Riding Coattails

Situated neatly between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a lesser known, but growing, shopping holiday called Small Business Saturday. (with the apropos tagline of Shop Small). Founded by AMEX in 2010, and officially recognized by the U.S. Senate in 2011, Small Business Saturday has quickly become a noteworthy event. Posting numbers of more than $5.5 billion in additional revenue to small businesses across America last year alone, this date presents a unique opportunity for marketers to grab some coattails and hang on.

Situated neatly between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a lesser known, but growing, shopping holiday called Small Business Saturday. (with the apropos tagline of Shop Small). Founded by AMEX in 2010, and officially recognized by the U.S. Senate in 2011, Small Business Saturday has quickly become a noteworthy event. Posting numbers of more than $5.5 billion in additional revenue to small businesses across America last year alone, this date presents a unique opportunity for marketers to grab some coattails and hang on.

Often what stands between you and successful integrated marketing—the cross-channel marketing of a consistent brand message—is a brilliant idea. As marketers, we may be more challenged seeking creative inspiration than we are by deploying the actual campaign. Events, such as Small Business Saturday[1], are apt fodder for an integrated campaign that will speak to and engage your customers on many levels: philanthropic-type support of small business, special offers at a time when shopping is especially top of mind, social sharing, community building, and much more.

Our approach to an integrated campaign is to draft the content and then brainstorm to choose in what channels we can publish the content to “give the project some legs.” In the case of Small Business Saturday (SBS), AMEX has provided a fair amount of content for participants; while it may not be ideal for the channels you choose, it’s certainly a great start, as that first step is often the biggest—and hardest.

As an example, we sifted through the promotional content and chose to first launch our initiative as a Facebook campaign where we invited our friends and fans to like the post to support small business. For our network followers, who are small business, we asked that they comment on the post, adding their logo and an offer valid only on 30 November.

With the social postings making a regular appearance in our timelines, we then created the email campaign to educate our small-business clients about SBS, give them ideas for participating, and direct them to the site’s resources for launching full-blown initiatives in their own communities. To both gain support for the event and foster a closer relationship with our customers, our email offered a complimentary, branded email theme they could use to specifically promote their own SBS offer—no strings attached.

While it wasn’t planned as part of our integrated campaign for SBS, blog articles such as this could easily be developed in a way to extend the reach of your campaign.

Big business (B-to-B) can also benefit from promoting events (like SBS) when selling to small businesses, just as we did by offering our clients an email theme. A larger enterprise can nurture goodwill by becoming involved in a way that is beneficial to their clients beyond the bounds of their typical day-to-day business relationship. Clients are much more likely to show loyalty to vendors with whom they feel a connection and benevolent events give both parties a place to come together in a like-minded pursuit.

Campaign inspiration surrounds us, and it’s not always about discounting, selling and downloads. As any salesperson can tell you, developing qualified leads requires relationship building, and that is seldom done using email alone. Intersperse your typical business and sales emails with feel-good content that benefits the customer beyond your products and services, and you’ll find that engagements become more valuable, last longer and, yes, drives sales.

Join us in celebrating Small Business Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013.


[1] If Small Business Saturday isn’t right for you, think about other charitable or community events, such as breast cancer walks, balloon festivals, food fairs and the like. Coattails come in all sorts of fabrics. Be receptive to events where content is readily available, and this will reduce the demands on your internal team or external resource needs.

Creating an Integrated Email Marketing Strategy

Keeping email in the sales tool box limits the benefits and keeps it from helping your company grow. Electronic mail is well known as a marketing tool that generates immediate cash flow. It works so well that many companies send daily updates that contribute a significant amount to their annual revenue. Some might say that this is the primary purpose for email marketing. Maybe they’re right but I think it is a shame to waste opportunities

Keeping email in the sales tool box limits the benefits and keeps it from helping your company grow. Electronic mail is well known as a marketing tool that generates immediate cash flow. It works so well that many companies send daily updates that contribute a significant amount to their annual revenue. Some might say that this is the primary purpose for email marketing. Maybe they’re right but I think it is a shame to waste opportunities.

Email is the only tool available today that can economically provide a one-to-one communication between company and customer or prospect. Perhaps it’s the fear that people will overwhelm already stretched customer service departments that keeps companies from capitalizing on the opportunities available. Maybe they’re spending too much time working on creating content in the hopes that it will go viral. Or it could be that email works so well as a sales tool little thought has been put into other uses. After all, when resources are limited, management tends to take an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” approach to projects.

This is a dangerous position because email as a sales tool is breaking. The days where emails sent to unengaged subscribers generated significant revenue with little effort are disappearing. The changes in Gmail’s interface are the beginning of a new email marketing reality. Begging people to move messages to the primary inbox is not a sustainable solution. Building relationships that makes them want to find your emails is the only way to continued sales success. Fortunately, email is a multifaceted tool that works well in relationship building.

The companies that change their strategy to include retention and education will gain market share, improve customer loyalty and make sales messages more profitable. There isn’t a downside to doing this because it delivers results at minimal cost. This strategy is part of an integrated marketing and service initiative that has far reaching effects.

The content created for educational messages establishes expertise, builds trust and can be repurposed on other channels. Google’s shift to conversational search requires marketers seeking better ranks to provide quality content. The best information speaks directly to the people who buy your products or services. Incorporating educational messages in your email strategy allows you to discover what drives sales and keeps customers coming back. The same messages will attract prospects.

