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Emotion vs. Promotion: How to Get a Customer to Buy

Wed, 08/29/2012 - 06:00

Pascal once wrote, "The heart has its reasons, which Reason knows nothing of." We can easily apply this famed French philosopher's quote to our marketing studies. When a consumer makes a purchase, is the decision to complete this purchase driven by an emotional want, or a logical need? Has a marketer's job been reduced to blasting offers to customers, hoping that they'll bite at "great savings"? While sales promotions can be a  part of the marketing mix, they represent one variable in the equation, while the actual solution might lie more on the emotional end.

Promos: Lowering the Barrier to Entry

According to Kotler, sales promotion is a "diverse collection of incentive tools, mostly short-term, designed to stimulate quicker and/or greater purchase of particular products/services by consumers or the trade. Where advertising offers a reason to buy, sales promotion offers an incentive to buy.” In other words, promotions are an excellent way of boosting sales over a short amount of time by offering something exceptional to your target audience. The most commonly seen type of promo is of course the discount, and with good reason: according to the PMA (Promotion Marketing Association), over 76% of the population uses coupons or promo codes. The rebate allows you to lower the barrier to entry that may have prevented potential customers from purchasing from you earlier.

Offering discounts on a regular basis has its limits though. Even though they're a great tool for meeting your sales quota in a short amount of time, they can devalue your product or brand in your consumers’ minds. Offering promotions on a regular basis may cause your customers to wait for the next promotion, instead of buying right away. Also, people may have bought your product during the sale period specifically due to the rebate you offered, and may be slow to return for that next purchase. 

Emotional Connection: Cultivating a Positive Brand Image 

Seeing an item going for less than half its regular price may make a potential customer sit back and think, "Oh, this won't hurt my wallet as much, might as well get it now." That would seem to be the logical response. However, lower prices don't necessarily equate higher sales. Would you buy something from a brand you'd never heard of before, even at 50% off? Now what if it were, say, Apple? In a heartbeat, right? That's because Apple has, over the years, built a brand image of being "cool" and "innovative." It resonates emotionally with consumers.

This goes back to my preamble to this post: emotion and logic both play an integral part in your customer's purchasing behavior. But in order to make a purchase, the consumer must have some kind of emotional investment in the product, making him/her want to acquire it. Per Perry Marshall, "We all fundamentally make all of our decisions based on emotion, not logic. Logic supports our emotions and is used to justify our decisions after we have made them. Logic plays a part, but emotion is the core ingredient." So if your product and/or the way you promote it is boring, no matter what the price, you may still will have difficulty selling it.

Social Media: Get Your Customers Selling For You

With the advent of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, consumers have found a venue to not only voice their opinion, but make it known to the whole world (or at least their friends and followers) if they so choose. Word of mouth has found itself a platform, but more importantly, the relationships between parties can go beyond simple business acquaintances or partnerships, they can be actual friendships. This elevates the degree of trust even more, as the reasoning now becomes: "My close friend/relative likes this brand, and I know him/her to be of good taste, therefore I can trust this brand and purchase their products as well." Moreover, it can give one bragging rights, resulting in a potential game of one-upmanship.

According to this article in SmallBizTrends, there are many ways to nurture and leverage this trust. Reach out to your customers and engage in conversations with them. Give them reason to write a glowing review of your product/service. Don't neglect the post-purchase experience either, help customers with any issue they may have encountered while using your product, and respond well to feedback, be it positive or negative.

Obviously, both approaches (delivering deep discounts vs. nurturing trust) are not mutually exclusive, but work best used in tandem. While building trust in your brand and generating positive buzz around it takes time, sales promotions might provide the final push needed to turn your prospect into a customer.

So what say you? Have your customers responded better to price drops, or positive word of mouth? Share away in the comments!

 

Posted by My Truong

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

Pinterest - It's Not Just for Women

Mon, 08/27/2012 - 06:00

You've probably heard it a million times already, so I'll just say it up front: Pinterest is Reddit for women. But if your company caters to men, should you ignore this up-and-coming social network?

