Directions For The New Year

Change Vs. SameI subscribe to more email lists than I care to think about. Part of the reason is I like to see what people are offering and what the trends are going to be. I have noticed more and more that the emphasis is engagement. This makes sense because first you have to get someone’s attention (with a cool video or neat thing to do) to start a relationship. The key word in that last sentence wasn’t “attention” (although that is important,) it was “relationship”.

Relationships are hard to start and harder to maintain. That is why so many of us prefer to try to get someone to buy something now. The problem is that there are so many things vying for people’s attention, and the percentage of immediate buyers for our particular product or service is very small, that it is really an uphill battle.

On top of this is the changing patterns of what works and what doesn’t. Things that worked today won’t work tomorrow, and things that stopped working years ago start coming back.

To that end, check out this article from Inc. Magazine. While they are described as trends in Internet Marketing, several of them apply directly to most any kind of marketing. You’ll see that the emphasis is on engagement and relationship building. Ads, which were never great, but had some usefulness to smaller businesses are going to get harder to use for engagement. Content will need to be richer and more useful.

None of this is bad news. It is simply the way things go. The one New Years resolution you should have is to plan to bring your prospects and customers closer to you, not through ad bombardment, but through relationship building. Make them feel you understand their problem. You don’t need to be their best friend, just a trusted advisor.

 

Naughty Networking

naughty-or-niceIt has happened to all of us. We meet someone at a networking event, we give them our card, and a week later we get their ezine in our inbox. When it comes to being naughty or nice when networking, one action stands out among the naughty: signing people up for your list just because they gave you their business card.

Now be honest, have you done this to people you have met? Maybe you rationalized it away by saying, “But they were interested!” Let’s look at this and come up with a better way.

It is easy to look at your list, see you need to grow it, then look at those business cards you collected at last night’s networking event and figure, hey, these people need to hear what we have to say! The problem is you didn’t ask for their permission. But EVERYONE says we must grow our list, so we add anyone that gives us a business card.

What we really need are interested and engaged people on our list. The person that politely listened to us at last night’s event (possibly partially anesthetized with alcohol) isn’t necessarily really interested in what we have to say.

So for the rest of the year, at the remaining holiday networking meetings you will be going to, try one of these methods (or both!)

  1. Ask for permission. Simply say, hey, if what I have been saying sounds good to you, can I add you to my newsletter list? If they say no, then don’t add them. If they say yes, add them before your next ezine or weekly tip goes out.
  2. Do this even if they gave you permission – consider it a bonus technique! Call them a few days after the event to tell them how much you enjoyed speaking with them, and that you would appreciate setting up a time for them to tell you more about themselves or their business. If you forgot to ask for permission before, now would be a good time.

It is all about relationships. Don’t try to start one by signing people up for your list without their permission. Would you want to begin a relationship with someone who starts off by violating your trust?

 

Avoiding Holiday Dead Time

Sparkly blue

I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it, “no one does business over the winter holidays.”

Yep, we know this for an absolute fact, that from Thanksgiving to New Years, things are dead.

Except that isn’t a “fact” it’s a business urban legend.

Sure, if your market is individuals and what you are selling isn’t exactly something that can be gifted, you might be up against the holiday budget – you know the one: I will only spend this much on presents this year, and of course they spend way more, leaving that much less for you. Of course that is assuming that everyone in the world is a serious spendthrift. Not everybody is. You won’t know unless you ask.

Businesses may be low on budget, but then again, if they have budget left, or they are trying to keep their tax burden down, they may be willing to invest in a small project or two. Maybe not the $10,000 6 month contract you were hoping for, but a quick and dirty $500 or $1,000 project that gets your foot in the door, and starts – or maintains, the trust relationship.

I can tell you this time of year is always my busiest. Sometimes I don’t even need to ask for more business, my clients just know I am available, and they jump on it.

The question is really do you want to do the work? Do you want to think of special offers to entice customers to buy – even if maybe they receive the product or service in January? Can you offer some quick short project that they can get immediate benefit from without making them double-check their wallet? Are you willing to do the work? That I am afraid is up to you!

