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You are not your customer

Posted by: in General on Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Have you ever said something similar to the following?

Google AdWords is a waste. When I search for something I never look up at the paid boxes.”

“I would never write a company blog. Why would I waste my time writing when I could be out selling?”

Or my personal favorite: “Why would I want to offer a free ebook to download? I don’t even have time to read the newspaper in the morning! I doubt my customers have the time to spare either.”

If you have based your web-based marketing efforts on statements above, then you’ve made one of the biggest mistakes in business marketing: you’ve confused yourself with your customer. Many business owners have fallen victim to the same logic. They believe that because they wouldn’t react to a certain marketing strategy or medium, then their customers wouldn’t either. 

Here’s the bottom line: you are not your customer.

The truth is, you might have a lot in common with your customer. Yet it’s the small differences that can create a big disconnect when it comes to marketing strategies. Just for fun, answer the following questions:

Do you work a 9-5 job yet sell services to small business owners? 

Do you have a “Y” chromosome yet sell to a clientele that is 90% female?

Do you have 5 employees that work for you but sell HR solutions to companies with over 100 staffers?

If you answered “Yes” to any of the above questions, then it’s clear that you are not your customer. Small differences really can make a big difference when it comes to marketing efforts.

While you can guess at what your customers would or wouldn’t respond to, you really don’t know...because you are not your customer. Assessing marketing effectiveness through personal preferences is not the way to go about it. Although, I have to sympathize with you a bit. It’s natural to think that just because I’m passionate about something that everyone else is also.

For example, I hate it when Yellow Pages leaves stacks of phone books on my doorstep. Naturally, I assume that everyone else must hate it equally as much as I do. (If so, I highly recommend opting out here!) Except for one problem: not everyone feels the same way I do. 

...the same is true for you and your customers. Your customers might not feel the same way you do. And that’s okay. Just know that because of these differing opinions and feelings, they may be more open to some marketing tactics that you might not.

The good news in all this is that you don’t have to be your customer to market to your customer. But you do need to make sure you’re viewing the world through their eyes, not your own. Try to take a step back from your own biases and try to think about how your target audience might be different than you. Then, next time you’re met with a new marketing idea, consider how your customer might respond, even if it’s not necessarily an idea that you would consider effective. Really, your new idea might be worth a shot. You may discover that your customers are open to a lot of web-based marketing after all... even though they’re definitely not you.

How to comment on a blog post

Posted by: in General on Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Have you ever considered posting a comment on a blog only to be a bit tongue-tied about what to say?

I'd love to somehow magically bestow on you the courage to try. But if it makes you feel better, the actual act of posting is no more difficult than sending an email. Click on the Comments button at the end of the post and fill out the form. Voila!

Should you decide to venture into this unknown territory, don’t be offended if your comment doesn’t appear right away; some bloggers opt to approve every comment before it’s placed publicly on the page to avoid allowing negative comments to appear.

Why comment?

Commenting on blogs can provide some SEO benefit. Also, being able to answer questions and provide thoughtful feedback on topics helps build trust and credibility, which will help establish you as an expert on the topic. Chances are, if people like what you have to say, they’ll check out your blog in return. In the event that you do post a comment, most likely you’ll make the blog owner’s day: I’ve never met a blogger that didn’t love comments, especially complimentary ones.

But if you’re still not sure how to go about forming your thoughts into a cohesive form and placing it online for the whole world to see, here are a few tips and suggestions to help you get started.

Provide context

You as the commenter innately know what you’re responding to, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s clear to people who will come by the page later. Thus, it’s important to provide context when there are a lot of comments since yours might get separated from the comment you’re directly commenting about. 

For example, instead of posting “Price is important, too!” It’s helpful if you start with some context, like “User 1234 has several good points about how to shop for a new pair of shoes but has missed one important variable” then go on to talk about price. That way, future commenters won’t be confused as to why you started talking about the price of wheat in China on a post that's really about shopping for shoes. 

Give R-E-S-P-E-C-T (“...find out what it means to me!”)

Aretha’s anthem goes far when it comes to commenting on blogs. Ones that start out with “You’re an idiot!” or are laced with profanity are likely going to be dismissed, not to mention put a smudge on your shiny reputation. Now, I’m not saying that the person you’re writing to isn’t an idiot. But there are ways to prove your point that are perhaps a bit more respectful than calling names. A good rule of thumb to keep is to not post anything that you wouldn't say in person; don't hide behind your digital persona. 

