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8 Essentials of Email Marketing Success

Despite the onslaught of social media, pay-per-click and other digital marketing methods, email marketing is still one of the most popular – and effective – for small business.  Here are eight essentials that can help make your email marketing campaign a success:

1)    Avoid Email Isolation

Email marketing works best for businesses that carefully integrate it with a broader marketing strategy.  Trying to use email marketing in isolation – or as a one-shot experience – generally comes up short of expectations.

2)    Focus on Your List First

The quality of your list is everything, so that’s where you need to pay a great deal of attention up front. If you already have a list, it must be constantly honed, refreshed and optimized. If you are building one from scratch, populate it only with people who are true prospects for your business, and who’ve opted in to receive your messages and offers.  Opt-in lists generally have far higher response rates than purchased lists, so time devoted to developing an in-house list is well spent.

3)    Be In Tune to Avoid Opt-Outs

The two main reasons email recipients will ask to be removed from your list are: a) the information you are sending is not relevant or helpful to them; and b) they are getting too many emails from you.  If possible, ask your email recipients how often they’d like to hear from you. Or test out different frequencies and see what happens to find the one with the lowest opt-out rate. And never send an email unless the contents have a clear value for the recipients.

4)    Sync your Emails with Search and Social

Use an outside email distribution service (such as Constant Contact, Mail Chimp or Vertical Response) that allows you to also create a version of each email that exists as a web page that can show up in search. This way, every one of your emails will continue to exist as an online archive that can bring SEO traffic to your site. And be sure to include social media sharing, follow buttons and links in your emails. This is a great way to extend the reach of your list.

5)    Track and Measure Your Results Religiously

It is critical that you use some kind of marketing analytics to measure the results of your email marketing. The services listed above will all provide some basic metrics reporting, but you will also want to take it further to calculate how many of the people who clicked or otherwise responded actually made a purchase. Compare your email results to conversions from other marketing campaigns.

6)    Remember Mobile

It might surprise you that some 20 percent (and growing!) of all emails are now opened on a mobile device.  And depending on the type of business you operate, the number could be even higher for your particular audience. So if your message doesn’t take mobile users into account, you could be losing a fifth or more of your audience before you even start. Test all email templates for how they appear on mobile. And send both plain text and HTML versions.

7)    Learn Segmentation Secrets

Segmenting your list is a great way to target your messages more precisely and improve your results. For example, you might segment geographically (by state, region, etc.); by recipients’ special interests that you have gathered information on; or by how often they’ve purchased from you in the past.  If you sell business-to-business, you could segment by industry or recipient’s title. Gather intelligence each time you send an email to help inform you about how to segment the list the next time.

8)    Nurture your Leads

The leads you generate via email won’t benefit your business unless they convert to sales. Prepare a lead nurturing plan that begins the moment you get a lead and details each step you will take to shepherd your prospects down the path to conversion in a consistent, logical fashion.  Remember that speed is important. Most lead conversions go to the business that responds fastest.

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

3 Deadly QR Code Miscues and How to Fix Them

Quick Response (QR) codes are turning up more frequently in small business advertising and marketing materials, including posters, business cards, packaging, drink coasters and you name it. But unless local businesses use them properly, QR codes are wasting your time.  But few businesses are using QR codes in a way that lets them track their marketing campaigns effectively, says Scott Wilson, founder and CEO of RankHigher.ca, a Canadian internet marketing and SEO firm.

“QR codes used the right way can be a fantastic marketing tool,” says Wilson. “Wouldn’t it be great to track your web traffic directly back to that beer coaster in the restaurant or the coupon you mass mailed to thousands of homes? That’s vital information for any marketer. The problem is that most companies are missing these opportunities because of basic mistakes.”

Here are the three most common QR code miscues and what to do about them:

Miscue #1: Using cookie-cutter QR code patterns churned out by online generators, which are mistakenly read as direct traffic to a website by Google Analytics.  Solution: Have the QR code send traffic to a URL location where Google’s tracking software can monitor your marketing work and redirect to the desired location.

