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10 Winning Ways to Keep up with Industry Trends

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 06:01

Staying up to date in an industry that’s constantly shifting isn’t easy, but being aware of changes as they’re happening can keep you ahead of the curve. To help stay on the ball with industry challenges, opportunities and trends, check out our recommendations below.

1. Subscribe to trade journals
What better way to be in-the-know about specific issues in your industry than to subscribe to a journal that’s devoted to covering them? But subscribing alone isn’t enough; you have to actually read the thing – albeit in print or online. I prefer print. My monthly ritual is to take a stack of trade journals to a local cafe, turn off my phone, grab my highlighter and notepad, and read all of them at once. Others prefer to consume magazines and journals in bite-size chunks. Whatever your approach, make sure the information is getting in your brain rather than simply lining your shelves or taking up space in your inbox.

2. Keep up with consumer magazines
Even if you’re reading a magazine that’s not specific to your industry, you’ll be looking at it through a very different lens than other readers. And if you see something that’s very relevant to your line of work, you can get even more insight as to how your field is viewed from an outsider’s perspective.

3. Scan and engage in forums and discussion boards
Perhaps scanning an applicable subreddit each day is enough to pique your interest and get your brain buzzing about possible changes in your industry. Oftentimes, engaging in discussion in a relevant LinkedIn group or a private forum from a professional group can be more enlightening. Even though discussion boards can be difficult to sort through unless they’re heavily moderated, you can sort through the rubble for real gems of insight. Make sure to participate, rather than just standby and take in all that you are learning from others. You’ll get more out of it that way.

4. Scour websites and blogs
As a health writer, I look at SciDaily each morning to see if there are any new studies that might interest me. I then look at analyses on various blogs, which help me frame the information better and keep it in context. Although the quality of blogs can vary, many are a great source of current information. If you see the same topic on every site in your industry, such as the plethora of posts on making marketing mobile, then yes – it’s a trend you’ll want to follow closely. Blogs and news sites will also often analyze key statistics and research that’s relevant for your industry, and break it down into bite-size chunks, in a form you can understand.

5. Read newspapers and news sites
Although newspapers and news sites are sometimes overly simplistic, and journalists sometimes cover industries they’re not knowledgeable in, beat reporters can spot industry trends as well as anyone. My personal favorite news app is Circa, which is free in the App Store and on Google Play. The tech section, edited by the former Deputy Editor of The Daily, Nicholas Deleon, is one I scan regularly for industry news. Circa allows users to “follow” certain areas they find intriguing for regular updates.

6. Listen to/watch podcasts and videos
Listen to an hour-long podcast, or even a 20-minute one, and you’ll have a deeper understanding of the topic at hand. Video and audio interviews with industry leaders can be especially enlightening. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with the information being presented, having a common vocabulary can help you better communicate with others in your field, and express your reasoning in a way they’ll be able to understand. We recently wrote a post about 9 business podcasts we recommend giving a listen.

7. Network
Discussing your industry face-to-face with colleagues can be particularly enlightening. Get out to conferences or local events, and sign up for trainings. This is an easy way to keep up-to-date with what’s happening. Make sure to speak with colleagues as well as expert panelists. These two groups often have very different perspectives.

8. Talk to your customers
In the past few years, I’ve gotten phone calls from both FreshBooks and Basecamp to help their customer service or sales teams better understand how people are using their products. Although scanning social networks and sending out surveys can be insightful, talking to people one-on-one is invaluable. Discussing concerns with prospects can be equally enlightening.

9. Observe your competitors
Sometimes you’ll want to zig when others zag, but looking to see what your competitors are doing can sometimes help you figure out if they’re responding to what you see as an emerging trend. Though you may sometimes be unable to decipher the method to their madness, it can’t hurt to take a look.

10. Track trends in your own business
Got something that used to sell well that people are barely looking at now, let alone buying? Noticing clients and prospects asking specific questions that they never used to ask? Puzzling over these changes can help you predict potential threats – and opportunities.

Have any other additions to add to this list? Let us know in the comments.

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 10 Winning Ways to Keep up with Industry Trends appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

6 Tips to Creating an Ideal Landing Page

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 06:00

Having a well-designed landing page will go a long way when it comes to bringing in conversions. You could have the best product or service in the world, but if you don’t communicate that effectively, you could be missing out on new business. Follow these tips and best practices the create the ideal landing page for your business.

When creating a landing page, one of the first things you need to take into account is your purpose. According to Wordstream, some of the questions you should ask yourself include, “What is my end goal? Who is my audience? Where are they coming from?” How you set up or structure your landing page will be largely directed by what you want it to accomplish, such as new subscribers, to sales, and everything in between. With your purpose in mind, let’s dive in:

1) Keep it Short and Concise

Regardless of what your end goal is, you’ll want to keep your landing pages brief and concise. In today’s Internet age, you have a very limited amount of time to keep users engaged. By eliminating clutter and keeping things brief, you have less of a chance for users to be turned off or distracted and there’s a higher chance of having them complete the action that you want. Make users focus on what you want them to focus on by using design principles to guide them through the process you want them to take.

2) Stay Relevant

Maintaining relevancy and message consistency throughout your ads, landing page, and/or website is important. A visitor wants to see messaging that’s relevant to what they were looking for. If a visitor comes to your page and sees something they’re not expecting, they’ll quickly move off your landing page, may possibly  search your site to find what they were looking for, but are much more likely to just leave your site all together. You’ll want to create a positive experience for anyone who comes and visits your site or landingpage.

3) Catch Attention with Your Headlines

You want your landing page to have a powerful headline or statement that gets a visitor’s attention. Generally, this is the first thing they see, and it should be used to draw them in. By stating your unique selling proposition, visitors should get a sense of what they can get out of your product or service. Additionally, you want to follow up that proposition with additional benefits as to why they should choose your product or service. If you choose to focus on features, describe the benefits versus just what your product does. 

4) Make it Easy to Convert

You’ve gotten a visitor to your landing page, they’ve read your unique selling proposition and like what you have to offer. Now you need to lead them down a path with your purpose in mind. This starts with a clear call-to-action. By making the call-to-action prominent, perhaps by using a button or certain colors, visitors will know exactly what you want them to do. Eliminate distractions by limiting the number of options or decisions a visitor has to take. For example, if you want a visitor to sign up for a free trial, have a clear and prominent call-to-action such as “Sign up for a Free Trial Now.” In addition, it may be a good idea to offer some kind of promotion to further entice them to take the action you want. Keep all your important information and calls-to-action above the fold.

5) Be Mobile-Friendly

Make your landing pages mobile-friendly. Everyone searches and browses the internet from their smart phones and tablets, so it’s essential to create a positive experience regardless of the device. Whether you choose to create two separate landing pages for both mobile and desktop, or one landing page that works well on both is up to you.

6) Test!

After all is said and done and you’ve created your landing page, it’s time to test. No tips or advice should be followed blindly, as what works for one business doesn’t always work for others. You know your customers best, and therefore, landing page creation should always be followed up with continual testing. Whether you only test specific parts of your landing page, like the call-to-action, or you test two very different messages, your landing page will be better for it. By testing, you’ll be able to maximize the effectiveness of your landing page and will hopefully bring in more conversions.

Use tools like Optimizely to run a true A/B split test, or use a heat map product like Crazy Egg to get an idea as to what visitors are really focusing on.


Trust – It’s important to build trust with your visitors. If you have positive testimonials or awards, it’s good to include them on your landing page so visitors can see that you have a reliable product or service.

Videos – Also a nice thing to have to showcase your products or services, but be careful not to distract users from the end goal. Also, if your video isn’t getting much interaction, change it with something more valuable.

