Social Media is Consumer Controlled Conversations

Ah the “buzz” around social media is burning like a wild fire out of control – it’s the bright shiny bauble of our time.  Everywhere you turn there’s another guru offering yet another “product” promising to provide everything you need to know to harness the power of social media and magically build your business.  The only problem is these programs often are guilting of forgetting what social media really is – it’s PEOPLE behind those screen names.

Promising a magic marketing with technology is nothing new.  About a decade ago, there was another bright shiny techno-bauble being lauded as the magic marketing technology anyone could use to effortlessly build their business – an online email newsletter.

Time passed and before long email marketing newsletters lost their shiny new appeal.  The “buzz” ceased and they were no longer lauded as the “fast, easy magically delicious” way to build your business online.  Just because the buzz has died doesn’t meant that email newsletters are no longer a powerful online marketing tool.  It just means that the “gurus” have moved on to the next “hot topic” – which is currently social media.   Want to use Twitter to sell more stuff?  There’s at least a dozen gurus offering webinars as you read this on how to sign up and use Twitter.  The darlings of the day these days are currently Facebook and Twitter – though 18 months ago it was Myspace.com and prior to that it was business blogs which are just now beginning to display the evidence of the promises made five years ago.

Just because the hype has moved on doesn’t mean that any of these “past” beauty queens are not still lovely when viewed through the lens of creating marketing magic.  As a matter of fact, none of these technological tools ever officially ended their reign as valuable online marketing tools.   Smart business owners didn’t drop their email newsletter when social media came knocking – they used social media to build their list.  In my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results, I talk about the phenomenon of email marketing newsletters and how those with a solid marketing strategy in place simply integrated this new tactic.  Just because a tactic is shiny and new doesn’t mean it’s valuable – or worthless.  A paintbrush in the RIGHT hands can create beauty –  Social media marketing tactics can also create beautiful bottom line figures when implemented within a solid marketing strategywhich is focused upon meeting your end consumers’ GDP – (Goals, Desires, Problems) –  email newsletters, business blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all have the potential to grow your business.

I was recently afforded the opportunity to “listen in” on recording of an online sales training class being run by one of my clients.  She too preaches the “gospel” of “focus upon your customer’s GDP” to create a solid business base.  One gentleman on the call was nicknamed by his peers “The Load”.  He began the call with a description of how LOUSY his business had been over the past few years – living up to his nickname quite nicely. (My thought when listening to him – “Oh my goodness – he should NOT have a blog!!!  I think that’s why my client was sharing this call with me… but that’s another story!)   The Load introduced himself on the call by moaning and groaning  about how LOUSY business had been for the past few years.   Yet later in the class I heard him tell the story of how he’s changing his behavior.  He said, “I recently had a customer who was asking the sun moon and stars.  Before taking your class, I would have told them to get lost – we don’t DO THINGS like that around here.  Instead – because of your class – I listened to them and we focused upon meeting their needs.  We did a lot of extra work but we were well compensated.  They’re happy – and we made a lot of money on this sale so we’re happy as well.”

When The Load launched his business, delighting the customer was never a part of the plan.  When he delighted his first customer, only then did he begin building a foundation upon which a social media campaign could be launched.   If that customer tells their friends via Facebook or Twitter – that’s the beginning of social media marketing.  However, even if that customer is NOT using social media – yet – they still have connections where they can tell their story. There’s no limit to the bet I’d make that suddenly – everything in The Load’s business will start turning around.    His phone will begin ringing – and he’ll have the opportunity to delight more customers.

The Load addressed the unseen business killers at work in his business and began focusing upon the consumer.   If he keeps on track, soon he’ll be ready to begin to harness the power of consumer controlled conversations – a.k.a. social media- and put it to work building his business.

Before you spend one penny on an AdWords campaign….

online advertisingBefore you spend one penny on an AdWords campaign – take a walk with me – a customer – through the whole “searching for a product or service” on the internet.

Yesterday – my clothes dryer quit working.  While draping my clothes over the railing of the upstairs over look is an option, it’s not particularly decorative – so the first thing on my “to do” list this morning is to find an appliance repairman.

Right now, it’s easier for me to search for this service online rather than try to find the latest version of the yellow pages.  If I had one of those jobs where you get up, get dressed and drive to an office – I’d be using my cell phone to perform this search as I sat in rush hour traffic.  However, because I don’t have to drive to my office – I sit down at my computer and begin my search for a local business online.

