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8 Essentials of Successful Discounting

Discounts.horizThese days, if you aren’t offering a discount of some kind (or at least the appearance of one), you might not be selling much of anything. Pervasive discounting by businesses both big and small has caused buyers to demand deals on anything and everything.

In the midst of all this, how can business owners and entrepreneurs craft a financially sound strategy for offering discounts? The knee-jerk reaction is sometimes to cut prices willy-nilly. But don’t rush into a discount strategy. It pays to start with a plan, making certain the discounts you offer will actually help grow your business long-term, rather than shooting yourself in the foot.

No matter what, be sure to monitor and measure the results of a discount strategy. If you sell more but still lose money, it’s not helping your business.

Here are eight keys to successful discounting:

1. Make the discount relevant

Devise an offer that not only will appeal to your clientele, but also one that jibes with how those customers buy from your biz. For example, a “buy one get one free” offer might appear strong on the surface. But if you sell something that customers wouldn’t typically buy multiples at the same time, it’s not likely to work well.

2. Commit to your campaign

Whether you use social media, search engine marketing, postcards, coupon packs, email or other ads, frequency and consistency count. Prospects may see an offer but not respond right away.  Consumers look for an offer that’s appealing and has value, and may respond immediately. But with big ticket, high-commitment items they are likely to take more time to consider the offer and wait until they need to make the purchase.

3. Balance strong discounts against your bottom line

Structure discounts that get customers in the door, but still make money for your business. “Look at your product mix and look at your margins,” says King. “Because if you don’t, that’s where you’re going to get burned.” Evaluate carefully what you can reasonably offer, and don’t be afraid to exclude specific items that don’t fit the discount model (see tips below on crafting a profitable offer).

4. Set goals and measure your results

Balance results with objectives. Was your goal to generate new customers? Drive more phone calls or website visits? Promote a new product or service? Don’t just file away coupons you use to promote your discount. Take a little time to analyze the transactions. Did customers merely buy the discounted items or did they spend more while they were at your store or website? Well-planned discounting typically (though not always) prompts customers to spend more.

5. Don’t forget to prepare

Some businesses that offer a discount for the first time aren’t properly prepared for the response. If you attract customers to try your product or service, but you’re not able to serve those customers at your best level, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Be sure to inform your staff about your discount strategy, and provide any information they need about coupons or offers. Customers may have questions, and you’ll need the answers.

6. Don’t treat discount buyers as “second rate” customers

Make every customer feel wanted, welcomed and appreciated. Training your staff to handle promotions is just as important as the offer itself.  The reason is simple: Treating people well is the key to repeat business after the discount deal is gone.

7. Don’t target only new customers

Offer extra discounts for repeat business: One way to turn new customers into repeat customers is to establish loyal customer discounts of some type. Loyalty cards (buy 9 get the 10th one free), birthday discounts and referral rewards are several examples.

8. Avoid hot water

Be careful with the wording of your discount and on-sale offers. Clearly label what’s “on sale” and what isn’t. If you advertise discounts of, say, “Up to 50% off” the Better Business Bureau suggests that at least 10 percent of the items be offered at the maximum amount off.

Profit-boosting tips for crafting a discount coupon offer:

  • Know your marginal cost: Deep discount offers work best for businesses with low marginal costs, where the price of producing an additional “unit” to sell, over and above fixed costs is low.
  • Be patient: Discount offers can hurt short-term profits but pay off later as new customers return and pay full price.
  • Block multiple purchases: Research shows that profitability drops greatly when customers are allowed to purchase multiple coupons.  Disallow multiple purchases if possible (although there’s nothing to stop buyers from setting up multiple accounts to buy your coupons).
  • Gather purchase data: If possible, find out if customers who bought your discount coupons have purchased from you before at full price. You might start by simply asking them.  Remember that coupons can re-active old customers who’ve forgotten about you or moved to a competitor
  • Consider fees: Stiff pay-to-play fees charged by Groupon and others also curb coupon profitability.  Groupon, for example, takes up to half of the coupon price, although the fee drops to 10 percent if your offer only appears following user searches and not in Groupon’s daily email.
  • Query customers: Capture as much information about coupon customers as possible, including names and email addresses, and follow up with further offers.
  • Cross-sell and up-sell: Coupon customers might buy other full-price items as well. To facilitate this, be sure to specifically offer them related items.

