Archive for January 2014

31 January, 2014 12:56

January 31, 2014

You’ve probably heard all the buzz about content marketing, yet may still be wondering what, exactly, it is. Content marketing is simply the new form of marketing that uses informative content, rather than blatant sales pitches, to attract potential customers. Instead of proverbially bashing people over the head with whatever you’re trying to sell, content marketing entices them to come to you to learn more about your product, services, and brand.

So, how the heck do you do that?

Create a two-way conversation.

Old-school advertising was pretty much a one-way street with the company doing all the talking. Content marketing turns it into a two-way conversation by actively engaging the audience. Do this by encouraging comments on your blog posts and social media sites, holding contests, or otherwise reaching out to your audience for input.

Keep up your end of the bargain.

Asking for audience participation is good, but it’s not so good if you do nothing with the information you gleaned. Reply to audience comments; respond to their requests and needs. Perhaps a certain aspect of your website keeps getting the same complaint. Hold up your end of the conversation by acknowledging the issue and perhaps even tweaking whatever’s wrong to better fill people’s needs.

Make it easy to find you.

Of course, you won’t have any conversations at all if people can’t find you. In addition to a user-friendly company website, you should set up a blog and accounts on your chosen social media platforms that all easily link back to your website. When you share a blog post or add new information to your website, share the link across your social media channels.

You don’t have to go nuts and join every single social media platform out there. Instead, focus on the ones where your target audience is most likely to tread. Learn more by analyzing the social media habits of your target demographic, then go where those folks go.

Fuel your audience with quality content.

Keeping your audience engaged means keeping up a steady flow of quality content. Again, you don’t have to go nuts trying to post something new and exciting every five minutes, but you do want to add fuel to your content marketing fire with fresh content on a regular basis.

Note the keyword "quality" here. Provide content that’s polished, informative, compelling, and even entertaining. While text may make up a good chunk of your content, also take advantage of the power of pictures and videos. Include them in related posts, or let them fly solo if they say all they need to say on their own.

Since people are none too fond of reading the same stuff again and again, make sure you cover a variety of different topics that are relevant to your audience.

Don’t bombard your audience.

Bombarding your audience can consist of that aforementioned strategy of beating them over the head to "buy, buy, buy" with every post you create. But it can also include posting at such a rapid and fanatical rate that your audience has no time to absorb, respond, or even breathe.

More is not necessarily better, especially if the more is of poor quality. Over-posting can not only mar your reputation as a professional, but it can backfire in a big way. Instead of being attracted to your company, you may instead find your audience fleeing in droves, leaving you with no one left to talk to but yourself.

Mastering the art of attraction is just one aspect of content marketing, but it’s one of the most essential for eventual success.

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28 January, 2014 11:54

January 28, 2014

Conventions are an excellent marketing and networking tool for many small to medium-sized businesses. When managed properly, conventions provide a great opportunity to attract customers, learn more about potential partners or vendors, and build a database of potential leads for the future. The largest conventions may put thousands of prospects within arms’ reach of you, while smaller events offer the opportunity to mix and mingle with peers on a more intimate level.

If you’re considering attending a convention, you need to start planning today. Learn how to choose the right event, what you need to keep in mind when networking, the importance of your booth, and what you should aim to offer those who stop by. Once you have these details under control, you’ll be ready to make a lasting impression at your big event!

The Big Decision

There are a huge number of conventions and conferences each year — most likely, more than one applicable to your industry or line of business. Choosing the right convention to attend is a big decision. Spend some time looking over the available information. How many other businesses similar to your own do you think will be attending?

In some cases, you may do better attending a smaller convention or one that doesn’t specifically target those in your industry. You want a convention that will give you the chance to network with those who may utilize your product or service, as well as those who offer products you can use. However, if you can get your foot in the door of a convention where you won’t have many direct competitors, you may be able to obtain leads that are more valuable.

Networking

While at the convention, put less emphasis on making sales and closing deals and more on making connections, building leads, and networking. Decide ahead of time which events you will attend and which you’ll forego in order to operate your booth in person. If there are any social events, use them to reach out and speak to those you consider potential partners for the future.