Miscue #2:  Using long URLs in QR Codes makes complicated codes that are difficult or impossible for consumers to scan. Solution: Keep the URL short so your QR code will be simpler and easier for scanners to read, not to mention easier to fit on a business card.

Miscue #3: Using third-party services, such as bit.ly, to shorten URLs attached to QR codes, leaving them vulnerable to potential technological problems or service changes.  Solution: Host your QR code URL on your own domain so you have full control to quickly fix errors. If a third party URL shortener goes down, so does your entire QR code marketing campaign.

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

Twitter to Offer Small Business Ads

Starting later this year, any U.S.-based small business will be able to advertise on Twitter using a new self-service ad platform for two ad products to called “Promoted Tweets” and “Promoted Accounts.”

The first small businesses to use the program, however, will be selected through a new partnership between Twitter and American Express, a deal that initially makes it easy for small business owners to advertise on Twitter.  Amex card members and merchants will be invited to try this new advertising solution before anyone else, and American Express will give $100 in free advertising to the first 10,000 eligible businesses to sign up.

If you are an Amex card member or merchant, you can register now to participate in the initial introduction of this new offering via ads.twitter.com/amex.  Twitter will launch this new offering more widely later this year.

Since meeting Twitter CEO Dick Costolo a few weeks ago and hearing about the growth and innovation going on at Twitter, I’m more convinced than ever that this platform has far more social local marketing potential for small businesses than it’s being given credit for. And this move to open things up for advertising will likely put Twitter on the radar for more local businesses.

As the folks at Twitter point out, successful business owners already know how to build good customer relationships.  In fact, local businesses were first to start using Twitter to talk with consumers in real time, which helped demonstrate Twitter’s potential as a marketing platform. Today, some of the most innovative marketing campaigns around come from local businesses. For example, check out the mouth-watering photos of @VanillaMoonBake cupcakes, or the @glennztees Tweet contests meant to promote their latest T-shirt design.

You can sign up here to try this new ad solution on Twitter.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved. 140Main™ is a trademark of BizBest Media.

Top 10 Small Biz Twitter Rock Stars for 2012

BizBest Media’s own @140Main Twitter account — where we tweet as LocalSocialMedia — has been named to the Top 10 Small Biz Twitter Rock Stars for 2012, compiled and published by SkedX.  Their blogging team at The SkedCast reviewed and analyzed hundreds of small business Twitter accounts and ranked them not just on content, but on how the small business community responds to them.  Be sure to check out the other “Rock Stars” on the list — they’re all worth following.  (@140Main is also a Top 10 Influencer in the Small Business category on Klout.)

Here are the others ont he Top 10 list:

Twitter CEO on What Makes a Great Tweet

Before I get to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo (@dickc), let me tell you about Willy O’Sullivan who owns the Irish pub in my neighborhood. Willy is quite worldly on social media matters and a savvy business person overall, but Twitter confounds him. “I have Twitter, but I have no idea what to do with it,” he says.  “You open it up and it asks me who I want to follow, and I have no idea about that either.”

And Willy, in fact, is a proxy for millions of local business owners who grasp the importance of social media but simply don’t have time to experiment with using it for business purposes.  As new products and platforms are devised to help business owners use social media effectively, the balance will shift, given social media’s power for cost-effective marketing.  While Twitter remains a mystery to many business owners, its popularity is skyrocketing based in part on how simple it is compared to Facebook or Google+.

Costolo is the man leading Twitter’s charge.  He became CEO in 2010 and previously launched and ran several smaller businesses, so he knows what it’s like to take risks, meet payroll and wear multiple hats.  I just met Costolo at a UCLA/Anderson School of Management leadership seminar, courtesy of Dean Judy Olian (@DeanOlian) and entertainment mogul (not to mention owner of NBA’s GS Warriors) Peter Guber (@PeterGuber).   Costolo is super articulate and has great passion for what he does as well as the confidence to lead Twitter to the Promised Land called IPO.  