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Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

13 Business Resolutions for 2013

2013Here they are, along with some of our best tips and strategies to help you pull each one off:

Resolution #1: Fix my website!

Here are 10 things that are probably wrong with your site, and how to fix them: 10 Things Wrong With Your Website

Resolution#2: Improve our customer service!

Here’s how: 8 Ways to Earn True Customer Love

Resolution#3: Be a better tweeter!

Here’s one way to do it: The Right Way to Retweet

Resolution#4: Boost my social influence!

These 16 tools can help: 16 Sweet Social Marketing Tools You Gotta Try

Resolution#5: Nurture our leads!

Become a lead nurturing pro: 9 Steps to Lead Nurturing Success

Resolution#6: Find a business mentor!

Here’s how & where: 8 Places to Find Your own Free Business Mentor

Resolution#7: Launch a new product or service!

And when you do, here’s how to market it! 14 Ways to Market a New Product or Service

Resolution#8: Try A/B testing!

Here’s what you need to know:  The Magic of Test-and-Learn Marketing

Resolution#9: Keep better books!

These basics will get you there: The 10 Bookkeeping Basics You Can’t Ignore

Resolution#10: Get serious with Facebook!

Can’t go wrong with this Facebook cheat sheet: A 10-Step Facebook Cheat Sheet for Biz Owners

Resolution#11: Network more!!

These tips will really help: 9 Ways to Make your Contacts Really Count

Resolution#12: Review our pricing!

There’s more to pricing then you think: What Every Business Should Know About Pricing

Resolution#13: Innovate more!

Here’s how to make it happen: 4 Rules for Fostering Innovation in Your Business

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

6 Social Media Changes That Will Rattle Business

LikeSocial media has already had a huge impact on businesses both large and small. But according to the latest projections from the research firm International Data Corp. (IDC), there’s a lot more change coming. IDC analysts expect the coming year to be pivotal for social media in business with (among other things) a new emphasis on using social to grow profits, not just gather followers.

New social-friendly devices and computer operating systems will spur growth of so-called “social business” – business conducted via social media. New types of “discovery” shopping will evolve from a combination of tablet usage and an emphasis on visual, rather than text-based messages.

Drawing from the latest IDC research and internal brainstorming sessions among IDC’s analysts, here are six key social business and social media changes that could have a major impact on how you do business in the year ahead (follow us @140Main or check BizBest’s Social Media section for future updates):

1. Social platforms become the new shop fronts

Until now, most businesses have used social media as an extension of their public relations or marketing efforts, focusing attention on such things as news and updates. But as more and more small companies expand sales and customer service efforts to multiple channels, social media will become a true social business platform. In essence, social media will spawn digital storefronts for everything from local businesses to multinational corporations.

2. Sales supersede “likes” and followers

As business owners and marketers in general continue gaining experience with Facebook and other social platforms, they will become more demanding about the return they get on their social media investments. With businesses questioning the actual value of “likes”, fans and followers, attention will shift to real results and outcomes of social media efforts. It will become increasingly important to measure and track results from social media, and apply the information to your own definition of success.

3. Visual social takes off

Online marketing efforts that include a visual component (images, video, info graphics, etc.) get better results than text-only. As this sinks in, social platforms (Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn) will add new features and focus on visual networking.  The success of the image-sharing site Pinterest is just one example of how popular and effective visuals have become in the digital world. The increasing popularity of tablets such as iPads – which are great for visuals – help drive this change. The newspaper industry currently has a major joint effort underway to reinvent the standard circular into a whole new digital discovery experience for tablet (visit Wanderful.com for info).

4. Groupon’s last gasp

As Groupon continues to struggle and face competition from countless similar services, the Groupon approach will give way to new types of group purchasing conducted via social media communities and what’s being called “Social Local Mobile.” In SoLoMo, local businesses make offers directly to customers on their mobile devices.

