Small Business Marketing in the Throes of a Pandemic

When the world does a 360, everything you thought you knew becomes questionable.

In the grips of a frightening pandemic, advertising might be the last thing you’re thinking about. But businesses still need to be on their toes.

You simply can’t ignore campaigns you’ve been running because, odds are, the messaging needs adjusting. And if you don’t acknowledge the new normal, you’re going to look bad. Really bad.

See our latest video about companies that are thriving despite Covid-19.

The Good, The Bad & The Clueless

I’ve been watching way too much television since the pandemic.started.. But part of it is marketing research. I’m curious as to how businesses are handling messaging during the pandemic. Some are ignoring it and doing advertising as usual. Others are either creating new ads or tweaking existing ad campaigns to reflect what’s going on in the world at the moment.

Ad Age took a look at 7 brands whose ads coincided with Covid-19.

Norwegian Cruise Lines stands out for horrendous timing. There’s not much else to say about it ……other than I’ll never take another cruise. Will you?

Here are a few companies doing a great job of adapting their messaging to fit the current climate:

Ford
Their commercials are reassuring, offering payment relief for Ford Credit customers. The director of U.S. marketing for Ford Motor Co. said: “It’s important to be reassuring right now and not trying to say to people ‘Rush into your car dealership for a sales event.’ ”

Nike
Nike’s new campaign focuses on social distancing and staying inside. Play inside, play for the world.” Perfect.

Hyundai
Hyundai  replaced their previously scheduled campaign with new spots touting the Hyundai Assurance Job Loss Protection program which defers payments for people who recently bought or leased a car and lost their job during a certain timeframe.

Toyota
Toyota’s new campaign reassures viewers that they’re “here for you now and in all the better days ahead .”

The examples above show how smart marketing teams pivot and respond during a crisis. They’re proactive and they speak to the fears and needs of viewers.

In return, we feel like these brands really give a damn. And when life returns to normal, these brands will be top of mind.

Look to the Businesses that are Marketing Smart

So what can small businesses learn from how big firms are handling their advertising campaigns during a crisis? Here are 4 key takeaways:

  1. Be compassionate. Don’t try to do business as usual when nothing is as usual. Empathize with your audience. Let them know you understand (and share) their fears.
  2. Be authentic. If you want customer loyalty, give them a reason to be loyal. People can usually see through phoniness. If your company has run some ads that ignored the tragic state of the world, acknowledge the error. Apologize and move on. We’re a very forgiving people. You’ll have another chance.
  3. Be trustworthy. Can customers depend on your company’s products or services? Make sure you give them a reason to trust you. This does more for brand loyalty than almost anything else. ‘
  4. Be creative. What can you do to help customers and potential customers notice you, and hopefully, want to give you business down the road? Start by letting them know you’re here to help. Whatever it is they’re going through, be a resource.

Sadly, many small businesses will not survive the coronavirus. So while we’re all stuck inside, now is the perfect time to do what you can to make sure yours is one that does.

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How to Market During Troubling Times

man sitting at computer with his head in his hands

Building a business is challenging enough when the economy is strong. But we’re currently in the throes of a pandemic and on the brink of a recession and this is something none of us have ever seen before.

Small business owners don’t know if they’ll be able to survive the next few months. So what can you do when you can’t open your retail business or restaurant or office where you meet with customers face-to-face?

This is a time to be super proactive. Sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to turn around is not an option. Rather, use this forced quarantine as a time to get creative with your marketing.

Here are eight easy-to-implement tips designed to stay in touch with customers so you don’t lose them.

