F500 Advertisers Strategize Better, But SEO Still Offers SMBs Growth Opportunities

Recent research has shown that many small advertisers spend all of their marketing budgets online. These businesses, like poker players, go all-in: investing their entire marketing budget on Google and Facebook ads.

Recent research has shown that many small advertisers spend all of their marketing budgets online. These businesses, like poker players, go all-in: investing their entire marketing budget on Google and Facebook ads.

Large businesses approach the online space differently. They apportion their considerable advertising dollars across online and traditional media, seeking synergy in their efforts.

Small business owners often wear many hats and cannot, or rather do not, spend a lot of time on developing marketing strategies. They simply have too few people trying to do too many tasks. Neglecting to budget resources, whether time or money, for localized SEO has significant opportunity costs for these businesses.

Put the Customers Ahead of Rankings

The mobile-first Google environment gives small local businesses chances to shine in search that previously were unavailable. The big brands crowded them out at the top of the listings.

Today, by strategically optimizing the site for the business location, a small business can show up for targeted local searches more easily than it ever has before. The key to this visibility is to make sure that the site offers what an out-of-town searcher might look for as well, as the local clientele.

Create a customer-first, local-first approach to achieve success.

Here is an example of a customer-first, local strategy:

I recently sadly had to look for where to purchase funeral flowers to send to a funeral home in an area that I was unfamiliar with. I found a florist in the area by searching for “flowers for funeral + place name.” Not only did the florist’s site include content on flowers for funerals, but it even had confidence-inspiring photos of some of its work. The phone number was prominently displayed, and I immediately called and made my purchase. My curiosity was pricked, and I asked several questions and found out that the shop was local, not part of a chain, and had carved out several niches in the flower market, including flowers for funerals. Although very busy, the owners had developed a marketing strategy and developed their site to bring in the right customers.

As fate would have it, I encountered another florist in another town, griping about how online is hurting her business. The local shop did not have a clear strategy or even an up-to-date site and was relying on online ads for marketing. The contrast was sharp.

Glom Onto the Free Stuff First

SEO is more than just optimizing the site. For small businesses, there are search freebies that should not be missed. Here are just a few.

  • Google My Business is free. It takes a few hours to set up a business listing. This is the table stakes, so to speak, and many businesses set up a very basic listing and fail to flesh it out or keep it up-to-date. Accuracy is important, particularly for small businesses that have storefronts. It is always amazing to look at a listing and realize that it does not reflect current hours of operation. Additionally, for businesses that are tucked into strip malls, listings that include storefront pictures help bring live customers to the businesses.
  • Yelp and TripAdvisor offer free listing services that any qualifying business should take advantage of to improve its online visibility. Both are large sites and often dominate the top search listings, so the old adage applies: If you can’t beat them, join them.
  • Facebook Pages combined with Facebook Ads create a powerful one-two marketing punch. Just as with Google My Business, it is important to go beyond the very basics and create a page that engages and informs. I am an avid, but awful, golfer — and my personal Facebook feed includes postings from several golf courses. One simply posts pictures, no engagement required. They are merely pretty pictures, and do create an urge to go play the course. Another course recently posted a short post, asking folks to rate — by difficulty — the three Par 5 holes on the course. This post drew instant engagement with many ratings, comments, and likes as responses. This lively engagement created a desire to play the course, just to test out those difficulty ratings that I had assigned. Both courses post regularly on- and off-season, so they always have a share of mind. Both are small businesses looking beyond the ads for their online marketing.

A 4-year-old Girl Shows the Power of a Strong Brand

Recently, I was reminded about the power of a strong brand by my 4-year-old granddaughter who told me, “You know how I can tell when there’s a McDonald’s close by? There’s a sign with yellow M on a red background. That means there’s a McDonald’s near here.”

Recently, I was reminded about the power of a strong brand by my 4-year-old granddaughter who told me, “You know how I can tell when there’s a McDonald’s close by? There’s a sign with yellow M on a red background. That means there’s a McDonald’s near here.”

McDonald’s has certainly built the golden arches “M” brand over the course of many years; my earliest remembrance is from the early 1960s. But the fact that a 4-year-old girl learned the symbolism in a much shorter timeframe illustrates how powerful great branding can be.

When I recently Googled “direct marketing and branding,” I was surprised to see that there are a lot of search results positioning the two as separate marketing strategies. I thought that debate was put to rest years ago — you need both.