Every study of the gender divide in social media indicates that the Pinterest phenomenon is driven almost entirely by women. According to Mashable, a whopping 82 percent of Pinterest users are women, compared to Facebook's slightly more even 58-42 percent female-male split.

Surfing the "Everything" portion of Pinterest is like looking at a visual representation of the American female ID. But, if you're skipping Pinterest because of some fear of getting too deeply in touch with your feminine side, you're missing out. I challenge you to look beyond the surface of recipes, french braid techniques and the latest manicure trends to see that there is actually a ton of relevant content that you and/or your company can offer that'll appeal to everyone, regardless of gender.

Joining the ranks of Pinterest early on may also give you an edge in the future. According to a recent article in Business News Daily, "A new study found that just 7 percent of businesses currently use Pinterest and only 10 percent of businesses were looking to join the social network." Why? According to the article, "Pinterest has attracted a huge following quickly, but companies may be waiting to see if its popularity will last and what the potential business uses are in order to determine if a presence there makes sense."

I started using Pinterest as a visual bookmarking tool a few months back when one of my favorite sites posted an incredible human skull made from cast-off electronics. I knew just linking to the post wasn't enough - it was the picture that drove my interest. According to an article on NPR, Pinterest's photo-centric infrastructure will become important for all businesses in the future:

"Even those who've written off the site as overly feminine may soon find a Pinterest-like interface among their favorite sites, Soraya Darabi (a New York-based digital brand strategist) says. Pinterest's "ability to effectively scale and communicate a lot of content at once, and organize that content very, very efficiently," means "it's going to set the mode for how media companies structure their websites going forward."

The NPR article also states that while Pinterest may primarily resonate with the female population for now, it doesn't have to. "She (Soraya Darabi) predicts Pinterest will eventually "want to have a broader landscape of folks using the platform ... Should Pinterest really want to lasso in an older demo, a male audience, they may want to feature [uses] on their home page that are geared to those groups in particular."

As Pinterest grows, there have been pop-up copycats targeting the guys like Dudepins (currently in BETA) and Gentlemint.

Many of the men I found on the site are designers of one sort or another. They're comfortable thinking visually and use the site as a source of inspiration. I found plenty of examples of great costume ideas, design inspiration from the past, and fun home improvements. You'll even find many of the same funny pictures and memes that make Reddit popular.

But isn't this all really about offering content that connects with people regardless of gender? Your boards are what you make them. If you and/or your company want to have pin-appeal, check out the tips we shared in our popular, Like it, Pin it, Sell It - Why Pinterest Matters for Your Business post and you'll be well on your way to providing engaging content that appeals to everyone.

Guys, we want to hear from you! Are you using Pinterest? Give us a shout in the comments and let us know.

 

Posted by Rob Zazueta.

Rob is the Evangelist at VerticalResponse. Connect with him on Twitter @rzazueta.

5 Tips for Creating a Winning Presentation

Fri, 08/24/2012 - 06:00

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

Earlier this year, I had a presentation to do about the wonders of combining email marketing and social media to grow your business. I put together what I thought was a pretty nice deck with some great how-tos. My bullets were tight, I had awesome graphics to illustrate what I would be talking about, and I finished it up with some really nice key takeaways.

I go to the venue early to scope out the place. Here's what I found:

The acoustics were terrible. There was no carpeting and everything echoed like crazy. On top of it all, I would be presenting in the middle of the place, among people who were talking to sponsors and networking.

I would be speaking on a stage that was great with a lapel mic, which I like. But the screen for my slides was a 60-inch flat screen. Fine for a group of a few, but not for the 200 people that the room was set up for and that we were expecting.

Ugh. This is my nightmare.

I ran to a corner and started to redo my perfectly formatted slides, making a 40-page deck into 60 pages because I had to make the font size huge so everyone could see it! If you do view the presentation, you'll see that you should view it on a full screen, not the smaller Slideshare screen; another lesson to remember.

Here's what I learned from this crazy experience, so that you don't end up in a similar situation:

1. Use a Large Font Size

If you're doing a how-to presentation, bulleted points are key. People like to take photos of the presentation or take copious notes, so having words they can see is critical, especially if you don't know the size of the room you'll be presenting in. Some rooms are just too long and if your audience in the back row can't see, they're not going to give you high marks in their exit surveys, not to mention that feeling of being ripped off.

