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Search Engine Marketing: Just Do It! …or Not?

Wed, 03/06/2013 - 09:01

There’s no question that your online presence has become an important part of your business or organization. Between your own website, social media sites, and search engines like Google and Bing, lots of time must be invested to ensure you’re visible to your customers. PPC advertising, or Search Engine Marketing as it’s often referred to, is a great and quick way to beef up your online presence and ensure you’re visible to people who are interested in what you have to offer.

For those unfamiliar with search engine marketing, SEM is a form of targeted marketing that allows you to be able to advertise your business on search engine results pages. This involves bidding on keywords so that your ad is shown when those particular keywords or phrases are searched. You then pay the bid amount every time someone clicks on the ad. SEM is advantageous because it allows you to target very specific audiences who are actively searching for your offering. Below we’ve listed some of the pros and cons of Search Engine Marketing so you can decide if it’s right for your biz.

Just Do It! The Pros:

Get in front of a large audience

Search Engine Marketing gives you the ability to get your company name and services in front of a large, interested audience. In Google, alone there are over 400 million queries a day. Obviously not all would apply to your business, but you can get an idea of how many people you may be able to reach. The more visible you are to interested searchers, the more opportunities you’ll have to capture new customers.

Be as targeted as you want to be

One of the main advantages to SEM is that it can very targeted. Besides being able to bid on specific relevant keywords and phrases, platforms like Google Adwords allow you target based on specific devices, locations, times of day, and languages.

Cost effective

SEM can be very cost efficient. It’s cheaper than traditional forms of advertising such as TV or Radio, and it’s also better targeted. Since you’re only paying for clicks to keywords or phrases relevant to your business, it allows you to spend your marketing dollars wisely.

Flexibility for your business

Specifically within Google Adwords, there are features that allow you to use “extensions.” Google defines extensions as “a feature that displays extra business information with your ad such as an address, phone number, more webpage links, product images, and/or pricing information.” Ad extensions can be particularly useful for local businesses. According to Webarts, over 70% of online users conduct local searches for information on a variety of products and services. For example, if you have a brick and mortar location, you can encourage people to visit or call your physical store by including address and phone information with your ad by using location or call extensions. Additionally, being able to use different targeting features like the ones listed above, helps to accommodate all different types of organizations. Here’s an example below of how local business use extensions:

Quick changes with long-term results

PPC works a lot faster than other methods like SEO. SEO can take a long time because you have to “build it up” before you’ll be able to see results. With SEM, you can quickly start a campaign and begin advertising right away. Once you’ve figured out a winning formula, it can push you to long-term success.

… or Not? The Cons:

Fully understanding PPC Advertising and Tools

Because Search Engines like Google Adwords have so many features and capabilities, it can take some time to learn the in and outs of the platform. With a variety of bidding and targeting options, it can be overwhelming and complicated. Before you start actually running your campaign, it’s important to make sure you understand PPC advertising, as well as how to properly use the available features to your advantage.

SEM requires time and ongoing maintenance

Search engine marketing requires that you monitor and update your campaigns constantly. It takes time to figure out the right combination of ad text, targeting, and bidding. That’s why testing is a critical aspect to SEM, in order for your campaigns to ultimately be successful and profitable. Whether it’s making sure your spend isn’t getting out of control, or testing different ad copy to see what works best, you could be missing out on opportunities if you’re not constantly monitoring and analyzing your results.

Can be cost prohibitive

Even though we previously stated that SEM was cost efficient, it can also be cost prohibitive depending on your space/ industry. Popular keywords can be very expensive sometimes costing $30 dollars or more per click. Since PPC advertising is essentially an auction system, it may be tough to out bid competitors with deeper pockets and larger budgets.

Also if you don’t have the necessary expertise, which most people don’t, you may not be running your campaigns as best as you could and therefore be overspending. You may need to invest a little time getting up to speed.

Conclusion

Having a well-rounded online presence is essential to your business growth and SEM is a great way to do it. The advantages of SEM can outweigh the disadvantages, but every company is different. SEM is definitely worth trying out – Use a small test budget to see if it works for your biz. By focusing on longer keyword tail phrases, you may be able to narrow in on more profitable phrases with less competition, therefore keeping your marketing spend down.

Are you using search engine marketing for your business, or will you give it a go after reading this post? Share your own tips.

Additional Sources: Evonmie

 

The post Search Engine Marketing: Just Do It! …or Not? appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Facebook Ads, Promoted Posts and Offers, Oh My! What’s Best for You?

Tue, 03/05/2013 - 06:00

If you’ve been on Facebook lately, you’ve no doubt come across some form of advertising. You may be less familiar, however, with the different types of Facebook ads/advertising options. And, if you’re just starting to think about promoting your business on the largest social platform on the planet, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to give you a short overview of each of the Facebook ad options to match the right ad to your desired results. So let’s get to it!

Currently, Facebook provides three different advertising options:

1. Traditional Facebook Ads

Most of us have seen them on the right-hand side of our news feed and our profile pages. These are the little pieces of magic that have taken Facebook to the dominant level of social media advertising.

2. Promoted Posts

Available for both Profiles and Pages, Promoted Posts allow you to pay to push your most important posts higher in the news feed. This provides a better chance that your audience will see them.

For Profiles, you can promote your posts to your friends at a cost of $7. Additionally, other connected friends can promote a post you wrote. They’ll pay for the promoted post and you’ll get notified if they do so.

For Pages, you can go outside the confines of just people who like your page, and promote posts to the general masses of Facebook. The cost is based on the total potential audience your Page can target, and will vary from Page to Page. Here’s an example of the cost for the VerticalResponse Facebook Page:

3. Offers

Facebook Offers allow your business to provide discounts to customers when you post an offer on their Facebook Page. To claim an offer, recipients just click the “Get Offer” button when they see it on Facebook.

Facebook then sends an email with redemption details for the offer. Redemption of offers can be in-store only, online only or a combination of the two.

Now that we’ve reviewed the three types of Facebook ads, which provides the most bang for your buck? Well that’s a tricky question because it depends what you want to accomplish.

If you want more interaction on your posts and in turn, more “Likes” to your Page, then Promoted Posts are your best bet. This is especially true for businesses using Promoted Posts because the posts show up in the news feed of people who have not liked your page in addition to those that have. This provides an excellent opportunity to expose your brand, products or services to a new group of folks that are unaware that you exist.

If you have a “special” that you want to promote, either online or in your storefront, then Offers are for you. Offers can get people to go to your website or visit your store. And even if your offer isn’t the perfect fit for a particular shopper, it provides an opportunity to expose your additional inventory to a potential new customer.

Finally, we come to Traditional Facebook Ads. These traditional Facebook ads once moved the needle in regards to more Likes and/or traffic to websites. But our involvement with them over the last year has seen a huge decrease in value. If you’re still inclined to give them a try, start with the CPC (Cost Per Click) option instead of the CPM (Cost Per Thousand) option. The ads are still being served up to millions of people on Facebook, but many users have become desensitized to them. So you don’t want to be paying for something that’s not benefiting you. You only want to pay when they click your ad.

We hope this has provided you some food for thought about which Facebook ads will best for your needs. Which type of ad will you try? Already using Facebook ads? What’s been successful for you so far? Let us know by leaving a comment below or on our Facebook Page.

The post Facebook Ads, Promoted Posts and Offers, Oh My! What’s Best for You? appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Outsourcing Social Media – Should You Do It? The Pros & Cons

Mon, 03/04/2013 - 06:00

Let’s face it – managing social media for your business can be time consuming. In our recent social media survey, we found that 43% of small businesses spend 6 hours per week or more on social media. That’s precious time for a small marketing team (or army of one)! Given the investment of time required, and the need for someone with expertise, many companies opt to outsource their social media marketing to a consulting agency or individual. In this post, we examine the pros and cons to hiring a consultant vs. keeping your social media marketing in-house, and provide tips for making the right choice for your business.

Why Hire a Consultant?

1. Expertise
Staying on top of social media news and updates can be a job in and of itself. For this reason, consultants offer the advantage of having insight into what works and what doesn’t. If you’re a small biz with just a few employees, or just yourself, you may not have the time necessary to devote to staying on top of social media best practices. Here are a few questions a social media manager has to answer on a regular basis:

•    What are the new social media channels and are they suitable for my business?
•    How often should I post and what time of day gets the best engagement?
•    What’s the best type of content to share?
•    How can I track social media success?
•    How can I increase followers and traffic to my website?

2. Time
Ever read something that really grabs your attention on Facebook and think, “Wow, that’s clever!”? Odds are, it took the person who posted it a bit of time to come up with it. It’s a type of advertising, after all, and good advertising takes careful consideration. Sure, you could share a discount or offer on Facebook, link it to your webpage and be done, but that may not get the best results. For the highest engagement, posts need to be witty, appropriate, and considerate. Balancing the business needs and tcommunity needs is an art that requires time for creativity.

Consider the difference between these two business posts from Starlite Vineyards. Which do you find more appealing? Clearly the second example garnered more engagement and comments. That’s what you’re going for.

