Realize the Amazing Power of Your Blog: Blogging and Social Media

Digital marketing, it’s pretty simple, right? Draft up 500+ words of amazingly educational and entertaining content, upload it onto your blog, maybe sprinkle on a little SEO magic and you’re good…right? Well, let’s just put it this way: if you have teenagers, they’re rolling their eyes at you. If you have dogs, they’re staring at you with that head-cocked-to-the-side look they give you when you’re missing the obvious.

Ok, maybe it’s not as obvious as pick up ball…throw ball, but if you spend any time reading about online marketing, you’ve got to know how important of a role your blog can play in growing your client base. Don’t worry, though, you’re not alone. It’s surprising how many established and emerging businesses underestimate the power of their blog. With a few added steps, you too can realize the amazing power of your blog.

Active Content Distribution

When you were planning your wedding or “Sweet 16” party, you didn’t spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on gorgeous invitations just to leave them in the box, did you? Of course not! You sent them out into the world so they could tell the world the exciting news.

The same concept rings true for your blog content. They key is to actively push your content out into the world so people can line up to dance with you, money in hand. You want to get your content out on as many channels as you can. So this means:

o Tweet out your headlines and grabbers with a link to your content
o Post a summary of your content to Facebook
o Add your blog to your Google+ and LinkedIn Feeds
o Upload the cool images you post with your blog article to Pinterest and Instagram
o Turn your blog into a podcast or video and upload to YouTube
o Find out where your clients are hanging out and get your content out there!

It may sound a little daunting, but most of that can be done in one step using online tools that will help you to schedule your releases to touch your prospects and clients on a daily basis. Aim for 2-3 releases per day.

Sales Funnels

Depending on your business, your sales funnel can look much different than the business next door. So, without getting into too much detail, let’s take a high-level look at what a sales funnel is and how your blog and other web content plays a role.

Typically, your blog articles will have one or more links to other pages of your website. You can be strategic about this and push (“funnel”) them to where you want them to go. The page(s) that you’re pushing your readers to may have a certain call to action that encourages them to give you their email address in exchange for something they find valuable. This could be a free white paper, free trial, webinar or other free consideration to obtain that valuable email address.

Once you have the prospect’s email address, you can now trickle out relevant content (likely from your blog) into their brains via email. You’ll have additional links to free content or additional sales pages that your prospects can click to when they’re ready to make their purchase.

The sales funnel is all about grabbing that email address and using it to establish yourself as an expert in the field so that people will trust you enough or like you enough to buy what you’re selling.

Strategic Alliances

Too many business owners think they have to do everything alone. This is not only sad, but also a dangerous fallacy that may be choking off your business revenues. One of the big keys to building your business is teaming up with other complementary (not competing) businesses to expand your reach.

According to Andrew Davis, author of “Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnership” businesses that partner usually experience rapid success with their content. The key is to make your content noteworthy, so when you reach out to potential partners, they’ll be impressed and want to work with you.

There are a host of ways to initiate strategic alliances. They all start with recognizing those businesses that complement your product or service and share your audience. From there, consider reading their blogs to see what they’re writing about. Send them an email proposing a guest blog article that would be of interest to their audience and a link to your site. That opens a dialogue that can lead to tremendous collective success.

Advertisements

Outsourcing Employee Training – When does it make Sense?

When you first started your company, you likely had some vision of what the customer experience would look like. Depending on your market, it could have looked something like the highly polished Front Desk staff of New York’s Plaza Hotel, or maybe the sarcastically surly wait staff of San Diego’s Dick’s Last Resort. Whatever the market, you definitely wanted to create a distinctive customer experience.

Fast-forward a few years…You’re standing off to the side of your restaurant/coffee bar/bookstore/clothing boutique and you realize, despite your best efforts at conveying your vision, your staff is just not “getting it.” If that’s the case and you want to distinguish your establishment, it may be time to bring in some training experts.

The big question is this: What makes more sense for your business – doing your training in-house or outsourcing your employee training?