2. Put Your Content Up High

Display all bullets and important information on the top two-thirds of the slide. Again, the room might be long and people might have to look over rows and rows of heads in front of them to see your important info.

3. Use Big Photos

In my problem above, I took one of two images on a slide and just gave it its own slide. If you're literally illustrating a point, make it big!

4. Have Interstitial Slides

These are slides that start off a new section of your presentation. What it does is give you a pause and allows you to set up the next section or idea.

5. Make it Fun

People are listening to you to learn something, but it doesn't have to be boring. You can inject some pizzazz into your presentation with funny images or quotes, which also shows you've got personality! Check out Prezi, an online software that helps you create fun and cool presentations; but be prepared, because you need a fast Internet connection to run it.

There are so many "gotchas" when presenting, and knowing just a few of them could help you with unexpected situations you might come across! If you've got any more, share them in the comments section please; we'd love to hear them!

 

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 Inc.com columns.

Use Live Video in Your Email & Increase Engagement

Thu, 08/23/2012 - 06:00

Many of us have considered using live video in our emails to engage our readers in a unique way. In the presentation titled, Video Email: When, Why, and How, the Email Experience Council (EEC) offers an impressive list of statistics making the case for video in email even more compelling.

Some of the highlights include:

  • 86% of Americans (180 million) viewed online video in August 2011, which was a 26% increase from 2010.
  • By 2014, video may account for 50% of web traffic.
  • According to Forrester, click-through rates (CTR) in an email with video increase by as much as 2-3 times.
  • Even before viewing the video, merely starting the subject line with ‘Video:’ can double the CTR.
  • Meanwhile, inside the email, video brings the CTR up to 67% higher than an average campaign.

Not sure how to start including videos that play within your emails? You’re not alone. Video in email is still a relatively new concept for marketers to wrap their heads around. It’s not that we can’t see how effective it can be, it’s just that the implementation can be somewhat baffling considering the vast majority of email platforms today don’t really support rich-media marketing emails, like video emails.

Luckily, the technology to easily enable live video in email (as well as other rich media) is already here, and our friends over at ActiveMail have a simple solution. With a quick download you can enjoy rich, interactive content (e.g. animated images, live video, etc.) without ever leaving your inbox and offer your own customers engaging content right from within your email. Currently, ActiveMail supports Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Outlook. To learn more and jump into the world of interactive emails check them out here.

Source: ActiveMail

 

Posted by Kim Stiglitz.

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

Social Local Mobile: What is it & How Does it Impact My Business?

Wed, 08/22/2012 - 06:00

You may or may not be familiar with the term SoLoMo. If you’re not, don't worry because the term was just recently coined. An offshoot of Hyperlocal Search, SoLoMo stands for Social-Local-Mobile. Greg Sperling provided the best explanation of SoLoMo in a January 12, 2012 article via Mashable:

“‘Hyperlocal search’ may be dying, but the phenomenon is evolving and becoming more mobile,” says Greg Sterling, senior analyst with San Francisco-based consultancy Opus Research. “SoLoMo is a more mobile-centric version of the same concept with greater local precision: It’s about getting nearby information on demand, wherever you may be.”

So, aside from sounding funny as it comes out of your mouth, how does SoLoMo translate in the real world? Most people might be experiencing SoLoMo and not even realize it. If you’ve shopped in the San Francisco Neiman Marcus recently and downloaded the NM Services app on your iPhone, as soon as you walk into the store, you're engaged in the SoLoMo experience. Detailed in this March 2012 article from Internet Retailer, Neiman Marcus is taking the SoLoMo bull by the horns. The NM Services app is engaged when a customer’s phone is recognized by one of the in-store location sensors that are installed at key entry points. Once the app is engaged, the customer is alerted to which of his or her preferred sales associates are currently in the store, as well as upcoming store events, new product arrivals and sales, and emerging fashion trends.

That’s a fine and dandy example of a large business using cutting-edge technology to deepen the service level to its customers. But how does SoLoMo impact the corner bar or local restaurant that doesn’t have the resources and money to build an app? How can you take advantage of SoLoMo?