Make a point

Comments like “Wonderful!” and “Love it!” have their place. Don’t get me wrong, comments like that on my blog brighten my day faster than a sunrise. But if you want to make a lasting impression and prompt a more meaningful discussion, you might want to give a bit more. Why do you think it’s wonderful? Are there specific reasons you love it? In the event that you disagree, it’s even more imperative to include the reasoning behind it. Correct the person if you need to, but make sure you include facts and where you got your information, even if it’s based on experience.

Know what you’re talking about

I’m amazed by the number of people who admit they have no idea what they’re talking about then go on to make recommendations. I swear I’ve read comments like, “I’ve never gone shoe shopping before, but I think size is more important than price.” (WHAT?!) That kind of comment is not the way to get positive attention from an influential blogger or establish yourself as an expert. 

Keep it simple

People have short attention spans, so even though you may have a manifesto to share, a comment box isn’t the place. A comment should be just that - a comment, not an essay. (If you have that much to say on a topic, perhaps you should start your own blog?)

Link carefully

If you’re posting a comment with the hope of driving traffic to your own site, think carefully before you include a link in your comment. Of course you should put your link if the comment box has a place for it, but leaving a link in the body is a bit more risky. Some people think it’s great marketing, but others tend to think it’s a bit obnoxious. If you decide to do it, make sure you’ve written a thoughtful comment that truly contributes to the conversation, not a useless comment that’s a transparent excuse to leave your link.

Proofread

Finally, always, always, always proofread your thoughts before you post them since most comment boxes don’t include spellcheckers. If you have a lot of typos or misspellings, it undermines your credibility, which is the last thing you want to do. 

Posting comments on blogs and articles can be a fun way to interact with your community. Just make sure you’re providing context, being respectful, making a point, knowing what you’re talking about, keeping it simple, linking carefully, and proofreading your work. 

...if you’ve made it this far, I recommend you practice your new skills by posting a comment on this blog. :)

The correct balance of online and offline marketing

Posted by: in General on Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Here at SpinWeb, we tend to be fans of online marketing, for obvious reasons. We love to focus on things like social media, digital strategy, SEO, and content creation. They can lead to excellent ROI when executed well.

But that doesn’t diminish the value of offline marketing either. Back in the day, people solely relied on billboards, commercials, ads, direct mail, and business cards to get the job done. It worked, and for the most part, it continues to work today.

It doesn’t have to be either/or; the two work best hand in hand. In fact, the synergy created when they work together more than doubles your efforts.

Chances are, your consumers will use multiple channels through the conversion process. They might see a TV ad that references a social media channel. They may use said channel in order to build connections with others sharing that interest/need. From there, they may look up coupons or deals - or take recommendations - online before purchasing, digitally or physically. Whew!

So if you only have a certain amount of time and money to invest in marketing efforts, how do you find the correct balance of offline and online? It can be tricky, but it’s not impossible.

Analyze your company

The answer might be right underneath your nose. That’s right... the correct balance begins by looking at your company. When it comes to marketing, it's not a one-size-fits-all approach. 

Here at SpinWeb, we're a digital agency, so admittedly a lot of our efforts are web-based (duh). Our business lends itself most naturally that way. But that doesn’t mean we ignore offline. We invest in business cards, send Christmas cards, write hand-written thank you notes, and have our sales people beating the pavement. 

Conversely, if you are a small business owner that primarily focuses on offline marketing, we strongly recommend that you still have an online presence. If you need to refresh your website, that's a great place to start! Create a Facebook page and LinkedIn profile. Gather your customers’ email addresses via inbound marketing so you can build a relationship with them over time. 

Even though you might lean toward online (or offline) marketing efforts, it doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate some of both.

Look at your customers

Analyze the majority of your clientele. After all, you would market to a seasoned Baby Boomer with 30+ years experience differently than you would a recent college graduate that is glued to his/her cell phone. 

If your business mostly targets seniors, chances are they may not spend much time on Facebook or check out your LinkedIn page. They would likely be more receptive to a print ad in a newspaper or magazine or a commercial on TV or radio. If your company sells motorcycle tires, Harley riders love to hang out in public places, so you might consider outdoor or bathroom ads - but they also often subscribe to magazines about parts, so an article there might serve you well. 

Now, I’m not saying that in either case your company shouldn’t use social media. On the contrary! We recommend using a 360 degree approach when it comes to communication; integrating online marketing while maintaining traditional communication (hand-written letters, print collateral, etc). 

Duplicate and integrate your efforts

Use your offline marketing efforts to direct customers to your online ones. If you choose to invest in print materials for your customers, always include your website. The same goes for tradeshow collateral and customer brochures. Consider using QR codes on your print materials that directs customers to your mobile-friendly website or better yet, a landing page that prompts them to take another action. Always, always, always maintain your brand colors and fonts throughout all your collateral to build brand trust and identity.