5. Social business gets a boost from new devices and operating systems

Apple and Microsoft are both integrating social into the newest versions of their mobile and desktop operating systems. As a result, social media will become an easier experience for the user and more effective for businesses that understand and leverage the new social business environment. With the release of each new device and system, the social media experience becomes a more integral part of everyday life for customers and prospects.

6. Gap between “haves” and “have-nots” widens

Despite the massive growth of social media, business owners and executives remain polarized on the role social media should play in running a business. The pro-social camp will continue to explore social not just as something new and shiny, but also as the very foundation of their businesses. They will expand their efforts on multiple fronts. The social doubters, on the other hand, see Facebook’s 2012 stock offering debacle as confirmation that the value of social media remains in question. This will give the social media adopters a continued advantage, just as businesses that embraced the Internet early on gained an edge.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

The Art of the Tweet Tease

TV and other news organizations are skilled at using “teasers” to entice interest in a particular story and get readers or viewers to click or tune in. It works!  So when you tweet for yourself, your business or your brand, you should aspire to do the same. The result will be a higher headcount of people who read, react to and retweet your content.

Sadly, too many tweets are simply trash.  In fact, research conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, MIT and Georgia Tech (cleverly named “Who Gives a Tweet?”) shows that Twitter users only consider 36% of the tweets they see to be worthwhile.  About 39% are thought to be marginal, while a quarter of all tweets are considered totally worthless.

Tackiest Types of Tweets

Most people consider mood or location updates to be the tackiest types of tweets. On the flip side, what people like best are tweets that share valuable, insight tips and information, including links to more extensive content posted elsewhere.  To leverage the appetite for the latter – and avoid tweet trouble at the same time – try taking the teaser tack.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. A teaser is a carefully crafted sentence, phrase or headline that “hooks” readers into wanting more.Taking a little time to write these will pay off in bigger response.
  2. Be sure to provide a link to the location of the content that will satisfy the curiosity you’ve just piqued.
  3. The idea is to provide enough substance to attract attention, but not give away the news or the “punch line” in the tweet itself. As Twitter CEO Dick Costolo once told me, “A great tweet is a caption for something bigger.”

Teasers that pose a provocative question are one proven way to go.  @GuyKawasaki, who has 1.2 million Twitter followers, is a master at crafting teaser type tweets, including many that are questions. They are usually very short – barely half the allotted 140 characters – and usually include a link.

What to Watch Out For

Teasers are powerful when used right, but can also hurt you in the long term if used badly. A few tips:

  • Avoid over-promising in your teaser.  If the “payoff” for the person who takes your tease is unfulfilling, they are less likely to bite the next time.  By making sure the content at the other end of the tease is high quality, you’ll get the response you seek.
  • Also try to tweet about news that’s as fresh as possible (and hasn’t already been tweeted a billion times by everyone else); provide enough context around your tweet so people understand what it’s about; and don’t over-do the use of #hashtags.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.  Follow @140Main

9 Steps to Lead Nurturing Success

If your business is spending precious ad and marketing dollars to generate leads, and you have prospects calling or clicking as hoped, great! But what now? Leads must convert to sales – either now or in the future – before they can benefit your bottom line.

How and when you respond to leads is critical – especially those not quite ready to buy…yet. This is where “lead nurturing” comes in.  Basically, lead nurturing is the process you use to follow up on leads and ultimately turn those prospects into customers. How well businesses do this varies radically, and so do results. The goal of lead nurturing is to keep your prospects engaged and moving through the purchasing funnel.

The best way to do this is to keep providing valuable information that informs them about your products and services in drip-like fashion (gently, with a light hand), in a way that’s memorable and has impact.

Here are 9 steps to implementing lead nurturing for your business:

1. Establish a nurturing plan

Have a detailed plan that begins immediately (think real time) and shepherds prospects down the path to conversion in a consistent, logical fashion. That is, of course, easier said than done.  Millions of businesses regularly lose leads because they lack proper follow-up policies, which means they are wasting money and ultimately paying more for the leads that they do convert.

2. Be quick and nimble

When it comes to converting leads, speed counts, big time. Most lead conversions go to the business that responds first. Quick response should be at the top of your list. If you don’t respond quickly, you lose.

