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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.

Why should I care about Google+?

Posted by: in General on Thursday, March 28, 2013

We've been getting lots of questions lately about Google+. Questions like: "do I need to be on Google+?" and "What are your thoughts on Google+?"

It's understandable that you might be fatigued with the thought of joining yet another social network and then keeping up with it. Sounds dreadful, right?

Maybe. While no one should feel obligated to join this network or that network, there is value in being informed so you can make a good decision about how to spend your time in marketing.

What is Google+?

Let's start with the basics. Google+ is a social network from Google. Plain and simple. Ok, there's more to it than that but if you're looking for a very basic explanation, that will do. You can post status updates, photos, links, comments, and videos – just like that other popular social network out there.

So, if you're looking for another social network to keep up with... here you go! No? Well, let's dig deeper.

How Google+ affects your business visibility

If you genuinely like Google+ and you find it fun to hang out on, then go for it. You're all set. However, if you like most marketing pros and business leaders, you're probably more interested in how it can help your business.

There is one main reason to care about this network from a business standpoint, and it's spelled SEO. Your search engine rankings can play a big part in your visibility as an organization, especially in the B2B market. Many organizations spend thousands of dollars per month and lots of time in order to try to push their rankings higher in Google's search results for targeted keywords.

Social signals have played a part in search rankings for a while now, but the game is changing (again) to favor individual authors more heavily in the mix of signals. AuthorRank is Google's way of taking some weight away from PageRank (based on the organization's overall score) and onto actual people – which actually makes a lot of sense.

People want to work with people that they know, like, and trust. This has been true since the dawn of time. This is why I love AuthorRank. It gets back to basics and creates a world where companies can't simply throw lots of money and time at SEO and achieve great (and sometimes undeserved) rankings. Instead, we are entering a world where individual people have to contribute value. The philosophy then becomes an adaptation: people want to work with and learn from people they know, like, and trust.

What does this mean for you? It means no more hiding behind your logo and corporate brand. Smart organizations are learning how to nurture the online profiles of their sales people, their marketing team, and their executives. These individuals must learn to produce content and value and be a trusted resource in the virtual world.

And since Google owns Google+, is there any doubt which network it will favor most?

This quote from Eric Schmidt sums it up nicely:

"Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance."

An eye toward collaboration

Google+ also has a strong focus on business collaboration. The Hangout feature is shaking up the world of collaboration by making group video conferencing free, easy, and fun. Hangouts can be accessed from virtually (no pun intended) any device, such as computer, tablet, or smart phone. The quality is surprisingly good and this tool is helping small groups, committees, and boards save time and money by meeting virtually.

Google+ Communities are also allowing organizations to create private spaces for collaboration internally or with customers/members. We're running a community right now for Inbound Marketing Academy, which allows our participants to share ideas and start ad-hoc video hangouts to collaborate.

Is Google+ right for you?

Bottom line: there is no one size fits all recommendation when it comes to marketing. We have many clients who are very successful completely ignoring a particular social network while others get 25% of their business from it. It depends on your goals, your business, and your target market.

Whatever you decide, it's important to understand how Google is positioning this social network. I would ask the following questions:

  1. Is search engine visibility important to my business?
  2. Am I in a business in which personal relationships are valued?
  3. Am I willing to build a team of highly visible people?

If you feel positive about all of these points, I would recommend carving out some time to include Google+ in your strategy. If you do, circle me and hit me up for a hangout sometime. I'd love to chat.

Image credit: AHMAD FAIZAL YAHYA / Shutterstock.com

Best practices for a killer mobile website [Slide Deck]

Posted by: in General on Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at CJ McClanahan's RLS program, as well as the Revenue North Conference. The topic? Mobile website best practices.

By now, it should be clear that mobile is a significant part if your marketing stragy. According to a study by Google and Nielsen on mobile web, 55% of purchase-related conversions happen within one hour of a mobile search.

It should be apparent that if you are not making it easy for your website visitors to navigate your website on a smart phone, you are likely losing customers.

We covered a lot of great points during the presentation and I appreciate all who attended. Below is the slide deck for reference. Enjoy!

 

If you like, you can also download a PDF of this presention on mobile websites. Feel free to share it with your team.

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