The Internet has turned everyone into a direct marketer, and those who have built strong brands are the big winners — think Amazon, 1-800-Flowers, Omaha Steaks, Zappos, etc. When I was with Roska Direct, our results showed over and again that when we did direct response marketing using the umbrella of a strong brand, we achieved better response and conversion rates than when we downplayed the brand in an attempt to juice response.

According to Statista, Google enjoyed a 90%-plus share of searches from 2010 through 2013, before it dipped into the high 80s, sneaking over 90 only in October of 2016 and 2018. So what’s Google doing about it? Running a national brand campaign on television, Here to Help, using The Beatles 1965 hit, “Help.”

Interestingly, if you try to find those branding ads by Googling “Google ad campaign,” you won’t. What you’ll find is Google in direct response mode, helping you construct your own online advertising campaign through Google.

Like I said, you need both.

New Ways of Thinking About Marketing in 2016

What are you to your customers? A vendor? A catalog? A funny commercial mascot? For many brands today, there’s a chance to be so much more. The key is in how you think of what you are to them.

What are you to your customers? A vendor? A catalog? A funny commercial mascot? There’s a school of thought that says that’s all you should be; that customers will say “I don’t want a relationship with my cough drops, I just want them to fix my cough.”

GrumpyCatParadigmFor many brands, new ways of thinking about marketing offer the chance to be much more. With today’s tools (social media, websites, apps, etc.), your brand has the chance not just to sell products and services, but to entertain your target market, help them make friends, or even reach their goals. The key is in how you think of what you are to your customers.

Here are four new ways of thinking about your marketing that could open a whole new world of customer connection. I’ll go into one in depth, and hit the others briefly. If you’re interested, let me know in the comments and we’ll explore them in more detail.

The Undiscovered Country
The biggest difference between online media and offline is space. Your marketing content is not constrained by air time, page counts or the budgets to get them. When a new prospect finds your company, your entire online presence is a vast new space to explore. Give them something to discover!

The Undiscovered Country is really about content, and it works best when your products or services have interesting nuances and details to talk about and stories to tell, because your goal is to get the audience to spend a lot of time exploring it. Content marketing does a lot of great things, but usually we focus on it as a way to improve SEO, or to generate leads. Here you’re using content as a way to earn prospect and customer mindshare and become an online destination.

By creating a deep content destination with articles, videos and other content that defines your space, you give fans a place to come and hang out. A place to spend time thinking about the hobby, job or task your products are used in. You become like Disney: The first brand that comes to mind and one that’s associated with entertainment and good times.

In the B-to-B space, you can see this done well by the marketing automation companies like HubSpot and Marketo. They educated marketers about lead generation, nurturing and the other marketing tactics their tools enabled through extensive blogs, downloads, webinars, studies and other content. Those things gave their audience new ideas, and exploring those ideas paid off by making that audience better at their jobs. And all of it promised there’d be more to discover if they bought into the products.

In the consumer space, think of what Red Bull does with its content marketing, completely owning certain areas of extreme sports and providing hours of discoverable, bingeable content on Red Bull TV. Or what Maybeline does with makeup tips. Or what Home Depot does with home improvement project ideas.

People spend an unbelievable amount of time looking at content online, they might as well be looking at that content with you.

What Are Some Other Ways of Thinking?
I’ve seen marketers using other strategies that I think qualify as “new ways of thinking.” And I’d be very interested to hear of ones you’ve spotted, too.

One I’ll call The Tribe is when companies use social media and the reach of online marketing to create branded communities (on their own websites, as well as on the relevant social networks) where their prospects and customers can meet like-minded individuals and discuss things related to that market. Like The Undiscovered Country, the goal is to become a destination for your target audience and earn mindshare. But it’s access to like minded individuals that brings them and keep them coming back. This works well when your product is in a niche with strong enthusiasts, especially if they’re geographically dispersed. The social sharing enabled by companies like Nike, which uses online tracking to allow runners to connect and compare their achievements, is a good example.

When I look at companies like Salesforce, or Apple when Steve Jobs was alive, I really see them leveraging what i would call The Movement. They’re not just selling a product, they’re selling a new way of approaching the world and getting adopters to evangelize it to other users. They hold huge events to build devoted fanbases that really believe (perhaps correctly, I don’t mean to be cynical about any brand using these tactics) that they’re using better tools in better ways than everyone else. Unlike The Tribe, The Movement uses live events and spaces (conventions, Apple Stores) to bring followers together to celebrate The Movement, its new products, and to have a good time with like-minded individuals. It’s a powerful tactic, and you can probably think of someone in your life who’s been swept up in one.

