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Topsy Turvy Marketing

As we wrap up the first month of the year, many businesses are finalizing their marketing plans, and wrapping up their marketing budgets for the year. Not surprisingly, much has been written over the past few weeks regarding the best marketing practices in which to engage, in order to achieve and increase ROI throughout 2013.

As the owner of Creativeworks, a marketing agency dedicated to increasing marketing results for SMB owners, I have a few tips I’d like to share with my fellow SMBs. These tips will help you determine which marketing tactics might be worth investing in. But before I share my tips, I want to remind you that marketing activities or tactics must be aligned with your overall marketing strategy if you hope to generate leads and increase your sales.  In other words, you should think strategy first, then tactics, and never the other way around.  If you invest in tactics first, without a strategy, then you are shooting in the dark; throwing good money after bad, hoping that some tactic will eventually stick and give you the return you are looking for.

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To help you determine the best types of marketing tactics in which to invest this year, I have outlined my top four tips of what you might consider before setting any marketing plans in stone:

  1. Make sure your marketing shows prospective clients/customers how you are different from your competition.  Your company’s uniqueness should be reflected in your website, brochures, social media, video, but you might also want to ensure that it can be conveyed in a concise elevator speech, and all of your other marketing materials.
  2. Clearly define your target audience, paying careful attention to the demographics. You may find you have one service/product for one specific audience, and other products/services for a second audience. Identify them, including the type of media that this audience is engaged with. For example, although you may want to use social media in your marketing, Facebook may not be the best way to reach married men over 55.
  3. Make sure your marketing activities are tied to your strategy. Reactive and ad-hoc marketing simply does not ensure long-lasting ROI.
  4. Before you launch any tactic, make sure you have some ability to track the results in an actionable manner. For example, for your website, it’s important to make sure that you don’t only have Google Analytics for the sake of having it. You need to figure out how you can use this tool to track the success of your online campaigns or interactive solutions.

The world of marketing may seem topsy turvy to some, but with a solid strategy, aligned tactics and measured results, success is definitely achievable.

I am always interested in hearing from you. Have you thought about what marketing tactics you’re going to use this year? How is this year different from 2012? Or are you sticking with your tried-and-true marketing tactics from last year? Let me know in the comments below.

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If This Isn’t Marketing, Then What Is?

I often come across small business owners who have spent their hard-earned money on ad-hoc advertising tactics, off-shore website designers, local printers and, more recently, SEO specialists and YouTube-focused video production companies. However, they find that these efforts yield little to no return on their advertising investments. These failures have left many small business owners feeling discouraged about investing in further marketing, as they think that marketing as a whole simply “doesn’t work”.

As the owner of a marketing agency targeting small- and medium-sized businesses, I want to set the record straight: Marketing is not about how pretty it looks, or how cool it is – it’s about how effective it is. Marketing tools will have limited effects when developed without a clear purpose. However, when developed to support a marketing strategy, marketing tools can generate qualified leads, and thereby increase your results.

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In this blog, I’d like to advise you of a number of marketing tool suppliers that are often confused with actual marketers. If you are able to identify what results you can expect to get from these types of suppliers, the outcomes of any efforts undertaken with these individuals/companies will be easier to comprehend.

1. Printers.

As their name states, printers only know how to print marketing materials. They do not develop marketing strategies.  Although some may offer web and logo design, or know how to layout your business cards and letterhead, this does not make them a marketer.  Printing is nothing more than an advertising tactic.

2. Web designers

Web designers are individuals who can design a website, and will advise you on what makes the most sense to feature on your site from a navigational or flow perspective. They might know what looks best, and might even share with you some best practices of site design, but, typically, they are not marketers. Like print, web design is a marketing tactic or tool.

3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialists

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialists can help you to increase the chances of your site being located online, through search engines such as Google and Bing.  Although I believe that SEO is one of the most important marketing tools available today, it is nothing more than a tool that should be used to support marketing strategies.

4. Social media specialists

Social media specialists are amazing at getting your brand out there, and keeping you relevant to your customers through social media strategies and implementation. This does not necessarily mean that they are marketers.  Social media is a marketing tactic that should follow a strategy, and it should be aligned with your overarching marketing strategy.

5. Online marketing

Although the word “marketing” is in the name, online marketing is, again, a tactic that needs to be identified and aligned with your marketing strategy. Many companies offer a proprietary online marketing tool “guaranteed to increase your sales”. This needs to be considered as part of a marketing strategy.

6. Video marketing

Video marketing is undoubtedly a marketing tactic.  Frequently, video marketing is provided by video production companies – individuals who can shoot and edit video, who lack a marketing background. As well, some marketing companies with no background in video often claim to provide these services.  Professional video requires expertise in the field, and if used for marketing purposes, also requires alignment with your marketing strategy in order to be successful.