  1.  Market consistently. You want to maintain visibility. It’s important to keep your name out in the marketplace – even if it’s only virtual. Never give your customers a chance to forget about you.
  2.  Focus on your customers’ needs. Some of them are obvious now – food, shelter, business support, and the personal services we can no longer get (anyone need a haircut?). But never assume. Ask your customers what they need and how you can help. Let them know you’re still there for them.
  3. Make customer care a priority. A positive customer experience may be the difference between keeping a customer or losing her to a competitor. Vow to make every customer experience a positive one.
  4. Keep your marketing message consistent. Don’t keep changing who you are. Not only does that muddy your brand, but it confuses your customers.
  5. Don’t ignore what’s going on and pretend it’s business as usual. Nothing is as usual right now. Acknowledge that. If you’re a brick & mortar shop and can offer e-commerce, do it. Some sales are better than no sales. If you can’t sell online, what CAN you do? Could you offer online seminars or webinars? What about coaching? Get creative about alternative ways to bring in money.
  6. Find a WOW” about your business. If you can’t find one, create one. It’s the reason customers talk about your shop or your services. One-of-a-kind products. Custom designs. Styles that are always a few steps ahead of the current trends. Consistently outstanding customer service. What makes your company special?
  7. Read Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill. It’s a great book that explains what triggers peoples’ “need that” button.
  8. Don’t get discouraged. Well, try not to. Our economy is cyclical. The stock market always comes back. Yes, even from devastating losses like we’re seeing now.

Hopefully, your business will come back as well. But in the current economy, you need to hustle to make that happen.

If we can help, let us know. In the meantime, stay safe.

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Our small business community can beat this!

The coronavirus has impacted how we live and work.

Schools are closed. Restaurants and bars, too, except for delivery or pickup (at least in Illinois). Appointments that aren’t critical are being postponed. Our world is getting much smaller.

It seems the entire country is working from home for the next few weeks. Savvy companies like Google and Zoho are making that easier to do with free productivity tools. Remotely from Zoho was developed in just one week. Google is offering access to their advanced Hangouts Meet feature to all Education and G Suite customers until July 1st. 

Since it’s  not going to be business as usual for a while, we’ve been thinking about how companies can put this quarantine to good use. Cause we’re going to beat this!

 If you’re a small business owner or a solopreneur, this might be the perfect time to catch up on your marketing. Updating email lists. Creating an inventory of blog posts. Checking in with customers to see how they’re managing. And updating your website, which seems to be a stumbling block for many overwhelmed small business owners who never seem to be able to catch up. Here’s your chance. 

A Robust Marketing Tool
Your website should be your most robust marketing tool. According to Blue Corona, here are two reason why:   

  1.  97% of consumers go online to find a local business or local services.
  2.  Studies show that between 70-80% of people research a company online BEFORE visiting the small business or making a purchase with them.

Think about it. If your website hasn’t been updated with fresh content, new products and security fixes, you’re probably giving away business at a time when more and more people are online working remotely. Especially when we’re quarantined and looking for things to buy.

Amazon just announced that they’re hiring 100,000 workers to keep up with online deliveries. Give you any ideas?

What can you do?

Keeping a website fresh is actually not very difficult if you know what to do. It’s time consuming, however. So why not use this forced stay-at-home time to work on it.

Here’s a checklist of four things you need to do keep your website working for you:

  1.  Add new content regularly.
    Blogging is a great way to keep content fresh. A regular blogging schedule lets Google know to crawl your site on an ongoing basis.
  2.  Keep your site secure.
    Think only large companies fall prey to cyberattacks? Think again.According to Accenture, 43% of cyberattacks are aimed at small businesses. And of that number, only 14% are prepared to defend themselves.Cyberattacks now cost companies $200,000 on average, putting many out of business. Make sure you install ongoing security updates. It’s not enough to just do it when your site is new. Hackers are constantly finding new ways to break in. So it’s critical that your site is protected with the latest technology.
  3. Keep your site optimized.
    Much like the security issues, algorithm changes affect search functionality.  So your keywords and phrases should be refreshed regularly. Don’t let your competition push you to the bottom of a search page.
  4. Never assume.
    As a business owner, you can’t afford to take things for granted. Periodically check your website to see how it appears on different size screens. A site that looks great on a desktop may look wonky on a cell phone.If there’s a problem with responsiveness, you want to be the first one to find it. You don’t want to hear it from  a client.

If you’re reading this and feeling that bringing your website up-to-speed is still not something you have time (or the interest) to do, contact us. We can handle your website management so you can spend your time doing something else to drive business. 