Fast Load-Time - Make sure your landing page doesn’t take a long time to load. As mentioned, you have a limited time to get your visitor’s attention and if he/she has wait for your page to load, they may just leave.

These are 6 tips and best practices to consider when building your landing page. If you’re looking for some great examples of landing pages, check out KissMetrics‘ “Anatomy of a Perfect Landing Page” as well as this Unbounce list.

Have any other tips to add to our list? Share them with our readers in the comments. 


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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 6 Tips to Creating an Ideal Landing Page appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

A 3-Step Plan for Writing Back-to-School Subject Lines that Get the Grade

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 06:00

Reading, writing and … subject lines. Yes, it’s time to start sending back-to-school emails, newsletters and offers. To brush up on school-themed subject lines, we’ve created a mini lesson plan just for you – So take notes.

Here are three steps to capitalize on the back-to-school season along with examples and takeaway tips for the perfect email subject line.

1. Offer savings
Sending kids back to school isn’t cheap. Have you seen the list of school supplies that they need these days? Pencils and paper is only the tip of the supply iceberg; now kids need $100 geometry calculators and fancy laptops. And let’s not forget the stylish new clothes that go along with a new school year.

In your emails, help parents out by offering a discount. Mention the savings right in the subject line. For example, JCPenney sent an email to its subscribers with a subject line, “Get Down With Our Low Prices-School Styles Starting at $6.99.” Any budget-savvy parent is going to jump at the chance to save money.

Even if your business doesn’t sell back-to-school necessities, you can still have a school-themed sale. A car dealership did.

Email marketing specialist Laura Baugh with Team Velocity Marketing specializes in automotive marketing. She says people expect back-to-school sales. To capitalize on the anticipation of the season, she created the email below with the subject line, “Back to School Specials This Weekend Only!” 

Subject line takeaways:

  • Get to the point. Tell recipients that you’ve got a good deal for them.
  • Be specific. Don’t just tell recipients about an offer, tell them exactly how much they can save.
  • Mention back to school. In some way, you need to connect the school season with the deal.
  • Create a sense of urgency. You want recipients to open your email and act now; so use active language to get a reaction.

2. Market to college students
College students are headed back to dorm rooms, too, and they buy entirely different items than those in grade school. College students need small appliances, bedding, groceries, car supplies, electronics, etc. The email below, for example, works for college students. Tiger Direct’s subject line, “5 New Laptops Under $500” grabs attention and gives recipients several choices in one email. Try creating a shopping guide that highlights your college appropriate items. 

Subject line takeaways:

  • Be creative. Think outside the text book and market items that are relevant to college students.
  • Offer deals.  Many college students have a shoestring budget, so appealing to their wallet won’t hurt.
  • Be hip. You’re marketing to a younger crowd, so make sure the words you use reflect that.
  • Mention college. Your subject line should mention a college buzzword like “campus” or “dorm.”

3. Educate your recipients
Promotional emails are a great way to capitalize on the back-to-school season, but you can do more than offer $10 off a purchase. You can also educate your recipients, by creating subject lines that promote stellar school-related content. For example, a craft site sent out an email with the subject line, “18 Dorm Décor Ideas.”

It’s an easy way to educate your readers and promote various products without seeming overly salesy.

Subject line takeaways:

  • Tease the title. If you create a “Top 5” list that’s connected to a back-to- school theme, you should mention the title of the post in your subject line.
  • Mention back to school. Again, you have to use the appropriate back-to-school buzzwords so the recipient knows the purpose of the email.
  • Keep it short. Tell recipients what the article is about without getting too wordy.

What kind of subject lines are you planning to use this back-to-school season? Tell us in the comment box below.

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post A 3-Step Plan for Writing Back-to-School Subject Lines that Get the Grade appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Back-to-School Shopping is Bigger Than You Think! [Video]

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 06:00

You may already be planning your upcoming holiday season sales, but don’t miss a big opportunity that could have a huge impact on your business. We’re talking about back-to-school, and the stats from the 2014 Back-to-School National Retail Federation Survey we share in this video may surprise you. Take a look:

Some key highlights:

  • The average family with children in grades K-12 will spend $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 5% from last year. 
  • Combined spending for back-to-school and college is expected to reach $74.9 billion.
  • For the first time, the National Retail Federation asked school shoppers about their plans to shop at local/small businesses for their needs: 17.4% will support local/small retailer to buy school items.
  • Millennials plan to spend $913 million of their own money on school items.

Back-to-school has positioned itself as a prime shopping season that businesses need to pay attention to.

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Back-to-School Shopping is Bigger Than You Think! [Video] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Digital Coupons Drive Sales [Infographic]

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 06:01

Everyone loves a deal. This infographic from the folks at Vouchercloud outlines the growth in digital coupons, who’s using them and how they’re being used. Here are some highlights:

  • The use of coupons during a shopping experience has risen from 63% to 92% in just the past five years, and a lot of this growth has been driven by online coupons.
  • Consumers have greater access to online coupons through email, shared through social media, and online via a plethora of coupon-specific websites.
  • 93% of coupon users say they’ll be very likely to use a coupon they receive in an email.
  • Not only has their access to coupons grown significantly, but how they fulfill them has changed as well. It’s estimated that 74.1 million consumers will use their smartphone and 68.7 million will use their tablet to present their coupon to a business.
  • Who are these people that using are using coupons? It’s really not a specific group. It’s split almost 50/50 between men and women. The age of users doesn’t vary much whether they’re 18, 30, 40 or 60 years of age. However, there are some coupons that are more popular than others.
  • Groceries, personal care products, and dining are the most popular coupon searches, followed closely by clothing, entertainment, pets and electronics.

So, we’ve got more people using coupons, using them in different ways, and across a variety of demographics, but do they work? The short answer is YES!

  • The vast majority of coupon users say that they’ll visit a retailer again because of being offered a coupon.
  • More than half said they would not have made that purchase unless they had a coupon.

Check out this infographic that explains how digital coupons can attract new customers and encourage existing customers to return.

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Digital Coupons Drive Sales [Infographic] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

4 Picture-Perfect Photo Editing Tools

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 06:00

Nothing makes an email, social or blog post, or any marketing materials pop like a picture. To promote your business, you want images that stand out. You want pizzazz. To achieve that, you need to add some stunning images.

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to take and edit your own pictures. With the right editing software, you can turn a so-so photo into a poppin’ picture that’s fit for your audience.

We asked Tom Clarke, a commercial product photographer, to help us come up with a list of picture-perfect photo editing tools. We’ll start with the most simplistic tools and work our way to the more advanced options.

1. Paint.NET
If this is your first crack at editing pictures, try Paint.NET It’s easy-to-understand software that helps you do basic editing functions like crop, rotate, adjust color and add effects. The interface is self-explanatory, which is helpful if you’re not an editing pro. Plus, there are a bunch of tutorials to guide you along. You’ll need a PC to use this software, however, since it’s a window-based program.

2. PhoXo
PhoXo is easy to navigate and offers the standard editing tools along with 50 special effects, which makes it a perfect option for beginners. Like Paint.NET, the design and layout look a lot like Microsoft Word, so there shouldn’t be a steep learning curve.

You can add basic text or clipart to photos, improve the quality of the image, and check out tutorials to guide you through the editing process.

And, did we mention, it’s free?

If you have some editing knowledge, GIMP could be the right fit for you. This tool is often compared to Photoshop except for one very big difference – it’s free. Clarke says it can do 75 percent of what Photoshop does, which means you can do some fairly advanced editing.

It’s also a portable app, which means you can store it on a thumb drive and only use it when you need it. Other photo editors can take up a lot of storage space.

