Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Powerful Low Cost Marketing Ideas

The biggest challenge any business owner faces is attracting new customers in the most efficient and cost effective manner possible. Advertising and marketing, and yes there is a difference, can be two of the most frustrating, time consuming and expensive functions for any business.
Despite the importance, a large number of business people are not well schooled in the art of marketing and end up wasting large sums of money due to the perception that the more you spend on advertising the better the response will be.

Although big dollar marketing campaigns can certainly produce big results, ironically some of the most effective marketing strategies are absolutely free. Every businessperson knows the incredible value that comes with a personal referral from an existing customer. There is simply no better lead. And almost all successful companies have a referral program in place.
But in reality all advertising, whether radio, television, print or even internet is in fact referring. The advertisement is referring the viewer or listener to your business. The problem is people know it’s you doing the referring so the message loses impact. This loss of impact comes from the impersonal connection most advertising suffers with. Consumers want to feel connected to the businesses and the people they trade with. Traditional ads simply don’t make the connection.

Sure commercials can tell your story, but traditional advertising can only deliver a one sided, impersonal message. On the other hand when people learn of your firm through by way of some they know they experience an immediate bond with you. This is why personal endorsements from radio and television personalities are so much more effective than recorded spots.
The fact is people that are looking for your products or services are more likely to do business with you if they feel more connected to you – And in tough economic times it makes more sense than ever to put the following proven strategies to work in growing your firm:

The single most powerful, low cost marketing strategy available to any business owner, after publicity is to speak in public. You may not like it, you may not be good at it, but it works and you need to “man up” and do it!

Every day, in every city in America, dozens of business and civic groups meet. They all need speakers and would love to hear from you. Most are populated with people with connections and influence. A single Kiwanis or Optimist club meeting can provide more opportunities than a series of expensive ads.

If your uncomfortable speaking in public join a Toastmasters group. These groups will cost you about $50 a year to join and the chapters themselves are full of connected business people. Offer a “how to” program to your local Lowes or Home Depot store. Call you community college or favorite church and ask about providing a weekend or evening class on carpentry or remodeling.
Join local networking groups. Many national groups such Business Network International exist for the sole purpose of exchanging leads. But don’t stop with the formal groups, you need to look for smaller local groups and make networking a daily practice.

Seek strategic alliance relationships. Also known as horizontal marketing, a strategic alliance is nothing more than agreeing to recommend other service providers to your clients and vice versa. Does your company repair foundations? Then pair up with a pest control company, a plumber, and a HVAC contractor. All three of these industries are in front of your prospects every day. Teach them what to look out for and agree to do the same. You might even create a home services brochure, where each one of you has a dedicated page in the brochure and you split the cost and distribute the brochures to all of your customers. This one strategy alone allows you to exponentially expand your prospect base.

Create a monthly newsletter. Give all your customers a free “subscription” and every month offer tips, updates, discounts and ask they pass the newsletter on to family, friends, and co-workers. Every computer has a pre-installed newsletter template. Use it!
Put your picture on your business card. It’s proven that people will keep a card longer and tend to be more responsive when they can put a face with the company. The picture also helps people recall you after a networking event. And while you’re at it use both sides of the card. The reverse side of the card can be used for client testimonials or detailed product information.
Put pictures of you, your staff, satisfied customers (With their permission) and facility on your website.

When a prospect calls to schedule an appointment mail them a confirmation letter and if possible, a list of customers in their area.

After completing a job, mail a thank you card and include a form asking the customer to refer three people that could use your services. Ask for name, address and phone number. Include a pre-stamped return envelope and you might be surprised at the response.

Perform the occasional free service. Years ago I had a flat tire and took it to a local mechanic. Knowing I had never been to him before and understanding the potential lifetime value of my business, the mechanic did not charge me for the $7.00 repair. In return I gave him over $8000.00 in business until I moved ten years later.

This is a short list of low cost and in some cases no cost marketing strategies. There are dozens more unique, creative ways to establish a relationship with both your customers and prospects. The hyper information world we live in today provides some very powerful ways to get your message heard by the people most likely to do business with you. But no matter how glitzy, fast, or expensive your current marketing strategy is, in the end the people most likely to do business with you are the ones that feel they can trust you – and no amount of advertising can ever replace the personal touch.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Social Media – You had better learn to love it!

Have you tweeted today?

One of my favorite expressions is: “All because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. But when it comes to social media, such as Twitter, Linkedin, Myspace, Facebook and a few dozen others, this expression should be changed to read; “All because you don’t, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t”.

