Spend Money to Save Money

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Some experts in the marketing space seem to think that you have to spend money to save money. Sounds like a bit of double speak that is used to get companies to say yes to proposals and campaigns that cost more than they might otherwise spend. Sounds like “experts” conning you out of your fought-for marketing budget.

But on closer inspection, some of this actually makes a little sense.

To identify the good spending from the bad spending, we have to approach our marketing budget from both a short term and a long term perspective.

Short Term

In the short term, the money you spend today should have immediate impact on results. Companies that rely on direct response advertising measure the return on every dollar they spend. Did that campaign bring in new sales? How many? And what does that mean for our revenue?

From that perspective, a company should only increase their budget if we can guarantee the same results. Because spending money now that won’t generate new sales is a waste. It hurts the bottom line in the short term.

Long Term

But if we take a longer-term mindset, the advantages of certain kinds of new advertising spend make more sense. Companies that spend money on branding are not concerned as much about the immediate return on that investment. Instead, they know that by spending money in the right ways now, they’ll be able to more effectively generate sales growth later, over time.

There are a lot of different marketing initiatives that fall into this second bucket.

  • Website redesigns

  • Most traditional advertising – billboards, television, radio, print

  • Content marketing

  • Digital branding – banners, videos, etc.

Companies don’t necessarily expect that money spent in these areas will lead immediately to an increase in sales. Rather, over time, they expect that these activities will expose new potential customers to their brand. In this way, they can increase their brand awareness.

When more consumers know who you are, more often they will come to you, instead of the other way around. Brand mentions go up. Brand searches go up. Word of mouth improves.

And over the long term, you experience significant sales growth.

You spend money now so that you don’t have to spend so much money chasing sales later.

Creative Ways to Increase Your Company’s Visibility - Guest Post

The following is a guest post from Ivan Serrano. Ivan is a journalist living comfortably in San Francisco, California. Ivan's niche is in social media, business and marketing. When he's not typing up another masterpiece, he'll likely be off practicing his photography or losing his voice yelling at the television whilst watching his favorite sports.

It’s not enough for your business to offer high-quality products or excellent services — people also have to know that your company exists. If you want to nab customers who might otherwise fall into the hands of your competitors, it’s essential that you find ways to stand out from the pack.

You’ll also have to make sure you’re making clever use of current technology such as social media and mobile apps. More than 40% of the total population rely on multiple devices to stay connected with individuals and brands that are important to them, so your marketing efforts will have to reflect the technology of the moment.

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Striking the right balance between consumer psychology and technical savvy can be difficult for even the most experienced marketers, so here are some strategies you can use to start off on the right foot. Use your own blend of the following tactics to ensure that your marketing efforts will be unique and allow you to establish a distinctive voice for your brand:

Blogging 101: How to Create Content that Doesn’t Suck

Everyone in the ecommerce space understands that blogging is important, but too many business owners treat it like a chore instead of an exciting opportunity to engage with potential customers. Remember: when you blog, you’re always communicating something about what your brand is — and who it’s for. That being the case, you need to avoid boring or pedantic content like the plague. After all, nobody wants to associate themselves with a voice that seems drony and dispassionate.

You should already have a pretty good idea of who your ideal customer is, so take that concept to the next level: imagine how they talk, what they’re interested in, and how their sense of humor works. Then use that information to inform the content you write for your blog. Should your posts be stylish and quietly sophisticated, or quirky, sassy and outrageous? Are they for customers who are serious about solving important problems in their industries, or for fun-loving individuals who count on your products to spice up their lives?

It’s also essential to make sure that you’re blogging for different stages of the buyer funnel. 47% of buyers report viewing between three and five separate pieces of content from a given brand prior to engaging with a sales representative. What does that mean? Simple: in addition to posts that raise awareness of your products and the problems they solve, make sure you’re publishing content that deepens a potential customer’s awareness of how you can solve their needs and eventually convinces them to make a purchase. Then go one better: make posts that offer troubleshooting advice for customers who have already bought your products, so they’ll be more likely to remain satisfied with them and recommend them to friends, family, or colleagues.