4. Photoshop Elements
Whether you’re a PC or Mac user, Photoshop Elements is another option for the editing professional. Photoshop has a lot of name recognition, so it’s no surprise that it’s on our list. Photoshop Elements is a simpler and cheaper version of the full Photoshop package. It runs about $100.

You can do all sorts of advanced editing with this software. From teeth whitening to removing an object from a picture, the options are endless. For those with a little photo savvy, this could be a great addition to your editing toolbox.

Once you pick editing software, play around with it. The best way to learn is through experimentation. When it comes to editing images for emails, there are a few tools that you’ll want to know how to use. While you’re learning the editing ropes, familiarize yourself with these specific tools:

  • Crop
  • Exposure
  • Saturation
  • Contrast
  • Text
  • Straighten
  • Red eye
  • Effects

Do you have a favorite photo editing tool that we didn’t list? Share it in the comment section below.

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 4 Picture-Perfect Photo Editing Tools appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Facebook Introduces “Buy” Button – What It Means for Your Biz

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 13:37

Facebook is trying to take the e-commerce bull by the horns by introducing and testing its new “buy” button. With the release, Facebook, the world’s largest social network, is determining whether it can help businesses drive sales. The new button, which will be seen in the news feed and on business pages, will allow people on a desktop or mobile device to easily purchase a product directly from a business with a click of a button. And without ever leaving Facebook. Here’s how the new advertising product will appear on Facebook:

Image courtesy of the Facebook blog

According to Facebook’s blog, the buy button is currently just a test and is, “limited to a few small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S.” They plan to share more information as they gather feedback from the test.

Facebook knows there may be concerns with security and privacy, and released the following statement via their blog to address these fears:

“We’ve built this feature with privacy in mind, and have taken steps to help make the payment experience safe and secure. None of the credit or debit card information people share with Facebook when completing a transaction will be shared with other advertisers, and people can select whether or not they’d like to save payment information for future purchases.”

This new Facebook feature comes on the heels of an announcement from Twitter about three weeks ago, in which they introduced their own “Buy Now” button. With two of the largest social networks jumping into the e-commerce space, could this provide some unwelcome competition to e-commerce juggernaut, Amazon? We’d love to hear your thoughts and wonder if you’ll try these new social “buy buttons” for your products or services?  

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Facebook Introduces “Buy” Button – What It Means for Your Biz appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

5 Pinterest Tactics + Back-to-School = A+ Sales

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 06:01

Think it’s too early to utter the words, “back-to-school”? I’m with you, but guess what? Shoppers aren’t.

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Back-to-School survey, 22.5% of consumers will begin shopping for school items at least 2 months in advance – That’s right now! Almost half (44.5%) of consumers shop one month before school starts (which could be right now for some), and 25.4% shop two weeks ahead of schedule.

The NRF states total back-to-school and college spending is expected to reach $74.9 billion this year – Talk about opportunities! Looks like it’s time to jump on the back-to-school bandwagon, right now.

And what better way to reach those back-to-school consumers than by using the “visual discovery tool” known as Pinterest. Stats from ShareThis show that Pinterest has now become the third most popular shared social channel. The NRF’s survey also found that one-third (33%) of consumers will do more comparative shopping online, and nearly six in 10 (57.8%) will use their smartphone in some fashion as they shop for college items. According to new data by Gigya, Pinterest is also the number one sharing destination for ecommerce – A playground for all things back-to-school.

With that, here are 5 Pinterest tactics, ideas and inspiration for anyone wanting a slice of those back-to-school sales:

1. Create Back-to-School-Specific Boards (from your business account)

First, ensure you have a business Pinterest account. Then, do a simple search on Pinterest for anything back-to-school-related. The search functionality is similar to Google in that it’ll automatically populate popular searches including the following:

  • back-to-school
  • back to school bulletin boards (for teachers)
  • back to school gifts
  • back to school outfits
  • back to school activities
  • back to school crafts
  • back to school college fashion
  • back to school lunch ideas
  • back to school gadgets
  • school organization
  • school supplies
  • school hairstyles
  • college dorm life
  • college DIY
  • college organization
  • college tips, and the list goes on.

These results should give you an idea as to what people are searching for, and how often. Create your boards and pin ideas around these topics, and be sure to include these keywords in your descriptions when applicable. Create and pin your own content around these topics, any of your own related products or services, and/or any useful third party content.

The NRF also states that Millennials are playing a major role in back-to-school spending, as families with high school students plan to spend the most. According to the survey, teenagers also plan to spend an additional $913 million of their own money on school items. A surprising find: Man plan to outspend women – So keep these audiences in mind as well!

Have several other Pinterest boards? Rearrange them so your back-to-school boards are up top and above the fold like Bed Bath & Beyond does here:

Not a retailer? Think outside the box. Back-to-school can be stressful for parents and kids, so businesses like spas, wineries, travel companies, and acupuncturists can create stress-free back-to-school boards. College and/or high school kids may need tune-ups and auto repairs. An automobile repair shop can create back-to-school auto safety and preparedness boards. Food companies and/or bloggers have an endless number of options: Quick and easy breakfasts for kids, Top Ramen 10 ways, eating healthy on-the-run, creative school lunches, etc. A dance studio could create and promote after-school extra curricular activity boards for both kids and parents, emphasizing the importance of exercise.

Browse other back-to-school Pinterest boards for inspiration. Below are examples from various businesses utilizing back-to-school boards. They range from photo publishing services, product inventors, education unions, food brands, blogs, to children’s services, craft stores, crayon brands, TV shows, auto associations, historical societies and comedy sites.

2. Include valuable Pin descriptions

Pin descriptions are some of the most important, yet overlooked aspects to a successful, traffic-driving pin. Here’s what you should include:

  • A concise pin description in 200 characters or less. According to research from Dan Zarella, “The Social Media Scientist,” pins with descriptions written in 200 characters or less receive the most repins.
  • Hashtags (occasionally) but don’t go #crazy.
  • A link! Yes, the image links back to the original source, but that also requires 2 clicks of the image. Including the URL directly in the pin description requires just one click. You can also now add UTM tracking codes to your URLs, as they were previously stripped out, to monitor your traffic in Google Analytics.

3. Post Rich Pins

Rich Pins include additional information on the pin itself such as item pricing, availability, ingredients, movie ratings, and even maps. There are five different types of Rich Pins: movie, recipe, article, product and place. According to Shopify, Rich pins with prices get 36% more likes than those without. And, according to Brandon Gaille, pins including recipes get 42% more clicks.

In order to post Rich Pins, however, you must place meta tags on your website, test your Rich Pins and apply to get them on Pinterest. Pinterest has all the details on their website.

4. Create Your Own Images/Visuals

You don’t have to purely rely on product or stock images to reel people in on Pinterest. Creating your own images or visuals is especially helpful for anyone with a service, rather than a product-based company, or anyone trying to promote a blog post, article, guide, video, how-to tutorial, checklist, free trial, and more. Keep it simple, clean but still visually appealing. Your visuals don’t need to be complicated, and you can create any of these on a free, easy-to-use photo editor like:

  • Aviary – A free photo editor you can use on iOS or Android
  • PicMonkey – A free online photo editor
  • Pixlr – A free online photo editor (I made the featured image for this blog post using Pixlr)
  • Box Shot King – Allows you to upload images and project them onto eBook covers – No design experience necessary!
  • Placeit  – Allows you to insert images, videos, checklists, etc. onto images of computer screens, mobile phones, iPads, etc.

Below are two simple but effective examples of visuals including checklists that link back to blog posts. Note: They have several repins and likes; yet don’t include any pictures of products.

