5 simple ways to unplug your marketing strategy

Let’s face it: social media marketing isn’t what it used to be.

In just a few years, we’ve gone from placing full-page ads in magazines and relying on email and direct mail pieces, to placing banners on blogs and interrupting every possible aspect of life. The phones don’t stop ringing. Those full-page ads, most magazines are sill full of them. My Facebook feed is a hot mess of sponsored posts, recommended content, and videos that play automatically. It’s harder and harder to tell if my Google search results are organic.

And yet, mobile ad spending is at an all-time high, with Facebook and Google leading the pack. How do small businesses compete – or even budget – in such a constantly changing marketing landscape?

Small business marketing – unplugged

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 5.01.27 PMThe answer for small businesses is to remember unplugged marketing as well. Consider the difference between browsing through LinkedIn for connections and attending a business conference. When you are in the same room with a group of like-minded people, you’re bound to share the story of your business, not just in an effort to increase sales, but because you never know when this new relationship may lead to a business partnership. The same is true with marketing. Here are some tips for unplugging your marketing strategy:

  • Greet people. Whether online or in-person, I’m always impressed when someone takes a minute to introduce themselves and tell me about their businesses. Saying “hello” is the first step, on Twitter, on Facebook, and in the grocery store line. If someone likes or favorites you, saying thank you will go a long way!
  • Listen. You’re in line at the neighborhood Starbucks and you overhear the people behind you discussing a business issue, their kids, or a sporting event. Whether you are a nanny, a consultant, or a landscaper, chances are you have something to contribute here. The same holds true in regard to Twitter conversations. Sometimes brands have the opportunity to jump in and contribute to trending conversations, and promote their brands in the process. But, if you’re not listening, you are deaf to the opportunities around you.
  • It’s not all about you.  If all you do is talk about how great you are, people will tune you out. If you talk about how great they are, suddenly you have an audience. For every 2 Tweets, Facebook updates, or sales pitches you give, you should be posting or pitching 8 interesting, informative, entertaining and/or educational information.
  • Do your due diligence. You wouldn’t go to a book discussion without at least reading the book jacket. Regardless of how busy you are, before you attend a webinar, a banquet, or networking event, do a little research. Find out what the topic will be, and be prepared with relevant questions. Use Twitter and LinkedIn to find out who’s going to be there, and even introduce yourself weeks before the event begins.
  • Be human. Smile. Make eye contact. If we apply Pareto’s 80/20 principle to business, 80% of our sales come from 20% of our customers. We should know those customers, and foster real, mutually beneficial relationships with them to secure their business for years to come.
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Dear 20-Year-Old Me…

I met a group of college interns on the campus of my alma mater this afternoon. It didn’t take long for me to feel the distance of more than a decade away from campus. First, there is newness everywhere, restaurants, grocery stores, residence halls, apartment buildings, and brand spanking new, sleek computer labs that make the scary bowels that once housed the HUGE computers we fought over when I was in college seem more than a little gross.

Then, the strange realization that I didn’t even have a cell phone when I was in college, and these kids might not remember a time without theirs. But, more than anything, I realized how – as consumers of content – these writing students have very little idea how content is produced for the Internet, who puts it there, who pays for it, or why. Like other teachers of millennial students, I had to fight to keep their attention. If there was a lull in conversation, out came the smartphones.

I remember when DVRs first came out, and it was such a thrill to fast forward through commercials. I remember when we paid for our email service (AOL anyone?), and still had to put up with ads. I remember being plagued by pop-up ads, feeling interested and then annoyed when animated banner ads began to make it harder and harder to focus online.

Online ads have learned the art of camouflage. Does this mean that information consumers will become smarter? Surely they’ll eventually realize that content is sponsored. Here’s where my own bias about sponsored vs. unsponsored journalism gets me in trouble. I’m a brand journalist. A content marketer. I write quality content for brands all day. I always try to give readers something to walk away with besides just promoting the brands. Yet, I just skipped over all the promoted content on Mashable, turning up my nose because it was sponsored.

Screen shot 2014-04-15 at 3.56.58 PM The thing is, I’m not an English major anymore. I have to make money. As writers, we all do. Next time I see sponsored content, I’m going to give it a try, just for kicks. If it’s bad, I’ll pitch the company with my services. If it’s good, then I’ll walk away reminded what good brand journalism is.