Much of the information about relationship marketing implies that people want personal relationships with companies. They don’t. People want personal relationships with friends and family. They want companies to make it easy for them to solve problems. It’s a bonus if the company solves the problem without participation from the individual. Trust is established when company’s consistently deliver on their promises. Trying to create personal relationships with people who don’t want them is foolish and a waste of resources.

A better strategy is to find people’s pain points and make them disappear. This creates a trust relationship. Email is an excellent tool for sharing information and learning about your customers’ needs. An optimized email marketing strategy includes promotional, educational, and informational messages. Personalization is a key component that can be added by connecting historical data with targeted content.

We are entering a new era for email marketing. The timing is perfect for retailers and any business that peaks in first and fourth quarters. Optimizing your email strategy when the volume is at its peak allows you to learn quickly what works best. You can do this while still sending the promotional messages known to generate cash flow. Waiting to see if the changes to email delivery have an effect will put you behind the competition. Start immediately, plan well, test everything and use the actionable information to improve the customer experience and your company’s success.

A Goodbye
This is my last column for “The Integrated Email.” It is been my honor and privilege to share my knowledge with you. Thank you for the opportunity. Godspeed.

Editor’s Note: It has been a pleasure working with Debra. We are sorry to see her go, and hope she will be able to contribute in other ways in the future when her time permits. The Integrated Email will return in November with a new blogger.

Social Media Is a Waste of Time for B-to-B

There. I’ve said it out loud. Now let the crucifixion begin. But before you write a retaliatory remark, hear me through. While I strongly believe that B-to-B marketing strategies can leverage many different marketing channels, I don’t think social media is at the top of my “things-I-must-do-to-help-drive-my-business-forward” list. Why? Because too many brands still need to get their act together in the basics, before spending precious resources chasing their tails on platforms that will yield very little to the bottom line.

There. I’ve said it out loud. Now let the crucifixion begin. But before you write a retaliatory remark, hear me through.

While I strongly believe that B-to-B marketing strategies can leverage many different marketing channels, I don’t think social media is at the top of my “things-I-must-do-to-help-drive-my-business-forward” list. Why? Because too many brands still need to get their act together in the basics, before spending precious resources chasing their tails on platforms that will yield very little to the bottom line.

So before you write me a nasty post suggesting that I’m old and out of touch with the times, consider these basics about your B-to-B product/service:

  • Website: Yep. This is where first impressions are made, so it better be designed and organized for easy navigation. And, it better be intuitive—allowing visitors to find their way around and get to the information they’re seeking without having to fall down a rat hole or two. Is the information arranged in a logical fashion (no, not the way your company wants it, but how your target audience THINKS)? Can information be downloaded and printed without sucking my printer dry of ink? Are there high-end videos to watch that are informative, engaging and helpful? Relevant case studies to my industry? Quotes/endorsements from users? White papers that truly examine an industry issue without making self-serving claims about your company? On a scale of 1 to 10, what score would you give to your website? If it’s less than an “8,” stop spending time on social media initiatives and get your website in order first.
  • Customer Service: Have you ever called your own toll-free line or emailed your own company as a “mystery shopper?” Who answers and how quickly? How are you treated? Is it easy to get your questions answered without being transferred? What kind of follow up is in place? Many companies separate this step from the rest of their marketing efforts and it often exemplifies everything that is wrong with your organization, which no amount of social media can fix. Remember, it’s easier to sell more to an existing customer then it is to find a sell to a new prospect, so if the after-purchase experience is less than stellar, stop chasing your tail and concentrate on getting your customer service house in order.
  • Industry Presence: No matter what product or service you sell, there are probably one or more industry organizations/conferences/events that attract potential prospects. This is where many targets go seeking information and your brand needs to be part of the discussion. Attending trade shows does NOT necessarily mean plunking down cash to have a booth on the trade show floor and handing out useless promo items, although that can be helpful if done right. What it does mean is that you need to get engaged in the event. Find out how to become a speaker, or participate in a roundtable discussion. Build awareness of your brand and your knowledge about issues facing the industry and the role that your product/service plays to help solve that issue. This is the original world of social media—not an online, digital presence that has no real value unless someone “clicks” but true engagement and dialogue between two individuals where one has a pain and the other one can solve it.
  • Relationship Building: Before LinkedIn and webinars, we all attended conferences, listened to speakers, met over cocktails and exchanged business cards. We followed up, stayed in touch and reconnected when we needed help finding useful products or services. I admit that I love LinkedIn as a tool for organizing my contacts, but the Discussion Groups can be quickly taken off topic or slow to take off in any meaningful way. If you have a solid topic that is of value to your industry, hire a researcher/writer and get an article/whitepaper written. Then share it with potential prospects, post it to one of your industry sites, send it to an editor of your trade publication. Every digital outlet is begging for valuable content and you could place yourself at the top of the knowledge chain through this endeavor. And everyone likes doing business with someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Speaking of LinkedIn, if you’re in sales, you need to have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile posted. And please, use a professional picture of yourself, and not one of you and your dog or the one taken by the camera on top of your computer (which is creepy looking, by the way). When you talk about your current employer, make sure you’re using consistent language about your brand. Look to your marketing or PR department for the 25-word description you know exists. Make sure you create a thorough profile and reach out to past customers / clients for endorsements—they do get read, believe it or not.

If you can honestly say that all five of these marketing tools are optimized and working like well-oiled machines, then by all means spend your time, money and resources on Facebook pages, Pinterest sites and Tweets. If you prove their value, write me—show me the money.

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.