Speaking the Language

If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign land, you know how important it is to “speak the language”.  When I was in college, I spent a winter term in Japan where I not only didn’t speak the language – but I couldn’t even attempt to read the signs that surrounded me.  Fortunately or maybe foolishly, I was young enough and naive enough to not recognize how truly terrifying an experience that SHOULD have been for a 21 year old woman abroad.

In Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox for February 4: Teenage Usability: Designing Teen-Targeted Websites, web developers and marketers alike are warned that “speaking the language” isn’t enough to get the job done when it comes to connecting with teens via the web.

This is why I am a strong advocate of the “tightly targeting your niche market” strategy for my blogging clients so that when you’re blogging you can communicate effectively with your audience.  However, when you “don’t know what you don’t know” – that’s often when the truly EPIC mistakes are made when you don’t speak the language.

I spend most of my time within my practice translating “geek” into “English” for my clients.  Translation is just as much an art as it is science..  If you don’t believe me, just try running phrase you’ve entered into a translation program by a native speaker of the language.  It’s positively alarming how distorted a message can get when it’s run through one of the many “free” translation programs available online.

Case in point, trying to translate English into Hebrew.  There’s a site devoted to just such faux pas called Bad Hebrew.  One of my favorite posts is this one, Bad Hebrew Tattoos.

For all intents and purposes, we have here some kind of pagan male pregnancy totem.

First, there is the writing, a declaration, “He Shall be Pregnant!”, in Hebrew, permanently tattooed on our subject’s limb.

You can also see a bush, obviously representing an invitation to the spot at the local gay cruising park, where this guy conducts his baby making attempts.

Since this isn’t tattooed on myself or a loved on – I can laugh.  However, the point is – translation involves a lot more than simply using the “right words” to convey a message.

Big brands have been making these kinds of mistakes for decades – but now the web affords the same “equal opportunity” to small and medium sized business owners as well.  The lesson to be learned is this: If you don’t know your audience – if you don’t speak the language – nothing beats consulting a “native” to make sure you get the right translation.

Build a brand like a pro

Unique Branding

“What”s a brand? A singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of the prospect.” – Al Ries

Branding is perhaps one of the most overused and misunderstood phrases of the last 50 years. At its essence – branding is the term we use to encapsulate how your business is perceived in the marketplace.

Every decision you make, every action you or your employees take within your business all contribute to building your “brand”.   This is why branding is so critical to the success of your business – and why branding is so much more than simply the colors of your website or the font used in your logo.

Over at Fast Company, there’s an article featured which promises to show you how you can “build a brand like Bond”  in just 7 easy steps.  Ken Carbone does a great job of dissecting the Bond franchise and sharing the “secrets” to the brand’s success. He points out that the Bond brand is a work in process.  As a matter of fact, the Bond “brand” has been providing direction for the film franchise since before the phrase became a marketing catch phrase.

It’s one thing to look back and see all the things a company or film franchise has done “right” in hindsight – it’s another matter entirely to make the decisions on the fly which are necessary to build a truly successful brand.

For a wonderful example of how “hard” those brand building decisions can be – take a look at another branding powerhouse in the film industry – Pixar.  The history of the making of The Incredibles illustrates just how important branding is to the decisions you must make as you strive to build not only your business but also your brand.

In the original DVD – the original “vision” of the movie was featured as part of the “added extras” which show a much darker, “adult” animated film.

The original story boards showed a very different movie than the one released in theaters and  was diametrically opposed to the carefully crafted Pixar brand. It’s my understanding that making the decision to go back and “rework” the film after production had begun was not only difficult but risky.

Fortunately since Pixar’s management team fully understood their “brand” – they made a hard call to add significant expense to an already expensive process.

Ah – there’s the rub.  Building a brand requires making tough decisions and taking risks.  The “right” call on behalf of the “brand” may not be the least expensive option in the short run.

Branding isn’t about the short run – it’s about the long run.

The Pixar management team clearly understood the Pixar brand – and as a result they made the right call when it came to the direction of the movie The Incredibles.   Over the past half century, the various directors of the 23 Bond films have also had a clear vision of the Bond “brand” to guide their movie making decisions along the way.

