Amaze and Respect: Essential Verbs to Enhance Your Brand Strategy in 2015, Part 1

No doubt your strategic plan has powerful verbs in it already: verbs like activate (previous customers), entice (new customers), cross-promote (merchandise across channels), engage (customers with content) and increase (profitability). I expect those verbs are baked into most plans. But brands that make a difference in the lives of their customers often add a few unexpected verbs into their strategic planning and their actions.

Harvard Business Review recently featured a cover story that promoted three key verbs as critical to marketing success: THINK, FEEL, DO. Does your 2015 brand plan include those verbs?

No doubt your strategic plan has powerful verbs in it already: verbs like activate (previous customers), entice (new customers), cross-promote (merchandise across channels), engage (customers with content) and increase (profitability). I expect those verbs are baked into most plans. But brands that make a difference in the lives of their customers often add a few unexpected verbs into their strategic planning and their actions. As the new year quickly approaches, I invite you and your team to consider a few of these:

Amaze
The brand builders at Quicken Loans, the nation’s largest online retail mortgage lender and the second largest retail home lender in the United States, have mindfully incorporated a powerful verb in its tagline: Engineered to Amaze.

The verb amaze is a driver in all of the company’s brand touchpoints—from the short video clip of Quicken Loans’ amazingly simple mortgage process on the home page to the text query (“AMAZE” to 26293) to the Zing! Blog where “Amazing Insights on Home, Money and Life” are offered to customers.

Breaking out of the maze of bureaucracy and painstaking processes that the mortgage industry is known for is what drives the leaders of Quicken Loans to create products and services that are amazingly useful to customers. Delighting its customers with a fast, efficient, friendly loan process distinguishes this brand and is part of the reason J.D. Power ranks Quicken Loans the “highest satisfaction in primary mortgage origination” for the last four years.

What do your customers find amazing about your brand? What new strategies might you adopt in the upcoming year to be even more amazingly useful to your customers?

Respect
Where does the verb respect fit in your brand’s DNA? For Jeffrey Raider and Andy Katz-Mayfield, the two co-founders of Harry’s, an online men’s shaving boutique, this verb dominates their strategy. Here’s how the two describe their service:

Like most of you, we’ve long had to choose between over-priced, over-marketed razors that disrespect your intelligence, and low quality, cheap razors that disrespect your face. We knew there had to be a better way, so we created Harry’s as a return to the essential: a great shave at a fair price.

Respecting customer intelligence, respecting the customer’s face, lathering in an edited and simplified shopping experience (like one of these men did in his first business—Warby Parker) and creating a meaningful charitable connection all adds up to a new venture that elevates a daily chore. Harry’s believes “a great shave is powerful, preparing you to conquer the world in your own way, every day.”

It’s apparent that this respect for their customer’s time, attention and wallet coupled with respect for the activity of shaving informed all Raider’s and Katz-Mayfield’s brand launch decisions. The co-founders conducted their own shave tests and found all existing products on the market lacking. In addition to finding a European manufacturer to make a different type of blade, it led them to reconfigure the razor handles and craft two unique and exclusive Harry offerings: The Winston and The Truman, inspired by old pens and knives.

“With Harry’s,” Raider says in a Fast Company interview, “I think we care about customers a lot, but it’s more about respecting them and giving them a product they really like, but not overwhelming them with choice-just sort of giving them a shaving tool we think will work really well.”

Plain and simple, how well does your brand respect your customers’ attention, time and wallet? In 2015, how can you be ever more respectful?

Tune in in early December for the final three verbs you should use to enhance your brand strategy in 2015!

Your Company Does What, Exactly?

“We provide robust, enterprise-wide solutions to decision-makers at multi-location facilities across a broad set of vertical industries that are facing an overarching set of business challenges.” I couldn’t help myself—I broke out laughing before he finished the sentence

“We provide robust, enterprise-wide solutions to decision-makers at multi-location facilities across a broad set of vertical industries that are facing an overarching set of business challenges.”

I couldn’t help myself—I broke out laughing before he finished the sentence.

I was at a business function, glass of wine in hand, looking to meet a few potential business connections that might be a good fit for an upcoming client project. I had read his name tag and politely asked what his company did, since I didn’t recognize the name.

He frowned at me, clearly displeased at my reaction.

“You’ve just described a million organizations,” I explained. “Why don’t you just cut to the chase and tell me, in laymen’s terms, what you do.”

He looked puzzled.

“Pretend I’m a 5th Grader,” I explained, “and your child has brought you to class on Career Day. Now, tell me what you do.”

