Brand Checkup: Relevance and Intuitiveness

Today we’re discussing how to evaluate your brand’s online presence and optimize its performance. We’ll look at content relevance and site intuitiveness.

Test: Does your home page attempt too much?

The more you have to say, the more focused you should be. Ever visited a site and wondered where to start? Visit any global brand Website, such as Disney.com or Nokia.com, and you’ll discover it is hard to find what you’re looking for. These companies try to say everything to everyone at the same time. Each topic must fight for attention and for space on the home page.

Saying everything to everyone, not to mention squeezing it all onto the home page, is impossible. Branding is about establishing relevance. The more relevant your brand is to the consumer, the more likely that consumer is to purchase your brand.

Structure content in such a way that your message appears only when it’s relevant. How? Forget about an internal site search engine. Instead, establish microsites, each representing essential offerings from your company.

Imagine you’re an insurance company that offers everything from old-age and life insurance to property, car, and boat insurance, travel coverage… you name it. Instead of displaying all those policies at once, spread the information around. Establish a site that focuses 100 percent on old-age insurance, linking to your corporate site as well, of course. Establish another that focuses entirely on property insurance. Each site should be optimized for search engines, ensuring it appears when a user types the site’s subject as a key phrase (e.g., “property insurance”). A company that claims expertise in everything garners less credibility than a company that offers niche expertise.

Test: Is your brand intuitive?

Like me, I’ll bet you’ve purchased a video recorder and found the instruction manual heavier than the appliance. Most probably, the VCR can do amazing things. But the manual’s so indigestible, you use only the simplest of functions — the intuitive ones.

Brand building, online and off-, is much more than ensuring logo visibility. Branding must be intuitive. It should require no instruction manual, lengthy description, or oracular guidelines. Ask yourself what a typical first-time user would want to know. What would a second-time user be after? The needs are bound to be vastly different. Brand usability is essential.

Experience clearly shows customers who have difficulty finding what they’re looking for on a site cultivate a diminished opinion of the brand. Analyze the type of information each consumer is most likely to be after, right this very minute, and structure that information in such way that navigating through it is intuitive.

Relevance and intuitiveness are essential parts of a healthy online brand’s life. Did you pass this week’s brand health check? If you did, stay tuned for next week’s installment. At this rate, your site is elevating closer to brand heaven. Are you nearly there?

Why a Traffic Retention Strategy Matters

It’s getting increasingly harder to generate and secure traffic to your site. Time to reconsider your strategy for building this valuable asset? Statistics show persuading a customer to visit your site is 10 times more difficult than persuading existing customers to make a purchase.

What’s your traffic retention strategy? What measures are in place for retaining visitors?

It’s said Amazon.com’s original strategy was to retain customers for at least 10 years. That’s an ambitious goal. But you do need a traffic retention strategy that looks further into the future than one day or one week. Short-sightedness is characteristic of most sites. Look 3, 6, or even 12 months ahead. Give more to each customer during that period. There are returns with this strategic investment. You won’t make your goal tomorrow, but perhaps six months to a year from now you will.

Why talk about long-term strategy in times demanding instant return on investment (ROI) and instant results? Because your customers aren’t dumb. We’re all customers, after all. We’re all sick and tired of the never-ending addictions to decreasing quality and supposedly “special” offers. While everyone focuses on short-term goals, today’s discount, and other gimmicks, smart marketers combine this thinking with long-term vision. They’re plotting in substantial timeframes to survive beyond today.

Brands that will reap rewards in 6 to 12 months are those adopting parallel short- and long-term strategies. In doing so, they communicate to customers they don’t stand for short-term, opportunistic gain. They want to build loyalty.

Easier said than done? Yes. In coming weeks, I’ll take you through some future-focused activities you should consider adopting. They can help you establish more enduring customer loyalty, secure valuable repeat visits to your site, and encourage increased frequency of return and consequential revenue gain.

None of this will put an end to your day-to-day, short-term strategies, important for generating buzz around your site. The two approaches must be combined and work in harmony. Make your customers feel you’re in business for the long haul and not, like so many other Web sites, only for today. Acting like there’s no tomorrow can persuade visitors that’s exactly the case. There’s no reason for them to visit again.

