Business not on the web? It’s invisible

October 8th, 2010
Birth of the Internet plaque at the William_Ga...
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That headline’s been true about young consumers and business people for a number of years. If your business doesn’t have a respectable  and lively presence on the Internet (primarily in the form of a website ), young consumers and business people are almost guaranteed not to know you exist. They just don’t look anywhere else.

Now the Pew Internet study people have confirmed it’s becoming true for a growing number of Americans of all ages. Here’s the gist of their report:

The commercial use [My note: this is about buying products, not about casual use of social media sites, games, or videos] of the internet by American adults has grown since the mid-2000s, with 58% of Americans now reporting that they perform online research concerning the products and services that they are considering purchasing. That is an increase from 49% who said they conducted product or service research online in 2004.

The study doesn’t say it was careful about including all ages; they just say “age 18 and up.” But I can tell you, when my former neighbor, age somewhere in her late 70s, finally stopped resisting getting a computer, I knew there was a sea change in usage levels coming.

My friend’s been resisting for decades—though she’s a former teacher and will absolutely love to do the kind of research the Internet has finally made possible for all of us, though people have offered to help her learn, and though she’s invested many hours trying to teach herself using the library machines—she just couldn’t bring herself to commit to spending the money. And although she’s been having a great struggle learning, she’s determined now to make it work.

Think about it. Another intelligent customer out there with disposable income may be looking for your business on the web. How do your online credentials look? Do they present your business in its best light?

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Marketing is like courtship

March 23rd, 2010

Arranging a marriage contract

The the challenge of business marketing is that it works best when you do it regularly and consistently. I have been faithful to that philosophy for years. But recently I’ve been away from my newsletter and my blog. My apologies to those of you who counted on me as a beacon of consistency!

At any rate, I took a small survey at Christmas to see if people liked the format of the newsletter or preferred it some other way. Consensus was that a single article was a good choice. So that’s the way it will stay–and here’s one for today.

Marketing is not about throwing your money away on “stuff that doesn’t work.” It’s not about jumping on the band wagon for anything new the minute it comes out. It’s about consistently presenting your business in the marketplace in ways that reflect who you are—what exactly you can do for your customers and why the hell anybody would want to do business with you. It’s about putting a face and a voice to your  business. And it’s about staying in front of people in whatever ways your industry and your prospects like to get their information.

And it’s always, always about speaking in your True Voice. In the madness of today’s electronic media deluge, your customers can easily find your competitors. If they don’t find what they need on your website fast, they’re gone in the blink of a Google search. If they can’t figure out very quickly why they would want to choose you as their vendor, they’ll find a site that does speak to them.

And it’s a fact that even buyers of the most competitive products even at the biggest corporations want to check out vendors’ websites before they call—even when the vendor’s been personally referred. Think of it like a courtship for an arranged marriage: the boy wants to sneak a peek at the girl before deciding to invite her out for the first time.

In business, the buyer wants to know something more about you and your business before he talks to you. He’s looking for information, yes. But, like the boy checking out the girl, he wants to get a feeling as well. This intangible quality about your business can only be conveyed when your website speaks from the heart—speaks about what truly matters to you in terms of serving your customers.

Call me if you have questions about writing or design for your website. Chicago 773.857.7118. Cleveland 216.472.8502. Or just email me your questions.

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Everything old is new – blogging's big

July 25th, 2009
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 30:  Actress Meg R...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Journalists have certainly become enlightened since I first started writing about blogging in 2003. Many of them now write blogs of their own–some I know have begun making their living via the blog format. Still the post below from 2003 still makes some good points.

Blogging: tip of the iceberg or tail of the dog?
Originally posted December, 2003

The Quill, a quasi-scholarly publication of the Society of Professional Journalists, has been arriving in my mailbox for the last few months because I became a member of that well-respected group this year (2003). I glance through it, but much of their content is related to traditional journalistic discussions rather than to the concerns of business. Some business writers have been known sometimes to find that approach a tiny bit self-important.

Imagine my surprise, then, to see two articles in this month’s edition (“Hard News versus Narrative”) that deal with the struggle of a few veteran journalists to convince the denizens of their world that they ought to be telling stories instead of rigidly following the 5-W format (who, what, where, when, why) for their reporting.

