Interesting times for Digital Marketers

interestingSome weeks very little changes across the platforms we use to reach our customers and prospects. Those are what I think of as good weeks. The only certainty however is change, and this week has seen a whole heap of changes from Google and Facebook. Here’s a little about each and some links where you can read more in depth analysis.

Google Places becomes Google+ Local

Google are beating the Google+ drum hard, despite the weak engagement numbers, and have given their local business product the Plus treatment with this overhaul of features and functionality. TheNextWeb concentrate on what Google+ Local means for users while Google Local expert Mike Blumenthal covers how the Google+ Local changes affect businesses.

Google kills etailers free traffic source, Google Products/Shopping

After a decade in beta, the trouble-prone (setting and letting it run never worked very well, with the constant data format and required field changes) Google Base/Products/Shopping part of Google is going away. When it worked it could be a reasonable source of traffic, but now Google have laid to waste the comparison shopping sites it was intended to compete with, by way of the Panda updates, they’re free to start raking in the cash by making it a purely pay to play deal. If you want your products to appear in the SERPs like they used to it’s time to crank up the Ad budget.

price-comparison-trends-uk-june-2012
UK Price Comparison Websites traffic trends since 2009

Facebook finally doing something for their real customers

Facebook, reeling from the reality check of their post-IPO stock slump, have rolled out a couple of long overdue new features for the people who ultimately keep the lights on: their advertisers. Page admins now have some shiny new abilities that will make managing a page just a little bit easier. First up is scheduled posts. Sure you’ve been able to do that before with third party services (and these services remain useful still, particularly ones that allow you to post an RSS feed to Facebook, but now you can schedule a post in the future. Mashable have a little bit of a kvetch about the interface  whilst AllFacebook set out how to use it.

Secondly, something that third party tools weren’t ideally placed to provide – you can now assign different levels of admin roles, all the way from ‘Insight Analyst’ – someone who can’t make or comment on posts (other than as their own personal account) all the way up to Manager, with each subsequent level gaining the ability to comment, add posts and finally the ability to assign admin privileges to others. AllFacebook has the details.

Five Useful Free iPhone apps for Local Business Marketers

iPhone in handThe iPhone is a handy little business too for business local marketing, here are just a few apps, all free, that can help you create content, spy on your competition and keep up with what your customers are saying about you.

Share 360 degree views with Photosynth

Creating 360 degree interactive panoramas used to cost lots of money and take lots of time. The only places you’d see them would be fancy hotel and real estate websites. Armed with just an iPhone 4 and a copy of Microsoft’s (yes, I was surprised too!) free Photosynth app, and a Windows Live account (Hotmail, live.com etc) you can shoot, upload and embed on your own website a very neat 360 panorama. The embedding part requires you to log in to Photosynth.net with your Windows Live account to get the embed code. Any business that has a physical location they want to show off has no excuse now!

Keep your finger on the pulse with Twitter

For instantly updating your Twitter stream, posting news and specials, keeping up with what your followers are doing, or checking up on your saved searches. Make sure to turn on notifications for mentions and replies to maintain a decent response time to enquiries too.

Spy on the competition with Foursquare

Foursquare might not have hit the mainstream in terms of user numbers, but those that do use it are very much the vocal minority. As a business owner you should claim your listing, make sure your business is correctly classified and run specials anyway as the app draws attention to anywhere offering a special. So why would you want to use the iPhone app itself, when you really shouldn’t be checking in to your own location? A few reasons:

1. Keeping track of any new comments by Foursquare users (especially complaints!) at your own business but also your competitors.
2. Finding out who your (Foursquare using) regulars are, and maybe following/friending them
3. Keeping tabs on any specials your competitors are offering
4. Seeing where’s hot nearby right now (places with lots of people checking in)
5. Posting photos of your location – you can upload photos directly from the iPhone app, and places with photos get more attention

Update your Facebook page on the go

Whilst the Facebook app doesn’t make it easy to update your Facebook Page status on the go (a menu item for ‘Your Pages’ would be nice!) all you need to do is search for your Page then when you’ve found it, add it to Favorites, then it will appear on the second page of your Facebook app’s menu. Once there, getting into it is simple. Anything you post via the Facebook app will get attributed to the Page, not your personal account.

