Public relations campaigns require a whole lot more than just sending out press releases — or at least, they should. Mass emailing and cold-calling can get you only so far. If you really want your PR strategy to be effective, you’ll need to put more effort into networking, creating content and crafting pitches.
Want to make the most of your PR campaigns? Follow these expert tips from business owners and PR pros.
Get to know the media
Blindly sending out mass pitches to every news outlet you can find might get you some coverage, but it’s much more effective if you take the time to establish relationships with journalists at relevant media outlets. This means researching who covers which topics, finding out what interests them, and making personalized pitches.
“My best tip for planning and running a PR campaign is to get to know the journalists or targets you’ll be pitching ahead of time,” said Tami Brehse, freelance PR and digital marketing consultant. “Learn what they like to cover. Follow their stories and actively comment on them.”
You should also try interacting with them on social media to get more of a feel for their personality. Brehse suggested adding them to a Twitter list dedicated to their niche.
“Build an actual relationship so that when the time comes when you’re looking for coverage of your latest campaign, you’re reaching out to an acquaintance rather than just cold-calling a journalist who has no idea who you are,” Brehse said.
Develop a brand voice
Every successful brand needs to have a unique brand voice that is tailored to their audience. It doesn’t matter what your brand’s voice is, so long as it works for your business and you maintain it.
“Be true to your brand voice,” said John Znidarsic, senior director of social influence at The Adcom Group, a marketing and advertising agency.
“If you are disruptive, then be disruptive. If you are more reserved, that can work too,” Znidarsic said. “There is nothing worse than a PR campaign that reeks of inauthenticity. Be interesting. Have something to say. But, make sure you are saying it in your brand voice.”
It’s also important to keep in mind that just because one brand is saying something, it doesn’t mean you need to be saying it, too. Stick with what works for you.
“Say what you feel — not what you think someone in your position should be saying,” Znidarsic added.
Get your website ready
Before you run a PR campaign, Sam Anthony, co-founder and director of development at Web agency TheSiteEdge,said you need to make sure your website is prepared.
First, Anthony said you should make sure your Web hosting can withstand a surge of thousands of visitors.
“I cannot tell you how many times we have seen websites get [what we call] the ‘PR hug of death,’ where they hit the jackpot with a media placement and then their website crumbles from the traffic,” Anthony said. “Not only does the PR campaign suffer, but it hurts your general reputation and makes you come off as less trustworthy.”
You also need to make sure your website is set up to take advantage of any extra publicity you get as a result of a campaign — this means offering deals or exclusive content to visitors.
“Capture email addresses with an offer people actually want to take advantage of by giving them a PDF resource that truly offers value,” Anthony said. “Or have a sale running to ensure you are in the best possible spot to begin a business relationship with as many new customers as possible. Whatever your goal is, you just need to ensure that you put as much effort into capitalizing on the PR as you do setting up the PR opportunity.”
While you’re crafting your pitch, you need to maximize your time. Ben Landers, president of online marketing company Blue Corona, suggested using the 10/80/10 rule to make the most of your campaign and maximize the return on your time.
“I spend roughly 10 percent of my time connecting whatever we’re promoting to a trending topic,” Landers said. “I spend 80 percent of my time crafting the story and researching the journalists I’m targeting — their recent stories, areas of interest and anything else I can use to connect with them on a more personal level.”
Then, when you’ve finished your research and crafted your story, that’s when you launch your campaign.
“Once I’ve done all this, I spend the remaining 10 percent of my time actually doing outreaching and pitching,” Landers said.
Get the CEO writing
You won’t always have newsworthy press releases to send out, especially if you’re a smaller business, so one way to get recognition for your company or clients is to blog and write contributed content for other media outlets.
“One of the most difficult parts of doing PR for a small company or startup is that no one has heard of your company,” Maizie Simpson, PR and editorial professional at Magoosh, an online test prep company. “On top of that, you’re probably not constantly churning out huge product releases like Apple or Google.”
To keep your company afloat in a sea of press releases when you have no news to announce, Simpson said you should establish the CEO of your company or the client you’re working with as a thought leader in their industry.
“Help him or her create thought-provoking and authoritative articles related to his or her area of expertise, then publish them on your blog or pitch to a bigger publication,” Simpson said. “Either way, it’ll help get your company’s name out there, gain some valuable links for SEO, and give you something to promote in your slower news seasons.”
Most consumers likely aren’t even ready for Halloween yet, but in the retail world, early fall means holiday prep time. The days following Thanksgiving referred to as Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are widely accepted as the biggest holiday shopping weekend of the year, and though they may seem far away now, they’ll be here sooner than you think.