You can get in the game with existing consumer apps such as Foursquare. Our favorite local breakfast spot, Stacks, partnered with Foursquare and American Express for the benefit of their patrons. When you visit Stacks and check-in via Foursquare, you receive a rebate of $5.00 off of any total bill of $10.00 or more. This is an example of a local business rewarding their customers who use social applications on their mobile devices while visiting their establishment.

Will SoLoMo work for your business? Well, that depends on the type of business you have, and what you're trying to accomplish. If you have a retail operation or local restaurant and you’re trying to build a tighter relationship with your patrons, then implementing SoLoMo into your business might be just what the doctor ordered.

 

Posted by Derek Overbey

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

4 Business Tools That Make Life Easier

Mon, 08/20/2012 - 06:00

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

One awesome advantage about running a tech company in the San Francisco Bay Area is that I hear about – and get to try out – many of the apps and software that are just entering the market. If the tool makes me more efficient or has real potential to help a small or midsize business, I'm all ears.

But a lot of the buzz around technology these days is just hype, especially now that everyone wants to be the next Instagram or Pinterest. As a business owner, how do you know which company, app, or platform is worth your attention and will help your business grow? Most entrepreneurs I know just don't have the time to try every new tool du jour.

So, I thought it would be helpful if I wrote a monthly roundup of online business tools that, in my humble opinion, live up to their promises. If they work for me, they just might work for you. (Added bonus: Most of them will be pretty darn affordable, if not free.)

Here are four tools that I'm loving this month:

Tripit

I love TripIt because you can easily access and manage all your travel details from one place. All you have to do is forward your airline, hotel, and rental-car itineraries to the application, and it'll generate one master itinerary for you that you can access on your phone and/or through your calendar. Cost: Free for basic version.


Punchcard

What's a tried-and-true way to encourage loyalty and repeat customers? Rewards! If you have a brick-and-mortar retail location, this nifty mobile app lets your shoppers take a picture of your receipt with their phones and get loyalty points from you. It's just like those paper punch cards you used to get from the corner coffee shop or pet store – except now it's all virtual. Cost: Free for the app.


Eventup

This website is like the VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) of event spaces, and a great resource if you need to find a venue to host an event. It has lots of pictures, a calendar of availability, and various search options so you can filter down by price range, number of guests, etc. The site covers New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. Cost: Free to book.


Uber Cab


Uber is a town-car service that operates in 13 locations (San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Boston and Seattle among them) and expanding fast. The app lets you see on a map when and where an Uber town car is in your neighborhood, and you can request a pickup with a tap on your smartphone. (You can also make a request with a text message.) Schwanky! Cost: Free for the app; you just pay for your ride.

If any of these tools sounds as if it could save you time or money, give it a shot. In the meantime, I need to come up with a catchy title for this monthly roundup. If you have any ideas, let me know in the comments section!

 

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 Inc.com columns.

Get Publicity: 5 PR Advantages Small Businesses Have

Fri, 08/17/2012 - 10:20

Unless you're, say, Apple, you probably don't have the press following and reporting on your every move. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck when it comes to getting publicity. In fact, small businesses have some key advantages over large corporations when it comes to getting positive PR coverage.

Here are five ways you can leverage your small business "angle"; perhaps they’ll inspire some ideas on how you can get out there and grab the media’s attention.

1. Small businesses have personal stories to tell. By now, most people know why TOMS Shoes got started or how Mark Zuckerberg founded (The) Facebook – because it’s been talked about in the press so many times (hit movie notwithstanding). Chances are, you’ve got an interesting story about how or why you started your business, or how you’ve overcome challenges along the way. Media love to profile success stories, especially business websites and magazines, because they are interesting and motivating to their entrepreneurially minded readers.

Our local business paper, the San Francisco Business Times, features an “Executive Profile,” “Nonprofit Profile” and “Entrepreneur Profile” in every week’s issue. Your local business paper or section probably profiles homegrown companies on a regular basis, too. Nationally, Inc., Entrepreneur, and the American Express Open Forum website publish profiles regularly and might be worth pitching if your “how I did it” story is really unique and/or your company is growing fast.

