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The Future of Marketing: 3 Big Changes That Are Already Here

May 1st, 2013 ::

The Future of MarketingEach January, experts from every industry publish blog posts and articles that list their predictions of what’s going to happen over the next 12 months and how those changes will affect the industry.

This is not one of those posts – and not just because it’s May. We all know that marketing has shifted from offline to online, from analog to digital, and that marketing has become more personal.

Based on my research, there are 3 big changes that are already here but will continue to affect marketing over the next few years as they become more widespread.

1. Web and mobile sites will use responsive design to focus on the user experience

Responsive design means designing your website, tablet site, and smartphone site from one platform to keep the user experience consistent while taking advantage of each platform’s unique features.

Think about how you access the Web on each device. You navigate websites from a computer with a cursor, but you move around tablet sites by tapping and swiping. On your smartphone, you navigate a mobile site by tapping on a small screen.

What this means for you: With the explosion of tablet and smartphone use, especially when accessing email and the Web, it is critical that you have mobile and tablet sites that provide a great user experience.

2. Marketing will go beyond real-time

Ever hear of an Anticipatory Computer Engine? It will allow your smartphone to offer you relevant news, information, and recommendations based on where you are, what you’re doing, and what you’re talking about.

A San Francisco-based company called Expect Labs is developing a MindMeld iPad app, which will capture ambient audio, visual, and location-based information to interpret “meaning and intent from multiple different streams of sensor data.”

What this means for you: Yes, it’s kind of creepy, but think of it this way: one day, we will no longer have to search for information. The information we want will come to us, and, conversely, the information you are sharing online about your service will be delivered automatically to someone who is just sort of thinking about it.

3. Data will drive marketing

Analyzing and using big data for a variety of purposes will continue, but for now, there are quite a few tools at the small business owner’s disposal:

  1. Ad retargeting: Ads that appear in your browser after you leave a website without taking action (maybe you put 5 items in your Gap shopping cart but left the site without buying them).
  2. Predictive recommendations: Tailored recommendations based on products you have looked at or purchased (after you buy a book at Amazon.com, you always get recommendations for other books).
  3. Location-based social and mobile marketing: Mobile ads that appear from local retailers and merchants depending on your location (an offer from the pizza place you are about to walk by at 6pm).

What this means for you: Understanding someone’s behavior and interests helps you deliver tailored offers and messages when they are most receptive. In other words, you are marketing to people who are already qualified leads.

Are you already using some of the above technology? How has it improved your marketing?

Image courtesy of civilsociety.co.uk

How to Craft Content That Works for Your Content Marketing Campaign

April 24th, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

The essence of any content marketing strategy is, of course, content. But for small business owners, this is often the biggest stumbling block. Chances are you’re not a writer, so how do you and your team craft content that will work to improve your website’s SEO and drive traffic and sales? Here are some tips.

Focus on quality. You may read articles that give you the idea your content has to be stuffed with keywords. In reality, this leads to articles that make no sense (we’ve all read them—those blog posts that sound like they were written by someone who didn’t speak English). Think about what your audience wants to know, and write articles that answer their questions. For example, if you own a lawn care and landscaping business, your customers might want to know how to keep their lawns green, how to prevent weeds, what types of grass are best for the local climate, etc.

Include both timely and timeless content. You don’t want every article you write to become outdated in a month. However, tying your content to current trends (such as seasons, holidays or hot topics online) does help boost your SEO and make your site seem fresh. Aim for a mix of timeless topics (such as what types of grass are best for the climate, or how often to mow a lawn) and timely ones (such as popular plants this summer, or how to prepare your garden for winter).

Use keywords. I mentioned not stuffing your articles with keywords, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to use them. Figure out what keywords you want to be found for (for example: San Francisco lawn care, landscaping service, best landscaping company) and use those keywords in the headlines, subheads and first paragraphs of your articles. If you use photos or graphics, you should also use keywords in the captions, descriptions and tags of the artwork.

Enlist your staff. If you’re not a good writer, do you have someone who is on your team? Remember, content isn’t just words, so see what kind of talent exists on your staff. You might have someone who’s great at shooting videos or taking photos. Used properly on your website and social media accounts, these can be excellent traffic drivers.

