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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.

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.

Research
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.