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Build a Content Marketing Calendar, Customers Will Come

Wed, 09/26/2012 - 07:00

There’s someone I’d like you to meet! My biggest frenemy in the world: Procrastination. Oh wait, you two have already met? Of course you have, procrastination gets around, am I right? And, when it comes to content marketing, getting involved with procrastination is an intense whirlwind relationship full of stress, guilt and shame. Meanwhile, customers are eagerly awaiting our educational emails, super sales, bangin’ blog posts and shareable social updates. So how can we retain and gain new customers, yet kick that no-good procrastination to the curb? Meet a much better catch: The content marketing calendar.

We know producing quality content is at the core of keeping our customers engaged, buying, liking, talking and subscribing. But oh, how do we find the time! It’s pretty simple if/and when you create a calendar. Organization is power! Build a content marketing calendar and customers will come.

Here's how:

Make decisions
First, decide what type of content you’re going to wow your customers with. Will you  create promotional emails, newsletters, videos, blog posts, Twitter and/or Facebook updates? Write down every type of "content" you want or need to produce, plus how often you'll publish or send it. This will give you a better understanding of how and when you want to communicate with your audience.

Get cookin’
Determining content type is fine and dandy, but cooking up content topics may cause a slip up with procrastination. Set up weekly, monthly or quarterly editorial brainstorm sessions, whether it's with yourself or members of your team, and get creative! Do some pre-brainstorm research, create charts, doodle, scope out competitors, feed off each other’s ideas and stir up enough content ideas that’ll hold you over until next time. No one wants to eat a half-cooked cake (or read a frantically whipped up blog post), so don’t leave your brainstorm session until your content calendar is bursting with juicy ideas.

At VerticalResponse, we have quarterly brainstorm sessions for our marketing blog, weekly sessions for the VR Buzz newsletter, and daily ones for our social posts. The longer the content takes to produce (blog post vs. tweet), the earlier you should plan ahead. Once you have your ideas, place them into a content calendar so you don't forget them.

Shoot: (and set a) goal!
Once you’ve decided on desired content types and ideas, give yourself frequency goals: I will update Twitter twice a day, I will send an email newsletter twice a month, I will write a blog post three times a month, etc. Once you’ve determined your content and frequency goals, it’s time to get crafty and put them into play!

Pick a tool, any tool
Simply put, use whatever’s easiest. At VR, we rely heavily on Google Calendars and Google Docs. A simple Excel sheet or Word doc, even your email calendar (Outlook or iCal) will easily suffice, as well. We’ve also recently discovered a handy project management tool called Basecamp that allows you to create projects, to-do lists and assign them to people. Anything that’s been assigned with a deadline automatically shows up in a calendar – snazzy. 

Be a mastermind
Create one mega master calendar featuring all of your content: email campaigns, blog posts, social posts, etc. Once everything’s laid out, analyze. Are any of your emails overlapping? Are you sending too much/too little? Is it possible for you to produce this much content? These are questions that’ll instantly be answered with a master calendar in place. The Content Marketing Institute also suggests to keep the following in mind:

  • Track key dates such as events, holidays or other things that may impact which content you want to share and when. If you have an international audience, include holidays in the various countries you serve as well.
  • Include a brief overview of all of the content that is planned by content type.
  • Looking at all of your key dates and planned topics can give you ideas for topics and help you think about how you can re-purpose content in multiple sources. For instance, if you have a new guide or case study planned, you can plan one or a series of blog posts around that. Or, if you have an event, you can plan to develop an eBook based on the top 30 takeaways from the event. Seeing the calendar at a glance helps these connections jump out more easily – and helps you remember which dates to avoid.

Once you’ve created a master plan, create mini-calendars per platform – blog, email, social, etc. At VR, we keep track of blog posts and email campaigns in the same Google Calendar; however, we manage and schedule our social posts elsewhere (VR Social hint, hint).

Here's an example of our master calendar (Google Calendar) including emails, blog posts and even 'splash pages' we feature on our website:

 

Here's an example of the VR Buzz newsletter calendar in Google Docs (as featured above with Ryan Gosling) broken up by quarter, week and audience:



Make deadlines for deadlines
When I worked in advertising, I had to manage and keep track of hundreds of clients and their deadlines. Do you think I ever gave my clients their real deadline? No way José. As much as we love to think people will stick to deadlines, they simply don’t. This is why you need to give others (and yourself!) deadlines for your deadlines. Marking faux deadlines on your content calendars will also keep things perfectly in check... It'll be our little secret.

Gain an entourage
Just because you created a content calendar doesn’t mean you have to manage it. Is someone in your company super-organized, has great attention to detail (and is a little bit bossy? - hmm, no wonder my director chose me to manage our blog!) Perfect. Put them in charge of managing your content calendars and deadlines, even if it means they’ll be after you. Also know that you don’t need to produce content all by yourself. Recruit a team of writers, or even consider a freelancer. Knowing you have an entourage of content creators will also justify the importance of maintaining a content calendar and adhering to it – more people to count/rely on!

Stick to it
Remember when we set goals? Here’s where we stick to them! Producing content may seem daunting, but think of all that revenue, exciting engagement and possible new prospects you’ll gain once that content is out there! Keeping your goals will be much easier and way more rewarding especially with a concise and organized content calendar. And remember, stay strong – procrastination doesn’t even deserve you.

Have content marketing calendar tips and tactics of your own? Spill it!

 

Posted by Colleen Corkery

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

Small Email Marketing Changes = Big Results

Mon, 09/24/2012 - 06:00

As small business entrepreneurs, we often find ourselves crunched for time and resources on a daily basis. Getting our bi-weekly email newsletter out the door can be challenging enough, let alone having time to test, optimize and segment it. But, I'm here to tell you, making a few small (and fast) changes can produce big results in engagement with your emails, social posts and more.