Because as scary as the current business outlook appears at the moment, eventually the coronavirus will be knocked out and life will resume. 

Hopefully, we will all come out of this experience safe and sound…… and wiser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why I won’t open your emails. Ever.  

My inbox is still overflowing with post-holiday savings, offers and other errata. You’re probably dealing with the same email overload.

No surprise when you consider that the average office worker receives 120 emails every day (source: TechJury).  Who has time to look at all of this?

If you’re like most people, you scan your inbox looking for important emails – from clients, colleagues, key business journals and resources you’ve subscribed to. The rest of the email gets ignored or trashed.

I write email subject lines as part of the content development work I do.  So I’m always on the prowl for clever copy. A good way to discover subject lines that work is to take note of the ones you open vs. the ones you ignore or delete. What is it about them that sparks your curiosity?

What Makes A Good Subject Line?

A good subject line speaks to a need, want or desire. Something to make you say “Yep. I need that.” A lousy subject line, on the other hand, speaks to nothing. It’s boring. Blah. Nondescript.

Here are some actual subject lines that went immediately into my trash bin last week:

  • This is for rickey
  • Your request has been granted
  • We Need Your Confirmation ASAP!
  • what I’ll do for you
  • Next Steps
  • How are you doing?
  • You are so Kind and Down to Earth.
  • Happiness
  • Please Please Forgive me
  • Hello from the other side…
  • I’m personally asking…
  • I have one question

As you can see, none of them speak to a need or want. Most are stupid.There’s not a single reason for me to open any of these. So I didn’t.

Subject Lines That Work

On the other hand, here are some subject lines that caught my eye and got my click…..and why:

WIN: A Yoast plugin of your choice
Why? I use Yoast. It’s an SEO tool that I like a lot. A free plugin would be lovely. Actually. I click on ALL emails from Yoast. Their products helps me do a better job of optimizing web content.

Nice, You’ve Earned A Reward
Why: The sender is Kriser’s Natural Pet. The reward is a $10 voucher on products or services. I have a dog. We like and use Kriser’s food, grooming and daycare services. Who doesn’t like rewards!

Here’s your year in music, all wrapped up
Why: It’s from Spotify – my favorite source for streaming music. It was a kick to see the 754 different songs I listened to last year.

Anatomy of a Unicorn Business and How to Become One
Why: I’ve heard the term but don’t know much about it and am eager to learn more. The sender, Small Business Trends, is one I subscribe to because I know I’ll always learn something new.

This exercise can boost your memory by 30%
Why: The sender, mindbodygreen, is a good source of articles on living healthier. Who doesn’t want to live healthier?

PW#709 – How to make more time for writing
Why: As I mentioned before, I’m a writer. I ALWAYS need more time to write. I subscribe to this — Daphne Gray-Grant’s Power Writing newsletter. I learn something new from every issue.

Rickey, these 7 videos will transform your business ??
Why: I’m on the  sender’s email list. Denise Wakeman is a super knowledgeable online marketing pro. I am always eager to learn about new or better tools and tactics to grow my businesses.

Obviously,  emails that come from trusted sources — business associates, clients, colleagues — will generally get opened despite the subject line. These people are already in your database of valued senders.    But for everyone else, your subject line needs a hook.

6 Tips To Help You Write Better Subject Lines

If this is the year you’ve vowed to ramp up your email marketing, keep these 6 tips in mind:

  1. Spend time on your subject line. It’s the difference between your email getting opened or trashed.
  2. Make it clever or creative, ideally both.
  3. Speak to the needs or wants of your recipients.
  4. Create a sense of urgency.
  5. Keep it brief.
  6. Segment your lists for your various target markets.

For more info on ramping up your emails, here’s a blog post we wrote last year on how to create effective marketing campaigns.

And if you still need help, call us.

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 20 Ways to Jumpstart 2020

A new decade dawning. Does it feel newer than a regular old middle-of-the-decade new year? Probably not. But why not use it for what it is – a beginning — the start of a calendar year. And as good a time as any to think about how you can jumpstart your business.

