those clicks lead to valuable press coverage.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Hire an agency. Only a trained public relations professional will be able to skillfully speak on your behalf, work with the media, handle crisis communications, manage social media and oversee effective employee communication. And that’s not spin.
Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Invasion of The Pod People

Invasion of the Pod People

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 21, 2010

I’ve always been rather horrified at the sound of my own voice on tape. It’s not even close to what I hear when I’m talking. I wish it was raspy and sultry, or even just hoarse like actresses Lauren Bacall, Kathleen Turner or Sophia Bush. Instead, in recordings, I sound like a slightly older, less feminine version of Potsie from Happy Days.

And though I didn’t used to mind posing for pictures, in recent years I’ve noticed that cameras no longer catch my actual likeness. Maybe it’s due to changes in digital technology? It’s a mystery to me. But, whatever the reason, cameras add wrinkles, gray hair and weight to my reflection. So whenever someone shows up with photographic equipment, I flee the scene.

All that said, despite my profession, it’s little wonder I have been reluctant to jump on the podcast and video broadcasting bandwagons. If you share any of my phobias, I have a simple suggestion for us both. Get over yourself and join the revolution!

Whereas blog writing demands at least a cursory understanding of how to string together words in order to form a complete sentence, with only a modest investment in time and equipment, virtually anyone with a larynx and carcass can run a podcast or a video blog.

The first system to enable the selection, automatic downloading and storage of serial episodic audio content on PCs and portable devices was launched in September of 2000. But podcasting might never have hit critical mass were it not for the near simultaneous release of a free music-sharing program called Napster.  Motivated by a desire to procure and share free music, millions of people tapped into their inner geeks to learn how to upload and download MP3 (Audio File Format/Extension) content.

In late 2000, the courts ruled that Napster had to restrict access to copyrighted files. While this was a death-blow to the young network, it buoyed the Apple Inc. introduction of iTunes in 2001, at Macworld. The rest, as they say, is history. According to an article in CnetNews, by 2005, as many as 22 million American adults, or about 11 percent of the U.S. population, owned iPods or other MP3 players.

Once MP3s became main stream, it didn’t take long for video to follow. Three former PayPal employees created the now infamous video sharing platform, YouTube, in February, 2005, and, in 2006, sold it to Google Inc. for $1.65 billion. YouTube did for video what Napster did for audio. Suddenly, anyone and everyone could, and did, create and share video files.

Today, entrepreneurs and nonprofit directors can use these platforms to create and share their messages regardless of budgetary or technological limitations.

For Free—

Blog Talk Radio is probably the easiest way to enter the podcasting arena. All you need to join the ranks of podcasters like Vehicle Vibe and FlyLady is a password and a cell phone. Once you create your online account, you call to login with your cell phone and speak directly into the microphone to broadcast your show. Sound easy? It is. But bear in mind that the sound quality of a podcast done using this method leaves a bit to be desired.

On a Limited Budget—

For under $300, you can buy all of the equipment you need to turn a rank amateur show into a professional podcast or video program. Miniature cameras like the user-friendly $129 Flip Camcorder or a $149 USB condenser microphone can be used to record and effortlessly upload to video broadcasting sites like YouTube or Vimeo.

The Sky’s the Limit—

The hottest ticket in the world of Internet marketing today is the viral video. The first video to go viral was a webcam recording of a stout young man singing Numa Numa, which has been viewed more than 35 million times. The popularity of unprofessional, humorous videos on YouTube gave advertisers the idea to create short video commercials to try to capitalize on the growing trend. The first company to do so on a grand scale was Blendtec, with their viral video campaign, Will It Blend?

The only drawback to creating a viral campaign is that it takes a lot of money and talent to make a video appear to have been produced by rank amateurs. Also, since the public is fickle, it’s not easy to predict what they will embrace. Might I suggest a thin, throaty-voiced columnist discussing the Invasion of Potsie and the Pod People?

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

Bowling for Business: SEO—The Bot Stops Here

SEO: So easy, even a baby could do it!

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 15, 2010

When our daughters were young, we made sure our home was childproof. We plugged the outlets with plastic covers, latched cabinets and bundled electrical cords. We placed a menacing plastic gate at the top of the stairs which pinched our fingers when we opened it and tripped us when we tried to step over it.