But what about your brand?  Do you have a clear vision of your company’s brand?  Even if you’re “just” a freelancer – are you making the hard decisions needed to build your brand over the next decade?   It’s more than just telling a story – it’s telling the RIGHT story.  It’s more than  defining a visual style – it’s deciding upon the right style.

Creating a powerful brand means having a vision of your business ten years from now and orchestrating everything you do today to accomplish that vision of a distant tomorrow.

If this makes building your company’s brand sound more like planning an expedition to climb Mt. Everest than planning a picnic in the park – that’s good because it’s the truth.  Climbing Mt. Everest is not only extremely difficult – it’s potentially life threatening.  The same is true of your business’ branding.

With the right guide – and the right vision – branding your business can not only be enjoyable – but profitable.

If you’re looking for just such a guide – don’t look to me but instead look to my branding guru – Rosemary Davies-Janes.  I’ve relied upon Rosemary for the better part of two decades to help guide my own branding efforts and when I learned that she was offering a free 3-Part Teleclass Series on branding, my first response was to ask if I could share that info here.

If you’re a small business owner or a freelancer – the information Rosemary has to share about creating your own authentic personal brand is priceless.  I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to learn from one of the best in the business.

Is it a hobby or a business?

Some things are harder than they look!

They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.  A few months ago I obviously had some kind of break with reality because I decided that I wanted to grow my own tomatoes.  This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to grow vegetables – and it won’t be my last.

My most recent descent into gardening madness began simply enough.  I purchased three tomato plants at a cost of approx. $4 a piece.  At the time, I had visions of a bountiful harvest of delicious tomatoes grown for a fraction of the cost of purchasing them at the local grocer.

Since I live in Florida, the soil which surrounds my home won’t grow grass so I figured it wouldn’t grow tomatoes either. That meant purchasing SEVERAL bags of potting soil at am average cost of $9 per bag.  Then I needed containers (whiskey barrel halves @ $30) in which the purchased soil and said tomatoes would live.   Oh – and since tomatoes need support, I purchased tomato cages (@ $4) and Mater Magic – the fertilizer which promised to increase my bountiful harvest exponentially for another $4.  The first trip total was roughly $165 – but that’s OK because I’m going to have a bountiful harvest of beautiful tomatoes.

That was then … a time of great expectations.  This is now – a time of great disillusionment.

It’s been about 4 months since that initial trip to the garden center.   You can imagine my HORROR when the tiny tomatoes (TINY – like cherry tomatoes but they’re not) were ripening full of holes with large rubbery patches.  This resulted in several trips to the garden center in search of answers and solutions.  Each trip has resulted in a well meaning employee selling me more stuff to solve my problems.  I estimate that each trip costs approximately $140 – $150 yet none of the “helpful” tips have proven to be helpful at all.  My tomatoes are still inedible and ugly to boot!

At this point, I’ve got about $700 invested in trying to grow these damned things – AND IT ISN’T EVEN MAY YET!!!

I’ve come to the conclusion that unless these tomato plants produce in excess of 700lbs of tomatoes – I would have been better off visiting the farmer’s market and buying pampered organic tomatoes hand painted by local artisans.

So what’s this got to do with social media and the web?  Well, a lot actually.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you have probably entered this realm in the same place I’m entering the world of gardening.   You’ve got your area of expertise – but the web isn’t that area.   When you’re in that position – you don’t know what you don’t know which means you don’t know enough to know where to start searching for answer.

You may have had the same experience I had – asking people who were supposedly “experts” for help and advice only to find that most if not all of that advice was rubbish, accomplishing little more than emptying your checking account.

I can laugh at my utter and complete failure at growing tomatoes in my backyard because it’s only a problem if/when the zombie apocalypse happens.  Until then, I can stumble along and “pay” as I play gardener and continue to purchase tomatoes grown successfully by experts.

However, if you’re a business owner – you probably don’t have the time, patience or resources to invest YEARS trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to your web on the internet.

If you’re frustrated by your efforts at web marketing – contact me and let’s see if we can’t get your web site producing better results than I’m getting with my tomato plants.

Branding in less than 3 minutes a day

Everywhere you turn, you’ll get advice on using social media to “brand” your business.  The gurus and experts talk about branding like it’s something you can “do” to your business – like slapping a fresh coat of paint on a wall.  If only branding were that simple.