If you look at the open and click-through rates of your emails/newsletters, you may be wondering how you can improve upon either or both of them. Content is the #1 most important factor, which I've covered extensively in other posts, but besides providing killer content, you can make the following small changes that may produce big results:

Try adding the following: (Points coordinate to the numbers in red in the image of our own VR Buzz newsletter header below)


  1. Preheader Text - This is the first line of text or copy in your email. The preheader serves as a secondary subject line and gives your readers more motivation to open your email. It's powerful because it shows up right after the subject line in the inbox - essentially turbocharging it.
  2. Table of Contents - A table of contents helps your readers navigate your content quickly and easily to find what's most interesting to them vs. trying to scan through chunks of content. Anchor link your table of contents directly to each section of your email - This makes it super fast for your reader to jump to each piece of content that interests them the most, and gives you the intended action.
  3. Alt Text (not shown in image) - Almost all email browsers "turn off" images by default, hence, our pretty pictures don't initially render until the reader clicks the "display images" link. When an image isn't displayed, alt text is the copy that shows up instead of your image. Instead of your alt text reading something like, dogfood.jpg, (if you don't actively change your alt text, it'll use the name of your image), you can change it to reflect not only what the image is, but the action you want taken, like: Save 25% on Dog Food, or Win Free Dog Food for a Year! This is way more action-oriented and will get you more click-throughs. To learn more about alt text check out this post.
  4. Social Sharing Icons - Social sharing icons in your email/newsletter allow readers to share your message/content with their social networks on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. This is a major opportunity to get your content in front of tons of new eyeballs and get some new prospects and customers. At VR, it's as simple as inserting those social icons in your email with a simple click in our email editors. You can learn more about that here.
  5. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn & Pinterest Links - Unlike social sharing icons that we talked about above, another simple, but effective tactic is to include links to your social networks so your readers can connect with you there, as well. If you have a Facebook page, Twitter handle or your biz is on Pinterest, include them in your emails. Your readers will likely follow, like, pin and engage with you. Including your social sites in an email is fast, easy and allows you another channel to communicate and engage with readers - Win-win.
  6. Provide an Incentive/Offer - Many readers join your mailing list because you promised to provide them something of value. Besides informative and educational content, people want discounts. Send out coupons, offer special discounts and notify readers of upcoming sales. We recently launched our new Coupon tool that allows you to create a coupon you can share via your social networks on Facebook or Twitter. You can also share it in an email, making it fast and easy to get your discounts and offers out to all the places your customers and prospects may be interacting with you. See the sample below:

What small changes can you make, or have you made in your own email/newsletter that delivered results? We'd love to hear about them!


Posted by Kim Stiglitz.

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

Acquisition or Partnership? How to Decide

Fri, 09/21/2012 - 06:00

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

Instagram and Facebook. Microsoft and Yammer. Is an acquisition or partnership a possibility in your future?

If your company is growing, first things first: CONGRATS! It's a tough economy and you're lucky to be on the upswing, no matter how big or small it might be.

One way companies try to grow quickly is to either partner with another company or acquire it. If you're thinking about forming a partnership or acquiring another business, you're in for quite the ride. I've been on both sides in the past 11 years of running VerticalResponse. It was unnerving, stressful, expensive, time consuming, amazing and exhilarating ... just to name a few emotions.

So I thought to myself, there's got to be something to make it a little easier to decide what path is best. Here are three questions you should ask yourself:

1. Is your goal to acquire more customers, to own intellectual property I might not have, or both?

Partnerships come out of the need to grow a business. A marketing partnership might be as simple as a restaurant owner who advertises a neighboring wine bar in his email marketing campaigns, and the wine bar owner does the same for the restaurant. This could drive traffic into the local area where both businesses benefit from increased sales.

Another good example: a contact management software company that finds they get more business customers when they have email marketing companies integrated tightly into their software, so that their business customers can easily interact with their customers.

In both of these cases, either an acquisition or a partnership would be appropriate. In the former, the restaurant owner could benefit from the wine bar's customers. But taking it a step further, he could also get some major cost benefits from scaling when ordering food, wine and beer since he's already sourcing them for his current restaurant. He could also benefit from an administrative perspective, such as managing, menu planning and scheduling. In the latter example, the contact management company might hurt itself if it chose just one and could really benefit from the email marketing companies driving customers to use its software.

So you have to decide: Do you want to form a partnership to drive more customers cost-effectively, or do you need that business for more than just access to its customer base?

2. Is it core to what you do or where your business needs to go?

Here's a real-life example. VerticalResponse is known for email marketing services, even though we've got pretty incredible online surveys and event marketing services, too. Why? Mostly because we'd just launched our event marketing tool, and our online surveys have been around for just four of our 11 years in business. Then started to talk to companies in the social media space, because many of our small business customers were using social media in their marketing.

We started having discussions with a company called Roost, a social media marketing technology platform for small businesses. At first, we approached the relationship as a partnership because we thought both companies could really benefit. As the conversations furthered, both sides realized that an acquisition of Roost could really give us, VerticalResponse, a competitive edge in our industry from a product, customer, people and valuation perspective. What could be a better acquisition candidate? It was clear to us that diving into social media wasn't really a "nice to have," it had turned into a requirement. So we welcomed the Roost team aboard, launched a very nice email-and-social integration, VR Social, and it's working – quite nicely, I might add.

If the company you're thinking of working with has a product or service that's a "nice to have" for your own business, you may want to start out with a partnership first, and prove it successful before you jump in.

3. Will it make you more valuable?

What makes a company valuable? Many years ago, a company was looking to acquire us because of our domain expertise in delivering email to inboxes. But we had so much more than that. We had tens of thousands of customers, pretty cool technology, great people and revenue that was climbing. They were only interested in the fact that we could send email. They wanted a "feature," not a company, and in the end it wouldn't have really added value to their bottom line.

So I walked away. Why? Because I wouldn't have gotten the value for everything we worked so hard for, and our investors wouldn't have been rewarded the way they deserved to be.

The lesson here? If you're thinking of an acquisition, make sure you want to acquire a company for all the right reasons, and that all of those reasons add value to what you've already got.

When I was faced with whether to partner or acquire, these three questions led to many conversations and pretty tough company-changing decisions, hopefully for the best. I'd love to hear any questions you think I'm leaving out!

 

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.

How to Create a Successful Email from Head-to-Toe

Wed, 09/19/2012 - 12:01

Ever wonder what makes an email look great and work successfully? You probably have, we get this question a lot. To help answer that question we’re going to go through an email from head-to-toe and point out components that will give you a successful email.

Let’s start at the top:

From Label – This should be your company name, as most people will recognize your company more quickly than say, your personal name, and since you have just a few seconds to get someone to open your email, you want quick recognition.