The key to ensuring a successful holiday sales season is early planning and consistent marketing, especially as a small business competing against retail giants like Walmart and Target. Experts offered their advice to help you make 2015 your best holiday season yet.
Shopping day guide
Not sure which days you should focus on for your post-Thanksgiving sales? Here’s a quick rundown of each sale day, its history and which businesses it best suits.
Black Friday. According to Visual Thesaurus, the day after Thanksgiving came to be known as “Black Friday” in the early 1960s, when Philadelphia police officers used it as a negative term to describe the city’s holiday shopping traffic jams. The name stuck and spread to other cities, and in the ’80s, businesses began put a positive spin on Black Friday by rebranding it as a day for stores to “get back in the black.” While larger merchants usually rule Black Friday with midnight (or earlier) openings and storewide sales throughout the day, many small businesses get in on the action with their own in-store and online discounts. Read our Black Friday tips here.
Small Business Saturday. As the name implies, Small Business Saturday is all about celebrating local merchants. Started by American Express during the 2010 holiday season, this sale day encourages consumers to “shop small,” and give independent retailers a fighting chance in between the huge Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales of larger competitors. Small Business Saturday is typically geared toward promoting brick-and-mortar retailers, and continues to grow in consumer recognition and spending each year. Read our Small Business Saturday tips here.
Cyber Monday. The days after Thanksgiving are typically associated with in-store shopping and trips to the mall. About a decade ago, e-commerce businesses began noticing that sales increased on the Monday after, when most Americans are back at work after the long weekend. A press release issued in 2005 by the National Retail Federation officially coined the term “Cyber Monday,” and by 2010, it had become the biggest online shopping day of the year, the Washington Post reported. Retailers who sell exclusively online love to run sales on Cyber Monday, but those who have brick-and-mortar and e-commerce operations can also take advantage of this shopping day. Read our Cyber Monday tips here.
Although Giving Tuesday is technically not a holiday shopping day, it’s worth noting that businesses are starting to get involved in this recent movement, which was started in 2012 as a way to give back to the community. Consumers are still very focused on corporate social responsibility, so it might not be a bad idea to add this “holiday” to your business’s calendar and let your customers know about any post-Thanksgiving donations, volunteer work or other charitable initiatives your store is involved in. Read our Giving Tuesday tips here.
What to do right now
Market to loyal customers. Acquiring new customers always requires more time and money than getting repeat customers to come back, and this is especially true during the holiday season. Matt Winn, senior marketing communications manager at e-commerce platform provider Volusion, noted that offering highly personalized discounts and promotions to existing customers can be very effective at encouraging holiday purchases. He also recommended promoting any loyalty programs or newsletters during the holiday shopping weekend to keep customers coming back year-round.
Stay active on social media. Social media has become a great marketing equalizer for businesses of all sizes, and it’s in your best interest to use it to your advantage leading up to the holiday shopping season. Spreading the word about your holiday incentives on social media not only puts you in touch with consumers who may be searching for a business like yours, but it also gives you an opportunity to be interactive with prospective customers looking for holiday recommendations, said John Oechsle, president and CEO of Swiftpage, a provider of business technology solutions.
“Promote early and tailor scheduled communications to your audience,” Oechsle told Business News Daily. “Personalize your communication and offer the type of customer experience — online and offline — that will turn a customer into a long-standing patron long after the holidays are over.”
Get mobile-optimized. Many smaller companies are concerned about boosting their mobile presence, and for good reason: Viswanatha Rachakonda, CEO of digital marketing company iQuanti, said that customers are increasingly more connected via their mobile devices, which is leading to earlier research and longer sales cycles for the holidays.
“The acceleration of app usage … will [lead to] purchases being made on the move on Amazon or other e-tailers,” Rachakonda said. “Ensure that your digital presence is mobile-ready, since the search may be happening on mobile. Your Black Friday sales may [also] be lower than expected. That has been the trend as sales cycles move online and go longer.”
Matt Johnston, chief marketing and strategy officer at app analytics company Applause, noted that push notifications on branded mobile apps can be especially effective, but only if they’re done right.
“A lot of retailers use [push notifications] like a blunt instrument, which does more harm than good,” Johnston said. “Really understand your users and their pace [to] use them effectively.”
Offer in-store pickup. For brick-and-mortar retailers worried about online sales eclipsing their foot traffic this holiday season, a smart tactic (if you don’t already do this) is offering an in-store pickup option for online purchases. Rodney Mason, chief marketing officer of parago, a customer engagement solutions provider, said that “buy online, pick up in-store” (BOPIS) promotions will create a better connection between the online and in-store customer experience.
