Monthly Archives: February 2018

Content Marketing: The What & Types of Effective Business Content

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hands working on laptop producing content for marketingLet’s not beat around the bush. Companies allocate their marketing funds based on one key question: what marketing tactic gets the best bang for the buck? The answer is where they allocate dollars and time.

With so little of both, most managers and owners are hesitant to put their marketing budget funds into the next “big thing.” A few years ago, producing content for your blog was the next big thing.

It still is.

Producing content is still one of the top ways to put your business website in front of local customers and give them all the information they’re looking for. But like everything else in life and technology, content marketing has evolved. It’s changed. And it’s still one of the most effective marketing tactics for small and large businesses.

State of Content Marketing

The simplest definition of content marketing is exactly what is inferred from the terms: content used to market a business. In its infancy, the tactic usually involved writing a blog post aimed at search engines. Frankly, many of those posts created were often so narrowly authored for that purpose that they provided little value to the reader. Other posts were short and aimed solely at selling to the reader. They were a walking advertisement. The amount of low value content published was staggering. The worst posts were unreadable to the average reader.

High quality content marketing is produced for two audiences: potential and current customers and search engines. Well-produced content builds trust (one of many ways to build trust online), provides answers and entertainment to visitors, and engages your target audience. For search engines, fresh and updated content gets a website extra credit in terms of search engine rankings.

Content types

Modern content marketing is more than just solely writing blog posts. Modern content marketing follows a plan and includes a variety of different types of content designed to reach and engage followers, including:

  • Blog posts. Blog posts—high quality, well-written, optimized posts—are still a major player in content marketing. Blog posts should provide value to the reader (ask this question before writing). A well-written blog post should be shared through e-mail, on social media, and in other marketing pieces. A successful blog includes valuable content (with quality images) produced on a regular basis. If you can’t keep up with a regular schedule, consider outsourcing the effort for optimal results.
  • Graphics. The type of graphic produced for content marketing depends on the purpose of the image. Images are a significant part of any content marketing effort. Memes and infographics can also get you credit on social media and in e-mails.
  • Video. There is a reason there are so many videos on YouTube, and more videos are uploaded every hour and day. Video is one of the top forms of media that online users view and share. Not all video needs to be professionally produced; videos created on tablets and phones can be just as effective. For additional views, share live video of events on social media.
  • E-books, docs, and whitepapers. Longform content can be a valuable offering to online viewers, and an effective way to build an e-mail list. For long-term value, produce checklists and books with content that lasts beyond short-term trends.

Content marketing is an effective marketing tactic that needs to be a regular effort. For that reason, the task should be assigned to a dependable staff member or outsourced to an experienced marketing agency.

10 Ways to Ask Customers for Online Reviews

customer filling in online review, leaving star review for businessOnline reviews have become a hot online commodity in today’s modern world. Customers research your business. They see those reviews. And statistics have shown that online reviews play a significant role in a customer’s purchasing decision. Every business wants positive online reviews. How do you get online reviews?

Before you start blindly reaching out for reviews, be aware that asking for online reviews comes with a risk—and additional work. Negative reviews come with positive reviews. All online reviews come with their own process: asking for reviews, monitoring reviews, and responding to reviews. All of these steps can be integrated into already existing operational procedures and should be included in the training of every employee who interacts with customers.

Asking for reviews

Because every business is different, it’s up to every business owner and manager to choose and implement the tactics that work for their company. As you determine what tactic is right for your business, know that there is value in pre-screening customers before you make the ask. Put simply, a positive review is more likely to come from a customer who has positive feelings about the work your company has done for them. Obviously, pre-screening does not mean your company is exempt from negative reviews. Negative reviews can come at any time (and from anyone)—no matter how and who you ask. Here are some ways to ask customers for online reviews:

  1. Put a sign by the register asking for reviews (with or without an incentive)
  2. Ask “Can you help us by reviewing us on _______________?”
  3. Ask “Were you happy with your service/product? We get a bonus for positive online reviews and would be grateful if you left a review on ______________.”
  4. Send out an e-mail to customers (with their permission-here are solid ways to build an e-mail list)
  5. Pass out flyers with instructions for review
  6. Include instructions for online reviews with packages that are sent out
  7. Have salesmen ask satisfied customers on phone to leave reviews, follow up with e-mail
  8. Include request for review on e-mailed receipts
  9. Offer a discount for next purchase with a review of the product
  10. Ask for review when corresponding with customer in social media messages

Monitoring for reviews

Awareness of reviews is a significant part of the review process; it can also be a challenge with so many online review sites. Once you’ve put your business out there with solid profiles on all the review sites, make the monitoring process efficient by contacting a company with an automated process that makes you aware of reviews posted about your business.