Subject Line - Once your reader understands who sent the email, the subject line is what will entice them to open it. Write something catchy or interesting, but also informative (easier said than done, right?) Check out our free Savvy Subject Line Writing for Success guide for help!
 

Background – Use an email background color or pattern that's easy on the eyes. The colors in the example below aren't too bright, dark or distracting. Using black text (dark gray is good too) on a white background is the easiest to read.

Social Sharing – Make it easy on your recipients to share your email socially. These buttons are built into our system so they’re easy to add, plus you can put them anywhere in your email.

Pre-header – We can’t talk about this enough! Some email programs (including iPhones) pull the first line of text in the email into the subject line. Take advantage of this feature to get better open rates.

Table of Contents – If you have a longer email, include a table of contents to show your readers the great info found further in your email.

Links – Give your reader lots of opportunities to get to your website and do what you want them to do. Link your images, text, pre-header, buttons, etc. Plus, link clicks are tracked, so this will give you more insight into your recipient’s interests.

Industry News – Including blog posts, third-party articles, statistics, and industry news that's relevant to your business and recipients will keep your email readers engaged. Plus, your readers will look at you as a knowledgeable resource - Just make sure to give appropriate source credit.

Keep in Touch – Include several ways to get in touch with your company, including a direct email link. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, also include business hours. And, with the holidays rapidly approaching, it’s a good place to list any special holiday hours.

Forward to a Friend – Including this link will allow your readers to share your great content with their friends or colleagues. And anyone who receives an email forwarded this way will have the option to be added to your mailing list - An easy and free way to keep your list growing.

Two things I would add to the already great email example above:

Call-to-Action ButtonsButtons are more compelling to click than text links, and easier for mobile readers to touch. Include a couple buttons in your emails and you could see your clickthrough rate go up. We have a free tool to help you create them too!

Social Buttons – In addition to the social sharing buttons, include buttons that link to your company's social accounts: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, wherever you have an account for your business.

Easy, right? Hopefully the answer is yes. Most of these components can be added to your emails through your VerticalResponse account via the tool bar, in either the Wizard or Canvas editors. Try them out in your next email and see if you get better engagement.

Have you tried using any of these tips in your email? What were your results?

 

Posted by Jill Bastian.

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

Make Your Content Pop with Pictures

Tue, 09/18/2012 - 06:00

It’s a scientific fact that we all love to look at photos! Okay, so it’s not a fact, but photos are a great way to build engagement on your Facebook page, Twitter feed and even your blog. Why?

First and foremost, visuals evoke emotion in the viewer that is quick and direct. When you see a photo, your brain kicks into action and you have a visceral reaction to it. Photos are usually easy to understand. They may be funny, cute, sad or interesting, but all you need to do is look and let your emotions do the rest. In today's world, photos are also very easy to take. Smartphones and inexpensive cameras have enabled almost anyone and everyone to take a picture of nearly anything. In fact, every 2 minutes we snap as many photos as the whole of humanity took in the 1800s.

When it comes to social, you don’t have to look any further than the success of Pinterest and Instagram to see how popular photos are. Pinterest is now the 3rd largest social network in the US. And startup darling Instagram was acquired by Facebook for a cool $1 billion in April 2012.

So I think we have an understanding that photos are very popular. But how can you leverage photos in the social efforts for your businesss? Here are some tips:

  • Use photo centric sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram in your social media outreach. Especially if you have visually appealing products and services such as food, clothing or anything beauty related.
  • Intermix photos relating to your business with general items such as scenic shots, local sports teams or animals.
  • Interject humorous photos in the mix. People love to like, comment and share funny photos. This provides an opprtunity to expose your page or board to new people via the photos you are sharing.
  • Post at least one photo a day on your social sites. People may think they'll  bombard their followers, but realize the information streams on these sites moves pretty quickly. So only posting once a week for instance will get you lost in the shuffle.

At VerticalResponse, in our own social media marketing with Facebook, we've seen huge organic and viral traffic increases since we started to make photos an integral part of our social marketing efforts. In fact, we had one photo post that received 396 Likes, 492 Shares and 44 Comments. Not bad for a Facebook Page that only had a little more than 6,200 “Likers” to the page.

Most of the photos we use on Facebook are ones that we take ourselves, or that we share from our Facebook feed. On our blog, we approach it differently. We purchase about 98% of the photos, including the one in this post. Why you ask?


Back in the good old days, people didn’t really pay attention to attribution or copyright infringement when it came to using photos on their blog. They’d go to Google Images, type in a keyword or phrase that complemented their post, download the photo and slap it up for the entire world to see. Big mistake. Copyright laws are there to protect the author of the image. You’re not only taking money from the originator of the content, but you also run the risk of legal action.

If you’re looking to use photos for commercial purposes, you may want to check out these options:

There are tons more out there and it’s always a good idea to mix it up with different commercial photo sites so you get a new look and feel from the photos offered.

But, if you're looking to save a buck and put your own spin on your blog or social posts to Facebook and Twitter, use your smartphone or camera to take your own photos. This could be as easy as taking a photo of your blue plate special, or the new dress that came in. You may be surprised by the engagement/reaction you’ll get from a simple photo. It's no coincidence there is a saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words."

 


Posted by Derek Overbey

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

Google & Social: A Cautionary Tale

Mon, 09/17/2012 - 06:00

Google's recent acquisition of Wildfire was just the latest in a long series of big moves made by the search giant in their quest for prominence in the social sphere. But it was the first significant one in a while that didn't involve launching a product of their own. True, there have been social-oriented acquisitions in the past (Blogger back in the day comes to mind), but lately Google's most memorable efforts to dabble into the social space came straight out of the labs over in Mountain View and, unfortunately for them, didn't reach the heights they were undoubtedly hoping for. 

Let's take a look back at some of their efforts and learn some lessons of our own for launching a new product/service.

1. Google Wave: Too Smart for its Own Good?

Back in 2009 when Google VP of Engineering, Vic Gundotra, and his team first unveiled Google Wave at that year's I/O conference, people believed they had just witnessed the second coming of email. Combining the latter with instant messaging and layering a boatload of functionality on top of the already impressive combo, Wave promised a radical shift in the way we communicated on the web. Expectations couldn't have been higher, and everyone and their mother in the tech/geek world (including yours truly) just couldn't wait to get their golden ticket and grubby hands on the beta (limited to 100,000 users only at first).

