Smaller Companies: Keep Marketing Through Adversity

Posted on August 11, 2011. Filed under: Business Management, Business Strategy, Communications, Inbound Marketing, Marketing, Marketing Strategy, Small Business, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

 

Keep Your Marketing Engines Running

Keep Your Marketing Engines Running!

 

Every time we hit a moment when the stock market crashes – or worse, fluctuates wildly – it’s predictable that smaller businesses will instantly turn off their marketing engines.

This is just as short sighted as selling off stocks the day of the crash and similarly forfeits the upside. The smartest investors and financial advisors, like my networking partner Pat Morrow, who runs a private wealth management practice at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, are exploring the current landscape for opportunities for their clients. And they’re finding them, too.

On the marketing side, I’m similarly engaged. In this environment, it makes sense that if our competitors panic and stop promoting their businesses, we stand to pick up market share.

The reason that I like Inbound Marketing is that it’s possible to create great efficiencies. Does it take time and money resources? Of course. But if cash flow becomes a problem, or if business slows down a bit, it gives you time to take on some of the marketing tasks that you might otherwise outsource. Pay only for what you can’t do yourself.

Even though I sell marketing services to businesses like yours, I can empathize with you. I’m in the same small business boat. Limited time. Limited resources. But today I took some time to build an email marketing campaign to my opt-in list giving them some reasons to consider Inbound Marketing and my services in an uncertain economy.

My Hubspot content management system allowed me to do this without any assistance. As far as I’m concerned it was a cost effective use of my time. When I got back from some meetings late this afternoon, I sat down and wrote this blog post, which will bring traffic to my site and help me engage with my audiences.

I have no intention of cutting back my marketing efforts. I’m happy to invest  to get my company in front of opportunities that will help me build through these uncertain economic times. And I don’t mind putting in some sweat equity.

What can you contribute to your own marketing efforts? Farm out less. But don’t stop marketing.

Image by Nathan E Photography Under Creative Commons License

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Competition and Other Annoying Business Realities

Posted on August 4, 2011. Filed under: Business Management, Business Strategy, Communications, Human Business, Inbound Marketing, Marketing, Marketing Strategy, News, Online Marketing, Small Business | Tags: , , , , |

Business Competition

We can be our own competitive edge!!

The Dow fell more than 500 points today. Bad news was exuding from every media outlet. I had an opportunity to get some perspective on it in my weekly networking group meeting from members who are highly sophisticated financial experts.

Then I came home, shared some conversation with my neighbor on her garden swing, pulled a bunch of weeds that have been bothering me while thinkingabout what my blog topic would be for today. Relaxing and getting still allowed me to realize what was concerning me – and probably you, too.

When markets go crazy and economies are shaky and there’s less business to go around, we can’t help but think about how we’ll compete for what business there is. This has been on my mind for some time and brought to the forefront by today’s events.

Bottom line, I’ve decided not to worry about who else is competing for a piece of the online/inbound marketing pie. Instead, I’m working on my own story. Thinking harder about what I bring to the table that will have value for my clients and that I can speak powerfully about to prospects. I’m thinking about my strengths – what I really do better than anyone I’ve encountered.

Then I’m evaluating my lighter abilities — what I fully understand but need partners to execute well.

And I’m working on my messaging so that I can communicate clearly and effectively. That includes listening and testing… talking to as many people as I can find who are willing to offer feedback as I hone my messages.

I’m asking myself:

  • Are my offerings aligned with the needs of my client/prospect?
  • Is my language completely understandable, or too jargon-y?
  • Am I creating enough curiosity that people will be willing to stick around and learn more?
  • Am I explaining my services so that the benefits and value come through loud and clear?
  • Am I being human enough to connect and credible enough to build trust?

I believe that refocusing my energies on being as meaningful as possible to my market is my competitive edge.

How are you dealing with the competitive and business realities of the current economic environment?

Image from tableatny under Creative Commons license.