I go to Google and I type in the words “appliance repair [my city + state]” and hit enter.  This, by the way, is known as a “search query”.  These are the KEYWORDS that I am using to find what I need on the internet.  I could have just as easily used “dryer repair [my city + state]| ” or “[brand name] dryer repair [my city + state]”.

I am greeted with several Adwords ads – each containing my search query.  This is good.  I WANT a local service provider.  However, while the ads all lead with my search query terms of “appliance repair [my city + state]”, when I click through to the web site – there is no MENTION of them servicing my city.  As a matter of fact, one of the web pages proclaims proudly that they travel clear up to – well, to a town in the next county.

I’m well aware that each time I click on one of these ads, that each of these businesses will be charged with the click.  I can’t help but wonder how many other people in my city have clicked on that ad only to discover that the business does NOT provide service to our city.

One company has an elaborate flash page which takes more than 20 seconds to load.  That time is an estimate.  As I watched the elaborate show unfold – I clicked away.  I don’t want to be entertained – I want my dryer fixed – NOW!

I come to a really GREAT web site of an appliance repair shop.  It’s a GREAT web site, complete with a cute basset hound puppy as a mascot.  I’m such a SUCKER for appealing mascots.  I picked my pest control company because they dressed their cars up as mice.   With that experience in mind,  maybe it’s best that this appliance repair service is not local.  However, while the basset hound puppy was cute, it took me three clicks to find out the company is based out of a city over an hour away.

As I search, notice I’m looking for something really specific.  Yet, while the AdWord ads parrot my search terms – when they take me to a page which lists cities two and three counties away – I instantly think I’m in the wrong place.

If a keyword is worth bidding on – then it’s worth creating a landing page for that keyword.

I’ve written before about the importance of landing pages.   If you’re using the web for marketing, you’ll know it’s a numbers game pure and simple.  However,  the key concept is that those numbers include VIABLE prospects.

Once I exhaust searching the paid ads – that’s right, there were 9 ads and not ONE of them mentioned my city as an area they serviced – I move on down the page to the “natural” search.

Natural search are the results that DID  NOT pay to get moved to the top of the page.  These pages are here because they actually contain the words “appliance repair” combined with “[my city + state]”.  Fortunately for these businesses – none of which have an ad displayed – those who DID pay to have their ad displayed couldn’t convince me in 30 seconds or less that they had a solution to my problem.  Because paid search failed me – now I’m off through a hunt through the “natural” search.

THAT IS THE KEY TO USING ADWORDS: You’ve got 30 seconds or less for the page to load and to convince me YOU are the business I need to call.  You’ve paid to be bumped to the head of the list – take advantage of your one time only shot at my business!

Before I get to the “true” natural search, I see Google’s “local business results.”  This yields a better quality of options for me.  After all, there’s a map so I can SEE that each of these businesses is located near me.

I like Google’s local business result.  In order to sign up, the business owner must fill in a form with essential information.  Instead of assaulting me with an audio/video extravaganza – I see the essential facts I need to know – like what brands they service.  I can choose to click on the link and go to their website – or I can click the “click more button and see the results of the form they filled out to open the account. Without exception – I use the “more” button because the web sites are so poorly done.

I begin dialing and call the three businesses listed on local search which service my brand of dryer.

This is the moment of truth.  Across my city, phones begin ringing as I try to become a member of an appliance repair company’s “tribe”.

At this point, I could launch into a rant on customer service.  I’m getting answering machines at 9:15 AM on Monday morning.   These are the people who will be bitching about how the poor economy is killing their business.  Here’s a tip – it’s NOT the economy – it’s your lack of attention and commitment to your business.

Finally I get a busy signal.  It’s a welcome relief.  At least they’re in the office and answering calls – and other people are calling them as well.   I may have a winner – but I have to wait.

As I wait – I move on down the list of results to my search query and find a Superpages.com listing.  Oooo – the all inclusiveness of the yellow pages delivered online.  This sounds promising!  I click and am greeted with a page that lists 15 different paid ads.  FIFTEEN!!!  Many of these are for other search sites.  Just what I want to do on a Monday morning – go on a wild goose chase!

I scroll and scroll until I find the business listings.  However, this positively cryptic when compared to the local business results offered by Google.  I get out of the Superpages site and get back to the number which was busy 10 minutes ago.

BINGO!  The phone is not only ringing – it’s manned by a living breathing person who speaks English fluently.  RELIEF!  I am willing to wait until tomorrow for my dryer repair person if it means my search is over.