One high-profile journalist, Tom Hallman, Jr., laments his inability to keep up with requests from young journalists about how to tell stories in warm, personal terms. Call me crazy, but I see this as the tail following the dog…the dog being the trend that has spawned the phenomenon of blogging–the need to take a simple, honest, individual-voice approach to writing–even for “news” stories.

The point is–you want people to read what you write! And because the competition for people’s attention (just like for your business) has multiplied exponentially with every improvement in the Internet, you just aren’t as likely to get what you want with old-fashioned marketing approaches.

People do not have time to read pre-digested, uninspired, impersonal corporate-speak. Write as if you were telling your friend about whatever you are frustrated, angry or happy about.

People want to read writing that’s from the heart. How close to your heart is your business? So, write!

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Email marketing can be easier than you think

May 8th, 2009

I’ve just discovered an amazing software program. Actually I was already using it for something powerful–automatically sending emails to subscribers when one of my blogs updates.

Now I’ve discovered this AWeber software does way more. It offers a way to create and automate an effective email marketing program–not just a reminder to keep in touch with prospects, but a way to DO it ahead of time. Check it out and take a free test drive here.

4 ways a white paper helps you sell

March 31st, 2009

What’s a white paper–and why should you care? Good question. You’re out there trying to run your business, and in the current economic climate that may be a more-than-usually challenging job. So who has time to develop another marketing tool?

There are several reasons smart companies are making the time. But first, let’s define our terms.

What’s a white paper?
The term white paper means a 6 to 12-page (can be 50 pages or more) professional write-up that explains objectively a possible solution to one of an executive’s specific pressing business problems. It can also be called a special report or other name. Here’s how it might work:

  • If you’re a software company executive whose prospects need to track orders or coordinate resources, you could offer a white paper explaining how a new software solution has been proven to reduce lost orders and save money by optimizing trucks, pallets, drivers, and other resources.
  • If you’re a private equity investment executive, you might offer a white paper that details steps to help people understand how to tell a smart investment from a poor one.
  • If you’re a staffing company executive, you could educate your prospects about the complexities of making smart hires, explaining aspects of a familiar process that are not well understood by most people.

In other words, you don’t give your process or your tools away. Instead, you explain what the needs are, talk about where trends are heading, and hint at solutions (that you can, of course, provide).

Why should you care?
White papers offer a powerful but subtle way to position your company as the expert in a particular arena. A prospect who has engaged enough to ask for your information is a prospect who is genuinely concerned about the problem you’re addressing and who already feels a certain level of trust with you.

  1. White papers generate interest. They offer education and information that addresses a particularly challenging point in the reader’s business situation.
  2. White papers are no-pressure. The format says we’re-sharing-useful-material-here-not trying to sell you.
  3. White papers have credibility. Information is backed up by third-party, objective research. You’re not making claims in a vacuum. You offer proven sources as the basis of your assertions.
  4. White papers build relationships. They offer an invaluable opportunity to speak in your company’s True Voice and show customers you care about their problems.

But when do you sell?
Of course, you need to make sure you follow up with those who download or receive your white paper. That’s part of the marketing that helps make it effective. But if you turn the initial follow-up into a hard-sell situation, you risk turning the prospect off–and ensuring they will be unlikely to trust your future offers of information.

However, if the customer is ready to buy when you follow up, you’re in a strong position to make the sale right then. And if the customer is only in the early stages of research, you’ve initiated a relationship in which you’ll likely be welcome to stay in touch with occasional value-add offerings. That’s how you make sure yours is the company that comes to mind when the customer has more questions or is ready to move forward.

With your white paper you’re reinforcing your expertise and getting your company name and logo in front of the customer in a no-pressure, trusting, learning situation–a great place to be in today’s high-speed, short-attention-span, what’s-next? marketing environment.

Sincerely,
Barbara

P.S. If you’d like to learn how a white paper/special report might be a good tool for your company–and get a coupon for $50–call or email me. Chicago 773.292.3294. Cleveland 216.472.8502. barbara@reallygoodfreelancewriter.com.

* Good on your next project of $150 or more Read the rest of this entry »

What's new in marketing–and 7 things you can't forget

November 12th, 2008

“There’s nothing new under the sun.” We’ve all heard this quote, perhaps uttered by a cynic about some new idea. Attributed to Ambrose Bierce, here’s the full original:

“There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don’t know.” – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary (1842 – 1914)

Obviously, he wasn’t implying that our creative efforts are doomed. But even as new technologies seem to be constantly surprising us–and demanding complex new ways of measuring ROI–that saying remains true in business. As long as human beings think and make decisions the same ways they always have, the fundamentals of marketing and advertising remain the same, no matter what forms you use to serve them up.