3. Nurture the “not yet ready” prospects

While some leads may be ready to buy immediately, many others must be carefully cultivated over time, especially in the B2B realm. To succeed you must anticipate the prospect’s needs based on who they are (using characteristics such as age, income, etc.), and what stage they occupy in the buying process. Remember: This is about converting contacts you already have, not generating new ones.

4. Add info value in bite-size pieces

During the nurturing process, give prospective buyers the kinds of information they will need to make a wise purchasing decision.  But keep it simple, and provide information in snack size increments. Keep in mind that nurturing is about helping prospects throughout their buying “journey.”

5. Tap lead nurturing tools and tech

There are many terrific tools and web-based services that can help you nurture leads. A few examples include VerticalResponse.com, SwiftPage.com and ConstantContact.com (all for email campaigns); AWeber.com and SendPepper.com (auto responder services); Enthusem.com and Thankster.com (for sending greetings and thank you messages), among others.

6. Track prospect behavior; respond to their activity

The tools mentioned above can help you do this via customized reports and metrics. Use features that automatically track and respond in an appropriate way when a prospect opens an email, fills out a form, clicks on a link or performs another action.

7. Vary your format

People respond differently to different types of communications so you should include different formats throughout your nurturing process. Don’t just keep hitting them with emails. Also include newsletters, personal notes, white papers and other content. Make it a series of communications where each step has a clear goal to move prospects along to the next stage.

8. Segment your prospects

For most businesses, prospects fall into different categories. Look for ways to build unique prospect profiles and customize your nurture messages to their particular needs. Segmenting will help ensure that your messages resonate with recipients.

9. Make it personal

This is another way of saying keep it customer focused. Use a personalized approach, addressing prospects by name whenever possible. Try to design each message so it answers one specific question related to what’s in it for the customer.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

20 Digital Trends You Need to Know

I just completed an interactive local media conference where some of today’s smartest minds in digital were gathered, from the likes of Google, Facebook, IdeaLab, CitiGrid, Constant Contact and dozens more. Here’s my list of the Top 20 trends (and some implications) in digital, search, social media and online marketing that emerged from this semi-annual confab by the local media consulting firm BIA/Kelsey:

1. Shrinking Search Real Estate

As Google continues to claim more and more space for paid products on every search engine results page (SERP), there’s less and less available for “organic” results — your results.  Bottom line: Being found in search via “free” SEO tactics will continue to get harder. You can’t rely on SEO alone.

2. Social Search Soars

Search engines and yellow pages type directories aren’t the only place people look online for businesses. More and more customers are using social media to search for what they need. If you aren’t there, you can’t be found.

3. High Value Content Becomes Even More Critical

Content is where most small businesses stumble. Having a website, blog and social media pages isn’t enough without good content to go along. The simple act of offering a helpful PDF download can produce big results. Content becomes your new creative.

4. Mobile Devices Become “Remote Control” for Our Lives

As the power and sophistication of mobile devices (super computers in our pockets) continues to grow, more and more individuals will use them as the central processing unit that controls their lives. People already spend an average of 2-5 hours daily on a mobile device. This raises the ante for making sure your business is visible on mobile. About 55% of the U.S. population owns a smart phone, and 78% never leave home without it.

5. “Day Parting” Becomes more Prevalent

Day Parting is the term for dividing up the day into distinct marketing periods for making specific offers. For example, a restaurant that makes special offers just before lunch — but no other time of the day.

6. Programs for “Conquesting” Customers Grow More Popular

Conquesting is a term for attracting a customer already at one local business, over to another local business offering a synergistic product or service. For example, an ice cream shop suggesting to diners currently eating in nearby restaurants to stop by for dessert.

7. Everything & Everyone Online

As the number of people online daily (worldwide) jumps from 2.5 billion today to 3.5 billion by 2015, the lines between offline and online blur even more.  There’s no longer a conscious decision to “use the web.” It becomes an unconscious, reflex action.

8. Consumers are Hyper-Informed

Nearly 90% of U.S. Internet users go online to search for information about products and services, and about one in three will post a product review or comment online, and social media plays a critical and growing role. After spending time on social media, the 2nd-most popular activity is buying something!