 

3.  Save Money
Yes, you can actually save money by hiring a consultant. By hiring a consultant, you may save the cost of hiring a new full or part-time employee for your staff. Also, if you have, or are thinking of having a current employee manage social media (and by manage, we mean really manage – not post once a week), consider how much that individual is being paid, and what other tasks managing social media is pulling them away from. What is the value of those trade offs for your company?

 

Why Manage Social Media In-House?

1. Access to Content
Any social media manager you hire will need the support of someone inside your business to access new content and learn about new updates, events, and the like. However, when you manage social media in house, there isn’t a relationship to manage nor lag time to share new updates or content.

Are you at an event and want to share photos? Take pictures with your smart phone and post them directly to your Facebook and Twitter pages in real time. Did you just receive and an award and want to shout about it? Shout away! By managing social yourself, you can get the word out instantly.

2. Sincerity
Yes, sincerity. Who can be more sincere about your business than the people who actually work there? No one! When you know your business and your customers well, you can express news and updates with a genuine sincerity that is hard to mimic for even the best social media managers. Social media communities appreciate sincerity and transparency.

Add a post to your Facebook page today thanking your customers for something they’ve done, whether it be a good review, a donation, or even just a purchase. Or try sharing some humor that relates to your industry and add commentary. You’ll be amazed with the number of interactions you can get.

Good social media engagement requires a personal touch. Who better to give that than you? Here’s an example:

 

3. Marketing Integration
If you’re managing your social media in-house, you can ensure it’s well integrated into your email marketing, website, events and other marketing channels. A link from Facebook back to your website only works well if that webpage is updated and current. An email subscriber can only share your content to their social networks if the email gives the option to do so. Integration is key in your overall marketing plan. Typically, when you have an update for your website (ex: a new press release), it’s something you also want to share on email and social media. By managing them all together, you make sure all the channels are updated and working in harmony.

 

If you do choose to hire a consultant, do the research and compare your options. If you’re a small business, you probably don’t need a big agency with heavy fees. You could try a small business social media services provider, like our VerticalResponse Plus program. And, you may decide to keep your social media in0house. If so, be sure to have a clear social media plan, place someone in charge of doing it and allocate the time necessary to achieve your goals.

Do you plan to keep your social media marketing in house or outsource it this year?

The post Outsourcing Social Media – Should You Do It? The Pros & Cons appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Local SEO: Who Are You? Who, Who, Who, Who?

Fri, 03/01/2013 - 06:00

The Internet wants to know: Who are you? Think of it as Pete Townshend from The Who, busting his signature windmill moves on his Les Paul guitar while Roger Daltrey repeats, “Whooooo are you? Who, who, who, who? I really wanna know.” People are always searching on websites like Google, Yelp, Foursquare and more looking for the best place to go. So tell them who you are. We know small businesses are short on time, especially when it comes to SEO, so here’s a simple guide to get on the map, (pun intended), of local SEO.

Why Do Local SEO?

Let’s say you have a deli with top notch sandwiches in San Francisco’s SOMA district and you wonder why your lunch crowd isn’t as happening as you’d like. You go to Google or Yelp and type in “best sandwich in SOMA, San Francisco.” You’re 5 pages deep in the rankings and your business is nowhere to be found. To add insult to injury, your business neighbor is on the 1st page and flaunts a line out the door everyday at lunch. How’d he do it, and how do you get in on the secret?! We’re glad you asked and are here to help.

What Info Do You Need to Get Started?

In the pre-Internet days, your business efforts consisted of calling up the YellowPages and making sure your address, phone number, and business hours were correct. To be honest, the basics of local SEO are not much different than the old days of the YellowPages. To keep it simple, you want to make sure all of your vital information is listed and correct on all the different websites like Google, Yelp, and Foursquare.

Pro Tips:

  • Make a list with the following items down one side and the sites along the top. As you fill them out on each site, check them off your list so you can keep track.
  • Keep your information consistent!

Business name: It deserves repeating; keep it consistent. Having “BIZ XYZ Inc,” “Biz XYZ,” and “XYZ,” on three different sites can really confuse potential customers. Having multiple and duplicate listing also looks bad to search engines, which can negatively affect your local SEO efforts. Pick one version and stick with it across the board.

Physical address: If you have a brick and mortar location, use that address. If you work out of your home, you might have some issues to work out. Some sites allow you to put down a PO Box, while others force you to put down your home address, but allow it to be hidden from public view.

Company logo: Create some good brand awareness and recognition by using your logo as one of your profile images. That way, when a person makes it to your location, they’ll put two and two together and will head on in for that mouth-watering, hunger-smashing sandwich.

Business categories: This helps the sites know what kind of business you are and what categories to put you in. If you offer several services, then list them all! Some sites limit you to a top 5 list, so pick your best ones.

Facebook account: People like to follow businesses they love on Facebook, so include a link to your business Facebook Page. Don’t forget Facebook also offers “Check Ins,” so you’re knocking two things out with one link. If you have a big following on Facebook offer check in specials and offers.

Other important things to remember:

  • Email address
  • Website address
  • Business phone
  • Store hours
  • Twitter handle
  • Google+ profile
  • Services offered
  • Service area

So you’ve got your checklist ready and are itching to start claiming your business on all the sites. But don’t get ahead of yourself here, you have to know what to expect when you try to claim your business and get verified.

Common Verification Practices

Most sites offer 3 ways to verify that you are, in fact, the business owner. The sites use several different external sources to gather your business address and phone number. In the case that there’s incorrect information on your profile, you need to first verify your business BEFORE you can make any changes to the name, address or phone number.

Automated phone calls: Once you start the process of claiming or verifying your business page, you will be prompted to enter a verification code. Using information already provided, the site’s automated system will call the phone number on file, which is usually the business landline, and provide you with a top secret PIN. You then enter the PIN into the box online and press enter. It’s as easy as that! Wham, bam and done. We always suggest opting for the phone call because it’s the fastest way to get your page verified.

Postcards with verification PIN: Can’t remember where your landline phone is or you’ve changed your number? Unfortunately sites don’t let you change the business phone UNTIL your business page is verified. Ugh. Not to worry, because you do have the option to do postcard verification. The steps are the same as the phone verification with the exception of getting a phone call. Just check the “send me a postcard” box and wait the 3-14 days until you receive the postcard at your business address on file. Then log back onto the site, postcard in hand and then enter the PIN, completing your verification.

Email: The email verification is least common method of verification because sites don’t have many sources to verify the authenticity of the email address. Some of the less used directories use this method and it is just like verifying for any other site that sends a confirmation email. We would be surprised if you came across this in your local SEO travels.

You know what information to include and what to expect, now you need to know where to get listed. With out further ado, here ya go!

Where to Get Listed?

Since you’re short on time, start with the biggest fish: Google. After that, work your way down the list. Depending on your business category, some sites might be better than others. For example, if you want to be the hottest lunch spot in the neighborhood, you better get on Yelp!

Google+/Google Local (formerly Google Places): Remember the summer of 2011 when Google rolled out its very own social network called Google Plus, or sometimes G+? It was touted as the next Facebook, and quickly gained 500 million users in a year and half, but lost some steam and currently only about half of those users are active on the site on a monthly basis. At first, Google Plus didn’t offer pages for businesses, but that has changed. If you want your business to be registered in Google Local you need to be on Google+. Yes, that’s forcing your hand a bit, but it’s a necessary evil on the local SEO front. Once you register for your personal, non-business, Google Plus page you will need to “claim your business.” In order to be verified you can choose between an automated phone call and having a postcard sent to your business address. As we mentioned above, we recommend opting for the automated phone call to get it over and done with.

Yelp for Business Owners: If you have a restaurant, or offer a service, you NEED to be on Yelp. Grab a few Yelp! stickers, put them in your window, and make sure your customers know you would really appreciate a rating. WARNING: Whatever you do, be sure NOT offer any freebies like gift cards, chips, or even a soda! Trading goods for a positive review violates Yelp’s, Google’s and many other site’s terms of service agreements.

Bing Local: Bing might not drive as much traffic as Google, but you still want to have a presence. Other sites use the information on Bing Local to complete their listings, so don’t ignore Bing!

Foursquare: Trust us, you want people to be competing to become the mayor of your business! Some of our favorite local pizza places offer a free beer to the mayor, so our office keeps going back for more slices. Customers can check in and share with all of their social networks, which then expands the reach of your business. Foursquarers can also leave fun useful tips like, “Be sure to get the special sauce cause it is #bombdotcom!”

Facebook: First, get a Facebook page for your business. Second, add your address or location to your Page. Once your page is up and running, start inviting friends, family and customers to “LIKE” your page and you will be on your way to getting listed.