How fast is your list spinning?

Spinning top with motion blur showing rotation

One metric about email that always gets mentioned is “open rate.” Simply defined, this is the percentage of your total list that opens any particular email. Open rates have a slight accuracy problem due to the ways people can review their email in the various email clients out there, but let’s go with them as they are.

Open rates are relatively useful to see the general popularity of your emails, and of course how any one email “performed.” However there is a simple metric that you can get from just about any email marketing system that will give you a sharper picture about audience behavior. I call that metric “List rotation.” What is it? Simple. List rotation is the percentage of your list that opened at least one email in some defined time period (3-6 months are pretty good periods.)  What this metric tells you is just how bad or well your list is performing overall (I know, the actual metric of performance is how much did you make off your list, but let’s play with this a bit.)

Let’s say that you find 50% of your list opened at least one email over 6 months. Yet you might only be averaging a 10-12% open rate. What is going on here?  Depending on the demographic makeup of your list, what content is interesting or engaging may vary from person to person, which causes the rotation: “That looks cool, I’ll open that one, but that one… ehh.” People get a ton of email, and it has become a chore picking and choosing which emails should be opened on any given day. The good news is they are interested in what you have to say, the bad news is they aren’t interested enough every time. You can never find content that appeals to everyone, and it is even harder when you have a diverse list built from many different sources and list build techniques. When you start noticing a lower open rate, before you panic, take a look at your rotation rate – it may not be as bad as you think!

 

Are you afraid of Werewolves?

werewolfHalloween is over, and we can all put away the garlic to protect us from vampires, and we should – but won’t, put away our belief in silver bullets – the preferred way to stop a werewolf. You probably don’t believe in werewolves, but lots of small business owners seem to believe in silver bullets.

C’mon, we’ve all been there. Our finger hovering over the mouse button debating if we should click to buy this new program that will generate millions of dollars, without a list, without a product, without, I don’t know, perhaps any skills at all!

This is the silver bullet – the one thing that will solve all problems, that will guide us to ultimate business success. And, of course, like werewolves and vampires, it is a fantasy.

There is no one program that will solve your problems, certainly not one that is “NOT $5,000, NOT $3,000, but just for today, for $997…”

No, I am afraid that from the beginning of time, business success comes from a combination of hard work, a little luck, and a relentless drive to jump on every opportunity that presents itself. That said, there is a bright side to some of these “silver bullet” programs. They may provide you with some leads you wouldn’t have gotten before. They may teach you something and let you bypass one or two painful lessons.

You didn’t expect to become an overnight success by finishing one college course or term (which was probably a lot more expensive than most of these programs,) why do you expect one product or program will be any different?

Halloween is over. Put away the garlic and the silver bullets, let’s get to work.

 

Yes, and…

YES!

If you have ever seen or participated in improv, you probably know the “Yes and…” routine. Each person in the chain makes a statement or asks a question to the next person, and they reply, “Yes, and…” then makes another statement or asks another question to the next person. The word “but”, because its implied negativity is a buzz kill, is not allowed. I recently found out just how powerful replacing “but” with “and” is in my own self-talk.

In my last phone conversation with my coach I was listing some of the things I had accomplished in the last few weeks. At the end of the recitation, she stopped me cold by asking me “why did you sometimes say ‘but’ when you were going through some of these accomplishments?”

I thought about that for a second, and replied that it was a qualifier to some of the things I had done, indicating that I hadn’t quite achieved what I had set out to do (even though what I had done was pretty darn cool.)

In response, she repeated some of the things I had said, using “and” instead of “but”. The result was amazing. What was once a denigration of an accomplishment became an affirmation of the deed, and an opportunity to improve on what I felt had made it not quite as special.

If you have followed me for a while or have spent some time with me, you know that I am not into what is best called “woo-woo.” I believe in the power of words (hey I write pretty much every week right?), but generally do not subscribe almost supernatural powers to them. I am much more into action.