Create video slideshows with Animoto

With the Animoto app and a free Animoto account you can create 30 second videos by picking photos from your iPhone Photo Library, choosing a soundtrack from Animoto’s categorised collections then share that video on Facebook, Twitter, by email and more. Paid accounts are available that lift the time restriction and for a per video fee you can create higher resolution versions. Creating a video slideshow like this is a fun thing to do when you have a special event. You can get something up on Facebook within minutes.

 

image credit: John Karakatsanis via Creative Commons on Flickr.

What’s your Groupon Strategy?

Businesses are falling over themselves to get featured on Groupon and its clones.

Prague alone, a city of just over a million people, has a double-digits number of group buying deals sites. I’ve taken the opportunity to buy a number of deals myself from several different sites. The curse of the marketer is to evaluate every experience they have as a customer from the other side. So this is the “here’s how I’d do it” post.

A while back I wrote about the pros and cons of using group buying deals sites as a marketing tactic. Since then there was a very interesting first hand report by the owner of a cafe in Portland, Oregon about her experience running a Groupon promotion and how it nearly put them out of business.

Even if the site you’re looking at working with doesn’t take 50% (or 100% if the deal has a sticker price of less than $10 – yes seriously!!) as Groupon does, you’re looking at drastically reduced revenue, so you’d better do your sums and be trying damn hard to make the deal worth your while long term, because short term it’s very likely to be in the red. If you’re not sure, don’t jump into it because everyone else is, there are plenty of cautionary tales out there. Still set on it? Here’s my take on what a business should do when they run a Groupon…

Be smart about the deal

The last thing you want to do with a deal is lose money or damage your business’s long term viability by attracting bargain hunters that won’t come back or training customers to buy only when there’s a special. Think about what you could offer very carefully. Consider offering something that by its nature is likely to lead to return business. It might not even be part of your regular offering, it could be an introductory class if you teach something or provide a service, restaurants can make their deals exclusive of drinks (usually the highest profit area anyway), or for a special event (tasting evenings perhaps) rather than offer a discount that can be used anytime within three months. Retailers should consider long and hard what they’re offering – half off $50 worth of any goods means you’re left with $10 or so to pay for the product. The best option for retail would be to offer a single product or range of products which normally have enormous margins (maybe talk to the supplier about running the promotion), to make sure they cover their costs, and that they put into action the rest of these suggestions.

Before

  1. Do your sums. I know I’ve said that already but this is the fundamental ‘no money, no business’ part. If you’re losing money on every sale you’re not going to be in business for long. Work out how much you need to make extra from each customer. What extra products or services can you sell? Deals that can only be used one at a time, for a partial amount of a bill give you the best chance of making full ticket price revenue on the rest of the order. Most of all, don’t try and sell more than you can handle. If you’re a service provider (say a fitness instructor) don’t try and sell 3000 hours of your time for a tiny sum, you’ll end up resenting the customers.
  2. Keep it quiet (publicly) – you’re about to run an offer at a dramatically cheaper price, don’t damage your revenues in the days leading up to it by tipping anyone off.
  3. Tell your team. Make sure everyone who works for you is aware (but sworn to secrecy) of the impending deal. Explain the conditions so everyone is clear.
  4. Get a commitment from the site for how long the expired deal will be published for, at a well keyworded URL – but not including your business name. Make sure the links to your site on the page are not nofollowed and if possible, use valuable keywords, not ‘click here’ or ‘website’.
  5. If you can, find out if the site will let you follow up with buyers of the deal by email, and if you can identify redeemed and unredeemed deals.

On the day

  1. Tell your network – tweet it, post it on your Facebook wall, your blog and website. Consider emailing it to your list. You might think this contradicts point 2 above, and goes against the whole ‘group buying deals are about getting new customers’ line but as Joseph Jaffe teaches us in Flip The Funnel, your existing customers deserve to be treated at least as well as new customers. If you don’t tell your existing customers it’s like you’re hiding it from them. And hiding the truth is like lying, and lying is bad (see, I learnt everything I needed to know about marketing in kindergarten). Plus if you’re running this offer, you want it to ‘tip’ (become valid) and you want it to spread. Your existing customers are the most likely to share the deal with friends because they already know you.
  2. Be staffed well enough to handle the enquiries. Even if the deal doesn’t start till the next day, expect phone calls, emails and personal visits.