Thirty minutes ago, I thought my dryer would be fixed by nightfall – now I’m just glad to know I’ll be seeing someone this week.

By the way, I had to have my oven repaired about 5 months ago.  I was thrilled with the service, but I don’t remember the company name.  If they’d left behind a refrigerator magnet – I would have called them.  I remember the guy’s face and first name- but not the name of his business.  It’s too bad.  I liked him and he did a great job.

Which is why I had to go searching again.  I tried to follow the “path” I used five months ago – but none of the results I saw looked familiar.

Without a well defined, tightly targeted audience… well… Google Adwords then becomes just another way to drain cash from your accounts.  Before you spend one penny on an Adwords campaign, be sure you get inside your customer’s head and find out what they’re  REALLY searching for online.  AdWords is no play to launch a “spray and pray” advertising campaign.

Need help with getting inside your target customer’s head?  Pick up a copy of my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results for a step by step process you can follow to figure out the who, what where and most importantly WHY customers buy.

Small Business Marketing- The Yellow Page Directory’s Place in your Marketing Mix

The recent post “Does your small business need to invest in yellow page advertising?” a comment was left stating that “the internet is for browsing – the yellow pages are for buying. ”

I’m sure that comment was left by someone who makes his or her living selling yellow page advertising.  It’s a GREAT line – but it exposes an essential “truth” .    It acknowledges is that people – in general-  are going to the internet FIRST to research their purchasing decisions.   When they don’t find the answers online that’s when they pick up the yellow pages to buy.

With that in mind, yellow page advertising does have a place in the marketing mix for many businesses.  However, the printed yellow page directories are making the death march to extinction and if that is the sole way you advertise your business – you might want to start working on a new marketing strategy .

I got my start in a  “traditional” advertising agency in the mid 1980’s because there wasn’t any other KIND of advertising agency way back in the stone age.   In those days we wore primitive clothing fashioned from animal skins and chipped pithy marketing messages onto cave walls and onto stone tablets by firelight. Even as we battled sabre tooth tigers along the way to client meetings, we still recognized the need for our client’s business to be listed in directories.

In those days (as now) the yellow page advertising representative’s opinion was that our clients needed a full page, four color ad in the yellow pages.  As the appointed keepers of the advertising budget – we at the agency held a different point of view.  The result were many heated and lively exchanges and as a result, I have few friends in the yellow page advertising industry.  😉

It’s my belief that a business (big or small) that is engaged in a strategic marketing campaign created with the target customer in mind doesn’t NEED a huge display ad in the yellow pages.   Those dollars can be much more effective when spent in other media.

In my book,  Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results, I recommend business owners devote about 7% of their marketing budget to listings in directories.  That’s not a lot but it’s more than enough if you’re spending the other 93% wisely.

For example, if you are a brick and mortar business owner who is in the heating and air conditioning business – then I would NEVER recommend that you stop advertising your business in the yellow pages.  However, I would also not recommend you spend the majority of your advertising budget there either.

Remember – by the time someone is looking for your business in a directory – they’ve already made a decision to purchase.   That’s why I recommend that the other 93% of your marketing budget should be spent influencing people to choose your business BEFORE they decide to purchase.

Wouldn’t you rather be talking to prospective customers BEFORE they’ve decided to buy?

The yellow page advertising rep desperately wants you to believe that the prospective customer who is picking up the yellow pages is operating from a “clean slate”.   In this fantasy land, your yellow page advertising rep will provide LOTS of “documentation” which “proves” your prospective customer opens the yellow pages and INSTANTLY picks the largest, most colorful ad. However, that’s not how advertising works in the “real” world. The example I use to get people thinking about how the yellow pages really work is to choose something they don’t need every day -like  finding a roofer.

The exercise goes something like this- pick up a copy of the yellow pages and start looking for a roofer.  Pay attention to what’s going through your mind as you scan through the pages.  Chances are you’ll notice that you’re searching for is a name that is FAMILIAR!!!

See, the only way the largest most colorful ad in the yellow pages is going to “win” is if you have absolutely NO CLUE of what roofing company is reputable in your area.  Otherwise, the race is going to to go the business with the “best” reputation – the one that is MOST familiar!