He looked relieved. “Oh … Our company helps other company’s blast emails to their customers or prospects.”

Yup. I suspected as much.

It seems this guy has sat in the company’s strategic planning meetings and been told that the 5th Grader description was too “low brow” and they needed to enhance their marketplace positioning, if they want to be taken seriously, or play in the pool with the big boys.

Unfortunately, with so many small businesses popping up every other day, it seems this problem is multiplying. I’ve visited too many websites that position their services, on their home page, in such a complicated way that I’ve no clue what they really do. And why? What is everybody so afraid of?

Afraid that a site visitor thinks they’re too small? Not capable of handling the needs of a large, complex organization? Unable to think and work in vertical industries?

Here’s a little insight from a buyer of business goods and services: Your website is your storefront.

  • Step 1 is to make sure your windows are properly dressed to appeal to the traffic that’s strolling by.
  • Step 2 is to make sure that if they open the door and enter, it’s crystal clear that they’ve come to the right place.
  • Step 3 is to provide a logically organized set of links to other places on your site where the visitor might go to find more information. Back to the storefront analogy—if I walk over to the shelf with books on it, chances are I’m looking for a book. If you’re lucky and I ask if you have a particular book, you shouldn’t be leading me over to the clothing section. It’s more likely that I won’t ask … and it will certainly never occur to me that I might need to look for a book in the clothing section. It might make sense to put your book in BOTH sections of your store, if that book was about fashion.

Take a critical eye to your own website. Better still, ask someone who is NOT familiar with your company to take a peek and tell you, in their words, what your organization does just by looking at your home page. You may be surprised by their interpretation.

When to Squeeze

A marketing email should not ever be an isolated interaction between you and the recipient—it should be a player in a concert designed to delight, woo and convert. Other players in this concert include forms, links, content, assets, and, importantly, landing pages or squeeze pages. For your recipients, these pages should

A marketing email should not ever be an isolated interaction between you and the recipient—it should be a player in a concert designed to delight, woo and convert. Other players in this concert include forms, links, content, assets, and, importantly, landing pages or squeeze pages. For your recipients, these pages should:

  • Provide a clear, concise path to becoming a customer.
  • Enable them to become customers.
  • Resolve any concerns they may have about becoming customers.

Let’s cover the basics:

A “landing page” is a web page, either on your site or hosted within your ESP or other site, that details the offer of your call to action (CTA). A landing page provides the visitor with several or numerous information sources or paths to engagement. For instance, you might link to white papers and videos that support your message (see Figure 1 int he media player at right), provide social media icons for connecting, or even reviewing options for feedback. In short, there is no limit to the amount of information you may include on a landing page—but more is not always better.

When more is not better, a squeeze page provides an ideal solution. A “squeeze page” is a Web page with a singular focus on the conversion (see Figure 2). Similarly designed to a landing page, it is without the myriad options one might find on a targeted landing page. On this page you’ll have no social icons, no links to your website, and only one option for engagement. As a mnemonic, think of a squeeze page as putting the squeeze on the visitor to do just one thing: complete the call to action referenced in your email.

Landing and squeeze pages provide you with ample opportunities for A/B and multivariate testing. Creating multiple versions of your pages, you can test messaging, buttons, images, color, formats (responsive or static) and much more. What’s more, combined with analytics monitoring, you can discern who’s visiting, for how long, what they did, where they go and so much more.

We have many clients who at the outset were performing some marketing (either direct mail or email), but in most cases were sending recipients to their home page—and without benefit of a tracking URL. There are two primary reasons you should never, never send your marketing traffic to your home page, 1) your home page should provide information appropriate for your general audience and, as such, does not specifically engage the marketing-message recipient; and 2) it is difficult or impossible to discern—even through analytics—which visitors came to your home page through other promotions, and which specifically visited your home page after having received your marketing campaign. These analytics are critical to understanding the behavior of your recipients, so don’t miss this opportunity to collect it, analyze it and act on it.

As you design your landing or squeeze page, use your email or direct mail piece as the guideline. Be sure you are directing clickthroughs to a page using the same art, same messaging and consistent branding. This similarity of design is comforting to the visitor and ensures they’ve come to the right place. Given they found the design of the email compelling enough to click, why spoil the moment? You already found what works, give them more.