Branding is what consumers DO to your business and are not the logo, color scheme, font and other visual elements you use to represent your business.  Sure these elements play an important role  part in branding your business but not in the way you might think.  Those visual elements are not your “brand” but rather those visual elements play an important role in shaping consumer expectations.

It’s not just bad behavior that earns you the wrath of users of social media.  Often, consumers have a tendency to bitch quite freely when a marketing campaign paints an unrealistic expectations.  Unrealistic expectations can quickly turn any social media campaign into an ugly social media nightmare resembling the Zombie Apocalypse.

When expectations are properly “shaped” – then you have a much better chance of pleasing the ever increasing horde of Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts and avoiding the carnage their combined wrath can engender.

On Friday, April 13, 2012 – Zak Muscovitch, the Domain Name Lawyer spent three minutes in an online chat with me, answering a question I had about a prospective domain name purchase.  I want to point out that the only reason I HAD the question in the first place is because I discovered his blog a while back and subscribed to his RSS feed. I’ve followed his blog posts, learning about many of the potential dangers which lurk in the simple process of registering a domain name.  So when I found a plethora of tasty .com’s which included a potential to infringe upon the intellectual property of one of the world’s largest companies – I decided to hit the “chat” button on the website and ask a quick question.

Zak didn’t charge me for his time – and I felt such gratitude that I immediately tweeted about the encounter.  However, I wanted to delve deeper here on how that 3 minute investment of time is working to build his “brand”.

I wish I had found him back in 2005 when Copyscape showed me that a web development firm in New Zealand had stolen every page of content from my previous HTML website.  I wanted to throw up as I saw every article, every page – duplicated word for word on a site representing a firm on the other side of the world where they had placed their own copyright symbol and the current date.

I contacted a lawyer who – quite honestly – didn’t know where to begin or what to do.  Oh, he didn’t come out and admit that when I called – he asked me to pay him a $5000 deposit to get to work on the case.  When I questioned him further, like about what I might expect to receive in return – I was told to expect nothing.

I’ve never proclaimed myself the smartest business woman in the world – but spending $5K to start in an international pissing match with no possibility of seeing a penny in return just didn’t seem like a great investment at the time.

Want to build your brand?  Spend 3 minutes a day sharing what you know.  Who knows – you might get a whole blog post ranting about how wonderful you are like Zak Muscovitch did.  I asked – he answered – and now I’m sharing the link to his website and his blog so you can learn from him as well.

I hope you never need more than 3 minutes of Zak Muscovitch’s time, but if you need help protecting your domain name, trademark, or copyright, or heaven forbid – you need to defend yourself against a claim that is made against you – you’ll know where to turn.

How the social media explosion is like the Zombie Apocalypse

AMC’s The Walking Dead is a television show which follows County Sheriff Rick Grimes who was shot on duty, went into a coma and woke up weeks later in an empty hospital. He discovers that the world he once knew is gone, ravaged by a virus which causes the dead to walk – and attempt to consume the living.

In the first season – Rick joins a group of survivors and spends the entire season searching for safety – a place where there is a cure for the horror that surrounds them. In the second season, the group thinks they may have found a safe haven, only to learn that there is no where to hide from this horror – and they come to grips with the reality that they must learn to survive in this new and horrifying world.

If you’re thinking that social media hasn’t created a horrifying new world where the old rules not only don’t apply but could destroy you – you are kidding yourself just as the character Hershel was kidding himself on The Walking Dead.

Hershel thought because his farm hasn’t been over run with zombies it he could prevent it from happening. He had protocols in place to protect his farm from the occasional zombie but when a hoard of zombies encroached upon his property – he realized how naive he had been.

Here’s a real life example of how social media turned ugly for Lassonde Industries, the Quebec company that makes Oasis Juice as reported in the National Post

Way back in the year 2004 – when the social media universe was shiny and new – the days BEFORE Twitter and BEFORE Facebook accepted profiles from people without an .edu email address- Deborah Kudzman left her job with an advertising agency and launched her own little company making soap. She named her company Olivia’s Oasis. She chose Olivia because it is her daughter’s name – and she chose Oasis because she wanted to convey the image of indulgent relaxation.

In 2005, Kudzman received a letter demanding that she cease operation, recall her product from stores and turn over any profits she had earned to Lassonde immediately. She thought it was absurd as did her attorney so the little soap company took on the big juice maker in Canadian courts.