Market Placement and Reach

Your decision on whether to insource or outsource your employee training is typically impacted by how many people you need to have trained. Is it a set number of people at exact intervals? Many businesses can take advantage of on-demand training to reduce costs and ensure your employees are trained quickly and properly by having an external provider handle the training function.

Additionally, if you have trainees located in geographically diverse locations, a vendor can easily take a classroom-learning module and create web-based training. This can be hosted in-house or remotely, depending upon your business needs.

Outsourcing Training May Cost Less

If you have full-time employees that are specifically dedicated to training your staff, it can be a costly endeavor. Many small and mid-sized companies just don’t have the monetary resources to dedicate man-hours to development, design, implementation, and evaluation of training for their employees. There’s also the management and tracking of these functions to think about.

Instead of hiring one or two employees dedicated solely to training, it may make more economic sense to use an outside organization to send your employees to before you let them loose with customers.

Risk Reduction

Training your employees is not just about creating that distinctive customer experience. You also want to ensure that your employees have the proper tools to do the job efficiently and safely. Think of training as a way to safeguard your business and reduce the risk of injury, loss, and (gasp!) lawsuits.

There are a host of web-based training programs out there addressing topics like proper money handling, OSHA safety, and dealing with difficult clients.

Access to Expertise

Training takes a specialized skill set. Vendors that specialize in training have the ability to create customizable training systems at a fraction of the cost of having them built in-house. The individuals that design, develop, and implement training are professionals that know how to transfer knowledge to a wide variety of learners.

The bottom line here is that these outside vendors are in the business of training. In-house training is hard to beat if you have the financial means and the ability to keep a steady stream of projects in the pipeline. However, if this is not the case, it may make sense to look to outside options for excellent employee training. However you choose to train your employees, taking the time to ensure your employees know their jobs well will mean your customers will thank you!

Not All Mailing Lists Are Created Equal – Maximizing Your Return With Mailing List Savvy

It’s ironic, really. The lists that we struggle to be removed from are also the same lists our companies strive to obtain. The truth is, for many businesses, targeted mailing lists are the bread and butter of their marketing efforts. Being able to create niche-marketing materials and then putting those materials into the right hands is essential to a company’s survival.

Not all mailing lists are created equal, though. Understanding the different types of mailing lists is critical in maximizing the return on your investment of content and quality marketing materials.

Consumer Mailing List

Consumer mailing lists are comprehensive lists of people associated with their demographic, economic, and psychographic information. The consumer mailing list helps your business target individuals with very specific profiles for maximum return on investment. Typically, you can choose to filter these types of lists by the following data:

– Gender
– Age
– Ethnicity
– Marital Status
– Estimated Household Income
– Children Present
– Home Value
– Single or multiple family homes
– Hobbies and Interests

Consumer mailing lists are more expensive than say, a neighborhood mailing list, but your ability to filter out non-ideal recipients can make your investment worthwhile, especially for high-quality mailings such as multi-page letters, brochures, or large, high-quality postcards.

Neighborhood Mailing List

Neighborhood mailing lists are by far the most cost-effective list you can get. Many local businesses will target specific neighborhoods within a particular zip code or geographic location that falls within a specific radius of their business location.

This type of list is effective for obtaining new clients, particularly if your business wants a broad reach without regard to specific demographic or psychographic categories. Deliverables commonly associated with this type of mailing list include coupons, smaller postcards, and tri-fold 20# paper-stock brochures.

Business Mailing List

Business mailing lists are the “Holy Grail” for B2B companies, enabling them to maximize new targeted opportunities. This list type includes data pertaining to:

– Business Type
– Number of Employees
– Annual Sales
– Credit Rating
– Geographic Location
– Executive Names
– Phone Numbers
– Years in Business
– Owner Gender
– Public vs. Private

By targeting specific business data points, your company can identify and market directly to your ideal clients. You can also use the data points to differentiate the type or content of your marketing materials. For example, if you are a woman-owned business wanting to connect with other women-owned businesses, this type of list can help you do that, while still allowing you to send similar content to non-women-owned businesses with a different slant.