 

2. Small businesses know their customers. As a small business, you probably know your customers pretty well. They are the regulars at your establishment; the ones who send you thank-you notes; the ones who comment on your Facebook posts; the ones who refer you to friends. These customers are a great opportunity to get PR coverage. Customer testimonials go a long way when it comes to successfully “selling” a story to the press. Why? Journalists want to know how you’re actually making a difference, and aren’t just all talk. Again, they want personal stories.

Do a quick interview with the customer to get some background information and then offer him/her up as a source to support your media pitch. Make sure the customer you’re pitching knows to talk about how great you are in the interview. When you get written up, it’s great publicity for you and for that customer. Win-win all around. (For an example, check out this recent profile we secured about Westway Studio, one of our favorite customers.)


3. Small businesses can have a strong impact on their communities. Big companies spend a boatload of money on community relations, with the goal of putting a face to the brand through smaller-scale, local initiatives. Well, guess what? You’ve been there in your local community all along!

The more involved you are with your community, the more likely the local media will start noticing your efforts – and the more legitimacy you have as a business when you pitch them a story. Regional press are more interested in what’s going on in the trenches within their coverage area versus a company that’s based on the other side of the country, no matter how big that company is.


4. Small businesses are flexible enough to capitalize on current events. Let’s say your state is in the middle of a huge heat wave and you own an air conditioning sales and repair company. It probably won’t take you a ton of time to survey how much business has picked up and which brands, models and price points are flying off the shelves, then pitch those statistics to the press. A huge company like Frigidaire, on the other hand, might have to collect and analyze numbers from potentially hundreds of reps and offices. And by the time they're ready to go to the media (complete with approved corporate talking points), the heat wave might be over.

As a small business, you’ve got the advantage of little to no bureaucracy and the ability to react quickly to what’s currently in the news. And one of the well-known secrets about getting a quick PR hit is to capitalize on what’s in the headlines.


5. Small businesses tend to attract more positive publicity. Let’s face it: a lot of the time, Fortune 500 companies are in the news and blogged about because they did something wrong. (Even if it’s something some might think is relatively minor, like this recent Alaska Airlines incident.) You’d have to really, really mess up for press to take notice. That alone is a huge advantage!

Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you don’t have a great story to tell to the media. Try these small business “angles” for your next PR pitch and you might be surprised by the response. If you have any other tips, please share in the comments!

 

Posted by Connie Sung Moyle

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

Fundraising Resources that'll Fuel Your Funds

Thu, 08/16/2012 - 06:00


Fundraising is an important aspect for any non-profit, but it can also be pretty stressful; your next year depends on how well it goes. It's understandable that this could cause some tense moments during your workday, adding to your other day-to-day tasks. So, I've rounded up great tips that'll hopefully ease some of that stress the next time you plan a fundraiser. Here are some fundamental fundraising resources that'll fuel your funds:

Social Media - This may be one of your best resources for getting the word out about any event you're holding, and it can also help in fundraising. Many NPOs use events as fundraisers of course, but what if your non-profit was selling an item, like candy bars for example? Here are some suggestions:

  • Pinterest - Create a board for your fundraiser and add enticing photos of the item you're selling, like candy bars. Share pictures of people selling them (smiling of course!), happy people eating the candy bars, etc. Also include info on how to get in touch with your organization and link to your website if someone can buy/donate from there. Pinterest is all about images, which is great for a non-profit; there are lots of things you can pin.
  • Twitter - Tweet about your fundraiser. No brainer right? Sure, but make sure you include a link for people to purchase your item, or include a location they can visit to purchase. And of course, tweet a link to donate through in case someone would rather do that. Social media is fast-moving, if you inspire someone to donate to your NPO, you want them to do it right then.
  • Facebook - Facebook is especially important to point out because it can be a huge help for your fundraising efforts. You probably already know that there are many Facebook accounts, around 900 million of them. That is a big number for sure, but what it means to your non-profit (or any business really) is that the people who will support your business are there waiting to hear from you. They may not be following you yet, but likes or comments on your posts will show up in the feed from friends who comment or like. Plus, you never know who your friends are. Here's an example of what I mean:
The Colorado Springs Down Syndrome Association participated in a nation wide movie night last year. They tweeted about the event, sent emails and posted about it on Facebook. It turned out one of their Facebook fans worked at a local news station and got the word out about the movie night. They sold out the theater and had to add another showing of the film to accommodate everyone.