For example, yesterday as I was driving to the grocery store, I heard an ad on the radio by a local roofing company.  Right now, I can’t tell you the name of the company – but if my roof started leaking tomorrow – that ad would be having an influence on me.  It would be working on my subconscious as I began my search for a roofing contractor.  That roofing contractor’s name is going to be familiar and I’m more likely to call him than anyone else in the directory.   If I hear his ad again today, that familiarity will be strengthened.   If I hear that ad another 120 times I’ll probably be able to recite the roofing company’s name off the top of my head.   (That is how advertising works.)

Here’s the rub: If I were to pick up the phone and call, if  the receptionist were to ask how I “found” their business – I’d say, “The Yellow Pages!”  While that would be true – but that wouldn’t be the WHOLE truth!   The roofing contractor’s radio ad would literally be the unsung hero of his marketing campaign.

FAMILIARITY BREEDS BUSINESS!!!!

Smart business owners will have a marketing strategy in place with the goal to build familiarity with their customers.  One way to breed “familiarity” is to create a website that reaches customers while they are searching for answers!  Grab customers at that point and they’ll rarely find their way to the yellow pages!

The problem is that most small business owners have websites that do NOT come up when people are searching for answers to their GDP – Goals, Desires and Problems.

As long as your competitors don’t have a website that provides answers to the GDP of the target audience, then it becomes a game of one upsmanship within the confines of the yellow pages.  However, if you discover how to reach customers BEFORE they head to the yellow pages – how to put your website in front of those prospective customers when they’re researching their decision – long BEFORE they’ve decided to buy – well – then suddenly  the size of the ad in the yellow pages really doesn’t matter at that point, does it?

Does your small business need to invest in yellow page advertising?

Yesterday, the phone rang.  It was a company doing “market research”.  You may think it’s a smart small business marketing strategy to hire a research firm to poll your potential customers.   You may think that outsourcing this market research taskis the key to making money.  You may also be tempted to think that advertising in the yellow pages is the smartest use of your advertising budget.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Over the past year, I’ve been “polled” at least 6 times by various yellow page companies in the name of “market research”.  The polls are obviously geared to try to provide some proof to small business owners that yellow page advertising is a smart investment of your advertising dollars.

Long ago, there was just one “yellow page directory” but these days there are several – each more worthless than the last.   The only difference between the last the yellow page directory delivered to my doorstep and a bag of flaming dog poo was the yellow page directory wasn’t on fire.

Why would ANYONE with an internet connection use the yellow pages?

The answer – if you’re looking for a business that doesn’t know enough about the internet to create a website that can be found by the search engines.

Who still uses the yellow pages? Baby Boomers – that’s who.  Baby Boomers who have acquired the HABIT of looking to the yellow pages for information.   I get it.   However, as the market research dude kept pushing me as to why I didn’t use the yellow pages – I was forced to inform him that I have a perfectly good bathroom indoors and that’s why I don’t relieve myself in my back yard!!!

In other words- I have the internet – why would I EVER use the yellow pages?

Because it wasn’t on fire when it arrived,  I did pick up the last yellow pages dropped off at my house and flipped through it on my way to tossing it in the recycling bin.  I was literally  STUNNED with what I saw.   The last yellow page directory delivered to my home was a new “condensed” version.  You’ll never guess that they did to “condense” it –  REDUCETHE FONT SIZE OF THE PRINT!!!

So why in the WORLD would a business that is obviously targeting the Baby Boomers decide to reduce the size of the font in the directory?

Most businesses targeting Baby Boomers are scrambling to make things easier to read.  They are  increasing the keys on remote control units, creating cell phones that have larger displays and adopting larger font for websites targeting Baby Boomers.  With that being the case, why would you buck the trend and adopt a 4 point font size for your directory?  The answer has to be that you’re not even trying to fool yourself anymore.

I talk a lot around here about creating a target audience profile and keeping your target audience in mind as you market your business.  I harp on keeping your target audienc in mind ALL THE TIME.  It’s an essential exercise in not only my 8 Week Power Blog Launch course but also in my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results.

Keeping your target customer in mind is definitely something big businesses tend to forget to do that small business can’t afford to forget.

Yellow page advertising is definitely a product which is on it’s last legs.  It a buggy whip in the era of the horseless carriage.  The only people still using yellow pages as a directory are Baby Boomers and the only businesses relying on yellow page advertising are businesses who don’t know what else to do to promote their business.

During my 15 minute “battle of wills” with this marketing research dude – it was painfully obvious that there was an “agenda” in mind behind this so called “market research”.

