Tested Keys to Small Business Marketing

This is the article I wrote about September Triangle AMA speaker.

Marketing to small business has several unique approaches and strategies for today’s marketing professionals. Our September 2008 luncheon speaker, Donald Mazzella, COO of Information Strategies, Inc., has advised major corporations and start-ups on ways of increasing their close rates in the small business market. For more than 10 years, Information Strategies, Inc. has been an information and advisory source for small business leaders. The company also works with major business publications as the online value-added advertising supplement to the small business market. It utilizes a proprietary marketing channel, offering a series of newsletters that share advice on improving profits through more efficient use of resources to reach millions of small business leaders.

Mazzella began his presentation with some basic principles about the audience and what he termed Small Business Leaders or SBL. SBL are small business owners. SBL are more likely to say “my company” instead of “the company,” as they have a deeper and stronger personal, financial and emotional investment in their brand. Keeping this in mind here are the Myths and strategies to adopt if SBL are key to your marketing success:

  • Myth 1: SBL are risk takers.
    Many SBL come into small business via inheritance, losing their job or other method. Therefore don’t assume you are marketing to high risk audience.
  • Myth 2: If you are a big technology leader small business with buy your product.
    This is not always the case as SBL may wait to see what sticks in the market. A good example is Microsoft Vista and its lack of acceptance in the small business market.
  • Myth 3: Small business makes buying decisions during the day.
    Most decisions are made at night when SBL have time to spend reviewing notes, documentations, marketing collateral, advertising and web research.
  • Myth 4: You should buy our product because of a big brand.
    Brand arrogance works against selling to SBL.
  • Myth 5: What’s good for General Motors is good for business.
    This famous misquote of former GM president Charles Wilson does not work for SBL. Downsizing and stripping quality or features from product is not desirable for SBL. The strategy should be to design your product or service specifically for the needs of small business.
  • Myth 6: SBL will spend money when they see something to help them do their work.
    SBL actually wan to see return on investment (ROI) with minimal operational impact more than another tool or application that may be more trouble than it’s worth.
  • Myth 7: The bigger the brand endorser the more potent the message.
    Big name pitch men are not the key to SBL as most SBL view their peers as the best endorsers of products.
  • Myth 8: Successful small business marketing has a national landscape.
    SBL are just down the street from where you work and live, they are local and subscribe to the same local media as you.
  • Myth 9: SBL will adapt their company to a product or service.
    Change is not a work that SBL want to hear, but something that is “good enough” works well.
  • Myth 10: National business publications are key to selling to SBL.
    Trade publications tend to work better along with local outlets. Public relations continue to be a good investment in promoting brand as well as opinion leaders in the talk radio markets.
  • Myth 11: Pricing is not as important as other factors in buying decision.
    Price is a deciding factor as SBL want finite costs and no surprises.
  • Myth 12: Credit cards do not fuel small business growth.
    The use of credit cards improves sales even if not used and proprietary cards can be a major source of funding.
  • Myth 13: Wal Mart does not affecting buying decision.
    SBL do comparison shopping with typically the employees doing it during the day and the owners at night.
  • Myth 14: SBL can be sold over the phone and via email and direct mail.
    Nothing substitutes for a personal visit. Know your customers and make sure the local UPS and FedEx delivery drivers know your product as they are the personal interaction consumers have with products being delivered.
  • Myth 15: A call center can sell product as well as a sales person.
    Personal, consistent contact is still a key sell tactic.
  • Myth 16: One size fits all response kit can be effective.
    Response kit is critical element in sales process. Promptness is key indicator so SBL as it lets them know you care about their business.

Mazzella concluded his presentation with some other strategies. The first was that marketing strategies need to avoid the Janus Principle and focus their organization on selling to small business. He followed up with the fact that typically it takes seven impressions or touches by a SBL to get noticed.

MySpace: Insider’s View of Social Networking

With the rapid growth of social networking it is difficult to understand what are some of the driving forces behind the fast pace as well as what are the myths. For today’s marketing professional this is more important than ever as consumers are driving the growth through their actions and ability to promote a brand within social networks. Jane Collins, the Director of Consumer Insights for MySpace.com, was the Triangle AMA’s August speaker, on the topic of, “MySpace: Insider’s View of Social Networking,” was a very informative analysis on social networking behavior and what media relationships and roles can be utilized to engage consumers.

In her presentation, Collins examined the results of The Never-ending Friending Research Study, commissioned by Fox Interactive Media, Isobar, and CaratUSA on consumer-focused qualitative and quantitative research to understand how and why consumers interact within social networks. Also Collins showed how and why social networking works for everyone, especially mothers.