If, however, you find that you’re simply not getting the conversions you expected, check the number of visitors first. You must have visits to gain conversions. If not, back up and take a closer look at the initial engagement and consider first things first. No matter how wonderfully written, artfully designed, and programmatically perfect a landing or squeeze page is, if your message does not drive your recipient to visit the page, your conversion rate will suffer. Ensure your message drives the visit before you give angst an audience over conversion disappointments.

If number of visits is within your acceptable range (but when is it ever enough?), work on the other players within your campaign, such as:

  • Form length
  • Form questions
  • Button design and placement
  • Text content
  • Links
  • Downloads
  • Supporting resources
  • Design
  • Programming errors

All of these elements can and should be tested and tracked through A/B and multivariate testing combined with analytics and heat-mapping. Using landing and squeeze pages makes this testing process easier and more reliable than trying to root through or make drastic changes to your site’s home page.

Taking this discussion just one step further, if a landing page simply doesn’t provide you adequate real estate, consider a “microsite,” a series of linked landing pages that spotlights your offer.

Sometimes integrated email means the integrated components within your campaign and rather than the components of the initiative. As you develop your emails, think beyond the inbox and give consideration to the end-to-end experience and what you can provide to your visitor in order to attain that elusive conversion.

Slapping Lipstick on It Doesn’t Mean It’s Content

Adding a forward-facing camera to a smartphone was truly one of those “tipping point” moments. So it was no surprise when the word “selfie” was proclaimed the “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.” In return, I’d like to nominate the word “content” as the “Marketing Word of the Year.” But unlike the word “selfie,” which can be somewhat self-explanatory, the word “content” seems to be completely misunderstood.

Adding a forward-facing camera to a smartphone was truly one of those “tipping point” moments. Not only does it allow us to take a spur of the moment picture, but it feeds into society’s obsession with “look-at-me-now!” social media. So it was no surprise when the word “selfie” was proclaimed the “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.”

In return, I’d like to nominate the word “content” as the “Marketing Word of the Year.” But unlike the word “selfie,” which can be somewhat self-explanatory, the word “content” seems to be completely misunderstood.

In the strictest sense of the word, content is the subject or topic covered in a book, document, website, blog, video or webinar. And Content Marketing is the new black.

Just a few years ago, you could generate attention with a few media placements and a well-crafted message. But now consumers, especially in the B-to-B space, want more—more insight into how your product/service will make a difference in their business, more case studies that demonstrate how others have leveraged your product/service to increase ROI, more proof of concept.

The trouble is, many B-to-B marketers (and B-to-C for that matter) haven’t figured out what makes good content. And since the content-to-noise ratio is increasing daily, it’s important that marketers get a clear view of what defines great and valuable content, and why.

Since I’ve not been impressed with many attempts at content marketing, I want to share a few “what NOT to do” examples:

  • Content is different from advertisement. Recently, Boston Private Bank Trust Company was running a leaderboard banner ad with a stock image of a family, in front of an American flag, and a huge headline: “Watch our new video >”. Shaking my head at the banality of the message, I went ahead and clicked just to see if maybe the problem was with the packaging of the content. It took me to the home page of their website, where the video dominated my screen. I started to watch and discovered it was merely a 90 second advertisement. Although it was beautifully shot and artfully directed, it only took 12 seconds for the announcer to start talking about the benefits of banking with Boston. Scanning the rest of the home page (very difficult since the top 2/3 were covered with the video and “Look how great we are!” messaging), I didn’t see one case study, whitepaper/POV document on managing wealth that might help me feel, “Hey, I like what these guys are saying; I’d like to talk to someone at Boston about my needs.”
  • Heavily gated content just irritates me. I understand the strategy: Create content, offer it up to your targets, require they “register” before they can get access so you can fill your lead funnel. But, often, landing pages that require so much information are a deterrent to completion. Sometimes, I’ll provide “Mickey Mouse” types of answers, just so I can complete the process and get to the paper. Do you really need me to answer six questions beyond name and email address so you can pre-qualify me and make sure your sales guy isn’t wasting his time following up? Good content marketing strategies look at a longer term contact strategy, not a one-and-done process. If I download the article, then try dripping on me with more emails with more content. If I keep downloading, chances are I might be a solid lead, so reach out to me via email and, if qualifying me by company size or # of employees is critical, then do a little homework. A few clicks of the mouse will probably find that information for you.
  • Understand the difference between whitepapers and case studies. A whitepaper is called a whitepaper for a reason—it’s supposed to be an independent point of view around a topic. Too many whitepapers are either platforms for self-aggrandizement or poorly disguised sales pitches. Well-written whitepapers are informative, insightful and topical. It takes professional writing skill to add nuances that paint your product/service in a positive light—and not as a thump to the head with a frying pan. Case Studies, on the other hand, are an opportunity to let one of your customers formally endorse your brand. They should include the situation/problem and how it was solved, and, if possible, a quote attributed to a name/title at the buyers organization.