Initial feedback ranged from mixed to very positive (check out Engadget's and Ars Technica's hands-on reviews at the time for instance), with everyone agreeing that this was a tool with a tremendous amount of potential. But analysts also waved a few red flags, cautioning people to keep their expectations grounded as Wave needed to work out some kinks before being officially anointed the future of the Internet, most notably that it lacked a clear purpose and viable real-life applications. Unfortunately, those hurdles proved too great, adoption never took off, even after removing the invite-only gate, and Google pulled the plug on Wave barely a year after introducing it.  

But come on, this was pretty cool:

 

 2. Google Buzz: Parlez-vous Privacy?

As with Wave, Buzz was greeted with a fair amount of buzz (OK, that was too easy) upon release. Some were already dubbing it the "Twitter killer" as Google was looking to leverage its considerable Gmail user base by integrating the new product directly within their email client. This would allow users to post updates visible to anyone in their Gmail contact list, directly from their Gmail page. In addition to the convenience of not having to change windows/tabs, Google enabled auto-following between a user and all his/her Gmail contacts, public and private sharing (which meant your posts would be indexed and thus Googleable) and a customized recommendation system for access to only the most relevant updates. All in all, it seemed the search giant had finally hit a social home run, and initial numbers posted on the official Gmail blog seemed to confirm it. Within 56 hours Buzz already had over 9 million posts and comments, which represents more than 160,000 comments and posts per hour.

Google however, neglected one vital aspect that would eventually bring about the demise of its newborn product: privacy. As soon as Buzz was announced, and even prior to launch, industry experts started pointing out the various breaches of user information that the company's decision to automatically opt in its customer base, had caused. Chief among these complaints and considered the biggest privacy flaw was the public disclosure of the names of all Gmail contacts on a given user's Google profile. After being hit with various lawsuits and settling a few of them, as well as being investigated by the FTC, Google decided to shut down its Buzz service a little over two years after its inception.

3. Google+: Is This Thing On?

By launching its own social network, pitting itself in direct competition with Facebook and its already built-in user base of 500 million-plus (at time of launch), Google knew it was taking a big gamble. So, when they officially announced the launch of Google+, it was immediately met with skepticism, fueled undoubtedly by the company's recent history with failed social products. Features such as Circles (a fancy term for lists) or Hangouts (a glorified chat) didn't do much to help the matter. When asked whether he felt threatened on the Charlie Rose show, Mark Zuckerberg said Google was just "trying to build their own little version of Facebook" (even though he eventually got on it too).

Fast-forward to over a year later, and the jury is still out as to whether Google+ is a success. Some still believe in its potential, believing it's only a matter of time before the social network truly takes off. But when faced with the hard, cold truth, we can only note that there just isn't much going on there right now. People from within the company itself seem to have lost faith as well, as illustrated by Steve Yegge's infamous rant. Instead of a list of raw numbers, here's a nice little infographic (courtesy of Umpf) to prove my point:

So as you can see, even one of the largest and most innovative companies in the world has had its own share of hiccups when launching new products/services. Google prides itself in letting its teams run independently to pursue their own projects, with the firm belief that it breeds innovation. But we can see in the 3 cases mentioned above that some coordinated homework and research wouldn't have hurt. The good news is the lessons learned are applicable to businesses of all sizes:

  • Make sure your product has legs: Wave was considered a genius idea with the potential to revolutionize the way we interacted online, but didn't live up to its lofty promise by failing to explain exactly what it was for or to promote its benefits clearly. Buzz was a good idea to begin with, but its utter disregard (blissful ignorance?) for privacy laws pretty much crippled it from the start. So do some research on your target audience and gauge potential interest, and identify any risks/opportunities that may arise during your product's lifecycle before moving forward with any development. A beta is a great way to get an initial read and make tweaks before exposing your new product/service to the masses.
  • Be wary of the state of the competitive market: Google+ hasn't offered enough difference-making features to make it a viable alternative to Facebook yet. If you are going after a market with firmly established leaders, identify some of the pain points that users are facing (using SWOT analysis, BCG or McKinsey matrices...) and launch a product that serves unmet needs in order to carve out unique market share. 
  • And most importantly, make sure your product is ready for consumption: Wave was available to only a limited number of people, in part due to the lack of technical resources to support heavier use. By the time Google was ready to accommodate everyone, the hype was over, and even the most fervent supporters had lost interest. At time of launch, your product/service needs to be robust enough for your consumers to, well, consume and enjoy. Beta testing is a great way to battle-proof it prior to general availability, but make sure to gather feedback from your testers and adjust accordingly in quick fashion.

Have you had issues launching a product or service of your own, and if so, what have you been able to take away from the experience? Share away in the comments!

 

Posted by My Truong

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

Become a Rock Star on Social Media: 4 Ways

Fri, 09/14/2012 - 06:00

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

At VerticalResponse, we truly believe that email and social media go together hand in hand. Why? Because your messages need to be where your prospects and customers are reading them, no matter what channel they like to pay attention to. And, if the stats are right, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn alone will reach over 1.5 billion consumers in 2012.

So I came up with four little tidbits you can do with your email marketing campaign to get more friends, followers, fans and fervor:

1. Be Proactive

Send a "like me" or "recommend me" email campaign to drive people to your Facebook page. Use a template like the one you see below. (This is just one of more than 700 free email templates that VerticalResponse offers.) It's important to have a presence on Facebook since it's the No. 1 social media network that your customers and prospects are using on a daily basis.

Give your followers and fans a reason to "Like" you by giving them a coupon or special offer. A few other ideas to get people to visit your page:

  • Ask a question. You'll show up in the feeds of anyone who responds.
  • Run a contest. We ran the Next Teen Tycoon video contest and had really amazing results. You might want to use a third-party app like Wildfire Interactive to help you manage it.
  • Post photos. Research suggests that people comment on and like photos the most.
  • Post your blog content to your Facebook page. You spend a lot of time creating the content, so why not publish it in as many places as possible.
2. Incentivize Your Twitter Followers Similarly, send a "follow me on Twitter" email campaign with one solo message: Get special deals if you follow us. Using a template like this one here makes designing it a snap.