“Getting foot traffic will be crucial to getting many retailers back in the black this holiday season,” Mason said. “The BOPIS promotion should prove to be a helpful one this holiday season. This strategy is a win-win — shoppers get an attractive deal during the holiday season, and retailers gain more in-store foot traffic and increase the likelihood of incremental purchasing.”
Offer additional value. Small businesses often need to charge a bit more than larger retailers for the same items, but that doesn’t mean you’ll lose customers. Freebies that add value beyond the product itself can help sway a customer who’s on the fence.
“Free gift wrapping or an extended warranty for certain items can help mitigate the impact of shoppers comparing the price tag of your products with those on another website,” Winn said.
Advertising is a whole lot more complicated than just arranging TV spots, creating billboards and launching ads on social media. There’s a lot of thought and strategy that goes into successful advertising campaigns, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for businesses. Every business has different needs to fit and different customers and clients to reach, and every advertising platform has different options and requirements to fill. So how do you make sure your advertising strategy will work for you?
Before you launch your next big advertising campaign, make sure you follow these five important tips for success.
Reach the right audience
Before you put any time, effort or money into your advertising campaign, you need to make sure you know your target audience well. Without this important step, your campaigns will be a waste.
“If you don’t know your target market, it’s impossible to create effective advertising,” said Louisa Levit, co-founder of web development company Reliable PSD. “In fact, the majority of the work in advertising is compiling this target-market research.”
Levit said that to advertise to people, you have to really know them. This means you need to know who they are, where they congregate, what their personalities are like, what their deep wants and desires are, and the emotional reasons they have for seeking your service, Levit said.
“Any purchase a consumer makes is driven by an emotion. Uncovering these emotions and using design and copy to connect with them in a meaningful way is when successful advertising happens,” Levit said.
Make your campaign measurable
Big companies may be able to get away with throwing away money on big advertising campaigns that may or may not be effective, but small businesses have to be much more careful in their ad strategies.
“There are tons of advertising avenues available, but some are about as effective as throwing money in the wind,” said Nikolas Allen, author of “Heavyweight Marketing: Knockout Strategies for Building Champion Brands” (CreateSpace, 2014). “Maybe big business can afford to do that, but [small businesses] need to pick and choose wisely.”
This means small businesses need to focus on creating campaigns that are measureable, so they can track their results and get the most out of their budgets.
Allen said that ad campaigns could include promotion-specific coupon codes, landing pages, toll-free numbers or email addresses correlating to a strong, clear, concise and urgent call to action. And if your business uses Advanced Google Analytics, you can track essential data on the whole purchase cycle if you have e-commerce capabilities, Allen said.
Allen also pointed out that tracking doesn’t need to be high-tech and confusing; it can be as easy as asking your new customers and clients where they heard about you.
“Whatever tactics you use, tracking the results of your ad dollars will tell you whether or not your campaign was a success,” Allen said.
Location, location, location
If your business has one or more physical locations, it’s important to make the most of your company’s geography, said Marc Prosser, co-founder of Internet publishing firm Marc Waring Ventures and publisher at Fit Small Business.
“I recommend setting up separate pages on your site for each of the areas you service,” Prosser said. “That might mean a city and two or three suburbs, or it might mean individual neighborhoods. Use Google Keyword Planner to see what people are searching in your area, and focus on those targets.”
Once you set up these pages, you’ll want to keep them updated to maintain their search rankings, Prosser said.
“One easy way to do this is to post reviews from Yelp and other sources on your site,” he said. “That way, you’ll make sure your local pages are all up to date and high up on Google’s rankings in the areas you cover.”
There’s a good reason companies are willing to spend big bucks on marketing and advertising: Wide-reaching campaigns on social media, radio, television and other channels can be a highly effective way to drum up a lot of attention for your company. But be warned — it may not always be the kind of attention you bargained for.
Despite their large marketing and social media teams, corporations will occasionally miss the mark in their ad campaigns, resulting in confusion at best and an offended, irate consumer base at worst. These marketing gaffes are even further amplified in an age of instant communication, viral social media posts and Internet archives, which means a company’s error can live on long after the tweet has been deleted or the TV spot has been pulled.
When you’re planning your business’s next marketing campaign, learn from the mistakes of these five companies, whose recent advertising efforts sparked controversy rather than sales.