9. Small Businesses Learn to Leverage Facebook to Acquire Customers

Far from fading, Facebook is finally figuring out small business (and vice versa), offering new ways for businesses to acquire customers. Twitter does the same. A term you’ll see more is “Native Placement,” which includes paid placements on Facebook and Twitter such as Facebook Sponsored Stories and Twitter Promoted Tweets.  These are considered “native” advertising. Businesses are also seeing that placing content on Facebook produces far greater results than putting on a website.

10. A Four-Screen World Rules

No single device or “screen” dominates. People move effortlessly between a PC, smart phone, tablet and TV.  According to Google research, 90% of consumers begin a task on one device and complete it on another device. Already, 77% of TV viewers watch on a non-TV device (49% smart phone; 34% PC or laptop).  Content (such as an ad) viewed on one device can trigger behavior on another device. This means business can no longer construct campaigns specific to a single device. Four years ago, small businesses bought ads in an average of 2.8 different channels. Now it’s six.

11. Expansion of Choice and Sharing Accelerates

Consumers will have more content, more choices and more places to share and consume information.  Even ads become opt-in (on video, for example), but consumers choose to watch at a high rate (currently 15-45%). This acceleration of choice provides businesses an opportunity to provide more content through which customers will “self select” based on their interests.

12. Google Product Listing Ads Gain Importance

Google Product Listings (free) and Product Listing Ads (PLAs; paid) have been around for years, but have been given a makeover and will gain momentum as more businesses find that PLAs can be vastly more effective than simple text ads.

13. Big Move Toward Video

Video will continue to explode. Already, 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute of the day. There are channels for every interest — over a million of them. Businesses of all sizes should be seeking out channels that interest their customers and advertise there.

14. Digital Ad Products Become Simpler

Solution providers heed the call of business owners who say digital products are too complex. Google, for example, just introduced AdWords Express, a simplified version of its flagship AdWords search engine marketing product — the first time Google has specifically made something for small business.

15. Online Avenues Get More Vertical

Major players in local search such as CitiGrid finally recognize that the needs of local businesses differ greatly by type (or vertical), and begin to offer more customized digital products geared to specific business types or verticals.

16. NAP Alignment Critical for Local Businesses

NAP — or name, address and phone number — is the vital info that every local business must make available online and on mobile. But it’s vital the info is perfectly aligned (consistent in all places), or you risk confusing Google and slipping in search results.

17. Importance of Interacting with Customers in “Social Storefronts” Grows

Imagine a customer walks into your store and you turn your back. That’s essentially what’s been happening online when a small business has a website or Facebook business page but doesn’t actively engage with customers in those settings. Importance of building online relationships grows even bigger.

18. DIWM Joins DIY and DIFM

Small businesses can expect to see more digital and social media marketing products and providers offering “Do It With Me” services (DIWM) along with Do It Yourself (DIY) and Do It For Me (DIFM).  These will come with price tags between the other two.

19. Extraordinary Becomes the New Ordinary

Consumer expectations continue to climb. Digital marvels that once seemed extraordinary (like finding things almost instantly on a smart phone) are taken for granted. Not long ago, WiFi on airplanes was unusual. Now it’s expected. The bar is high for businesses big and small to “wow” customers.

20. Newspaper Inserts or “Circulars” Go Digital

A consortium of 12 major newspaper companies is putting millions behind a new venture called Wanderful that aims to reinvent ad circulars for tablet computers and make shopping more entertaining, fun, social and discovery-based.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Why Google AuthorRank is a Game Changer

The arrival of Google AuthorRank, and its cousin Google Authorship, reorders the digital universe in a way that can send digital importance and social influence soaring for business owners, journalists, writers, bloggers, entrepreneurs and executives active in social media.

Authorship and AuthorRank are part of a new and rapidly evolving Google initiative with immediate game-changing implications. Years in the making, and based on several Google patents, Authorship raises the ante for all business owners and executives by making social media participation even more important – and potentially effective – than ever.

Used properly, Authorship can greatly boost your digital profile and deliver higher returns on your social effort. Early studies show that having Authorship linked to content you create increases click-through rate 150%. From now on, adding Authorship to any blog or site that carries your bylined content should be standard practice.