Based on our combined 50+ years in business, we offer the following 20 ideas for making 2020 your best year yet:

  1. Focus on focusing. Don’t try and accomplish more than you can reasonably accomplish. Better to do a few things really well than a bunch of things half-assed.
  2. If you make a mistake, move on. If you’re lucky enough to be in business long enough, you’ll make lots. That’s how we learn!
  3. Surround yourself with smart people.
  4. LEARN from the smart people around you.
  5. Hire people with the skills you don’t have. So you can focus on what you do best.
  6. Learn to network. If you already know how, finesse your skills.
  7. Master a new skill. Or a few. Podcasting. Speaking gigs. Seminars. Blogging. All meant to increase your visibility and put you in front of new audiences (and potential clients).
  8. Ask for help. No one knows everything there is to know about an industry. Learn from people who know what you don’t.
  9. Think about mentoring someone. You will get back at least as much as you give.
  10. Take vacations. You need a business break now and then. Working a 7-day week will not make your business better. It WILL make you burn out faster.
  11. Volunteer. Get out of your own head and share your time to help others — local community organizations, homeless shelters, rescue organizations, foodbanks….the list is endless.
  12. Read. A lot. Not just business books but all kinds of books. The more you read, the better you write. And the easier it is to solve problems.
  13. Exercise. A little every day if you can. Not necessarily lifting weights or running. Walking works too. Anything that gets you up and moving and not thinking about work problems.
  14. Get more sleep. We’re not going to quote all the studies but you KNOW that you operate better on a decent night’s sleep.
  15. Take some risks. If you want to grow, you need to step out of that safe circle. There’d be no inventions if the inventors hadn’t decided to find a better way.
  16. Be pro-active. The last decade has seen far too many businesses suffer because new technology made their products or services obsolete (thanks, Amazon). Don’t ever get too comfortable.
  17. Treat your employees like the critical business assets they are. And if they’re not, let them go.
  18. If you don’t have a solid email program, stop wasting your database and make this the year you nurture your soft connections.
  19. If you’ve avoided social media (yep, we’ve seen companies that are still waiting to see if it works!), time to jump in. Be smart. Learn one platform well and then add others. Or hire someone who knows how to do it.
  20.  If your budget allows, bring in experts to do the things you can’t do, don’t want to do or need help with.

If you only implement a few of these 20 ideas, you’re bound to see some success.

And if you need help with anything web, digital or marketing-related, give us a call. We’re looking to grow your business too.

 

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Why your presentations suck and what to do about that.

Ever wonder how effective your PowerPoint presentations are? What if you discover that the format you’ve been using is all wrong?

Inc Magazine recently published an intriguing article by Geoffrey James claiming that PowerPoint is “worse than useless”.

It brings to mind a presentation I received several years ago when I was lining up speakers for some seminars I was leading. I didn’t know what to do when a speaker submitted a 50-page PowerPoint deck for her 30-minute slot. My eyes glazed over as I scanned through it. Most of it text and bullet points, not images.

I could see heads nodding just thinking about it. We had the speaker condense it as much as we could, but it was not one of the highlights of the seminar.

Rather, the talk that received the best rating was one where the wifi went out a few minutes into it (every speaker’s nightmare). This speaker used extensive knowledge of his topic and a warm, engaging personality to capture everyone’s attention.

So how do you ensure that your presentation is well received? I present bullet points 2 and 9 in this smart article from Presentation Prep titled “10 Most Common Presentation Mistakes”. Supported by this quick read from Inc Magazine contributor Jessica Stillman titled “A TED Coach’s 5 Best Tips for PowerPoint Slides That Won’t Put Your Audience to Sleep.” #5 is particularly appealing.

If you’ve been using slides in your presentations and notice heads nodding, what can you do?

Think about the best presentations you’ve attended. They’re probably the ones you remember. What stands out in your mind? Pretty slides? Probably not.

I’m not suggesting that you never use slides. In some cases….like a talk on photography….. they can be used very effectively. But I am suggesting that you use them sparingly — as support for what you’re saying rather than something to read from. Blah blah blah……

The best presentations are those where the speaker knows how to engage her audience. The ones you leave thinking “that was terrific” or “I want to hear more from this person”. Followed by feeling you need to:

  • Visit their website
  • Follow them on social media
  • Set up a coffee date.