Specialty Mailing List

Specialty mailing lists are, just like they sound, lists of people filtered by special categories that you determine. Common types of specialty mailing lists include:

– New Parents
– New Movers
– New Homeowners
– Homeowners
– High-income Homeowners
– Renters
– Investors
– Health Conscious
– Green Consumers
– Sports Enthusiasts
– Voters (by political party)
– Seniors
– Consumers by Hobby

The list goes on. Essentially, if you can think of a niche that you want to market to, you’ve got yourself a specialty mailing list.

Truly understanding the individuals and businesses that your product or service is ideal for is the key to success. Combining a highly targeted mailing list with marketing materials that speak directly to the people or businesses on your list will boost your chances of making that next sale.

Super-Charge Your Sales Force With Highly Effective Print Sales Collateral

Converting prospects into clients is often a difficult and expensive process. Sales reps can spend weeks, months, even years trying to get a prospective client converted into a buyer. A large part of that process involves face time between the sales rep and the prospect in an attempt to forge a relationship built on trust. Seldom does that face-to-face meeting end in a solid sale.

Sales reps hate leaving a prospect without a signed contract, and the days of hardline sales techniques are long gone. So, how do your reps keep the conversation going and the interest building when they’re away? The answer is simple: put high-quality, effective print sales collateral in their hot, little hands.

Armed with the right mix of marketing materials, your sales reps can leave their prospects with some subliminal messaging that subtly invades the prospects’ subconscious after the sales rep leaves. Think of it as a little beacon whispering “buy me…buy me.”

Highly effective print sales collateral doesn’t just mean you leave a brochure and a business card and hope for the best. To super-charge your sales force, you need well thought-out, quality-designed materials that will continue to grab the prospect’s attention and not end up as a coaster or at the bottom of a hamster cage. Top sales experts have weighed in with the following best practices.

Case Studies

The single, most effective piece of sales collateral that you can leave with your prospects is the case study. Including one or two case studies targeted to the prospect’s needs can do more for your sales than a holiday gift basket. Your case studies should concisely discuss:

What the client’s greatest challenge was prior to purchasing your product or service
How the client implemented your product or service
How the client’s challenge went away or was reduced by implementing your product or service

These three things will communicate more to the prospect about how your product or service works and the value that it can provide to them, than merely listing the things your company does. Be sure to include solid numbers about money and time-savings, as these are the top two complaints companies have.

Testimonials

Finding three or four clients to rave about you is also a fantastic way to show your prospects that (1) you have clients, (2) your product/service is LOVED and (3) why your clients love it. Just like the case studies, if you can guide your clients in crafting a testimonial that discusses how your company changed their life for the better, the more effective the testimonial will be. Including their name, business name, and even a picture can go a long way in building credibility. Nothing says, “Trust us” like someone else saying, “Trust them!”

The Sales Page

Sales and Marketing Strategist Walter Wise notes that successful marketing messages use the “Marketing Equation of Interrupt, Engage, Educate, and Offer.” Let’s break down that equation (don’t worry, it’s even less to remember than the FOIL method from back in middle school):

Interrupt: your main headline, designed to interrupt your prospect’s attention
Engage: your sub-headline, crafted to keep the prospect’s interest and get them to keep reading
Educate: this is where you add some valuable information on solving your clients’ problems
Offer: this should be a low-risk, free report, checklist, white paper, or e-book that will position your company as a thought leader in the field.

Take the time to provide your “offer” in your sales package. The longer you can keep that prospect engaging in your company’s materials, the more likely they will be to buy.

Putting It All Together

It goes without saying that all of your materials should be printed on high-quality paper stock and designed by a professional graphic artist so that the materials are aesthetically pleasing. Too much text and low-quality graphics can be an instant turn-off regardless of the quality of your product.