3. Button Up

In every email campaign you send, include "follow me" buttons that link to your social media profiles. It has become as common as including your phone number, URL and address. Side note: Include the buttons in your customer service emails that you send out when a customer has a question.  4. Pin Your Emails If you're on Pinterest (like we are!), post the hosted version link of your email to a board. Choose the offer or article you want to show, and in the pin description make sure you use your keywords so that if someone is searching Pinterest for your products just like they'd search Google, they'll find your products or business.

Integrating your email marketing and your social media efforts is the smartest and easiest thing to do to maximize the time you spend setting up your marketing. Do you have any ideas to share? 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.

How to Make Trade Show Planning Easy Breezy

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 06:53

I love making lists and enjoy crossing things off lists even more! I create lists in both my personal and professional life. So when it comes to planning tradeshows (almost 30 a year for VerticalResponse), needless to say, I have a lot of lists. When attending a trade show, which is an excellent opportunity for all small businesses, there are two lists that everyone should use: One for event deliverables and deadlines and the second with assets that are needed for each tradeshow. Follow and create lists like these, and your tradeshow planning will be easy breezy: 

Deadlines & Deets

Event deadlines always vary and it’s important to keep track. For most tradeshows, there are a lot of things that need to be ordered in advance like furniture, electrical and internet access, as well as shipping arrivals. You usually get “early bird” discounts if you order before a certain date. I don’t know about you, but I love discounts (another pastime of mine), so keep an eye out for early bird dates and order everything, not only in advance, but also at a cheaper rate!

Here's an example of an exhibitor checklist from NYXPO, a tradeshow I’m currently coordinating. Most tradeshows don’t provide checklists so you can always use samples like this to make your own:


The Goods

The second list you want to create is pretty standard for all tradeshows, and it’s all the items you'll need to bring. Below is my mega-list of supplies I know I need. Keep this list up-to-date and add things you may have forgotten in the past. Your packing checklist should look a little something like this:

  • Business cards
  • Your product (if it's tangible)
  • Laptop/charger (for demos of your products/services)
  • Data sheets (brochures)
  • Data sheet stands
  • Extension cords
  • Fishbowl to collect business cards
  • Email signup form
  • Internet (Mi-Fi)
  • iPad
  • Monitor
  • Monitor cord - mini display port adapter
  • Pens
  • Pen holder
  • Pop-up banners
  • Portable cart
  • Return shipping labels
  • Scissors
  • Shipping tape
  • Stapler
  • Swag (branded t-shirts, pens, fun stuff etc.)
  • Thin-tipped permanent markers (for writing notes on business cards)
  • Company-branded tablecloth

This might look like an intimidating list, but you don’t have to bring everything to every tradeshow. There are some staple items that you should always have, like business cards, a laptop, thin-tipped permanent markers, a stapler, data sheets, etc. but everything else on the list varies. At VerticalResponse, we attend shows with anywhere from 50 people in attendance to 50K so it depends on the needs of the show. 

Making sure that everything is taken care of well before each tradeshow will undoubtedly make it seamless for everyone. There will always be last minute changes or things to do, but when everything's crossed off your lists, your tradeshow will also be less stressful. Win-win!

Bonus tip: Looking for tradeshows to attend for your small business? Check with your local Chamber of Commerce for any tradeshows they're hosting, or if they have a list of events in your area.

 

Posted by Jenny Klimisch

Jenny Klimisch is a Marketing Specialist at VerticalResponse. Connect with her on Twitter at @jenklim.

Need Help Producing Content? Consider a Freelancer

Mon, 09/10/2012 - 06:00

If you haven’t figured it out already, we here at VerticalResponse are big advocates of creating timely, relevant content as a surefire way to engage with your customers and audiences. But we also know that, for most small businesses and non-profits, it’s a huge challenge to find time to create great content – whether it’s writing on a regular basis, designing illustrations for an infographic, or producing video.

If this sounds like your situation, hiring a freelancer or consultant to help out might be the answer. Companies large and small do this, especially if you don’t have the budget (or enough work) to support a full-time hire. More than half of B2B marketers outsource at least a portion of their content marketing activities, according to a 2011 survey.

A freelancer offers ad hoc support and, if you provide regular work, should be able to adapt to your needs, schedule and brand “voice” quickly. It might take a bit of upfront work to get him or her in the groove, but the long-term time savings could very well be worth it.

Here are five tips to kick off your search for the perfect freelance hire:

Ask your networks. The best recommendations come from word of mouth; so let all your friends, family members and colleagues know that you’re looking for help. You never know who might know someone (who might know someone) who’ll fit your needs. When VerticalResponse recently needed some help producing content, I reached out to my former journalism co-workers, got some great leads and introductions, and we ended up hiring two of them as contractors. These connections are undoubtedly the best kind because someone you know has already given the thumbs-up.

Check out listings – with caution. You might want to try online job search boards, but be very careful, because there are a lot of unfiltered, unmonitored junk and questionable business practices out there. Sites like Elance.com and ODesk.com, which offer a marketplace for companies to connect with freelancers, provide some level of accountability that public listing sites like Craigslist do not. But I haven’t used either tool, so just be prudent if you try this option. (If you’ve used Elance or ODesk before, let us know your experience below in the comments section!)

Reach out to local colleges. Check out the career centers at your local universities and see if you can post a job opening or internship. Often, different departments (like the English department or the art school) have their own career or internship programs, so you better narrow your search. Many students are looking for work to boost their resumes and portfolios at lower-than-market rates, or even in exchange for course credit.

Stay away from “content farms.” “Content farms” are essentially companies that promise to produce lots of (often very poorly written, robotic-sounding) content around specific topics and keywords. They’ve become popular, in large part, because Google rewards websites that have lots of content by giving them more SEO (search engine optimization) juice – in other words, they get ranked higher in search results for certain keywords. To be sure, the always-changing Google algorithm has made significant strides in weeding out content from “content farms.” In any case, producing content with the goal of gaming Google – and not engaging with your customers – is definitely not something we recommend. Not to mention, poorly written content will only be a bad reflection of your company and brand.

Don’t hire based on resume alone. Just because you’re hiring someone for occasional work doesn’t mean they don’t need a thorough vetting. Someone might have a stellar resume, but you should ask for references, as well as published examples or a portfolio. Arrange to meet or Skype with potential candidates to make sure they’re professional and truly excited about the opportunity to work for you – qualities you need in any employee, whether full-time, part-time or on contract.

Have you outsourced your content creation to a freelancer or consultant? Please share any tips below 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.