Finally, it’s not hard to look at what a company like Tom’s Shoes is doing and see The Mission. The Mission is about taking the focus off of the transnational aspect of your relationship with customers, and proving to them that by doing business with you they’re making the world a better place. Tom’s famously donates a pair of shoes to children for each one you buy. Jessica Alba’s Honest Company isn’t giving anything away, but they are spearheading a movement to have open, honest, simple ingredients in cleaning and beauty products people use. You could look at what Ben & Jerry’s has done for years as an example of exactly this kind of strategy (not all of these ways of thinking grew on the Internet). All of them put the focus on selling their mission, and sell products almost as an afterthought.

Take a look around at the companies that grab your attention and the potential they may or may not be cashing in on. What are some other ways of thinking to add to this list?

DM 101: A Small Business Primer

Yesterday, Target Marketing hosted a webinar called “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.” I was honored to be a speaker, along with Cyndie Shaffstall of Spider Trainers. Considering all the resources available for DM information, I was completely surprised when I learned that over 1,000 people registered. During the live event, we were deluged with questions and there wasn’t enough time to answer them all, so I thought I’d dedicate this blog to trying to cover a few DM strategies that might make your marketing life a little easier

Yesterday, Target Marketing hosted a webinar called “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.” I was honored to be a speaker, along with Cyndie Shaffstall, of Spider Trainers.

Considering all the resources available for DM information, I was completely surprised when I learned that over 1,000 people registered. During the live event, we were deluged with questions and there wasn’t enough time to answer them all, so I thought I’d dedicate this blog to trying to cover a few DM strategies that might make your marketing life a little easier.

There’s not enough room on this page to cover everything I’d like to say, but based on the questions, here are my top five pieces of direct marketing advice:

1. Before You Begin Any Marketing Program, Decide Where You’re Going
Start with your company’s business objectives (Grow revenue? I certainly hope so!), and work backwards.

There are really two key marketing strategies to achieving this objective: Retain existing customers (i.e. retain existing sources of revenue), and add new customers. Duh. But retaining existing customers should include measurable marketing objectives like increasing average order size, increasing number of transactions per customer, and increasing frequency of purchases. Marketing to cold prospects might include metrics like increasing the number of qualified leads into the sales pipeline, or driving more traffic to your web store. Depending on your objective, different marketing strategies and tactics will be utilized.

2. Know Who Your Existing Customers Are
If you can’t profile them by the data you collect, you can append data from a reliable third-party data provider—and many of them offer analytic services so you can get a good handle on your buyer profiles.

Another option is to think about your product/service and how you might market it differently if you knew your customers better. For example, if you knew your customers had toddlers, would that drive a different set of messages than, say, parents of teens? Do a survey and ask your customers to share key information with you. (An incentive to fill out a SHORT survey often works; make sure you only ask questions you can use the insights from in future marketing efforts.)

On the B-to-B side, do your customers tend to come from a handful of industries only? Then you have a better chance of selling to more customers in those industries than in a brand new industry. Knowledge is power, so it’s difficult to plan and execute successful marketing efforts if you don’t understand your customer base.

Don’t forget about taking a deeper dive into your data to find your “best” customers. Chances are 20 percent of your base is driving 80 percent of your revenue. Better know who they are—and fast—so you can make plans to protect and incent them to stay loyal.

3. Clean Up Your Act Before You Try to Make More Friends
Since most customers will visit your website first, make sure it’s optimized for site visitors … and for smart phone users (yes, the future is NOW). On the B-to-B side, you better have your LinkedIn profile updated with a professional picture and solid bio, because, yes, people do judge a book by its cover.

4. Choose the Right Media Channels
This is probably the hardest one to get right. Do magazine ads work? Yes, if your audience reads a particular publication. Does cold prospecting work? No. End of statement. Does direct mail work? Yes, if you spend time identifying who your best customers are, profiling them, then overlaying that profile on a list to find look-alikes, and you combine a meaningful offer in an appropriate format. There are lots and lots of nuances in direct mail, and most folks get it wrong. So how do you make the right media decisions? If you know who your best customers are, find out where they congregate—that’s where you want to have a presence.