They did all the right things to get the word out, and this is exactly why you want to share your fundraising on social media.

Online registration: Again, probably a no-brainer, but maybe not. We live in a society that is very mobile, so you want to make sure that when you Tweet, post on Facebook or send an email, your recipients can take action through the medium you are contacting them through, even if it's just a link. If you're having an event, allow people to sign up for it online; or donate, purchase, whatever your fundraiser is for. There are lots of online registration tools out there to help you manage this (VR Events for example), plus:

And a lot more, check out this article for more ideas.

Fundraising tools: Make sure the program or fundraising tools you find have what you want and need. There are a lot out there, so look at a few and figure out what features you need and what you can live without. Since very few are free, you'll want to make sure you find the features you need or can use, as some may have too many bells and whistles. Even if discounted for NPOs, you may still find that some products take more effort to get to what you need. The Fundraising Authority has some tips on what to look for in a fundraising database.

So there you have it, some pointers to help out when it's time to start thinking about fundraising.

And don't forget to check any laws in your area that may impact your fundraising before you begin!

Entice Mobile Users to Open Your Emails: 3 Tips

Mon, 08/13/2012 - 06:00

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

If you're using email marketing to keep in touch with customers and prospects, you probably spend a lot of time coming up with that perfect subject line to get as many people as possible to open your emails.

You probably also spend a lot of time trying to whittle the subject line down to around 50 characters, which is typically all that can fit in an email client's window before it gets cut off. I know, I know, there's so much you want to say!

Here's a little secret: You can say more in the pre-header of your email.

If you don't know what a pre-header is, you're not alone. We get this question a lot since email marketing is what we do. The pre-header area is nothing more than what you include in the very top of your email. Here's an example, using a recent VR Buzz marketing newsletter. The subject line is about 10 awesome events, but the pre-header tells the reader that the email also contains eight tips for creating a top-notch blog:


The pre-header has become increasingly important because of the growing number of people who are looking at their emails on their mobile devices. Many people have their mobile settings set so they can at least browse the first few lines of an email without actually clicking to open it. That's a huge opportunity for you to include something at the top of your email that gets your readers' attention and entices them to open it. Check out the same VR Buzz email on an iPhone:



Here are three pre-header ideas I can think of off the top of my head: 

  1. Phone number. If your subject line had a killer offer and your pre-header said, "Call us at 800-555-1212 to get this offer," all your readers would have to do is click the phone number on their phone to call. Pretty cool, huh? I am on the email list of one of my favorite restaurants whose menu changes every day, and they fit their main course plus the reservation phone number in the pre-header of the email.
  2. Newsletter article. If you've got an email newsletter and you include what you think is the catchiest article headline in the subject line, why not include the second catchiest one in the pre-header? If the first one didn't get subscribers to open your email, maybe the second one will!
  3. Mobile site. If you've got a mobile version of a landing page that you want to send mobile users to, include the mobile link in the pre-header and the normal link in the rest of your email. You may find an increase in your overall conversions once people get to that page.

Using a pre-header in your email marketing is a no-brainer, in my opinion, and super-easy to include in your next campaign. Are you using pre-headers? How are they working to increase your response rates?

 

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 Inc.com columns.

 

 

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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!


Sources:

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 Inc.com.

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.

Capital

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.

Colleagues

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.

Competition

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.

Community

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 Inc.com 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 Chick-Fil-A.com

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 WordofMouth.org. 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 SocialMedia.org, the community for social media leaders at the world’s greatest brands, and WordofMouth.org, 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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Small Biz Social Secrets - Episode 1: Shauna Causey [VIDEO]

Small Biz Social Secrets - Episode 2: Wesley Faulkner [VIDEO]

Small Biz Social Secrets - Episode 3: Chris Brogan [VIDEO]

Small Biz Social Secrets - Episode 4: Lauren Friedman [VIDEO]

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

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