5. Collaborate!

The great thing about Pinterest is that you don’t have to go it alone. If you noticed, some of the boards up top aren’t just created by one company. Several companies have either collaborated with multiple related companies, popular bloggers or even personal employee accounts to contribute to their back-to-school boards. This allows for more widespread visibility, new audiences and a robust board.

The Food Network’s “Let’s Go Back to School” Pinterest board has 22 contributors ranging from websites like CNN’s food blog, Eatocracy, the Cooking Channel, various chefs, cookbook authors, to local food bloggers/photographers, gluten and dairy free websites, and more.

Check with local small businesses, bloggers within your industry, and even your employees to see who can help contribute to building valuable back-to-school boards.

Are you using or planning to use Pinterest for back-to-school? If so, share a link to your boards with us below!

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 5 Pinterest Tactics + Back-to-School = A+ Sales appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Listen Up: 9 Amusing, Info-Packed Business Podcasts You Should Hear

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 06:00

You face unique challenges and opportunities as a small business owner, so why not tune into a podcast to help you navigate the waters and learn from other people’s successes and challenges? Tuning in to the right ones can make all the difference in the world in how you address challenges, grow your business or keep up with industry trends. Here are nine podcasts we think can help. 

1. Accidental Creative: Creativity, Innovation, and Doing Brilliant Work

The Accidental Creative podcast is hosted by Todd Henry, author of Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day and the Accidental Creative. He’s also a speaker and consultant. Episodes include interviews with artists and industry leaders, and delve into the stickier aspects of living in a create-on-demand world. The show is thoughtful yet practical, providing useful information on ways to stay creatively engaged and thrive despite real-world issues. Episodes are on the shorter side, often only around 20 minutes or so.

2. Back to Work

Back to Work is an award-winning talk show hosted by Dan Benjamin, a developer, UX designer and writer; and Merlin Mann, a writer, speaker and broadcaster. In each episode they discuss productivity, barriers and constraints at work, communication, tools, and more. Episodes typically last over an hour and include a lot of humor.

3. Duct Tape Marketing

Each week, the Duct Tape Marketing podcast features interviews with thought leaders, authors and creative entrepreneurs. It’s hosted by author John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, the Referral Engine and the Commitment Engine. Podcasts are usually about a half hour long and include a guest.

4. HBR IdeaCast

Harvard Business News hosts a weekly podcast with analysis and advice from the leading minds in management. Episodes, including interviews, typically last around 20 minutes or less. Guests have included the likes of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Recent topics have included decision-making, risk management, motivation, management and even gender. While the podcast is always professionally produced, HBR IdeaCast explores sticky and sometimes controversial topics.

5. The Lede

The Lede is a short-form broadcast hosted by Jerod Morris, the director of Content for Copyblogger Media. (Disclosure: I also write for Copyblogger.) In true Copyblogger fashion, topics include copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, and more. The show features special guests as well as a rotating lineup of Copyblogger staff. Recent topics include finding ideas, link building, content curation, and so forth.

6. Mixergy

Not only does Mixergy provide a virtual who’s who among successful tech entrepreneurs, Andrew Warner is the best interviewer in the industry. His probing, insightful questions and genuine curiosity turns what could be a podcast where guests simply promote themselves to one that provides value to the listener. Interviews are posted multiple times a week. Some are available free of charge, but a premium (paid) membership includes access to all 1,028 interviews as well as 138 courses designed to help you in various aspects of marketing, sales, copywriting and more. Yearly memberships also allow readers to download interviews instead of simply listening or viewing online.

7. Six Pixels of Separation

Six Pixels of Separation is put on by Mitch Joel, author of Ctrl Alt Delete and president of Twist Image. He’s a master of digital marketing. In his long-running (more than 400) podcast, Joel presents key insights about the state of marketing through interviews with industry leaders. His podcasts run about 45 minutes.

8. Social Media Marketing

This podcast, hosted by Social Media Examiner, is created for busy marketers and business owners who want to know what works best with social media marketing. They are hosted by Michael Stelzner, the author of Launch & Writing White Papers (as well as Social Media Examiner). Each episode has one specific theme, such as social media mistakes or Instagram marketing, discussed with a guest.

9. Social Triggers Insider

Derek Halpern’s podcast, Social Triggers Insider, is intermittent, but definitely worth the wait. He is a voracious reader, has an excellent grasp of psychology and human behavior, and uses that knowledge to help entrepreneurs learn how to attract leads and make sales through cutting edge research and insights about life and business. Halpern’s also highly energetic and shoots from the hip, so his podcast provides instant insight without skirting around the issues. His guests include New York Times best-selling authors, researchers, professors and more. Halpern plans to podcast more frequently, but for now, you can catch up with the 21 episodes he has already broadcast.

Have a favorite podcast of your own? Tell us about it in the comments.

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Listen Up: 9 Amusing, Info-Packed Business Podcasts You Should Hear appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Advice from a Social Pro: Are Facebook Promoted Posts Valuable? [VIDEO]

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 07:00

In this episode of “The Magic @ Ball of Social Media,” our video series where experts answer small business social media questions, we sit down with Tim McDonald, Director of Community at Huffington Post. He is also on the social council of No Kid Hungry and is the Co-founder of CreatingIs. McDonald shares his perspective on Facebook promoted posts and the value they can bring to small businesses.

A key takeaway that McDonald shares: Small businesses should focus more on listening to their customers rather than talking to/at them on social, especially if your business is new to social media. 

Get more fresh marketing tips and advice delivered daily with the VR Buzz. 

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Advice from a Social Pro: Are Facebook Promoted Posts Valuable? [VIDEO] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

25 Effective B2B, B2C and Non-Profit Email Sign up Forms

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 06:01

Email sign up forms (aka web forms or opt-in forms) are one of the most powerful tools you can use to continually grow your email list with engaged subscribers. We recently shared everything you’d want to know about sign up forms and how to grow your list using them. In today’s post, we’ve scoured the Internet for examples of effective email sign up forms from business-to-consumer, business-to-business and non-profits to inspire you. 

As we collected examples, we noted a few takeaways:

1. Make it Obvious

Don’t make people search for your form. If they want to subscribe to your newsletter or email list, make it super simple. On many sites, we had to hunt to find what we were looking for. Not many people take the effort to do this, so place your form, or a link to it, in a prominent place on your website or blog. Off the Grid makes it extremely easy to find their sign up form by placing it front and center at the top of every page of their website.

Conduct a homepage takeover test once in a while, in which the sign up form is the first thing that appears on your sight. J. Crew does this, as does Gap, Inc.

2. Include: What’s in it for Me?

In many of the examples below, you’ll note they share the benefit of subscribing, ex: Receive special fares, be the first to know about special sales, find out about events first, etc. Include a brief statement about what the subscriber will get such as special offers, news, promotions or sneak previews.

3. Only Ask for What You Need

You’ll notice that most examples of sign up forms in this post only ask for an email address, or perhaps an email address and a first name. We were surprised to see Tory Burch ask for 10 pieces of information. In most cases you should only ask for what you need, as the more fields you add, the less likely someone is to fill it out.

Ready to see some real-life examples from B2B, B2C and non-profits? Scroll, enjoy and be inspired.

B2C Examples 

Virgin America

Cottonseed Oil

Alternative Apparel

Emerson Fry

Taylor Stitch

 Tory Burch

J. Crew


B.R. Cohn Winery

Cliche Noe

Off the Grid

Heartland Brewery

B2B Examples

VerticalResponse VR Buzz newsletter




Deluxe Blog

Email on Acid

Non-Profit Examples

Marine Mammal Center

National Down Syndrome Society

Humane Society of the United States


The Nature Conservancy

United Way

Do you plan to add an email sign up form to your site or make any changes to the one you have? Share in the comments.