A golden tip to help you through these difficulties is to seek help from a professional source, such as Student Marketing Agency.

New Training Option for Marketing and PR

Power Hour Concept Trains Fast

How many times have you sat through days of training that could have easily been scaled back to one or two hours? Would you like to learn time management, the art of planning or how to encourage collaboration in just one powerful training hour?

Author and trainer Lisa Haneberg has developed an effective training model that can be applied to numerous topics and gets it all done in one hour.

Power Hour Training Model

In her new book titled, Developing Great Managers, 20 “Power Hour” Conversations that Build Skills FAST (2008, American Society for Training and Development), Haneberg lays out a training model that could easily be applied to marketing and public relations training.

The basis of the model is to turn conversations into training. The trainees are given a pre-work assignment that will help generate a good conversation about a topic. Learning objectives are defined for each topic as well as a trainer’s agenda with the full hour broken down into activities or discussions and there are sample questions provided for the instructor to stir up the conversation.

The Art of Planning Training Power Hour

While the author provides 20 topics for the model such as Management in Modern Times, Mind Your Metrics, Defining Excellence, Mastering Your Time and Your Leadership Legacy, the example examined in this article is The Art of Planning.

In the pre-work assignment, Haneberg suggests the participants find a blog or article they can share when they meet with the other trainees. Learning objectives for the hour include discussing the importance of planning, identifying positive daily and weekly planning habits and creating a plan for the coming week.

The trainer’s agenda has the first 10 minutes for discussion of the pre-work. The next 15 minutes to present the topic, 10 minutes for discussion using the sample questions provided. Then there are 15 minutes allowed for an exercise (also provided by the author) and the final 10 minutes for further discussion and assignments.

The assignment in this power hour was to use the daily and weekly planning practices discussed in the training for the next two weeks.

Can a Topic be Trained Effectively in an Hour?

Is the power hour training model unrealistic and a waste of a good hour? It is already being used by webinar training.

There is so much potential for this model to be used in so many types of training. It would fit perfectly with podcast or vidcast on-demand training. Orientation training could easily use this model.

New employees could spend the first hour of their first day watching a one hour video or listening to podcast about the company, then work an hour or two with a co-worker. After lunch, they could watch or listen to another power hour training on how do a certain process or on safety rules.

Throughout the first week, the new employee could watch the power hour training a couple of times a day and do actual work the rest of the time.

Schedule a Power Hour Training Brainstorm Session

After giving the power hour training model an in-depth review, get your human resource development team together and use a power hour training to brainstorm ways to use the model within your organization. If used properly, the model can be a powerful way to teach and to learn.

Online Advertising for Internet Newbies

What You Need to Know to Get Started Online

Advertising used to be a fstraightforward business. An ‘ad agency’ would created advertisements and placed them in various venues. The venues were fairly limited, like newspapers, magazines or billboard and other outdoor advertisement. If the ad campaign was well funded and aggressive, it might include commercials on local television.

Advertising agencies used to hold the key to the marketplace. They had the contacts, the computer and graphic know-how, and the network of professional alliances needed to make a splash into the marketplace. A successful ad campaign could literally make or break a product.

But, those days are over thanks to the internet, which places the business owner directly in front of their audience. Now, advertising isn’t some esoteric creative activity and the possible outlets for advertising are overwhelming. Instead, advertising is an ever changing, unending flow of information from business to consumer.

Here are some things to know about online advertising:

Somebody uses a search engine they generally only visit the first few sites that pop up on the results page. In fact, Penn State found that 80% of searchers only visit the first three sites on the results list. Showing up high on the list is important and even necessary if you’re trying to reach a large audience!

Advertising can be a good way to advertise, but only if it’s done in a way that isn’t related to spammers and scams. Buying lists and sending out an onslaught of untargeted letters isn’t likely to do much for your business. Creating informative emails and sending them only to those likely to be interested is a much better bet.