Designing your content so it is attractive, easy to read, and a combination of text, graphs and images, is a given. But don’t, for a minute, think you can take your advertising (video or otherwise), market it as content and check the box for content marketing off on your list.

Marketing: It Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

I love the new AT&T television campaign with the cute guy talking to the group of first graders. The guy poses a simple question to the kids, like “What’s better? Doing two things at once or just one?” The kids pause for a moment, consider their options, and then all shout out “TWO! TWO!” with some thrusting two fingers into his face. “You sure?” he asks innocently to one little girl. “I am absolutely positive,” she states decisively, flattening her hands on the table for emphasis. Finally one little boy says “I can do two things … I can wave my head …” while he starts waggling it from side to side, “and wave my arm …” It makes me dizzy just to watch him.

I love the new AT&T television campaign with the cute guy talking to the group of first graders. If you’ve been living under a rock and missed them, the guy poses a simple question to the kids like, “What’s better? Doing two things at once or just one?”

The kids pause for a moment, consider their options, and then all shout out “TWO! TWO!” with some thrusting two fingers into his face. “You sure?” he asks innocently to one little girl. I am absolutely positive,” she states decisively, flattening her hands on the table for emphasis.

Finally one little boy says “I can do two things … I can wave my head …” while he starts waggling it from side to side, “and wave my arm …” It makes me dizzy just to watch him.

I always laugh out loud at these spots because it reminds me of so many of the focus groups I’ve witnessed over the years, and the commercial’s message, “It doesn’t have to be complicated,” could be the lesson for many marketers these days.

There are plenty of large, complex brands out there that require lots of intricate strategies and tactics against many different audiences. But many smaller brands have yet to heed the old KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) message that we learned in marketing class many moons ago.

I recently received a direct mail package that directed me to a URL to download a whitepaper. Since I was interested in the topic, I visited the URL. But when I arrived, I couldn’t find any mention of the whitepaper, even though I scoured the home page.

Yesterday I clicked on a link in an email to download another whitepaper and it took me to a dedicated registration page that asked four or five simple questions before I could download. So far, so good.

But after completing the form, I ended up on another, differently designed page, asking for most of the same information before I could complete the download. Huh?

Last week I got a phone call from a sales rep telling me he was following up on the package he sent me. When I told him I had no memory of receiving it, he mumbled something that sounded like “damn marketing people” and then said he’d have to call me back. Wha—?

As AT&T states, “It’s not complicated”—so why are so many marketing efforts such a chocolate mess?

Here are the 2 marketing rules I always try to live by:

  • Make It Easy: Think about your target and what you want them to do. Then make it easy for them to do it. That includes forms (I once challenged an insurance client on the # of questions required on an app for a quote and was able to reduce it from 26 to 6).
  • Demand Quality: Always proof (don’t get me started) and impose a rigid QC process. For example, test blast your emails and check all the links before you launch the program to your customer/prospect base. If I get one more email addressed to “Dear (Client)” or “Dear Marc,” I’m going to scream.

If you make sure you incorporate those principles into your marketing workflow, you might be surprised at the difference it can make.

And as my Dad used to say “Just use the ol’ noggin’…”

Are You Buying ‘Smart Media?’

Media buying, or online advertising, is more than just a Web strategy to help grow your business. It’s both a science and an art. It involves a bit of finesse, competitive research, creativity and good negotiation skills.

Media buying, or online advertising, is more than just a Web strategy to help grow your business. It’s both a science and an art. It involves a bit of finesse, competitive research, creativity and good negotiation skills.

Sadly, with most online advertising experiences, the lagging partner is typically the business owner by no real fault of his or her own … it’s simply from sheer lack of industry knowledge and media savoir-faire.

I’ve been buying online ad space for more than a decade. Here are my personal powerful and money saving tips to buying smart media. These are “must ask” questions that will help you get the most bang for your buck:

1. Competitive analysis—Find out what the typical industry rate is for that particular ad spot and placement in your niche. For instance, if you’re interested in running a 300×250 banner ad, do some research. Call some ad networks and find out what that ad unit costs on the home page and ‘”run of site” within your target niche. What ad units typically get the best clickthrough rates (also known as CTR)? Read some online e-zines or blogs and get an idea on average metrics so you have a benchmark to measure your campaign against.