Bud Light’s “Up for Whatever”
In 2014, Bud Light introduced “Up For Whatever,” a campaign that was intended to promote carefree spontaneity and fun with one’s friends. During the campaign’s second year, a slogan began to appear on Bud Light bottles alongside its #UpForWhatever hashtag, claiming the beer was perfect “for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” This turned out to be a very serious misfire on the company’s part: Many social media users felt the slogan was an endorsement of date rape by implying that Bud Light should be used to get people so drunk that they can’t say no to your advances. An April 2015 Entrepreneur article reported that Bud Light quickly apologized, saying that it “missed the mark” with its message and would pull the slogan from future iterations of the campaign.
Huggies’ “The Ultimate Test”
Gender stereotypes about families — namely mothers as child-rearers and fathers as breadwinners — have all but flown out the window as more and more couples split up their financial and child care responsibilities, or raise children as single working parents. A 2012 Huggies campaign seemed to draw its attitudes on family life from decades ago, with a commercial claiming that dads left alone to care for their babies are “the ultimate test” for the company’s products. A Change.org petition started by an offended father called Huggies out for reducing dads “to being little more than test dummy parents, putting diapers and wipes through a ‘worst-case scenario’ crash course of misuse and abuse.” Huggies received so much backlash over its depiction of an incompetent, neglectful father figure that it eventually pulled the ads.
Malaysia Airlines’ “My Ultimate Bucket List”
Last year, Malaysia Airlines was at the center of two passenger aircraft tragedies — one plane disappeared and another was shot down — that resulted in the loss of 537 lives. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the company suffered from a decline in ticket sales after the incidents, leading to a promotional giveaway contest that it hoped would reinvigorate the brand. The idea was a good one: Submit your dream travel destination for a chance to win either an iPad or a plane ticket. The “bucket list” premise, however, was decidedly not. Customers were shocked that the airline would associate the contest with fulfilling a bucket list item — something people hope to do before they die — given the hundreds of passengers who died flying Malaysia Airlines in 2014. Mashable reported that the company apologized and removed all references to the original “My Ultimate Bucket List” title.
Question-and-answer forums like Twitter chats and Reddit AMAs (Ask Me Anything) have become popular PR moves because they allow people to connect with their favorite celebrities on a more personal level. But that same line of access can also be used to embarrass a public figure or brand — so if you’re in the middle of a controversy, you might want to avoid promising the entire Internet that you’ll answer any questions it may have. There have been quite a few examples of AMA-style Twitter chats going horribly wrong in recent years, including SeaWorld’s March 2015 #AskSeaWorld campaign. Designed to rebuild the company’s crumbling image as a heartless corporation that mistreats its aquatic captives, the #AskSeaWorld hashtag was flooded with questions from angry Twitter users calling SeaWorld out for its practices, according to Slate.
Self-help guides have been around for centuries, teaching their readers how to solve every problem from weight loss to getting ahead in the workplace. In the business world, “self-help” translates into useful guides and articles that aid customers in navigating issues they might have with a product or service.
It’s easy to see the appeal of self-service from a modern customer standpoint. In an age when Google has become a verb, consumers want instant answers to their queries — they don’t always have time to sit around waiting for a customer service rep to take them off hold or answer their email.
But offering self-service in a way that truly enhances a customer’s experience means more than throwing a quick FAQ page on your company’s website. Here’s how you can help customers help themselves, while still offering the level of support consumers expect.
Why you should — and shouldn’t — provide self-service
Robert Johnson, CEO of B2B customer support software company TeamSupport, said today’s consumers are accustomed to searching for answers online, and as a group are more educated and self-reliant. For simple issues and common questions, it’s much more efficient for both you and your customers to have an easily accessible page with all the answers.
“Companies that provide rich support media online, including visual aids such as images and videos in addition to clear instructions and how-to guides, can help customers get back to business quickly,” Johnson told Business News Daily. “This improves customer satisfaction and frees up support agents, who can then focus on helping customers with more complex issues. It’s a win-win situation.”
Ryan O’Connell, a winemaker at NakedWines.com, agreed that customer self-service can indeed improve the customer experience, but cautioned that the wrong intentions can hurt a company’s reputation in the long run.
“[Some] companies employ self-service tools to cut margins and avoid spending time with their customers,” O’Connell said. “A lot of the time, a good FAQ page or troubleshooting guide accomplishes both of these things. But if you set out with the less noble objective of spending less time with your customers, you’ll often [do so] without … making the customer’s life better.”
Some companies’ self-service tools, for example, make it nearly impossible to contact a human being, O’Connell said. Businesses should embrace the opportunity to speak with customers who want to get in direct contact and fix their problem — not run them around through a troubleshooting guide until they give up.