As Director of Consumer Insights for MySpace.com, Jane Collins is responsible for providing core data analysis and research initiatives to enhance the advertising sales effort as well as to communicate audience trends to all departments within Fox Interactive including Corporate, PR, Marketing, Finance and Ad Solutions. Collins is a research professional who has 15+ years experience managing and implementing key marketing and research strategies for broadcast, cable, and most recently the Internet with Fox Interactive Media. In the course of her career, Jane has headed Prime time Primary Research for the Entertainment division of ABC television network and was also at the helm of the research effort for Nielsen’s local people meter rollout.

During the presentation, Collins referred to the recent research study commissioned by Key consumer research insights include:

  • Social Networking in an essential part of life across various user segments and life stages
  • Triggers Higher Media Consumption Levels
  • Revamps the Media Landscape
  • Social Networks enrich real life

The study had two phases. The first phase was conducted with ten focus groups of MySpace users, TRU’s TrendWatch Panel, high school Students (ages 16-18), college students (ages 20-22) and adults (ages 25-35). Also the study conducted 3000+ online interviews (ages 14-40): Social networkers, MySpace registered users, MySpace non-registered users, non-social networkers. The second phase was advertiser-focused case studies to gain insight into what kinds of campaigns are successful and how to quantify the Momentum Effect of consumer to consumer marketing. This phase utilized a series of control and exposed measurement using a combination of behavioral tracking and surveys. Also it measured key brand metrics such as intent to recommend, intent to purchase, positive brand image and unaided awareness and compared findings with similar ROI studies conducted by Marketing Evolutions to assess average value.

The results of the focus groups showed engaged communication among current MySpace users. Social networking so important that it tops their preferred use of free time and users feel that life without MySpace is lonesome, out of touch and boring. By examining the role and relationship of media and humans, social network media bypasses the traditional practical (useful and pragmatic) and passive (relaxing, tuning out) media and interactions such as TV or using a search engine. Social networks fall into a “passion zone” whereby users are building bonds with their friends, groups, culture, music, and even romance.

Therefore it best suits today’s brands to have a presence in the social networks’ passion zone where the interaction is about attraction and connection. Social networks have allowed users to be thru to them selves and others. For instances social network sites can show a softer side of a macho guy and allow others to see sides not obvious in person. The study also found that 73% of users are never bored when using social networks. The myth that most social networkers are online for casual relationships with relative strangers show that virtual friends only make up 27% of their regular contacts. In fact most users are connecting with regular friends 69% of the time.

As social networks deepen existing relationships and allow users to rediscover old friends and sustain relationships, users now want brands to be their friends instead of advertising to them. This has led to a new trend of “Friending,” a new communication strategy between brands and consumers. It’s more than just offering special offers and coupons, brands can create a community and offer topics of discussion, tell friends about events sales and special offers.
Most users feel that advertising just gets in the way of surfing and slows down their site experience. However nearly all users described that having brands and companies as friends is entirely different and something they welcome. Sites like MySpace are all about self-expression and today’s consumer loves to wrap themselves in their brands, using them as extensions of themselves and clear statements of their interest and lifestyles and users have shown that they love these opportunities for affiliation.

When we have a brand as a friend we want the free stuff! But the relationship goes beyond that. For today’s brands and companies it’s about engaging beyond the discount. It’s a user wanting to support the brand they care about, associate and publicly align themselves with the brand or company. Also if the brand is recommended by a regular friend the viral effect can be exponential.

By comparing traditional business to consumer (B2C) model to consumer-to-consumer (C2C) models, friending and viral ads have created “the Momentum Effect.” This new model measures the pass along effect from consumer to consumer and each interaction is an impression. The momentum effect has demonstrated extraordinary ROI that dwarfs that of traditional campaigns. Outside of awareness which is chiefly driven by advertising, the phenomenon was seen in metrics of Purchase Intent, Intent to recommend and Average Brand Image Attributes.

Collins reviewed case studies of both Adidas and Electronic Arts and offered the following strategies for brands and companies when creating social network sites:

  • Offer tools to customize user sites and allow the brand to become part of user’s persona. Using skins, images and other graphics users can easily customize their site with brand’s look and feel.
  • Give users something to talks about with their friends; contests, sponsorships and other subjects where conversations and references lead user to brand’s online community.
  • Enable users to realize their dreams. A promise that the brand can help the consumer achieve a closely aligned dream. For instance, EA offered rock bands the opportunity to win a recording contract. The music dream tied in with EA’s burnout video game and its roots in high-powered music.

The presentation concluded with some quick notes about MySpace moms. Despite the typical assumption that moms get onto MySpace to check on their children, 78% joined MySpace to keep in touch with friends. Only 5% initially joined to keep an eye on their kids. The generation X and Y moms born between 1978 and 1992 are the first generation of moms who are able to seamlessly integrate technology into parenting. Typical online activities of MySpace moms include information (news, weather, phone number/yellow pages) parenting, home (meal planning and recipes, online bill pay) and interaction (email, posting photos, instant messaging, blogging). This captive audience is truly captive. Mothers with young children and toddlers are “stuck” at home with a child, household responsibilities and other tasks. Social networks give them an opportunity to connect with other mothers in their same situations without leaving the house. For savvy brands and companies wanting to capture this audience the opportunity is available with social networks.