2. Ad targeting—Find out if the publisher allows day parting (running ad during specific time periods). This can save you money on ad rates, especially using the CPM (cost per thousand) pricing model.

3. Dedicated email—Find out the size of the list you’re thinking of renting, the frequency the list goes out, and the average unit sale (AUS) per subscriber. Ask the publisher who’s mailing for you if there will there be a lift note (an introduction or implied endorsement). Lift notes help “warm up” the list (subscribers) and boost conversions.

4. Out clause—Ask your account executive if the media agreement has an out clause or termination right. This is important as if your campaign is not working, you don’t want to have to ride it out and waste money. You want the ability to end it and cut your losses. Also find out if you can pause your ad during a slow traffic times (i.e. summer, holidays) as not to waste impressions (CPM).

5. Reporting—Ask your account executive if you will be given daily/weekly reporting OR access to the online ad serving system. This will allow you real-time access to clickthrough rates and more to evaluate if creative (banner and landing page) is striking a chord with the target audience.

6. Seasonality—Each industry and niche has its highs and lows. But, generally speaking, it’s typical to see drops in website traffic during summer (June to Aug.) and around certain U.S. holidays. Research your industry and use consumer purchase behavior to your advantage. For instance, in some industries, the days around Thanksgiving are slower than usual. If you’re running a campaign that falls on this timeframe, ask about getting lower rates or pausing your ad during the slowdown. DoubleClick and ClickZ are great sources of information and often release quarterly consumer Web reports on buying patterns and traffic.

7. Exclusivity—Similar to economies of scale (where the more that’s produced, the cheaper the unit price), if your banner ad is sharing space with other advertisers for less “solo” time, you should be paying less. It’s important to ask whether your ad will get 100 percent of the rotations or sharing ad exposure. And if sharing, find out what percentage of exposure you are ultimately getting during your ad run. This is known as being “fixed ad placement” or “shared ad placement.” If you’re told you have shared placement, this is a great bartering tool to get a more competitive rate.

8. Site targeting—You’ve heard in real estate it’s always about location, location, location, right? Well, online real estate is no different. Find out if your ad will be run of site (ROS), run of channel (ROC) or on specific high-traffic pages. Typically, the further you drill down, the more you pay. It’s known as “site targeting.” Similarly, the higher you go up, the less you pay. ROS is the highest (most broad) level, so it’s usually the cheapest ad location. Next is usually ROC, whose ads appear on certain channels or sections of a website. Then there are also specific pages or demographic targeting. Your goals and budget will determine which placement is best for your needs.

9. Remnant space—Often the forgotten about query, remember to ask if remnant space is available. Remnant ads are those ad units that the publisher or ad network is having a difficult time selling for whatever reason. They can also be last-minute specials or units that are now available due to another deal falling through. With more popular, high-traffic websites, you can save a fortune buying remnant media. Just pay close attention to the terms and conditions in the insertion order, as with most special deals, there are usually restrictions and little leeway.

All of these factors will help determine the value of your ad space and, ultimately, the cost you’re willing to pay to access that audience. Good luck!

Boost Your Website Sales: 8 Simple E-commerce Tips That Really Work

OK, so you’ve won half the battle. You’re driving traffic to your site. Now what? How can you get your visitors to convert? This is a challenge that most every website that sells a product faces. The following are some tried and true tactics that, over the years, I’ve seen make a difference. Some may seem simplistic, but they DO most definitely impact your online conversion rate.

OK, so you’ve won half the battle. You’re driving traffic to your site. Now what? How can you get your visitors to convert?

This is a challenge that most every website that sells a product faces. The following are some tried and true tactics that, over the years, I’ve seen make a difference. Some may seem simplistic, but they DO most definitely impact your online conversion rate.

Here are a few things you could do to boost online sales and gain loyal customers. These can be applied and refined for most any business, industry or niche:

1. Make Sure Your SSL Seal And Other Consumer-Trust Logos Are Prominent. SSL or secure socket layer is a sign that the site is encrypted … that the information consumers enter, such as personal and credit card information, is protected. Most e-commerce sites must file for an SSL certificate from vendors such as VeriSign, GoDaddy, eTrust, TRUSTe and others. It’s a good practice to display the vendor’s logo on your order page, as well as make sure in the browser window the “https” or image of a lock is present. This is a clear and comforting sign to consumers that they can order online with confidence. Other logos that are in plain view and are anchors on each page of your website can also instill confidence with potential buyers. Some may require membership or purchase, when applicable, and may include Better Business Bureau (“BBB”), PayPal Verified, Authorize.net Verified Merchant and virus protection software (i.e. “McAfee Secure”). Also, if you accept credit cards and have a money back guarantee, there’s nothing more powerful than strong, eye-catching graphic image icons, such as “100% Money Back Guarantee” or “We Accept All Major Credit Cards” (than have images of Visa, Mastercard, Amex and Discover).