Here’s the rub, however: This does not happen automatically. To benefit from Google Authorship you must set it up and use it. Getting it right to begin with is crucial. The Google Authorship signup site has basic implementation instructions, but there are several options, depending on your circumstances. It’s mostly a matter of giving Google the digital means (via a Google+ account and email associated with your bylined content) to verify the content is yours.

Authorship, as you might surmise, tracks individuals, not businesses. I applied for Authorship (here) in a matter of minutes for my articles on BizBest and was approved for the program via email a few days later.  As one cool side benefit, I now have my very own Google search results site showcasing 10+ pages of just my content, with photo and bio.

In techie terms, Authorship is able to work its magic via a micro data format Google calls “Rich Snippets.”  Pulling this off took Google years to figure out, but what’s important for you is this:  “Old-school” factors such as keywords and link-building that once held sway in search will now play second-fiddle to authorship, authority and social influence for business owners, entrepreneurs, journalists, bloggers and other content-creators who take advantage of it.

Be aware: These changes are already in place and gaining momentum.  And although Google Authorship has had a bumpy, confusing start and little publicity, it’s something every social biz owner must grasp.  It signals a sea change in how your unique social media contributions (read that as “content”) get scored and shown by the search giant.

Authorship already influences search results, and that has big implications when your name is associated with a brand. Not only will your content appear higher, it will be displayed higher still for anyone connected to you via Google+, which Google quickly determines on the back end.

Testing Authorship Power

I recently ran a test to see if this works, with amazing results. First I wrote 16 Sweet Social Marketing Tools You Gotta Try, published the post to my blog BizBest, and shared it on Google+ among other places. A top blog in the startup space called MyVenturePad picked it up off my RSS feed and published it on that site, as did Business Insider in its War Room section.

A few days later I searched Google for “social marketing tools” and found that I owned three of the top ten organic results on the page, including two in the top 5.  And this is for a highly competitive search term, evidenced by a dozen advertisers who paid to be on the same page that I was dominating for free, thanks to Authorship.

The Second Shoe

AuthorRank – an anticipated change to the Google search algorithm – is essentially the second shoe to Authorship, and second cousin to PageRank. Google has for years been on a quest to squelch crappy content and surface trustworthy, high-quality content created by influential and knowledge people – like you. Google seems to finally have all the pieces in place to take those efforts to the next level.

Web pundits speculate that AuthorRank will change the search game as we know it. It will definitely affect Google PageRank, and the impact will likely be huge. Social execs, professionals and business owners who understand these things now will be far better positioned to exploit the changes as they happen.

A 6-Point AuthorRank Assault List

  1. If you haven’t yet figured it out, this is also a giant reason to embrace Google+. Sure, it’s a drag to need yet another social media platform. But several factors in determining AuthorRank depend on what you do with G+, including the number of +1’s you get, your involvement in Circles, and so on. If you’ve avoided G+ (as most of us have) it’s time to step up.
  2. This further undermines traditional SEO. But that’s good, because now it’s less about a bunch of tags and keywords, and much more about content quality and digital authority.
  3. Set up Google Authorship for yourself and any other “thought leaders” you might have in your business. Remember: It must be individuals; can’t be a company.
  4. Focus on publishing high quality content and share it on social media (don’t forget Google+). Building connections with other high AuthorRank influencers will also work in your favor.
  5. Authorship has its own metrics (called Authorship Statistics) available on Google with lots of data on your content and search impact. You can even track stats on specific pieces of content.
  6. Creating high-quality, shareable (read “interesting”) content is key. You’ve heard this before, but AuthorRank makes it even more important. Don’t be afraid to specialize. In fact, since you can build separate AuthorRank in multiple topic areas, this is a good idea.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

16 Sweet Social Marketing Tools You Gotta Try

No doubt about it. People are piling into social media marketing like never before. But the most successful ones don’t go naked. They deploy a variety of digital tools to amplify and monitor their efforts.

BizBest® has researched over 100 social marketing tools – including some that are brand new – and came up with this list of 16 standouts (listed alphabetically):

AgoraPulse (www.agorapulse.com)

Great to use if your efforts are focused on Facebook. It offers tools to engage your fans, qualify them and track results. Using AgoraPulse could certainly quicken your marketing heartbeat.

