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Updated: 4 hours 26 min ago

How Decades-Old Corporations are Catching up to the Digital Age

Fri, 08/10/2012 - 08:35

In our day and age of social media, email marketing and other PPC, you'd be surprised to hear about large, established companies that still resort to antiquated marketing methods such as snail m...I mean direct mail, or telemarketing, in which they contact everyone in the phone directory and their mother (are there strict CAN-SPAM-type laws against unwanted calls yet?). But there are some of these companies, against all expectations given their industry, brand image or storied success, that're doing a really good job at not only adjusting to the ever-changing times (was Pinterest even on any one's radar a mere year ago?), but succeeding in the digital marketing landscape. Let's take a look at three of these companies and break down how they've managed to do it so well:


1. Procter & Gamble: How to Master Social Media in 6 Weeks

Procter & Gamble, founded in 1837, is still considered the "granddaddy of product marketing." With a portfolio of brands as diverse and well-known as Tide, Duracell and Head & Shoulders, P&G has long established itself as a leading consumer goods corporation and Fortune 500 company thanks, in large part, to its strong brand marketing and communication strategy. Earlier this year, however, the company found itself in dire straits and announced in January that it would need to lay off 1,600 employees. This was due to some, ahem, "over-spending" (a sweet euphemism, given the company's staggering $10 billion ad budget) in order to finally focus on "cheaper" social media-related efforts. This came as a surprise to some, as one of its brands, Old Spice (remember this man?) had done remarkably well in social media a couple years before. However, the company unfortunately failed to replicate that success throughout its other brands (for instance, Mr. Clean didn't even have a Twitter feed!).

Two months after that downer of an announcement, P&G held a digital summit called "Signal P&G," MC'd by none other than John Battelle, Wired Magazine's co-founder. They boasted illustrious speakers such as Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo, Facebook VP of Business & Marketing Partnerships, David Fischer, and Yahoo! Chief Product Officer, Blake Irving - The world was taken by surprise (another sweet euphemism).

The summit was a rousing success, thanks to a well-constructed social media campaign leading up to the event. #SignalPG became a global trending topic in a matter of hours, with over 3,500 tweets, amounting to 14 million impressions (if you count retweets and replies). This single event "signaled" that P&G was no longer toying around with digital marketing - They were going all in, and with a bang to boot.


2. B.R. Cohn Winery: Establishing Expertise

While not as well known or large as P&G, longtime VerticalResponse customer, B.R. Cohn Winery is a personal favorite of many wine lovers here at VR. The company was founded in 1984 by Bruce Cohn, manager of the California rock band, the Doobie Brothers. They produce a variety of high-quality wines, ranging from Cabernet Sauvignon to their award-winning Petite Sirah, and also offer gourmet extra virgin olive oil and vinegars.

B.R. Cohn has demonstrated a knack for digital marketing, using email and social media to grow their business, while affirming themselves as thought leaders in the wine industry. They offer regular oenology tips on their Tumblr, behind-the-scenes looks at their wine-making process on Twitter, pictures of their wine-tasting events on Flickr, and fun, but relatable posts on Facebook (like this olympic-themed one). With engaging and shareable content, the winery has built a solid and vocal community, with more than 2,000 Twitter followers and 4,000 Facebook likes.


3. Tourneau: Driving Revenue through Content

Tourneau was established in 1900 and is one of America's largest luxury watch retailers. Needing a shot in the arm in the digital marketing department, they turned to Condé Nast Media Group to draft content for their newly revamped website in Q4 2011. The goal was two-fold: position Tourneau as the authority on timepieces, and educate consumers on the benefits of purchasing Tourneau watches versus any of their competitors'. In order to meet these goals, Condé Nast chose to move away from the usual technical (read: dry) specifications, opting for educational and entertaining content instead. This content was then re-purposed in the brand's other online properties, including their social media channels. Two contests were also launched in order to generate additional buzz.

The results were satisfying, to say the least: Tourneau's online fan base increased by over 1,000% year-over-year, and its social activity (comments, sharing...) spiked. Their marketing emails also saw a 90% increase in open rates and 35% in click through rates. And finally, page views for product and collection pages increased depending on which watches were featured in the editorials. What was that saying about content being king?

So what are lessons we can learn from these companies, and apply to our own?

  • Digital technologies such as email marketing and social media are not only here to stay, they are ever-evolving and require consistent attention as the rules of today are almost never the rules of tomorrow.
  • The rules of consumer engagement have changed, drastically. Marketers can no longer content themselves with telling the customer what to do, Don Draper-style. The balance of power has shifted to the consumer, who is relying on user-generated content such as testimonials (sometimes through a simple tweet) to make purchase decisions, when and with whom they please. 
  • Building transparent, real-time engagement with consumers is key now more than ever, by offering fun, relevant content and messaging that speaks to the needs and desires of a given target audience.

Do you know of a business that has undergone a similar transition, or have you had to revamp or adjust your marketing strategy in favor of more digital-oriented efforts yourself? We'd love to hear your story!


A Real-Time Demonstration of the Power of Digital

How Tourneau Targets Affluent Customers Through Content



Posted by My Truong

My Truong is the Marketing Programs Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter @PtitMy.

What the Vlog? How to Add Video Blogging to Your Marketing Mix

Wed, 08/08/2012 - 06:00

Video Blogging, also called vlogging (pronounced vlog rather than v-log), "is a form of blog for which the medium is video rather than text or audio. Entries often combine embedded video or a video link with supporting text, images, and other metadata." -Thank you Wikipedia!

If you've got a smartphone, then you've got the ability to showcase your employees on the job, or the ambiance of your restaurant, or the quality of your products to promote your biz. Want more ideas on how to incorporate vlogging into your marketing? See below!

Say Cheese: Vlogging can help feature your business's personality and get customers to relate on a personal level. Delivering a message from your CEO or documenting your employees' volunteer work shows the human side of your business and allows viewers to connect emotionally.

Get Bang for Your Buck: Repurpose TV spots or press mentions/publicity you've received as vlog entries. You'll not only get more bang for your buck, but you'll also get the opportunity to share positive media or PR attention.

Educate by Showing: Show customers how to use products or educate them on industry-specific topics. Check out our video series, Small Biz Social Secrets for inspiration where we feature interviews with top social media personalities who share their favorite social media tips. Our help site also has great examples of videos that could be used as vlog entries.

A few more tips:

1. It's best to add new vlogs on a regular basis and keep your frequency consistent.

2. Keep videos short (usually between 2-5 minutes).

3. Use a conversational tone and make videos fun and entertaining.

4. Add value with useful content or information rather than just sales pitches.

5. Cross-promote by linking your vlog entries on your social media networks and on your website or blog.

Vlogging is a great way to change up your marketing mix and add something new to what you're already doing. You can use vlog entries to supplement your written blogs, place them on a page within your website or host videos on YouTube or Vimeo and link to them.

Happy vlogging and Take 5!


Posted by Savannah Stewart

Savannah Stewart is a Lifecycle Marketing Coordinator at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @savannahstewart.

5 Cs Every Startup Needs to Succeed

Tue, 08/07/2012 - 06:00

This article by VerticalResponse CEO and founder Janine Popick originally appeared on

There's nothing more exhilarating than having a great idea for a business and running with it. But before you start sprinting, there are a few essential things that need to be in place. Here are five – coincidentally, they all start with the letter "c" – that every start-up needs in order to succeed, whether you're in software or skincare.


Your company may save the world, but without adequate financial backing, it won't get far. Sorry; it's just the reality of business. Crunch your numbers, know how much is coming in and out, and stay on top of it. (Or get someone who can do it for you; see the Virtuoso of the Almighty Dollar below.)

If you're not one of the lucky few with VC funding, it's time to strap on your boots and sell, sell, sell to anyone who might be interested in investing in your business. I started VerticalResponse in 2001 with a combination of my personal savings, a few credit cards and investments from close friends and family. I set goals, met them and got more money. Raising capital might not be fun, but without it, you're toast.


Yes, you started the company and yes, you probably did everything in the beginning. But at some point, you need to bring on board colleagues who can step up in areas you're not so great at, and can tell you if that idea is gold or garbage.