Sign up for VerticalResponse and get email sign up forms with your free account. 

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 25 Effective B2B, B2C and Non-Profit Email Sign up Forms appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

How to Build Your Email List [GUIDE]

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 06:00

Building a quality, responsive email list is one of the most crucial steps for effective email marketing. So, VerticalResponse is here with some ideas to help you create an effective and engaged email list. We’ll run you through the best ways to get started, recommend some tips and tactics, and show you how to avoid a few pitfalls.

Got a mailing list for snail mail?

If you’ve already compiled a list of mailing addresses, you’ve got a bit of a head start. Send postcards to people on your list, inviting them to sign up for your email list on your website or blog. Just make sure to give them a reason to sign up, whether it’s monthly updates or exclusive online discounts. You should provide them something of value in exchange for their email address. 

If your business involves physical products that are shipped, you can even include an insert in each package with instructions on how to subscribe to your email list.

Collect email addresses offline

If you’ve got a brick-and-mortar store, set up a fishbowl to collect business cards for special offers available by signing up for your email list. You can also have a simple clipboard or sign-up book to collect email addresses. (If you’ve got an iPad, you can use that for people to enter their email addresses directly.) Once a week, enter any new email addresses you’ve collected in your content management system or ESP. Voila! 

Events are a great place to get email addresses as well, whether you’re collecting business cards or having people fill out a form to join your list, or simply displaying a sign-up book during an event you host yourself.

S&S Brand sells barbecue sauces and spice rubs. The owners collect email addresses at the frequent appearances they make at cooking demonstrations, fundraisers, food and drink festivals, artisan markets, and private parties. “Every time we have an event, we’ll put out a pad of paper and ask people to leave their email addresses,” says co-owner Sarah Bruchard. “We’ll usually get a handful or so from that.” Those email addresses add up over time.

On your website  The easiest way for your readers to join your email list is through a sign up form or opt-in form, like our widget. You can even have multiple forms on different sections of your site, if you want to track where people are signing up. We recommend putting a link or sign-up box on multiple pages within your site. (It can be tempting to ask readers to fill out many details about themselves, but it’s best at first to simply collect their name and email address).

In addition to your opt-in page, consider using a pop-up window when people leave your site. It can ask them to sign up for your offers or newsletter, which many of your readers are likely to do on their way out if your information is compelling.

Don’t Buy a List

Building an email list can seem difficult and time-consuming, but it’s well worth the effort to collect email addresses from people who love your brand and are willing to sign up for information from you in their inbox. They’re choosing to engage with your company, so you’re building a relationship and gaining trust. Purchasing a list can feel invasive to those you email, and therefore often leads to a very high number of complaints, bounced addresses and unsubscribes. Plus, any reputable ESP will not allow you to mail to a purchased, rented or scraped list. It can hurt their reputation and yours. This is one area where it’s worth it to do things the right way, even if it’s slower.

Survey your friends 

You can’t just add people to your email list willy nilly, but there’s nothing to stop you from sending personal emails to your friends and colleagues, letting them know about your list and sending a link to an opt-in form.

Bruchard also uses word of mouth. “I’ll be somewhere talking to someone, and they’ll ask to hear about our next popup [store] or our sauces, so I’ll take down their email address and put it on my email list,” she says.

But Bruchard doesn’t just use the list to sell products. Readers can easily feel bombarded if too many sales pitches are sent their way. That’s why Bruchard sometimes sends emails that are “just about fun things like barbecue and events that are coming up, so it’s not just about our product and trying to sell our product all the time,” she says. She’ll include information like recipes and cooking tips, and keep her readers informed about any popup, or temporary restaurants.

Leverage online sales You don’t want to add every customer who has made an online purchase to your email list without their permission. However, you can direct them to a page with your sign-up form after they’ve bought something.

“Every time somebody buys something on my website, it asks them at the end, ‘Would you like to sign up for a newsletter or receive emails from us?’ You can either click yes or no. Most people who buy, sign up for the list, and we capture a lot of emails that way,” says Bruchard.

A percentage of people who have had a great experience buying from you will want to hear from you via email about special offers, how-tos and tips, or other news. You can even include a link to your sign-up page on each of the invoices sent out.

Use social media 

Add an opt-in/sign-up form to your Facebook page, or include a link to your hosted opt-in form and write a Facebook status to your fans every now and again, asking them to join your email list. Promoting your status will also ensure that the post is seen by more people. Add information about subscribing directly onto the page as well, with a link to your opt-in form. Use discounts or other offers as an incentive. Follow up with new subscribers by sending them a coupon by email, or send them to a page with an offer or coupon code.

Feel free to message your friends from your personal Facebook account as well to notify them of the email list. Creating Facebook ads around an offer or incentive, or simply your newsletter is also an excellent way to grow your email list. Link people back to your opt-in form/sign up landing from that ad. Here’s a step-by-step process.

Tweet out a link to your opt-in form as well, and post it on LinkedIn. If you have a blog, include a link or embed your opt-in form at the top, side and/or bottom of each page. And, last but not least, create a compelling image with a call to cation (to sign up for your email list) and an incentive, and post the image on Pinterest and Instagram. Here’s more information about growing your email list on Pinterest.

Update your email signature

Include a link to your opt-in page in your email signature, so people emailing with questions can learn about your list.

Get started today. It’s free!

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post How to Build Your Email List [GUIDE] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

21 Decoded SEO Terms Everyone Should Know

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 06:00

Do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) terms have you confused? Are you lost in a sea of inexplicable acronyms? Fear not! With the assistance of our SEO manager Chipper Nicodemus, we’ve hooked you up with a glossary of the most oft-used words and their definitions.

301 redirect
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect of one webpage to another, passing along a majority of the link “juice” or ranking with it. 301 stands for the HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) status code.

ALT text
ALT text is a description of an image in your site’s HTML code. Spiders or bots (which we’ll define shortly) crawl around your site to see what’s in it, but they can’t read images. Instead, they read the ALT text. Having a description of the image will help spiders and bots identify the image.

Anchor text
Anchor text is copy or text that has been hyperlinked like this. It’s typically dark blue and underlined. If someone links to your site with specific anchor text, it helps search engines know what your site is about.

Black hat tactics
Black hat tactics, or black hat SEO, is the practice of using aggressive or unethical strategies, manipulation and techniques to obtain higher search rankings. Common techniques include keyword stuffing, duplicate content, unrelated backlinks and more. These tactics can lead to a penalty (defined below).

“A spider or bot is a program that Google runs that goes out and crawls the Internet. When it comes to your site, it goes on and explores your articles, videos, pictures, comments, etc.,” Nicodemus explains.

Google Panda
Panda is the name of a series of changes Google makes to its search results ranking algorithm. The first change was released in February 2011 with the purpose of lowering the rank of “low-quality sites,” and raising higher-quality sites to the top of search results.

Google Penguin
Penguin is the name of a Google algorithm update, which was released in April 2012. It was released with the aim to decrease search engine rankings for sites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

A heading on your site is text that’s placed inside of a heading tag, such as H1 or H2. It typically shows up in a larger or stronger font than the other text on your page. However, simply increasing the font size or putting a phrase in bold doesn’t create a heading per se as far as search engines are concerned. You have to actually use the tags H1 or H2 around each heading. In the HTML section of your WordPress page, simply start with <h1> before and after the phrase; or just click on H1 or H2 as a header.

Inbound links
Inbound links also known as backlinks are incoming links from another website or page that direct or point back to your own site or page.

Indexed page
A page on your website that has been “crawled” or read by search engine bots and stored. 