You aren’t done yet! Don’t forget these:

The Coolest Tools to Use

We cut through all the bull dung and found two tools that really do help you out on the local SEO front (and for FREE to boot!)

getlisted: Recently purchased by SEO powerhouse, SEOmoz, getlisted is the place to find the best directories to get listed on. Punch in your business name and zip code and you will be given a listing score. The score is based on whether your business is present in the local directories or not. If your score is low, don’t get discouraged, because getlisted gives you a quick link that takes you right to the place to claim your listing, boosting your score. You want to strive for a 90% or higher listing score.

Boostsuite: They are coined the “kick-ass web marketing assistant,” and that is spot-on. Boostsuite helps you get your website in tip-top SEO shape, which is known as on-page SEO. Get a handful of suggestions for free. You don’t need super website skills because you can send the suggestions and changes right to your Webmaster.

There you have it! Take a little time and crank out a few of these sites and you will have a leg up on your competitors. Do you have a great local SEO presence? Or maybe you have a lot of 5 star reviews on Yelp. We would love to hear about it in the comments!

The post Local SEO: Who Are You? Who, Who, Who, Who? appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

How to Write Effective Website Copy

Thu, 02/28/2013 - 06:00

You know the feeling. You’re staring at a blinking cursor on a blank screen, trying to figure out how to get your website visitors excited about your product or service. It sounds easy. After all, who knows your product better than you do? But most of us were never taught this kind of writing in school, and effective website copywriting is a much different animal than an essay on why Romeo and Juliet were doomed from the start!

To help you get started, or to give your current copy an update, keep these principles in mind:

Know your audience

Ask yourself, who is visiting my site, why are they visiting, and what actions do I want them to take?

All of your website copy should be written with these answers in mind. Target your message for your specific audience and give them the information they need. Include a very specific call-to-action. This is what you want them to do, and will depend on your goal. It could be filling out a lead form, making a purchase, signing up to volunteer, etc.  Here are some examples:

  • Sign up for our mailing list
  • Donate $25 to our cause today
  • Add to cart

Extra credit if your website “knows” where people are coming from, and can direct them to a targeted landing page. If I have a bakery business, someone searching for “wedding cakes” will need very different information than someone searching for “cookies near 94105.”

Less is more

To turn more visitors into buyers, avoid the temptation to over-communicate. Often we’re so proud of our product or service that we want to go on and on about it, but remember that your visitor likely has a few key pieces of information they’re looking for. Find out what these are, and put them right in front of the reader. Your goal here is to give your visitor relevant information quickly.

Being too wordy or specific makes it difficult for visitors to zero in on the info they want, and can distract them from their “mission.”  Consider using bullets to make your key points, and use links so readers can easily find more in-depth information if they want it.

Say you’re looking for a new washing machine, would you rather be greeted with this:

Or this:

 

 

Style counts

Your writing style is an important aspect of how people perceive your company or product, so make sure the tone matches your other communications, and is appropriate for your product type.

If you sell medical supplies, “Try a free sample of X” may be a more appropriate choice than “Check out our new stuff!” However, if you sell surfboards, “Check out our new stuff!” might suit your readers.

Bonus section for overachievers:

Making a sale shouldn’t be your only goal!

Obviously you’re in business to sell things and make money, no argument there. Much of your web copy should be devoted to achieving this goal. But, don’t forget about creating engagement with your web visitors. Building a relationship with people before they’re customers puts your biz top of mind when they decide they need a product or service like yours.

If you’re a regular reader of the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog (and you are, right?), you’re probably thinking, “But shouldn’t I use social media to build relationships? What does this have to do with effective web copy?” Good question! You should absolutely use social media to help build relationships, but don’t forget about the web. Part of your website copy should be devoted to positioning yourself as an expert in your field, or a good source of information and providing helpful information so people recommend you to others and keep coming back to your site.

For example, if you’re an accountant, people may visit your site to get answers to common tax questions. You could devote a section of your web copy to a “common questions” page with brief answers and links to deeper resources. Your goal is to capture lead information so you can market your tax preparation services at a later date.

If this seems counter intuitive, check out our recent blog post, Stop Selling, Start Helping, to see why it makes sense.

What changes will you make to incorporate these website copywriting tips?

The post How to Write Effective Website Copy appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Trade Show Ideas for Pitch Perfect Engagement

Tue, 02/26/2013 - 06:00

Have you seen the movie, Pitch Perfect? I watched it 10 times before I even bought the movie. Can you say obsessed? Absolutely!

So how does this relate to trade show engagement and booth traffic? It’s all about the fun that brings you back for more! The more energy you have in your trade show booth, the more engagement you’ll get. No one wants to talk to boring people, and even worse, boring sales people. Awkward!

I know sometimes trade shows can feel chaotic like this:

But use the trade show ideas below to pump up the fun, and you’ll gain tons of traffic at your booth from both current and potential customers

Let’s get started with trade show contest ideas:

  • Have visitors drop their business cards into a fishbowl to win a prize (make the prize something people will desire, or something quirky). Then have people come back at a certain time(s) for the drawing.
  • Have visitors tag your business or booth in a picture or post on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram as entry for a contest. Have them use a specific hashtag relating to your business and the tradeshow. ex: #VRSXSW
  • Have an interactive game at your booth like a beanbag toss or a video game; Whoever gets the  highest score wins. People will continue to check back throughout the day to see who has the highest score.
  • Have a prize wheel in which visitors take a turn spinning to see what they win. We use one at every trade show, and people love it – It gets a lot of attention and draws a crowd.

Now that you’ve got some trade show ideas for a contest, what about the prize?

  • Technology – headphones, a Kindle, camera, or of course an iPad
  • Something pertaining to your business, like a free trial of your service, or actual products. This will get people to visit your website or place of business.
  • Clothing or apparel
  • Cash (who doesn’t love cash?)
  • Mystery prize box – Create a box of goodies with your product or service include.
  • Tickets to a local professional sports game
  • Gift card to a local restaurant (everyone appreciates free food)
  • Books about your business – People love getting a freebie, especially when it’ll help them learn something new.

Ideas to get the word out before the trade show:

  • Before the event, promote the trade show and the contest you’ll have at said trade show.
  • Send a few emails, and post to your social networks about trade shows and events your business will be attending. Include the date, time, location, booth number, and what contest or goodies you’ll be giving out.
  • Add an event section to your website and on Facebook.

Ideas to get people to your booth at the trade show:

  • Make sure your booth is clean and presentable. A big trade show faux pas is to eat while working in a booth. No one wants to talk to someone with a mouth full of food.
  • Make sure your staff is engaged with the crowd and not just with each other.
  • Have banners and even a custom tablecloth that says what your business does.
  • Besides the contest prize, have lots of free giveaways like pens, notepads, or key chains with your logo on each item.
  • Have signs at your booth about the contest. Make sure they’re readable from at least 10 feet away.
  • Display what you’re giving away for the contest.
  • Have handouts for people who want more information about your business.
  • Make some noise (not too much, as you don’t want to annoy your fellow booth neighbors) – but enough to get people looking your way.

Lastly, make sure to smile and look approachable:

Other Trade Show aspects to consider:

  • The more people who engage with your booth, the more others will want to see what all the excitement is about.
  • Have a contest for your own staff. Incentivize those who collect the most business cards or signups.
  • Use the time in which people approach your booth for free swag or a contest, to talk to them about their needs and how your business could help.
  • Write notes on all business cards to remind yourself of the conversation, and needs of that potential customer.
  • Follow up with all business card prospects with either with a personal call or an email. Re-introduce yourself and your business and let them know where you met them. Ask if you can add them to your email marketing list.
  • Take a picture of your contest winner and post it to your website and social media pages with a caption like, “Susie just won an ipad by playing bean bag toss at the XYZ trade show with Your Company Name.”

Lastly, make sure to walk around to check out’s working at other booths. Use this knowledge to adjust what you’re doing, or use it for the next trade show. Different shows have different crowds, so consider your audience.

Whatever trade show ideas you use, make sure that you and your team are into it!

Also, grab our easy breezy trade show planning checklist here and you’ll be on your way to Pitch Perfect engagement.

The post Trade Show Ideas for Pitch Perfect Engagement appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

A Newbie’s Introduction to SXSW Interactive

Mon, 02/25/2013 - 06:00

Yeehaw! Time to buckle your belt and get your sh*t kickers on for South by Southwest! Hold your horses, what in the name is South by Southwest? It’s only the best thing that’s never happened to you, unless of course, you’ve already been.

SXSW is a 10-day trifecta of film, technology, and music festivals that embark upon Austin, Texas every spring (usually in March), attracting more than 60K people from around the world. Because SXSW as a whole is quite beastly, we’re going to focus on the largest of the three: SXSW Interactive.

SXSW Interactive, specifically and/or more affectionately known as “South By” or SXSWi, is one third of the festival that focuses particularly on emerging technology. Back in 1987 SXSW was just a music fest, but Film and Interactive didn’t follow far behind. Now in its 20th year, SXSWi brings in more than 25,000 people to the festival alone, making it a pretty big deal. According to their site, SXSWi “has earned the festival a reputation as a breeding ground for new ideas and creative technologies.”