Make sure you have the following types of people on your team either full time or your go-to:

  • A Tech Guru. Someone who is the be-all-of-end-all when it comes to software, apps, IT and other high-tech stuff, the guy (or girl) you can rely on when your website crashes at 3 a.m. Many companies rely on part-time folks in the beginning who are "on call," so to speak. 
  • A Virtuoso of the Almighty Dollar. You didn't start your business only to watch it go under, so have someone who knows about the ebb and flow of cash, tax planning and all things having to do with a decimal point and lots of zeros. When I started, I got someone to do my Quickbooks for me on a monthly basis, which worked fine until we got big enough that we needed to keep a daily eye on things.
  • A Heavyweight Sales and Marketing Champion. You're not going to get very far in the ring if you don't have someone who knows how to get your product/service into the marketplace (or into new ones) and sell it through. If this isn't your forté, I'd suggest getting someone in the door on more than a part-time basis.
  • The Coolest Executive Crowd You've Ever Met. Okay, so you can't really hire this, but it's important nevertheless. Find other entrepreneurs you can bounce ideas off of, get feedback from, brainstorm with and introduce you to new connections. If anything, sometimes it's just incredibly satisfying to blow off a little steam with someone who knows where you're coming from.
Customers I'm assuming you already have customers, but how do you avoid being complacent and attract new ones?

When VerticalResponse first started, our focus was on providing email marketing tools to small businesses. But over the years, we've grown to offer more tools like social mediaevent marketingonline surveys and postcards to capture customers who needed more than email marketing.

You can identify what your customers want and get the word out with a bit of help from technology. Send an online survey to find out what they want – maybe there's a complementary product or service that you can offer to fulfill that need. Email marketing and social media are great for entertaining new and old customers and enticing them with exclusive promotions and content. And location-based apps like Foursquare and Loopt can put you in front of new people in your area.


It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know how important it is to understand the competition and their strengths and weaknesses (which may change over time). Your competition also forces you to stay on your toes and ahead of the curve, and can help spark new ideas on how to better run and advertise your business.

Make sure you know:

  • What areas of the market do your competitors dominate?
  • How are they positioning themselves?
  • What available capital and resources do they have? Are they growing?
  • How is the quality of their product/service compared to yours?
  • What "holes" do they have that you can fill with your business?

One way to keep track of what your competitors are doing is to set up a Google Alert with their company name. You'll get emails with their up-to-the-minute mentions online. You can also use a free online tool like TweetDeck and track their company name so you can see what people are tweeting about.

Another trick is to play the role of "customer" from time to time. See it from their point of view. And think open mindedly about why they would use one product or service over another.


Everybody's talking about how having an engaged community is important, but where do you start? Here are some tips – just remember that building a community takes time, so don't expect anything to pop up overnight.

  • Have a "town square." You need a place where people can socialize, just like the old days where everyone in town gathered around the square. It could be your Facebook Page, a blog or a combination of multiple "meeting points."
  • Reach out to them first. You can't expect them to engage with you if you don't take the first step, or two, or five. Show your appreciation, stay in touch, ask for feedback, listen. With all the technology and tools out there, it's easier than ever to do this.
  • Go above and beyond. Pull strings, do favors, hold their hands and be attentive, and your customers will never hesitate to boast about all the special treatment they got – and they'll keep comin' back for more.
  • Get personal. Get to know your customers personally. Nothing beats one-on-one interaction, even in this digital age. Whether it's organizing a local event or following up personally via email or social media, it'll make you stand out from a sea of faceless brands.

What other essentials do startups need? (They don't have to start with "c"!) Please share in the comments below!


Posted by Janine Popick

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @janinepopick, and check out more of her columns.



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How to Jump Content from Your Facebook Page to Your Profile

Mon, 08/06/2012 - 06:00

So you have a Facebook Page for your business, but the audience size is a far cry from notable companies such as Starbucks or Coca-Cola. You started out on Facebook from a personal level and have a ton of friends who would love to interact with your Page if they only knew it existed. What do you do?

Facebook has actually made some improvements on "crossing the chasm" between your Page and your Profile. In this short video we'll show you how to share the great content you have on your Page with the hundreds of friends you're already connected with on your Profile.


Posted by Derek Overbey

Derek Overbey is the Senior Social Media Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter at @doverbey.


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Mythbusters: Email and Social Marketing are Only for Retailers

Fri, 08/03/2012 - 06:00

Mythbusters: Email and Social Marketing are Only for Retailers is part of our blog series where we tackle and debunk common myths in email and social marketing.

I do a lot of webinars and one of the common questions I hear is, "But I work at a non-profit, how does this apply to me?" (you can replace non-profit with mechanic, insurance company, or really, any business). We feature different types of businesses or industries as examples when we do webinars (or blog posts!) but we certainly don't cover them all. We thought we'd create this post to help dispel the myth that email and social marketing is just for retail or similar businesses.

Here are 3 tips to bust this myth:

Social Media
- Facebook and Twitter aren't just for teenagers or pictures of cats and babies, they're for businesses too. Even if you don't have a retail business the message here is the same: it's all about engagement. Get your customers/clients to follow you and make sure you have posts that keep them interested. Posting about what's going on behind the scenes is a fun way to keep people in the know about your company. Non-profits can include posts leading up to events, trivia questions about the organization, volunteers, behind the scenes at fundraisers, or even fun pictures. Not a non-profit? How about doing posts that include a spotlight on an employee that customers interact with, new services, tips on car maintenance, home security, summer safety, crazy weather facts (this summer has been full of record-breaking heat, it's Facebook gold!), fun or funny questions, and of course, pictures. The point is to include information about your company/organization plus interesting and useful information. Think of your posts in thirds: One-third about your company, one-third useful info you're sharing, one-third fun or interesting info that has nothing to do with your company or industry. We've even got a handy, time-saving tool - VerticalResponse Social - that enables you to schedule all your social posts for the month in about 20 minutes.

Send emails - Just like with social media you want to think about engagement and keeping your company/organization top of mind. People may not need a plumber everyday, but when they do, you want them to think of your business. Your emails don't have to be about promotions or just a newsletter. Much like the rule of thirds for social, you want your emails to contain the same type of information: something about your business, tips or how-to's, interesting articles or stories, and something fun, like recipes or fun facts. Are you having a special event? Talk about that. Special sale on tune-ups? Include that as well. You don't have to include a sale to send an email, the point is to mail consistently and provide useful information that keeps your recipients' interest so that when they need your services you are the first business they call.

Call-to-action - I've separated this from email or social media to cover a couple of specific points. A call-to-action (CTA) is what you want people to do. In your emails you may want them to click and make a purchase, download a file, make a donation or sign up for an event. The same applies to social media: you may want your followers to do something, such as liking, retweeting, or repinning your post. And not to be too repetitive, this is not just for retailers selling something. Every email or social post should have some kind of call-to-action; you want your followers or recipients to engage and interact with you. Think about your social posts: I mentioned earlier that you want your followers to be engaged, and one of the ways to track that is if they like, comment or share. So your posts need to ask (or direct) them to do something that causes one of those actions. Your emails also should ask your recipient to do something: read more about an article you're sharing, make a donation, make an appointment, or volunteer. Keep them clear, easy to follow through on and include only one or two CTAs to keep your readers from getting confused.

These are just a few ideas to help you market your ____ (fill in the blank: non-profit, dental office, insurance company, school, or any other non-retail business). The thing to keep in mind when you're looking for marketing ideas is to take a step back and look at the big picture. You may not be selling a product like lamps or wine, but you are selling some kind of service, even if you don't charge for it. Remembering that your clients are your customers should help you apply some of the great marketing ideas and tips that you come across.

Posted by Jill Bastian.

Jill Bastian is the Training and Education Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter @Jillieb3.



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Get Snappy, Gain Engagement - 8 Instagram Tips for Your Biz

Thu, 08/02/2012 - 06:00

Instagram, the free picture-sharing social site is a hipster/photographer wannabe’s paradise, right? Just like Pinterest is for DIY-crazed women and wedding planners. Stereotypes aside, taking advantage of a “niche” social site like Instagram could result in some serious business and an entirely new and engaged audience you weren’t aware of.