Create an Influencer Army

We’ve just covered the importance of word of mouth, so don’t rely on your blogging to drive the hype machine alone. 70% of all millennial consumers report being influenced by their peers when they decide whether or not to purchase a product, so look for bloggers who fit into your target audience and reach out to them. Offer them free samples, exposure on your blog (if it’s large enough), and other incentives to get them writing about what you offer. A single kind word from an ostensibly unaffiliated influencer can be worth boatloads of simple self-promotion.

Incentives Aren’t Just for Influencers

Influencers love receiving deals and freebies, but you know who loves those perks even more? Potential customers — especially those who might struggle to afford your products and services otherwise. Offering scholarship opportunities to students can be an excellent way to raise brand awareness amongst potential buyers in their late teens and twenties, but it can also earn you the respect and admiration of their families and help you secure loyal customers for life.

Crack the Viral Code

Human interest stories tend to be much more shareable than advertisements, so don’t just write stories about how wonderful your products and services are. Try to write at least a few pieces in the style of news items each time you’re about to release a new product or offer a new service, and include real-life details of how your work has helped customers in the past.

Here are a few tips you can use to lend more credibility to your voice when creating news-style content:

  • Avoid a first-person voice (i.e. “my company” or “our products”). Use third-person so that it sounds like someone from outside your company has taken an active interest in your work.

  • Keep your tone neutral — don’t explicitly hype up the work you do, just explain how it helped someone solve a problem they were having. Trust that your audience will be smart enough to make the connection.

  • Publish in sources that aren’t directly connected to your blog. Medium’s content guidelines make it a fairly easy place to publish, as long as your writing appears credible and neutral. Buzzfeed is also a viable option for content creators who have mastered the “listicle” format.

Once you’ve made high-value content, make sure it includes backlinks to your landing page so that the people who read it will have an easy, natural way to engage with your brand. Then make sure you share the piece on social media through targeted ads so that it reaches as many of its intended readers as possible.

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Final Thoughts: Do What the Other Company Can’t — or Won’t Do

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when trying to distinguish your business from the pack is to embrace what makes you different. Don’t try to mimic the tone of successful competitors in your writing; they’re already nailing that approach. Don’t design your packaging to look like the boxes used by the leading brand in your field; make something that doesn’t already exist. Creativity is all about knowing when to take risks, and there’s nothing riskier than being yourself. Crucially though, there’s also nothing more rewarding.

Why Brand Building Should Be the Foundation of Your SEO Strategy

The following is a guest post by Meaghan Yorke. Meaghan is a web designer who is quite passionate about writing. These days she is all about researching various IT related topics. When she is not working she enjoys dancing classical ballet.

Branding is more than a logo or an established slogan. It goes much deeper than that. 

A brand is a perception of your business through the eyes of the customer, the experience provided behind your product or service. It’s what makes your business reside in the hearts and minds of the consumers.

Branding and SEO work great in sync as they both paint the natural representation of your brand - no gimmicks. Users trust and rely on search engines to provide best, relevant and personalized results. Consumers trust and rely on brands to provide the best recommendations, personalized experiences, and trustworthy relationships.

Although SEO performance can be quantified, branding KPIs are a bit vaguer. But there’s an underlying connection between these two that drives organic growth. Not to argue which one is better. Let’s elaborate.

NAME RECOGNITION AND BRAND AWARENESS

What drives your click in Google SERPs for specific queries? How often have you clicked the first result? Organic link CTR isn’t as concentrated as previously stated by the people in the industry. Since 2011, the organic CTR in Google SERPs has been dropping for the first ranked result down the line for the rest. A more recent study suggests that top organic results drive up to 20% CTR while positions #2 to #5 range 9%-12% CTR. This isn’t a whole lot lower and it suggests that people who just started shopping around or are researching a topic they’re not familiar with, are going to click on a result they are more familiar with.

And this is the link between SEO and branding, your mantra and starting point - a familiar brand name will give you a greater chance of click-through even if you aren’t positioned as #1 in the SERPs. Well established brand presence is vital for your SEO strategy success - the greater the CTR on your result in SERPs, the better link, and rank positioning.

AUTHORITY BUILDING

Two words - Featured snippets.

The appearance of rich snippets has been increasing in SERPs over the past few years. Knowledge boxes, direct answer boxes, question and answer panels just to name a few.

