Digital Marketing is more than just cool tools

In today’s business environment we’re fortunate to have access to a variety of marketing tools that let us communicate easier with our customers and prospects, observe competitors, and scrutinize the market. Many small business owners are competing more effectively using digital media (and extending the value of their traditional marketing efforts). These newer digital tools foster greater competition by enabling our businesses to reach interested prospects with highly relevant real-time communications and get measurable feedback almost immediately.

Successfully acquiring new customers through digital marketing is best handled by employing inbound marketing channels to obtain visibility and leads. These channels include search, social media and email marketing, all fueled by content marketing.

This post outlines the best types of tools and the most popular tactics in each category based on our experience.

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We’ll start with a concept known as Content Marketing. Content marketing is the primary focus for business owners seeking to use digital marketing to increase reach, leads and sales. So, what is Content Marketing? Content marketing is the process of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and well understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

Content marketing fuels:
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Email marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Event marketing (in person events as well as Webinars)
  • Paid media including Pay per click and display advertising
  • Lead generation and conversion rate optimization (through landing pages)

How do you go about developing a content marketing strategy?

Here is a quick checklist to get you started:

  • Define business opportunity for content marketing
    • Define key segments or target audiences
    • Review current content marketing
    • Review competitor content marketing
  • Define your content marketing strategy
    • Define content marketing plan
    • Prioritize audiences and personas
    • Prioritize content assets for audience
    • Define content marketing resources
    • Create communications timeline
  • Implement and manage your content marketing strategy
    • Update your editorial calendar
    • Manage social media distribution
    • Manage email marketing distribution
    • Manage SEO effectiveness of content marketing
    • Review analytics for content effectiveness

Great. Now what? Time to consider the tools.

One of the tools your likely to be using in your content efforts is social media. In our case, we strongly recommend Facebook as the starting place, but use the platform you are most confident in to get started. (More on social media selection in an upcoming post).

Why focus on social? Leverage social to help find ideal prospects and accelerate list growth. The adage that birds of a feather flock together sums it up nicely. People with similar issues, concerns, challenges, and life experiences typically are connected to others much like themselves. Social is all about connections. Go on, engage your audience.

Online reviews

Today’s consumers check out online reviews before making in-store purchase! Reviews are known as ‘user generated content’ or UGC.

But remember, you must craft content that does more than just ask contacts to buy. Your customers aren’t always in the market to purchase. If all they hear from you is “buy this,” can you blame them for tuning you out? To avoid this predicament, try creating content that helps your contacts solve problems, buy better, and even find interesting things they wouldn’t have uncovered any other way.

Here are a few topics to talk about besides “buy this”:
  • Present information that helps customers use your products correctly.
  • Go behind the scenes by introducing customers to key employees. Show off your offices or factories. Talk about your company philosophy.
  • Add customer voices to your emails by featuring reviews, endorsements, photos and other user-generated content (UGC).
  • Become the authority in your market niche by sharing “insider” news and information.
  • Improve onboarding for new customers with information that helps them find what they want faster or navigate better around your website.

What about email?

Do you collect email addresses? From whom – everyone that you meet, just customers, all appointments, third parties? Think it through. Why not collect them all if they’ll share them with you? Above we discussed the use of social media to interact and extend the reach of your audience. Those names are gold, email address gold to be exact.

Now that you have defined the ways you’ll collect email addresses, let’s turn to what to do with them. First, and this is a critical component, you have to keep track of where the names came from! Two reasons for this – first, to be CAN-SPAM compliant you must have permission to use the addresses (if you’ve been given the information freely, you’re good here – no buying or renting email addresses!). The second reason is more practical, since you absolutely want to tailor your messages to each type of audience you identified in the first step of the checklist.

What emails will you send? You really need to ask yourself what messages will resonate with the audience I am targeting. What do they want to know, what is important to them? This is not about your agenda, it must be content that is relevant to them first – then when you have their attention you can ask them to act a certain way, or react to your content. The opportunities are endless, and they are similar in nature to the list of content topics we explored for social media. This is all very connected. In fact, the more connected the content and media, the more effective you will be.