Since the birth of Instagram in 2010, the mobile app has reached 30 million users (gaining a new user every second) and made breaking headlines in April when Facebook acquired it for $1 billion in cash and stock. Other impressive Instagram stats: There are 1 billion photos currently uploaded on Instagram and 5 million are added every day. The beloved app is clearly going strong, but why does it matter to us in a business sense?

With the rapid and rising success of picture-centric sites like Instagram and Pinterest, it’s clear that compelling imagery is crucial to our social and content marketing success. Telling a story with a picture can be just as effective as a blog post, tweet, status update, or email. Having a presence on Instagram and following these tips for your biz could build your engagement faster than you can say “cheese.”

1) Get snappy
Nic Adler, owner of the The Roxy - legendary music venue in West Hollywood, is no stranger to social media. With more than 25,396 followers on Instagram, the Roxy’s engagement is picture perfect. According to the Instagram Blog, Adler states: “We started only using Instagram to post show photos and pictures from inside the building, but the thing we learned right away is that the photos don’t have to be only music related,” Adler says. “The Roxy posts all kinds of photos now including art, scenery, and funny things we come across, while sprinkling in pieces to promote our shows. The best thing you can do for your business on Instagram is show people why they should get to know you.”

2) Use #hashtags
Posting a photo on Instagram is great, but want people to actually find it? Use a hashtag. Tagging your photos with related words in the form of a hashtag allows your photos and your business to be searchable on the site. I conducted an experiment of my own in which I tagged a couple of photos (i.e. #SanFrancisco #sunset), which were previously hashtag free. Within 2 minutes of adding hashtags, I wracked up 100 likes from complete strangers across the globe. Use hashtags (but don’t go overboard) and it’ll put your picture out there.

According to the Instagram blog, "CNN iReport is finding innovative ways to highlight photos on Instagram that show newsworthy events. @cnnireport encourages Instagrammers to tag their photos #cnnireport, and then iReport staff sifts through those photos and shares a select few with their 27,000+ followers."

Interested to know what the hottest hashtags are? ReadWriteWeb compiled the top 10:

10. #summer
9. #igers (instagrammers)
8. #cute
7. #me
6. #instamood
5. #iphonesia
4. #photooftheday
3. #tweegram
2. #instagood
1. #love

3) Enable/tag your location
Each photo on Instagram can be tagged with a corresponding location. Enabling your location will give your photos more context, your business more exposure, and allows others to find you or your pictures more easily. Search for your own business and check out who’s posting pics. If your location isn't currently available, just add it! All locations that appear in search are provided by Foursquare.

4) Share on other social sites
What happens on Instagram doesn’t have to stay on Instagram. Instagram allows you to seamlessly share your photos on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, Posterous and Foursquare. Not only do you cross-promote your photos on other social platforms, but your other social media audiences will then be aware of your Instagram presence.

5) Post regularly
Nothing’s worse than going to a blog, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest account simply to see it hasn’t been updated in weeks. The same goes for your Instagram account. Posting on a regular basis means you’ll show up in your followers’ picture streams and thus minds more often.

6) Participate
Instagram isn’t just about posting pics – it’s also interactive. Much like other social sites, participating and engaging with others will also get you noticed and build rapport. Comment on pictures, reply to questions, like others’ photos, and follow fellow Instagrammers. With any luck, you may become a "suggested user" based on your engagement.

Want to track your Instagram engagement? Use a free site like Statigram, and receive stats about your likes, follows, most popular pics, engagement levels, etc.

7) Create an Instagram promo
Instagram promotions are an excellent and unique way to engage with an audience and/or attract new potential fans. Ask people to post pictures using a particular hashtag related to your promotion, or get creative with it:

  • Modcloth created a promo titled Office Geek Off in which fans took “nerdy” Instagram photos of their workspaces and posted them on Instagram. All entries were then displayed on Facebook, and the image with the most “likes” won.
  • Bergdorf Goodman created an interactive map on their website titled “Shoes About Town,” in which fans enabled their location and used a hashtag on Instagram to display photos of themselves/their shoes around Manhattan.

8) Develop a Street Team
Chances are, several people at your business may already have an Instagram account, and they’re most likely avid posters/photographers. Create a “street team” of Instagrammers to capture your businesses' finest moments. This gives your fans the ins and outs of your business, a steady stream of content, and I’m sure employees won’t mind the chance to Instagram at work.

Want even more knowledge for your business? Instagram has created an educational website specifically for businesses depicting how brands (including non-profits!) are successfully using Instagram as a marketing tool. Find everything from:

Already an Instagram pro? Doing anything fun or unusual with your Instagram account? Let us know!


Posted by: Colleen Corkery

Colleen Corkery is the Lifecycle Marketing Coordinator at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @youcollme.


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5 Lessons from the Chick-fil-A PR Kerfuffle

Wed, 08/01/2012 - 06:00

Photo courtesy of

Thanks to today’s voracious 24/7 news cycle and the rapid-fire pitch of social media, we can’t help but become transfixed when something spirals out of control into a public relations crisis in front of our eyes. During the last couple of weeks, the chicken sandwich chain Chick-fil-A found itself in the hot seat thanks to controversial statements about gay marriage made by its COO and president. Just a few months ago, the beef industry got publicly slimed for using questionable meat filler in beef products. And before that, Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s reputation was seriously tarnished for cutting its funding to Planned Parenthood.

No business ever wants a PR disaster on its hands. But it could happen to anyone, anytime. And while you might not be as well-known or have as many customers as AirBnB (remember the customer whose apartment was destroyed?) or Blackberry (remember the days-long email outage?), your company still has a public face. So, you need to be prepared for anything that puts your business or brand in a negative light.

Here are five things to help avoid a public relations firestorm:

1. Have a PR and social media policy in place, stat.

Regardless of the size of your business or organization, you need to lay down some ground rules in case of a potential PR issue – because it will probably happen when you least expect it (like in the wee hours of the night, or when you’re on vacation). Who gets contacted and how? Who’s accountable for what? Who’s allowed to speak on behalf of the company, and through what channels?

If you’re a small mom-and-pop shop, all of those responsibilities might fall on you – but your employees still need to know that, and they need to know what they should or should not do during a PR emergency. If you’ve got different departments, you should at the very minimum involve people in your marketing/communications, customer service, IT/website and legal teams. For guidelines on what to include in a PR and social media plan, here are some helpful sources:

2. Own up to the issue ASAP.

If people are saying negative things about you and word is spreading, you need to address the issue head-on, quickly. The worst thing to do in this social media-charged world – other than saying “no comment,” which essentially means, “Yup, I’m guilty as charged” – is to stay mum on the issue or problem. Every minute of silence is an opportunity for people to make assumptions – often unfavorable – and fuel the firestorm. 

3. Anticipate where people are and have a response ready.

Post an update to your website and on any major public-facing communications channel you own, including social media. (As of this writing, Chick-fil-A still hasn’t addressed the issue on their corporate website and has posted just one official statement on their Facebook Page.) If it’s an issue that directly impacts customers, record a message on your customer support phone line. If you don’t have enough information available to give people the answer they want, say that you’re looking into it and will let them know as soon as you do. People expect immediate feedback, and this can help manage expectations. 

4. Be frank and sincere.

These days, no one cares or believes in “official statements” full of corporate-speak and canned talking points. It’s all about the one-on-one communication that happens with those they trust, and you need to regain that trust. How? By letting them know 1) that you understand why they’re upset, and 2) what you’re doing to resolve the issue. If your company made a mistake, a heartfelt, straightforward apology can go a long way. Don’t over-promise, but do let them know what you’re doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

5. Monitor the conversation.

If you aren’t already tracking mentions about your company online and on social media, this is another reason why you should start. Angry customers aren’t just talking to you on the channels you own; they’re sharing with their friends and followers, too. How do you find out what they’re saying? For free, you can set up Google Alerts, use Twitter’s advanced search feature and Facebook’s native search feature for public posts.

While you don’t necessarily need to inject yourself into or respond to every single conversation, you do need to know what people are saying so you can craft your outbound communications appropriately. Monitoring conversations also helps you identify your key critics and influencers.