“If [customers] describe a specific problem and you suggest they look at irrelevant self-service options, you risk rubbing salt in the wound,” O’Connell said. “People also get upset when you don’t listen to them. If a customer writes in and explains that they had a great experience, and you auto-reply with a triggered email that suggests they check the FAQ, troubleshooter, etc., then you risk taking a huge fan and dampening their excitement.”
Self-service do’s and don’ts
Successfully implementing customer self-service requires both an understanding of your customer base and a commitment to making that person’s experience with your business as great as possible. Here are a few basic best practices to follow and mistakes to avoid when setting up self-service tools.
Test your self-service system. Before you roll out your troubleshooting guide or how-to articles to all customers, test them with groups inside and outside your organization to make sure they’ll be accessible and helpful to end users.
“Companies should give a wide variety of people the self-service user experience, from administrative staff to billing personnel, sales managers, salespeople and trusted customers,” Johnson said. “With honest feedback, it will quickly become clear if the self-service tools are too complex, too simplistic or otherwise not ideal for users.”
Enhance your self-help tools with visuals and forums. Depending on what your guides are designed to help, you may want to go beyond the basic text-only FAQ format. Vic Mahadevan, CEO of customer relationship management platform Punchh, advised including screenshots and other visuals to illustrate various troubleshooting scenarios for your users. If you’re able, he also recommended developing a monitored peer-to-peer forum on your site so your customers can help each other.
“Sometimes, the best technician is another customer,” Mahadevan said.
Find the right solution for you. There are a lot of ways to implement customer self-service, and some are more complex than others. If you’re looking for a technology tool that will help you with customer support, Johnson advised looking for one that’s designed for the type of service you deliver (i.e., B2B or B2C).
“[Companies] should look for a solution that enables collaboration so they can leverage the knowledge of the entire team and view up-to-date information across all support platforms, whether online, on the phone, via a chat window, etc.,” Johnson said.
Make your contact information hard to find. Your FAQ page may cover the majority of customer issues, but you need to make yourself available to answer the small percentage of queries that aren’t addressed. Making customers work extra hard to get in touch with you directly will not do you any favors when they finally reach you.
“There are countless times customers get unnecessarily frustrated because they can’t find the answer they’re looking for, need to contact someone, and again, can’t find the information they need,” Mahadevan said. “A seamless user experience is vital to customer satisfaction.”
Forget to update self-service materials. The self-service guides you publish are based on your business’s current circumstances and operations, and any changes that inevitably occur along the way should be reflected in that content. Johnson noted that it’s important to keep customer service materials up to date at all times so customers can always find what they need.
“Customers will quickly lose trust if they visit a self-service portal and don’t find material that addresses their specific product,” he said.
Ignore customer feedback. As mentioned above, self-service shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid contact with customers. When you incorporate self-help guides and tools, be sure that those elements are serving your ultimate objective of improving customers’ lives — and if customers have something to say about it, you can’t afford not to listen.
“Do customers like the service you introduced?” O’Connell said. “If not, it’s OK to say, ‘We missed the mark on that one and will be discontinuing/rewriting/reinventing based on your feedback.'”
“Be open to feedback and willing to make adjustments, even after the self-service solution goes live online,” Johnson added. “Never be too proud to admit a mistake — the point isn’t to always be right, but instead to consistently provide an excellent customer experience.”
Think shopping for your co-workers is hard? If you’re tasked with finding the perfect holiday gifts for your business clients, you know it’s even more difficult to achieve that perfect mix of thoughtful, unique and affordable. Plus, there’s even more resting on what you buy while a bad gift could turn your clients off to your services, the perfect gift could win their continued loyalty. To keep your best clients coming back in the new year, try sending them one of these cool holiday gifts. Each item is under $20 so you don’t have to break the bank in the process, either.
Tons of people get sent flowers, but not everyone has a vase to put them in, especially at their desks. These collapsible plastic vases can actually be folded up and stored away until your clients need them, and they come in more than a dozen cool designs, patterns and colors. At TheGrommet.com. ($8.95)
What’s better than a gift that’s both whimsical and useful? This Lego brick USB stick is a fun addition to any keychain and will help your clients back up their important files, too. It comes in various colors and memory capacities, from 2GB to 8GB. At Fancy.com. ($9)
It may look like an ordinary pen, but it can do so much more than help your clients jot down notes. The 5-in-1 pen is also a stylus for smartphones and tablets, a red laser pointer, a UV light and a bright-white LED light. At ThinkGeek.com. ($9.99)
The best way to increase your in-store sales is to boost your online messaging, new research finds.