As the girls grew, baby-proofing became less necessary. Seventeen-year-old Lauren hardly ever tries to lick the outlets. Thirteen-year-old Kaitlin no longer lives to pull pots & pans out of cupboards so she can play with them on the kitchen floor. And 20-year-old Brianna is busy baby-proofing her own house for our 10-month-old granddaughter, Avery.

When they visit, I realize that our home is no longer child safe. An expert crawler, Avery heads straight for full trash cans, fireplace tools and dog toys. So I spend a lot of time trying to redirect traffic. I dissuade her from sucking on splintery kindling, heavy ceramic coasters and prickly decorative pine cones by making it easy for her to find more suitable targets. In other words, I optimize my granddaughter’s search.

We do a similar thing for clients of Mountain Marketing Group. By optimizing their websites, we help dictate Internet traffic patterns.

Wikipedia defines Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a website from search engines via “natural” or unpaid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results as opposed to search engine marketing (SEM) which deals with paid inclusion. Typically, the earlier (or higher) a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine.

In other words, if you want potential customers or donors to spend time on your website, you need to make it easy for them to find it. The best way to do this is to find a way to get your site to return top results in the top three search engines, Google, Yahoo and Bing. Internet Bots, also known as Web Crawlers or Spiders (A frustrated science fiction writer must have coined these terms), continuously monitor Internet content to match it with search entries. Several SEO strategies can help land you at the top of the list.

For Free—

If you want to boost traffic to your website, make sure you include plenty of backlinks, which are inbound links coming from other relevant websites back to your own. Early on, link farmers artificially drove search engine traffic by creating worthless links to unrelated sites. Since Internet robots now recognize, disqualify and even ban sites that link like this, the best way to create legitimate backlinks is to:

  • List your website on Free Directories, like the one available on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net.
  • Comment on Forums and Blogs. But shy away from software that generates links. Google is very much aware of spamming techniques like these. If they catch you using them, you run the risk of being de-indexed.
  • Provide RSS Feeds to websites that interest you. (When your RSS feed gets published by the other site, you will get a legitimate inbound link to your site.)

On a Limited Budget—

One cost-effective way to improve SEO is to use keyword research tools to discover untapped market niches, get inspiration for new products and create compelling content that distinguishes your site from the pack. Once you find out what your target market is looking for, be sure to include it on your website…not just in tags, to get traffic to your site, but in rich, valuable content.

This might sound like common sense, but you might be surprised at the search engine tactics some desperate people try. If your product is lemonade, don’t add “USA Women’s Hockey,” to your website even if it is the hottest Google search term (as of 3 p.m. on Sunday, February 14, 2010). Deliver what your keywords promise.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Keep the content fresh. If the information on your site is stagnant, you will return lower results than if you change the copy and images on a regular basis.

The easiest way to do this is to hire someone to build a customized Content Management System (CMS) website, which is simple to add to, edit and manage. Keeping content dynamic using a CMS site without HTML knowledge is straightforward because CMS sites convert HTML programming code into WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), which may not be easy enough for a baby to configure. But, take it from me. If a doting grandmother can handle it, so could you.

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

Bowling for Business: The Write Stuff

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

Clearly convey your intended messag

No doubt you’re familiar with the game of telephone, where you whisper something to the first person in a line and then wait to hear how the message gets scrambled on the other end? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the current record-holding “telephone game” whisper is, “They inherited the earth and then the army came and scorched it.” The final words passed on were “Mayfield College.”

I’m confident the folks at Guinness would reevaluate the record if they came to my home, since we unintentionally play the game on a daily basis. My husband’s instructions to Kaitlin to “Clean your room” are heard as, “Watch television all day long.”

My requests to Lauren to “Take out the trash” are interpreted as, “Make brownies and destroy the kitchen in the process.”

As a family, we’re working on refining the communication model. Brent and I have recently discovered that while communication theories like repetition, parroting and paraphrasing do no good, threats yield results. Miraculously, the girls accurately discern messages like, “Vacuum the living room or hand over your cell phone.”

The reason our teenagers pay attention to this type of message is because we have made it relevant to their world. By engaging them on their terms, we make them an active part of the conversation. I’m embarrassed it took so long to adopt the practice at home since we do it all of the time when it comes to writing website copy for clients at Mountain Marketing Group.

In real life and Cyberspace, effective communication boils down to understanding and speaking to your audience from their point of view. When it comes to marketing, this relatively simple concept is revolutionary. Instead of designing and writing a website that looks like a billboard, remember that the reason people go online is to gather information. That’s why it’s called the Information Superhighway. Your site should provide help, not hype.