Hopefully you’ll never have to put your crisis communications plan in action, but, like any disaster, you'll feel much better knowing you're prepared.


Posted by Connie Sung Moyle

Connie Sung Moyle is the Public Relations Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @sungmoyle.



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Symbols in Subject Lines... ♥ Them or ☹ Them?

Mon, 07/30/2012 - 06:00

As far as marketing best practices go, I'm a bit of a purist who subscribes to "playing by the rules" when it comes to subject lines. Lately, I've been surprised by how many emails I've received with symbols in the subject lines. I asked around the office and my coworkers concurred they were experiencing the same. Which begs the question: Does cute ✈ when it comes to email subject lines or should marketers ✂ them out of the mix? 

Here are a few things to consider before you try adding symbols to your email subject lines:

Do symbols make sense for your business?

Because of the novelty and cute factor that comes with using symbols, they aren't for everyone. If you own a flower shop, inserting a flower icon in your subject line may make total sense both to the subject matter and your audience. However, if you're a law firm, or a funeral home, you should most likely not use symbols in your subject lines.

Here's an example from my inbox that arrived from Pottery Barn Kids:

The symbol in this case perfectly fits a brand that sells children's clothing and furnishing items. Being playful and cute is totally appropriate. The heart symbol is also simple and makes sense in the subject line. In this case they've replaced the word 'love' with the heart so it still reads properly.

Hearts and stars are, not surprisingly, the most frequently used special characters. I can imagine as summer moves along we'll see more suns, and with back-to-school the addition of symbols like pencils and books. Fall will bring leaves and pumpkins, and maybe a few spiders or cats; and as winter rolls in, be on the lookout for an onslaught of snowmen and snowflakes on your inboxes' subject lines.

Another example comes from Sublime Stitching:

In this case, the symbols don't compliment the message as muc,  and start to feel a bit spammy in my honest opinion. If you're going to use symbols, remember the rule of less is more. Limit the use to 1 or 2 at most in your subject line or risk having your message feel less than professional.

Not all symbols are created (or render) the same.

Many email clients, such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! support Unicode symbols. However, just like the email clients listed above, your messages may render differently on varying mobile devices including the Big 3: Android, BlackBerry and iPhone.

From the Pottery Barn Kids example above, here's how the subject line looked on my MacBook:

And here's how it appeared in my Gmail inbox on my iPhone:

See the subtle difference? Test your emails before you launch them and view in different email clients and devices. Try a service like Email on Acid which will show you 48 variations.

Use symbols for a reason. Not just to "use symbols." 

Special characters or symbols can be used in three different ways: 

  1. As a separator or punctuation (i.e. Thanks for signing up! ★ Download your free guide)
  2. To replace a word (like the heart in the Pottery Barn Kids example).
  3. As a decorative or design element (as in the Sublime Stitching example)

Want to try using special characters or symbols in your own subject lines? I used these simple directions from wikiHow: How to Make Symbols on a Mac.

I'd love to hear what you think about using symbols in subject lines. Share your feedback in the comments!


Posted by Kim Stiglitz.

Kim Stiglitz is the Director of Lifecycle Marketing at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @Stiggy1.



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Capture Customers with Images

Fri, 07/27/2012 - 06:00

At this point in the world of email marketing, pretty much everyone uses images, or at the very least, a logo at the top. Unless there's some kind of emergency and you need to get information out quickly, you should always use images in your emails. But, do you know the purpose of including pictures in your email? Images are visually interesting and engaging to someone reading your email, they can induce them into making a purchase, a donation or signing up for a webinar. They help break up your text, making it easier to read and get to the great info you include. Also, using a logo near the top helps remind your recipient they are reading the correct email, especially important for the mobile users on your list. And, for reporting purposes, you'll want to send out graphical emails so you can get insight into your recipients' email-reading habits.

Now that you know the why, let's cover the important question: what are the rules for these images? Good question! Here are some best practice tips for using images in your emails.
Size - Image size is important for a number of reasons. First, you want your images to download quickly so that your recipient can see and enjoy them. If you are using large images, or a lot of images, it could take some time for them to download and your recipient may give up. And though you may think everyone has high speed internet available, the truth is that there are plenty of places that don't. Mobile users face a similar dilemma; the wifi that they use can sometimes be a bit slow. Second, if your recipients are reading the email on a desktop email client (or even on mobile), they can still run into problems with larger images causing side-to-side scrolling. To keep all your recipients happy keep these rules in mind:

  • Always include a logo at the top
  • Keep images under 25kb for easy loading
  • Keep image sizes within these guidelines:
    • Banner along the top 500-550 px wide
    • Body of email -- 150-200 px wide
    • Social Media icons -- usually around 40 px square    
    • Mobile users clicking on a call-to-action button need around 40 px square

Alt Text - One of my favorite topics and, next to pre-header text, the one most people are confused by. Alt text is basically writing on the back of a photo. Remember when you used to get your pictures printed and then wrote info on the back? That's exactly what alt text is, but for the digital age. Your recipients will only see alt text if their email program is blocking the images. As this is now default for most email programs, you really need to consider what your recipients will see before they click the link to allow the images to display. A line or two about what's going on in your email, a call to action, or even a great description of the image is all that you need. And for your logo, add your company name and maybe your website, not a description of the banner you are using, i.e. VR_header_banner_bg_650. No one knows what that means, and it's not going to compel your recipients to turn on the images, or even read beyond that first image. I know you've all heard this before, but test your emails, even as far as what your alt text says. Trust me, the two minutes you take to do that will pay off down the line.

Link - Most people at this point know they can click on an image in an email and be taken somewhere. If your recipients know this, make sure you are giving them a link! Keep in mind that you want to link them where they expect to go, don't drop them on your main page and hope they find the right info - They won't, and you'll lose them. We'll track the clicks on links, text or images, so you'll know what your recipients like enough to click and can keep providing them that.

Balance - As I mentioned earlier, most email programs block images by default, so you'll want to include both text and images in your emails. If your recipient for some reason doesn't turn on the images, they still need to know the purpose of your email. For example, if you have an event coming up, you'll want all the pertinent information in the text portion of your email: where, when, and what all need to be written out. Plus, having a balance will help get your email to the inbox. No matter how tempting, or how often you see 'the big guys' do it, don't use just one or two images as the sole content of your email. With images blocked, your recipients won't know what's going on in the email, and if there isn't any alt text, the first line of text they see may be the unsubscribe - Yikes! We usually say to have 70-80% of the email be the text and 20-30% images. It depends on your content of course, but try to have a higher text content to image ratio.


We are in a very social age, you'll want to share your email on Facebook, Twitter and even Pinterest, and images will help get more people looking at the email on social media. And, keeping your recipients engaged and reading your emails will keep your business growing!


Posted by Jill Bastian.

Jill Bastian is the Training and Education Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter @Jillieb3.



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Word of Mouth Marketing: Andy Sernovitz Answers Your Questions

Wed, 07/25/2012 - 08:34

We recently held a webinar with special guest Andy Sernovitz from He covered lots of inspirational ideas about getting started with word of mouth marketing for your small business. There were so many great questions during the webinar that we couldn't answer them all, so we asked Andy to tackle some of the big ones here:

Q: I'm at a B-to-B /nonprofit / health care /insurance company, will word of mouth work for my biz?

Word of mouth works for any business, in any industry, for selling anything. Your mission: Find people to talk about you and give them something to talk about.

Every product has fans. You don't have to be exciting or goofy to start conversations. Think about the people who depend on your product or service, who love how you treat them, and trust you to deliver for them. These are feelings that can generate word of mouth.

Q: But seriously, we're a dental office. No one seems to like us or want to go to us. How do we create word of mouth?

First, no word of mouth strategy can mask a truly bad product, service, or company. That's the beauty of word of mouth: The good guys win, and the lousy ones don't.

But, if you actually deliver great service or create a great product -- and treat customers well -- then yes, even dentists can create word of mouth.