Get professional help. Creating content, especially blog posts, articles and newsletters, can be time-consuming and stressful if you don’t have an experienced writer on staff. Consider outsourcing to a freelance writer or marketing copywriter. You can find tons to choose from on sites like Guru.com, Elance.com or Freelancer.com.

Image by Flickr user mrsdkrebs (Creative Commons)

Web.com Small Business Tip of the Day: Content Marketing

April 23rd, 2013 ::

Have you taken the content marketing plunge yet? Whether it’s using content to gain a social media following or posting helpful articles to your website, content marketing is the hot marketing trend everyone’s buzzing about, already accounting for 25 percent of the budget of small businesses with 10-99 employees. But the Content Marketing Survey Report from Econsultancy and Outbrain says although 90 percent of those surveyed believe content marketing will be even more important in the coming year, only 38 percent have a strategy in place. When crafting your content marketing strategy, remember to deliver the content in an informational but entertaining format. Also provide content that focuses on helping your customers instead of selling your product or service.

What Can Content Marketing Do for You?

April 15th, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

“Content marketing” is a hot business buzzword these days—and for good reason. The practice of creating online “content,” whether it’s articles and blog posts, social media posts or online videos, can bring a small business big results. If you’re skeptical about whether content marketing can really help you—and whether it’s worth your time—check out BusinessBolts’ Content Marketing Survey Report.

This study specifically focused on how small companies use content marketing and what the payoffs were. Here’s what they found.

It doesn’t have to take a ton of time. The average small business in the survey spent between one and five hours per week on content marketing.

It makes a huge difference. More than three-fourths of small business owners say content marketing improves their website traffic. Seventy-one percent say it boosts their position in search rankings, 70 percent say it improves awareness of their brand, and 59 percent say it increases their sales.

Have I sold you yet? If you’re ready to try content marketing, you should know that articles and blog posts were the most common type of content, used by 74 and 64 percent of small businesses respectively. This could include articles on your own website, on someone else’s website or on your social media accounts.

Less common, but also effective, were email newsletters and online videos. It’s important to note that the highest-earning businesses in the study were more likely to use these types of content marketing.

Content marketing isn’t always easy. It takes time to create good content. Here are some of my ideas for simplifying things:

  • Delegate to someone on staff. Not all business owners are great writers or have the time to write content. Put someone else in charge—you can still come up with ideas, or they can interview you or others on your staff to get fodder for content.
  • Consider outsourcing. It’s possible to find copywriters or bloggers who will create content for a reasonable price. This can be a smart move if you can afford it. Which brings me to my next point:
  • Don’t be stingy. The BusinessBolts study found the businesses that spent more time and more money on creating content, as well as on advertising and marketing in general, had higher incomes. Content marketing pays off.
  • Use podcasts or videos. These can be simple to create and since no writing is involved, they’re often faster. Again, interviewing someone on your team about a topic of interest is a natural for podcasts and videos. This also adds variety to your content and helps your site rank higher in search engines.

Image by Flickr user mkhmarketing (Creative Commons)

Content Marketing Is Marketers’ Top Focus for 2013

April 12th, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Content marketing is surpassing social media as the number-one marketing focus for businesses this year, a study by CopyPress reports. The Copypress 2013 State Of Content Marketing Study asked marketing decision-makers to pick one “leading focus” for their marketing efforts. In 2012, 18.9 percent of marketers named content marketing, ranking it behind both email and social media and tied with SEO. However, in the 2013 survey, the number of marketers who said content marketing was their leading focus climbed to 34.8 percent–making it the top priority for the greatest number of respondents, ahead of social media and email marketing. Social media is a focus for 24.7 percent of respondents, SEO for 14.6 percent and email marketing for 10.4 percent.

The survey also asked marketers which specific types of content had the best return on investment (ROI). Articles, video and white papers topped the list:

  • Featured articles – 62.2 percent
  • Videos – 51.9 percent
  • White papers – 45.6 percent
  • Photos – 37.8 percent
  • Interactive media – 36 percent
  • Sales copy – 29.7 percent
  • Infographics – 27.9 percent
  • Buyers’ guides – 21.6 percent

Here are some of the challenges marketers faced with regard to specific types of content:

Video – Although video was widely considered to have high ROI, most marketers also felt that this was among the most difficult types of content to create. When pressed more specifically, they seemed to feel that video was too expensive.