GoogleMyBusiness should be your first business listing - it’s your doorway to branding in Google SERPs. For any branded keyword search query, GoogleMyBusiness listing will appear in the right side panel of the SERP along with additional data such are your social media profiles and shared posts on your Google+ page.

In order to compete for featured snippets in SERPs, your websites posts and pages need to have a valid HTML5 markup and structured data implemented in form of microdata or JSON-LD. This helps add context and structure to the content fields of your website and makes it easier for the web crawlers to understand the semantics and meaning behind it. This is something that top digital agencies with a technical SEO background should be able to implement seamlessly in your websites page and post templates.

Web crawlers ARE getting smarter in content interpretation though. Providing great user experience should always have priority over technical on-page search engine optimization. Content beats code, so focus on becoming an authoritative figure in your industry, market, and niche by creating topic-relevant content that brings value to the end user. It’s essential not only for better SEO performance but for building brand awareness as well.

LINK BUILDING

Link building is a cornerstone of any SEO strategy. Signals from backlinks make up to 23% of total confirmed Google ranking signals today. Your positioning in SERPs is directly proportional to the number and quality of backlinks acquired from websites across the web. In layman terms, link building can be seen as a sort of endorsement.

From the branding perspective, it’s way harder to build quality links and in volume without having a well-established brand. High-quality publications with established and knowledgeable communities are most likely to have a strong editorial team behind it. A good editorial practice is to always check the brand and the representative that reached out in its name for social profiles and their recent backlink portfolio. If a brand or its representative is shady or new, they will most likely be denied of any publication or simply ignored. So it becomes way harder for them to acquire a quality backlink on a topic relevant website.

And there’s the other side of a coin. If your brand is well established with a strong online presence, it will be much easier for you to acquire natural, organic backlinks across the web, without a direct outreach. Authoritative industry representatives that blog and publish across the web usually research their topics and back them up with sources from blogs, publications, research and whitepapers published on well-established websites. If you were to publish a piece on a blog that has a strong branded image and a community behind it, it will most likely be used as a reference in future publications. And if this was your website, you may certainly hope for it to be naturally referenced and linked back to from other topic relevant websites.

Let’s set up an experiment, here’s an example - we’re using non-personalized Google search to look for “microdata markup for web agency”. You can use this link. The official library any experienced technical SEO specialists would definitely visit is Schema.org, but it doesn’t contain any information about this markup, it’s non-existing.

So which of the results would you click on if you aren’t familiar with the topic? Which result would you refer to if someone asks you the question? Which one of them would you use as a reference in your publication? Let me guess, it isn’t the same result that answers all of the above.

BRANDED SEARCH QUERIES ARE EASY WIINS

This somewhat goes without saying but people are more likely to find what they’re after if they know what they’re looking for. If a user googles your brand name, they are most likely looking for you and what you have to offer. These users are already familiar with your brand and what it has to offer so the probability of click-through and conversion is greater. Branded keywords prune the competition.

By syncing your branding strategy with SEO engagement, you are getting on a right path to growing brand recognition. In time, you will be able to drive brand searches with more conversion value than of those search queries made by users who are just starting to shop around.

THE KEY TAKEAWAY

When starting out, without any previous online presence, you can focus your marketing efforts on SEO performance. Techniques like link building will get your website noticed by search engines, and if done properly, will start ranking in SERPs.

However, focusing on branding from the early stages is a much smarter move. Branding strategies help you build name, reputation, and authority. It opens a path to establishing a strong online presence. And it definitely improves your chances of acquiring natural links and brand mentions.

Either way, the crawlers will crawl. The user experience is what will always prevail.

What Your Discounts Say to Customers

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Discounts work. If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that I often write about the value of special pricing, promotions, offers, and sales to drive interest and boost purchases.

However, there is an opposing view. And it would be unfair of us to ignore it entirely. Because as much as it’s true that discounts can work to increase revenue over certain time periods, over the long term they can (not always but in some cases) also have a negative impact on your business.

The following is an attempt to explain why – not to advise against the practice, but to spread awareness about the potential dangers of discounting strategies so that you know what to look for and when to change course.

Discounts and Your Brand

Use of discounts can affect your brand – that is, the impression that consumers have of your company. Some companies use discounts quite frequently. Others can afford never to offer discounted pricing.