This year’s SXSW Interactive spans five days (March 8th-12th) and is comprised of “compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders, the SXSW Trade Show, and an unbeatable lineup of special programs showcasing the best new digital works, video games and innovative ideas the international community has to offer.”

Essentially, the whirlwind of a festival is a massive conglomerate of educational, branding, marketing, PR and networking opportunities for you and/or your business, and, it’s what they designate an “inspiration overload.”

Speaker Bruce Sterling. Credit: Mindy Best

SXSW Sessions
With badge in hand, SXSW Interactive sessions are held during the day at more than 10 different locations/venues in downtown Austin. The sessions include a plethora of speakers covering various new media topics including mobile programming and design, social media, new technology, etc. There are also book readings, panel discussions, mentor sessions and more. A list of 2013’s SXSW Interactive sessions can be found on their site.

SXSW Startup Village
The SXSW Startup Village is a fairly new addition, and the hub/essence of SXSW Interactive all in one place. It showcases startup events, panels, meet ups, lounges, mentor sessions, networking opportunities and more. The creative startup culture at SXSW Interactive has become so popular, they’ve also developed a new branch off, or “addition” to the SXSW family in the form of SXSW V2V. V2V is an “extension and re-imagining of the legendary SXSW experience with an emphasis on the creative spark that drives entrepreneurial innovation,”and is will be held in Las Vegas, NV, August 11-14, 2013.

SXSW Trade Show
The SXSW Trade Show runs for 4 days, and “is the heart of the converging industries.” The trade show also houses block parties, entertainment, and a B2B networking pavilion. If you want your company to be a part of the trade show, they have advertising, exhibition, sponsorship information online, as well as a Marketing Deck with interesting stats about attendees.

SXSW Interactive Awards
The SXSWi Awards competition “uncovers the best new digital work, from mobile and tablet apps to websites and installations, while celebrating those who are building tomorrow’s interactive trends.” The categories range from activism to social media, motion graphics to music. Aside from gaining major exposure, winners get also get bragging rights amongst industry peers, SXSW Interactive tickets, and tech-related goodies. Here’s a list of the 2013 finalists.

SXSW Parties
Put your (comfiest) dancin’ shoes on, ‘cus the SXSW parties don’t stop! The insane number of parties happening at all times during SXSW put all fraternity houses, combined, to shame. Official SXSW parties include free entrance with a badge, however, most SXSW parties are unofficial. Unofficial parties are still excellent “get crazy!” er, networking opportunities and typically require an RSVP. This “Allhat Cowboys & Cowgirls Gone Wild” brunch co-hosted by Richard Binhammer and David Armano is just one example of the many unofficial SXSWi parties.

The number of parties and RSVPs are frankly overwhelming, but there are companies who will automatically RSVP you to 300+ parties for free, or a small fee. Be prepared for inbox overload though:

And, if you want to keep up with the party details on Twitter, there are a plethora of SXSW party Twitter handles to follow:

Planning for SXSW Interactive
Ready to saddle up? Whoa now… Ask any SXSW Interactive veteran and they’ll tell you it’s too late. You’ve got to start planning for next year, now! Hotel reservations around the Austin area (which are booked through SXSW’s Housing Desk) fill up in a nanosecond, and also require SXSW registration first. Purchasing badges well in advance (say, September), not only presents you with a stellar early bird discount, but also a one up for hotel reservations. You can always go the Craigslist/Airbnb route as well, but be prepared for inflated prices. As far as transportation goes, get yourself a reliable pair of walking shoes and save a horse, purchase a shuttle pass. This is especially vital if your accommodation isn’t anywhere near 6th street downtown, as hailing a taxi requires more than a miracle.

Whether you’re attending, exhibiting, speaking, or freewheeling it down to Austin for SXSW, the festival proves to be a valuable, educational, and networking event. It’ll leave you with endless ideas, contacts, insight and knowledge (especially for next year) that could greatly benefit your business. So, to end our SXSW Interactive newbie introduction, we present you with some wise last-minute advice for your journey:

  • Bring comfortable shoes, socks and Band-Aids (for blisters), as there will be A LOT of walking
  • ABC – Always be charging. Bring your tech devices a plenty and plug in when you can to recharge, so you’ll never miss a moment
  • Pre plan out some events, sessions and/or parties, but otherwise, try to “go with the flow”
  • Don’t be shy. Introduce yourself and meet lots of people
  • Pace yourself (see parties above)
  • Eat a lot of BBQ
  • Stay hydrated
  • Take notes and pictures, check in, tweet and blog about what you learn
  • Pack: chargers, batteries, portable wifi, earplugs, business cards, schwag, vitamins, hand sanitizer, patience and a good sense of humor
  • Most importantly, have fun!

Are you headed to SXSW this year, or are you planning to in 2014?

The post A Newbie’s Introduction to SXSW Interactive appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Start Helping, Stop Selling

Fri, 02/22/2013 - 06:00

We recently attended the New Media Expo and had the opportunity to hear Jay Baer, a social media strategist, author, speaker and President of Convince and Convert. Baer presented, Youtility: How Smart Companies Are Helping, Not Selling, and made the case that by providing helpful, useful content, you don’t have to try that hard to sell (if much at all). Baer explained that “Youtility” is the concept of providing valuable content for your readers and customers, to the point where your company becomes valued, trusted, and synonymous with being useful. So when the time comes to make a purchase, your company is the obvious choice.

Baer stated, “Sell something and you make a customer today. Help someone and you create a customer for life.” He also pointed out that, “The difference between helping and selling is just 2 letters.” In Baer’s presentation, he outlined five steps to “Youtility Marketing;” Here are three vital ones:

1. Discover peoples’ needs. Traditional marketing tactics involve telling people why your company is great. With content marketing, you show them. But content marketing isn’t about your company, it’s about your customers. You can discover your customers’ needs in a number of ways, one of which includes discovering what your current or potential customers may be searching for online. Use a keyword search tool, such as Google Keyword Tool, and uncover terms or words that people most commonly search for that are related to your business. This will help you determine what people need, what challenges they may be facing, or what they’re looking for specifically.

Also, observe conversations happening on social media, like Twitter, Facebook, and Quora. Follow hashtags related to your business or industry on Twitter and see what sort of questions people are asking. What kind of content gets shared, commented on and retweeted? Quora is also super useful in that it’s a question-and-answer social media site/community, entirely made up of questions people have on a variety of topics. Search and follow topics that relate to your business, and discover what people are asking.

2. Map needs to programs. Based on the discoveries you make in Step 1, create content or “programs” that map back to peoples’ questions and needs. For example, say you discover people have questions about how to choose the best Email Service Provider (we may have researched this once or twice). Create a variety of content that answers those questions. Write a series of blog posts, create a video on YouTube, make an infographic, produce a podcast, conduct a webinar and/or TweetChat about it. By creating a variety of content, you’re being useful, but also giving readers various ways to interact with and consume content. All of this content should also be optimized for our search engine friends.

In Baer’s presentation, he shared a story about River Pools. Back when the economy began to tank, River Pools was hit hard, as not many folks install pools during tough times. However, the people at River Pools didn’t spend their time singing the blues. They got smart and started answering questions via their blog that customers and potential customers had. They then turned those blog posts into a popular eBook. Guess what happened? In just four years, River Pools grew their company from nearly out of business to the largest pool seller in the US. Based on all the information they provide, 75% of their customers complete a purchase without ever talking to a real person! In fact, River Pools’ customers view approximately 30 pages on their website – Wow!

3. Make Youtility a process, not a project. Like the old saying, “it’s the journey, not the destination,” creating “Youtility” in your content marketing is the same. It isn’t something you can put on your to-do list, and check off permanently. Why? Because our customers’ needs change, technology changes and of course, trends are always changing. Baer cited Cloth, an app that went from originally just helping people organize their closets, to adding a real-time weather feature so people can pick the right outfit (out of said organized closet) for the current conditions. They adapted their strategy to meet the current needs of their audience. Adapt or become extinct as the saying goes.

Parting words from Baer? “Don’t create content. Create Youtility because helping beats selling.” We couldn’t agree more. How will you help your customers?

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VerticalResponse Celebrates 12 Years of Growth [Infographic]

Thu, 02/21/2013 - 06:00

Happy birthday to us! Here at VerticalResponse, 2013 marks 12 awesome years of helping small businesses and non-profits succeed with their marketing. Thanks to our amazing customers (who sent a whopping 8.4 billion emails in 2012!), we’ve been growing, too — at a compounded rate of 24 percent since 2008.

We thought it would be cool to look back at our growth, and some of our favorite business, customer acquisition and employee accomplishments in 2012. Then, we thought it would be even cooler to wrap it all up in a sweet infographic:

Note: We didn’t have space to mention that’s 780 pounds of coffee beans grown by a farm cooperative, roasted in the San Francisco Bay Area and delivered by bicycle!

For more interesting stats, check out our press release.