We don’t, however, recommend putting your Facebook URL on your business cards. Let your company speak for itself through its homepage (with the corporate branding your most likely paid a lot of money for), not social media.

Measure effectiveness

Regardless of the methods you choose, we recommend that you document your touchpoints in order to measure effectiveness. (Numbers don’t lie!) That way, you can continue invest your marketing money in the mediums that have proven successful for your business. 

Online and offline marketing may be seen as separate efforts, but they can be combined to create a beautiful mixture. It’s all about integration.

How to conduct content research

Posted by: in General on Thursday, April 4, 2013

When it comes to Inbound Marketing, content is king. If you’re writing video scripts, podcasts, website copy, ebooks or guides, articles or corporate blogs, you know the value of putting some meat on those beautiful bones. Sure, you can easily make a blog or ebook pretty, but if it doesn’t deliver the goods, it's really not worth much to your reader.

Great content is the fuel that drives inbound marketing. If you don’t have high-quality content, you risk diluting your audience's perception of your brand with low quality material...which is the last thing you want to do. 

Whether you’re a local expert or completely ignorant is irrelevant - most likely, your writing would benefit from some solid research. So, where should you start your currently unwritten masterpiece?

Write what you know

We recommend beginning with what you know, especially if you’re passionate about it. Most likely, you have amazing insight into a specific topic that you can share, whether that be in a blog post or e-book. If you’re a business owner that sells European luxury cars, write about how to keep them looking shiny and new. (Your readers will eat it up!) Chances are, you are a wealth of information in your specific field. Think of writing as your opportunity to share it with the world. (“We are the world...”)

...but what if I don’t know anything about my topic? (Reiki...what’s that?) Not everyone is fortunate enough to be an expert on their particular topic. If you don’t happen to know much about your subject, then use it as an opportunity to learn. (How’s that for being positive?)

Search the web

Google and Wikipedia will become your very best friends. (For the record, Wikipedia says that reiki is a Japanese form of energy therapy.) But you should keep in mind that while the Internet may be the most convenient source for data, it may not always be the best. As you likely know, not all websites are created equally. In fact, some information you find out there is just plain wrong. That’s why you need to be particular about where you get your facts. 

Evaluate your sources

If you find an article in The New York Times online edition, that’s obviously a trustworthy source. Traditional publications (books, textbooks, newspapers, scholarly journals, magazines) are usually safe bets. The American Massage Therapy Association website? Perfect! 

But what if you find an article about massage on a personal blog? Even if they give you a perfect quote, avoid the temptation to use it without researching their credibility. If the writer is a local massage therapist, you could probably glean some insight. But if it’s just a random person spouting off about one random massage they had this one time 17 years ago, it may not be the best source for your research. After all, people want to convince you to buy their products, agree with their opinions, rely on their data, vote for their candidate, consider their perspective, and accept them as expects, even when they have no business doing so. All that to say, choose (and filter) wisely as you find sources online. Similar to Santa, you’ll want to get your facts and check it twice (at least)!

Conduct interviews

If you can’t seem to find credible information - or simply desire more - go straight to the source! Returning to our previous reiki example, call up a local massage therapist to see if you could conduct an interview. Check out massage training schools to potentially connect with some of their teachers. By searching on LinkedIn, you might find that you know someone who knows someone who is currently a massage therapist in training. He/She would make a great source!

Do a survey

Surveys are a great way to get the opinion of a larger group of people. It usually consists of a list of simple questions. Just make sure that you tailor your questions to the feedback you really want. There’s obviously no need to ask about their favorite masseuse if you don’t care about their response.If you’re in a time crunch, do a quick survey on Facebook asking if your friends have had a massage. Or - if they haven’t - ask why not? It’s a great way to get some data to back up your points. (Get it? I said “back,” and we’re talking about massages.) 

We know it can be overwhelming to sift through so many sources of information, but it can lead you down a path of discovering just the right nugget of wisdom that can transform your writing. By having solid research behind your content, you are increasing its value, which means that you will likely end up with higher search engine rankings in the end. And isn’t that what inbound marketing is all about?

Happy researching!

Cloud hosting in plain English

Posted by: in General on Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Put it in the cloud!" This seems to be the battle cry of the decade as more and more organizations are moving to a cloud-based hosting structure. At SpinWeb, we make use of cloud-based website hosting to serve our clients and we sometimes get questions about it.

One of our trusted hosting partners is Verio, and so we decided to sit down with Fred White, VP of Product Management at Verio, for some answers. We think you'll find our conversation illuminating!

SpinWeb: How do you define cloud hosting?