In fact, in my book I talk about Delaware Dental in Chicago. They've turned their practice into something special by creating a "dental lounge." The office is decorated funky with modern colors and furniture. Instead of the usual pan-flute version of the Beatles' greatest hits, they ask you about your musical taste on your patient information form -- and play it for you. It's little stuff, but it all adds up to great word of mouth.

Q: Are you saying we should completely avoid monetary-based incentives? What if the value proposition of our business is helping people lower their electricity bills (a.k.a. save money)?

Yes, because it backfires. People will review you because they like you, trust you, and believe in you. If they don't like you, paying them won't change this. Offering to pay people who don't like you only amplifies the distrust.

Q: What about contests or drawings on Facebook to get more people to share news about us or "like" us? Is this what you would consider a payment incentive, and hence not the best approach to gaining followers?

Sure, doing this may give you a short-term boost in your follower count, but it doesn't get you high-quality word of mouth. It's like a kid saying, "Be my friend, you can play with my toys." They might come over to play, but it's not because they're really your friend. You're better off using your energy and creativity on creating things that genuinely interest and excite your fans and customers (great products, incredible service, remarkable stuff to talk about) -- things that lead to long-term, sustainable word of mouth.

Q: How can social media amplify the positive and negative effects of word of mouth?

Social networks are high-energy homes of word of mouth. They can be incredibly powerful tools to amplify word of mouth conversations about you -- both positive and negative. They allow for speed, and they can get your messages out there further and faster. But before you draw up some fancy social strategy, remember the fundamentals: Do interesting stuff; make it easy to find, follow, and connect with you; be nice; be remarkable. The companies that are all famous for their use of social media didn't get that way because of some secret social tactic -- it's because they're great at the fundamentals that applies to all word of mouth.

Q: Is it not true that in order to develop brand ambassadors, one has to relinquish some power? This is potentially dangerous as one cannot always be sure that the brand ambassador will always deliver the right message and/or in an appropriate manner. What can we do to avoid potential pitfalls?

Here's the reality: You never had power. Word of mouth is actually how you gain influence in the conversation. Think of it this way: You don't have power over the press, but if you invest in great PR, you can influence it. When it comes to word of mouth, people are already talking about you -- and will continue to do so. If you help these talkers, support them, and give them the tools to make it easier, there's a much better chance what they actually say will be closer to what you hope they'll say.

Q: Do the 3 motivations apply the same way for all ages?

The You, Me, and Us motivations apply to people, not demographic groups.

Different people respond to different motivators. So, test a variety of word of mouth messages and see who responds to what.

Did you miss the webinar? Check out a recorded version here


Andy Sernovitz teaches word of mouth marketing. He runs, the community for social media leaders at the world’s greatest brands, and, where marketers and entrepreneurs learn to be great at word of mouth marketing.

Small Biz Social Secrets - Episode 6: Justin Levy [VIDEO]

Mon, 07/23/2012 - 06:00

We're back with our sixth installment of the Small Biz Social Secrets video series. This time we sit down with Justin Levy, Senior Social Communications Manager of Citrix Online. For those of you not familiar, Citrix Online are the good folks that brought us GoToMeeting as well as other great collaboration tools. In this video, Justin shares details around using social media from a professional perspective and sheds light on how GoToMeeting can help with those efforts.


Posted by Derek Overbey

Derek Overbey is the Senior Social Media Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter at @doverbey.



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The Next Teen Tycoons: Where Are They Now?

Fri, 07/20/2012 - 06:00

Earlier this year, we launched the "Next Teen Tycoon" video contest – our search for the country's future business leaders. We gave away lots of cool prizes, including thousands of dollars in cash and a trip to New York to attend TEDxTeen. We also secured great publicity for the winners, such as press coverage on The Huffington PostFOX Business, the San Francisco Chronicle and the ABC affiliate KITV-TV evening news – they were all super professional and did great on the phone and in front of the camera!

Four months later, what are they doing now? We sat down (virtually) with two of our winners, Jason Li of iReTron and Jack Uesugi of a1000x, and asked them to update us on what they've been up to and how the contest helped their budding companies.


Grand-prize winner Jason Li, founder of iReTron

Li's company, iReTron, encourages people to turn in their old cellphones and other electronic devices for cash; the devices are then sold abroad, where there is still a demand. 

How has the company changed/grown since you won the contest?

Jason: We have grown so much since April and a huge factor was the contest. Not only did it provide us with seed money to expand our financial bases, more media noticed us and published articles about iReTron. 

We have come to be an official corporation, featured on world-renowned publications including Inc. and The Huffington Post, invited to more events and expos to speak such as the National CleanTech Conference Expo, and much more. We were even approached by ABC Television to be featured on a show. 

Team iReTron and I are preparing for the SAGE Global International championships at the end of July. A few months ago, iReTron was named the No. 1 social enterprise business in the nation and we are actually going to be representing the U.S. for the competition at the end of July. Since Next Teen Tycoon, we have also won other awards such as first place in the International Young Eco-Hero Championships. 

How did you use the contest prize money?

Jason: We used the prize money ($4,000) to improve our website and optimization, attend more events, and pay for basic transaction fees. We have still not paid a single dollar for advertisements and we are very proud of it.  

It has been a thrilling adventure these last few months and a huge catalyst would be the Next Teen Tycoon contest. In the near future, we plan on hiring employees, expand advertising and marketing, add new features to the website, and much more. 

Tell us about your experience in New York at TEDxTeen and what you learned.

Jason: I had a fantastic time in NYC. It was not my first time, but I definitely enjoyed it much more knowing that I earned the trip across the country. TEDxTeen was truly an unforgettable event and I was very inspired by all the speakers, especially Sujay Tyle, who pioneered his own career in medicine at such a young age. Although he pursued a very different field than me, he is one of my true inspirations for taking such daring risks to follow his passion. Overall, I had a fantastic experience and it was a very memorable weekend. 

I learned that there's always someone out there that's smarter or stronger; humility is the most important characteristic anyone can have when trying to build a project (or a business, in my case). The event was filled with amazing people and people with accomplishments out of this world. It was a great experience to meet new people and share my story, but listening to theirs motivated me tremendously. 

What is the one piece of advice you'd give to another teen who wants to start his/her own business?

Jason: The most important advice I can give is to keep humble but never give up. When it comes to world-changing projects, impacts, results and sales may take time to see, but as long as you do what you love, you will never fail. Put in the effort necessary and success will always be ahead. 

Also, when starting a business, you need to realize your goal, and this goal shouldn't just be about making millions. With iReTron, serving the community and the environment is first priority while the sales come second. It is a passion, and with all passions, as long as you are doing something to benefit others, the money will come in naturally. In the end, you shouldn't worry about the sales or breaking even. Be sensible, have fun, do what you love, and the numbers will figure themselves out. 


Second-place winner Jack Uesugi, founder of a1000x

Jack's company, a1000x, partners with local artists and prints, sells and promotes clothing and other merchandise featuring their designs, with a portion of all profits going toward social causes.

What have you been up to this summer so far?

Jack: Besides a1000x, I'm getting some prep work done for college applications. The end of the school year was rough on the business as I had SATs, AP exams and finals. It's been hard to juggle everything.

How has the company changed/grown since you won the contest?

Jack: We are formalizing a different incorporation structure for the company. Some of the contest money has gone to that. There has been really great coverage in the media about a1000x. With my school load we stopped marketing as much, but I did work on a new marketing plan that we are implementing this summer. It will incorporate a lot of social media but also direct email and mail campaigns. The [prize] money ($2,000) is being used mainly for this marketing plan – for Google Adwords campaigns, Facebook ads and direct mail.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Anything new on the horizon?

Jack: There are a lot of new plans. I have new artists lined up to work with and we have a few collaborations in the works, too. One will be to design and print the official takeaway items for a big art event in Hawaii. I'm also working on my own Art Centered event, where top artists will do live artwork and mentor student artists. We're going to look at starting a scholarship associated with this event that would honor a top student artist through a jury competition, judged by artists. The winner would be announced at the event.

What is the one piece of advice you'd give to another teen who wants to start his/her own business?

Jack: My big piece of advice to any teen starting a business is to take action. It doesn't matter what you do as much as doing something. You'll make mistakes but don't let that stop you from even starting. Just keep going. And it will be hard as a student – finals, college prep, school work, extracurricular activities will all eat up your time. But stay committed and you'll see progress.