The post VerticalResponse Celebrates 12 Years of Growth [Infographic] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Crunched for Time? How to Prioritize Your Public Relations Plan

Wed, 02/20/2013 - 06:00

If you’re the owner of a small biz, you probably do it all: You’re the salesperson, head of HR, bookkeeper, office manager, maybe even the janitor.

Adding “public relations extraordinaire” to that always-expanding list is probably something you’d rather not do, even though you know that good PR can take your business to the next level.

While you can’t magically add more hours to each day, you can prioritize some elements of a public relations plan. If you barely have time to brush your teeth these days, you might be relieved to know that the path toward getting positive press coverage doesn’t require a million steps – or a million hours.

If you’re pressed for time and can only dedicate so much to PR, here are three essentials you want to focus on:

Identify your media targets

This will be the most time-consuming of your public relations plan, but if you don’t have an up-to-date list of the people you want and should reach out to, everything else that follows is a blind shot in the dark.

Take a day (it might have to be the weekend; sorry!) to research the newspapers, magazines, TV news stations, websites and blogs that you want to be featured in. Once you have that list, identify the specific writers and reporters who cover your industry (or, if it’s local news, those who cover your city or neighborhood). Once you have that list, find their contact information. Most media outlets list contact information online, and many journalists publish their email addresses and/or social media handles in the byline of their stories.

Putting together this list will require some heavy-duty online sleuthing, and know that people and contacts will inevitably change as time goes on. But armed with this list, you now know exactly who to connect with to get your company in the news.

Read the news

There are two main ways to get press coverage: Align yourself with something that’s already being talked about, or create the news yourself.

Piggybacking is by far the less time-consuming option … but before you hop on, you need to know what’s happening out there in the world, first. Make it a habit to spend 15 or 30 minutes every day to read up or tune into your local and national headlines. If the housing report that was just released today shows home prices are trending up and you’re a real estate agent, that’s a great reason to pitch your expertise and perspective on the trend to the press. (Do it pronto, while the topic’s still hot.) If a beloved local restaurant suffered roofing damage from last night’s storm and you happen to own a construction business, maybe offer a helping hand and inform your local media outlets. (Hint: They love “feel good” stories.)

And, because you already have a list of media targets, reaching out to press won’t take a ton of time.

Pitch, don’t send press releases

If you’re short on time, consider forgoing the traditional press release as part of your public relations plan and send out a quick pitch instead.

What’s the difference? A press release is longer, more formal and usually follows a specific format. (Here’s a press release template from WikiHow.) A pitch is much shorter, usually no more than a couple of concise paragraphs. A press release pretty much tells the whole story in one official document, while a pitch is an email meant to provide just the most important and pertinent facts, with the expectation that the journalist will reply if he or she is interested in learning more.

A well-crafted, brief email pitch will do the job just as well as a press release, especially if you’re a small business. After all, you’re an uber busy person and so are journalists. If you’ve got an enticing story angle that hooks the writer or reporter in the shortest amount of time, it’s a win-win for both. Check out our blog post, “How to Write a Great PR Pitch and Get the Media’s Attention,” for tips on making your email pitch-perfect.

Like anything else, the more time you put into your public relations plan, the more results you’ll likely get. But tackle these essentials, and you should be well on your way to nailing positive press coverage for you and your company.

The post Crunched for Time? How to Prioritize Your Public Relations Plan appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

5 Free Killer Keyword Research Tools

Tue, 02/19/2013 - 06:00

When launching, adjusting or creating search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns, you work with a ton of keywords (words you choose and want to rank well in search engine results). In the SEO/SEM world, keywords can be a marketer’s best friend, if chosen wisely! The keywords you choose for your Pay-per-click (PPC) online advertising campaigns can ultimately determine the success or failure of your campaign. In order to succeed, you need to find a good mix of different keywords, from branded to non-branded, to competitors terms, as well as generic and long-tail terms. There are plenty of excellent paid or free trial PPC keyword research tools out there to choose from. However, you can create a really extensive keyword list with tools that are 100% free  – Sweet!

Here are 5 free killer PPC keyword research tools with no usage limitations or pay gates.

1. Google Keyword Tool – This is a Google Adwords keyword research tool. This is also a go-to keyword research tool for both keywords to bid on, as well as keywords to exclude from campaigns. There’s a lot of flexibility with Google’s tool including match type, location, language, as well as an option to show closely related search terms.

You can also search for keywords by entering a website domain. Google will then return search terms that it determines are relevant to that website. Use this tool to check competitors or other high-ranking organic domains to discover new keyword ideas.

Bonus: You can also use this tool to see what keywords your competitors rank well in on Google organic search results. Check your own website to see keywords Google thinks are relevant to your website. If the keywords returned don’t really describe your core offerings, you may need to spend more time on search engine optimization.

2. Microsoft Ad Intelligence Tool (Excel Add-on) – This is a PPC keyword research tool and Excel add-on for Bing Ads. This tool requires a Bing Ads advertising account.  Once installed, the tool is available as a new tab in your Excel workbook.  You can discover new keyword ideas by entering the URL of your website or list of keywords.  The tool also gives traffic and bid estimates on your keywords, which allows you to determine the cost to advertise on Bing/Yahoo. There’s also some interesting demographic and geographical information available.

3. Keyword Typo Generator – People often misspell or hit the wrong key when they type a word into search. SEOBooks keyword typo generator helps generate a list of the most common misspellings for a particular keyword. We recommend that you use this tool on your branded terms, as well as on high traffic head terms (high traffic keywords are usually less targeted keywords, consisting of single words or very short phrases etc.). You don’t have to run this on long tail keywords, or keywords that have very low traffic/search volume.

4. Keyword Concatenation Tool – This keyword concatenation tool from Found.co.uk helps you build a large list of keywords.  The tool also includes inputs that include match time modifiers, as well as different permutation outputs. You could concatenate a “buy” modifier to your product list to create a keyword list of “Buy + products” for example. This is all really just fancy/techy lingo for joining large lists of keywords together with ease and being able to switch between paid search match types.

5. Local Keyword Generator – This local keyword generator tool is great for businesses trying to advertise in a specific geo-location. Just enter a zip code and a radius up to 100 miles. Then, a list of keywords that are relevant to your business. The tool will create a list of keywords using all the cities and zip codes that are within the radius. This is incredibly useful for brick and mortar stores that want to create a list of keywords that target the businesses general area.

 

The more thorough you are at creating a keyword list, the more opportunities you’ll have to capture more traffic and hopefully conversions/sales. The time and effort you put into creating an extensive keyword list should pay off in the end.  You can keep your PPC costs down by bidding on low competition keywords.

Are you using any of these keyword research tools? Did we leave any of your favorites off the list?

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What Does the Future Hold for Email and Social Marketing?

Fri, 02/15/2013 - 06:00

2013 has arrived, and with it comes thoughts and ideas of how email and social marketing will evolve. While we can’t predict what will become the next big social media channel this year, we can give you some tips to help you stay ahead of the game.

Mobile Design – This may be the most important thing to consider for your email marketing this year. According to Litmus, 36% of emails are opened using a mobile device/tablet, and they predict it’ll be 50% by year’s end. Hence, mobile design is something you definitely want to take this into account when crafting your emails, and it’s not as hard as you may think. With a few minor tweaks, your email will render clearly for readers on a variety of devices or platforms, just follow these tips:

  • Keep the design slim – Around 500-600 pixels
  • Use call-to-action buttons
  • Use a simple, single column layout
  • Include links that’re large enough to “click” i.e., touch
  • Have a text-only email back up
  • Give your email the “touch screen” test (is it easy to navigate with your finger?)
  • Ensure your email renders/downloads properly on an iPhone

Social ROI – Remember the tag line from the movie, Field of Dreams? “If you build it, he will come.” It also applies to social media, as well as baseball fields. Once social media was built, people came in droves (hint: So get on it, if you’re not already!). And, social media no longer pertains to a certain age group or demographic; everyone’s on it. The key now, is to keep people continuously engaged with your business on social, and to do so, you simply need to keep at it! Here are a few engagement-inducing ideas:

You can actually track ROI on social media; you just need to set up some key tools. Facebook Insights is a great start for monitoring progress on your Facebook Page. Google Analytics (GA) will also track where people come from when they visit your website, plus it tracks activity on your social accounts. And, if you set up goals in GA, you can track conversions from social interactions. If you’re sharing links from your site, or sharing from another, using Bit.ly not only shortens long URLs, it also gives you tracking information about the people clicking on your links. Even if you aren’t tracking, don’t overlook the power of social engagement. SocialBakers has been tracking exactly this and find that more engagement on social creates more reach, more click throughs, and ultimately more conversion. So keep sharing great info, and it’ll pay off in the end!

Responsive Design – This may be a term you’re not familiar with, but you will be soon! Wikipedia defines it as:

Responsive web design is an approach to web design in which a site is crafted to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones)…

In short, a website responds to it’s environment so that it looks great on a tablet or desktop monitor. If you haven’t created a mobile friendly website yet (our pals at dudamobile make it a cinch), think about making one now. Once readers leave your mobile friendly email or social site, they still need to interact with your website in order to make a purchase, or gain more information – This transition should be made as easily as possible. Check out how responsive design looks in the video below:

So now that we know mobile and responsive design, as well as an active and engaging social media presence is key for success in the near future, how are you planning to change up your marketing?