Link building
“Link building is when you earn highly relevant and valuable links that point back to your site,” Nicodemus says. If you own a coffee shop and get a link back from a coffee grinder company, a coffee bean manufacturer and a place selling coffee mugs, those would be more relevant and valuable compared to, say, a sporting good shop that sells basketballs.

Long tail keyword
A long tail keyword is a phrase rather than just a single term. To use Nicodemus’ example, a short tail keyword could be “coffee,” and “coffee shop” would be a bit longer. A long tail keyword would be “coffee shops in San Francisco.” Using a long-tail keyword can make it much easier for small businesses to rank in search, whereas a short tail keyword like coffee may have much more competition. It can also help ensure that readers who find you, are looking for your specific offer. “It’s very specific, and if you have relevant content on the page, people are more likely to find it,” Nicodemus says.

Metadata is data that tells search engines what your site is about.

Meta description
This is a description of what a specific page is about, written in 160 characters or less. This shows up on the search engine results page (SERP – defined below) below your title. “There are a lot of easy tools to use on your blog, such as Yoast,” Nicodemus points out. These tools can help take the guesswork out of writing meta descriptions.

MozRank is a link ranking tool provided by SEO marketing software company, Moz. Its algorithm looks at the number of inbound links you have, as well as their quality, and assigns you a number from zero to 10.

PageRank is a number from zero to 10 assigned by Google that lets you know your overall SEO. The higher the number, the better.

A penalty is a negative impact on your site’s rankings based on a search engine’s algorithms. There are two types of penalties: Manual and algorithm. Read our post: “Google Penalties – All You Need to Know” for more info.

Rel: nofollow
A rel: nofollow is a tag you can put on your blog or site before a link. “If you add that tag, when a bot goes to crawl, it won’t give any credit or juice to that link,” Nicodemus says. All press releases should have rel: nofollow tags, according to Google. Many sites also use the tags for guest posts.

SEM stands for search engine marketing. One type of SEM, pay-per-click, is abbreviated as PPC. The important thing to note is that SEM is paid and SEO is organic. SEO does not cost a dime; you’re not paying for links or sponsored ads or bidding on keywords or search terms to drive traffic back to your site. Your site shows up organically because of the quality of your content, the quality of sites linking to it, and proper use of site maps.

SERP, which stands for search engine results page, is exactly what you see when you search for a term or phrase on Google. It is the term you were looking for, a list of pages with the title, URL and a short two-line description, and “sponsored links” or paid SERP listings on the side of the page. 

A site map tells bots exactly where to look on your site, and how information is organized. It’s very valuable for bigger websites with several pages. When the spiders come crawling across your site to look at the content you display, a sitemap is a valuable thing. “It’s like saying, ‘hey, look at this map we built for you of our site,’” Nicodemus explains. Create one here.

Have any terms you’d like to add to the list, or want us to decode for you? Let us know!

Want more marketing tips and advice? Get the VR Buzz delivered daily. 

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 21 Decoded SEO Terms Everyone Should Know appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Business Cards: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 06:01

Handing out business cards is essential for networking, building brand-awareness and gaining potential new customers. At VerticalResponse, we consistently attend trade shows all over the country, so we see a lot of business cards. But get this: Around 75% of the people we chatted with at the last trade show didn’t have business cards on them at all. What gives? Business cards can be one of your best marketing tools, so having one to begin with is vital.

Once you’ve got a card in hand, use these aspects from the good, the bad, and the ugly business cards we’ve come across to spruce yours up or tone it down. All sample business cards are innocent until proven guilty and certain images have been withheld to protect the identity of the individuals and businesses. 

The Good

The basics to creating a good business card includes readability, valuable content, and what sets you apart from other businesses. There should be a hierarchy of information and the most important information should be the largest.

What are some business card must-haves?

  • Logo
  • Business name (if it isn’t clear in your logo)
  • Your name
  • Your title
  • Phone number
  • Company website
  • Email address
  • Social media handles
  • A design element that makes you stand out from a stack of other business cards, like a unique color, or specific font.

Check out Mark’s card below that I received recently. It’s a very simple design, but it contains all of the information you need to reach him. His logo is largest with his name highlighted in a larger, blue font. He even used his twitter handle as an added bonus. The one thing I would add, is what SIGNAL does or is as a business.

This business card comes from our sister company, PSPrint. It’s a piece of artwork. Can you tell she’s an artist and illustrator?

You should also consider what type of paper weight and finish to use. There are several choices, so take a trip into your local printer and feel the paper. If you’re using an online printer, or website service, you can request a sample packet (which are usually free) to make sure you’re picking the paper you like.

The example I also received below is very simple, however, it was printed on beautiful, matte heavy weight card stock that felt luxurious. There’s also a fair amount of white space that helps direct your eye to the important info, or even allows you to write notes.

Which kind of paper represents you and your business without going over budget? Check out these cool designs from PSPrint that are “hot off the press.” It might give you some new and exciting ideas for your next business card.

The Bad

The worst business cards that have landed in our trade show fish bowl have contained one or more of the following no-nos, but we tell you how to fix ‘em too.

  • Zero contact information – Make sure to include at least your business name, your personal name, phone number, and email address.
  • Unreadable fonts – Here are the top 10 notoriously hated fonts that you should try to not use. The fonts on this list are either over used or hard to read. 
  • Too many font choices/sizes – Limit yourself to 2 fonts and 3 font sizes. Most printers have templates that you can use. While it’s nice to have this as a starting point, make sure to add your own flare. 
  • Unprofessional head shots or pictures – If you want to include your image on a business card, get a professional head shot taken and ask a friend if it represents you as your business. 
  • Information overload or too busy - Allow some room for white space (please see Lisa’s card above).
  • Boring – This is all relative, but you should make your business stand out. Even simple designs (please see Mark’s card above) can be interesting if you use the proper font choices and font sizes for your business. 
  • Typos – Use spell check and have your card double checked by a friend or colleague to make sure there aren’t any errors you might have missed. 
  • Low quality printing – Finding a printer you like is half the battle. If you like someone else’s business card, ask where they had them printed and what their experience was like. Local printers are usually more expensive but have better customer serves while online printers like Greenprinter,, and PsPrint are more economical and have templates available.

The Ugly

Not having or forgetting your business card is one of the biggest faux pas. It’s the one item that you can (and should) carry around at all times to promote your business. You’re representing your business at all times and you never know what customers, current or potential, you might run into. If you’re attending a business event, bring more than you think you need. It gets “ugly” when you run out! 

*Bonus design Note: After designing your business card, ask for a sample before you take the plunge and print them all. This will add a week or more onto your timeline, but you you’ll ensure make sure it’s the look and feel that you want.

What’s the best business card you’ve ever received? What’s the worst? Comment below and let us know!

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Business Cards: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Smokin’ Hot Emails & Subject Lines for Summer

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 06:00

It’s summer, baby, which means it’s time to break out the bathing suit and soak up a little sun, (unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere or San Francisco, of course). While you’re planning backyard barbeques and pool parties, you’ll also want to send out a summer-themed email or two.

To make sure your emails and subject lines are just as hot as the temperatures outside, we’ve got a few tips to keep the open rates rolling.