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Networking Online and Offline: Anatomy of a Great Day

Posted on July 21, 2011. Filed under: Communications, Human Business, Inbound Marketing, Marketing, Networking, Online Marketing, Small Business, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Networking Online and Offline

A Day Of Networking is Energizing

Today was a marathon networking day with both online and offline communities that are important to me – and to my business.

Early this morning I read blogs I subscribe to including Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, my ethnomusicologist Sociosound and my rock ‘n roll management guru Peter Cook who posted a brilliant satire on blues lyrics that started my day with a smile.

Then I went to my Twitter profile to connect with some new folks who followed me yesterday and made initial contact. Next, I sent a few invitations to people I want to connect with on LinkedIn – and accepted some invitations that came in overnite. And I received notices that people who I put into Google+ Circles yesterday on my first interaction with that new social network had put me into circles of theirs.

At noon, I arrived at the Riverside Yacht Club inGreenwich,Connfor the summer luncheon of Thursday III, a professional group of senior PR executives and consultants. The group is fascinating and stimulating. The members are authors and PR icons who guided communications for Fortune 100 companies, major agencies and presidential administrations. I fall only marginally into any of those categories and am honored to sit at lunch with these brilliant and creative people every other month. The stories and the knowledge sharing that happens in that group is the stuff that NY Times bestselling books are made of.

A delightful aspect of the luncheon was that I sat between Ed Bloch who was a PR executive for Perkin Elmer and Ian Kerr who led important PR agencies in Fairfield County and represented luxury global brands including Jaguar and Rolls Royce. Both Ed and Ian are beloved figures in the local and broader PR community. Both have wry senses of humor that make them really enjoyable lunch partners.

Ed Bloch subscribes to this blog and noticed my increased frequency of posting. He good-naturedly teased me that my posts were piling up but that he intended to read them. I gave him some suggestions of how he could work them into his day – including bathroom reading, I’m afraid to admit. I’m including him in this post partly so that I can tempt him to read what I said about him when I post it.

After a bit of catch-up in my office, I met with Connecticut Networking Group www.ctconnected.org. This is a spectacular high-level group of mostly young and accomplished business people – entrepreneurs in fact and at heart. We’re more an advisory board to one another’s businesses than a so-called leads group. Again I’m something of an outlier as I’m a bit senior to most of the members. We get to know one another so that we can refer each other with confidence. We share a consultative and relationship-building approach to business development.

Going from my seasoned PR colleagues to my young, energetic and exceptional networking group was a particularly rich experience; so much valuable input across generations.

After the CNG meeting, I went to a meet-up event on a big paddle wheeler on the Norwalk CT harbor – across from my house. This was a big open group where there were a few people from my established network and many whom I didn’t know. Unfortunately this event was not well organized – in particular, no name tags that would have facilitated and focused networking. I jumped ship right before the group took off for an unannounced harbor cruise – in favor of coming back to the office and posting to my blog and attending to other to-do’s.

 All in all, this was a very positive day of connection. We never know what may come of a day like this. But who cares. It re-charges the engines to engage with our communities, reconnects us with people who add to our lives and gives us the opportunity to widen out our circles. Time well spent in my book.

Please share your on- and offline networking experiences.

 

Image via cambodia4kidsorg under Creative Commons license.

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5 Steps to Finding Your Key Messages for Better Content Creation

Posted on July 15, 2011. Filed under: Communications, Content, Human Business, Inbound Marketing, SEO, Small Business, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Key Messages for Better Communication

Identify Key Messages for Better Communication

When you’re about to undertake a major communications project – a new website, for example – you have an opportunity to review your messaging. What are the most important points for an audience to know about you and your business, the things you will need to repeat continuously and consistently, regardless of the kind of content.

Many companies have never purposely developed key message lists. This exercise is more important than ever. Especially online. Messaging consistency and redundancy comes into play on websites, as you never know what page will be the entry point for a visitor. It’s not always your home page. It’s also important to include key messages in content you offer for download and that you post aound the Internet.

Here’s a 5-step process for identifying the key messages that will resonate and stick with your audiences.