However, intellectually I can understand the power of self-talk to either be a motivator or a de-motivator. In this case, replacing, “but” with “and” not only sounds different to your ear, but physically feels different when you say it. It also forces you to change what comes after the “and”: “I did this, but this part of it didn’t work” becomes “I did this, and while this part didn’t work, I still got a great reaction.” Changing what comes after “and” is pretty much required otherwise the sentence sounds incomplete – and we all know that we want things to be complete! (see “I thought you said…”)

We can all find good and bad in almost everything we do. Some of us are even programmed to temper our accomplishments with a “but” so we don’t sound boastful. The simple act of changing “but” to “and” can dramatically change how you feel about yourself and how others perceive your accomplishments when you are telling stories or informing someone what you have been up to. Try it. I think you will find it a fascinating and enjoyable change in your self-talk. I do.

I thought you said…

Why???I received an email from one of the many Internet Marketers I follow the other day. In the email he said he was releasing a post from a private Facebook group that gave all this awesome information. He just thought it was so good it should be shared with everyone, not just his members. Cool!

When I clicked on the link, I was more than a bit surprised to find several sections of the post blurred out and overlaid with a message that this section was reserved for members only, and of course a link to join his group. Wait a minute. I thought he said he was sharing the post, not selected pieces of it!

Once I reviewed the original email I saw what he was doing. Pieces of what was promised in the email were unblurred in the post, just not everything, which was supposed to build desire on your part (human nature to complete a thought – if you are only given three steps of a four step process, your mind desperately wants to complete it by seeing the fourth step.) I am sure that he will get a bunch of sign-ups as well.

That said, I felt that was more than a tad dishonest. I was promised a post with great information. I was given a partial post with some great information. Was the information blurred the real meat of the post, or just some filler? I’ll never know. I do know that I felt a bit cheated.

Do I really believe a Facebook post would contain the key to my success, and that I could merrily go make millions of dollars thumbing my nose at all of the coaches and products that promise to help me reach that goal? Hardly. So why should he? Why not expose the whole post?

I suspect that he felt the basic human need to get that missing information would garner more sales than complaints, and hey, he did let some real good information come out from the post. Still…

What do you think? Was this a great piece of marketing that gave value and still left out enough to make you go crazy with desire to join these other marketers in the group, or a slightly manipulative piece of trickery? I’m not sure I would release something like that, would you? I’d like to get your opinion. Leave a comment here at the blog.

The Whole Package

pieces of the puzzle

I had an interesting discussion with a “digital marketing expert” at an event recently.  He related to me that he had gotten an over twenty percent engagement rate for a Facebook page for one of his clients – a pretty nifty trick given that Facebook themselves will tell you that two percent is more common. However, there was no mention of the action taken from that engagement.

This was followed by a show of utter disdain for my assertions that the purpose of any engagement in social media was to drive traffic to your website, and that email is the glue a business needs to make their marketing framework more effective.  This was at the beginning of the event. As we separated to take our seats he promised we would talk more later. We didn’t, for which I was thankful.

Rather than take offense, I sat down and thought what lessons there were to be learned here. The first is that the desire for that silver bullet: “all I need is tons of likes on Facebook,” is very strong. I think a lot of us, and I will include myself in that group, have, at some point, chased after the newest shiny object, the newest method to “bring in thousands of leads effortlessly,” thinking maybe this is the one. That lesson leads directly into the second: there is no one way to make things happen, rather it is doing a combination of things (but not too many!) well that leads to success.

I’m not known for my love of social media, but I don’t dismiss it as being totally useless, as this “digital marketing expert” seemed to dismiss email or lead capture at the website. Social media or only having a sign up form on your web site isn’t going to be sufficient. People need to know about your page and your website. This awareness can come from speaking, networking, and yes the good old telephone, just to name a few.

It isn’t the one piece that closes the deal, it is the whole package.