Promote a summer sale
One of the easiest ways to tie your email to the season is to promote a summer sale. Remember, you want to create a short, attention-grabbing subject line that encourages recipients to open the email immediately. Tell them exactly what they’ll get when they open it.
For instance, Travelocity entices readers with: Big summer savings – Promo codes inside – Don’t miss out. When the recipient opens the email, that’s exactly what they’ll find. Take a look at the email:

You can also promote summer holiday sales like a Labor Day sale. Here are a few other summer sale examples:

  • Summer sale! Up to 60% off (Dockers)
  • Must-have summer prints on sale now (Coach)
  • Take up to 50% off our red, white and denim sale (Lucky Brand) 
  • Last day – Labor Day sale (Travelocity)

Make a summer reference
You don’t have to have a sale, or even use the word “summer” in your subject line. You can still create a seasonal email by referencing a summer activity or theme. For example, online office supply store Shoplet sent an email to promote Margaritaville headphones. Margaritaville is certainly synonymous with summer. The subject line read: Margaritaville headphones are here. Take a look. 

Try connecting your product to an activity. Check out the examples below. Notice none of them use the word “summer” or promote a sale.

  • Fire up the grill! (Chronicle Books)
  • Frisbee and Fun – Great camps for kids (City of Brooklyn Park)
  • Here comes the sun – Sassy seasonal styles (Webzine)

Create a local summer events calendar
Everyone loves to know where the hottest summer events are. From local fireworks to homegrown veggie markets, consider creating a list of summer events for your recipients. The Messina Group, a staffing and consulting agency, does this every season. This year the subject line was: It’s here! Our 2014 summer calendar.

The Messina Group’s Michelle Comer says the email gets a great response. “You don’t have to sell or promote anything; you can just provide a friendly service,” she says. 

Try creating a list of summer events in your area and send it out to your recipients with a descriptive subject line.

Create educational lists
People love lists; so use that to your advantage. Create a summer-themed list that educates your recipients in some way. For instance, if you’re a clothing retailer, create a list of the top 10 summer fashions. If you run an auto repair shop, create a list of the five most common summer car problems. The list should include a connection to your company.

Here are few other examples:

  • School’s out – 10 great camps for kids (City of Brooklyn Park)
  • 10 things to love about summer (Dogeared)
  • 5 things to remember on your next hike (American Hiking Society)

Got another hot subject line tip? Share it with us in the comment box below.

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Smokin’ Hot Emails & Subject Lines for Summer appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Advice from a Social Pro: Integrating LinkedIn Sponsored Updates [VIDEO]

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 06:01

In this episode of “The Magic @ Ball of Social Media,” our video series where experts answer small business social media questions, we sit down with Jason Miller, Sr. Content Marketing Manager at LinkedIn. He’s also a blogger and photographer for Rock ‘N Roll Cocktail. Miller provides excellent tips for small businesses on why using Sponsored Updates in LinkedIn as part of your social media strategy is a good idea.

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Advice from a Social Pro: Integrating LinkedIn Sponsored Updates [VIDEO] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

3 Easy (and Cheap) Storefront Marketing Tactics

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 06:00

Here in San Francisco, the Haight-Ashbury district is probably most famous for being the birthplace of the hippie counterculture movement in the ’60s. These days, the bell bottoms and peasant blouses are long gone (mostly), but the neighborhood remains home to dozens of locally owned retail shops, eateries and bars welcoming both residents and the streams of tourists that flock to the famous intersection every day.

But the creative spirit hasn’t completely left Haight-Ashbury. A stroll down Haight Street reveals some clever storefront marketing tactics that shops and restaurants are using to bring foot traffic through their doors. The best part? They’re easy for anyone to implement, and practically free. Check them out.

1. Free Treats

Kids Only, a shop that sells unique kids toys, clothes and gear, knows just how to attract its core customer – by offering free treats, like mini cupcakes and cookies, just inside the store entrance. Who can resist? Certainly not tots with their parents in tow.

Similarly, several retailers along Haight Street offer doggie bowls filled with water right outside their doors – fitting, since San Francisco is home to more dogs than children. While Fido is taking a water break, chances are his human mom or dad is checking out the storefront. One shop takes it a step further by posting a sign right above the water bowl that says, “Free Dog Treats Inside at the Register!”

Think about what you can offer that’s simple and free to entice passersby to give your shop a second look. If you’re in the food business, the easy option would be to dish out samples of your best-selling products. But any type of business can make this storefront marketing tactic work; a pitcher of cold lemonade on a sweltering day, for example, is a welcoming treat regardless of what you’re actually selling.

2. Unusual Distractions

“Whoa, where are those bubbles coming from?!”

The Bubble Guy is a well-known fixture in Haight-Ashbury. Every so often, he’ll park his bubble-making stroller in front of a business and let ‘er rip, covering the street with thick clouds of kaleidoscopic bubbles. It’s quite a sight, and attracts a ton of people to whatever store happens to be nearby.

Whether it’s installing a bubble-making machine in front of your shop or blanketing the sidewalk with creative chalk art, one of the keys is to think outside the box. (Just make sure you’re not breaking any city rules.)

3. Creative Sandwich Boards

A sandwich board set up on the sidewalk is a tried-and-true storefront marketing tactic to promote sales or specials. But some creative businesses use it to communicate memorable messages that are unusual enough to attract a second look from passersby.

Taking a scene out of the opening credits of “The Simpsons,” locally owned Shoe Biz on Haight Street often sets out a sandwich board with a drawing of Bart Simpson writing, “I will not buy from Zappos, I will not buy from Zappos” over and over on the blackboard. Lately, Goorin Bros. Hat Shop has been showing off a board with the word “Pharrell who?!” in reference to the music artist’s scene-stealing Grammy hat. Pretty clever, right?

Have you seen any creative ways retailers are enticing passersby to step inside their stores? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 3 Easy (and Cheap) Storefront Marketing Tactics appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Use These Email Newsletter Topics, You Must

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 06:00

Your newsletter is like the light saber of marketing tools. It’s powerful, potent and just plain cool.

An effective newsletter keeps you in front of customers, allows you to showcase your knowledge, nurtures customers and attracts new ones. No, that’s not a Jedi mind trick, it’s the truth.

While newsletters are a valuable part of your email marketing strategy, it takes time to brainstorm good topics to keep them interesting. To help you create newsletters that even the wise Obi-Wan Kenobi would be proud of, we put together a list of possible newsletter topics.

Highlight blog content
Since your small business is creating must-read content (you are, right?), why not promote it in your newsletter? We do. At VerticalResponse, we take pride in offering high quality blog content that’s chock-full of tips. You can do it, too. Or as Yoda says, “Do. Or do not. There is no try,” (and, yes, we promise that’s our last Star Wars reference.) If you don’t have blog content, include any videos and even pictures you’ve taken; these count as content too.

Take a look at our newsletter, VR Buzz. You can see we tease our readers with just enough information to encourage them to read the whole post on our blog. 

Tell your company story/history
Even if you just opened your doors a year ago, your small business has a history. In each newsletter, you can offer recipients a little history lesson. Coca-Cola does this in its monthly newsletter. Take a look at the last article, “Checking In at a Former Coca-Cola Plant.” The “Learn More” button takes readers back in time to an old Coke plant that’s now a hotel in Savannah, Georgia. Try offering snippets of your company’s history in your newsletter.

Use creative events
Did you know June is National Candy Month? Hershey’s does. The candy maker used this little-known event to promote sales in its newsletter. You can do the same thing. There are hundreds of odd “holidays” like this. From ‘Bring Your Pet to Work Day’ to ‘Iced Tea Day,’ you can certainly find an event that reflects your business. Tie this event to your own company and write a blog post, create a video, take pictures, or create a landing page around that topic and mention in your newsletter just like Hershey’s.

Industry news
When there’s something going on in your industry, share it with your readers. If you run a sporting goods store, for example, you could create a piece about the gear used during the National Hockey League’s playoffs. If you run a shipping company and are faced with new state-mandated regulations, you could write about that. Including third party content that isn’t your own, but would be of interest to your readers is also great. Just make sure you give proper source credit.