As the case crawled through the courts, Lassonde wasn’t exactly in a “social media coma” – they were actively promoting their products via their Facebook page.

In 2010, Superior Court Justice Dionysia Zerbisias issued a ruling determining that the little soap maker had NOT infringed upon the Oasis Juice trademark and added that Lassonde had engaged in “menacing and abusive conduct.” The court ruled that Lassonde owed the little soap company $100,000 to cover legal fees plus an additional $25,000 in punitive damages.

Without missing a beat, Lassonde appealed the decision and on March 30, 2012 an appeal panel overturned the original court’s decision.

When the result became public, the court of public opinion made their collective voice heard via “social media” and suddenly, Lassonde was faced with a MASSIVE public-relations nightmare Public figures with massive Twitter followings announced their boycott of the juice while the Oasis Facebook page became an out of control public forum. Instead of voicing their choice of their favorite flavor – consumers voiced their displeasure with the company’s “bully tactics” for all to see.

The backlash was so fast and so fierce, that Lassonde response was to send a high level executive to meet with Kudzman – on Easter Day by the way- to offer to pay her enormous legal bill.

Trust me – every executive officer at Lassonde Industries right now has an entirely different view of “social media” than they held just two weeks ago. What was once viewed as a source of “free” advertising is probably as frightening as a horde of encroaching zombies.

It’s a new world and new rules apply. What is truly horrifying is how many business owners are still operating like it’s “business as usual” – a.k.a. 2004 or earlier.

Oasis Juice has just discovered the “truth” I’ve been preaching for years – that “branding” is not the choice of colors used in your packaging or the logo that you feature on everything from your business cards to your Facebook page but instead “branding” is what consumers DO to your business. In this case, Oasis Juice’s “brand” is now the big bad business bully picking on the woman selling soap.

In comparison – surviving a zombie apocalypse doesn’t seem so bad after all.

Thanks to the domain name lawyer for a heads up on this story.

Social Media and Quantum Mechanics

Social media marketing has more in common with quantum mechanics than with more “traditional” methods of marketing which poses a significant problem for both CMO’s and business owners who desperately want social media marketing to be all about lead generation and sales.

Quantum mechanics is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of the behavior and interactions of energy and matter.  The Heisenberg uncertainty principle states – in laymen’s terms – that the act of measurement actually changes the properties of the process being measured.  Similarily, trying to “measure” the elements of your social media marketing campaigns will ultimately change the very nature and effectiveness of the campaign.

According to Geoffrey Colon at Ogilvy’s Fresh Influence blog, predicts that one of the top trends in social media for the upcoming year is that social media marketing must begin to demonstrate measurable ROI.  One in three CMOs are demanding to see measureable results in their investment in social media where it counts – the bottom line. Expect the number of CMO’s crying out for meaningful metrics to increase as the “shiny new bauble” nature of social media begins to fade.

Business owners and CMO’s desperately want social media to be about SALES or at the very least – LEADS which can be coverted into SALES – both of which are easily measured.  Unfortunately – social media marketing shares many common properties with another marketing intangible – BRANDING.

The reason it’s hard to measure the success of your social media marketing campaign is simple – buyers – a.k.a. customers – aren’t interested in being “converted” into sales and their interaction with your company changes when they begin to feel the pressure measurement applies.

Is it unreasonable to expect your company’s participation in social media to have a positive impact upon the bottom line?   Definitely not.  However, when I read that social media must show measureable ROI – it makes me think the “experiment” is already over.  After all, when was the last time you heard a CMO announce that the new logo design needed to show a positive ROI on the bottom line?

Whether it’s social media or branding, both have more in common with quantum mechanics than with traditional means of marketing.  When you begin focusing upon measurement instead of engagement – it’s the beginning of the end.

Faking it doesn’t mean you’ll make it

If you’re a small business owner – this post is for you.  In classic catch 22 fashion though –  if you’re a small business owner – chances are you’re not reading this blog even though it is written especially for you.  Instead – you’re busy running your business – oblivious to what’s happening online.

  • You don’t know that your business already has a free page one web presence with Google that you just need to claim to put it to work.
  • You don’t know that you have dozens of other “free” online directory listings – some of which are coming up first when consumers are looking for your business online.
  • You also are probably unaware that when consumers find these free listings – many times they have the ability to REVIEW your business.