Businesses that are able to best align their marketing strategies to leverage technology that delivers local, shopper-specific, actionable content will see in-store sales increase, according to study from the Altimeter Group and Cofactor.
Many businesses, however, have difficulty developing strategies that do more than just build brand awareness. In order to successfully drive in-store sales using digital marketing, organizations must provide more targeted and personalized messaging, the research reveals.
Rebecca Lieb, the study’s author and an industry analyst for Altimeter Group, said digital marketing strategies should be local, personal and contextually relevant to draw in shoppers.
“‘Local’ must be redefined to include more than mere location,” Lieb wrote in the study. “It now encompasses context and connectivity: who, what and when, in addition to where.”
While sending messages to consumers when they are near a store can help draw them inside, messages that target shoppers based on who they are, and the previous actions they have taken are far more effective in getting them to spend money once they enter, Lieb said.
To often, businesses aren’t doing a good enough job blending all of their digital marketing efforts, the research revealed. The study shows that many organizations have different teams working on mobile marketing, while others work on social media marketing, with still others focusing on Web marketing. [7 Digital Marketing Myths Debunked ]
“The social, Web, mobile and e-commerce teams all operate on their own terms, with their own creative content, budgets and strategies,” Lieb wrote. “However, customers want to be recognized as unique individuals across all touch points with a brand, and the only way to fulfill that demand is to coordinate the efforts of all channel silos with a single, unified strategy.”
Although brands typically craft messages designed to drive shoppers into stores, these companies often lack a clear strategy for doing so effectively, especially when it comes to coordinating all the channels of communication. The research discovered that while 60 percent of the brands surveyed created digital messages to drive in-store purchases, just 37 percent of those organizations had a strategy to provide a unified customer experience in the path from online information to in-store purchase.
According the research, businesses that fail to better unify their digital strategy run the risks not fulfilling the needs of their customers, frustrating loyal customers and seeing in-store foot traffic drop.
To help businesses create a cohesive digital marketing strategy that increases in-store sales, the research outlines several steps that need to be taken:
- Give shoppers a reason to shop in-store: You want to incentivize shoppers to visit your business. This can be done in a myriad of ways, including by offering options to order online and pick up in the store, along with in-store-only coupons and sales.
- Be mobile: When creating your content strategy, you are best served by focusing on the mobile experience. Few channels are better than mobile at reach and right-time-location targeting.
- Online to offline: This type of thinking and planning with your digital strategy is criticalwhen mapping the customer journey.
- Rethink print ads: Print ads today can provide more value when they are used in conjunction with other types of communication. Boost the value of print ads by spreading the content across digital channels in order to reach customers where they are actually gathering information to make purchasing decisions.
- Unify digital efforts: You need to break down the silos between departments and digital channels. Doing so makes it easier to create a unified strategy for the best customer experience.
- Coordinate offline and online: Plan for online content with similar teams and processes that are in place for delivering offline content. This enables a more coordinated strategy.
- Measure what works: It is critical to implement a method of tracking your digital marketing success. Rather than using metrics like impressions, you should focus your measurements on specific customer actions.
- Use loyalty data: Leveraging this information allows you to personalize and contextualize your messaging.
- Define local at every stage: When creating targeted local messaging, think about more than just geographical areas. Consider how local can be applied to who, what and when, in addition to where.
- Be tactful: Although you might have a treasure trove of great digital campaigns you want to launch, you don’t want to turn off customers by constantly bombarding them with personalized messaging.
Social media channels like Facebook and Twitter have been a part of mainstream Internet use for the better part of a decade, but the ways in which brands use them have changed dramatically. Instead of using social networks solely as marketing platforms to trumpet their products, today’s companies also use them to build and enhance the customer experience.
“Brands and entertainers realize the benefits of connecting and communicating directly with their fans, without an intermediary,” said Sylvia Vaquer, co-founder and creative director of SocioFabrica, a global digital strategy and design firm. “Where once artists and brands had to rely on massive marketing budgets to build their fan base and audience, now they employ social media tools and platforms like Instagram and Periscope to help grow a flourishing community of fans.”
In a recent Business News Daily article, John Swanciger of small business community Manta said that building a community should be a brand’s top priority for its social media use. Here’s how you can create an engaged network of fans and followers around your business.
Your social media followers are not just a homogenous fan base that all behave the same way. They are individuals, each with their own reasoning and behaviors associated with why and how they interact with your brand. Just as traditional advertisers segment and target their audience with different messaging, your brand needs to understand the different groups within its social community and engage accordingly whenever possible.