If you only take away one point from this blog, let it be that marketing requires a strategy. Every vendor that you hire should be asking to see how their marketing tool aligns with your overall marketing plan, increases ROI, and will be measured against your marketing strategy.

Do you have any questions about the difference between marketing tools and marketing strategies? Do you have any other marketing-related questions for me? Please share your questions and comments below.

Client Referrals: Don’t Ask… Don’t Get

Many SMB owners describe client referrals as one of the hardest things they have to do. No matter if they receive client emails thanking them for their service and singing their praises, very few see that feedback as marketing opportunities to ask their clients for referrals.

With November drawing to a close this week, I can’t think of a better time to set up face-to-face meetings with your existing clients to wish them well for the holidays, discuss their plans for the new year, and ask them for a referral.

I am not suggesting in any way that we substitute client referrals with other lead generation tools such as social media, landing pages, online marketing, QR code campaigns, etc., but there is no better lead than a “warm” lead or “endorsed” lead from an existing client.

Although many business owners feel comfortable asking their clients for a testimonial, when it comes to referrals they seem to steer clear.  I’m not sure if it’s that they are shy or just afraid of the client reaction, but referrals are not only a fantastic source for lead generation, they are “free” and therefore should be included in every marketing strategy.

Here are a few tips I’d like to share with you to help you approach your clients and get the business referrals you deserve:

  • Book a face-to-face meeting with your client. People will always be more likely to do something for someone else if the person is standing right in front of them. Although it is acceptable to ask for referrals by email or phone if you’re in a situation where a face-to-face is not possible, you will have greater success when meeting in person.
  • Use the upcoming holidays as an opportunity to set up this face-to-face.
  • Make it a more casual setting – since it is holiday time, a lunch offer would be nice with the idea to thank them for their business and also to connect on plans for the new year.
  • During your holiday lunch or coffee, and after you have discussed their business needs, be as sincere and direct as you can be and say something such as, “I’m really glad that you’re pleased with my work. I’m always looking for referrals and wonder if you know anyone else who might be interested in _______ (what you do).” If they do offer names, take them down and ask the person if they mind if you contact the people directly or if they would prefer to pass your information along to them yourself.
  • Another approach might be to add: “May I leave a few of my business cards with you in case someone comes to mind?” Leaving extra business cards with a person makes it easier for them to pass your name and contact information to someone else.
  • Keep this meeting upbeat and never ask for a referral when presenting your client with their invoice.

It does take some effort and possibly courage to approach your clients for referrals, but the effort promises great rewards.

How have you asked for referrals? Do you have any approaches you would add to this list?

How To Create A Unique Brand In Five Simple Steps

Differentiating your brand in a global market where businesses compete for a piece of the pie can be a daunting task.

For SMBs, who often feel their competitors seem to be selling approximately the same services/products, your unique selling proposition (USP) becomes more important as a way to stand out, and build a reputation based on a “special” difference.

As the owner of a marketing agency focused on helping small and mid-sized businesses succeed through strategic planning, I’d like to share some of the branding knowledge, specific to creating a successful USP, that I have gained over the years.

These steps will lay the groundwork that you need to help you make the most of your marketing and business planning activities.

Before we begin, let me clarify the term USP. A USP is a summary of what makes your business unique and valuable to your target market.  It answers the question: How do your business services/products benefit your clients better than anyone else’s?

Step 1: Analyze Your Competitors

Look at how other companies use their USPs to their advantage. Analyze other companies’ ads and marketing messages.  If you analyze what they say they sell, and not just their product or service characteristics, you can learn a great deal about how companies distinguish themselves from their competitors.

Step 2:  Solve a Problem

Armed with the knowledge of how your competitors distinguish themselves,now you can clearly identify what sets you apart. This step involves looking at your business from your prospective clients’ or customers’ perspective, to identify what the problem, need or challenge is that they face, and then outlining how your service/product can solve it for them.

Step 3: Big Benefits

Now that you have identified how your business solves a problem, list a few of the biggest benefits of working with you. Explain why your services are important to your customer, and why they should choose you over another provider.

Step 4: Your Target Audience

This is a trickier step than you might think, as your target audience is NOT simply everyone who buys your product/service.  Since we all enjoy a good fishing analogy, here’s one as it relates to USPs: If you want to catch salmon, then you need to use a specific fishing net. Otherwise, if you try to catch salmon using a huge net, although you may catch a few salmon, you are more likely to catch trout, sturgeons and tench. Think about what you’ve identified in steps 1 to 3, and then be as specific as you can when identifying your target audience for your service/product.