Have your sales reps present the documents to the prospect in a snazzy, branded folder that will catch your prospect’s attention when the rep leaves, and one that will beg them to open it up and read what’s inside.

Demystifying Marketing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

With the existing and ever-remerging social media outlets available to us, the confusion as to how to use them can sometimes make us wish for the days when only local newspaper ads and the yellow pages were used for getting our name out there. Before you throw your hands up and invest in a sandwich sign board, let’s break down the mysteries that surround the three most popular social media platforms you can use successfully to grow your business.

Facebook
Facebook is probably the first platform you think of when you hear social media. It’s not surprising, considering that, as of January of this year, it has over 1.5 billion monthly active users. For those of you marketing to millennials (15-34-year-olds), about 91% of them use Facebook, most likely without ever looking up from their phones. With numbers like this, if your business doesn’t have an active Facebook page with content that is updated daily, you’re seriously missing out.

Facebook is a fantastic place to post longer form statements and articles, with images and links to your business website, to drive traffic. Connecting with your prospects and clients through Facebook can benefit your business tremendously by building those critical relationships. Building followers on Facebook enables you to spread the news about your business by keeping your followers up to date on what your business is doing.

Every business needs to be actively present on Facebook to stay relevant.

Twitter
Twitter, on the other hand, is a micro-blogging site that allows you to send short (140 characters) messages to potentially millions of individuals in real time. Some of the most compelling features of Twitter include:

– URL shorteners like TinyURL and Bitly – enable you to link to content on your own site without hogging all of your characters.

– Hashtags – these tiny miracle workers enable you to create or insert your message into a worldwide conversation, allowing you to reach individuals that aren’t necessarily following you, but are following the hashtag you are using.

– Trend watch – by looking at what’s trending on Twitter, you can easily tailor your content to the actively followed conversations (hashtags) and get in on the hype.

Businesses that can really benefit the most from this include mobile businesses such as restaurants, retail outlets, and food trucks. Imagine Tweeting out your current lunch special with coupons, or upcoming locations. Nothing says love like showing up to your location and seeing a hundred customers lined up and waiting for you!

Instagram
In contrast to Facebook and Twitter, Instagram is a photo-sharing app that enables you to put out rich and vibrant images to promote your business. Instagram is actually considered the single most important social network out there, so businesses that target the teen market absolutely must have an Instagram presence.

Instagram allows you to choose from a variety of filters when posting your photos. Be sure to use the same filters every time you post so that you can create your cohesive brand identity on Instagram. This will help users engage with your business. If they know it’s you, they’ll stop and like your image or make a comment.

If you’re new to Instagram, you may be associating it with a great big Selfie-Fest, but for businesses, that’s not the case. Posting aesthetically pleasing images of your products, your office, and things that may be associated with your product or service help you build your brand and show the world what you do.

Ultimately, the platform that will be most effective for your marketing efforts depends primarily on your audience, their interests, and the type of content you plan to disperse.

Understanding What’s Really Going on at the Post Office

If you had a tough time during the Great Recession of the last few years, you are in the same boat with many, including the United States Postal Service. With computers, e-mail, and the rise of similar types of technology, total mail volume was already on the decline – and then, the most troubling economic times in decades hit. All types of mail volume dropped dramatically in a short period of time.

According to the official USPS website, total mail volume in 2006 was roughly 213.1 billion pieces of material. The total mail volume in 2015, on the other hand, was 154.2 billion. While that’s still a lot of mailers, flyers, and other items being delivered across the country on a daily basis, a drop of that magnitude is still pretty staggering.

What is an Exigent Rate?

Because of this situation, the USPS asked for something called an Exigent Rate Case. That meant that due to demanding circumstances, the Postal Service was allowed to “raise market-dominant prices above the CPI-U (consumer price index) price cap” for a limited time. After an approval process that required a submitted proposal and a hearing conducted on the record with an opportunity for public comment, that increase was granted – leading to the current rates that we’re experiencing.

