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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.

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. 

ShopKick is Next Big Thing in Local Social Commerce

Remember this name: ShopKick. You’re about to starting seeing a lot more of it. ShopKick is a new mobile application that tracks and rewards customers with points (called KickBucks) just for walking into your store. Think of it as a new digital way to easily drive foot traffic into your location. 

Customers earn additional points for picking up and scanning the barcode on an item in your store using their smartphone’s camera and, of course, for making purchases. The more involved with your store a shopper becomes, the more KickBucks they can earn. It’s like a digital version of the old-style repeat-purchase punch card, but with vastly more capabilities.  

KickBucks can then be redeemed for rewards such as discounts, gift cards, merchandise and charitable donations. Consumers simply download the free ShopKick app to their smartphones and start looking for nearby stores and restaurants offering “Kicks Rewards.” The ShopKick FAQ section helps explain in detail how the app works from the customer’s point of view.

ShopKick is amazingly simple and – apparently – effective as well.  Several big retailers such as Crate & Barrel, American Eagle, Macy’s and Target began experimenting with it in 2010.  Best Buy, the electronics big box giant, likes it so much it recently rolled it out nationwide.

The big news, however, is that ShopKick has just launched a pilot program to begin offering the service to local businesses in 11 cities and metro areas, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Seattle, Washington, DC, Detroit and New Orleans. Initially, 1,000 local businesses will be selected to participate and will get the service free for a year.

While any local business can apply for free, the preferred types of businesses for the experimental program are coffee shops, yogurt shops, bakeries, family restaurants and local clothing boutiques.  Other factors in your favor include these:  You have less than 20 locations are located in a shopping area, have a good Yelp rating and a distinctive store design.  Citibank is picking up the tab for the pilot program, and clearly sees big things ahead for ShopKick. Citi officials see it as an exciting new retail program that local businesses can use to help them connect with customers in their communities.  

A New Local Mobile Frontier

The huge growth of mobile commerce via smart phones is fueling Palo Alto, CA-based ShopKick and will change how customers interact with a local business. Already, about 20% of consumers use their mobile phones to check prices, according to a recent Booz & Company study. As smartphone penetration more than doubles over the next 3-4 years, that figure is expected to soar as well.  Booz & Co. also predicts that purchases made directly from mobile devices will more than triple by 2014.

It creates a new personalized experience for customers to tap into when shopping at local merchants.  And according to BIA Kelsey, which tracks local marketing trends, ShopKick is already available in 2,500 big retailer locations and 160 malls nationwide.

In short, ShopKick is a new retail technology that – for the first time – starts to meld the previously separate worlds of selling either online or offline.  Armed with their app-equipped mobile devices, customers can now exist simultaneously in both the digital and physical shopping worlds.

ShopKick, founded in 2009, has high-powered venture capital funding, and counts Kleiner Perkins, Greylock Partners and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman among its backers.

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

10 Tips for a Great Customer Call to Action

A call to action (CTA) is one of the most critical parts of any marketing message, whether it’s delivered by email, direct mail, on your website, Facebook page or any other way.  A call to action should spur the customer or prospect to take the next step (call, click, stop by, download, “like,” tell a friend, etc).

But many businesses create ineffective calls to action – or worse, none at all. “Call us” or “Click here” are CTA wimps.  They offer no information or customer motivation. Call who, why? What happens if I click?  What’s in it for me?

A strong CTA makes it clear what action the customer is expected to take, and why.  Your approach depends on the action you want to motivate. For example, if the goal is to spur a purchase, and you’ve already communicated benefits, a simple “Buy Now!” might be all you need.  Here are 10 tips for creating strong calls to action:

  1. Set the table first: A call to action works best when customers are properly prepped.  Start by identifying the problem (the pain), and explaining why your product or service solves it.  The benefits you offer can become part of your call to action.
  2. Make it stand out.  In a letter or text email, for example, the CTA can be in larger type, color or bold. On a website or blog it can be designed into a colorful button.  Performable, a web analytics company (now part of HubSpot), has an online tool called the Super Conversion Button Builder that lets you create your own customized call to action button for free.
  3. Offer incentives:  Consider a sweetener, such as a discount or free gift as a reward for heeding your call to action.  For example, instead of saying merely “Join our mailing list” your CTA could be “Join our mailing list and receive a 15% off coupon.” 
  4. Avoid scary terms. Instead of asking people to “Register” or “Subscribe,” (both can be scary), try friendlier terms such as “Receive updates” or “Stay connected.”  Make it about them, not you.
  5. Keep it clear and simple: Avoid surrounding your call to action with too many choices. Keep the mental effort required by customers to a minimum.  For example, presenting three action choices such as “View Demo,” “Get more Information” and “Buy Now” all in the same place will likely reduce response.
  6. Feast on QR codes:  Used properly, a QR code can be a great CTA supplement. But don’t leave a QR code “naked.” Include an adjacent message that explains it, such as “Scan this code for a 3-D product photo.”
  7. Place your CTA early and high:  Small businesses typically place their call to action at the bottom of a page.  The best place, however, is high on the page, and in a central place where the eye can easily see it, not off to the side.
  8. Use links liberally: Always link logos and product photos to your desired landing page or shopping cart.  And don’t forget to label your photos with descriptive “ALT” tags. This stands for “alternative text” which will appear in someone’s browser or email if the image is not available.
  9. Be strategic: When creating your CTAs, don’t think in terms of a single offer or campaign.  Try to create calls to action that can be part of your overall marketing plan.  That way, the same ones can be used in a variety of circumstances.
  10. Follow through:  Having a great CTA still isn’t enough.  You also have to consider what happens if the customer or prospect does what you’ve asked. It is vital to deliver the proper response quickly – an order confirmation, thank you note, email, or other action on your part that keeps the customer moving down the purchase, or repeat-purchase path. A great way to do that is by using a web-based service such as Nimble that lets you quickly and easily connect with customers and contacts on all of your social media platforms.

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