What Makes a Tweet Great

Since the price of a seat at the table in Olian and Guber’s seminar is a confidentiality pledge, there’s much that can’t be said here of Costolo’s behind-the-scenes revelations, but a couple of things are up for grabs.  In particular, Costolo’s take on “What makes a great tweet” is something everyone business person should know, as it describes effective communication in general.  Costolo didn’t even need 140 characters to say it:  Here it is in a mere 47 characters:  “A great tweet is a caption for something bigger”

Hmmmmm.  “Something bigger.”  That’s where millions of tweets fail every day to pass the greatness test.  If you only have 140 characters to say something, too many tweeters fall into the trap of saying essentially nothing.  You need a “backstory” as they say in the entertainment biz – something that entices people into thinking or looking further. As we’ve said often here at 140Main (our name, of course, derived from Twitter’s 140 character length limit on tweets), the art of tweeting well is to entice and engage followers with useful information.

By thinking of your tweets as “captions” you can stay focused on the bigger “picture” behind what you are saying.  Is there something else you can offer as a link? An idea, tip or thought that can help others see that bigger picture?  If so, your tweets will rise above the noise and gain more attention.

Embrace the 140 length limit. To Dick Costolo, Twitter’s inner beauty lies in that simple constraint and it’s unlikely that will change. In fact, the latest studies show that slightly shorter tweets in the 120-130 range generate the best response.

Follow us @140Main

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

10 Inside Secrets to Grow a Business in Tough Times

How do some small businesses manage to grow and thrive while others perennially struggle and miss opportunities that come their way? According to Alex Castelli, who heads the Growth Markets Practice of consulting firm Reznick Group, the most successful business owners display some clear patterns and habits.

Reznick has built its reputation working with companies through challenging times, helping analyze opportunities and tap into tax savings. Castelli says his group – which includes many former entrepreneurs – sees business owners making the same mistakes that are often avoidable.  

Based on Reznick’s years of experience helping businesses grow from the inside, here are 10 secrets for achieving growth even in a poor economy: 

  1. Grow to survive Many small or local businesses assume it’s best to reduce offerings to survive tough times. While this seems intuitive, sometimes the answer is to do just the opposite – to grow. Before cutting back and shrinking your business, consider first whether additional funding might help.
  2. Check your ego – You know your business inside and out, but that doesn’t make you an expert at running it. Smart business owners know what they don’t know. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and then, take it.
  3. Remember your first fans – Many entrepreneurs seem to forget who helped them get started. If you have investors, keep them apprised of what’s going on. Good communication is key.  A good investor group can provide mentoring and other resources, so keep them involved.  
  4. Share your knowledge – In today’s business world, success and influence are in the hands of those who share their ideas and information. Yes, you might lose a little competitive edge by sharing your secrets.  But you will gain influence, and possibly success. So when you’ve found a great tool or solution, or gained insight, tweet it, blog about it, author an article, post it to Facebook.   
  5. Hire someone to watch your money – Lack of strong accounting and finance can be the only thing keeping you from reaching your financial goals. Find well qualified people who share your vision and then step back and take their advice.  
  6. Know when to persevere – Stick to your mission. Many would-be success stories end prematurely because they give up when challenges mount. Don’t let hurdles stop you. Arm yourself with market knowledge and an expert team and push through.
  7. But recognize when to change direction Still, there are times you may need to change direction or call it day, and having the courage to do so can be liberating. You may end up with a clearer picture of what will or won’t work.
  8. Keep cash on hand – One of the biggest mistakes growing businesses make is to run out of cash. While the sun is still shining on your business or before your financial picture has a chance to turn sour, meet with lenders and/or landlords proactively to see if there are opportunities to restructure debt, payment terms, etc. Having cash on hand is critical for staying afloat and continuing to grow.
  9. Get more when you have more – Don’t wait until cash balances get low to secure more funding. The best time to get more is when you have more. Securing a line of credit while you still have money in the bank gives you the ability to negotiate a larger line and better terms. It also gives you the ability to make payroll during slow times and to have access to cash as needed. In addition, it gives you an opportunity to develop a business relationship with a bank. Waiting until you really need money takes away your negotiating power and leaves you at the mercy of the lender.  
  10. Sell when you get the chance – Many business owners miss, or worse – pass up – incredible chances to sell their company because they are not prepared to adequately evaluate the opportunity. Know where you stand in the marketplace at all times.  That includes what your potential is, and what it will take to reach your potential.  That way, when opportunity knocks, you’ll know what to do.