With tons of things offered on the internet, it’s impossible to get attention simply by being loud or persistent. In fact, those old strategies seem desperate in today’s market. Instead, creative, hip and innovative advertisements can push a product or business over the top. Videos can go viral, ads can be forwarded in email chains and a quirky campaign can sweep the nation.

Online advertising can benefit those willing to take the time to learn about strategies and trends in the online marketpalce. And, while it can be intimidating to launch your own online advertising campaign, know that the rules are always changing. All it takes is one great idea and a creative person to shake up the rules and start a new wave of advertising techniques!

Innovative and Low Cost Advertising

A New Book Details Marketing Ideas from Entrepreneurs

Lack of money for advertising often leads to innovative thinking for ways to market. A new book, The Risk Takers (Vanguard Press, 2010) by Renee and Don Martin profiles 16 entrepreneurs and their strategies for success including their successful marketing ideas.

Low or No Budget Advertising

Five of the sixteen companies include:

  • The author’s own real estate business
  • Amy’s Kitchen
  • The Geek Squad
  • John Paul Mitchell Systems
  • Kinko’s

Each of the sixteen case studies provides a look at the startup, the rise to success, and often times the sale of highly successful companies along with the challenges faced along the way. One of those challenges included no money for advertising.

Innovative Marketing

Amy’s Kitchen started their rise to fame by traveling to trade shows and making in person sales calls. The company’s products are made of organic products which sets them apart from many of the frozen food lines. The company thought the quality of the product deserved a first-hand account. As such, Amy’s Kitchen got noticed without spending large amounts of money for advertising instead opting for face-to-face meetings and promoting.

The authors quoted Robert Stephens, founder of the Geek Squad, “Advertising is a tax you pay on having an unremarkable brand, and training is a tax you pay for having an uninspired internal culture.”

Stephens developed unconventional methods of building his company’s brand through the uniform that his employees wore and with a car painted as a police car with the Geek Squad logo painted on the sides. The Geek Squad is setup after the old television series, Dragnet, and the service professionals are known as agents trying to solve a computer failure crime. Truly, this is unforgettable marketing.

Kinko’s, was founded by Paul Orfalea who had many learning disabilities and could not hold a job. He found a niche and promptly filled it. His method of advertising included selling pens and notebooks on the streets of local college campuses.

Find a Way to Promote

One important message to learn from this book is that all of the startup companies used some form of advertising and marketing. Often times it was a bit unconventional. Nonetheless it worked.

Where there is a will, there is always a way. Taking the time to find the niche can very easily be the answer to finding the way to advertise. Go to where the need is, talk directly to the target market with whatever medium will reach, and get the message to the people.

Merging Advertising and Public Relations

New Digital Media, Slashed Budgets Helping Bring Functions Together

When the Cannes Advertising Festival added public relations to its contest categories in 2009, it was acknowledging the growing acceptance of the advertising-PR partnership in the 21st Century. It’s a partnership which purists on both sides looked down on for years, but which some agencies have recognized and profited from for decades.

The 2008-09 recession brought the shotgun relationship into the open. With both advertising and PR budgets being cut drastically, some ad and PR strategists decided to combine their efforts rather than fight each other.

Such partnerships reflect an industry trend toward integrated marketing, a strategy in which the message or idea is more important than the media. Futurist Matt Dickman has said that content will be king in advertising and it should create value for the customer.

Spread Message Over Diverse Media

When possible, the message is spread over diverse media, paid or sponsored. The costs just come out of different budgets.

Traditional differences between advertising and public relations can often be traced to simple differences in definition and/or categorizing. Advertising is traditionally defined as a paid media message, but the explosion in new media and new uses of even old media have blurred that definition. Is paid mention of products on TV drama shows, or paid placement of editorial matter in newspapers, advertising or public relations?

Public relations is often defined as free advertising, but that definition is seldom accurate. Successful placement of unpaid editorial matter in publications almost always requires someone researching the concept, developing basic background material, selling media people on the idea, working with the publication staff and then monitoring the coverage and results, all of which can add up to more than the cost of an ad.

Are Websites Ads or PR

Are websites, blogs and window displays advertising or PR? If a window is displaying a new line of clothing it might be considered advertising. If it is a Santa Claus display designed to excite children, it might be considered public relations.