There are certainly a few new twists in targeting, though.

One of the unique issues facing American marketers today is shifting demographics. As technology and the Internet expand our ability to target ever-narrower audience segments, we need to research these segments carefully. For some industries, that might mean ferreting out demographics like marital status. Fifty-one percent of women in America today are single–a dramatic change in 30 years in the landscape of our society. Singles tend to view the world a bit differently than married people, and marketers who want their business will do well to take that into consideration when crafting their messages.**

Racial identity is another arena that complicates U.S. marketing today. Reaching audiences with a different language besides English means paying attention not just to language but also to cultural norms. And it’s not always easy to get the demographic facts. One study indicates that in North Carolina, 118,000 new-birth mothers in 2002 recorded their children’s race in 600 different ways. The National Center for Health Statistics collapsed all those into 10 standard race categories, e.g., by reclassifying “other” as “white.” The reality is that ethnic and racial diversity continues to grow in the U.S. And while the day may come when racial identity will no longer be a major way of segmenting audiences, as of today it is still a meaningful demographic–and a sound basis for creative segmenting.

Green thinking offers another opportunity to target companies and individuals with the environmentally-conscious mindset–and the number of those companies is growing. Mega-giant General Electric recently won an award for its green-marketing campaign.

Even while this goes on, the basic elements of marketing and advertising have always been the same: words, images, and sounds. Some of the most effective message-carriers today have evolved over the last 10 years: web content, online articles, e-newsletters, and blogs.

New formats such as video and mobile marketing are growing as vehicles for your marketing messages, especially to younger folks. Your goal remains the same: create customers and retain their business over time. And the objectives you must achieve in order to meet that goal haven’t changed:

  1. Capture your reader’s/listener’s/viewer’s attention.
  2. Describe a solution to something important to them.
  3. Create trust–and convince them of the value of your solution.
  4. Support your position with client testimonials and/or celebrity endorsements (Michael Jordan/NIKE). Riskier but effective if well done, brand yourself with a quirky character (GEICO’s Brit-humor-inspired gecko).
  5. Provide an incentive and a deadline to take action.
  6. Give prompt, courteous service.
  7. Keep in touch with value-add content.

So yes, you have new vehicles and new ways of segmenting your audiences. But the basics remain the same: creative words and images that express your True Voice and meet your marketing objectives in fresh and powerful ways.

Sincerely,
Barbara

P.S. Blogging continues to grow as an effective tool for connecting with prospects and clients. If you’re interested in starting one, email or call me for a free consultation on how it might work for your company. Cleveland office: 216.472.8502. Chicago office: 773.292.3294.

By the way, don’t forget to vote!

** All single people–male and female–tend to have less conservative views. Interestingly, 60% of America’s 93 million unmarried people support Barack Obama according to a Gallup poll. Here’s more on the subject of singlism by Psychology Today writer Bella DePaulo, PhD.

7 more blog blurbs. And introducing…one-stop design/copywriting services

May 22nd, 2008

Still got doubts about blogging for your business? Guys, it is not a fad. It’s an integral part of the new way of being in the global marketplace.Whatever terms you use, Web 2.0, social networking, new media, etc., the fact is a blog is part of the new approach to marketing. It gives you a new and powerful way to engage with your prospects and customers. An opportunity to build a personal–albeit virtual–relationship with them at a low cost. Even if you hire a professional blog writer–which you should definitely do if you can’t find time yourself and/or don’t have a staff member who has the skill and can devote the time–the cost, compared to advertising and other methods of reaching prospects is breathtakingly minimal.

Some statistics from a survey of over 2500 Internet users (in Germany, where the corporate blogging phenomenon is only just beginning):

  1. 1 out of every 10 Internet users reads blogs
  2. 91% of blog readers expect fast responses to questions and comments in enterprise blogs
  3. 90% feel blogs should clearly differentiate commercial from non-commercial content.
  4. 54% of blog readers form their opinions about products/companies on the basis of blogs.
  5. 51% of blog readers visit product and/or corporate sites as a result of reading blogs.
  6. 58% of blog readers read them to find news and information they can’t find otherwise.
  7. 57% of them are interested in the personal opinions of the authors.