The post What Does the Future Hold for Email and Social Marketing? appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Maximize a Product Launch with This PR Plan

Thu, 02/14/2013 - 06:00

You don’t need a huge PR machine behind you to successfully launch a new product. Candace Locklear of Mighty PR and Vijay Chattha of Applaunch PR recently gave their popular talk at Appnation, with the intent of helping independent mobile application developers create pre-launch buzz and promotion for their app to maximize success on launch day. Though geared toward app developers, the ideas they suggested apply to any small business launching a new product.

Here are some public relations tips for your product launch plan based on their talk, and from my own experience launching products and working as a daily reporter for two years:

60 to 90 Days Before Launch

If you don’t already have a Twitter account, Facebook page or website set up to promote your product, set them up now. If your product is simply an add on to an existing line, you can continue to use the online marketing channels you’ve already set up but, either way, take the time now to make sure you have all of your ducks in a row and are ready to get the word out when launch day comes. Set up a basic pre-launch web page with a simple sign up form to collect contact information from people interested in your product, using either a service like LaunchRock or the VerticalResponse opt-in form.

Even more importantly, start identifying publications that might be interested in covering your product and cultivate relationships with the reporters most likely to write about you. Target publications that cover products similar to the one you’re launching, as well as those that cover the interests of your target customers. Start reading back issues of their articles and communicate to the authors via email and through social media.

Don’t start pitching your product yet – instead, provide useful information that helps the media write stories they’re currently working on, or provide positive and helpful feedback in the comments section of their site. Writers working on deadline often struggle to find new angles on stories and can have a hard time finding sources with a unique point of view. Introduce them to people you know in the industry, offer yourself as a source, establish your expertise, without being overbearing, and get them used to seeing your name and associating it with something positive. One great source for finding reporters seeking information for a story is the Help a Reporter Out (HARO) list run by Peter Shankman. Check the listings to find opportunities for you to connect with members of the press.

30 to 60 Days Before Launch

It takes search engines like Google and Bing about 30 to 60 days to fully index a site and have show up in search results. Start writing content for your launch site to attract the search engines, as well as new visitors. Your content should use keywords your customers will use when looking for a product like yours. For example, if you’re launching a new line of pet toys, write blog posts about dog care. If you’d like to entice your customers further, take a page from many of the folks who use Kickstarter and blog about the progress of the design and development of your product. Visitors to your site who follow along with the progress of your product will feel like part of the team and will be more likely to become customers.

Post links to the articles you write to your social networks and continue to drive signups to your email form and gain more social followers. Keep building a pre-launch audience that’s invested in your product before it even hits the shelves.

5 to 30 Days Before Launch

The work you’ve done building relationships with reporters should now pay off. Let them know about the product you’re working on, and pitch them on it. Keep the pitches short – no more than six sentences – and make sure your message is on point with the topics they typically cover. Tell your unique story and give them a unique angle to work with. Invite them to a preview of your product. If you don’t get a response from them initially, give it a couple of days and follow up again. After the third try, move on – there’s a good chance they’ll contact you after the launch to cover it once they see it in rival publications.

About a week before launch, hold a special pre-launch briefing where you demonstrate your product for the reporters who have shown interest. If you can’t meet the reporters in person, set up a GoToMeeting, Skype session or even a Google Hangout to present a video. Accompany this with delivering review samples to them so that they can actually feel and use the product, but with your guidance. If you’re launching an application, consider using a service like TestFlight to allow them to use it in a private beta mode without having to launch it to an app store. At all times, be gracious and thank them for their interest. If they have useful feedback, consider applying it prior to launch if you still have time.

Day of Launch

Launch day will be your busiest day. Send an email out the night before to the people who signed up through your pre-release site so that they can be the first to get access to your product. On the day of the release, send out another email and post links to the page hosting or selling your product across all of your social channels. Encourage the people who signed up for your pre-launch site to share the news with their networks, perhaps even providing some kind of an incentive such as a discount or a special version of the product designed just for that group.

Keep your eye on all of the publications you reached out to. You may find that even the ones you didn’t successfully cultivate a relationship with will write about you. Not all of the press may be glowing, and you may find that your launch was tied into another story instead of being the focus. No matter the result, be sure to thank them and share the best stories with your followers on your social networks.

There’s no doubt, getting all of the marketing and PR done to launch a product is a lot of work. Add that to all of the work you’re already doing to get your product launched on time and you can quickly feel overwhelmed. But take your time and enjoy the process, and do everything you can to make the right contacts and get word of your product out there. You’ve put a lot of time and money into making something your customers will love. Don’t skimp on the time and effort to make sure they can also find it.

Have any other tips to prepare your product launch plan?

The post Maximize a Product Launch with This PR Plan appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

3 Tools That Make Busywork Suck Less

Wed, 02/13/2013 - 06:00

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

Administrative work sucks. Tracking down receipts, entering new contacts into your database, following up with people on deadlines they’ve missed weeks ago – these types of tasks are necessary, but could they be any more boring?

Thankfully, these business tools make administrative work and project management suck a little less.

TaskRabbit
For those basic tasks you just don’t have time to do, you might want to check out TaskRabbit. It was one of the first companies to connect people who don’t have time to run chores and errands with folks in their neighborhood who can do it for them (for a fee). TaskRabbit has since broadened its categories to more business-related tasks, such as research, data entry, even usability testing. All you have to do is post your job and how much you’re willing to pay someone to get it done. Screened “TaskRabbits” bid to fulfill your task, and the lowest offer gets the job. Cost: Varies according to your task.

Concur
I love Concur, because it makes managing your (and your employees’) travel expenses so much easier. Instead of carrying around a wad of paper receipts (so 20th century!), you can just take pictures of them with your phone and attach them to your expense reports. Makes organizing a breeze. It even has a version that integrates with Salesforce! Cost: $8 per month for the small-business version.

5pm
We just started using 5pm to manage our big upcoming product launch. There are a million moving parts to this project, and we liked 5pm because it gives us a bird’s-eye view of deadlines and progress. We can also easily identify critical tasks and milestones. You can share notes and files, track your team’s time if you need to, and use a bunch of other nifty features. Cost: Starts at $18 per month.

Do you have any awesome administrative or project-management tools that you can’t live without? Enlighten us!

The post 3 Tools That Make Busywork Suck Less appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Nobody Puts Hashtag in the Corner

Tue, 02/12/2013 - 12:02

Who owns the hashtag? The Internet has been furiously debating this question since Twitter’s Super Bowl end zone dance in which Twitter was, according to Venture Beat, mentioned in 50% of all Super Bowl ads (more than any other social network). It seems as though many of the ads only mentioned hashtags, the # symbol we use for tracking Tweets on any given subject, and this has peeved other some social media providers.

The short answer is, nobody owns the hashtag. The much-loved pound symbol, once the sole possession of geeky programmers and voicemail navigation systems, has come into its own and won’t be controlled by any one source.

The hashtag is so popular, one family even reportedly gave it to their daughter as a name back in November.

A recent article by Russell Brandom on The Verge discusses the hashtag debate, stating, “Twitter’s the first place we look when we want to check in on a hashtag. But that may not always be true. Other services have already staked out specific hashtags like #nofilter on Instagram or #gif on Tumblr. Five years from now, we might look to Tumblr or Instagram or Vine for the most lively Doritos-themed conversations, or some service that hasn’t even launched yet. As more services adopt the hashtag shorthand, it gets harder and harder for Twitter to keep its stranglehold on this semantic goldmine.” Makes total sense to us!

So why is Twitter so heavily associated with the hashtag, even when other social media sites use it? It may be because the hashtag’s first known use in social media was at SXSW, when open source advocate, Chris Messina, used the # sign to help talk about the festival on Twitter with an easily searchable #sxsw thread.

Brandom’s article explains, “According to Messina, the point was always for hashtags to survive across platforms. He also uses them on Flickr, in Google Docs, and in email subject lines, as a kind of visible metadata. As long as a service gives you a text box, it’s giving you a way to catalog your content. And by making your tags visible, it makes them more likely to survive the whirlwind of retweets and screencaps that often comes with Internet conversation.”

Pretty cool, right? What other online symbols are too wild to be tamed by any one service? We can’t think of any @ the moment.

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Social Media & Communities: Is There a Right or Wrong Way?

Mon, 02/11/2013 - 06:00

There are two distinct approaches that most people and companies take with their social media community efforts.

The first approach is to look at the numbers. The more people you get in the funnel (or in this case, the number of  Facebook Page “Likes,” or Twitter followers), the better chance you have to “market” your products or services to them. This in turn provides a higher chance to sell your products or services.