White papers and articles – Authorship was a main focus for these types of content. Two-thirds of respondents thought it was important for content to have a specific person’s authorship, as opposed to being generically “from” their business. In general, this means they felt it was important for white papers or articles to be bylined by high-profile people in the company and industry, whose prominence would help in search results. However, only 42 percent were willing to pay more for content authored by high-profile individuals.

What do these trends mean to your business?

  • While video can be expensive if you turn to outside sources to create it, it doesn’t have to be. Videos filmed with a basic video camera or even those filmed on a smartphone can be of adequate quality if the information conveyed is relevant, interesting and useful and the presentation is lively and professional.
  • You may not be able to afford to pay a well-known individual to write content for you, but by writing enough content yourself and promoting it on your website, blog and social media channels, you can eventually raise your own profile as an author. With changes to Google’s search algorithms making authorship more important in search results, this criterion will matter more in the future.

Image by Flickr user Richard_of_England (Creative Commons)

What Are the Biggest Content Marketing Hurdles?

April 8th, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

Consumers don’t trust most marketing methods, meaning content marketing has a better chance of winning their business, a Forrester Research study reported in MediaPost says. But businesses face lots of challenges in successfully implementing content marketing strategies.

First, let’s look at what kinds of marketing earn the least—and most—trust:

  • Text messaging ranked low, with just 9 percent of U.S. consumers saying they trust texts from companies.
  • Banner ads are trusted by only 10 percent.
  • 12 percent trust mobile apps.
  • 18 percent trust email marketing messages.

At the higher end of the trust scale, 46 percent of people say they trust consumer-written reviews of products; professional reviews are trusted by 55 percent; and recommendations from friends or family earn the trust of 70 percent.

Since so many marketing messages are earning limited trust, more and more brands are turning to branded content, which Forrester defines as “content developed or curated by a brand to provide added consumer value such as entertainment or education.” Branded content isn’t a paid ad, sponsorship or product placement. It isn’t designed to directly sell a product or service, but simply to build affinity with a brand.

What does your branded content marketing campaign need to be successful? Here are a few important points Forrester recommends:

  • Content must reflect your brand’s core values.
  • It must create value for the consumer so they’re inspired to share it with others.
  • When creating content, companies should focus on good storytelling and on creating content that is useful, inspiring and interesting.
  • In addition, that content must engage with consumers in the proper context. You would develop different content for your blog than for Facebook or Pinterest, for example.
  • Companies must measure results of their content marketing strategies on an ongoing basis.

Forrester recommends creating an editorial calendar to manage your content marketing strategy. While its study focused on major global brands, an editorial calendar can be smart way for even the smallest business to keep its content marketing strategy on track.

You can use an editorial calendar to plan what type of content will be needed when—such as for a new product launch, to tie in with a particular event such as the Super Bowl, or for a certain season—and what channels you will share it in. An Excel file is a simple way to create an editorial calendar.

Always leave room in your editorial calendar for spontaneity so that if a topical event sparks a lot of chatter and it’s relevant to your brand, you can create relevant content or comment on the event in an appropriate way.

Want to learn from the big brands? Forrester called out Cisco, the Cleveland Clinic, Red Bull, Chanel No. 5., Michelob Ultra, BMW, Schiff and Chipotle as brands that excel at content marketing. Try following them on social media to see what strategies they’re implementing and what your business could borrow from.