Posted by Connie Sung Moyle

Connie Sung Moyle is the Public Relations Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @sungmoyle.



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Not Producing Content? You Should Be

Thu, 07/19/2012 - 06:00

This article by VerticalResponse CEO and founder Janine Popick originally appeared on

Content is a huge driver for acquiring and keeping customers these days, especially in the B2B world. The ability to be a thought leader, write or shoot a video and get it out to the shareable world is all businesses are thinking about. The more content you publish, the more you help your customers, the more the search engines will pick you up and in the end, hopefully the more business you'll get.

At VerticalResponse, we publish a lot of content. We do this even though I didn't go to school for writing and neither did many people on my team who produce fabulous marketing guides about using PR, email marketing and even social media to help businesses grow. What I do know is that we get thousands of downloads per month for all of our great content, and the opportunity to engage with people who are interested in what we say.

How did it begin? I started the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog for Small Businesses back in 2005 after I attended a Blogging for Business conference and got inspired. I was a little nervous because I really wanted to "write like I speak" and every marketing tip had told me that being uberly professional is how one should write. One of my first posts was titled "How Often Should You Email?"and one of the paragraphs read:

Over-mailing your recipients is a very effective way to ... hello ... lose subscribers! An annoyed recipient is one step away from becoming an unsubscribe and you really don't want to alienate your subscribers.

It actually felt liberating to be myself and not some stodgy, tech-speak, brochure-like writer. After that, all of our marketing materials started to relax a bit, from our website to the datasheets we produce, to even our "on hold" messaging when a customer calls us.

I want our customers to do business with someone like them because that's who we are - a small business constantly on the lookout to grow. In later years when other employees started to write for our blog, I found myself editing them quite a bit until they "learned" how to relax with their writing style. Now all of our blog contributors chill out and write exactly like they'd talk to a colleague or a customer. (I must admit I have found myself killing off a curse word here and there.)

I found our voice because I wanted to relate to our small business customers and the triumphs and tribulations they have. So, choose your own voice. Listen to how you speak to your customers and analyze if that's reflected in how you write. And if you've found your company "voice," let me know in the comments section how you did it; we'd love to hear.


Posted by Janine Popick

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @janinepopick, and check out more of her columns.



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International Content Marketing Dos & Don'ts

Wed, 07/18/2012 - 06:00

International waters… have you dipped your toe in them, not just personally, but for your business? Gaining global customers and/or an international audience is extremely exciting, but doing your homework is vital if you want to adhere, relate to, engage and most importantly, market to this audience appropriately. So what is the biggest deterrent to a global audience? An international content marketing mishap.

Take for example, the highly popular romance-erotic novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. According to Wikipedia, the trilogy has “sold around 20 million copies worldwide… and set the record as the fastest-selling paper back of all time, surpassing the Harry Potter series." Aside from criticism the book as received due to its content and “clunky prose," the second biggest complaint: According to Wikipedia, “The book has also been criticized for the author's use of British idioms which, syntactically, present a disconnect from the would-be American voice of the protagonist, thus adding further strain to the dialogue." Now this obviously hasn’t affected UK hailing author, E.L. James’ book sales, but as a first-time author, a lack of legitimate character credibility due to a language disconnect can be a big blow for future endeavors.
Something as simple as using American English instead of British English or vice versa, in any form of communication, whether it be an email campaign, social media and/or blog post, etc. can put a dent in your engagement when marketing to people across the pond. Gaining credibility, rapport and trust from your international audience also means having an understanding of their language and culture. As marketers, we need to keep our content top of mind, especially if we want to attract broader audiences. Follow these international content marketing dos and don’ts, and the world will be your marketing oyster:

Do: Know the Language

Understanding the language (and slang) of an international audience you’re marketing to is absolutely vital, whether it be a different form of English (like British vs. American English) or an entirely different language. Translating your messaging, or tweaking it to adhere to your audience will go a long way.

Understanding the style and tone commonly used in another country is also important. Fifth Ring, a global integrated corporate communications company suggests speaking with a local marketer: “Different nations have very diverse business cultures, and the tone of their copy reflects that. Some nations expect a firm, even abrupt style and others are much more gentle and polite. You can research local business customs and styles on your own, but talking to a marketer with local experience is better."

Don’t: Translate Word for Word

Languages simply cannot be translated word for word, and what may seem legitimate in your own language may not be translated smoothly in another. Here are some prime examples from major companies whose language translations went awry (though some may be rumored as legends):

Coors, the fifth largest brewing company in the world felt the sting of mistranslation when their marketing slogan, “Turn it loose” in Spanish was translated to “Get loose bowels.”

In 1987, Kentucky Fried Chicken opened a restaurant in Beijing, however, their famous slogan, “Finger lickin’ good” was directly translated in Chinese to, “We’ll eat your fingers off!” Mmmm.

Don’t: Use Idioms and/or Colloquialisms

In an article about international copywriting, Fifth Ring states that using idioms or colloquialisms in your copy may not take the cake: “Cultural difference is something to be celebrated, but not when writing international copy. You must stringently remove any colloquialisms. Phrases like ‘at the top of our game’, or ‘on the same page’ for instance… English is full of these everyday phrases that make little sense to a global audience. Imagine how things like this sound when they come out the other side of a software translation solution. You don’t need to be a language expert to spot things like this, just consider the international implication of phrases or idioms very carefully.”

Do: Research the Culture

The world is made up of extremely diverse cultures and that's what makes it such an amazing place, so for the sake of marketing to another culture, doing your research can save you some serious embarrassment.

American Motors learned this lesson when they attempted to market their mid-sized car, the Matador, in Puerto Rico, but it didn't go over well. According to Wikipedia, "Matador turns out to have connotations for 'killer' on the island where bull-fighting was abolished when the U.S. took control of Puerto Rico." 

Do: Acknowledge Other Country's Holidays & Seasons

When I was living in Ireland, I nearly had a heart attack when Mother’s Day came around in March, and I felt utterly unprepared - That’s because Mother’s Day is celebrated in a completely different month in Ireland and the UK vs. the US. When I was living in Australia, I can't tell you how many "snowy," "chilly," "the weather outside is frightful" promotional emails I deleted from my inbox while I was experiencing 85 degree weather. It’s easy to create a sale or promotion based on a local season or national holiday, but certain holidays, say if you’re American, like Thanksgiving or the 4th of July, just won’t resonate as much with your international audience. Create holiday-centric or seasonal promotions specifically for your customers overseas; the acknowledgement will surely impress.

New Threads, a VerticalResponse customer and upscale clothing boutique in Corte Madera, California shows off their “Viva La France!” pride with a Bastille Day promotion. Even if they aren't sending to friends specifically in France, celebrating another nation's holiday stands out from the typical red, white and blue promos.

Do: Adapt Social Media for Different Languages

This tip comes from Erica Swallow in an article she wrote for Mashable titled, 5 Tips for Marketing Online to an International Audience. Social media efforts in multiple languages may require additional time and effort, but it may just pay off.

For Facebook, Swallow suggests approaching two different strategies for global audiences: Create one Facebook page... or many.

“By creating one brand Page, you can target updates by location, demographics and language. This is a good option if you are looking to have one hub for content creation. On the positive side, users will receive targeted updates in their news feeds, and they will still be gathered in one place. The downside is the possibility of confusing users who visit your Page and find updates in multiple languages. This could limit interaction on your Page. Creating multiple regional Pages increases the localization of each Page, but this method requires more time to customize, as various logos and text should be created for each one. You’ll have to figure out the right option for your brand, but considering your strategy before launching is a good start.”

As for Twitter, Swallow suggests creating multiple Twitter accounts, if tweeting in multiple languages: “This minimizes confusion with readers who don’t speak all of the languages you tweet in. Dell’s Direct2Dell corporate blog, for example, has Twitter feeds in English, Norwegian, Chinese, Japanese and Spanish.”

Do: Consider SEO for International Markets

You may not associate search engine optimization with international content marketing, however, using the appropriate language in your SEO efforts can and will increase the likelihood of your business and website being found world-wide. Hubspot has an infographic and informative article outlining the 6 Essential SEO Tips for International Marketing.