Such differences become relevant only when it comes time to assign budgets, responsibilities, credit and/or blame for the project.

“Mad Men” Multi-Media Promotion

Just how closely PR and advertising can work together was demonstrated recently in a multi-media promotion of the television show “Mad Men.”

  • AMC and Lionsgate Home Entertainment ran pure advertising for the show’s third season and for the second season DVD.
  • Banana Republic and AMC cosponsored a photo contest for people who might be chosen to participate in the show. Pure PR.
  • Banana Republic produced window displays to promote “Mad Men” styled clothes and accessories. PR or advertising?
  • Vanity Fair and Variety produced “Mad Men” media features, accompanied by Clorox ads, a PR/advertising combo.
  • Someone convinced Advertising Age to produce a feature on the total promotion. More PR.

Was anyone counting PR vs advertising points? Probably not, but someone will measure the bottom line of the total promotion.

Advertising and PR Can Help Each Other

The truth is that public relations projects usually need the help of advertising. And a good PR project can strengthen almost any advertising campaign.

The growth of social media will only blur the advertising and public relations lines even more. Facebook, Twitter and media such as YouTube and Google will require the integration of diverse media in new and innovative ways with little concern about whether they are called PR, advertising, promotion or marketing.

Advertising as a Crisis Public Relations Tool

Toyota Defending its Image with TV Spots, Print Ads and Its Website

Early in 2010, Toyota demonstrated how much crisis management has evolved in recent years. Decades ago, airlines cancelled all advertising after a plane crash. Some even had standing agreements with stations to pull ads off immediately after a crash. The purpose was to avoid associating the airline with a disaster as much as possible.

Running a “friendly skies” or similar airline commercial in the midst of crash coverage was considered self destructive. Besides, it’s difficult for an airline to sell tickets right after one of its planes go down.

Following a series of massive vehicle recalls, Toyota faced:

  • Potential damage to its proud image
  • The possibility of losing thousands of vehicle sales
  • The decline of its heralded used car values, which is a major sales point for its new vehcles.

Unanswered questions

Of course, a sticking accelerator or brake pedal is not as dramatic as an airline crash. But the auto defects can affect more people than a plane crash. And while the crash is a single event, faulty vehicles remain a fear and conversation piece until the car manufacturer gets the parts and technical expertise together to correct the problem in every community,

Crisis management experts now urge companies to address such problems immediately, honestly and clearly. They caution against allowing the problem to turn into a long media event feeding on unanswered questions. They warn, most of all, against allowing the problem to become a coverup story.

In 1982 Johnson & Johnson demonstrated the wisdom of that forthright approach when someone messed with its Tylenol packaging.

Slow Response

Toyota heeded the advice, but some experts say it was too slow in responding. By the time the company committed to a message, it could no longer be handled through normal news and editorial channels. By then, there were too many questions to be addressed only in a news release.

Toyota began running commercials, print ads and website notices to apologize for the vehicle problems and to assure motorists—and members of Congress—that it was correcting the problems.

Advertising is often neglected as a public relations tool because it lacks the third person credibility that a news story carries. If not done correctly, ads can give the impression the company is trying to buy its way out of the problem. Put simply, a reporter and the news media carry more believability than a paid ad does.

But with today’s technology, ads and commercials can carry full messages rapidly. They give the advertiser an opportunity to tell its story in its own words and a good chance to get proper visibility in the media.

Websites Now Major Tool

Websites have also become major advertising tools in a crisis. Toyota used its ads to refer people to Toyota.com. There it provided useful information to Toyola owners – and the news media – on how to handle recalled vehicles. It ran its TV commercial on the website, acknowledging that it had recently failed to live up to standards expected by its customers and itself. It vowed to correct the problems.

It also used the website to promote its fifth generation 4 Runner, trying to protect the value of used Toyotas by emphasizing how durable the SUV is. It offered savings of up to $2,000 on some Toyota models.