Image by Flickr user (Creative Commons)

5 Key Digital Trends That Matter to Your Business

March 6th, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

How will smartphones, tablets, social media and other digital trends affect the way you interact with your customers, market your business to consumers and sell your products and services in the coming year? comScore’s new 2013 U.S. Digital Future in Focus report took a closer look at what trends will influence business in 2013 and beyond. Here’s what the study found:

  1. Social media matures: Social networking in the U.S. is still dominated by Facebook; consumers spent 5 out of every 6 minutes spent online on social media. In addition to Facebook, which is maturing by focusing on new ways to monetize, smaller social media players making waves in 2013 will include LinkedIn, Yelp, Zynga, Groupon, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram (which is now part of Facebook).
  2. Search flattens out: Although Google is still the strong leader in search engines, Bing gained some ground in 2012. That was also the year when more and more searches began taking place on mobile platforms, signaling a possible flattening of the desktop search market.
  3. Online video matures: comScore says the U.S. online video market is beginning to mature in terms of consumption, but still has a ways to go in terms of monetization. There is more demand for online video advertising space than there is inventory available, so comScore believes this advertising channel will continue to grow, and will become better at precisely targeting viewers.
  4. Smartphone and tablets gain traction: In 2012, smartphones finally surpassed 50 percent market penetration, and Android phones surpassed 50 percent of the smartphone market. Tablet use also surged; as of December 2012, some 52.4 million Americans owned tablets.
  5. Ecommerce and mcommerce grow: Despite continued economic uncertainty, retail ecommerce grew in 2012, outpacing the growth of brick-and-mortar retail by fourfold. Overall, U.S. retail and travel-related ecommerce rose 13 percent from 2011 to 2012, reaching $289 billion. In addition, mcommerce is starting to emerge, with comScore estimating that mcommerce transactions (both on smartphones and tablets) accounted for approximately 11 percent of ecommerce sales.

Is your business taking advantage of trends in social media, mobile device use, online video viewing and online commerce? If not, 2013 is the year to make your move. You can learn more about all of these trends by downloading a free copy of the 2013 U.S. Digital Future in Focusreport.

Image by Flickr user Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com (Creative Commons)

Facebook Says: These Are the Brand Strategies That Increase Engagement

March 5th, 2013 ::

Facebook: You're doing it wrong!When I saw the email from Hootsuite for their HootSuite University presentation, Facebook Brand Pages: Rules of Engagement with Jason Li, Lead Strategist with Global Creative Solutions at Facebook, I thought, “This could be all about how to spend your money advertising on Facebook, or how to really use Facebook from the company that makes it.”

Guess what? It was mostly the latter. Here’s what I learned:

1 – Focus on growing your fan base

The absolute biggest thing you should focus on with Facebook is growing your fan base. As Li said, “Without a fan base, you have nothing.”

Spend some time on Facebook Insights and look at the days and times when your audience engages with your posts. Schedule your posts for those times to reach as many fans as possible. When your fans interact with your posts, their friends will see it in their news feeds, thus allowing you to reach a bigger audience and grow your fan base.

2 – Understand social behavior

If you want to create quality engagement, you must understand – and then marry – two things:

Why do customers love your brand in the first place? Li said, “If you look at Starbucks’ wall, there are a lot of images – of their logo, packaging, storefronts, employees. People have an emotional connection to Starbucks and respond to those images.” To figure this out, you can ask your fans what they like, but you can also look to see what posts they have responded to the most.

Why do people share content on Facebook? Li explained that sharing content extends beyond sharing to liking, commenting on, and creating content about your brand. This is a trickier question to answer, so see below for Li’s 4 fundamental reasons that people share content on Facebook.

3 – Learn why people share content on Facebook

We share content on Facebook to:

  • Make our lives easier – Help your fans learn something new, discover something inspirational, or reward them with savings or tips.
  • Build relationships – Start a 2-way dialogue by prompting your fan base and asking for meaningful responses, recognize/celebrate your fans, make your fans smile. Li said to think about your significant other and how you grow and nurture that relationship; apply those same ideas to your Facebook fans.
  • Help others – Ask your fans for feedback and be open and transparent. Li basically said, “Take advantage of the fact that people like to share what they think.”
  • Craft our identity by sharing what we like – Enable your fans to express who they are, and think about how can you help them do that.

4 – Two final tips

  • Don’t create posts simply to fill space. Post at least 1-2 times/week but no more than 5 times/week. “My friends don’t post more than 5 times per week,” said Li, “and neither should your brand.”
  • Use Facebook Insights. Improve your use of Facebook by looking at how many people you reach, how many people engage with your posts, what time you should post, your demographic base, etc.