2. Encourage Online Sales vs. Other Response Mechanisms. Offer special “Internet Only Pricing” to customers. It could be a discount of 5 percent to 10 percent if they order online versus by phone, fax or mail. This reduces any potential overhead costs for staffing fees, such as telesales or order entry personnel. These Web-only specials can be highlighted on your homepage via a banner ad, as well as on your product pages near qualified items.

3. Offer Free Shipping. Many e-tailers already factor all or a portion of shipping into the retail price of an item as part of their COGS (cost of goods sold). If you are truly offering free shipping, already factored shipping into the product’s cost, or are simply having a limited time free shipping special—if you’re offering it, mention it—big and bold on your home page. Free shipping offers have a huge psychological affect on consumers when they’re comparing competitor’s products and websites. In addition to product quality and value, offering free shipping can make all the difference regarding the final purchase decision.

4. Use Buyer Feedback To Your Advantage. Have an area on your website or indicate next to select items “Customer Favorite” or “Hot Item.” Also, have some glowing customer testimonials or reviews next to the product itself for potential prospects to see. Sites like Amazon, Babies”R”Us and others are pros at this strategy as well as using ratings and ‘Likes’ to convey a product’s popularity. Consumers like to feel good about the item they are about to purchase. as well as see that it’s popular with the masses. Seeing a great testimonial and knowing that others purchased the product provides validation and a feeling of comfort to a consumer. In addition to helping the conversion rate, this tactic also helps reduce buyer’s remorse and product returns.

5. Advertise Products in Google Shopping (formerly Google Product Search, and before that, Froogle). http://www.google.com/shopping is a free product information platform from Google where you can post a single item or submit a data feed. Your products will appear in Google Product search and may also appear in Google.com search results, depending on keywords used. This is simple and easy way to increase your product’s visibility and market share.

6. Make Sure Your Product Pages are Optimized for Search Engines. Sounds obvious, but many folks overlook their catalog and product pages. After doing some keyword research on actual search behavior for your product, refine your meta description, meta keywords and title tag of your product pages. This will help consumers find your product in the organic listing of search engine results.

7. Have a Special Coupon Code “Call Out” On Your Home Page. This is a best practice with online fashion retailers who typically have a banner ad or interstitial ad on their homepage stating something like, “Summer Blow Out Sale, Use Coupon Code 1234.” But this concept can be applied to virtually any industry. This is another great way to offer a special discount for your online customers that makes them feel good about the purchase. You can also encourage viral activity by having “forward to friend” or “share” create viral marketing. Make sure to have some great intro copy mentioning how customers should “pass on the great savings to friends, family and colleagues.”

8. Consider Payment Plans. For higher-ticket items, consider setting up extended payment plans that allow customers to pay for an item over a few payments. HSN.com and QVC.com have mastered this. If an item is, let’s say, $200, you might want to offer a flex pay option of “6 easy payments of $33.33” that is conveniently auto-billed to their credit card. Just be diligent when calculating your payment prices, as well as creating your return/refund policy for these items. The general rule is that your actual production costs/hard costs should be covered in the first one to three payments.

It’s all about being strategically creative and taking the consumer’s point of view into account regarding e-comm strategies. Remember to keep testing methods that help improve sales and drive prospects to your storefront.

Make note of when you implement new tactics and then after a month of being live. Compare sales results year-over-year to see if your efforts had made an improvement. I’m confident that you will see a positive difference in your online conversion rates.

Myths and Misconceptions: The Real Truth About Content Marketing and the Search Engines: Part II

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.” I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!) … Previously, I provided the first three rules, here are the last three:

[Editor’s note: This is Part Two of a two-part series.]

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.”