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

Inside Tips on Using Google +1 for Business

Right now, Google officials are quietly meeting with corporate partners to enlist support for the much-anticipated business version of Google+, their new social media platform. Soon (they hope), local businesses will be competing to be “+1s” from customers (similar to a “Like” on Facebook).  Here’s a sneak peak at what Google execs are saying:

  • Circles:  Big G says today’s social media experience is “sloppy” (we only connect with certain people at certain times); “scary” (all online conversations are public); and “insensitive” (we all define friend and family differently).  With G+ Circles, you can separate groups of coworkers and customers, which lets you share certain information only with the people it’s meant for.
  • Sparks:  Sparks is meant to be an online sharing tool that feeds you relevant content from the web.  Businesses can use it to stay up to date on important news about an industry, profession or competitor.  
  • Hangouts:  Connecting with others online can be awkward.  When someone doesn’t respond to a request, you aren’t sure if they’re not there, or just not interested. Through multi-person video chat, Google+ Hangouts changes the game.  For example, businesses can arrange video conferences with up to 10 employees or co-workers; or use Hangouts as your own live customer support line.
  • +1:  Putting +1 buttons on your website will let customer recommend your business, site, page or content to friends and contacts.  Consider it free word of mouth marketing.
  • Photo sharing for business: A phone is a perfect collaboration tool for business owners since it’s always with you and always online. But getting photos off your phone is a pain. Google+ instant upload lets users add photos to a private site in the cloud, and even add locations.
  • (Also see ShopTalk: Social Media’s “What Local Business Should Know now about Google Plus.”)

The +1 Button is the Key

The +1 button lets users recommend you right on Google search – or from your own site, if you have the button installed.  Adding the +1 button to your business website gives customers and other visitors another way to endorse your business or brand.  The more +1’s your business collects, the better. Having +1’s will improve search results for your business, product or service, and also give your ads more oomph.   It works like this:

1)      Julie clicks the +1 button next to your online ad or organic search result about your business. This now becomes a public recommendation, linked to her profile.

2)      Her contacts will see a personalized “annotation” (more on this below) on her own search results and ads showing that Julie “+1’d” (pronounced PLUS-ONE’D) it.

Where to Get the Button

Google has created a special page for businesses and webmasters to learn more about the +1 button, download the code and even create customized versions of the button for specific uses.  That’s where you’ll find everything you need.  Put the button wherever you think it will be most effective. On the top half of the page, near the title of the page, and close to sharing links are good locations. Placing the +1 button at both the end and the beginning of an article or story can also be effective.

How +1 Affects Search Results and Traffic

Basically, +1 helps people find relevant content—a website, a search result, or an ad—from people they know. As G+ expands, the +1 button will appear on more and more websites and ads.  You’ll see a +1 button on a Google search result or next to an article you’re reading on a news or industry site.

Adding the +1 button to pages on your own site lets users recommend your content, knowing that their friends and contacts will see their recommendation when it’s most relevant—in the context of their future Google searches (yes, a little scary, but true).  Personalized annotations next to your page in search results may increase your site’s visibility and click-through rate. To see how +1 affects your search traffic, try the +1 Metrics tool available in Google Webmaster Tools.  Available metrics include:

  • Search impact: See the pages on your site that received the most impressions with a +1 annotation, and see how +1 annotations impact click-through rate.
  • Activity: See the total number of +1’s received by pages on your site.
  • Audience: See aggregated information about people who have +1’d your pages, including the total number of unique users, their location, and their age and gender.

Google+ Annotations

Personalized annotations display the faces of friends and social connections who’ve already +1’d a piece of content. Google tries to display +1’s to people (specifically those in the user’s social connections) who would find them most useful. By making the recommendations more discoverable, users will be more engaged with your site. 

How to Stay in the Loop

To preview the latest updates to the Google+ platform, subscribe to the Google+ Platform Preview group.  For updates specifically about the +1 button, subscribe to the Google Publisher Buttons Announce Group.