Step 5: The Pledge

A big part of a successful USP is making a pledge to your clients.  This is a promise of sorts, which clearly states the type of promise or guarantee that you will provide to your clients. This could be a statement that you can either publicize or simply keep internally. Either way, it is a statement of your commitment to your USP. For example, in Toronto, we have a pizza delivery service that promises to deliver your pizza in 30 minutes, or it is free.  This promise speaks volumes to customers about the type of commitment they are making to their customers, and the value they place on customer service.

Using specifics to identify what makes your business unique and valuable to your target audience is unquestionably one of the most important and valuable processes your business will ever undertake.  When you can clearly state how your business services/products benefit your clients better than anyone else’s, then you are well-positioned to differentiate your brand and develop strategies for business growth.

Do you have a USP? If not, do you have any questions about how to create one?  Is your USP incorporated into all of your marketing activities? Let me know in the comments below.

Results Require Commitment

Although ‘commitment’ is a word that many often shy away from, I have never been so humbled as I am when I work with small and medium business clients who work around-the-clock to satisfy their customers, stay in the game, and try to reach their goals of success. 

What strikes me as ironic is that these companies, which show such a deep commitment to their overall success, often feel that when it comes to marketing and advertising, they should expect quick and immediate results.

Although the media we use today have the ability to promote our brands and spread the word almost instantly, many SMBs have come to expect a return just as quickly. However, in truth, we need to be realistic about our commitment to our marketing strategies, and trust that it takes time to see the return on our branding touch points.

Here are a few tips on what processes and possible pitfalls you need to consider when reviewing the ROI of the tactics outlined in your strategic marketing plan.

  • No matter how small the marketing tactic, make sure you have a detailed timeline which outlines development time, implementation time, expected results vs. actual results, as well as roles and responsibilities.
  • Assign an internal resource to manage and measure each campaign. If you do not have an internal resource, hire an external marketing company to take care of this for you.
  • Ideally, you should have weekly progress reports to see how each marketing tactic is faring. Depending on the length and type of campaign, with a weekly report you can adjust the tactic to impact the results.
  • Although everyone wants their video to go viral, most don’t. Make sure you have a detailed plan for your video.  Read my blog on online videos for some tips in this regard, at https://creativeworksmarketing.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/online-video-its-not-only-video-production-its-marketing/
  • All tactics need to be tied to your strategic marketing plan, which is then tied to your business plan. In other words, an online campaign and an email blast may produce some immediate outcomes, but make sure they support your brand message, and are sustainable for the long term.
  • ROI requires actual measurable results, make sure you have these, and know where to access them, so you can determine if they were in fact success or not.  For example, if you are running an awareness campaign, how will you measure its success?
  • It takes time to build an online presence, so assess the results of each campaign to determine whether it has helped you to achieve your objectives. For example, one online campaign may not yield results, but if it was inline with your brand and your target audience, then consider another type of online campaign.

Protecting and promoting your brand through marketing strategies is a full-time commitment. In a world of known brands, SMBs must be particularly diligent in continually publishing positive company information, keeping your brand in front of your customers, defining your uniqueness in the industry, and measuring your ROI. As your brand grows, so will your company’s success!

Is your business committed to marketing? If so, how has this played out in your business? Please share your questions and comments below.

Online Video: Costs to Consider

(A follow-up to It’s Not Only Video Production – It’s Marketing)

In last week’s blog, I discussed the advantages of using video in your marketing efforts, including outlining the video process, and how long a production may take to create.  As a follow up to that blog, I have dedicated this week’s blog to answering questions regarding budget-related costs associated with video production.

As the owner of a marketing agency with a full service video production company, and over 13 international video awards, my clients often ask me how much producing video costs, and how these costs are determined. I’ve shared my answers to those questions below.

How much does it cost to make a video?

Costs are very much dependent on your needs. Every video is customized and unique, and as such, production costs vary widely according to the video style, and the time spent writing, shooting, and editing the final product.

If you plan to buy TV airtime, or buy online advertising to showcase your video, this will also add to your costs.

Have a budget in mind, and then discuss it with your agency to see what type of video can be produced based on this budget.  You should be able to reduce your budget if you can share some of the responsibilities, like writing the scripts, or providing images.

Be realistic about your expectations.  Do not expect to pay a semi-pro rate and get a professional product. Cheaper is usually not better.

What Drives the Cost of Video?

Understandably, I get this question all the time. There are three basic factors that drive productions costs.  These factors eventually get reflected in dozens of budget decisions that impact the quality of the final product.