As a small business, following these simple dos and don’ts can put you one step, paso, un pas, क़दम or 발자국 closer to expanding markets and a wealth of new customers worldwide.


Posted by: Colleen Corkery

Colleen Corkery is the Lifecycle Marketing Coordinator at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @youcollme.



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Customers We Admire - Grand Cafe's Marketing Revolution

Mon, 07/16/2012 - 06:00

"VerticalResponse Customers We Admire" is a series in which we highlight a customer and the things they're doing well with their email, social and event marketing. Below, we discuss a Bastille Day email promotion from Kimpton's Grand Cafe, including key lessons and take-aways.

Photo Courtesy of Grand Cafe

Grand Cafe is a modern French brasserie, Kimpton restaurant and a VerticalResponse customer whose email and event promotion we admire! Their fresh take on traditional French cuisine is paired with an extensive wine list and handcrafted apértifs, located in a gilded Barbary Coast ballroom. Below is an example of an email promotion they created to announce their special Bastille Day events. Scroll through the awesome email campaign for five event promotion take-aways:

1. Get Creative - Buttons and links are awesome, but with this refreshing call-to-action (click the mustache for details) who wouldn't want to click for more details? Include images, colors and tactics that stand out to recipients and they'll be more likely to engage and interact.

2. Appeal to Everyone - Grand Cafe predicts Bastille Day might not resonate with all of their recipients (i.e., yours truly) and cleverly offer an alternative. By appealing to all their subscribers, they get the most from their campaign and don't alienate their readers.

3. Stay Relevant - Pairing a holiday like Bastille Day with an event gives Grand Cafe an opportunity to be current, timely and relevant. Stay up-to-date with upcoming holidays and current events and make sure they're reflected in your marketing. 

4. Make it Accessible - In layman's terms, a restaurant makes money when people eat and pay for their food. Grand Cafe makes sure to include their reservation phone number prominently at the top of their email. Lesson? Whether it's a link to sign up, purchase or a phone number to schedule a reservation or appointment, make it easy and accessible for your customers and prospects to reach you and your services.

5. Your Business + Technology = BFFs - Grand Cafe realizes the increasing rate of email being viewed on mobile devices, made evident by their link to "view a mobile version" of their email. They're also embracing the power of social media by including social sharing icons and forward to a friend links. Lastly, they made their restaurant accessible by linking to a Google map of their location. Technology is ever evolving; Using it to your advantage makes promoting your event and company that much more powerful.

So get down with events to help get people in the door.

Posted by Savannah Stewart

Savannah Stewart is a Lifecycle Marketing Coordinator at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @savannahstewart.



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How to Get the Most Out of Google Analytics

Fri, 07/13/2012 - 06:00

Google Analytics, (or GA for those in the know), is the true alpha male of its division - The name has become synonymous with free web analytics tools. If, like most small business owners, GA is your tracking dashboard of choice, you may have been overwhelmed the first time you logged in due to the sheer amount of data and reports available to you. However, fear no more, here are 5 custom Google Analytics reports that will make your life easier (and revenue greater).

1. Goals

As with any good marketing effort, it's very important to set objectives for what you want to accomplish, and your website is no exception. In GA, setting up goals is the best way to measure your site's success rate. There are 3 types you can choose from for any given page: 

  • URL Destination: the most common option, this will tell you if your visitors are visiting the page you want them to (for example, a completed checkout page).
  • Time on Site: as its name indicates, this will track users who spend either more or less than a specified amount of time on the site.
  • Pages/Visit: this will let you know the number of pages visited more than, less than or equal to a predefined number.

Of course, you can fine-tune these goals once you are more comfortable with GA, and adapt them to lead/sales conversion types, define conversion funnels, etc. 


2. Site Content Popularity

Are your visitors looking at what you want them to look at? Hopefully the answer is yes, and GA can tell you that right off the bat when you log in. Take some time to get familiarized with the main dashboard, as it will give you some of the basic metrics you need at a glance:

  • Visits: a visit is counted every time someone checks out your website.
  • Pageviews: the number of pages on your website viewed within the selected date range.
  • Pages/Visit: the depth of visit, in other words, the number of pages viewed for any given visit.
  • Bounce Rate: a visitor entering the site and leaving without performing any additional actions (such as viewing another page or submitting a form).
  • Avg. Time on Site: pretty straightforward, the total time spent on your website divided by the number of visitors.
  • % New Visits: the percentage of visitors that haven't visited your website in the past 6 months.

3. High-Value Landing Pages

After spending time optimizing your landing page, you probably want to see how well it's performing, right? This report shows you your top landing pages and how they are performing based upon goal completions (as set above) and the values of these goals. 



4. Traffic Sources

Want to know where your visitors are coming from? There's a report for that too! This one will offer you an in-depth look at how people are finding your website, divided in 3 categories:

  • Direct Traffic: visitors that typed your domain into their browsers and went directly to your website.
  • Referring Sites: sites that include a link pointing to a page on your website. These sites are often clients, vendors, or business partners.
  • Search Engines: traffic that reaches your website after performing an online search.

You can also take a look at the "All Traffic Sources" report, which shows the top sources for your website. You can sort by Visits, Pages/Visit, and Bounce Rate. This will allow you to drill down even deeper into which sources perform better, or worse. 


5. Top Keywords

Somewhat linked to the previous report, your top keywords report will tell you which phrases users have been using in their search engine queries before landing on your website. Based on these results, make sure to optimize your site and bid accordingly!


Are there any other reports in GA that you're using on a daily basis? Share away!


Posted by My Truong

My Truong is the Marketing Programs Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter @PtitMy.



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Small Biz Social Secrets - Episode 5: Mike Simonsen [VIDEO]

Thu, 07/12/2012 - 06:00

We're excited to bring you our fifth installment of the Small Biz Social Secrets video series. This time we're chatting with Mike Simonsen, CEO of Altos Research. In this video, Mike shares how social media is working for his company. He also provides details around using social media from a personal and professional perspective.




Posted by Derek Overbey

Derek Overbey is the Senior Social Media Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter at @doverbey.



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Customer Satisfaction is Not Dead

Wed, 07/11/2012 - 06:00

According to Wikipedia, customer satisfaction, a term frequently used in marketing, is a "measure of how products and services supplied by a company meet or surpass customer expectations."

If you have any kind of business involving customers (both internal and external), you need to be concerned and actively managing your customer satisfaction. Today, with social media and the internet at our finger tips, consumers are just a few keystrokes and clicks away from airing their grievances or praise to the world. Consumers are now in the driver's seat when it comes to your company's reputation, so you need to remember that in all interactions.

I recently attended one of our VerticalResponse marketing webinars with Andy Sernovitz from Andy talked about how a number of companies are garnering amazing word of mouth by serving their customers in extraordinary ways - take Zappos for example. Zappos consistently achieves customer satisfaction scores in the 90s - yes, the 90s. That's a whole lot of love for shoes - but that's the funny part - It's not just about the shoes, in fact, it's exactly what it should be about: the customer.

Back in 2003, Zappos figured out a key obstacle to customer satisfaction: Drop shipping. Sexy right? Not so much, but even though it accounted for 25% of their revenue, it was inhibiting their customers from being fully satisfied. So Zappos, literally, dropped their third party drop shipping vendor and began to control the entire customer experience themselves. According to Brian Solis, "almost immediately, the team noticed a difference. Customers weren’t the only people singing Zappos’ praises. Employees were more engaged and passionate as a result. The new focus gave representatives something they could stand behind. Customers could hear the passion of the person on the other end of the phone. They cared. Vendors noticed too; their onsite visits would increase in frequency and length to see what the new Zappos was all about. Focusing on customer service caused a snowball effect that helped Zappos soar to new heights. At the end of 2003, Zappos nearly doubled its revenues to $70 million. By 2004, the company earned $184 million."

Wowza! That's some smokin' satisfaction resulting in a win-win-win for the customer, the company and the employees.