Keep in mind that one thing people are endlessly fascinated by is other people. That’s why it’s so important to have a personal voice in the blog. And even if you’re reporting on something they could find elsewhere on the Internet–there is theoretically “nothing new under the sun”–your post becomes unique when you express your personal feeling about an event, a trend, a circumstance, or a story.

Don’t worry about how many numbers of readers you have. Don’t worry if you don’t get comments. Don’t ask for a financial ROI on your blog–it’s not a sales tool. It’s credibility. It’s a credential for your knowledge and your expertise. It’s the True Voice® of your company.

I’m delighted to say the chief new-media strategist at Edelman, the world’s largest PR agency, agrees with my #1 piece of advice about how to write a blog: “Be authentic.” That’s where the true power is.

Sincerely,
Barbara

P.S. I am thrilled to announce that I can now offer you the opportunity for one-stop shopping for powerful content and beautiful design. I have partnered with two top professional graphic design services companies, one in Chicago and one in Cleveland. As a team, we deliver the ultimate in printed materials to carry your True Voice into the marketplace–and attract and retain loyal, profitable customers. Call me for a complimentary consultation any time. 773.292.3294 or 216.472.8502.

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If Microsoft buys Yahoo…crystal ball says

February 12th, 2008

What does it mean that Microsoft is trying to buy Yahoo? Well, let’s see. I envision it as kind of like Cable vs. DSL–”giant-with-unlimited-funds-and-access-to-every-computer” fighting the other “giant-with-unlimited-funds-and-access-to-every-computer.” 

Here’s a really good analysis analysis of the potential consequences by a non-insider-but-sure-could-be. What Does The Yahoo/Microsoft Debate Mean For The Rest Of Us?

Will our screens begin having a run of ad spots every fourth time we turn them on? Will they feature the browser equivalent of turtles entertaining us with barely-amusing anecdotes about why some small difference between the two of them is critical to our happiness and success? I hope they hire better advertising agencies than Comcast…

Typo fun and a holiday announcement: changing angles on this blog

December 9th, 2007

Was looking for a song I sang one year with a church choir. Using Google, struggling to remember the line so I could look it up by lyrics… Stumbled on this amusing typo on a Christian music site:

CALL TO WORSHIP Lyrics – MERCY ME
Prince of Peach, almighty God Counselor, ….”

So proofread your work–even if you’re a great speller and an excellent typist. I am both of those things, and yet I am appalled to look back sometimes at one of my posts and realize it contains one and even sometimes two typos that my fingers just seemed to type without my knowledge. Isn’t that how all mistakes seems to be made—without our knowledge?

I’ve noticed recently that I’ve not been posting here very often. Let’s face it. I’ve been ranting about the value of blogs since I discovered the medium back in 2003.  And I haven’t changed my mind about that. But, although I’d be happy to do a presentation for you on why it’s a good idea to blog for your business, I’d much rather write in my own blog on a broader basis.

One of my chief pieces of advice to business blog writers is to write about what you enjoy. Even though it’s trendy now to blog (thank goodness it’s finally been recognized as the powerful medium it is), if you aren’t passionately involved in your business, don’t try to publish a blog about it! So I’m going back to my former polyglot approach to topics.

And the first topic is wish you a wonderful Christmas or Hannukah or whatever you celebrate at this beautiful end-of-year holiday time.

Presentation gives tips on blogging for business

October 30th, 2007

Was invited to Cleveland recently to do a presentation about blogging for businesses. It seems there’s still a lot of confusion about what a blog is supposed to be, although more small business owners and corporations are realizing a blog is great for SEO (search engine optimization) and that this form of communication can’t be considered a passing fad–it’s a solid trend. Once you decide you want to set one up, the challenges include picking what to write and figuring out how to write it. So I addressed some of those questions in my presentation.

Business blogs are all about using the power of the Internet to communicate with your customers and prospects in a non-commercial, personal way. Why would you want to do that? Because we are all inundated with information and commercial messages today. We have to find new ways to cut through the noise–a blog is a powerful one.

You can review the presentation slides by going to “5 Reasons Why Blogging Is Good for Your Business.” Check out the links to some interesting CEO blogs. Email me if you have questions or want to discuss how a blog might work for your business.