  • Time.  Time spent increases costs. The more time that is spent in pre-production, scripting, location scouting, camera and equipment used, number of locations, days shooting, size of crew required, special effects, and editing, the better the final product will be.   Reduce the number of locations, for example, and this is reflected in the cost.
  • Talent.  The greater the talent of the people working on the project (crew, director, producer, editor and on screen talent), the better it will be.  In online video production, as with most things in life, talented and experienced people tend to cost more. Use in-house talent, for example, and this will be reflected in the cost.
  • Tools.  Understand what type of camera is best for your shoot requirements. Small DSLR cameras make beautiful footage, but they fall short in many areas, and therefore may not be right for your shoot.  High-end cameras with professional lighting kits, sophisticated post-production motion graphics, and animation will also add to your cost.

If I only want a 30 second video, is that cheaper?

The truth is that the final length of the video is not directly proportionate to the cost of the production.  Consider TV commercials, which are usually created in 30 second time blocks: the production cost alone may be well over $25,000, even though it is only 30 seconds long. Why? Because the project still required planning, scripting, a talented team, professional tools, etc.  So even if you reduce the final video time to 30 seconds, it does not mean the costs will be lower. That being said, you would be able to save costs in the “time” side of things as outlined above.

What is included in the production costs?

Production costs will be itemized in any video proposal sent to you, but they can include everything from initial research and concept development to scriptwriting, shooting, editing, graphics, music and narration. Duplication of CDs, DVDs or USBs is usually not included. Again, discuss what items you will be responsible for and what you need your agency for and then they can send you the itemized costs and responsibilities in their proposal.

I have outlined for you what you can expect from a professional and experienced video production company. Although you can produce videos from an iPhone, or use free editing software on your computer, please be aware that you do get what you pay for.

As a business professional, consider video to be yet another professional service, as you would your accountant.  Video is a powerful medium, as I have said many times: it has the power to influence clients by going viral and driving your brand and ROI. However, if done unprofessionally, it also has the power to leave a negative impression in the minds of your potential clients.

Do you have any questions about using video in your marketing? Do you have any other costing questions for me?  Please share your questions and stories about producing video in the comments below.

Online Marketing: How To Get Found

The phrase “If you build it, they will come”, may have worked in Field of Dreams, but in online marketing, we must build something, and create the avenues that help us get found.

In previous blogs, I’ve outlined some marketing approaches and the importance of knowing what to look for, what marketing tools you might require and what social media you might use on the journey to increase brand awareness and grow revenue. In this blog, I’d like to get back to basics and outline what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) activities are, and how they can help you to attain your online marketing goals.

The term SEO is frequently bandied about for show, these days, but let us never forget what it really means:  the process of improving the visibility of your website or a web page in a search engine’s “natural,” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”), search results. (Wikipedia)

SEO considers how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines and which search engines are preferred by targeted audiences.

The goal is to increase your SEO to achieve the highest possible rankings for searches that are relevant for your business.  In simple terms, you want people to find you by typing certain words into Google or Yahoo or Bing.

Here’s some tips to help you better navigate the world of SEO.  If you need some more clarification on how best to increase you SEO, consult with a marketing agency you trust to advise you on the best strategy for your business.

1. Get indexed

The leading search engines, such as Google, Bing and Yahoo!, use crawlers to find pages for their algorithmic search results. Search engine crawlers may look at a number of different factors when crawling a site. Not every page is indexed by the search engines.

Crawlers cannot read Flash sites.

2. Increase prominence

A variety of methods can increase the prominence of a webpage within the search results.

  • Cross linking between pages of the same website to provide more links to most important pages may improve its visibility.
  • Keywords
    The language of the search engines is keywords. Based on the words or phrases searchers use, search engines determine the most relevant fit and rank results accordingly. Writing content that includes frequently searched keyword phrases, so as to be relevant to a wide variety of search queries, will tend to increase traffic.
  • Meta data
    Adding relevant keywords to a web page’s meta data, including the title tag and meta description, will tend to improve the relevancy of a site’s search listings, thus increasing traffic.  Use your keywords properly in your page titles, page headings and alt tags (image descriptions).

3. GO BEYOND YOUR SITE

Search engines give significant weight to what happens beyond your web site. This is often referred to as off-page SEO. Updating content so as to keep search engines crawling back frequently can give additional weight to a site. The premise is that they place more trust in how credible you are to others, versus how you present yourself.  Off-page SEO means web sites, and other sources, directing (linking) interested parties back to you. The greater the number of credible back links to your web site, the higher your search engine ranking.

4. USE SOCIAL MEDIA

As with off-page SEO, the search engines place more weight on how you are perceived online.  Social media is another opportunity for your site to be indexed and increase your rankings. Social Media influences search engine rankings, so keep up the frequency of your posts. The more you post, the more there is to index, and the higher your rankings.  Search engines also take into account any content created or accessed by people in the searcher’s social network.Search engine optimization is something you need to take seriously if you want increased visibility and more inbound leads: build it, create the avenues, keep it fresh and they will come!

Have any SEO questions or stories you’d like to share?