This is a case of what you don’t know can hurt you.  Because if someone is “bitching” about your business online – you’d darned well better be there to respond.  Otherwise, all that is out there in cyberspace – the bitching and griping with nary a word from you.

However, there are a handful of business owners who are WELL aware of these sites – and even more aware of the presence of reviews on these sites.  So these businesses have gone to work creating fake positive reviews of their business online.

The NY Times reports in In a Race to Out-Rave, 5-Star Web Reviews Go for $5 that not only are people willing to “sell” you their positive review for only $5 but that businesses are scurrying to take them up on the offer.

Writing fake reviews for your business is like blowing your nose with tissues filled with sneezing powder.    Customer reviews set consumer expectations  and when consumer expectations are set to “high” then a transaction which could have earned a three star review is now doomed to receive a one star review.

I’ve always preached – I mean CHAMPIONED  here that the sure path to business success is to solve a problem that people are willing to pay money to solve.  So it should come as no surprise that there are people furiously working on ways to allow the bots which index the internet to discern between authentic user reviews – and fake ones.

There are already humans who are sharing how you can spot a fake online review.  Sandraparker wrote about her experience writing fake reviews on Money Talks and there’s another article on the site which offers11 tips to spot fake online reviews.

As more fake reviews hit these sites – the site owners will be looking for ways to weed them out.  Keep in mind that Google is a business with a dog in this hunt and they have the $$$ to not only find but implement any solution they find to this problem.

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

In the past – when Google and the other search engines have discovered people trying to “game” the system of getting ranked in the SERPS – they have come down hard and fast – banning sites which used what are now known as “black hat tactics”.

If you’re tempted to hire fake reviews for your free business website – remember – the powers that be (a.k.a. Google, Yelp, etc.) are aware of the problem and seeking a solution.  When they implement that solution – you could very well find your online local business listing removed from the most visible sites on the web.

Your Brand – Your Business – in the Face of Disaster

Click on the image to make this your own - disclaimer it's not an affiliate link.

Yesterday- a disaster decimated this and many other websites across the web.  Websites whose sites were hosted on servers at the Colo4.com data center found themselves without a web presence for about 8 hours yesterday – from about noon – 8 ET in the US.

When a data center experiences an epic fail moment like this – it causes a chain reaction.   It not only affects the data center customers – who are web hosting companies -but it also affects the customers of the web hosting companies – and their customers – and  so forth and so on.

Now to make matters worse – it wasn’t oh so long ago that the forums on a popular web hosting discussion board shared tales of another hosting company which went belly up and left their customers scrambling for their website backups.  (It’s times like that when I LOVE Carbonite!)

Because I live with a level of anxiety that most people would call “crippling”  –  that’s where my mind went when my website went down.  I vividly remember the horror 12 years ago when my web hosting provider (who began his web hosting business in his basement – ah, those were the days)  sold out to a then major player who is now history.  The reason they’re history?  Because of stunts like the one they pulled when they acquired my then hosting provider.  My site was down for almost 2 weeks – while I and other web masters (as we were known as the time) wondered if the servers which housed our sites had been strapped to the backs of mules and transported from Kansas City to Atlanta as part of the acquisition.  They then raised the cost of the hosting and demanded prompt payment.  I responded by threatening to pay the bill in pennies.  (Cost to ship the payment was roughly twice what the bill was – it was the principle of the thing!)

Fortunately – that wasn’t the case in this meltdown.  However, because of the scope and magnitude of this disaster – my web hosting provider found themselves in the unenviable situation of trying to do damage control on the very popular web hosting forum. The forums were blowing up with reports of the outage.  Phones were ringing – emails were bouncing – and emotions were raw as  hosting providers and their clients were left wondering how long it would take to get back online.

I am still praising my Lord and Savior that my client’s sites are all safely hosted with a more reliable hosting provider and their sites were not affected by this outage. (Disclaimer: It’s an affiliate link.  I get paid because I’m staking my reputation on this hosting recommendation.)

As I closely monitored the board for news about the situation – I began to see postings from someone who seemed to have a lot of previous experience with my hosting provider.  I’ll be honest, I passed a lot of time researching where I would be moving my site to next and this person seemed to have a history with my provider.  So – I went to see this user’s profile and saw that this user had JUST signed up for an account on this discussion board. The ONLY posts by this user were taunting my provider about the outage.  What ever the goal was  – it failed because it was obvious this user was just a troll.