“A good foundation for creating a strong community of fans on social media is simply by being genuine in your interactions and getting to know your fans,” Grammy-winning reggae dancehall artist Sean Paul told Business News Daily. “For example, my fans in Europe and Japan respond differently and generally have different preferences or knowledge in regards to my music as compared to my fans in the U.S. Similarly, I have a completely different relationship with my fans back home in Jamaica. My engagement with fans differs based on what I know will bring forth a better response.”
Ask — and listen to — what people want
Building a community on social media means producing content your audience wants. The best way to find out what they want, of course, is to ask them — and then really listen to the feedback they give.
“We recommend artists and brands produce lots and lots of content — and not just any content, but the content your community wants to see,” said Vaquer, whose company launched its new social-based visual marketing platform Nicho yesterday (Oct. 14). “Ask fans what they want in a quick Instagram video, or dive deeper with a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything).”
When your community speaks up, follow through by implementing new campaigns, contests and other initiatives based on what fans have requested.
Put fans at the center of your strategy
Part of any successful social media campaign is paying attention to the user-generated content (UGC) in your social feeds.
“Make [fans] the star of your social channels,” Vaquer said. “Don’t just occasionally ‘like’ what they post — regram, retweet and reblog what they are saying and sharing to your entire community. Once fans see an artist or brand is actively listening to their social chatter, they will engage even more, growing brand awareness within their network.”
Paul agreed, noting that he has used the beta version of SocioFabrica’s Nicho to take advantage of the wealth of UGC from his summer tours.
“I used a special hashtag, #fullspeedtour … [and] captured the vibes from my shows by collecting videos and photos posted by my fans,” Paul said. “Having them all on one place was a great way to recreate the excitement. I’ve also done some photo and video contests to get my fans more involved in my career.”
Justin Garrity, president of social engagement platform Postano, said the reason UGC is so successful is because it allows social fans to share photos and posts that have meaning to them, rather than just promoting a product.
“Brands are increasingly becoming more lifestyle focused, promoting ideas that are bigger than their specific products,” Garrity said. “Instead of asking fans to upload photos of the products they purchased, brands are now asking fans to share photos, videos and thoughts … about what the products enable them to do.”
For instance, he said, Cliff Bar printed the hashtag #MeetTheMoment on their products this summer to encourage fans to take photos of places where Cliff Bar enabled them to go. In these photos, the focus isn’t on the product, but on the trips and activities of the brand’s community.
Brands are moving away from the traditional and formal approach to social, and embracing more organic and authentic content, Vaquer said. Overly promotional social media content and posts come across as disruptive and inauthentic, causing a massive drop in ‘likes’ and followers.
“Consumers and fans follow brands and artists because they feel like they are getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the very latest,” Vaquer said. “We are in an era where having millions of followers can open doors to lucrative endorsements or brand collaborations. [Businesses] see those opportunities and understand that they have to ensure their social streams feel genuine to continue growing their community. Promotion is still going on — it’s just disguised a bit to complement this shift.”
The holiday shopping rush is just around the corner, and retailers across the country are preparing for their post-Thanksgiving promotions. This is especially true of e-commerce businesses, which need to anticipate an influx of website traffic during what’s likely to be their biggest sales period of the year.
As a small e-tailer, it’s in your best interest to get your website in tip-top shape for the season, to help you keep up with your larger competitors. Frank Yue, director of application delivery solutions at Radware, a provider of application delivery and security solutions, said that if your site slows down, you have a lot to lose — 57 percent of consumers will abandon a site that fails to load after 3 seconds, according to Radware research.
“If the site doesn’t respond … [customers will think] it’s not worth it and go to another website to buy [the item] somewhere else,” Yue told Business News Daily. “It’s not just the [site] outage you have to worry about, but also the degradation of performance and delivery to retain customers.”
Yue and Debbi Lechner, vice president of product marketing and management for Web.com, offered the following tips for optimizing your e-commerce website for increased holiday sales. [Holiday Marketing Trends That Will Drive Sales]
Highlight your special offers and discounts. Make sure that your holiday offers are featured prominently on your home page, and update your website’s images, keywords and search engine optimization to help shoppers find your business in search results, Lechner said. She also advised frequently posting your special offers to your top social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
“Linking your posts back to your website will promote calls and orders, and drive more traffic to your website,” Lechner said. “You will also see increased awareness and followers of your social channels when customers share your offers with their friends.”
Make site speed a priority. Many online retailers focus primarily on the design of their website — how pretty the page looks, how big the graphics are, how easy the Buy buttons are to access, etc. The problem, however, is that all those large photos and interactive elements could slow your site down significantly.