Time to jump in

That’s enough to get started, but remember, the foundation of any digital marketing plan is your website. All of the other digital tools and efforts rely on your website as the central element for customer and prospect communication and an informational base. Don’t overlook the importance of investing time and effort into shoring up your website from the content perspective!

Consult YHN Marketing has turnkey programs and solutions to get you started, just give us a call and we’ll review your situation with you and offer recommendations to get you digitally marketing in no time.

A Decade of Marketing: a journey through change and transformation

When I began my career in marketing over a decade ago, my world was very different. Reflecting upon this time with what I now know, I admit that there was a lot of guesswork, trial and error was often a “strategy,” and the concept of tracking was a “nice to have.” It wasn’t just because it was early in my own career; it’s just how things were done. At the time, most of my clients were focused on their newspaper and direct mail efforts and were obsessed with the creative side of things. They reluctantly dabbled in digital media [which was barely a “thing”] with a “state-of-the-art” HTML website – and this was only when they had a few dollars left in the budget and were told ad nauseam it was a good idea. These approaches were acceptable for the time, but there’s been a LOT of evolution at a breakneck pace over the past decade. As a marketer, I’ve continued to run to keep up [and have enjoyed every minute of it]!

Truth be told, during the early 2000’s it was a bit of a “churn and burn” approach to marketing – which campaign can we implement now to obtain a few new customers, never to think about them again after purchase? Since there wasn’t much data analysis, when a client “felt” like something didn’t work, they’d pull the plug and often prematurely abort an otherwise successful program. Plus, social media was in its infancy and you were lucky if you carried the latest flip phone…

Fast forward to [almost] 2015 and it’s truly a different world. There are many things I’m grateful for – the focus on segmented, targeted messaging, a high level of importance placed on tracking and analytics and the power of the consumer. The last point might be the most significant switch – as marketers we need to constantly focus on customer experience, retention and communication preference. 10yrsThis concept is a wonderful touchstone to consider when planning and implementing marketing strategies. We now find ourselves continuously asking: What resonates with the customer? How do they like to be reached [via text, email, direct mail, etc.]? What does “great” look like to them? How can we better reach, speak with and connect with our customer?

Successful communication with the customer is hinged upon targeted messaging via the appropriate medium, not just about the creative campaign – this is a significant cultural shift in the world of marketing. The mass messaging approach of yester year is a waste of time, energy and resources. Today’s consumer is highly educated and motivated to purchase based on their needs and preferred buying habits. Understanding these preferences – and communicating to each consumer in a relevant way – is the key to capturing their business, making them a repeat buyer and [hopefully] obtaining referrals for your business and/or product.

The main way today’s consumers become so informed and savvy is through online research, including price  shopping, product reviews, and referrals from peer-to-peer interactions [social media]. These are the main reasons that today’s marketing strategies and tactics are so digitally focused. It’s important for potential clients to be able to find your business via online mediums. You’ll want to ensure that you’re online reputation is stellar; this is accomplished through online reviews, social media exposure and ongoing content [regular blog postings].

Regardless of the industry, times change and marketing is often a significant driving force. I know that both my professional and personal experiences have changed because of marketing. Those who pay attention to the changes, embrace the journey and transform along the way are the ones who’ll have the most success!

Even the Changes are Changing

Not so long ago we learned how to “Google it” to learn anything we wanted to know. It was a rapid rise to freedom of information and instant knowledge.

Over the years since then there have been shifts in the Google landscape. Many people who wouldn’t even THINK of themselves as technical by nature have taken up conversations about the mysterious Google algorithms and the secret sauce to getting to the top of their search pages.

Numerous studies have been conducted that look at how we, as search engine users, relate to the search results presented by Google. According to a recent report from Mediative, the way people engage with the search engine result pages (SERPs) has changed significantly over the past decade.

serps-mediative-2005
2005

In 2005 they conducted a study using eye tracking and found that users tended to focus their gaze on the top-left corner of a SERP where the first result was usually displayed. This area became known as the “Golden Triangle.” Look at the heat mapped image of the 2005 study, you can see for yourself that the area in that upper left corner was the focus of attention for most participants.

serps-mediative-2014
2014

Today, the Golden Triangle has all but disappeared. A look at the 2014 results demonstrate how strikingly different behaviors are from those observed a decade ago. Users tend to scan down the page more now and vary their focus on other areas depending on their particular search. The 2014 heat map image indicates a much broader area of observation.