We’re all fighting for attention, all the time. We’re all trying to get paid for the work we do, to support our families.

Dear 20-year-old me: You will end up selling out more than once. Get over yourself. Then, find a way to make it art. Loosen up!

 

 

What makes your heart race?

“In order to find happiness, we must be a part of something greater than ourselves – something we truly believe in.” ~Paul Roestzer, author of The Marketing Agency Blueprint

What makes your heart race? For me, it’s learning new things, thinking and implementing new ways of connecting people and ideas that can – eventually – improve our quality of life. My integrated communications firm, i2i Communications, Ltd., doesn’t just offer solutions for small businesses to make a few bucks. We work together with our clients to decide how we can solve their communications issues within their budgets. Our passion is our purpose.

The art of strategy

Most brands think there are two ways to deal with all the content bouncing around on social media.

crown

Content is King

  1. The content-is-king and I-want-to-be-in-the-king’s-court strategy. These content obsessed curators share everything, duplicating the content on all different channels. They spend their days (and nights, because you wouldn’t want to miss out on a really awesome cat video) trolling Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube looking for trends. It doesn’t matter if the trend is at all related to their industry. They tweet from church; they tweet from stoplights. The trouble is: no one wants to read these messages, regardless of their length.
  2. The I’ll-speak-up-only-when-I-have-something-earthshattering-to-share strategy. These are the perfectionists that wait until the inspiration hits; the ones that wait until they have something worthy of the 5:00 news to share. They think their readers will appreciate quality over quantity. But, if you don’t share often enough to be top of mind, chances are that you won’t show up in the newsfeed at all.

I’m a writer by trade. I think of content as art. But even the most abstract artists have strategies. When I took my daughter to the art museum for the first time (she was four and a half), we wandered through the galleries talking about what makes art art. We decided that it’s art if it makes us feel or think. We don’t have to like it. We don’t have to understand it. But something about art sticks with us long after we’ve viewed it.

Good content strategy isn’t about just throwing darts at the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s about knowing your audience, what inspires them, what they want from you, and providing it. It’s about telling your story again, for the first time. It’s not just words either. More and more, it’s images and video.

chess game

But strategy wins.

What is your content strategy?

Do you have different purposes for each individual channel?

Do you have a main hub that links them all together?

The End of Free Facebook Marketing

Facebook is no longer a free mega-phone for your brand

Skeptics thought is sounded too good to be true. When Facebook rolled out its Pages for businesses, it seemed like every small business’s dream: set up a page to promote your business for free and have someone on your office staff manage it. Some brands did it well, hiring content specialists to maintain fan engagement. Others did what they could with the resources they had.

But gradually, what consumers see in their Facebook feeds has changed. First, I noticed that I wasn’t seeing the status updates of my closest friends. Let me tell you, if your BFF posts a comment about her cat knocking over the Christmas tree or her babe eating strained peas for the first time and you don’t respond, you are in trouble. Then, I saw fewer and fewer posts from brands, and more from curation sites like Upworthy.

Megaphone in black and white

Image from: Igor Klisov

Like most people, I don’t want to have to sort through hoards of advertisements to find the information I care about. But, the idea of organic reach is a thing of the past. Yesterday, I set up a Facebook page for my new business. Like many start-ups, I don’t have a ton of money to spend on advertising right now. I am not pretty, young, thin, and well-spoken (not all at the same time anyway) like Goldieblox inventor Debbie Sterling. I’m absolutely certain that a video of me sitting on the floor and telling people why I felt compelled to start my own communications and PR firm would not go viral. So, does a person like me invest in Facebook advertising? Not when every penny counts and there are still a ton of other ways to reach my audience.

Remember e-mail?

According to a channel preference survey from Exact Target, 91% of internet users are still accessing e-mail every day. A well-written e-mail pitch, especially if it’s targeted specifically to the consumer, still does the trick!

If you’re just starting out, chances are you don’t have access to a ton of consumer e-mail addresses. I have three recommendations:

1. Start a blog and pitch it like crazy to the content editing gods, other bloggers, your friends, and anyone who will listen. Keep posting this content in Facebook just as well – that much is still free.