Royce Leather, a New Jersey-based company that sells leather products, wrote about a leather trade show taking place in Pakistan. Since the company works with manufactures in that country, it’s impacted by leather trade shows and other events like this and shared the information with readers. 

“Telling our customers about events like this shows that we’re engaged and forward thinking,” says Andrew Bauer, CEO of Royce Leather.

You, too, can look like a thought leader by keeping an eye on industry news and when something pops up, take a minute to tell readers how the information impacts the industry and your business.

Of course, these are just four examples, but there are plenty more. Here are a few additional topics you can include in your newsletter:

  • New product or service arrivals
  • Recent business awards
  • Employee of the month
  • Behind-the-scenes pictures
  • Upcoming events
  • Changes to your website
  • How-to videos
  • Upcoming sales
  • Holiday gift ideas
  • Product tips

Have any more topics to add to this list? Share some of your best ideas in the comment section below.

Want more marketing tips and advice? Get the VR Buzz delivered daily to your inbox.

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Use These Email Newsletter Topics, You Must appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Damage Control: 3 Steps to Handling a Company Mishap

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 09:00

In a world rife with technological glitches – and one in which simply clicking a button can have far-reaching impact – making mistakes is inevitable. In the digital age, those gaffes can be dramatically amplified and have impact on your bottom line – unless you take the right steps.

Before the crisis
Crisis management expert Melissa Agnes recommends determining all of your stakeholders in the event of a mishap before it even takes place. Start by making a list of all the different stakeholder groups: your customers, email list subscribers, employees or contractors, and so forth. Then determine which social channels these groups use the most. 

“Odds are, social media may not even be the best means of communication for all of your stakeholder groups,” says Agnes. “Often, email is still the best way to communicate.” So, she adds, don’t forget about sending a personalized email or text message, or even picking up the phone. 

Determining who to contact and the best ways to reach them before something goes awry is crucial, especially because news has a tendency to spread quickly through social media. And in the midst of a crisis, it can be difficult to juggle all of the tasks that need to be completed while also working to find a list of stakeholders and the best way to reach them. Getting it done ahead of time is a great measure to save you time and ensure you are ready should you ever need it. 

We teamed up with Agnes to put together the following steps to take in the event of a company mishap: 

1. Immediately publish an explanation of what has happened and the steps you’re taking to address it. In addition, consider reaching out to the customers affected.
This is exactly what AppFirst CEO and co-founder David Roth did when the accounts of customers using the free level of their products were accidentally deleted. 

“Immediately, we published a blog explaining in detail the mistake we made, followed by an apologetic email to every impacted customer and, finally, I personally called each one, clarifying what happened,” Roth explained in an interview

It took him four consecutive days to reach every customer. “A key takeaway is that people are most forgiving if you step up promptly, admit that ‘we made a mistake,’ and then swiftly show them that improving their negative experience matters greatly,” says Roth. 

Buffer Founder and CEO Joel Gascoigne swiftly took steps to keep users informed when the company’s site was hacked, publishing a post to chronicle the hack, and adding new update a total of 11 times! The continual updates were also posted on Facebook and Twitter, including both steps to take and updates on progress being made on the company’s end. 

2. Make sure your apology is sincere and the amount of information you share is adequate.
GitHub learned this the hard way in the aftermath of a crisis in which a former employee spoke publicly about negative experiences at the company that led to her resignation. The company began a full investigation and explained it publicly, but then wrote an inadequate post discussing the results of the investigation. 

GitHub realized through a wide swath of blog posts, tweets and emails that this post was inadequate, and followed up with an apology

“Last Monday I published the least open and least transparent blog post GitHub has ever written. We failed to admit and own up to our mistakes, and for that I’m sorry,” said GitHub Co-founder Chris Wanstrath. “GitHub has a reputation for being transparent and taking responsibility for our actions, but last week we did neither. There’s no excuse. We can do a lot better.” The post continued, providing the information GitHub users were originally looking for. 

3. Follow up with meaningful action.
Weeks after the dust had begun to settle from the GitHub debacle, the company posted an update on new initiatives launched at the company to support diversity and respond to feedback. And even after Buffer found the source of its security breach and closed the vulnerability, the company published a follow-up blog post with steps being taken to increase security

Actions speak louder than words, so make sure to follow up any promises you’ve made with information about specific actions you are taking to address the issue that was the original cause of the crisis.

Want even more info about handling a company mishap? Check out Melissa Agnes’ infographic: The 10 New Rules of Crisis Communications


Have any examples of smooth or poorly handled company mishaps? Share in the comments. 

Want more marketing tips? Get the VR Buzz delivered. 


© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Damage Control: 3 Steps to Handling a Company Mishap appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

How to Grow Your List with Email Sign up Forms

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 06:00

A sign up form is one of the single most powerful tools you can use to grow your email list. We recently wrote a post about everything you’d want to know about sign up forms. Need a refresher? Sign up forms are hosted webpages or embedded forms you can easily add to your website, blog and social networks to collect email subscribers. You may also hear them referred to as web forms, or opt-in forms.

In today’s post, we’ll focus on how to use a sign up form to grow your email list. So let’s get to it!

Email sign up forms build quality lists

When someone visits your company website, blog or one of your social media pages and chooses to sign up for your email list, they’re actively agreeing to receive your content. They’re telling you they’re interested and want to hear from you! This makes these subscribers most likely to engage with the content you send. 

Check out the simple sign up form we use on our VR Marketing Blog to collect sign ups for our VR Buzz newsletter:

Example of email sign up form from VerticalResponse

As you can see, we have more than 500K subscribers, so it works pretty well.

Where should I put an email sign up form?

Have your email sign up form and links to the form on all pages of your website, blog and other channels where your customers and prospects can interact with your business. Where exactly should you place forms and links to forms? Here are some suggestions:

  • The top side bar of your website or blog (link and/or form)
  • In the top navigation bar (link and/or form)
  • The footer of your site (link and/or form)
  • A tab on your Facebook page (link and/or form)
  • At the end of every blog post (link)
  • On your “About Us” page (link and/or form)
  • All of your social sites (link)

It may seem like overkill, but the more places you share your form, the more likely someone will see it. This way, while you’re busy running your business, your email sign up form can easily collect new subscribers. Your email service provider, like VerticalResponse, will add the new subscribers to your email lists so you don’t have to do anything.

You should frequently share the link to your email sign up form on social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook page. We recently wrote about how you can grow your email list using Pinterest, too. 

VerticalResponse customer and San Francisco-based “roaming mobile food extravaganza,” Off the Grid, uses a prominent email sign up form at the top of every page of their website near the main navigation bar. This tactic has collected nearly 40K+ subscribers.

Local SF retailer, Cliche Noe uses a large and simple email sign up form to collect subscribers and keep them informed about events and deals:

What information should I collect?

Less is more. Keep your forms visually simple and only include only a few fields. Many sign up forms only ask for an email address, however you may want to collect a first name, or a bit more data to segment your list, such as location. Be aware, however, the more fields you add, the less likely someone is to fill it out. Once you include 3-4 or more fields, your conversion rates (the number of people who fill out your form, sign up, etc.) will drop off. 

No technical skills required

If you’re not using an email sign up form because you don’t know where to start, begin with your email service provider. Most have email sign up form tools that are easy to use and customize for your needs.

Where can I find sign up forms?

In VerticalResponse Classic, you can find customizable, embedded signup forms in your account under Lists > Opt-in Forms.

In the new VerticalResponse, you can find our new, hosted sign up form web pages under Contacts.

Want more marketing tips and advice to grow your business? Get the VR Buzz delivered daily! 

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post How to Grow Your List with Email Sign up Forms appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.