“All that effort spent to make a gorgeous [website] could get wasted because the page doesn’t load in time for the consumer,” said Deborah Szajngarten, director of public relations for Radware.
Although a well-designed home page is important, businesses should also focus on finding Web solutions and hosts that give them the necessary bandwidth and speed to support higher holiday traffic.
“[You need] on-demand resourcing … to scale the capabilities of your online presence and quickly adjust the number of servers and customers you can support simultaneously [to remain] efficient,” Yue said.
Mobile-optimize your site. Lechner reminded businesses that the popularity of mobile commerce is continuing to increase. Be sure to provide your prospects and customers with a good online experience, regardless of whether they are browsing via a smartphone, tablet or PC. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to test out your site on a variety of devices and make any necessary fixes to offer a seamless mobile experience.
Prepare for security concerns. It’s not just shoppers who ramp up their online activity during the holidays — hackers are waiting in the wings, ready to take advantage of the increased number of transactions. Yue recommended educating yourself and your team to recognize such cyberattacks, such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, as well as invest in security solutions to help you handle any potential situations.
“DDoS attacks are a regular occurrence — expect them to step up during the holiday season,” Yue said. “They’re getting complex. You need [to be able] to mitigate the attack appropriately.”
Be ready with your customer support. Holiday shoppers want a positive customer experience, so make your contact details easy to find on all pages of your website in case customers have questions about their orders.
“You may want to consider adding temporary help to answer the additional calls, if you think you will need it,” Lechner said. “A simple answering service can ensure you don’t miss a call and lets customers know you plan to get back to them quickly.”
One of the most critical questions a marketer has to answer is what makes customers take action. What makes someone open a marketing email, click on a website and ultimately make a purchase? Rather than just guess and hope for the best, smart companies will use what’s known as A/B or split testing to find out exactly what drives conversions in their marketing campaigns.
What is A/B testing?
When you run an A/B test, you’re comparing two different versions of a campaign — whether it’s a marketing email, a banner ad or just a website page — to see which one is more effective with your target audience. Mohita Nagpal, a marketing specialist and author of a Visual Website Optimizer (VWO) blog post about A/B testing, compared the process to a scientific experiment that requires rigorous testing of a hypothesis.
“Do some background research by understanding your visitors’ behavior using Google Analytics or any other analytics tools,” Nagpal said. “The next step is to construct a hypothesis. An example could be, ‘Adding more links in the footer will reduce the bounce rate.’ Then, test out the hypothesis [by comparing] the original version against this new version without the footer.”
In an infographic accompanying her VWO blog post, Nagpal outlined a few basic steps to running a split test:
- Make a plan. Determine your goal, such as improving conversion rates or getting more repeat purchases.
- Pick a variable. Based on your research, choose an element of the site or campaign’s A version to alter in the B version.
- Run your test. Roll out the two different versions to your test groups for a period of up to two months and collect data on how many users took action.
- Analyze the results. If you found low conversions on one or both versions, determine which element — copy, calls to action, images, etc. — may have caused friction or prevented users from following through. This is the element you will need to adjust when you run the final campaign. You should also look at your test as a whole to make sure your results are sound. A poorly constructed test or one with too many variables may produce a misleading outcome.
- Implement changes, then repeat the test. Running the test again in a few months will either prove that your changes worked, or show that there was another factor affecting your initial results.
Mistakes to avoid
Split testing can be a very helpful tool, but if you don’t utilize it properly, you may end up with results that are way off base. For instance, some marketers make the mistake of making versions A and B too different from each other. If you really want to drill down on the specific factors that lead to higher conversion rates, you should only test one element at a time, said Anil Kaul, CEO of intelligent analytics company Absolutdata. Yes, it will take longer, but you’ll get a clearer, more useful data set that can better inform future campaigns.
“If you change your subject line and at the same time you change your CTA [call to action], it’s difficult to determine which one of the parameters contributed to the most conversions,” Kaul told Business News Daily. “By testing one parameter, you get a clear picture of the changes you need to make and which one would be the most optimized [version].”
You should also make sure you’re running your test long enough to get useful results. Kaul noted that, to get an accurate reflection of what will happen when you launch the final campaign, a good A/B test should run for at least seven days. Most times, one week is long enough to reach 95 percent statistical significance, but if you haven’t reached that point, continue to run the test until you do.
“One should only be certain whether option A is better than option B when a certain level of statistical significance has been achieved,” Kaul said. “Testing can only prove to be impactful when you stick to the numbers.
“Stopping a test too early will distort the results, and decisions based on incomplete data are almost always bound to fail,” Nagpal added.