So Why are Rates Dropping?

Exigent Rate Cases are not permanent – they have a limited lifespan as, theoretically, the special circumstances that required them in the first place will resolve themselves eventually. This is exactly what is happening. When the emergency rate expired on April 10, 2016, most of us experienced the first postal rate drop in our lifetime. With the price of a first-class stamp dropping to 47 cents, it represents the first decrease in nearly 100 years.

The good news is that mail volumes have actually recovered pretty significantly. This is especially true in terms of packages, as more people than ever before are choosing to buy their everyday items online at retailers like Amazon.com. The news may be great for consumers and marketers, but it is doing little to actually relieve the problems that the Post Office is still going through.

Megan J. Brennan, the current Postmaster General, said that multi-year revenue declines are still a very real concern and were in excess of $7 billion in 2009 alone. In a statement she would go on to say that “Removing the surcharge and reducing our prices is an irrational outcome considering the Postal Service’s precarious financial condition.”

Looking Ahead for the Post Office and Marketers

Not to worry, though. The United States Postal Service isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – however, exactly what these rate decreases will do to their bottom line remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, as previously stated, there has never been a better opportunity to truly experiment with the benefits that direct mail has in terms of your overall marketing efforts. If you’ve moved more in a digital direction due to increased mailing and shipping rates over the last few years, this rate drop is the perfect incentive to dip your toe back in these proverbial waters.

Lowered Postal Rates Mean Now is the Best Time to Give Direct Mail a Try

To say that most small businesses have something of a love/hate relationship with the United States Postal Service is an understatement. USPS is one of those necessary things to get a wide range of direct and print mail marketing materials out into the world. With a decade of increasing prices chipping away at return on investment little by little, it’s no wonder many organizations started to skimp on direct mail spending in favor of other “cheaper” solutions in the interim. Now, however, the tides may be truly changing as postal rates are on the decline with no clear end in sight. If you’ve been waiting to jump back into the direct mail world, now might be the PERFECT time to give it a try for a number of reasons.

Postal Rates: What is Going On?

On April 10, 2016, the cost to ship a first-class letter in the United States fell to just $0.47 – a rare phenomenon in recent memory. Additionally, the price of sending a postcard dropped a penny, international letters fell $0.05, and even coveted “Forever Stamps” saw a decrease in cost at the same time. These are the most direct mail and small business-friendly prices to come along since the beginning of the 2008 recession.

Direct Mail Doesn’t Just Work – It Works Gangbusters

Despite all this, some people still refuse to give direct mail the chance it deserves because they naturally assume that digital marketing is more efficient in the tech-driven world in which we now live. After all, with people glued to their cell phones day in and day out, how much of an impact can direct mail really have?

The answer is “a great big one.”

According to a study conducted by Compu-Mail.com, direct mail is still used heavily in an iPhone and Droid-centric world: approximately 43% of all local retail advertising still falls into this category. Not only that, but young adults are actually the largest group to respond to direct mail the most, particularly among the millennial crowd. According to a recent International Communications Research survey, approximately 73% of consumers actually prefer direct mail over alternative advertising methods. This is largely due to the fact that an equal number of respondents said that direct mail marketing was a much more personable experience than internet-based materials. Keep in mind that millennials think junk mail happens in their inbox, not their mailbox.

So, if the reasons why you had overlooked direct mail in the past were because “it was too expensive” and “you didn’t think it worked,” congratulations: those two reasons just evaporated in an instant.

No two businesses are created in quite the same way, and what works for one might not work for another – especially in terms of an overall marketing strategy. However, with the recent decline of USPS postal rates, now would be the absolute perfect time to give direct mail a try if it’s something that you’ve flirted with in the past, but ultimately overlooked for whatever reason. Now, is a terrific chance to really dip your proverbial toe in the water and to see just how direct mail can benefit your organization, especially if you’re doing so for the first time. These declining rates most likely aren’t going to stick around forever, so go for it, and create your direct mail campaign today.