This change in behavior is partially the result of changes Google has made to its SERPs along with the impact of our increased use of mobile devices.  Consumers have become conditioned to scan vertically more than horizontally.

Back in 2005, the most relevant results were nearly always in the upper-left corner of the page. Google has introduced a number of new elements since then including the Knowledge Graph, Carousel, and Local Listings among others.

The study reveals some interesting details:

  • Users now tend to scan pages more quickly. In 2005, searchers spent just under 2 seconds viewing each listing; in 2014 that has dropped to 1.17 seconds.
  • The impact of a Knowledge Graph result varied significantly depending on whether or not the answer was relevant. Participants often skipped irrelevant Knowledge Graph results and went straight to the listings below them. However, if a Knowledge Graph result was relevant, it drew away a significant amount of attention from the subsequent listings.
  • Google’s Carousel—an image strip at the top of the page accompanied by other information such as ratings—had much less of an impact on the searchers results than did Knowledge Graph.

But, the most interesting details to emerge are these:

  • The highest placed organic result still garners roughly the same amount of click activity (32.8%) as in 2005. However, with the addition of the new page elements, the top search result is not viewed for as long, or by as many people.
  • Organic results positioned in the 2nd through 4th slots now receive a significantly higher share of clicks than they did in 2005.

Overall this means good news for smaller businesses in competitive markets. Search has evolved to allow for consumers’ attention to include more than just the highest position. The spots from 4th on up are seeing 30% more attention today than was the case in 2005 (see the chart). The coveted top spot is still the master of the page, but as consumers come to realize their needs are often broader than the largest or most invested participants. Those who make the “above the fold” group in the first five spots on page one will see their efforts rewarded.

Clicks are evolving. The top 4 slots have improved 30% since 2005.
Clicks are evolving. The top 4 slots have improved 30% since 2005.

Automate Your Marketing

What if there was something you could do to make marketing for your business easier? Marketing planning and implementation doesn’t have to be a cumbersome process. There are ways to make it easy, through planning, organization, reporting and partnerships with marketing professionals. Just as there are different professionals who work on homes – contractors, electricians, plumbers, painters, etc. – there is a diverse group of marketers available to help consult on and implement your overall strategy. Choosing experts to handle each task can help you maximize your return and stay committed to your overall strategy. So who are some of the potential partners who can assist you with marketing planning and implementation?

  • Strategists: Help you develop a budget, plan and calendar by incorporating initiatives with goals of increasing sales and achieving a sustainable competitive advantage.
  • Designers: graphic artists who develop the creative and bring your marketing ideas to life. Designers should understand your industry, audience, goals, and objectives to deliver a product relevant to your customer’s needs.
  • Direct Mail Vendors: many direct response marketers provide a turn-key service, making it cost-effective and easy for you. These professionals provide tested direct mail designs, obtain prospect mailing lists, and handle printing and mailing of your direct mail marketing projects. Some direct mail vendors are industry specific and can provide samples and benchmarking data (how often they “get the phone to ring”) that appeal to your target consumer.

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  • Digital Marketing Specialists: in a constantly evolving digital marketplace, creating a content rich website and incorporating search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), social media, blog development, video integration and responsive design is no small undertaking. Partnering with a digital marketing specialist will help you integrate online initiatives into your overall marketing strategy, drive traffic, update and maintain your site, plus grow and change with the evolving landscape which is critical to your overall marketing success.
  • Professional Video Production: if your budget permits, working with a professional production company on a regular or consultative basis will help you incorporate professional video into your online strategy, public relations campaign and in-office POS.
  • Marketing Analysts: working with a marketing analyst to track your return on investment (ROI) is a critical component of your marketing plan. Assessing your results on at least a quarterly basis is the best way to compare your marketing ROI against industry benchmarks and adjust your plan accordingly.