Booth Matters

Your booth in the dealer or vendor area is an important marketing tool. Clearly, you want to keep it neat, orderly, and attractive to those who pass by. Additionally, you may want to offer something unique or special to encourage people to make the effort to come see you. Outside of attracting potential visitors, you want to make the booth experience "work." Make sure you’re staffed with knowledgeable personnel and that you have samples, demonstrations, and (possibly) videos available, so you can showcase the key benefits your products and services provide.

The Takeaway

Whether you network with a potential client at a social event or an interested party stops by your booth, you want to provide a way for people to get in touch with you after the event. Start by making sure your business card stands out from the dozens of other cards attendees will pick up at the show. Have some brochures or handouts available, too. These will allow you to share more detailed information.

Collect key contact information from booth visitors, too, including email addresses, phone numbers, and social media profiles. Then, when the event is over, immediately make contact yourself. The goal is to build relationships that will be mutually beneficial now and in the future.

As you can see, there’s more to think about when attending a convention as a professional than just putting on your name badge and showing up. Spend time planning for the big day (or weekend), and maximize the return on your investment of time and effort.

24 January, 2014 15:56

January 24, 2014

One of most beloved sitcoms of the 1990s, Boy Meets World was a coming-of-age show about suburban kids, Cory; his best friend, Shawn; his girlfriend and future wife, Topanga; and his brother, Eric. Throughout the show, the characters faced difficulties, important life decisions, and sometimes struggled to make sense of the world around them.

Like all teenagers and young adults, they looked for people they could confide in, who would help them make the right decision and correct their path when they didn’t make the best choices. The characters found this in Mr. Feeny, a school teacher who also happened to be Cory’s neighbor. In becoming their mentor, Mr. Feeny also had a profound effect on many people who tuned into the show each week.

Although most of the people who once spent their evenings engrossed in episodes and reruns of Boy Meets World are now seasoned adults, experienced in the business world, the life lessons Mr. Feeny taught an entire generation are far from forgotten. Here are just a few quotes from the popular teacher that sum up his wisdom.

Life and Business Lessons from Mr. Feeny

"Sometimes a sure thing is not the best thing."

In business, it can be very tempting to take the easy road: to keep running the exact same marketing campaigns and contacting the same people, knowing you’ll get at least a certain amount of response. This is taking the easy way out. To be successful, however, you must be willing to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Keep what works, but expand and be willing to venture off the beaten path and find new ways to grow.

"You don’t have to be blood to be family."

Being successful in business and in life is all about building relationships. Relationships should be built on mutual trust and knowing that a friend will always be there for you, just as you will be there for them. Maintaining close bonds with people encourages us to grow as individuals and can help us succeed in the business world. No one can succeed entirely on their own. Instead, they must work to nurture relationships and develop connections with others within their industry.

"Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good."

This quote aptly sums up what is required of entrepreneurs and business leaders alike. No company is going to be successful if the leaders don’t believe in what the the group is capable of accomplishing. They must all be able to envision a successful future and be willing to take the steps to make that dream a reality.

Business leaders need to continually try new things and not be afraid to dive back in if an initial plan is not successful. At the same time, no matter how successful a company may be, they cannot forget to think about others. This means operating with a general compassion for their community and those around them. This may take more energy than just running a yearly canned food drive, but will go much further in creating a pleasant place to work and fostering a healthy, positive spirit. This spirit can take the business far.

A mentor for all people, old and young, Mr. Feeny lives on in the memories of countless fans of Boy Meets World. While the lessons he gave may have been oriented toward leading children and adolescents into adulthood, they’re just as valuable for professionals working to succeed in the business world. It would do us all some good to remember the life advice of Mr. Feeny.

21 January, 2014 13:49

January 21, 2014

Innovation is important for any successful marketing campaign. No company will remain on top if it continues to use outdated marketing techniques. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should always look for the latest and greatest techniques. There are as many marketing schools of thought as there are marketing professionals. The key to successfully updating and innovating a marketing strategy is to find the balance between consistency and a willingness to try something new.

Identifying what’s already working

To know when it’s appropriate to change strategies and find ways to innovate, you must first evaluate how your original strategies are working. There are a variety of techniques you can use to judge the success of your marketing campaigns, including:

Share of voice
This is a great way to see how much ‘buzz’ a marketing campaign is generating. Share of voice essentially monitors how much the consumer base is discussing your company compared to the amount of time they spend speaking about your competitors. This information can help you determine how prevalent your brand is online, how familiar your name is to potential customers, and even how positively or negatively people think of your brand online. Free tools like Social Mention and Google Alerts are a great place to start.