1. Review your existing content and marketing materials. Sometimes we go on auto-pilot when writing or speaking about ourselves and our companies. Keep an open mind for stale messages that can use an update – or that you can lose altogether.

2. Interview your employees, customers, referral sources and others who know your company. Create a brief questionnaire (it may vary by auience) that asks for impressions about different aspects of your business. Anywhere from five to ten interviews should yield the raw material that will offer up key messages. The interviews will confirm some of your notions about what’s important about your business and refute others. Some of what you’ll learn will truly surprise you. You’ll likely get more candid answers if you hire an outside consultant to help you, rather than asking the questions personally.

3. Read the home page information of a few competitors, or non-competing companies similar to yours and take notes. See how they’re talking about their businesses, products and services. This will not only give you some ideas of what to say and not to say, but will also help you position your messaging to reflect your company’s market differentiation. 

4. Review the interviews and your competitor notes. In the interviews you will almost certainly see repeating comments and ideas. Some of these will be key points that you’ve made historically, some will be fresh ideas.

5. Let your review of the process sink in for a day or two. Then sit down at the computer and make a list of your key messages. They should not be in any order of hierarchy. Put them down as they come to you. You’ll never use all of them in one place, but will pick and choose from the list as appropriate. You’ll also vary the language from one place to another, as long as the key idea is in there someplace. Tweak the list. See if anything is glaringly missing. Ask a few of the interviewees to review the key message list to be sure they reflect your company authentically.

Once you have your key message list, you’ll be amazed at how easily you write your content. The copy will flow. You’ll find yourself working in the right key messages in the right places. Your key message list will also provide a good starting point for key word and search term research.

By the way, you don’t need a new website as a reason to review your messaging. Do it at any time. It will definitely help your ongoing content creation.

How do you identify your key messages?

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Online Marketing for Small Business: Helping a Diverse, Ill-Defined Group

Posted on July 13, 2011. Filed under: Business Management, Communications, Human Business, Inbound Marketing, Marketing, Nonprofit, Not-for-profit, Small Business, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

Online Marketing for Small Business

Regardless of definition, small businesses need help putting it all together online.

Because I write for this blog for small businesses – a very ill-defined segment –I’ve decided to talk today about who you are from my perspective. You’re a group that ‘s quite misunderstood in terms of your diverse human characteristics – everywhere from government statistics to media coverage. Truth is, you’re not a monolithic group, but you do face similar marketing issues.

Although I keep up with the latest advances in web technology on your behalf, as I speak with you, I know that’s not necessarily what’s top of mind for you. Most of the companies I’m working with – or who are calling me in to help them get to the next level online — are very savvy. They have an earlier generation website, they have social media channels going, they’ve set up an ecommerce store, they’re doing email campaigns, have attended LinkedIn seminars. They know that online is where the world is and will continue to go. They’ve done the best they can.

But they need help figuring out how to make it all pay off for their businesses and how to organize online marketing into a manageable system. Time and limited resources are the enemy.

I can also tell you that small businesses defy easy categorization. We all see references to SMSB – Small to Mid-Sized Businesses. But the definitions of who they are and how small/large these companies are is all over the map. Attempts are made to define them by revenue, number of employees and other metrics. But in my experience, that’s not enough. So who are they?

Here are some of the varied characteristics of small businesses I’ve worked with:

  • Main Street mom-and-pop bricks-and-mortar stores marketing locally.
  • Start-ups with great ideas or products and bootstrap budgets.
  • Established businesses with a few employees that market nationally or even globally.
  • Growing regional companies building infrastructure.
  • Exciting businesses – and nonprofits, too — transitioning from the original entrepreneurial founders to management with next-stage experience.
  • Established bricks-and-mortars launching ecommerce divisions.
  • Start-ups with angel funding.
  • Divisions of larger companies with Round ‘A’ venture funding.
  • Entrepreneurships with varying levels of experience and previous success.
  • Billion dollar enterprises with three employees looking for the right kind of strategic marketing help.
  • Manufacturing and service companies with revenues up to 150 million dollars.
  • Established innovators ripe for acquisition with the right positioning and visibility.
  • Any and all of the above trying to gain recognition for any number of strategic and tactical reasons.