Responding to reviews

There is a general rule: respond to every review, both negative and positive. There are a few exceptions to this rule, though these are far and few in between. If the review is negative, always remember not to take the review personally. Remind yourself of this as you use these tips to respond to negative reviews:

  • Identify the customer’s problem. Read through the customer’s complaint completely, and identify the source of their complaint. Don’t be afraid to ask them to private message you with more information about their problem.
  • Respond promptly. Customers expect businesses to respond with online customer service within an hour. Don’t delay and add fuel to an angry customer’s negativity.
  • Don’t ask a customer to call you or take other steps to contact you. Communicate with them on their chosen medium and don’t make it difficult for them.
  • Show sympathy. Saying your sorry they have a problem does not show weakness.
  • Apologize if you were in the wrong. Try to sandwich the negativity with “Thank you so much for your feedback. We apologize for the delay by our technician. We will use your feedback to make sure that this error does not happen again.”
  • Showcase your customer service skills. Be incredibly polite. This is your chance to show them that you care enough to resolve the issue.
  • Read through your response before you send it to ensure that your response is appropriate. If needed, ask another manager to review the response.
  • Don’t respond to every customer with a canned (copy and pasted) response. You want your customer to feel like you care, not like they are one of a million customers.

If you are using an automated monitoring process, you can often respond and resolve the review before it becomes public. Don’t hesitate to take the time to protect your online reputation via reviews; the effort is well worth the investment, both for you and your customers.

Marketing that Can Be Done in an Hour (or Less)

company manager with an hour for marketing businessGot a few minutes to spare? Use the time and these ideas to market your business and improve your bottom line. But like all great ideas, they come with a disclaimer: marketing your business is more than just a one-time effort.

Effective marketing needs to be continually fueled and maintained. But we won’t waste any more of your time with a lecture; time is precious, especially when your business to-do list keeps growing. We can give you a list of marketing tactics that take an hour to get started AND a continual effort to keep getting results.

Optimizing your website

Get started: Build or update your website with optimized content. Add optimized headlines, images and videos with optimized alt tags, and content that search engines and your audience appreciate; don’t “over-optimize” and make it unattractive to your audience—all that does is increase your website bounce rate and decrease conversions. If all of these terms sound like a foreign language, contact an optimization company that gets results for other businesses—and can provide solid data to demonstrate results. Optimization can be especially valuable for companies that want to reach local customers in local communities around a headquarters or retail location.

Keep it going: Add optimized content to your website through a blog. Regularly produce content, videos, and images that follow your sales calendar. Remember just because you’re following your sales calendar doesn’t mean you need to produce content that is entirely about selling your business. Write about topics that provide value to your current and potential customers. Use this list of content marketing ideas for inspiration. Don’t forget that your content is being produced to convert your customers; include links back to your website, search-optimized pages, and social media channels so your customers have an easy way to buy and ask questions. Publish your content on a regular basis (or assign the task to a content marketing agency or staff member). Fresh content is a major factor in how your website performs on search engines; use the content on social media and in future e-mails as well.

Social media

Get started: Don’t jump onto any random social media site (or even just choose your favorite). Take a few minutes to decide who your target audience is and research social media sites to decide what site (or sites) is right for your business (use this graphic with key statistics about the top social media sites to start). Don’t get in over your head. Regular social media posting is a must to get results; don’t choose too many social media sites that you don’t have time to maintain. Once you’ve made your final decision about the right social media site and number of sites you have time for, use this article to set up a social media profile for your business.

Keep it going: Make a concerted effort to take photos and videos that your audience responds to. In addition to sharing your content, don’t be afraid to share interesting articles and videos, notices of upcoming events (i.e. grand openings, tradeshows, open houses, etc.), pictures of your employees providing service (with their permission), and interesting things you see on the job.  Keep everything you share somewhat professional; you don’t want to give your business a black eye by making one of these social media marketing mistakes. Respond immediately to any questions that come in through social media. If you don’t have time to post every day, use social media scheduling tools like Hootsuite and Buffer to automatically schedule posts at times when your audience is online.

Send out e-mails

Get started: Start building an email list of customers and potential customers, with their permission. Ask for e-mail addresses at every opportunity: during in-person contacts, on your website and blog, and on social media (other ideas for building an e-mail list here). Use an e-mail service (i.e. Constant Contact or Mail Chimp) to create an e-mail template that has the same look as other marketing materials. Include content and discounts that your audience wants to read. Make your customers want to open the e-mail by creating an attention-grabbing headline.

Keep it going: Send out e-mails on a regular basis; don’t send out too many e-mails so you annoy your customers and they unsubscribe. To save on time, use content produced for your blog and automatically schedule the e-mails so you don’t have to be available to hit the send button. Include links to your social media profiles, website, and blog for future engagement opportunities. If you find yourself squeezed for time, contact a marketing company and provide them with information for the e-mail so you don’t miss an opportunity.

To maintain your marketing momentum, create a written marketing plan that can help you efficiently and strategically execute these marketing tactics. Write down your goal and target audience, and keep it in mind as you draft a marketing plan that follows your business sales cycle. For example, if you are a caterer, look back at your sales for the past year to dictate your marketing plan for next year.  Your sales team or customer service representatives would be an excellent source for this information; after all, they are interacting with your potential and existing customers on a regular basis.  An example would look like:

December-March Booking weddings (because of high engagement rate)

April-June Booking company picnics

July-August Booking weddings

September-November Booking holiday parties

This calendar is very simplified, but you can see how your sales cycle would drive your marketing plan.  Next, list the specific tactics you plan to use (i.e. once a month customer email, weekly blog post, daily social media post, etc.), deadline, and party responsible to execute the tactic. Be flexible with your plan and honest about your time demands. When time gets tight, don’t hesitate to bring in the experts and reallocate your hour (every week or month) to give them direction (i.e. images, customer questions, etc.) and get the results.