The other approach is about nurturing. Nurture focuses more on social engagement (seen on walls, boards and/or streams), rather than focusing on the number of fans, “Likes” or followers. The logic is, if you make your existing and potential customers feel as if they’re a part of something bigger, you have the opportunity to build something special, and the community you’ve built will work for you.

While attending the New Media Expo last month, Mari Smith, the energetic Scottish dynamo author and entrepreneur, and Guy Kawasaki, best known as the former chief evangelist of Apple, championed both approaches. While both are marketers through and through, they approach their audiences or communities quite differently.

Kawasaki looks at his 4 million+ fan and follower base as a marketing channel. He takes what he calls an “NPR attitude,” and provides an abundant amount of content to his followers 365 days a year, mostly pitch free.

For providing all of this great content with his channel, Kawasaki occasionally promotes his wares (mostly books) a couple of times during the year. This has been a consistent theme that has worked for Kawasaki for years. In fact, when I interviewed Guy at SXSW in 2009, he wasn’t shy about how he leverages social in his business.

Smith on the other hand, likes to take a “relationships first” approach. Instead of putting her business at the forefront, she focuses on her relationships, which she’s very passionate about. Everything Smith does revolves around people and relationships, whether it’s cultivating fresh ones, building and preserving existing ones, or being a conduit to helping others connect.

Although this approach can be more time consuming, it’s working well for Mari. She currently has 183,000 followers on Twitter, 88,000 likes on her Facebook Page and 388,000 followers on her personal Facebook profile.

While both styles are effective for their respective users, there are two differences between Mari and Guy’s methods: interaction and advocacy.

While Guy puts out a ton of great content, his level of interaction is slim-to-none, (which wasn’t always the case), but that also comes with the territory when you have as many followers as he does. Do you think Guy’s community would be even more vibrant would be if he responded? Here’s a reply I got from Guy back in 2010, though, I’m not sure if this was actually from Guy or from those who tweet for him. He’s also not shy about telling folks that others tweet for him:

While Mari delivers a ton of great content herself, her level of interaction is through the roof. This is the biggest impact between the two methodologies, which small businesses may benefit from.

Mari’s interaction builds loyalty and advocates (by sharing ideas, products and services with their connections) and in turn, builds a true community. People are part of something unique when they receive a response, and they tend to care more deeply about the subject matter being discussed with a response.

Everyone should take a chapter out of Mari’s book, and use interaction to build a community that’ll work for us. It may be more challenging, but the benefits far outreach the blood, sweat and tears.

Which approach do you think works best for you, Mari or Guy’s?

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Customer Loyalty: 3 Ways to Create a Cult-Like Following

Fri, 02/08/2013 - 06:00

Have you ever been a member of a cult? Don’t be so quick to say “no way Jose!” – It seems like a crazy notion, but hear us out. The term, “cult” may have a negative connotation (depending on who you are), but developing a ‘cult-like following’, especially as a brand, seems anything but insane. Are you a die-hard Apple product or Mac user? Do you refuse to fly with anyone but Virgin America? Do you only drink Coke not Pepsi? These particular companies have established such insane amounts of customer loyalty; they’ve created cult members out of many of us.

So how do we get people hopelessly devoted to our own brands and businesses? At the New Media Expo in Las Vegas, Dino Dogan, founder of Triberr, spoke about brands with cult-like followings. According to Dogan, the only difference between establishing a cult and customer loyalty, is the intention. Here are his three insane loyalty-creating principles:

The Pepsi Challenge

1. Create Polarity
Polarity is the concept of us vs. them, good vs. evil, yin vs. yang. Dogan explains that putting your foot down, causing some controversy, and taking a stand doesn’t always come easy, but it’s important in creating customer loyalty. “It requires balls to declare what you stand for,” Dogan says, “So be comfortable with making enemies.” An example of polarity amongst brands? The Pepsi Challenge. Remember those commercials in which people did blind taste tests of Pepsi vs. Coke?  This was PepsiCo creating polarity by taking a stance, declaring war in a battle of the brands, and gave Coca-Cola a run for its money.

Dogan also pointed out the witty, polarity-driven ads by Apple: ‘Get a Mac‘ aka “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC.” The ads depicted Mac (played by Justin Long) as young, hip and knowledgeable where as PC (played by John Hodgman) was obviously older, complicated, dowdy, and outdated. The ads forced customers to take a stance: Do you want to be smart, young, hip, and sleek, or simply a square? The power of polarity!

2. Create an Avatar
Now we’re not talking about transposing yourself into a giant, blue, genetically engineered body of the Na’vi – If you’ve never seen the movie, “Avatar,” that simply won’t make sense. But what Dogan is saying, is to visualize your customer, be culturally relevant and significant, and build your brand around them. Who is your customer? What’s his/her age, gender, demographic, occupation, marital status, desires, needs, etc. Understanding your audience is the key to gaining their loyalty. Want to take it a step further? Be your customer. Dogan explains that being your own customer is “absolutely the best way to understand the mind of your customer. Everything else is sub-par.”

Pinterest is an excellent example of a brand banking on its customer avatar. According to Dogan, Pinterest was developed with a specific audience in mind: Female, 25-35+, from Middle America, makes 50K+ a year, etc. Pinterest’s customer profiling certainly paid off, as it’s the fastest growing social network in the world.

3. Create Status
What do people desire more than owning ‘stuff”? If you said, “love,” that’s sweet, but the answer is actually: Status. Dogan explains that “we’re status seeking animals,” and the urge for maintaining a high profile status is strong, whether we’re aware of it or not. Dogan’s first example of a brand establishing status: Girl Scouts. What do sweet, innocent little Girl Scouts have to do with status? Look at all their badges! When I was a Girl Scout back in elementary school, I did just about anything and everything to gain one more precious, embroidered badge to display on my green sash. Having a plethora of “flare” is a big deal, and the more I obtained, the higher the status in my thin mint-slinging world – It works!

Dogan pointed out that airlines are the ultimate status-creating pros. Skymiles, Frequent Flyer Program, Rapid Rewards – You choose devotion towards a particular airline, and the flying world is your oyster. Quick security check? You betcha! Priority boarding? Yes please! VIP treatment? You got it! Members belonging to an airline’s loyalty program get major benefits, but the biggest one allows them show off their VIP status by smugly strolling past a long line of non-member minions for priority boarding.

So now that you’ve gained insight into brands’ cult-creating ways, do you agree or disagree with Dogan’s insane customer loyalty principles? Share your thoughts!

The post Customer Loyalty: 3 Ways to Create a Cult-Like Following appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Could an Unleashed Google+ Overtake Facebook?

Thu, 02/07/2013 - 06:00

It’s a well known fact that Google has wanted to be top social media dog for years. But in reality, the entire wing of a pet cemetery could hold the remains of Google’s attempts at past social media platforms (eek!). However, it seems as if Google has gotten some serious traction with the stealth progress of Google+. Wait, what? Isn’t Google+ a “graveyard”(too many cemetery references?). Well, think again. Technically, Google+ is larger than Twitter already, with over 343 million active users, and it’s poised to accomplish great things in 2013.

With the rapid growth Google+ is currently seeing, it’s surprising Google keeps the platform on such a tight leash, instead of say, taking a healthy shot at social media giant, Facebook. But this may be done on purpose, or so says, JD Rucker, editor at Soshable. Rucker wrote an article last week theorizing that if Google were to simply open up its API (application programming interface), it might beat out Facebook already.

Rucker wrote about Google stating, “They have one major flaw that they still consider a strength. By keeping their API access limited, they’ve been able to keep most of the automation, some of the spam, and all of the posting problems that Facebook has to deal with on a regular basis due to their integration, with just about everybody. You can post to Facebook using literally thousands of different apps, websites, and methods. On Google+, you can only post through the tiny array of approved tools like Hootsuite and Viral Heat. It keeps them safe and protected, giving them a limited number of entries to monitor as they grow the service. It also holds them back tremendously.”

While the Internet is heavily content-driven, Rucker feels that Google+ is doing itself a great disservice by not integrating with content giants like Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr, or even with social media management tools that allow simultaneous postings across multiple platforms. Allowing Google+ to display integrated content,  could be the decision that allows it to “hit the tipping point of adoption that has still evaded them despite their growth.”

Do you feel that isolation sets Google+ apart, or would integration allow it to become the most effective social media marketing tool out there?

 

Sources: If Google+ Opens Up its API, It Might Just Beat Facebook ; Google+ Beats Twitter…

The post Could an Unleashed Google+ Overtake Facebook? appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

7 Stellar Social & Email Marketing Blogs You Should Be Reading

Wed, 02/06/2013 - 06:00

Receiving a few simple tips about what to post on your social media networks, or how to craft a catchy subject line can make a big difference in how well you market your business. But where do you uncover valuable email and social media marketing tips? On blogs, of course! With that in mind, we’ve compiled 7 stellar social media and email marketing blogs you should be reading (if you aren’t already!). They’re full of so much inside scoop, you’ll be way ahead of the social media and email marketing trends.