Website traffic
Gauge how frequently people visit your company website now compared to how many page views you received before the campaign began.

Spikes in business
After implementing certain marketing techniques, such as a direct mail marketing campaign, watch for spikes in business compared to previous months.

Once you’ve determined the success of your marketing campaigns, you’ll have a more accurate picture of what styles work best for you and your customers.

The value of remaining consistent

Continually changing your marketing strategies is rarely an effective approach. Marketing is all about getting your brand name in front of customers and convincing them that you’re the company to turn to when they need the products or services you sell. Marketing campaigns that continually change are going to struggle with the basic goal of getting customers to recognize your brand. If your message and means of communication are constantly changing, potential customers will have a harder time trying to absorb what you’re saying. If you try to use every marketing strategy, nothing will stick, and you’ll end up spinning your wheels.

Successfully walking the line between consistency and innovation

When you’re looking to successfully blend consistency and innovation, you must determine what works for you and branch out slowly from there. Isolate which techniques are working best. Is it Facebook? Is it direct mail marketing? Whatever the answer, that should be the basis for your marketing campaign.

Now, focus on learning how to take those specific strategies to the next level. Look for ways to shrink the sales cycle, so potential buyers are converted into paying customers more quickly and more efficiently. Investigate ways you can help that portion of your campaign reach more people. If direct mail has been a huge success, try to pinpoint what it is about the demographic you’ve chosen that has made the campaign so great, and then find more people who fit that demographic. If Facebook has brought in many new leads, determine what types of content are attracting the most attention, and work on developing similar lines. Make it easier for customers on social media to enter the sales funnel and improve ROI.

Innovation should never be done blindly. It should be done with specific goals in mind and to help improve existing successful practices. That doesn’t mean you should resist trying something new, just that it should be done in a controlled manner and should not replace what has already been working. Innovation must work hand in hand with consistency if you hope to achieve the highest level of success.

17 January, 2014 17:22

January 17, 2014

Do your children love Elmo? Depending on their ages, chances are they do. Few things bring more delight to children across the country than seeing the furry red character come on screen to sing or explore with children during the special segment, "Elmo’s World."

Elmo is known for his fun-loving personality, his friendship with the other characters, and his tendency to use the third person, even when referring to himself. Elmo is a Sesame Street phenomenon, a favorite among preschoolers, and a popular toy and collectible as well. What many fans don’t realize, however, is how close Elmo came to never even having a name.

Elmo comes to life

The voice actor Kevin Clash is largely credited for creating Elmo. Although the Muppet had been in use in the 1970s, it was difficult for other members of the cast to create a real personality and background for the little red guy. When Clash took over in the early 1980s, the story behind Elmo began to develop. He developed the personality quirks and voice for the character, and the writers began to be inspired to write the background and story for Elmo.

Clash began to bring Elmo to television appearances, and eventually Elmo became famous for even testifying before Congress. As Elmo grew in fame off the screen, he also began playing a much larger role on the show itself. The segment "Elmo’s World" arrived in the 1990s, along with the famous Tickle-Me-Elmo doll and a variety of other popular movies and toys. Now it’s impossible to imagine Sesame Street without him.

What we can all learn from Elmo

You wouldn’t know from the number of books, movies, toys, and television appearances centered around Elmo how close the world came to never meeting this famous red character. The same could be said for any business or startup. Every new company can identify with the little red Muppet, sitting in the corner without much of a personality or backstory, but still trying to get out on the main stage.

The trick to success is to take what Elmo has taught us: that with determination, animation, love, and perseverance we can all make it to the top. No one handed Kevin Clash and Elmo their success. It was born out of inspiration and creativity. These qualities can help any company develop the reputation they need to become leaders.

Even though Elmo did not really make his way to the front and center until more than a decade after the show had begun, he has still gained a solid position as one of the main voices of Sesame Street.

In much the same way, no industry is ever entirely filled or has leaders so established that a newcomer cannot become an industry great. This should inspire those trying to break into their respective industries and remind those who are at the top that they should never take their position for granted. All companies should be working to remain on the cutting edge of what customers need.