Whether or not you use discounts does not determine what people think of your brand. However, when you use discounts often, you are signaling two things:

  1. The value your products or services provide may be less than one would assume at full price
  2. Consumers should never buy at full price because they can always wait for a bigger discount

Apple Never Discounts

When we think of consumer brands that do not discount, Apple is the first one that comes to mind. Apple has been able to build their success as more of a luxury brand. They have sustained a higher price point in the marketplace than most of their competitors.

One might argues that Apple would grow their dominance if they started offering lower prices. They might bring in more customers, and generate more revenue, with discounts and other promotions.

But Apple has made the active decision not to do this. Most likely, that is because they are afraid what that strategy might do to the brand that they have spent so long crafting. Price is not a part of the Apple value proposition. Instead, they are focused on creating quality products that are easy to use.

Walmart vs. JC Penney

Walmart and JC Penney are two brands that consumers will generally associate with low prices. Unlike Apple, these two retailers have actively chosen to compete on price. Price is a key part of each of their value proposition.

But, they each have a different strategy for offering lower prices. JC Penney uses a discount strategy, offering frequent sales to drive people into stores. Whereas Walmart offers what they call “Everyday Low Prices” – a way to distinguish themselves as offering the lowest prices, all the time.

In fact, in 2017 JC Penney’s new CEO chose to deploy a new pricing model which more resembled Walmart’s. Rather than offering frequent sales, they told their customers that they would now be offering the lowest prices available, all the time.

What happened? Consumers revolted, sales slumped, and the CEO was fired. And they have since gone back to the original, sales-driven model.

This demonstrates points #1 and 2 up top – when you use discounts to meet your sales goals, consumers will associate your brand with discounted pricing. This creates an expectation that will be difficult to break from.

Should You Offer Discounts?

To repeat, all of the above is not a reason not to offer discounts. But it is something that you have to consider when you start making discounting a part of your pricing strategy.

Discounts and other promotions can drive increased interest, traffic, and sales. But just like anything else, if you become too reliant on discounted pricing to grow your business, you run the risk of negative brand impact in the long term.

Is Your Brand Making the Right First Impression?

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As marketers, we have to care about the way potential customers experience our company. These are the consumers in the marketplace who are not necessarily aware yet of our brand, so they don’t know what we do, or how good our products are.

Just like in our daily lives as human beings, where we only get one chance to make a first impression, so it is with our brands. Potential customers only ever become aware of you once. And once they form an impression, it is going to be expensive to get them to change it. So it’s critical that the first impression is the best one.

But what do most first impressions look like?

There are two big ways that consumers come into contact with brands for the first time.

  1. Advertising – consumers see an ad. It could be a billboard or an only banner, a newspaper or magazine ad, a radio or tv spot, or one of a thousand other advertising channels. But before they ever visit your website or walk into your store, they are responding to that advertisement.
     
  2. Word of Mouth – consumers hear about your company from someone in their lives, friends, family, coworkers, relatives. They might be customers of yours or just familiar with your products. They might have good things to say or bad, and they’re in complete control of the first impression your brand makes on this new consumer.

People may argue that there are a million other ways consumers encounter brands for the first time. However, most are variations of the two above. 99.999% of consumers are not visiting your website or walking into your store if they’ve never heard of you before.

So what does this tell marketers?

If you care about the impression that your brand is making, these are the areas you need to focus. You need to devote the time and energy required to making sure all of your advertising creative meets your high expectations. Nothing goes out that does not send the right signal. We should never be half-hearted about our advertising.

Second, you need to devote just as much time and energy to ensuring that your company lives up to the promises it makes to customers. Why? Because that’s how you control word of mouth.

Your customers are talking about you. What are they going to say?

One Final Consideration

The second half of any first impression may be as important as the first, and so deserves a mention here. If the first half of the first impression is any good, the second half is a visit (to your store or to your website).

You can still lose them at the visit stage if you don’t live up to their expectations. Whether it was an advertisement or word of mouth that this person is responding to, they will come with a sense of the promises your company makes. Again, it becomes critical to keep them.

Wow people once, and you will win their business. Wow them again and again, and you will win their loyalty.