For Free–

If finances are tight, write website copy, yourself, using the following tips—

  1. Personalize your message and involve readers.
  2. Be friendly. Use anecdotes. Don’t talk down to your audience.
  3. Let your passion about your product or service come through.
  4. Prominently feature testimonials.
  5. Be real. Avoid overly-technical explanations and corporate-speak. If you mean to say, “If there’s a problem,” don’t write, “In the event of an unsatisfactory experience.” 
  6. FOREGO EXCESSIVE USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS, BOLD TYPEFACE AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!
  7. Talk benefits instead of features. How will your product or service improve your clients’ lives?
  8. Leave your mission statement off of the homepage. Visitors don’t care.
  9. Include a guarantee or free trial.
  10. Proofread everything at least three times. Errors undermine credibility.

It’s exceedingly difficult to look at your own copy with objectivity. Left unchecked, your greatest asset, familiarity with your offering, can be a liability. So, after you’ve written the copy, run it by other people so they can give you their opinions. Be aware that friends and family will be biased. They already have at least a rudimentary understanding of what you do. So, try to get the verbiage in front of someone who has no preconceived ideas of your product or service.

On a Budget–

Hire a writer who specializes in creating direct response copy, which is designed to solicit a reaction that is both specific and quantifiable. An experienced writer will understand how to do all of the above and will be able to skillfully provide interesting information as well as a seamless call to action. And this is of paramount importance. After all, what good is a great website if it fails to improve the bottom line?

The Sky’s the Limit–

Hire a professional website development team, which will make sure your copy is stellar and that the artwork matches the tone and feel you wish to convey. A web team will eliminate the potential for your message to get lost in translation. And, unless you want to challenge the current record in Guinness, that’s a very good thing. Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

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: The Write Stuff for Website Copy

Mean what you say, say what you mean/One things leads to another.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 18, 2010.

No doubt you’re familiar with the game of telephone, where you whisper something to the first person in a line and then wait to hear how the message gets scrambled on the other end? According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the current record-holding “telephone game” whisper is, “They inherited the earth and then the army came and scorched it.” The final words passed on were “Mayfield College.”

I’m confident the folks at Guinness would reevaluate the record if they came to my home, since we unintentionally play the game on a daily basis. My husband’s instructions to Kaitlin to “Clean your room” are heard as, “Watch television all day long.”

My requests to Lauren to “Take out the trash” are interpreted as, “Make brownies and destroy the kitchen in the process.”

As a family, we’re working on refining the communication model. Brent and I have recently discovered that while communication theories like repetition, parroting and paraphrasing do no good, threats yield results. Miraculously, the girls accurately discern messages like, “Vacuum the living room or hand over your cell phone.”

The reason our teenagers pay attention to this type of message is because we have made it relevant to their world. By engaging them on their terms, we make them an active part of the conversation. I’m embarrassed it took so long to adopt the practice at home since we do it all of the time when it comes to writing website copy for clients at Mountain Marketing Group.

In real life and Cyberspace, effective communication boils down to understanding and speaking to your audience from their point of view. When it comes to marketing, this relatively simple concept is revolutionary. Instead of designing and writing a website that looks like a billboard, remember that the reason people go online is to gather information. That’s why it’s called the Information Superhighway. Your site should provide help, not hype.

For Free

If finances are tight, write website copy, yourself, using the following tips—

1.     Personalize your message and involve readers.

  1. Be friendly. Use anecdotes. Don’t talk down to your audience.
  2. Let your passion about your product or service come through.
  3. Prominently feature testimonials.
  4. Be real. Avoid overly-technical explanations and corporate-speak. If you mean to say, “If there’s a problem,” don’t write, “In the event of an unsatisfactory experience.”
  5. FOREGO EXCESSIVE USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS, BOLD TYPEFACE AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!
  6. Talk benefits instead of features. How will your product or service improve your clients’ lives?
  7. Leave your mission statement off of the homepage. Visitors don’t care.
  8. Include a guarantee or free trial.
  9. Proofread everything at least three times. Errors undermine credibility.

It’s exceedingly difficult to look at your own copy with objectivity. Left unchecked, your greatest asset, familiarity with your offering, can be a liability. So, after you’ve written the copy, run it by other people so they can give you their opinions. Be aware that friends and family will be biased. They already have at least a rudimentary understanding of what you do. So, try to get the verbiage in front of someone who has no preconceived ideas of your product or service.