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

Five Website Landing Page Mistakes and Fixes

 If you have a website and expect it to help, not hinder your business, you’ll want to avoid the major mistakes that many small businesses make.  Focus on your  “landing pages” in particular.  A landing page, quite literally, is the page on your site where the incoming visitor “lands” as determined by the link they clicked, from an ad, article, directory listing of some other place.

For most small businesses, the landing page is typically the homepage, but that might not be a good idea. The best landing pages are specifically meant to convert the visitor into a paying customer and home pages aren’t typically set up for this.

The landing page is the first glimpse that a customer or prospect might get of how your business looks online, so you’ll want it to leave a good impression.  Here are some typical landing page mistakes and how to fix them: 

Mistake #1: Lousy Links: Do links into your site target specific, relevant pages? Don’t aim every link to your homepage. Instead, create links that bring prospects to the place on your site that will help them the most, such as a product page, contact information or quote request. Don’t think that by merely directing traffic to any page on your website, visitors will take the time to search further for the information they want, or to place an order.

Mistake #2: Crummy Content: How much information have you provided on your pages? How have you titled you pages and named products? To improve chances of showing up in search engines, include “title tags” on your pages that use the terms or titles most commonly searched for. Include as much useful information as you can, including prices or fees.

Incorrect or outdated information is a turnoff, and off-target or poorly written content will make your site look second-rate. Review and update content regularly to keep it fresh. Provide tips, case studies and other information that helps your intended audience solve a problem or accomplish a task.  Avoid industry jargon, and keep it conversational. Proofread carefully.

Mistake #3: Missing Calls to Action: Don’t make visitors scroll down the page to find what they need. Include the most important items on the top portion of the page immediately visible in a browser window (called “above the fold”). Your landing page should call for one specific action. If you want people to order, make them an offer, such as free samples or quotes, a free newsletter, or discounts geared to what they need. Create clear links to the order page.

Mistake #4: Unwelcoming Aesthetics: Imagine stepping into a store filled with poorly organized, untidy shelves and unreadable signage, says Jason Hennessey, an SEO specialist with Everspark Interactive.  Chances are you will leave. The same thing could apply to your website and the overall look and feel of your landing page. As with a bricks and mortar store, you want to enhance your visitors’ experience and instantly make them feel that they have come to a business that is credible and trustworthy.

Mistake #5: Dismal Design: Don’t cram all available space on your website with ads, flash graphics or irrelevant information. That can be both confusing and a big contributor to poor landing page performance.  Keep your site design and landing pages clean and uncluttered, especially when you want a particular call to action. Avoid garish colors, multiple type fonts and large image files that slow things down.

Customers are there because they want to accomplish something quickly, and your design needs to keep that in mind every step of the way. Too many small business websites are frustrating to visitors. They force people to hunt for contact basics, have irrelevant information and fail to make the ordering process easy. Keep order and lead-generation forms simple and user friendly. The more information fields you require, the fewer people you’ll get filling them out.  

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

A Digital Replacement for Paper Loyalty Cards

The tried-and-true “Buy 10 get 1 free” loyalty card is being replaced by a new service called Stampt that lets retailers move their loyalty reward programs from paper cards to a smart phone application.  Stampt, which has just rolled out nationally, provides local merchants a more effective way to increase customer loyalty and stimulate more purchases.

Small businesses in San Francisco, Cincinnati, Chicago, and New York are already using Stampt, including restaurants, yoga studios, coffee shops, yogurt and ice cream stores, delicatessens, dry cleaners, auto repair shops and others.  The service will now be available coast to coast, and offers quick and easy sign-up. Each merchant card and offer is unique and branded for that merchant. Some sample offers include:

  • Buy 7 coffee drinks, Get 1 Free
  • Make 5 purchases over $10, Get a $15 gift card
  • Buy 7 yoga sessions, Get 1 Free

Digital “cards” will reinvent customer loyalty for local business by making it mobile and social. It’s more convenient and effect, and eliminates the problem of lost and forgotten cards.  Business owners can also benefit from improved customer interactions and insights into how loyalty programs are used, now captured digitally.  You’ll finally get a better handle on the impact of your loyalty program. Plus, consumers love it because the app lets them build loyalty at more places, more often, without the nuisance of paper cards.