Social media sites are becoming one of the fastest growing and most powerful marketing tools available to online and “offline” businesses alike.

Warning: All because you don’t understand how social media works or the true value does not excuse you from participating. Here is a simple fact of this medium, and one few social practitioners will tell you. The disadvantages of NOT being on these popular sites are FAR greater than the advantages of using them.

According to numerous media reports as much as 92% of all people get the majority of their news online. Whether you realize it yet or not, your prospects spend more time online than in any other activity, save maybe television viewing and that gap is closing.

In a previous article we discussed the practice of consumers using the web to get information about your firm. Many prospects will use the net the locate contractors, get feedback from customers via chat rooms and service referral sites and even cost compare.

So suffice it to say you simply have to do this stuff (If you just can’t stomach the idea of updating your Facebook page daily or posting a “Tweet” from time to time, turn the project over to your teenager. They love it and understand it better than you ever will anyway)

As of this writing there are around two dozen social sites. But for the sake of space let’s look at the top three. They are, and in no order of significance since they all serve different purposes, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

All three do have a unique platform, but they all serve a common purpose – to locate, nurture and leverage relationships with the people most likely to do business with you.

Despite the designation “Social Media” there is certainly a business application on all these sites, even the supposedly social only Facebook, so let’s start there.

The Facebook platform was designed primarily for people to “interact” online. A basic subscription is free. On Facebook you can share comments of primarily a personal nature, post pictures, links to videos and audio files, play games either solo or with groups, and basically keep your circle of friends up to speed with what is going on in your life.

In recent years people have begun to post links to political and business sites as well as use it to find employment. Today the site also allows you to create your own private or public groups where people can join to find out more about your ideas, products, services and interests.

Facebook, like others does not allow you to link up with just anyone. This site is, in theory at least, designed for people you actually know personally. Of course this can include your customers. The great thing about Facebook is it allows you do something no other traditional marketing technique will – let your customers to get to know you personally while maintaining a measure of separation.

But don’t discount the power of Facebook. More than ever customers and prospects alike are demanding a certain level of familiarity with the contractors they are considering. Facebook allows you to connect on that more important than ever personal level.

Next comes probably the most misused and misunderstood of all the social platforms, Twitter. Essentially Twitter is a micro blog that allows users to communicate in 140 character snippets called “tweets”.

Many tweets contain links to articles, videos and other online files that your followers may find of interest or even simple tips. One Twitter user – a chef from Nashville – uses Twitter to post excerpts from his favorite recipes each day. People sign up to follow his tweets which is free to everyone, so they can put the recipes together and use them. This is a wonderful example of both showcasing your services and maintaining top of mind awareness.

Contractors and remodelers could do much the same thing by giving topical daily remodeling advice or tips. I use Twitter to post the upcoming guests on my radio program and even encourage feedback and questions. You could use one of the online survey sites to create your own customer poll and direct your followers to it via Twitter.

Once you’re signed up – let all your customers know you post daily tips and specials on Twitter and watch your followers and customer base grow. By the way if you have a blog – you do have one don’t you? – you can direct your Twitter account to scroll on you blog. People that find you online via your blog will then see your tweets too and in real time. (You can see an example of this at work on my blog. Simply go to http://www.exploitthemedia.blogspot.com)

Last let’s take a look at LinkedIn. LinkedIn makes no bones about it – “we’re here to do business”. This platform is very similar to Facebook but is all about locating business contacts. While your customers can find more information about you’re here, this site is more about locating other business people, whether in your industry or not, that can help you find a variety of services, vendors, capital, training programs etc. Colleagues can leave recommendations about you – as a matter of fact it’s wise to seek these out. You can post Power Point Slide shows, joins industry groups, locate the power brokers in your industry or town and seek an introduction. There is a whole host of opportunities.

On LinkedIn the people that you know ask for permission to link to you. If you accept they become your first level contacts. But now you have access to their first level contacts. This exponential component to LinkedIn can allow you to put your name in front of literally millions of people in a matter of weeks.

While most puritan LinkedIn users preach only allowing people you know to link to you, you can grow your list very swiftly by joining groups such as Top Linked to explode your data base. It too is free. Check it out at http://www.TopLinked.com

As you can see the opportunities are mindboggling and growing daily. It’s easy to get confused by the best thing you can do is just to jump on in. In time it will all make sense.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What was Maureen Dowd thinking?

What an amazing week for the Nations news media. Talk about a smorgasbord of subject matter to draw from. But probably the biggest news story was the “You Lie” comment from Congressman Joe Wilson during the Presidents televised Health Care reform speech and the subsequent firestorm.