 

Bad News About Online Ads

Seth Godin recently had an interesting post about ad blockers and advertising in general. Based on the timing, I think his post might have been in response to Apple’s announcement that with the release of IOS9 that they were going to allow ad blockers in the App store. Seth, as usual, had a rather philosophical view on things, discussing how advertisers had failed to change their ways in the way they communicated with their potential customers (at least through advertising,) making the use of ad blockers all but inevitable.

Seth’s post made me think about what all of this means to the smaller business – the smaller on-line advertiser, and what can be done. Regarding the latter, ads will be seen less and there isn’t much you can do to change that. Regarding the former, the medium to long-term effect will be that the price of a click will increase. Since ads will be seen less, you can pretty much bank on Google, Facebook, and everyone else that charges by the click will charge more, since there will be less clicks; making pay-per-click advertising a less desirable way to attract prospects. So do we as small business people give up on online advertising just as so many turned away from television, radio, and a host of other types of advertising because the return on investment simply isn’t there?

Perhaps. I have never been a fan of using Facebook or Google ads when you are just starting out or when you are still fairly small. While you can still get some pretty good pricing on some clicks, the actual conversion rate is pretty low, and you can rapidly eat up your budget. Wait, I hear the hue and cry of “social media will save us!” Well, not really. If ad revenues start to fall, companies like Facebook will make sure that all of that wonderful free traffic will dry up. Actually it is already starting to. Facebook deliberately keeps engagement rates low on posts to business pages.

So what to do? Returning to Seth’s post, we have to earn people’s trust, and their attention. Advertising will be harder and more expensive so we better make every ad count. We need to provide good content that our audiences actually want.

Recently I’ve heard that content marketing is dying as well. Certainly the age of advertising masquerading as content is starting to end. Or content promised to change your life, that consistently fails to live up to its hype. People want content they can use. That is relevant to their situation.

There is a fine line between giving away the farm and intriguing people sufficiently to get them to invest in your products and services. I’d start working on that line sooner rather than later.

If you’d like to see Seth Godin’s take on this, here is the URL: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2015/09/ad-blocking.html

It Worked Before

Change Vs. SameWe’ve all done it. We do something that works really well once, so we figure we can pull it off again and again. We start to think the gravy train will never end.

One company I know thought it would be a great idea to send out a post card to their existing clients announcing signing on a new client. They felt it would reinforce their credibility and let their clients know they weren’t the only ones who had made the smart choice to work with them.

The first couple of cards were relatively well received – multiple customers called in to congratulate the company, so they figured they would keep doing it for each new client they got. Unfortunately by about the 5th or 6th card, the company started receiving multiple complaints – especially from the customers who were getting multiple cards (the mailing list had duplicates, and no one cleaned it.) Yet, they sent out several more cards, before finally bowing to pressure from several key customers, and protests from employees fielding the complaints. Instead of customers seeing the company as a smart choice, customers saw them as annoying and unprofessional. Pretty much the opposite of the impression they had hoped to make. Imagine the reaction today if that had been email!  The unsubscribes would have shot up, and probably a few spam complaints just for good measure.

This example may sound extreme, but look at what is ending up in your inbox or mailbox every day. How many of the same-old, same-old messages do you just automatically trash without opening? How many of your messages might be meeting the same fate?

“It worked before” is a cousin to “We’ve always done it that way.” It is lazy marketing. Rather than trying to be creative and change things up regularly, we will sometimes look for the easy out. The thing that worked before that won’t require any thought, and especially won’t require any risk. At least no risk until it blows up in our face, or simply stops working. The truly interesting thing is how so many businesses when confronted with the reality that what they are doing has stopped working, blame it on outside forces – some new player with lower prices, or the economy sucks. It couldn’t possibly be what they are doing, after all, it worked before!

Take a look at your marketing. Are you doing the same thing over and over again, hoping that the old magic will suddenly reappear? Maybe it is time to say, “Well it worked before, but it is time to try something new.” Change can be scary, but it can also be incredibly profitable.