I did decide to give another web hosting company a try – and believe it or not – it’s one where the user representing the company actually stood up for my hosting provider’s company – assuring customers that this wasn’t my host’s fault but rather the fault of the data center and sometimes it takes an epic fail to realize you need a new data center.

Branding is something your customers do to your business and because of this fact – no matter what you did previously – your brand will forged during times of disaster. 

Many large corporations forged their “brand” with consumers in the South during the hurricanes of 2005.  As just one example, Tide brought in portable laundry facilities for victims of Katrina to do their laundry.   That my friends is how you build a rock solid “brand” – not some crazy stunt captured on video and posted to YouTube.  Those people will have warm fuzzy feelings about a Proctor and Gamble “brand” for the rest of their lives.

A disaster doesn’t have to destroy your business – even when you’re running a hosting company and your data center lets you down.

Whether or not I move my site to the new host I’m trying will depend upon how my hosting provider responds to this disaster.  Their response both during and after the disaster will forge their long term “brand” with me.  Maybe one day they’ll earn an affiliate link from my site to theirs … but for the moment, I and hundreds like me will wait and see how this story unfolds.

2 Simple Steps to a Solid Social Media Strategy

social media stages

The landscape of social media is shifting quickly – but it’s the touted “tools” we’re using to share which are changing – not our need to learn and share what we’ve learned.

No matter who the current “social media mega star” is of the moment – all social media products tend to follow a predictable life cycle. Today Google + is in the first “hero” spot – but don’t worry – like the weather – this too will change with time.

Too Fast – Too Furious

In case you haven’t heard, the “hip” ones – the “in” crowd – the “OMG – What’s my Klout Score” crowd are focused on Google + and creating circles which effectively divide their social networks into  friends, frienemies and followers.  Meanwhile everyone seems to be asking….

Will Google + turn Facebook into Myspace?   What happened to FourSquare?  What about Twitter?

While the hype level is high for G+ at the moment – it doesn’t matter which social media site is currently occupying the “king of the hill” spot if you’ve got a solid social media strategy in place.

This simple 2 step system to crafting a solid social media strategy is designed for business owners who spend more time managing their business than their website.

STEP 1:  Just remember – social media is about communication.

Every social media marketing tools is simply a communication tool.  These tools when wielded by skilled craftsmen and women can create “marketing magic”.  However, without direction, focus and an underlying strategy – they are at best distractions from the business at hand – and at worst an addictive time suck.

Ok – got that.  Step 1 is there is not magic here – only communication.

STEP 2:  Communicate the right message.

Social media is about communication – but it’s communication with a goal and a purpose.   Your goal is “the right message at the right time to the right people.”

If that doesn’t help, try answering this question: What do people need to learn about your business?

This is where the “original” social media magic communication tool- the blog – can really shine but is also where the waters get murky.  Way too many “WTF” business blog moments happen when business owners begin blogging about what they had for breakfast or other silliness.

For heaven’s sake start sharing stories on how your business has made current customer’s lives richer, sexier, better, easier and saucier.

Once you’ve got the right stories, then it’s just a matter of making it EASY for your customers to SHARE those stories. That’s when the current “king of the social media hill” comes into the picture. Then you simply encourage people to share this story – a story that features someone like them – solving problems they have.

Which brings me back to the beauty of blogging for your business.  Business blogging allows you to create hundreds of just such stories for your business and monitor which ones “engage” and which ones “fall short”.   It’s why I love business blogging for the entrepreneur who is bootstrapping while building a business.

When you use these two simple steps to form the basis of your social media strategy – then it really doesn’t matter which “social media tool of the moment” is occupying the top spot because in the end – they’re all just tools which help your customers share the stories of your business.

Why use Groupon when you can blog for your small business?

money making business

If you’ve considered using a Daily Deals site to promote your small business – read on and see why blogging might be a more sustainable – and more affordable alternative to growing your customer base.

As a”recovering” advertising account executive – I see Groupon and other daily deal sites differently than most people do.  In my opinion, Groupon’s success lies not in the “great deals” nor their ability to deliver those deals inexpensively to consumers by using email.  (By the way – interest in email marketing is way, way up thanks to Groupon’s success.)