How it Works:  Consumers pull out their smart phone at the point of sale and scan a Stampt “Quick Scan Card” that the merchant places near the register. The system records the visit and reward-eligible purchase, and stamps the customer’s digital card. Getting “Stampt” for the purchase is fast and easy.  It’s a perpetual incentive program that motivates consumers to use the service regularly.   Stampt is super easy to set-up and use, requiring zero systems integration and perhaps three minutes of training for store clerks.

Special offers and announcements:  Local businesses can also use the platform to offer news and special offers directly to customers who can see (and react) to offers within 15 minutes.  

Social interaction:  Customers can also post their Stampt activity to Facebook and Twitter, allowing their friends and followers to see where they’re earning rewards.    

Information reporting:  Participating merchants receive reports showing helpful information that’s impossible to get with paper cards, including these key metrics:

  • The number of active card holders
  • How frequently customers purchase
  • How recently they’ve visited
  • Most visited times of the day
  • What products and services customers are buying.

Business owners can use this information in direct marketing campaigns through Stampt.

Getting Started:  Any retailer, of any size, in any location, can use this free customer loyalty service.  Merchants simply visit Stampt.com and fill out a short registration form.  You can then specify the type of loyalty reward program you want to offer (buy 10 get-one-free; buy five get 20 percent off; buy one get 50 percent off; etc.).  Participating merchants also receive a kit with posters, a window sticker, and the Stampt “Quick Scan Card” that is placed near the register.

To learn more and sign up for a free merchant kit or download the app visit www.Stampt.com.

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

Hot new Services in Hyperlocal Marketing

Two new web-based “hyperlocal” marketing services are heating up hyper local — if, in fact, it can get any hotter than it already is. One is Local Yokel Media, which serves up local business ads and content to consumers in highly specific geographic areas. The other is Chalkboard, a mobile ad service that lets local businesses connect with consumers in a defined area and offer them real-time offers and updates. 

“Hyperlocal” marketing has strong and growing appeal to local business owners because it offers new, highly-efficient and exciting ways to deliver local offers and local content to customers in a local community of, say, a 1 or 2 mile radius. Although still in its infancy, hyperlocal offers a revolutionary approach to connecting with local customers one-to-one in personalized and highly targeted new ways.

Think of “hyperlocal” as just-in-time marketing that reaches customers via their smart phones and other mobile devices.  For example, prospects will get your message only when they enter your area. It’s “hyper” local because it brings new precision to the term “local” and also because it is an active, dynamic form of marketing that can engage customers continuously.

Local Yokel Media, or LYM, lays claim to being the web’s first hyperlocal ad platform helping local businesses (and national marketers who target locally) to reach prospects in tightly defined service areas with customized ads.  It offers something closer to a full service approach for local businesses,  including ad creation and campaign reporting that can drive foot traffic as well as product or service inquiries. 

LYM uses special mapping technology reach online audiences within a short drive of your location, which avoids waste and improves performance.  When Dan Hageney, owner of Connecticut Green Organic Lawn Care tried it out, he says results were several times more effective than other methods.

Chalkboard, which has launched in the U.S. after a successful start overseas, is basically a mobile and online ad network that helps drive walk-in traffic to local restaurants, retail stores and other brick-and-mortar locations. After setting up an account you can start submitting unlimited promotions up to 160 characters in length. 

These real time deals or updates are delivered to customers who have the Chalkboard ad network app and come within a mile of your location (there’s also a 2-mile option).  When shoppers enter your area, your ads appear automatically on their cell phone screens.  They can then click on the ad to view your promotion, touch a button that automatically dials your business phone, access maps and directions, link to your website or share the information with friends. The service also lets you submit your ad feeds to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

In effect, you can connect instantly with potential customers only in your area. It’s intended to be a simple marketing solution that small businesses can use daily.  So far, local businesses using Chalkboard are updating messages an average of 2-3 times weekly.

Chalkboard offers a 30-day free trial. The basic service allows local businesses to send unlimied numbers of promotinos to unlimited numbers of users for a flat fee starting at $360 per year.