Another successful customer satisfaction example is the grocery store, Trader Joe's. I shop at Trader Joe's every week and love the value, the shopping experience and the service. Apparently, I'm not alone. Trader Joe's has a fan page on Facebook with 492,082 likes.

According to Fast Company, "at Trader Joe's, listening to customers -- and their valued feedback -- is not about a carefully calibrated contact center or extensive customer research. Rather, it's about something much more simple, and simply human: a conversation among the customer and the "captains" and "crew members," as its Hawaiian-shirt-clad managers and employees are called. 'We feel really close to our customers,' says Audrey Dumper, vice-president of marketing for Trader Joe's East. 'When we want to know what's on their minds, we don't need to put them in a sterile room with a swinging bulb.'

By empowering their employees, Trader Joe's keeps customer satisfaction high. Want to sample a product? No problem. Employees are allowed to open any product. And, they'll willingly give you recommendations. On a recent visit, I not only got a recommendation on some great steak, but step-by-step directions on how to prepare it. And, if you don't see something you want, let a TJ's employee know because any employee can email buyers with ideas and feedback. How cool is that?

At VerticalResponse, we send out a monthly customer satisfaction survey consisting of one question: How likely are you to recommend VerticalResponse? We send it to all our active customers. We get very valuable feedback on what is working and what's not. We meet as a group with a representative from each department, discuss what we're hearing, how to remove obstacles, address any shortcomings, and how to do more of what people love! We also try to reach out to our advocates, as well as our detractors and let them know what we've heard, and what we are working on to keep improving their experience. Transparency goes a long way.

Take some time and reflect on your own organization and how you are (or aren't) set up to satisfy your customers. What could be blocking or standing in the way of it? How empowered and invested in customer satisfaction are your employees?


Posted by Kim Stiglitz.

Kim Stiglitz is the Director of Lifecycle Marketing at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @Stiggy1.



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Customer Service Pop Quiz: Be Your Own Customer

Tue, 07/10/2012 - 06:00

This article by VerticalResponse CEO and founder Janine Popick originally appeared on


Here's an idea: Call your own company's phone line to see how it's answered. Have a live online chat with your competition and your own company during the workday. Send an email requesting more information and see what you get back. Fill out a form on your website to see what happens afterward.

I'm sure at least once you'll be surprised by your customer service "audit."

I recently did all of these at VerticalResponse and found major flaws in how we were handling inbound inquiries. It's not a knock on anyone in my company; it's just that over time, you get different people adding/taking away from a process and no one is probably looking at the entire communication string from end to end.

Pay special attention to these four things:


How do your employees answer the phone? Is it the way you want them to? Have they ever been instructed on how to do this? If not, you may want to formalize (or not!) how they should be picking up the phone. As for demeanor, I like our employees to be less robotic and to have personality on the phone; your business might not allow for that. We also strive to not keep a customer on hold for longer than a minute and/or get back to them right away. It doesn't always happen for various reasons, but it's something to be aware of.

If you have a phone tree, you need to give it a closer look. If there are too many "push 2349 followed by the pound sign for customer service" and "push 456 followed by the pound sign for sales," you might be making it more difficult than it needs to be for your customers to reach you.

I even listened to our hold music, which ended up being a different volume than when someone chimed in to talk. It just sounded unprofessional. The details matter.


Your email should come "from" your company name. I can't tell you how many times I get an email that I really need from "support" and sometimes I take it for spam or my filters do. Also try not to make your emails sound robotic if you can. I know, sometimes "canned responses" are easy and the best way to answer a particular type of question, but sometimes hand-holding is needed as well.

Chat or Instant Message

If you're using live chat or instant message, make sure that you don't keep your chatter waiting too long; it is "live," after all. Since people are reaching out to you in this manner they expect a pretty instantaneous answer, so if you're not going to pay it off, don't do it.


If you're going to offer support via an online form, answer it in a timely fashion. The bar has been set so low with forms these days that I'm surprised when I get someone to answer one! I just recently asked for more information by filling out a form on a website. I was so happy to receive an answer back that I asked if they'd really read my request!

When it comes to customer service, it's easy to assume that if there aren't any complaints and everything seems to work okay, there's no need to improve it. But you can't afford to have second-rate or flawed service. We all need to take a step back once in awhile to make sure all the pieces still fit and are as streamlined as possible.

What other communication channels should be included when you're auditing your customer service?


Posted by Janine Popick

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @janinepopick, and check out more of her columns.



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How Colorado Businesses Used Social Media During the Fires

Mon, 07/09/2012 - 06:00

Colorado suffered some catastrophic fires, which put a lot of people and businesses in danger. Currently, the fires haven't been put out, but hopefully when this post goes live, they will be. I'm from Colorado, Colorado Springs in fact, and though I now live in California, I've lived most of my life in Colorado and still have lots of family and friends there. During this crisis, I found myself turning to social media to find out the latest on the fires, and to stay updated with my friends. Facebook has been a lifesaver, and though it only helped ease my concern a little, at least I knew everyone was safe. But then I started wondering about businesses that I had frequented in Colorado, and how they were doing. I found that they too, had taken to social media to keep their customers current on what was going on. In consideration of this horrible firestorm, here are some social media tips that you and your business can implement when emergencies happen:

Post an update as soon as possible - This may seem obvious, but information spreads quickly these days. As soon as possible, post what's happening in your area, and let your followers know what they can expect from your business over the next few days. Is your business open? Will you have different hours? Is anything in danger or are you all okay? The more context and information you can provide, the better.

In this example, the Flying W Ranch let their followers know that they had to evacuate, but saved what they could.

Later, they posted that the phones were down, but they could still be reached through their Facebook page.

Continue to keep your followers updated  - Once you've alerted people to what's happening, keep them in the loop. If your phones are down or the electricity is out, let customers know so they don't worry or wonder what is happening. This will also allow you to manage expectations for any expected shipments or service calls. Chefs Catalog did this and received some great responses and encouragement from their customers:



Share helpful third-party information - One of the most positive things about social networks like Facebook and/or Twitter, is that you're connected to many people. If you have helpful information that will make a trying time easier for your family, friends, customers or community, share it! Sharing valuable information can provide help quickly to someone who may need it. One of my favorite resources for the fires was a news organization in Colorado Springs. They shared everything they could, newsworthy or otherwise on social media including: recent evacuations, upcoming press conferences, places taking in evacuees, even what the firefighters needed donated.

And you don't have to run a news channel to share. Due to edgerank, your posts may show up at the top of your followers feeds, so sharing information can give the timely helping hand someone needs.

Keep people in the loop, even when the worst happens - Sometimes, no matter how hard people try, there is a possibility that you may lose your business due to something like a fire, flood or earthquake. As heartbreaking as it for the business owner, customers also feel the loss. Letting them know what happened, and what your plans are for the future, will help them, and you. The Flying W Ranch unfortunately burned down from the fires in Colorado Springs, but they gracefully and quickly let people know what happened and that they planned to rebuild. Their post was heartfelt and personal, and even included the name of the person who was keeping everyone updated. The outpouring of support has been amazing, and the post received nearly 7,000 likes, 2,000 shares and just over 1,100 comments, mine included. Their Facebook followers increased by 14,000 in a week and are still growing.

Flying W Ranch's social media presence has also continued to grow because they've been consistently sharing pictures, some from the past, some from the fire aftermath - And, all have hopeful and positive comments.

Say thank you - Once the crisis has passed, let your customers know and thank them. You definitely want them to come back and patronize your business again. If there's going to be a rebuilding time, let customers know, or, if you're behind with orders or have delays, let them know that too. Manage expectations and show gratitude.


Don't forget family and friends - One of the most helpful realizations about social media, is that if you're posting updates, you must be in a safe place. This can ease the mind of anyone who knows you personally. Plus, your family and friends can also share your posts, and get the word out about what's happening with you and your business.

Having a plan before the unthinkable happens will help you and your business be prepared in a stressful and chaotic time. Plus, keeping your customers updated can help keep your business going strong after the crisis has passed. Colorado Springs is still recovering from the fires, but with the help of local organizations and social media, the community has pulled together to help and support everyone who needs it.


Posted by Jill Bastian.

Jill Bastian is the Training and Education Manager at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter @Jillieb3.