The real key to Groupon’s success is a double edged sword of “deal tipping” combined with the prospect of “free” advertising for the merchant.

Deal tipping was a clever way to turn consumers who wanted to score big savings into the role of “brand advocates.” In order for any given deal to “tip” and become valid – there had to be X number of deals sold.  In the beginning – deals didn’t always “tip” despite the fact that early adopters of Groupon were actively involved in social media.

Social media + highly motivated consumers iso big discounts =  viral marketing.

However, the real “genius” in the Groupon model was to be found on the other side of the equation – with the business owners who were “lured in” by an irresistible offer.

Groupon offered merchants a flood of customers – while not charging a “fee” for the advertising.

I preach often on the value of “solving problems for your customers” and that’s exactly what Groupon offered to small business owners.  Whether it was a new restaurant in town or a spa with an empty parking lot – business owners were literally tripping over themselves to give the Groupon solution a try because in their minds – since they didn’t have to write a check – they had nothing to lose and only customers to gain.

The goal of any daily deal discount promotion should be customer acquisition but that isn’t a popular metric to track amongst startups.  David Skok is a serial entrepreneur and writes about CAC in his blog post “Start Up Killers

To compute the cost to acquire a customer, CAC, you would take your entire cost of sales and marketing over a given period, including salaries and other headcount related expenses, and divide it by the number of customers that you acquired in that period.

Few startups do this kind of analysis – and when they do perform it – they’re often shocked by the figure they see.  This is why my head spins and I spew pea soup when a business owner balks at the cost of blog hosting which includes automatic updates for the software. For less than the cost of a single monthly dinner out with your spouse and a few hours of your time – a small business owner can create a business blog which can be not only an effective – but a cost effective customer acquisition tool.

I have cut approximately 1000 words from the previous rant paragraph. Give me a moment while I clean up my keyboard and screen.

It’s been reported that Groupon rejects up to 70% of the initial “deals” offered by merchants.  Why?  Because merchants in general don’t want to create the compelling offers needed to win new customers.  That’s the difference between Groupon and ValPak.   When business owners use ValPak for coupons – they’re in control and as a result – the offers are less than compelling.

It’s understandable that a business owner who’s used to running his own deals – and seeing a 1-4% coupon redemption rate  – would be overwhelmed when confronted with a “real deal” negotiated on behalf of consumers by a daily deal site like Groupon.

Free rarely is whether its online or offline. For some, it’s a hard reality check to cash.

However, some business owners are getting “smart”… as reported by the Business Insider.

Joe Hargraves of Tacolicious said that he has probably gotten 40 pitches over the last year from Groupon and other daily deals salespeople. He refuses them all — his prices are already low, and he doesn’t think he’ll gain anything by one-time discounts to people who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in his place.

Instead, he takes the several thousand dollars per month he would spend on daily deals marketing and other forms advertising and makes regular trips to Mexico, which helps him improve his product. He also blogs about his trips, which creates a much more personal connection to his customers. (emphasis is mine)

Want to learn about Tacolicious – visit their website which – oh, by the way – is a WordPress blog. There you can read about the people – their stories – and the causes they’re supporting not to mention finding recipes and other special events.

The thing is – because they have a blog – if Tacolicios would ever decide they wanted to run a “daily deal special” – they could do so by simply creating their own email marketing campaign.   They could offer customers the ability to sign up for their email list on their blog and then – get this – REWARD those customers with their own discount offers.

Here’s where this idea gets really exciting.  See, the “deal” you have to offer via a daily deal site has to be heavily discounted – because you’re talking to people who don’t know your business.  You have to offer a HUGE discount to get consumers to take a chance and try your company.

It’s a lot easier to get people to come back to your business than it is to get them to come in the first time.

When you create your email list – and promote it to your current customers – you can offer them deals in much the same way Groupon does – only better.  These are people who know your business – so you don’t have to offer them an outrageous discount to get them to come back.  Even better –  even if you do offer an outrageous discount – you don’t have to give 50% of whatever they’re paying for your deal to the daily deals site.

Will the daily deal sites fade away?  It’s not likely.  As long as there are business owners desperate for customers and who are desperate to reach them- but not desperate enough to blog and build their own email marketing lists – there will always be fodder for the local daily deals site.