Judy Collin’s presentation is linked at the triangle AMA site (triangleama.org) under the “Events” section or by clicking here.

Search Engine Optimization Tips and Tricks

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become a major topic among marketing professionals and the general business community the past few years. There are entire companies that now offer search engine marketing and optimization services as their sole business. We’re all familiar with how these tools work since we use them to research and find information on the web. But the challenge for today’s marketing executive is what should my search engine marketing and optimization plan be?

During his presentation, “Everything you ever wanted to know about Search Engine Optimization,” Neil Lancia, Director of Marketing and Web Strategy for Preation discussed important features and techniques that the major search engines look for in an ideal web site. The presentation demonstrated how to increase optimization efficiency, analyze competitors’ efforts, and take advantage of powerful online tools.

Black Hat vs. White Hat
Neil began the presentation with an explanation of the two typical approaches to SEO, white hat and black hat. White hat strategies tend to be more conservative but are more proven and result in better long-term strategies. Patience is stressed in the white hat approach but since it is more of a long term strategy, it’s crucial. Black hat approaches tend to be higher risk but can produce short term benefits. This approach is recommended for temporary marketing campaigns where the SEO needs to get a lot of attention for a specific period of time.

After selecting between the white hat and black hat approach it’s time to begin researching what keywords you want to target for your SEO. The most obvious keywords in a particular business tend to have the most competition for search engine results. For instance if you sell car insurance, searching on these keywords will produce thousands if not millions of results. Therefore it’s important to find the key words that have a relatively high number of searches, but a low amount of competition.

This process also helps you determine what keywords your competitor is using in order to measure your SEO efforts. Other key elements of your competitors SEO is to research how many pages and links are indexed for their sites. It’s important to sent benchmarks and a schedule based on the comparison and re-evaluate them on a regular basis. This process can also help determine if you have authority. Authority is measuring how big is the network of incoming links and how many web pages do you have indexed.

Google Tools
Sounds great but how do you research this information. Neil discussed several online tools that will allow you to easily research and help develop your SEO strategy and plan. Google has a suite of tools that are free to any user and are very easy to use. The first tool is Google Functions that return information on your site and links to your site. By going to http://www.google.com/ and simply typing “link:” and/or “site:” along with your specific company domain in the Google search bar you get quick results on how many pages are indexed on your site and how many sites link to your site. This information can be used to track your authority building progress as well.

The second set of Google tools presented were Google Trends located at www.google.com/trends. These tools allow you to evaluate the season search volume for the key words you are focused on. Other Google tools reviewed included Google Sitemap that sends Google a snapshot of your website each time they ask for it. However this tool does require some code to be inserted into your web pages and may require some expertise.

Clean up your Code
Once you have you research complete it’s time to clean up your HTML code. Neil recommended using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and Extensible HTML (XHTML) due to tits cross-0browser compatibility. Also it’s important to keep your URLs (the web site address that you type into your browser to pull up web pages) clean by not using punctuation, blank spaces and if possible include your key words in the URL. This can be a challenging task depending on if you have a content management system (CMS) that manages the content on your web site. Other tips included limiting the use of Adobe Flash on your website as it is more difficult for search engines to index Flash pages, keeping your code clean and using specific HTML tags on all pages (TITLE, META and ALT tags for images). At the same time it’s imperative to fix any broken links or other errors on your pages for optimal SEO.

Content is King!
One of the main areas of effort in your SEO is to create content on a regular basis advised Neil. Putting press releases, newsletters, corporate announcements, contracts awarded, etc. is a good way to build your online content. The content amount along with keyword concentration and effective tagging of pages will increase your SEO. It’s important to have a plan of action to continue to add content on a frequent basis and this can also be monitored and measured against your competitors using the Google tools mentioned earlier.

Building Authority
Neil wrapped up the presentation with some tips on authority building. Since other sites linking to yours improves your page ranking on search engines you should contact business partners, vendors and any other possible site that can put a link to your site on their page. At the same time you can improve their SEO by offering a link to their site as well. Some best practices around this include creating a form letter that can be customized for each company and site, prompt creation of links to their site and notifying partners that you have created their link.

For more information and a copy of Neil’s presentation please visit the Triangle AMA web site at http://www.triangleama.org/.

As Senior Web Strategist for Preation, Neil Lancia uses his unique perspective to develop creative online marketing strategies for clients. An expert at evaluating and developing successful campaigns across a wide variety of media forms, he has also worked as a marketing consultant for the Herald-Sun Newspaper in Durham, NC. Lancia graduated from Boston University’s prestigious College of Communication in 2000. Neil Lancia has served on the Executive Board of Directors for the Chapel Hill Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and is committed to the growth of the Triangle through responsible corporate citizenship and public service.

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