In the B-to-B world, this can be made a little easier as business people get together at industry events, join industry associations, read industry publications, etc., etc. It’s a little easier to figure out ways to get your message in front of them.

In the B-to-C world, you need to be much more analytical. Go back to the profile of your best customers. What do they have in common? In what context would your product/service appeal to them? Instead of trying to “interrupt” their behavior by placing an ad where they’re not even thinking about your solution, try to place your ad in an appropriate context. For example, if you’re a nonprofit trying to reach high net-worth prospects for charitable giving, use your PR skills to try and get a story placed about your efforts. Then, purchase banner ads on the publication’s site so they run next to the article about you—or place an ad within their publication when the article runs. Use Google Analytics and AdWords to understand the most popular search terms for products/services like yours. See what your competitors are doing and figure out how you can differentiate yourself with your message.

5. Format Matters
I’m often asked if postcards work. Or is a #10 package better than a self mailer. And what about Three-Dimensional packages—are they worth it? The answer is yes, yes and yes … but here are a few things to consider:

  • Postcards work best when you have a single, simple message to convey. Keep it short, sharp and to the point.
  • Self-mailers work better if you need a little more real estate to tell your story. Plus, they can be quite “promotional” in nature, so they’re not taken as serious communication.
  • Envelope packages work best if you have a more complex message. A letter (with subheads, please, as we’re all scanners of content), order form, brochure and business reply envelope (yes, they still work like a charm), can all work if your audience is older. (Here’s a hint: Not everybody wants to go to your web site, fill out a form and give you a credit card number if they can check a box on your form, add a check and mail it back to you on your dime.)
  • 3D packages can work like gangbusters if the item inside is engaging and makes sense as it relates to your brand/message. Inexpensive tchotchkes don’t usually work very well—they don’t garner attention and they don’t make your brand look smart.

Net-net, marketing is a skill. And, considering you will invest to get financial gain for your business, you really shouldn’t try to do it without professional help.

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: Business Schools Offering Social Media Courses

To meet the demand from companies for skills around social media strategies, tony business schools — including Harvard Business School; London Business School; Insead, the international business school based in Fontainebleau, France; and the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, known as H.E.C., in Paris — are incorporating courses on social media into their M.B.A. curriculums. Social media strategy courses, according to the article, “aim to build on existing skills to teach an understanding of social media, of how to build marketing strategies within social networks and of how to track their effectiveness.”

I read a March 30 New York Times article that said that many national and international business schools are incorporating social media strategy courses into their curriculums.

Take that, all of you social media marketing naysayers!

To meet the demand from companies for skills around social media strategies, tony business schools — including Harvard Business School; London Business School; Insead, the international business school based in Fontainebleau, France; and the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, known as HEC, in Paris — are incorporating courses on social media into their M.B.A. curriculums.

Social media strategy courses, according to the article, “aim to build on existing skills to teach an understanding of social media, of how to build marketing strategies within social networks and of how to track their effectiveness.”

While most of the students entering these programs may be adept at using social networking tools in their personal lives, that’s not enough, says the article. Companies want executives that “can transfer this experience into the commercial world.”

Textbooks aren’t required in many of the courses; instead, students are asked to follow industry-specific blogs to keep up with developments. They’re instructed to communicate with people involved in the social media industry, listening to the issues they deal with on a strategic level.

Schools are teaching social media marketing in a variety of ways. In an upcoming course at Insead, students will work on a project for the luxury brand Hermès, generating detailed social media marketing strategy ideas for the brand. A course at London Business School required students to participate in the 2009 Google Online Marketing Challenge, where teams were given $200 of free online advertising with Google AdWords to work with companies to devise effective online marketing campaigns. Meanwhile at Harvard Business School, a second-year elective course on “competing with social networks” is being offered as part of that school’s M.B.A. program.

The article made the argument that the high level of engagement of top digital media professionals with these courses has reciprocal benefits. Students get to learn from the skills and experience of the executives, while the companies get to make contact with potential future hires with the skills needed to exploit social media channels for commercial gain.

Sounds like a win-win to me. But what do you think? Do you think social media strategy or social networking skills can be taught, or can they only be mastered by folks after they’ve gotten their hands dirty with them?

And should elite business schools — elite, expensive business schools, that is — bother with social media strategy or social networking courses? Should they be instead focusing on more lofty subjects?

Let me know by posting a comment below!