In other words, the best presentations are teasers. They leave you wanting more. They’re new business drivers — the best kind of marketing tools you can find.

Next time you’re preparing for a presentation, try these 7 tips:

  1. Focus on how you can engage your audience. This might depend on who you’re speaking to. Men respond differently than women. Professions and type of industry also impact your presentation style. If you’re speaking to a group of brain surgeons, your tone and demeanor will be much different than a talk to event planners or yoga instructors.
  2. See how quickly you can get their attention. Think about what your audience needs. What can you give them that will help them work better, smarter, faster?Some speakers start with a question or two asking exactly that. Statements like “did you know?” or “have you ever tried….?” or “you know how you feel when…..?” come to mind. Why? Because they speak to problems you’ve had or entice you with a better way to solve something that’s always driven you a bit crazy.
  3. Ask your audience to take notes. You don’t just want them to listen. You want them to participate. With paper and pen, not digitally. The brain/hand connection has been well documented. Studies suggest that “Writing by hand strengthens the learning process”.
  4. Be authentic and likeable. We’re generally more engaged when we feel that we like the person we’re listening to.
  5.  Use humor (assuming the topic isn’t a very serious one). Laughing or smiling warms up a room and helps people relax. When we’re relaxed, we’re more receptive to listening – even if we don’t necessarily agree with the person speaking.
  6. Use handouts.  Preferably have them on the seats or tables at the start of your talk. That way, the audience can get an idea of what you’re going to be talking about. And they can use the handout to take notes.You might also include a “how’d I do?” form for people to rate your presentation. That lets them know you give a damn and want them to come away having learned something new or at least thought provoking.
  7. Close with a thank you. And a call-to-action for next steps.
    For example:
  • Feel free to call, text, email me with any questions you may have
  •  Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram
  • Sign up for my newsletter, podcast, etc.

Try these tips as you prepare for your next presentation and we’re betting you’ll have an engaged and smiling audience.

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Are you wasting your time sending emails?

You’ve decided it’s time to do an email campaign. So you buy a list, craft what you believe to be a good email letter and send it out. But when you look at the stats, you’re less than thrilled. Minimal opens. A lousy click through rate. ZERO conversions. What happened?

Let’s look at some possibilities:

  1. The list you purchased is ineffective.
  2. Your subject line is….yawn…..boring. Delete. Delete. Delete.
  3. You buried the lead. Get to the point before the reader drags your message to the trash.
  4. The tone of your letter is too formal.
  5. The tone of your letter is too casual.
  6. You missed some typos.
  7. There’s no call to action.

Any of these seem relevant? If so, here’s what you can do so your next email campaign isn’t a bust.

  • Save your moneyAccording to Hubspot, good email lists aren’t for sale. They suggest creating your own email list (we heartily agree) and this article gives you some good tips on how to do that.
  • Come up with subject lines that beg to be opened.  Pay attention to the emails you open. What are the subject lines that you simply must click on? That’s what you’re aiming for.

If you’re not a good writer, hire a copywriter. Your subject line should be enticing. It should either speak directly to your target market’s pain point or be clever enough that a prospect is curious to read more.   

For example:
Are cash flow worries keeping you up at night?
Do you know why your competitors are stealing away your clients?
3 things potential customers want that your company isn’t providing

  • Don’t waste a reader’s time. Everyone’s busy. Get to the point quickly. And make it easy to read by writing short paragraphs and breaking content up with subheads. Think of what you can do so the recipient can easily scan the entire letter. That increases the chances of being read.
  • Lose the formal language and infuse some warmth into your copy. The beauty of emails is that they are efficient direct marketing tools. You are speaking one-to-one with the reader. Actually, “you’re speaking one-to-one” is appropriate. It’s the perfect opportunity to write as though you were speaking face-to-face. 
  • Don’t be overly casual. Here’s an exception to the bullet above.  If the email is going to a recipient in a market where casual language is inappropriate (i.e. the FBI or legal entities), your copy should be straightforward. But not stuffy. You can still be human in your writing.
  • Make sure there are no typos. Typos are sloppy. They make an immediate bad impression. That’s why smart job seekers have multiple people review their resumes. It’s not just spelling errors, or the wrong word (e.g., “their / they’re / there”) but punctuation mistakes as well.