When choosing a marketing partner (or partners), open communication is key to creating a successful working relationship. When looking for a new vendor partner, consider the following questions:

  • Does the prospective vendor communicate their capabilities in a clear, precise and easy to understand format?
  • Are the prospective vendor’s costs comparable to the industry standard? Did you shop around?
  • Will the prospective vendor be able to provide solutions for your growing business?

You don’t have to go it alone. Working with marketing professionals, especially those who understand your industry, will help you achieve your goals and objectives, stay within your budget and assess the efficacy of your initiatives.

 
Consult YHN Marketing can help and/or recommend industry partners. Interested in learning more? Please contact marketing at  marketing@ConsultYHN.com.

Honesty In Online Communication

We learned in kindergarten that honesty is the best policy but how many of us actually apply this advice on a daily basis?  In a culture that’s increasingly driven by countless forms of communication resulting in 24-hour access with fewer and fewer chances to be ‘off the grid,’ has it become easier to stretch the truth, feign ignorance or simply lie? According to Jeffrey Hancock, associate professor of communication and information science at Cornell University, being perceived as deceptive can seriously harm reputations and relationships, regardless of the medium.  His studies have also shown [surprisingly] that we tend to lie less online than in person or over the telephone; perhaps it’s because our online, documented posts, comments, status updates, and pictures will be around for a long time.  As a business owner, the type of communication you put in front of your audience adds up – and honesty is a big part of tipping the scales in your favor.

Enter social media. 

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Honest and open communication is the cornerstone of social messaging.

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn for business or Pinterest, Instgram or YouTube for pleasure, have you thought about how you are representing yourself online?  The first thing to do is learn how to engage online responsibly and assume you are speaking in public at all times.  We’ll say it again: the internet is not forgiving; posts, comments, status updates, and pictures will live on for the foreseeable future.  Make sure your professional social presence is one you are proud of now and will be in years to come.

Also, be yourself – honest and open communication is the cornerstone of social messaging.  Customers, or potential customers, will respect genuine communication that matters to them.  For instance, use the 4-1-1 rule; post 4 interesting, funny or informational ideas, 1 promotional post and 1 re-post [share with a friend, answer a question, hit the ‘like’ button, etc.], all of which need to be relevant to your audience.  Regardless of whether you post a few times daily or a few times per month, follow the rule above for a targeted strategy that will resonate with your audience.  And as a general rule, before posting on any social medium, ask yourself if the information is honest and relevant.

The review sites.

Here’s where honesty may be most beneficial.  What happens when online reviews about your business begin popping up via Yelp and Google?   If they are positive, great!  But what about the other side of that coin?  We’d all like to think that we give 100% all day every day, but the reality is that sometimes we fall short.  It’s inevitable that you’ll see a less than stellar business review at some point.  When confronted with this ‘bad’ review, it’s how you handle this perceived setback that can set you apart.

Be courageous in the face of bad news, honorably standing tall despite conflict [even if you suspect the negative review is the handiwork of your competitor down the street].  If tempted to avoid the issue, or to make an excuse, think of how you’d feel if a comment you made went unaddressed or simply ignored.  Not pleased, right?  Human beings are deeply attracted to courageous honesty, but sometimes when we are on the other side of the complaint it’s difficult not to be defensive.  It’s best to apologize and do everything we can to make things right — right away.  A February 2014 study by the Social Media Marketing University found that 52% of US marketers respond to negative online comments within 24 hours.  That means responding diplomatically to the comment online, calling the customer [if you can] and remedying the situation ASAP!  The Retail Consumer Report found that of consumers who received a reply in response to their negative review, 33% posted a positive review and 34% deleted their original negative review.  That means by handling the issue, you might even get that nasty, negative comment retracted!

It will work. Honest.

If you believe in what you are doing and are passionate about why you get up every day, this honesty task will be a piece of cake.  Communicating with a broader audience is easier today than ever before, but remember, your message needs to be relevant, timely and genuine.