I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!) … Previously, I provided the first three rules, here are the last three:

4. Targeted Link-Building. Links, whether it’s a one way back link or a reciprocal back link, are still links. Quality links help SEO, and that is indisputable. But, again, there’s some ground rules to do it right within best practices … and do it wrong. Links should be quality links, and by that I mean on sites that have relevant content and a synergistic audience to your own. It should also be a site with a good traffic rank. I prefer to do linkbuilding manually and do it strategically. I research sites that are synergistic in all ways to the site I’m working with (albeit one-way or reciprocal links). Doing it manually allows more targeted selection and control over where you want your links to go. Manual selection and distribution can also lead to other opportunities down the road with those sites you’re building relationships with, including cross-marketing or editorial efforts such as editorial contributions, revenue shares and more. In my view, this approach is both linkbuilding and relationship building.

5. Location, Location, Location. Where you link to is important. When doing SONAR or content marketing, I always tell clients to deep link—that is, not just link to their home page—which, to me, doesn’t make any sense anyway, as there’s too many distractions on a home page. Readers need a simple, direct call to action. Keep them focused. It’s always smarter to link to your source article, which should be on one of your subpages, such as the newsletter archive page or press release page. Now you have a connection. The article/content excerpt you pushed out is appearing in the SERPs (search engine result pages) and its redirect links to the full version on your archive or press page. You’ve satisfied the searcher’s expectations by not doing a “bait and switch.” There’s relevance and continuity. And to help monetize that traffic, that newsletter archive or press Web page (which you’re driving the traffic to), the background should contain fixed elements to “harness” the traffic it will be getting for list growth and cross-selling, such as fixed lead gen boxes, text ads, banner ads, editorial notes and more. These elements should blend with your overall format, not being to obnoxious, but being easily seen.

6. Catalyst Content. It’s always important to make sure you publish the content on your website first … I call this your “catalyst content.” This is the driving source which all other inbound marketing will occur and be focused around. Your website articles should be dated and be formatted similar to a news feed or blog. Also, posting timely press releases will work favorably, as they will be viewed by Google and human readers as the latest news (again favorable to Google’s latest “freshness” update). At the same time, send your content out via email (i.e. ezine) to your in-house list before external marketing channels see it. This helps from an SEO standpoint, but also helps with credibility and bonding with your subscribers and regular website visitors, as they should get your information before the masses.

There you go. My best practices for marketing with content. I don’t practice nor condone “black hat” marketing tactics. I’ve always been lucky enough to work for top publishers and clients who put out great, original content.

It really does all boil down to the quality of the content when you talk about any form of article and search engine marketing. Content is king, and when you have strong editorial, along with being a “creatively strategic” thinker, you don’t need to engage in “black hat” or questionable SEO/SEM.

Algorithms are always changing. It’s good to be aware of the latest news, trends and techniques, but also not to put your your eggs in one basket and build your entire online marketing strategy based on the “current” algorithms. Using solid content, analyzing your website’s visitor and usage patterns and keeping general best practices in mind are staple components that will always play an important role in content marketing.

13 Things You Must Do This Year To Boost Your Biz! Part One

OK, so 2011 was a tough year for a lot of business owners. Perhaps you got caught in the maelstrom of economic uncertainty and your business paid the price. Maybe you neglected your business by cutting down or eliminating marketing efforts. Or maybe you got duped by so-called “online gurus” who promise the world with their wonder products, all to fall short of their promises.

[Editor’s note: This is Part One of a two-part series.]

OK, so 2011 was a tough year for a lot of business owners. Perhaps you got caught in the maelstrom of economic uncertainty and your business paid the price. Maybe you neglected your business by cutting down or eliminating marketing efforts. Or maybe you got duped by so-called “online gurus” who promise the world with their wonder products, all to fall short of their promises.

Boosting your business doesn’t have to take a lot of time, or money. Certain marketing tactics are tried and true because they work year after year, decade after decade. They’re proven. And they get results. Best of all, I’m going to reveal them to you … all for free.

Today, I going to go over some proven winners to help create visibility, drive website traffic, increase sales, generate leads and produce buzz. These are low-to-no cost tactics that fit most any budget and most any business niche. All you really need is the manpower to implement them. And the few that do involve a budget are extremely cost effective. So, without further ado, here’s numbers one through six:

1. Affiliate Partnerships/Affiliate Marketing Plan. (Includes joint ventures, also known as ‘JVs). This tactic is having other people market (promote) for you in exchange for a commission. It’s extremely effective and cost efficient. On the JV site, the key is having some kind of leverage when approaching publishers with a similar list size and interest as your own list. In exchange for content or revenue share efforts, you and the other publisher agree to reciprocate either e-news ads or solo emails to each other’s lists for cross-marketing purposes. You have an agreed upon, competitive affiliate split (net commission on each sale) and forward payment either monthly or quarterly. Or, you can agree to reciprocate efforts and both agree to promote to each others’ lists and keep whatever sales (or leads) you each get from the efforts. It’s also a best practice to advise deliverability and performance stats. On the affiliate marketing side, many online affiliate programs are robust and offer real-time access to a control panel where affiliates can download creatives, check status of payments, and view campaign stats. Creating an affiliate program and marketing plan for that program can be turn-key. There are several off-the-shelf programs and softwares, such as DirectTrack and WordPress; as well as online networks such as CJ.com (Commission Junction), Clickbank.com, Linkshare.com. What’s most important as with any affiliate marketing plan is the PR. That is, getting the news out and marketing the program itself to as many targeted locations as possible. If you have a product to sell, not having an affiliate program is simply leaving money on the table.

2. Content Syndication Plus. A recent article by Forbes, which was actually featured here on TargetMarketingMag.com, mentioned 2012 was going to be the year of content and social marketing. Content is king and you can leverage it via the SONAR Content Distribution Model:

  • (S) Syndicate partners, content syndication networks, and user generate content sites;
  • (O) Online press releases;
  • (N) Network (social) communities;
  • (A) Article directories;
  • (R) Relevant posts to blogs, forums, and bulletin boards.

SONAR works hand-in-hand with your existing search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing (SMM), and search engine optimization (SEO) tactics. If you have original content … you can do SONAR marketing!

3. Search Engine Optimization. In order to drive as much organic traffic as possible to your website, you need to make sure your site is optimized for the correct keywords and your target audience. Once you optimize your site with title tags, meta descriptions, meta keywords, and alt attributes/alt tags, you need to make sure you enhanced your site to harness the traffic that will be coming. That means adding eye-catching email collection boxes to the home page; relevant cross-marketing banners; obvious links to get to product pages; keyword-dense, search-friendly and consumer-friendly content pages; a site map; and more. You don’t want to downplay the importance of SEO. Site already optimized? Great. But remember that you need to review your analytics and visitor usage patterns and keywords on a timely basis, as algorithms and search behavior are always changing.

4. Online Lead Generation Polls. Incorporating a lead gen poll on your website, or having a poll on another site or e-newsletter (via a media buy or ad swap) is a great way to build your list. It’s important to spend time thinking about your poll question—something that is a hot topic, controversial, and relevant to the locations where you’re placing your poll. You want to pull people in with your headline and make the poll entertaining. Your answers should be multiple choice and have an “other” field which encourages participants to engage with your question. I’ve found this “other” field as a fantastic way to make the poll interactive. Many people are passionate about certain subject matters and won’t mind giving you their two cents. Then, to show appreciation for talking the poll, tell participants they are getting a bonus report and free e-newsletter subscription (which they can opt out of at any time). And of course, make sure to mention—and link to—your privacy/anti-spam policy. After you kick off your list-building efforts, make sure you start tracking them so you can quantify the time and resources spent. This involves working with your webmaster on setting up tracking URLs specific to each website you’re advertising on. It also means looking at Google Analytics for your website and corresponding landing pages to see traffic and referring page sources.

5. Viral Marketing. Make sure you have a “forward to friend” feature in your e-newsletter to encourage viral marketing. It’s also important to have what I call a “content syndication blurb”—both on your website and in your e-newsletter. This blurb simply states that anyone can republish your free content, as long as they give attribution to the author and publication, as well as provide a back-link to the original article. This encourages other websites, publishers, editors and bloggers to republish—creating buzz and back-links, both of which help SEO. You can set Google Alerts for your articles (buy using keywords of article title, author, topic) and then see when the article has been picked up by another site. You can also look at your site’s back-links, as well as referring traffic sources, to see which sites you didn’t push the article out to, but republished it from a viral standpoint.

6. Cost-Effective Media Buying. To complement your “free” online efforts, you may want to consider targeted, low-cost media buys (paid online advertising) in the form of text ads, banner ads, blog networks/ads, or list rentals (i.e. e-news sponsorships or solo emails). You’re paying for the placement in these locations, so you must make sure you have strong promotional copy and offers for the best results possible. Blog ad networks and online ad networks are a great, cheap alternative and they have a wider reach. Networks to consider: BlogAds.com, Advertising.com, ValueClick.com, BurstMedia.com, and FastClick.com. You can also find a full list of sites. Make sure you’re savvy as to what comparable rates are (CPMs, CPCs) and try never to pay rate card. It’s all about the power of negotiation.

Stay tuned for the next article which will feature more tips (#7—#13!)