In early 2010, before Toyota launched its media blitz, industry observers said the company image had been tarnished badly. The length and depth of its fall would depend heavily on the effectiveness of its advertising and public relations campaigns and its success in correcting the vehicle problems.

How to Finance a Small Business

Methods of Securing Business Loans and Increasing Working Capital

One of the biggest reasons why small businesses fail is due to lack of capital. But what many small business owners may not realize is that financing a small business often becomes a juggling act. It means having several viable options and then knowing what source of financing to use in any given situation.

Though there are numerous finance options available to small business owners, one needs to know where to look and how and when to use them. The following is a brief rundown of the most popular finance options:

Tapping into Personal Assets to Finance a Business

For those business owners who have the means, they can tap into their personal assets to finance their small business. Aside from cash savings, popular options include taking out home equity loans, cashing in on a life insurance policy (called a life-settlement), or using other assets as collateral for a loan. Though this may be a quick and easy source of financing, it goes without saying that business owners may be taking a considerable risk if the venture is unsuccessful.

Asking Family and Friends for a Loan

There are several advantages to approaching friends and family for financing. First, these people may be more willing to offer money then would a professional lender, and one may also be able to negotiate favorable conditions for repaying the loan.

Peer-to-Peer Business Lending

Peer-to-peer, or P2P lending is a form of financing that occurs directly between individuals or “peers” without the involvement of a traditional financial institution, such as a bank. Many sites, such as Prosper.com have set up an “online marketplace” where borrowers post their loan requests and are connected with various lenders who “bid” on the chance to finance the loan.

There are several advantages to choosing this financing option: lenders bid on each loan request keeping interest rates low, there are fewer loan requirements, and business owners get a chance to tell their story. But these loans are usually limited to no more than $25,000, and defaulting on P2P payments will still affect credit history.

Small Business Loans From Banks and Commercial Lenders

Small business loans provided by banks and commercial lenders can either be secured or non secured. A secured small business loan is backed up with collateral. Because the collateral reduces the risk of granting these loans, lenders tend to offer better interest rates, longer repayment periods, and they can be taken out for greater amounts of money. An unsecured loan is one in which no collateral is offered as security against loan. Due to the greater risk involved, banks and commercial lenders will more closely consider a business’ credit rating and financial history when deciding whether or not to approve an application. These loans tend to have higher interest rates, short repayment periods, and are given out in smaller amounts.

Sub-prime Business Loans

This sub-group in the financing industry includes bad credit loans and payday loans. These products tend to have high interest rates and strict repayment schedules, and financing is given out in relatively small amounts. Since borrowers seeking this form of financing tend to be desperate for financing, yet limited in options, this market is rife with predatory lenders. The bottom line here is that such forms of financing should be used with caution in limited situations.

Government-Based Loans and Grants

There are several government-based financing programs available for start-ups and growing small businesses. The first place to look is the Small Business Association. They offer numerous loan programs to help small businesses. Business owners should also contact out their local Small Business Development Center to see which financial assistance programs they offer, and where applicable, the local Minority Business Development Agency.

When it comes to government grants, however, business owners should be aware that most of this money is directed at non-profit organizations or are limited to very specific industries. Even where a small business can technically qualify for a grant, this money comes with many restrictions. Those interested in government grants, should check out the list of sites provided by the SBA.

Business Credit Cards and Lines of Credit

Business credit cards and the small business lines of credit available at many banks, can when used properly help small businesses smooth out their cash flow. This revolving line of credit is meant to cover short-term operating expenses, pay for equipment or expand inventory, smooth out seasonal cash flow, or to take advantage of unexpected growth opportunities. Though having access to business credit is an important factor in maintaining a good cash flow, it should be used it with caution. With high interest rates and hefty fees, debts can easily spiral out of control.

How to Run a Small Business

Four Ways to Manage Work and Achieve Goals

Everyone dreams of being the boss at some point in their lives. Controlling all the shots and setting the work schedule are just some of the benefits of running one’s own business. At the other side of the spectrum, however, is the stress of keeping work and finances flowing.

The U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy reports that there were 29.6 million small businesses in the United States in 2009. More than half of this country’s private workforce sector works for small businesses. About 7 in 10 new businesses survive for the first two years, and only about half make it to the five-year mark.