We make sure that three sets of eyes proof copy before anything goes out or gets published. Even then, we’ve had a few instances where we missed something. Believe me, you’ll be more careful the next time.

  • Call-to-action. If you’ve done a good job and your email gets read, be sure to lead the recipient to the next step.  Add a call-to-action so she knows what you want her to do. Or a “this is what we will do next”.

For example:

Let me know which of these dates/times work best for you to talk.
Which of our 3 free whitepapers would you like me to send you?
I’ll give you a call next week to set up a meeting.

I’ll add a few more tips:

  • Make sure your email speaks to the needs/wants/hopes of the recipient. That requires truly understanding their pain point.
  • Include backup. Use testimonials from happy clients to support your claims about how you can help this prospect.
  • Use color, white space and/or a graphic to make emails more visually appealing. Big chunks of copy are intimidating which means they probably won’t get read.

Who said email campaigns were easy?

Email campaigns can be challenging to pull off.  A 2018 Mailchimp survey showed the average email open rate was less than 21%. This was across the board for all industries they looked at.

That’s a whole lot of wasted effort as far as we’re concerned.  Our average open rate is 32%. That’s well above the average but we’re still aiming for higher.

Call us if your emails aren’t getting opened. We’d love to help you!  

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Marketing Morsel: How clear is your brand voice?

Are you satisfied with your brand voice?

Not sure? Ask yourself these 5 questions:is your brand voice clear?

  1. Does your brand voice accurately reflect your business?
  2. Does the personality of your business come through clearly in your marketing?
  3. Does your marketing message define what’s unique about your business?
  4. Can potential customers tell exactly what you do from your website home page?
  5. Are you proud of the way your brand voice presents (and represents) your company?

If you answered no to any of the above, it’s time to buff up your brand voice. Because a compelling brand voice can be the difference between being memorable or mediocre.

 

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4 Top Tips to Better Content

hands typing on a keyboard

Today’s small business owner faces a big challenge. Digital noise surrounds us online — offers, freebies, surveys, endless articles. Getting your content read is more and more difficult. What can you do to make sure people see and share your content?

Here are 4 easy tips to make that happen:

  1. Focus on the benefit. How does your company help your target market? Think about the problem your products or services solve. Then tell visitors to your site exactly how that works. Don’t assume they’ll “figure it out” by reading your copy all the way through. That’s a crap shoot. In a noisy online world, you need to cut to the chase and tell people exactly what you want them to know.
  2. Identify your target market. Far too often we see business owners with wildly disparate target markets. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. The tighter you can define your market, the more you become a specialist. If you break your arm, would you want your internist to operate on you? Hell no! The same goes for selling your products and/or services. Focus on a particular segment of the market and target your copy to reach that segment in language they can relate to.
  3. Make it easy (or better yet, fun) for visitors to absorb your content. Is your product one that can be marketed with humor? Create a short clever video to get your point across. Or use images that convey humor. Cute fuzzy animals always seem to engage people. Cartoons haven’t been overused yet so that’s another option. If you offer services for a serious issue, like one that’s health-related, present content that’s easy to understand. Charts, infographics, copy with clear steps or bullet points and explainer videos are all good ways to share important or sensitive information.
  4. Make it easy for visitors to share your content. If you’ve succeeded in bullet point 3, this should be a piece of cake. People share what they think others in their world will like — content that’s interesting, amusing, informative, exciting or unusual. But be sure to tell your visitors to share your content. Share icons are important but saying “be sure to share this” or “don’t forget to share this with your friends” is just smart!

Your website may rank high in search, but if visitors aren’t engaged once they land there, you’ve got a lousy site. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce.

Need help with your content? Work with us.

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