Elmo is the furry red Muppet that has captured the hearts of children and adults for over two decades. While children may learn lessons from him about sharing and being a good friend, adults, too, can take away ideas that may help lead them in the business world. Elmo has asserted himself as an industry leader directly due to his creativity and determination, and he should serve as an icon of what these qualities can accomplish today for all of us.

14 January, 2014 12:39

January 14, 2014

The winter Olympics are quickly approaching, and people around the world are preparing to tune in and watch their nations’ athletes compete on the international level. The athletes are an amazing testimony to what the human body is capable of, and they often leave the rest of us breathless as we watch them complete complex maneuvers seemingly effortlessly.

One event that helps to truly capture both the strength and coordination of an athlete with flawless beauty is figure skating. Those competing are able to keep themselves perfectly balanced on thin blades while racing around the ice dancing and spinning. The performances are often inspirational, and the process these skaters take to reach this level is nothing short of incredible.

The training process

Often from a very young age, figure skaters who have begun to compete on increasingly higher skill levels will wake up before dawn, just to get a few hours of practice in before they attend school. Once school lets out, they’re back on the ice, rehearsing and training for several hours before homework and bed.

As with many other elite athletes, homeschooling is not unheard of — to give these hopefuls more time to train. Olympic dreams are what propel these athletes forward, and when we see them step out on the ice this winter, those years of preparation will come to fruition in that one moment in time.

One of the most important people in the lives of these young athletes is always the coach. Parents, friends, and family members can all offer support along with help getting the skater to their practices and competitions, but no one can compare to the coach when it comes to the potential success of the athlete. There are as many coaching styles and theories as there are people, and no one athlete is guaranteed to work well with a particular coach. The right coach and athlete relationship, however, has the potential to maximize the athlete’s career.

What we can learn from Olympic figure skaters

For many business professionals, tasks that don’t produce an immediately tangible result (such as marketing or networking) are the hardest to invest their time. Many of us would much rather focus on the business in front of us, even though solid marketing and networking offer us genuine room to grow.

We need to think like figure skaters. When they’re getting up at 3:30 or 4:00 am to go train, they don’t know for sure they’re ever going to see the international stage. It might be years before they have the skills to travel and compete. This doesn’t stop them or discourage them. Even when they don’t see results right away, they keep trying until they succeed.

Similarly, success in business is never a one-person job. No one person is going to bring a company to the top, and no athlete can will themselves to the gold. In the same way, success in business means being careful and selective about who we choose as partners and allies. Solid partners can make an enormous difference in a company’s growth and success, as we’re able to trust these allies to have our best interest in mind.

As we all settle on our couches this winter to watch these amazing athletes from around the world, we should remember the work they enthusiastically did to get there, and it should inspire us. We can use that same work ethic to help bring our companies forward until we also obtain the gold.

10 January, 2014 15:40

January 10, 2014

As business owners, we count on experts to save us time and money. On any given day, we might consult a financial advisor to help us with a major purchase or investment strategy. Or we might hire a sales trainer to oversee the development of our sales team or the implementation of a new sales strategy. Or perhaps we might engage a management consultant to look for ways to run our companies more effectively.

Whatever the need, it seems, an expert is there, ready to help.

One area where expert advice can be especially helpful is your company’s marketing. Consulting an expert early in the planning process can not only save you time but also help you hone your campaign so it reaches just the right audience with a message they’re ready to hear.

Unfortunately, trends in advertising and marketing can change at the drop of a hat. To make matters worse, what works well for one company or industry might not be right for another. Working with an expert who studies trends, yet also knows how to use more traditional means effectively, will help you decide which trends are worth your time and which to avoid. Their guidance can save you the time and effort involved in chasing bad opportunities.

So where can you find experts to help you grow your business? Start with your key suppliers. After all, helping you become successful is in their best interest, too. The stronger your company gets, the more opportunity your suppliers will have for future revenue growth. So tap their expertise whenever you can.

But how do you know who to turn to and who to avoid? First and foremost, look for experts who understand your goals and business requirements. Stick with those whose advice you trust based on previous experience. And make sure the expert is someone you feel comfortable working with on the project.

When you augment your own staff with a group of trusted experts from other fields, you strengthen your business in the most cost-efficient way. You get expert advice without adding to your payroll or ongoing business expenses. And that’s a win for everyone.