Fred: Verio would generally define Cloud Hosting as convenient, on-demand access to a shared pool of computing resources that enables users to leverage servers, storage, and apps anywhere in the world, any time. However, we internally believe that Cloud Hosting is really about making high-quality, scalable, and reliable resources available at a price people can afford and at a very high level of customer satisfaction.

SpinWeb: Why are some people still confused about what cloud hosting means?

Fred: It’s understandable that there are so many different notions about Cloud. For nearly a decade, there has been enormous hype around the concept of Cloud, and endless ideas have been presented about the benefits that it can provide. This is actually a good thing: the public discussion has been a very effective way to move Cloud innovations forward, and it also provides a strong incentive to deliver solid solutions. So, while people are still confused, the reality is that Cloud Hosting and Cloud Services in general are becoming absolutely pervasive, and it almost won’t matter in a short period of time because virtually all hosted services will be some variant of “Cloud.”

I’m not sure if that means the term “Cloud” will go away over time – after all, it’s not like you hear a lot of people talking about Application Service Providers anymore even though that was the hot sector for quite a while, but they are still all over the place (as “Cloud” providers, mainly) and we just take the term for granted – but it really will become more trivial because so much of what we do in our personal and professional lives will happen “in the Cloud.”

SpinWeb: What is the biggest misconception about cloud hosting?

Fred: There seem to be a lot of worries around security with Cloud. The fact is that most of your data is already stored on servers in a datacenter today, and Cloud doesn’t change that. What does change is that Cloud usually means you get high availability, high durability, and overall better management and maintenance of servers. For most users, this means improved security with Cloud vs. traditional servers.

SpinWeb: How do you know if you need cloud hosting?

Fred: Cloud is perfect for companies who are technology-dependent, but not technology-centric. So, if you want to focus more on your business and less on the technology you need to run it, Cloud-based solutions are a great option for you.

SpinWeb: What are the biggest advantages of cloud hosting over traditional web hosting?

Fred: The biggest advantage of Cloud is that you can “outsource” much of your IT. Cloud enables you to get rid of the ongoing overhead associated with running your own network, hardware, and even applications. With Cloud, you go to a specialist (a Service Provider who knows what it takes to keep things moving) so that you can spend your valuable time growing your business, not your IT department.

SpinWeb: What are some of the biggest disadvantages of cloud hosting?

Fred: Perhaps the biggest problem for the current state of the industry is providers who aren’t willing to admit that not every workload is appropriate for the Cloud, and they try to force solutions that just aren’t in the customer’s best interest.

A classic example is an environment where very large files are worked on collaboratively – so think a graphic design firm or an architect’s office. In that kind of environment, having everything on a very fast, local area network is more appealing than having to rely on an external network or an internet connection. The performance simply won’t be appealing to the end-user. Now, that isn’t to say that there aren’t still some great use cases in for these situations – like long-term file retention as an example – but for real-time collaboration on large files, Cloud would be cumbersome. This will change over time as quality, high-speed connectivity is available pervasively, but can present a problem in the short-term.

SpinWeb: Besides Verio, who is doing cloud hosting really well?

Fred: A lot of service providers are doing a great job of Cloud: Amazon, SoftLayer, Rackspace and more are providing solid Cloud Hosting. This is another great thing about Cloud: you don’t need to be limited to one service provider, because Cloud is more of an ecosystem. You can find providers whose strengths match your needs, and even combine solutions between providers.

SpinWeb: What types of organizations are typically showing up as "early adopters" of cloud hosting?

Fred: Technically-oriented business, such as application developers and MSPs seem to be the first to the starting line. However, many more general businesses are beginning to see the benefit of outsourcing their IT as well.

SpinWeb: What is the future of cloud hosting?

Fred: A lot of the solutions that companies pay big money to have as part of their IT today will become available to smaller players. Because the tools you have at your disposal can help you run a more efficient business, this can be big news. It can begin to level the playing field for SMBs who want to grow but don’t have the time, budget, or tools at their disposal today.

SpinWeb: Anything else you would like to add?

Fred: Our focus has always been on the SMB market -- and particularly the partners who service this market.  We have been fortunate to have our partners provide input on Cloud over the past several years – and continue to provide input – to help us shape our future Cloud development.  We see our partners changing their approach to business and solutions with the increased adoption of Cloud Hosting and look forward to working with partners in the future to help them adopt this technology as a standard part of their business.  

Fred WhiteAs Vice President of Product Management, Fred White leads all of Verio's product initiatives including its core service offering as well as identifying and evaluating emerging technologies for inclusion in the company's future product portfolio. With almost two decades of success in bridging business and technology, White works collaboratively with Verio's customers and partners worldwide to ensure the delivery of innovative, market leading solutions that meet both current business requirements as well as future business growth.