The issue has ginned comments and commentary from both sides but probably none more incendiary than Maureen Dowd’s musings that what she heard in her head was “You Lie Boy”. Of course the comment is not only ridiculous, but her assessment that she knows what is in Mr. Wilson’s heart and head is purely speculative.

Her attempt at mind reading has confused and confounded both her critics and supporters alike. But if you want to fully understand her position consider this claim, consider this:

Everyone in the media is fighting for attention to be seen and heard these days. The incredible growth in the industry, especially with the addition of the internet pundits, has fostered a climate of shear news noise. It’s painfully easy for the Dowd’s of the world to be drowned out and now many of the mainstream reporters are resorting to the outlandish in an attempt at remaining relevant.

And in the case of Maureen Dowd the strategy is working. Every conservative news outlet on the planet is talking about her and the story. She has not only helped keep the story red hot – she has expanded it.

It does not matter if the allegations against Mr. Wilson are true, and obviously they are absolutely un-provable. What does matter is that Maureen Dowd has done something more and more news pundits are resorting to in an attempt to gain the spotlight – that is no longer reporting the news but rather becoming it.

While it would be easy to dismiss the article as mere journalistic prose by someone who is more writer than reporter, doing so is a dangerous and cowardly stance because far too many people in this country take as fact the opinions of anyone in the press.

So it seems that out of desperation an otherwise competent, articulate, intelligent and trusted member of the media has resorted to the same kind of amateurish antics employed by so many fresh off the vine bloggers and tarnished the reputation she has worked so hard to acquire, in a sad attempt to step into whatever piece of the public spotlight she could find. And did so with no regard for journalistic integrity

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

An example of some really bad PR

During a recent interview Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor had some really stupid things to say. Here is an excerpt from the audio and an example of what really bad press looks like, enjoy...

Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor showed up for his first game of the year with Michael Vick's name written on his eye black. Then he proceeded to play like Marcus Vick at home. Brian Rolle saved the day with his intercepted two-point conversion, but unfortunately he couldn't save Pryor from a disastrous postgame interview where he tried to explain his face tribute to Philadelphia's backup quarterback. The quote in question:

"Not everybody's the perfect person in the world. I mean everyone kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me, whatever. I think that people need a second chance, and I've always looked up to Mike Vick, and I always will."

I would be so offended right now if I understood what the hell that meant. Everyone murders people? When did this happen? If Terrelle Pryor still looks up to his childhood hero, that's fine, but maybe college football players should not be allowed to make any kind of strong statement about the nature of our society. Sort of like how political science majors shouldn't be allowed to lecture me about fascism. I know the manager at your Starbucks is a jerk, but that doesn't mean he's part of the military-industrial-narco syndicate that really runs the Department of Homeland Security.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The power of "Orphan Media"

A recent article on media trends claims that 67% of all people now claim to get their news reports from the web instead of print papers. If this number is accurate the opportunities for publicity seekers are now officially boundless. Unlike print papers the web presents some fascinating advantages, one being the “inventoried article”.

For year’s sister publications, (Newspapers owned or published by the same group) have shared articles among themselves. I’ve written articles for a Business Journal publication in one city that was reprinted in Business Journal’s in different cities without me doing a thing.

However on the web the dynamic of these inventoried articles changes. Articles are no longer restricted to sister publications. Any site can reprint an article provided proper credit is given and often do so.

Three weeks ago I was mentioned in an article published by Forbes Magazine. Forbes posted the article to their site and within days the article was reposted by MSNBC. Then the Sydney Herald (Yes Australia) picked it up.
Read it here - http://www.forbes.com/wineandfood/2008/06/30/breakfast-spots-business-forbeslife-cx_ls_0630food.html There’s no telling where this one article will go.

But here’s where the opportunity explodes. Many publicity seekers shun pitching smaller web based publications and blogs (I refer to these smaller - independent news providers as "Orphan Media") because they feel the smaller audiences won’t pay off. As I’ve been preaching for years (My upcoming webinar sponsored by PR News Wire is on this exact topic) media outlets are starved for information. So starved they’re willing to publish competing news media’s stories. Smaller outlets are easier to reach, easier to sell, easier to work with and with a little luck your story could travel around the globe.

Don’t fall victim to the belief the articles only trickle down from the big guys. It’s the big guys doing “most of the heavy lifting”. So when it’s time to pitch that next great story idea don’t be foolish. Tell it and “sell” it to anyone that will buy.