Optimize Your Website's Content to Improve Visibility

Fri, 09/07/2012 - 06:00
"It's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absoluely boring." - Marilyn Monroe When it comes to optimizing your website content there are more than a few factors to consider. The first goal is to get people to visit your site. Next, you'll want to keep visitors engaged for as long as possible. Finally, you'll want visitors to take a desired action. Ultimately, you want to get visitors' attention and keep it long enough to sell them on your product or service... Marilyn Monroe might even agree.

Give 'em what they want! - Check out Google Analytics or your preferred web analytics tool to see which search terms are driving visits and conversions. Google's Keyword Research tool is also a great resource to find new relevant keywords you may not currently be optimizing on your site. Once you have a list of terms related to your business or services, as well as those phrases visitors are using to find your site, you can begin to optimize content to correspond to those keywords. However, as George Aspland mentions in his post on "How to Prioritize Keywords for Optimization," not all keywords will be easy to rank for in Google searches. If a keyword is a top-searched word it may be fairly competitive and prove tough to rank for. You can easily see how competitive a keyword search is by performing an Exact Phrase search (put quotes around the keyword when searching for it in Google) to see how many files have been indexed with the keyword in content (i.e. "email marketing"); or an AllinTitle Search (search for the keyword in quotes with the phrase allintitle preceding it, i.e., allintitle: "email marketing") to give you the number of HTML page titles that contain the keyword in Google's index.

After determining which keywords are most competitive and deciding which ones you would like to go after, you can begin to alter the text on your site, page headlines or meta description tags to include them. Wherever you decide to manipulate the copy on your pages to correlate with keywords, keep content useful and make sure it sounds natural. You wouldn't want to do the work to rank for keywords and then put off visitors or lose quality interaction with awkward content that was clearly manipulated to increase search engine rankings.

AllinTitle Keyword Search

Along those same lines, useful content will increase the rate of repeat visitors you have to your site, while helping to increase your search engine rankings. A blog is a great tactic to provide quality information to visitors while simultaneously helping your Google rank by including fresh content. Google's goal is to rank sites that are most useful to its users the highest. So in layman's terms, the best way to increase your rankings and keep them high is to provide content that answers search inquiries and gives visitors the information they're looking for. By providing valuable content, you'll attract more visitors overall, which will help increase your placement since Google also factors number of website visits when determining search engine rankings.

What do you want visitors to do? Before you make any decisions regarding the layout, content or images on your webpage, you'll want to ask yourself why you want people to visit your site. Define what you consider a website conversion. Your priority may be for visitors to sign up for a free trial, purchase a product directly from the site, fill out a web-to-lead form or phone you directly. Regardless of which desired action you want visitors to take, it's important to make the path to conversion as clear as possible. If your ultimate goal is for visitors to call, make sure your phone number is accessible, keep it above the fold (on the top half of the page) and give visitors a compelling reason to pick up the phone.

Marilyn Monroe once said, "It's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring." I'm not suggesting you alter your site to make it ridiculous, but you get the gist. If visitors are bored with your site, it means you're not selling your products or services well. Ultimately, you have to get visitors' attention and keep it long enough to sell them on your product or service. Impress them by including testimonials on what your products or services have done for customers, include enticing images and videos that display the quality of your products and/or give them details on the ROI of your services. Your site is often the first interaction individuals will have with your brand. You'll want to leave a lasting impression by making it apparent what it is you do and how well you do it. And, now more than ever, it's key to include social icons on all of your pages to allow visitors to easily like and share your useful content on their own social feeds. This social momentum will help accelerate your SEO efforts and drive more traffic to your site.

If you're going to make extensive changes to your site's content or layout, it's a good idea to perform a split test to see which page performs the best before completely turning one off. You can monitor overall visits and keyword conversions in Google Analytics or Optimizely, and perform A/B split tests or multivariate experiments to monitor your changes.

If you're yearning for more on search engine marketing, we've got a great webinar for that: Get the Most Bang for Your Pay Per Click Buck.

 

Posted by Savannah Stewart

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

4 Ways to Combat Digital ADD

Thu, 09/06/2012 - 06:00

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

Everyone does it.

You start off with an email; maybe it's a newsletter. It takes you to an article to read, and you read it. You get some good ideas and like what the author wrote, so you check her out.

She's on Twitter! You decide you should follow her.

You log into your Twitter account and see that someone you follow has posted a video you just have to watch on YouTube. You check out that video and then the "videos you might like" shows you a few more you just have to watch. So, you do.

All of a sudden a meeting alert pops up right in front of your browser.

You've just lost 45 minutes of your life you won't get back.

How do you regain focus and get the work done you needed to? Here are four ideas:

1. Close your email program

VerticalResponse, is an email marketing service provider, so I cringe when I say this. But sometimes you have to not be wed to your email. Block one hour off every day and close the window of your email client.

2. Turn off alerts (instant message, phone, etc.)

I wrote an Inc. article earlier this year about how much I dislike phones and IM disrupting meetings, but sometimes they just plain disrupt your day. If you don't want to be completely unreachable, turn off your IM or alerts during a different hour than when you close your email down. Then you won't hyperventilate at the thought of being totally disconnected.

3. Realize when "research" turns into surfing

Sometimes I think the Internet was introduced to us by the pharma companies that hawk ADD drugs. One simple little Web page can rob hours of my life, but hey, here I go "liking" my friend's cat pictures on Facebook and watching the baby laughing video ... again!

My day usually starts off on Daily Beast for some quick news, then I head over to TechCrunch to read up on all of my favorite start-ups. I pop over to Inc.com where I'm sure to learn something that betters my business day. But does it end there? Never. Here's what I've been doing lately: I force myself get up from my desk to "break" the habit, and walk out of my office to talk to people. Works every time.

4. Limit the number of windows on your desktop

My husband has no less than 20 tabs open in his browser at one time. I don't know how he does it. On top of it, with the ease of Apple's desktop dock you can have tons of files staring at you at any given time. Here's my solution: Every Friday, I take a moment to close down some windows I haven't used in a few days, get rid of files on the dock, and clean up my desktop. Monday will look like a different day!

Do you sometimes feel like you have digital ADD? What do you do to focus? I'd love to know.

 

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.