2. Reach out and call someone. Cold-calling clients sounds daunting to Millennials who may forget how to speak, but it’s important to remember that businesses are built on relationships.

3. Use those feet to hit the street. Set up in-person meetings with prospective clients. Talk to them about trends in their industry, listen to their pain points and try to find a way in the front door. Just remember to take a business card with you when you leave so you can add them to your e-mail list!

Non-Profits Use Tweetchats to Discuss Social Media Best Practices: #CLE4good

Sharing best practices is good for business!  It doesn’t mean sharing all your engagement methods or branding secrets; it means gathering in the Twitterverse to share things you have in common with those in your community, building bridges of success together by sharing what works for you and what doesn’t.  This sense of community is even more important if you work for a non-profit, as you may not have the resources to hire a full-time social media strategist, may not be sure how best to use social media with the resources you have, and may be able to learn from (and teach) your peers.

Courtesy of: wikipedia

Courtesy of: wikipedia

Imagine my surprise as a Clevelander when I scanned through what was trending on Twitter this afternoon and found #CLE4good.  #CLE4good is hosted by The Cleveland Foundation (@CleveFoundation), and is a great opportunity for local non-profits to get together and discuss issues and opportunities in their area.  Go Cleveland!

Facebook Branding: Diet Coke

If you’ve known me for more than one day, you know that I’m a Diet Coke drinker.   Not Diet Pepsi, or Coke Zero, or any other low calorie knock-off.  The truth is, when I was young, my mother drank Diet Coke on occasion, but as a single mother, she couldn’t afford to buy it often.  Santa used to deliver cases of Diet Coke, with a huge red bow, under our Christmas tree.  By high school, with a job of my own, I’d buy Diet Coke from the vending machine for breakfast.  Am I an addict?  Possibly.  I’ve been trying to cut back and am down to 1-2 cans per day.  But, if ever asked, I will always state that Diet Coke is the nectar of the gods.

This week I’m looking at Facebook use from a public relations perspective.  Specifically, what does your Facebook use say about your brand?  Diet Coke’s Facebook page has more than 2.15 million likes and its posts average at least 100 shares a piece.  As committed to its fans as fans are to the product, Diet Coke posts on Facebook at least once daily.  Each post is of quality content that engages and encourages fans.

Several themes emerge from my audit of the Diet Coke Facebook page.

  • Create interesting content every day.  Diet Coke’s posts are creative – playfully transforming a very familiar label into art, and celebrating EVERY calendar event (from the first day of Spring to National Women’s Day).Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 12.10.17 PM
  • Use new media to honor your history.  Diet Coke has “Throwback Thursdays” in which it remembers the brand over three decades.  Lifelong fans remember the old slogans and branding, and for me at least, these Throwback posts bring me back to a time when I needed Diet Coke between band practice and my modern western civilization class, or when my love of Diet Coke landed me my first job (the hiring manager was drinking Diet Coke for breakfast during my interview). Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 11.25.29 AM
  • Integrate social media into your corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns.  Employing cross-channel communication, Diet Coke first held a photo contest, called #ShowYourHeart, asking participants to Tweet or post on Instragram their original pictures of hearts to increase awareness of women’s heart disease.

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The contest was so successful that the Company extended it, offering to donate $1 to women’s heart health programs for every picture sent after the contest ended.  The high visibility the Company enjoys on Facebook added to the success of this CSR initiative.Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 11.34.57 AM

  • Publicly thank your fans.  As if continuing to mass produce the world’s greatest soft drink (Hey, I admitted my bias in the first paragraph, though I must say that I am in no way being reimbursed for these comments. I still have to pay for my Diet Coke.) weren’t enough, Diet Coke listens to and recognizes its fans on Facebook.Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 11.51.44 AM

In fact, Diet Coke not only rewarded this fan by putting her picture in front of 2 million fans, the Company gave her Taylor Swift concert tickets!

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  • Lastly, one quick glance at the Diet Coke Facebook page and its spokesperson is no mystery!  Humanizing a brand in the age of social media – at a time when perhaps consumers have more power than ever before – is a necessity.  Humanizing the brand with the recognizable face of a well-liked, cross-generational superstar is frosting on the cake.

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