Li shared a lot of examples of how brands engage with their fans on Facebook, so the presentation is worth watching if you’d like to learn more.

I have to say, a lot is written about Facebook, but this is probably some of the best advice I’ve ever heard/gotten. Will this information change the way you use Facebook? How?

Image courtesy of funny-pictures.funmunch.com

5 Reasons Content Curation Is Important to Your Marketing Strategy

February 25th, 2013 ::

Content curationWhile content creation has gotten a lot of buzz and attention over the past year, content curation – gathering valuable and relevant news, trends, tips, and advice and then sharing it – is just as important.

Why? Here are 5 reasons content curation is important to your marketing strategy:

  1. There’s a lot of good content getting lost online, including yours
  2. Curation is a no-brainer way to supplement and complement your original content
  3. Curating the best of what’s out there is a huge value-add for your audience
  4. Curation positions you as a go-to expert on your chosen topic
  5. You become a news hub, with people coming back for fresh content

You don’t have to be big company to curate content. Thanks to the folks at Curata, I discovered 4 examples of small business content curation from their 2013 Look Book Ebook:

Oregon Wine Newsroom

To keep in touch with and promote local wineries, the Oregon Wine Board started curating all Oregon wine-related info, including events. It’s a perfect way to keep winery information in front of local businesses, tourists, wine bloggers and the media.

Everything Tile and Stone

East Coast Tile’s site focuses on tools and trends in the tile and stone industry, which is a great example of how to curate an entire industry and turn into a source of research and ideas.  The site is used by consumers, but also contractors, designers, and architects.

Change Velocity

Have you ever heard of change management? Well, you can find out everything about it on Morris Communication’s site, which is for organizations looking for information and expertise on the subject. The site curates trends, news, the latest ideas and tools, and advice.

Healio

I can’t imagine being a doctor who needs to keep up with the latest news and technology for my own specialty along with the general healthcare landscape. That’s where Healio comes in. They break down information by specialty into videos and blog posts, making it easier for medical professionals to keep up with the latest discussions and innovations.

Have you seen other small businesses using content curation?

Image courtesy of tumblr.com

Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From Venus

February 21st, 2013 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

Social media is growing by leaps and bounds, but email is still the best way to reach out to the most customers and gain their loyalty, reports a new study by ExactTarget. Called Marketers from Mars, the study found significant gaps between how marketers think customers want to be marketed to, and how customers actually want to interact with brands.

The clear winner? Email, which was named as the most valuable marketing tool for building loyalty by both customers and marketers. Ninety-three percent of consumers subscribe to at least one brand’s email, while about half (49 percent) have made a purchase as a direct result of email messages.  One-third of consumers want marketers to invest more in email marketing.

However, while marketers were highly focused on mobile marketing, customers aren’t quite there yet. About one-fourth of marketers thought mobile apps were an effective marketing tool, but just 7 percent of consumers thought so. Instead, consumers were more likely to want brands to invest more in marketing on their traditional websites.

Consumers were more likely than marketers to want to interact with brands on Facebook. More than half (58 percent) of consumers have “Liked” a brand on Facebook, up 20 percent from the prior survey in 2010. About one-third of consumers with a smartphone and one-fourth of consumers who do not own a smartphone say they prefer to interact with brands on Facebook, making it the second most common place consumers go to connect with businesses online.

While just 21 percent of consumers have made a purchase as a direct result of a Facebook message, 22 percent of consumers say they want marketers to invest in creating a better Facebook experience. This suggests that there is great potential for Facebook to grow as a sales and marketing channel.

While marketers are highly engaged with Twitter, consumers are far less so. Some 61 percent of marketers follow at least once brand on Twitter, but only 12 percent of consumers do. That was an increase of just 7 percent from the prior survey in 2010.

What’s the takeaway? If you’re involved in small business marketing, you’re on the cutting edge of new trends and technologies—so don’t make the mistake of assuming your habits mirror those of the average consumer. Always do your research to understand exactly what your target customers are doing and how they want you to market to them—it may not be how you’d like to be marketed to yourself.

You can download the complimentary research from Exact Target or view an infographic of the survey.

Image by Flickr user (Creative Commons)