Baby Don't Go - How to Avoid the Dreaded Unsubscribe

Tue, 09/04/2012 - 06:00

As an avid Sex and the City watcher back in the day, I'll never forget the episode where Carrie got broken up with via a Post-it note. In this day and age of mass marketing and virtual anonymity, our prospects and customers can be and are sometimes total strangers to us. Why then, do we take it so personally when they "break up" with us via an unsubscribe? And why are they often unsubbing en masse? As a smart business person and marketer, how can you keep your customers in love with your business and engaged in your communications? Marketing, like dating or marriage can be a slippery slope to navigate. Read on and I'll share a few tips from my years in the trenches.

First, some scary stats to illustrate that this is serious stuff:

91% of consumers have unsubscribed from opt-in marketing emails. (This means they chose to subscribe to your communication, then later changed their mind - Hmm, why?)

77% of consumers have become more guarded about giving companies their email address in the past year. (Because they suspect we may do something unscrupulous with it perhaps?)

The stats speak to an epidemic that marketers and businesses face. In a split-second we go from inbox cock rooster to feather duster. Why? 

Many marketers, and I am not going to name names here, are not delivering on the golden promise they made when someone opted into their list. Deliver What You Promise. It's that simple. If, when someone signed up for your email list, you promised you would send them tips on home repair once a month, do that. If you start sending emails every week with offers for 50% off paint and wood flooring, you break your promise. When someone provides you their email address, they're saying they trust you to do the right thing with it (i.e. not bombard them with excessive self-promotional stuff). Your customers want something of value from you. There has to be something in it for them. And, usually that's what you promised them that caused them to sign up in the first place. That's why your opt-in form and page are vitally important. It is there that you vow that you're a good, upstanding person/company and that you will use the power of email marketing for good, not evil. Capisce?

You Get Old & Boring. Of all the consumers that unsubscribe, nearly half cite that they found content to be repetitive or boring over time; another 25% found content irrelevant - Egad. We're being replaced by a younger, hotter and more interesting version of ourselves? Now you get the dating analogy, eh? So, short of a tech version of a nip and tuck, how do we stay hot in the inbox? Content Rules. We've said it before and we'll say it again, you must deliver relevant, value add content to your subscribers to keep them engaged and coming back for more. We even did a webinar about it.

You can get a good feel for how engaged your readers are by keeping an eye on the open and click through rates (CTRs) of your emails. You can even segment your list (we've got a webinar for that too) on this information and provide specific content based on what your readers are responding (or not responding) to. If you notice your open rates dropping, take a look at things that may have changed. Are you sending out the same amount of mail as you have in the past? Are you sending at or around the same time and day you have in the past? Does this need to be tested or changed? And, how are your subject lines? Are they attention-grabbing and action-oriented? Or, are they a snoozefest like the oh so popular, September Newsletter? Your click through rates can actually be a stronger indicator of reader engagement because they illustrate that not only did the recipient open the message, but they found content that made them want to learn more, or do something. You can affect your click throughs by including strong calls-to-action in your message and being very clear about what you want your reader to do. Use an active voice and language in your calls-to-action and watch the CTRs climb.

SPAM I am (Not). When your subscriber has had enough, how do they choose to end it? 67% click "unsubscribe," 17% just delete the email. And 8% stick it to you - they click the spam or junk button, sending your lovely message to the black hole of email hell and your sender reputation along with it. So, how to avoid email purgatory and stay in the good books with your subscribers? Mail on a schedule and stick with it. If you decide to increase the frequency that you mail your subscribers, communicate it in advance and let them know the value of getting more mail from you. 47% of subscribers unsub because they get too many emails. We're all suffering from message overload, so the messages we allow in our inbox and engage with better deliver.

Check out this unsubscribe infographic from our friends over at Litmus to learn more.

What value are your messages adding for your subscribers? Share how you use email marketing for good, not evil, in the comments.

 

Stats sourced via Litmus.

 

Posted by Kim Stiglitz.

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

Oops! What to Do When Email Mistakes Happen

Fri, 08/31/2012 - 07:19

Everyone makes mistakes every now and then. When it comes to email marketing everyone's done it, even the big guys make a gaffe sometimes. When this happens, the important thing is to take a breath and not panic. Most people think they need to send out an apology right away, but depending on the error and your audience, you may want to wait. Sending too many emails at once, even for a mistake, can send your unsubscribe rate skyrocketing.

Here are 4 steps to take if you've made a mistake in an email:

1. Assess - Before you do anything take a moment to see what the impact is of the mistake. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you act:

What is the email list size? What is the open/clickthrough rate? It's possible that you caught the error early and can send out a follow-up with minimal impact.

How big is the mistake? And how will it impact your business? Did you make a spelling error, a pricing mistake, or did you promote the wrong date for an event? A minor typo, misspelling or coding error probably won't impact you much, other than some embarrassment and/or people pointing out the mistake. In this case, sending out a follow-up could be an annoyance for your recipients: save the correction for the next email or newsletter that you send out. A pricing error or the wrong date could have a major impact on your business or organization so sending out a follow-up email is a must.


2. Response - Once you've assessed the situation it's time to figure out how to respond.

 Keep these tips in mind if you need to send a follow-up email:

  • Be Quick – A quick follow-up can catch people before they see the first email
  • Be Clear – Subject/pre-header should be clear about the purpose
  • Apologize – Own up to the mistake, say you’re sorry for any misunderstanding
  • Send an Offer – If you can’t give what was promised in the email, offer a back-up
  • Brand – Stay on brand in the apology, but humor is always good
  • Use Social Media – Consider acknowledging the error on social media to be transparent and help alleviate customer support issues

You can also try to correct the mistake, depending on where it was in your email. If you've made an error in the subject line, in a link or in the content, these tips can help you correct the mistake, even if you've already sent the email.

  • A Subject Line Oops - This impacts your open rate, so one thing you never want to do, no matter how tempting, is to use a placeholder subject line like TBD or "test" while creating your email - just in case you launch the email without remembering to change the subject line. You may not know your subject line right away, but even if you use something like "August Newsletter" for the time being, it'll support your email if it does get sent, and won't be as detrimental as "test" might.
    • In follow-ups:
      • Use the words Correction, Oops, We Apologize in the subject line so your recipients know why they received another email
      • Consider using the pre-header for the correction information
  • A Link Oops - Links can be corrected in the reporting area of your account. If you have a URL spelled out incorrectly in the copy, i.e., www.verticalrponse.com, it can't be changed, but the underlying link can. At least those who click will go to the right page. Since your reporting will tell you how many clicks you have, and which links were clicked, consider mailing only to those who clicked the bad link, rather than your whole list.