Buffer (www.bufferapp.com)

Awesome way to schedule social media activity. It lets you add posts and tweets to your “buffer” from anywhere and have them automatically distributed throughout the day. By keeping your biz buffer topped off with content, you can schedule a fresh social media presence for a week or more.

Crowdbooster (www.crowdbooster.com)

Offers tools to measure and boost your social marketing. Lets you analyze performance of individual tweets and posts to quickly grasp what’s working; view engagement and reach metrics for Facebook.

Disqus (www.disqus.com)

Plugin for getting more marketing mileage out of blog comments. This takes the old, rather clunky “comments” function and turns it into a social media machine that lets users sign in and comment via Facebook and Twitter.

HubSpot (www.Hubspot.com)

An all-in-one marketing software provider that give you a complete package of tools to launch and manage your social media marketing. Super-savvy social marketers! These folks are smart.

LinkedIn “Skills & Expertise”

This tool (under the “More” tab on LinkedIn) is an effective (and free) way to find world-class professionals with whatever skills and fields of interest you want; an especially rich source of B2B contacts and leads.

Newsle (www.newsle.com)

Cool new way to find articles about you and your business, as well as colleagues, competitors and anyone else you care about, and receive notifications minutes or hours after they’re published. Sync your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, and it happens automatically.

Nimble (www.nimble.com)

Revolutionizing customer relationship management (CRM) for small business by taking it into the social realm in a really smart way. This “social CRM” service makes it easy to manage your contacts, communications activities and sales all in one place.

NutshellMail (www.nutshellmail.com)

This aptly named app from Constant Contact is a social media lifesaver for those who want their social activity results neatly summarized in a single email. NutshellMail tracks what’s being said about your business in social media, packages it up and sends a summary email on whatever schedule you choose.

Pagelever (www.pagelever.com)

Affordable analytics tool that’s all about measuring the impact of your social marketing efforts. Output charts and graphs showing traffic, fans, users, comments and more.

PeerIndex (www.peerindex.com)

Measures interactions across the web and helps you understand your influence (or lack of it) in social media. Better than Klout because it’s more adept at measuring real influence rather than just large numbers of followers.

Postling (www.postling.com)

Several tools in one, including alerts and insights that help you get the most out of social marketing. Publish to all of the major social media sites and schedule posts in advance. It also pulls comments from all of your social media sites into one place – a big time-saver for responding.

Shoutlet (www.shoutlet.com)

A do-it-yourself platform for managing social media marketing. But it’s a fairly sophisticated service, favored by many larger businesses as well. It offers a wide range of features, including data capture, customer relationship management (CRM) and unlimited accounts.

Slideshare (www.slideshare.com)

Great place to share content such as product or other presentations and generate traffic and leads for your business. The site is free to use and gets some 60 million visitors monthly. Presentations can appear on your LinkedIn profile.

Sprout Social (www.sproutsocial.com)

Popular tool among small businesses to monitor what’s being said about you online, schedule and publish updates to your social media pages with one click, and produce reports.

TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com)

Dashboard that gives you a good view of your Twitter activity. It allows you to monitor and manage unlimited accounts, schedule tweets to suit your audience and filter content to focus on what matters to you the most.

Bonus Tool: MarketMeSuite (www.marketmesuite.com)

This one came to our attention after the original Sweet 16 list was published, but definitely deserves a look. MarketMeSuite gives you the tools you need to be more proactive with your social media marketing. Some 30,000 small businesses are already using it to find targeted leads and influencers, engage with customers and get results on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

10 Tips for Postcard Marketing Success

With all the emphasis on digital marketing these days, a few tried-and-true methods get forgotten. Postcards are one of them, but they are experiencing a revival as business owners re-discover their powerful charms to deliver results.

Postcards are a simple, low-cost sales tool that’s easier to use than ever thanks to websites that offer turnkey postcard marketing services. These princely printed pieces pack a powerful punch for millions of small and local businesses. Even big companies and major universities are using colorful and often over-sized postcards to push their products, services, offers and brands.

The lowly postcard has taken on new prominence as a kind of “anti-digital” agent.  People are paying more attention than ever to postcards they receive in the mail, and are responding to offers at high rates.  Postcards have a higher “read rate” than other direct mail because they are easier to read at a glance and there’s no envelope to open.