What you and the aforementioned small business types share is that you need scalable help making the web work for you. Regardless of revenues or budgets, you have limited time, staff and/or budget resources and need to get effective and efficient outside advice and/or implementation help.

The objective of this blog is to help you understand the current and emerging environment, for sure, but at a level that does not forsake the practical advice that will help you make the best use of what you have available.

Conversation is part of the equation, so please continue to send your comments, questions and ideas.

Image from deanmeyersnet under Creative Commons license.

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College of Online Marketing: A Never-ending Curriculum

Posted on June 29, 2011. Filed under: Blogging, Blogs, Content, Human Business, Inbound Marketing, Marketing, Media, News, Public Relations Marketing, SEO, Small Business, Social Media, Twitter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

No Graduation at College of Online

No Graduation at College of Online

I just spent 30 minutes getting up to speed on the Google+ Project announced yesterday – Google’s new social media network, currently in a limited field trial. It’s quite interesting and I’ll explore it further with you as it rolls out to everyone.

The point of this post, though, is that when it comes to keeping up with online/inbound marketing, we need to commit to constant and continuous education. Not a day goes by that I don’t learn about a new tool, app, initiative, issue or trend related to marketing and interacting on the Internet.

It’s exhilarating and sometimes exhausting to be part of such a rapidly evolving profession. But the benefits that Web-based technology can bring my clients – especially small businesses – make it worth burning the midnight oil or rising at summer dawn to read the latest information.

If you’re a business trying to figure out how to market your company online, it’s a good idea to get some background information – even if you are or will be working with an agency or consultant. Here’s a 101 class, a few best-selling books to read and blogs to follow – in addition to this one — that will help you understand how to best use the Web for your marketing.

  • “The New Rules of Marketing & PR,” by David Meerman Scott. Clients of mine are currently reading this and it’s fun to see the lights going on for them as they learn why we’re better off putting resources into blogging than newspaper advertising.
  •  “Real-Time Marketing & PR,” the latest from David Meerman Scott.
  • “Inbound Marketing,” by HubSpot founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, the guys who defined and automated the inbound marketing process.
  • “Trust Agents,” by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, the bible for understanding how and why the Web can help you build influence, improve your reputation and earn trust.

All of the above are published by John Wiley and Sons. Even if you’ve read them before, they bear perusing again from time to time.

In the blog/online media department, I regularly read:

Another important source of information for me is my online marketing community on Twitter. Follow me, see some of the people I follow, and check out my lists. You can take advantage of the news links they tweet every day.

So welcome to the College of Online Marketing, Class of Forever. Graduation day is not in the picture – unless the Big Power Outage comes. As long as it doesn’t, let’s consider ourselves online marketing lifelong learners.

What are your favorite sources for keeping up with the evolution of the Internet? Thanks for sharing!

Photo by J.o.h.n.Walker under Creative Commons License

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A Bricks and Mortar Model for Human Business on the Web

Posted on March 29, 2011. Filed under: Human Business, Jazz, Marketing, Social Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Today’s musical post is Scrapple from the Apple, a 1950-60’s classic throwback featuring Gene Ammons on tenor sax, Eddie Buster on Hammond B-3 organ, and Gerald Donovan on drums. Read on for the relevance.

Every time I work with a client to establish a human approach to online marketing, my thoughts turn to Sneddon’s in Lambertville, N.J., across the Delaware River from New Hope, Penna. Sneddon's Sign Courtesy of Yelp

This wonderful, family-owned business is in its third generation of Sneddon ownership. Earlier it was known as Mutzie’s – a childhood hang of chef Gabrielle Hamilton whose book Blood, Bones and Butter at this moment tops the NY Times and Amazon best-seller’s list.

Walk into Sneddon’s and you’ve time travelled back to a 1950’s luncheonette with booths along one perimeter, formica-topped tables down the middle and a long counter on the other side with swivel stools facing the griddles and food prep surfaces. Inside Sneddon's with favorite waitress Terry
This picture of the interior of Sneddon’s courtesy of UrbanSpoon.com includes our favorite waitress Terry standing at the counter.