On a Budget

Hire a writer who specializes in creating direct response copy, which is designed to solicit a reaction that is both specific and quantifiable. An experienced writer will understand how to do all of the above and will be able to skillfully provide interesting information as well as a seamless call to action. And this is of paramount importance. After all, what good is a great website if it fails to improve the bottom line?

The Sky’s the Limit

Hire a professional website development team, which will make sure your copy is stellar and that the artwork matches the tone and feel you wish to convey. A web team will eliminate the potential for your message to get lost in translation. And, unless you want to challenge the current record in Guinness, that’s a very good thing. Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Clear the Clutter

Clear the Clutter from your Marketing Strategy with Pay Per Click

This column appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 10, 2010 and in the Business Press on January 20, 2010.

Cleaning House with Pay Per Click

On the heels of the holiday season, our house looks a bit like a war-torn country. Half-eaten plates of cookies, broken candy canes and stale cinnamon rolls crowd the kitchen counter. Torn tissue paper and abandoned gift bags pepper the living room floor. Opening a cupboard is like preparing for a bomb blast, requiring deft “duck and cover” maneuvers to guard against plastic Del Taco cups and Tupperware that fall like mortar.

The reason for the disarray is simple. We have too much crap. (Sorry for the vernacular. But there is really no other way to describe how much junk my small family somehow manages to accumulate.) Every January, to combat the onslaught, we schedule an informal “Clean up the Crap Day.” We spend hours sorting through our possessions and arranging them into piles to throw away, donate or stow. And whenever we take on the task, I wonder how, in a single calendar year, one family could have possibly made so many trips to Wal-Mart.

After clean up day, we breathe a collective sigh of relief and vow never again to repeat the practice of letting things spiral out of control. We agree to live simply, cut out the clutter and streamline our household so that we won’t have to spend needless energy sifting through excess in order to find what we really need.

In this economy, the same might be necessary for your current advertising strategy. It might be time to clear the crap. And if you’re going to get down to brass tacks, consider implementing one of the best advertising options available today, Pay Per Click.

Also known as Pay Per Ranking, Pay Per Placement, Pay Per Position or Cost Per Click, Pay Per Click (PPC) is an Internet advertising model used on websites, in which advertisers pay their host only when their ad is clicked. When you enter a word or phrase in the search bar using an engine such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, two different sets of results are returned… organic (or natural) and sponsored (or paid). When I explain this phenomenon to Mountain Marketing Group clients, I’m surprised at how few are aware of these two very different categories.

Organic results are purported to be completely non-biased—meaning that the engine will not accept any amount of money to influence the rankings of an individual site. This is quite the opposite of paid advertising which appears in “sponsored” or “featured” search engine results, in which higher positions are rewarded to the companies willing to pay the most per visitor. You can tell the difference between the two types of search results because sponsored keywords appear in shaded areas just under the search bar and at right.

The nice thing about PPC is that you pay only when a searcher clicks on your listing and connects to your site. By using PPC, you pre-qualify your audience, since they were actively searching for your product or service or they never would have found it in the first place.

For Free—

Although it is not possible to advertise for free using PPC, I have managed campaigns for clients who have set campaign limits at $10, just to see if their keywords generate any activity. When you consider the cost of advertising using other mediums, where you have to pay regardless of the effectiveness of the ad, PPC is a great alternative. There are simply no hidden costs.

On a Budget—

Keywords cost anywhere between .05 per click and several dollars, depending on competition. The most expensive keywords relate to the mortgage industry, where people pay up to $40/ click. Our clients pay an average .75 per click. If your product or service is highly competitive, there are still plenty of ways for you to utilize PPC without having to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege. One is via Facebook, which offers PPC ads which are different than Google AdSense, Yahoo Search Marketing or Bing Search Ads. On Facebook, you can create an ad, which includes artwork, for free, set campaign limits, handpick your audience and leave thousands of impressions for only a few dollars per month.

The Sky’s the Limit—

One of our clients spends $2,000 per week on Pay Per Click advertising. The reason he is willing to invest so much is because he is happy with the results. If an advertising strategy had the potential to change the game for you, would you consider it? PPC might not be the best marketing method for everyone. But, for many, the strategy is the single most cost-effective way to hunker down and cut the crap.

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