Being passionate about the business helps, but having a concrete plan is also crucial.

Create A Business Plan

A business plan is a document, or set of documents, that outlines the goals of the business, how they will be reached, and why the goals are thought to be attainable. It also provides the backgrounds and qualification of the people involved in the business. A business plan is useful as a set of self-checks on progress, and are an absolute necessity if the project will need outside financing. People thinking about starting up a business can get guidance from organizations such as SCORE, the Counselors of America’s Small Businesses.

Identify the Market

Once the business plan is in place, the next step is to conduct market research. Where can the product or service be sold? It’s critical to research the current competition and learn how business is being done in the industry sector. Is the market price-driven, or is the main issue quality? Another factor is determining the location of the business. For example, if the business is selling hot dogs from a cart, where does the cart get placed for business? If there are carts on every corner, price will be a heavy factor in success. If there’s not another cart for miles, high quality will prevail, and prices can be set at a premium. This is of course a very simple illustration, but the main points hold true.

Prepare for Lean Times

Small business owners eventually learn, often the hard way, to conserve money and prepare for slow times. For the hot dog vendor, there are less people in the street in winter, and so less money will be coming in. Some days there may be no business at all. Creating an annual budget will help. Having six to eight months of living expenses on hand at all times will get a small business over the rough spots. Driven entrepreneurs often live very frugally in the early years of their business.

Trust Gut Instinct

Gut instincts can hit small business owners at any time. It can happen in a sales meeting or during a call with a prospective customer. Something just doesn’t feel right. Most small business people pride themselves on integrity and fairness. Most, but not all. There will be a time when the gut says to walk away. And no matter how the numbers look, or how huge the potential is, the gut instinct almost always signals real danger. If possible, delay making a commitment if there’s unrealistic pressure, but pay attention to gut instincts as well.

If the dream and the drive are there, and a plan is in place, self-employment can be an extremely liberating way to live.

Cut Spending in Tiny Ways that Add up

By Cutting Out the Little Things Consumers Can Save Big

Is that second latte from a gourmet coffee shop really necessary? Does that one candy bar really satisfy a hunger craving that a healthy (cheaper) snack couldn’t? All of those seemingly small expenses really add up. If consumers cut out the small “extra” expenses, they could save some serious dough…enough to invest or save for a really big dream.

How to Cut back on Little Things and Save Big:

Cut out candy completely, or at least buy it in bulk at warehouse clubs. Face it, candy is cheap sugar and bodies don’t need it….and neither do pocket books. Save the calories and the bucks by eliminating these snacks completely. Can’t go cold turkey? At least curb the craving by buying a big bag only every two months from Sam’s or Costco and rationing candy intake. Feel like going for it and giving up the sugar for good? Then buy fruit and veggies in season from a warehouse club or a local farmers’ market. Fruits and vegetables may seem more expensive at the beginning, but once the habit begins, consumers notice their waistlines shrinking and they begin to eat less food altogether which saves in every way.

Buy whole coffee beans in bulk and invest in a grinder:

Again, warehouse clubs are the place to buy beans, or look for sales and coupons at the supermarket. Then find an inexpensive coffee grinder. The coffee savings alone will pay for itself in a matter of months. Ground coffee is more expensive and it doesn’t taste nearly as fresh as whole beans ground at home. And stay away from coffee shops! That’s where the real money is wasted. It’s ok to treat oneself to a latte once a month, but no more!

Save Spare Change in a Jar at Home:

That may sound childish, but if it is, kids actually have a good idea. They know the real meaning of saving before they get their hands on credit cards! So, stash that cash in an old coffee tin, a cookie jar or an old bowl somewhere and watch the pennies grow. At the end of the year invest and use that money to fulfill a dream. Every goal starts small. Just be patient. And that saving bug might just extend past the cookie jar. Saving can get addictive. The more one does it, they better he/she feels. Spending is a temporary high, and the let down is huge in terms of excess debt.

Remember, the little things matter the most in life. So find what small things are easy to cut out, and watch that money grow!