In the end, I’m certain that the “results” of this “survey” will end up as sales material for the next advertising sales “blitz” in our community.  Prior to the blitz, billboards will begin proclaiming the value of yellow page advertising.  Radio and television stations will begin airing commercials with testimonials from businesses using the yellow page directory.   Then, the yellow page advertising reps will be unleashed.   Small business owners will be presented with “tangible” evidence of how their version of the printed yellow page directory is THE one where small business owners should invest the majority of their advertising dollars.

I often advise my clients to watch what great marketers are doing rather than buy what they’re selling.  In this case, watch what media the yellow pages uses to promote their directory.  THOSE are the media choices YOU should make when promoting your own business rather than investing in an ad in the yellow pages.

In my series “Steps to Starting a Small Business” you’ll notice that hiring a company to perform “market research” is absent from the list.  Most “market research” is performed by BIG businesses who are intent on either fooling themselves or creating “proof” for marketing materials.   In most cases, small business owners can’t afford the luxury of such “fluff”.

What’s your take?  Do you still use the Yellow Pages?  If you do use them, has a yellow page ad ever influenced your decision? Had you already made your buying decision when you opened the yellow pages?

Steps to Starting a Small Business: #4 Naming Your Business

When you’re starting a business, one of the steps to starting a small business is naming your business.  While a rose by any other name may indeed smell just as sweet, the name you choose for your business is one of the most critical decisions you will make.

Your business name is the foundation of EVERYTHING in your business.  It will affect every aspect of your business from customer perception to the domain name you use for your web presence.   Make a mistake in naming your business and, trust me – it will haunt you for years to come.

This post is obviously a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of post.   I am the QUEEN of choosing horrible names for my adventures.  Case in point – Virtual Impax.  I can admit it – it’s a TERRIBLE NAME for a business!  The “fun-n-funky” hooked on phonics spelling just makes it worse.

How do I know it’s a terrible business name? The first clue I had that the name Virtual Impax was a horrible business name was when first question most people ask is, “What is that?” or “What do you do?”

Another horrible choice – Acumen Web Services.  Do you know what the word “acumen”  means?  If you don’t, you’re in good company.  Naming my alter ego business Acumen Web Services is clearly a case of “Who talks like that?”

The answer – me and only me.

With this said, there is a school of thought out there on naming your business that would tell you that I’ve been BRILLIANT in naming my business ventures.  See, these unique and unusual names means that my web presence is a GUARANTEED NUMBER 1 listing with the search engines.

People who SUBSCRIBE to this school of thought are idiots.

I say this with all the love and affection possible, but these people truly do NOT understand search.

WHO CARES IF YOU HAVE A NUMBER 1 SEARCH PLACEMENT ON A TERM NO ONE IS USING TO SEARCH?

You put yourself at a huge advantage if your business name is also your domain name.

“But wait,” you may be thinking, “Xerox is a made up name and they’re a house hold word now!”

Ah, yes my Padawan learner (veiled Star Wars reference) Xerox, Kodak, Kleenex – even Google are all “not real word” names that have come mean something in our daily lives but the path those “brands” have taken have literally been paved in gold.   In each case (except for Google), the path to creating a brand name that becomes a household term is achieved through extensive and relentless advertising.

One of my early web development clients was a local Tru Value store.  This was way back in the 1990’s and my client had recently purchased the store.  While the storefront was barely breaking even, the previous owners had started selling lighted Christmas lawn displays out of the back room.  Now THAT was a business worth buying.  My client had decided to take the business “to the web”, which was VERY cutting edge thinking way back in 1998.  Unfortunately, the name he chose was Holiday Silhouettes.  The only reason I can spell silhouettes is because of the time I worked with him.   He took a pass on the easy to spell, easy to remember domain name “Christmas Lights.com” Is it a coincidence that the company who chose the easy to spell domain name is still in business and he’s not?

So if choosing an obscure hard to spell word, a nonsense jumble of letters or purposefully misspelling common words are all LOSER business naming strategies, what are some WINNING business naming strategies?

The following advice is for those who don’t have a lot of money to spend on either a branding consultant or a naming service.

  1. A great small business name tells what you do.
  2. A great small business name communicates your business’ unique place in the universe.
  3. A great small business name uses words that people can easily spell.
  4. A great small business name uses words that people are using to search for solutions to the GDP (not Gross Domestic Product but rather Goals, Desires and Problems).

A rose by any other name may indeed smell as sweet – but you can make the climb to the top easier by choosing the right name for your business.