You can quickly create a postcard campaign without a big investment in time or money. And getting your postcards printed and mailed to either your own mailing list or one you buy is a snap with one of the web-based services.  Many companies compete for your business, so rates are highly competitive and you can get your cards printed and mailed in a few days.

10 ways to get the most from a postcard marketing effort:

1.    Plan ahead and create a specific purpose for your postcard campaign – as big an idea as possible to grab people’s attention. Build value into your message and don’t be boring.

2.    Postcards should be eye-catching, so be sure to include high-quality photos or other striking images, graphics and colors.

3.    Postcards can say a lot – especially the over-sized variety — but try to keep your message simple. It’s still a postcard, after all, not a novel. Pretend that every word you write is costing you an extra $100.

4.    Short, bold headlines work best. Avoid jumbled information. Postcards work best for short messages and for generating leads (not closing sales). Don’t try to explain everything, and be sure to include multiple ways to contact you.

5.    Postcards are great for carrying timely messages, so think in timely terms. For example, postcards can convey messages or offers with a deadline, or customer reminders (your service contract expires in 30 days!).

6.    There are two sides to every postcard, so make the most of them both. The non-address side should have the biggest, boldest photos and colors. Think of it as a poster. The other side should carry your offer, contact information and other details.

7.    Think multi-faceted.  Postcards can be used for many purposes, including reminders, gift certificates, coupons, new product announcements, openings, discounts and even as tickets.

8.    Go for high-quality, full-color, glossy printing. These have the most impact.  All postcard marketing services offer this, and improve technology has brought down costs.

9.    Oversized cards – often 6×11 – stand out in the mail and are a great choice. They also give you more ways to include photos, coupons and even a map to your location.

10. Encourage quick action. Give customers a good reason to act now, perhaps a fast action bonus with a deadline.

Templates make do-it-yourself postcards possible, but taping the postcard pros online is quick and easy.

Some services to consider:

Zairmail is a popular service that lets you easily create and send marketing postcards (and other direct mail) right from your computer. Zairmail offers mailing lists as well as postcard templates for specific businesses such as real estate, insurance and others.

VistaPrint, the all-purpose online print ship, offers a wide range of postcards and postcard marketing services. Other good services to consider include PostcardMania, ModernPostcard and PostcardServices.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

A Two Dollar Local Marketing Solution

In the small town where I grew up, my father was known as “King of the $2 Bill.” He ran the local savings & loan, located on (yes, this is for real) Main Street, and loved to hand out $2 bills as gifts.  Sometimes he’d even pay spot bonuses to employees in bunches of $2 bills. He did it just to be different; and also to get noticed.

Pre-Internet Viral Marketing

The promotional value was subtle, but significant.  It was like a pre-Internet version of “viral marketing”. He always had a stack at the ready, and spent them around town whenever he could. As the $2 bills circulated through other local businesses, merchants and customers alike took notice and usually knew where they came from (or if they didn’t, someone would tell them).

But it worked, and that $2 bill “viral marketing” strategy is now being re-discovered by local business groups in other parts of the U.S. seeking ways to promote buy-local campaigns and stimulate sales and growth on Main Street. Business owners in a few cities have started handing out $2 bills to employees as bonuses, asking them to spend the money at local merchants as a way to illustrate the power of supporting local business.

A Refreshing Change from Digital

Try the $2 bill solution yourself.  Consider it a refreshing change from doing everything digital. You can probably get some from your bank. And they are guaranteed to get noticed.

If you can link the $2 bill concept to another promotional campaign for your business (a special $2 price for some items for example; or maybe $2 off), so much the better.

The $2 bill itself remains a novelty for most people who’ve never seen one.  Some customers won’t be sure it’s even real (but of course it is).

$2 Trivia

The front-side design of the $2 bill depicting Thomas Jefferson is unchanged since 1929, making it the oldest design of any U.S. currency in circulation. The back side, redesigned in 1976, depicts the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Take it from my father, one of the original viral marketers:  Even the humble little $2 bill houses hidden power that can help promote you and your business far beyond its face value.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.