Sneddon’s is a community of locals, sophisticated, part-time/weekend residents from New York and day tripper tourists – all of whom are attracted by the friendly, unpretentious atmosphere of the place.

It delivers what its community values – simple, high quality food prepared with pride, reasonable prices, and a staff – from dishwashers, to cooks, to waitresses, to owners — that embraces the customers, remembers them by name, stops by their tables to chat and exchange updates on family, news, the weather and how their experience at Sneddon’s is going that day. I’m always confident that my eggs over easy and well-done Philly scrapple – a local breakfast meat – will come out prepared as ordered.

My mother has been lunching there almost daily for years, first with my stepfather and mentor John Walsh who died several years ago. The Sneddon’s folk have lived through my mother’s joys, health problems, community involvement, death of John with care and concern. I know that if she didn’t show up for lunch for more than a day or two they’d call her and if they felt it necessary dispatch someone to her home to be sure she was ok or help her in any way possible.

Since the Sneddon’s have owned it, the business has passed through three generations. Some days, all three generations are there — the current owners working, the previous ones stopping by to say hello or to bring fresh produce that they grow and contribute to the kitchen.

The staff – local and culturally diverse – also has family stopping in for an after-school snack or some other touchpoint with the loved one employed there. The whole environment is relaxed, friendly, no tension – a real pick-me-up regardless of what’s going on in life.

I try really hard to replicate something of the Sneddon’s experience on the websites, Facebook pages and other online communities of every client, regardless of what business they’re in. Sneddon’s is a successful, busy beehive full of hard-working and happy people. Its human spirit is something for other businesses to aspire to.

Please share your human business role models!

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It’s not Business. It’s personal.

Posted on September 30, 2010. Filed under: Advertising, Communications, ecommerce, Human Business, Jazz, Marketing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

This post is about human business. The musical post isn’t directly related. It’s a song I love, Don Quixote, a beautiful song by Brazilian composer/singer Milton Nascimento. I guess I hope that the concept of human business isn’t tilting at windmills. Hope it catches on.

I want to share with you a current project of mine that will be the role model for all of my future business development. And I hope for yours, too! The project is incredibly challenging and complex from the standpoint of strategy and implementation. It is joyous from the standpoint of trust, collaboration and respect among my client and business partners.

I launched this client’s bricks and mortar business 16 years ago. Her successful business model was based on quality, service, community and charity. Since the launch we have both evolved. I am now helping her to expand a spin-off division of her company online. We’re building an ecommerce site and planning a robust online and traditional marketing kick-off.

My partners in this endeavor are Bernadette Nelson and Dave Lostracco. Bernadette is a highly talented graphic, brand identity and website designer who codes as well as designs her sites. This is pretty rare. She was born in Paris and is a fearless sportswoman and good friend. She and I co-author a monthly column, Working the Web, for the Fairfield and Westchester County (Conn, NY) Business Journals.

Dave is a Renaissance Geek. (My new coined phrase.) He is a sublime techie, a veteran high-level operations guy for Group W, a musician, a recording studio owner, an SEO and Google AdWords expert and an incredible human being.

As a marketing team we are intensely focused on creating a seamless experience for our client. We want her to feel that we have her back so that she can relax and enjoy this new chapter in her business.

Our client, who will go unidentified so we don’t spill the beans before the launch of her site, is the perfect collaborative client. She is extremely excited about the expansion of her business and the opportunities it brings – albeit with a touch of normal anxiety. She recognizes that she has a role to play in the success of this project. Certain things can only be done by her. And she does them in an engaged and timely fashion.

We vendors so appreciate that our client appreciates us and trusts that we have her best interest at heart. We do! Her overt recognition makes us even more dedicated to her success.

We have communicated to each other – client and vendors – that we feel like friends. This makes the quality of our interaction so enjoyable. There’s a lot of positive emotion that we’re all putting into this. Personal makes business so much more rewarding – and successful!

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