  • A Content Oops - Images can be refreshed. If some of your recipients saw the wrong graphic in the email, contact our support team, they can help you refresh an image in your email. If you've made a typo, or the mistake is not business-impacting, address it later. If you've mailed to the wrong list segment or have the wrong offer in the email, send an apology email with the correct info.



3. Measure the Impact - Once you've decided what your plan is and you've taken action, or not, look at how things went. The reporting from your emails will give you insight into how your recipients responded to the mistake:

  • Track your opens and clicks - Do you have a normal open rate for your emails? Did it change due to the error?
  • Watch the conversions - Are they where you expected them to be? Or are they higher/lower?
  • Check the unsubscribe rate - Hopefully everything you've done has kept it low, but keep an eye on it.
  • Compare original and follow-up emails and see how the stats compare.


4. How to avoid an Oops! in the future - Proof-read, proof-read, proof-read. If you're the only person looking at your emails, enlist someone else. Just one other set of eyes can prevent a mistake from happening again. Also, always send a test email and look at it! Make sure the copy makes sense, that you see the right images and they're rendering, and test all your links.

Try some of these content tactics:

  • Use auto-correct and spell check, or use Word to discover grammar problems
  • Print out your emails and check for errors
  • Read each word out loud
  • For more ideas, check out Grammar Girls' 10 Tips to Banish Typos


Everyone makes mistakes; the important thing is to learn from them.

 

Posted by Jill Bastian.

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

Music Festivals: Crusaders in Social Media & Small Biz Exposure

Thu, 08/30/2012 - 06:00

When you think of music festivals, do you imagine crazy crowds, illegal substances, and overall chaos? The connotations may be true, but did you also know that music festivals are crusaders when it comes to creative tech and social media marketing? From SXSW to Lollapalooza, Outside Lands and Coachella, big fests taking advantage of social media may also benefit, present opportunities and/or ignite ideas for small businesses like yours. Music festivals may have notorious reputations, but their mass appeal and large audience exposure also have the ability to spark stardom for savvy startups, small businesses and non-profits!

SXSW
Location: Austin, Texas
Formed in: 1987
Excellent use of social/tech: SXSW Interactive

South by South West (SXSW) is not only one of the largest music festivals in the U.S., but it’s evolved into multiple festivals featuring some of the greatest emerging technology, small business talent and film. SXSW’s Interactive tech festival, commonly referred to as “South By,” has become a breeding ground and major networking hub for startups. According to their site, South By has become an "incubator of cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity…showcasing the brightest minds in emerging technology." The festival includes a whirlwind of presentations, conferences and parties showcasing up and coming startups, new websites, video games and fresh ideas. As a small business/startup, dipping your toe into SXSW Interactive waters could present rockin’ opportunities.

Lollapalooza
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Formed in: 1991
Excellent use of tech/social: Live YouTube Streaming 

Let's face it, music festivals are expensive, hot, and the crowds are not everyone’s cup of (sweat) tea. However, the alternative rock festival that joins 160,000 people into Grant Park each year has everyone in mind. Lollapalooza partnered with YouTube and Dell to provide live streaming of the festival, engaging audiences without a ticket. According to a YouTube blog post, the live streaming has done wonders for increased exposure.

“Live shows by artists like U2, Kenny Chesney and Coldplay have drawn millions of viewers to YouTube, and last year’s Lollapalooza webcast saw viewers spending an average of 44 minutes watching the show.”

 

The collaboration of music festivals and non-profits may seem unlikely, however, Lollapalooza also understands the power of crowds and exposure. According to their site, “Lolla Cares,” a section within the people-packed festival features "organizations committed to making this world a better, greener, and healthier place.” The festival’s platform for non-profits and political groups has been responsible each year for registering hundreds of fans to vote, finding bone marrow matches for cancer patients and “fostering support for clean energy, education, and park projects in the Chicago area.”

Outside Lands  
Location: San Francisco, California
Formed in: 2008 
Excellent use of social/tech: Mobile App

Outside Lands is a fresh, young thing compared to its 20-year-old counterparts. However, it’s not naive when it comes to knowing its audience’s love and reliance on smartphones. Steadily improving its mobile app each year, Outside Lands recently wowed festival-goers with stellar mobile app features. The free download included: set times, a map, the ability to scan food vendor menus, create custom schedules, rate food items, take images with Instagram-like filters, and best yet, send messages to friends via the built-in chat, GroupMe. The app also sent push notifications during the festival notifying fans of set changes and secret pop-up shows, like the one Jack White performed making “Outside Lands history.”

Businesses, big and small (including several non-profit partners) who sprawled throughout the Golden Gate park venue also took advantage of smart phone donning attendees:

  • Eco Products, specializing in “sustainable disposables,” set up a booth presenting attendees with silly photo booth props. Fans simply had to snap a photo of themselves in front of the Eco Products backdrop and share the photo online to enter a drawing for 2013 Outside Lands tickets.
  • Other businesses including SugarSync, PayPal and PG&E attracted new fans by providing phone charging stations (some even solar and wind powered!) for attendees low on smartphone juice.


Coachella
Location: Indio, California
Formed in: 1999
Excellent use of social/tech: RFID Wristbands

The indie music/art festival held in the heart of the desert is notorious for oohing and ahhing fans with unpredictability. This year, a hologram performance of the late Tupac Shakur was by far their greatest feat, however their use of RFID (radio-frequency identification) wristbands also made waves (pun intended). The festival-entry wristbands included an RFID chip in which attendees could tap their bands at stations to update their Facebook status with details about who they were watching. Tapping bands around the festival also entered attendees into contests to win prizes and VIP tickets. According to the festival, the “Live Click” program earned them them an additional 30,000 online fans.

Coachella also teamed up with the non-profit, Global Inheritance to develop the “Carpoolchella” program, encouraging and rewarding festival-goers (with possible VIP tickets for life!) who carpooled to the event.

 

So, while music festivals may obtain wild reputations, their use of savvy social media tactics, opportunities for businesses big and small, and eager non-profit collaborations make them true rockstars.


Posted by: Colleen Corkery

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

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.

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