Social Media:
Social media networks are evolving at breakneck speed, and with new ones popping up all the time, how do you know where you should invest your time? Here are 3 social media-focused blogs that’ll keep you current:

1. Social Media Examiner
Social Media Examiner gives you the nuts and bolts you need to create a strong social media presence. While other sites may inform readers on changes and trends, this site really gets down to the nitty-gritty of how to get the most out of your social media pages, often with detailed or step-by-step instructions. What’s also cool, is that their posts cover several social media channels, so you know what’s going on beyond Facebook and Twitter. While the site’s main focus is of course, social media, it does an excellent job of delving into the relationship of social media with other aspects of your marketing, and how to integrate across multiple channels.

 

2. Mashable
Mashable is a well-known source for up-to-the-minute news on social media, technology, business and entertainment. The speed at which the publication is able to pick up stories, even obscure ones, is quite impressive. If Mark Zuckerburg goes to the bathroom, odds are Mashable knows about it. But seriously, for anything new that happens on Facebook, Twitter, or the other major players in the social game, Mashable gives the play-by-play. The layout of their website makes it easy to take in lots of information at once, and share it across your social media channels. Mashable also does a stellar job of covering buzzed-about mobile topics, which is increasingly important for marketers today.

3. Convince & Convert
Convince & Convert is focused on two things: Social Media and content creation. It offers practical advice about what works and what doesn’t. The mix of content is refreshing – There are some “5-step” articles, some “What not to do” articles, and some case studies of companies who’ve made social media work for them. And, as the name of the company suggests, they don’t leave out the metrics portion of social media. After all, what’s the point in spending time on social media if you don’t see any results? The casual tone and practical length of the posts also make Convince & Convert a digestible way to gain social media insights.

Email Marketing:
Ever wonder why only a certain portion of people you send an email to ever open it? Or why even fewer people actually click on a link inside of an email? Well, there are ways to get more mileage out of your email marketing with simple changes that’re easier than you may think! Here are a slew of blogs with game-changing techniques and advice for your email marketing.

4. Litmus
Sure, knowing the basics is important, but there’s more to email marketing than good content and click through rates. Litmus delves into the email marketing nuances that many other blogs just don’t tackle (that’s probably because they’re an email testing and analytics company)! If you want to understand why your email is looks different in Gmail vs. Outlook, or if you’re unsure about which browsers you should test in, Litmus covers the more technical aspects of email marketing. It’ll also keep you up to date to all the latest trends in email marketing, like mobile usage, design and optimization. Moreover, the increasing importance of using metrics to track return on investment (ROI) on marketing efforts makes Litmus a very useful resource.

5. Email Institute
The name really says it all. Email Institute (by Epsilon) is a comprehensive site dedicated to email marketing best practices. It’s a great place to go with questions. Whether you have inquiries about email content, design, delivery, or testing – or you just want to know how to grow your email list – the Email Institute has information for you. Consider it a library for your email marketing research!

6. Duct Tape Marketing
While the Duct Tape Marketing blog is not solely dedicated to email marketing, it’s an excellent resource for total marketing strategy, especially for small businesses. It focuses on the whole package – customer satisfaction, content creation, email marketing, social media, branding and so on. Best of all, it’s written in a very direct, non-technical way that anyone can understand. With daily posts by experts in the field, it’s a great way to stay informed and learn simple yet effective steps to improve your marketing strategy.

7. VerticalResponse
We would be remiss if we didn’t tout our own blog here, right? From social media to email marketing and beyond, the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog is, if we DO say so ourselves, an excellent resource for all things small business. And while writing 3-5 new posts on the blog per week, you can bet we have info you’re looking for, and in a timely manner.

These are just seven of the many magnificent marketing blogs out there. Know of any other social media and email marketing blogs you find helpful and insightful for your marketing needs? Let us know!

The post 7 Stellar Social & Email Marketing Blogs You Should Be Reading appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

SEM Crib Notes for Beginners

Tue, 02/05/2013 - 06:00

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is form of online marketing that’s extremely important in gaining visibility for your website, yet there are so many terms to remember, you may forget your own name. Luckily, no one’s being graded here and using our SEM crib notes is 100% A-okay.

But first thing’s first;  Let’s start with a quick pop quiz!

Question #1: How does Search Engine Marketing promote your brand’s website?
Answer: Search engine results pages! (also known as SERPs).

Question #2: How does your website show up higher in search engine results?
Answer: By optimizing your website and using paid search.

That wasn’t so bad was it? However, if you’re scratching your head, no worries, you’re still doing ace. Here’s a bit more of a break down: SEM is the umbrella term that covers both Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which involves writing and continually tweaking your website content to achieve higher rankings in search engine results, and Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising, which focuses on paid or sponsored advertisements.

So now that we’ve got the basics, let’s dive into the depths of SEM terms and definitions, open book allowed!

Basic Paid Search Terms

Query/Search Query – Refers to the keyword or keyword phrase a searcher enters into a search field, which initiates a search and results in a search engine result page with paid listings. This query will be relevant to your offering.

SERP – Refers to the search engine results pages that populate after the search has been entered.

Keyword – This is the word or phrase that someone enters into a search engine to bring up relevant results. The premise of PPC marketing is that you, the advertiser, will bid on relevant keywords to your business that you want your ad to show when a user searches for that matching keyword.

Ad – The ad is what a searcher sees after entering a keyword into a search engine. In PPC, these ads are usually text format, and include a Title, Description and Display URL. Ads can appear at the top of the page, above the natural or organic listings on a search engine results page, or and on down the right side of the page.

Ad Copy – The ad copy refers to the main text portion of a clickable search or context-served ad. The copy should describe and entice your audience with your offering, service or Call to Action.

Ad Title – This refers to the first line of text displayed in a clickable search or context-served ad. Ad Titles are also known as the Ad Headline, which is used to entice the searcher to click on your paid advertisement.

Display URL – This is the web page URL that a searcher sees in a pay per click text ad and appears as the last line in the ad. It’s generally a simplified path for the actual Destination URL, which isn’t visible to the searcher, but directs them to your desired landing page.

Landing Page/Destination Page – The web page searcher lands on after clicking on your ad. Generally, the purpose of a landing page is to provide the searcher with highly relevant information related to their search , n an effort to get the searcher to convert and complete a desired action. This page also serves as a way to track your conversions.

Bid – This is the maximum amount of money that an advertiser is willing to pay each time a searcher clicks on their ad. This is similar to an auction, in which the advertiser with the highest bid will have their advertisement shown when a relevant search is submitted. Bid prices vary widely depending keyword popularity as well as on competition from other advertisers.

Here’s an example:

Pricing Terms

PPC – Pay Per Click – A model in which you, the advertiser, pays on a “per click” basis of their advertisement, versus on a CPM or impression model basis. PPC is the most common form of paid SEM.

CPC – Cost Per Click – the price you paid for a click on your ad.

CPM – Cost Per Impression – Price you paid for your ad to show 1,0000 times. Not used so much in PPC marketing but much more common in display marketing.

CPA – Cost Per Acquisition – How much an acquisition or a Conversion (sale, sign up, download) costs you.

Performance Terms

Now that you’re set up and familiar with the basic terms and pricing models, its time to see how your ads are performing. Below are terms related to the performance of your paid search ads:

Impressions – When a search engine shows your ad to an online user.

Clicks – When a user clicks on your ad and visits your website.

CTR – Click through Rate – Refers to the number of times your ad is clicked divided by the amount of times it was shown. For example, if your ad is shown 100 times and was clicked on 3 times (3/100=.03) your CTR would be 3%. The higher your CTR is, the better your ad is performing.

Conversion – Refers to a completed specific action or interaction you want the user to take, like a purchase, sign up, download, etc.

Conversion Rate – This refers to the number of visitors who convert (take a desired action on your site) after clicking through your ad, divided by the total number of click-throughs to your site for that ad. For example, if an ad brings in 100 click-throughs and 7 of the 100 clicks resulted in a conversion, then the conversion rate is 7% (7/ 100 = 0.07). Higher conversion rates generally translate into more successful PPC campaigns with a better Return on Investment (ROI).

Quality score: This is a score assigned by search engines that calculates an ad’s click-through-rate, analyzing the relevance of the landing page, and considers other factors used to determine the quality of a site. Quality score is important because ads with higher quality scores are generally placed higher on a page results (higher rank means more visibility) at a lower bid. Some of these determining factors include historical keyword performance, the quality of an ad’s landing page, and other undisclosed attributes. All major search engines use some form of quality score in their search algorithm.

Rank – This is the position in which your ad shows on the search engine results pages. For example, if you rank at position #1, you’re the first listed paid or sponsored ad on the first page. If you’re in position #8, it’s likely that your ad appears on the second page of search results. Rank and position affect your click-through rates and, ultimately, conversion rates for your landing pages.

Phew! That covers it. We told you there were a lot of terms! But with these SEM crib notes in hand, your pay per click marketing efforts will be honor-society worthy.

Sources for terms include: Search Engine Watch, SEMPo, and SEOBook

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