When the deal is being redeemed

  1. Schedule demand, if you can – if you’re a service provider, try and spread out the bookings so that you can be available for full-price paying clients.
  2. Stand by the conditions, but don’t be a stickler – in the story of the cafe owner, she was prompted to write the blog post to tell her story because she refused a longtime customer’s Groupon because it had expired. It would take a really understanding customer not to feel mistreated. Most customers aren’t. Saying ‘we have to stick by the rules because other people took advantage’ doesn’t cut it. The cafe had received the money (what little there was) from that customer’s Groupon, expired or not.
  3. Get something out of the interaction – assuming most of the buyers of the deal are new to your business, take the opportunity to grow your email list (tag it if you can, that information is going to be useful), Twitter followers or likes on Facebook. Print up some fliers to hand people when they present their deal coupon – taking a ‘what next’ approach. Suggest places they can write reviews, or connect with you further. Consider that these are value-conscious consumers and for many any loyalty they have is to the deal site, but if there’s something you can do to capture future business, now’s your chance. Have a loyalty programme? Tell them about it. High-tech with plastic cards? Give them a form to fill. Low-tech with paper cards and stamps for each visit? Hand them their card with the first stamp on.

After the deal has expired

  1. Go for the final squeeze – if you segmented your mailing list with new signups from the deal now is a perfect time to go for a final squeeze – what action would you like these people to take? Remember this group aren’t quite like your organically grown list of existing customers, so tailor the ask to that. If the deal site allow it, write to deal buyers through them.
  2. Measure – if you planned well, you had metrics that you would judge against. Now’s the time to do that – take the scores for whatever you were pushing for – revenue? Facebook likes? Email signups? Repeat visits?
  3. Evaluate – take the numbers from the last step – did it make sense for you to do it? What could have been done better? What did you learn? Would you do it again?

I’m pretty sure I’ve missed several nuances. If you agree, let me know in the comments.

Update: If you want to run the numbers, I recommend downloading the Groupon profitability spreadsheet helpfully prepared by Rags Srinivasan.

Image credit: NCReedPlayer

What’s on your radar?

BattleshipsYou’re busily going about your work, doing what’s necessary to keep things moving, reacting as things come in.

What can you do to be more take a wider view and be more proactive?

A good start is to get an idea of what’s going to be taking place in your city over the next three to six months – we’re talking conferences, festivals, exhibitions, even concerts.

You will be amazed at the variety and number of events taking place right under your nose.

Fortunately the Internet makes this kind of research much easier than it ever used to be.

For general events check out eventful.com or upcoming.org, for conferences and trade shows worldwide then biztradeshows.com is indispensable.

Ninja tip:
Many of these sites provide information in the form of public calendars or RSS feeds. Make sure to subscribe to them in your calendar (iCal, Google Calendar etc) or RSS reader to keep up to date.

What to do with this information?

If you’re a local business, think what you can offer to people in town for just a few days. Some conferences have twitter hashtags and other ways to find out just who is attending. If you’re a restaurant or cafe, there’s probably a list of places nearby on the event website. See about getting a link there (for an SEO boost that keeps on giving as well). Not all conferences are in hotels, and even if they are not everyone can afford to stay at the conference hotel. For concerts, there’s always plenty of people who buy tickets then figure out where to stay later. If you’re an accommodation provider, watch Twitter for people looking for somewhere to stay, then offer your services. Got a blog? That’s a great place to put a post about your special room rates for the event – competition for “{Event Name}+{City name}+hotels” is never going to be as stiff as for “{City Name} hotels”.

Even if your business doesn’t offer local services, this information is still useful. It’s a rare conference season that won’t bring a whole heap of potential clients to town. Use that opportunity to deepen relationships with people you’ve only met online. Play host. Everyone loves to be shown around by a local.

What are the resources you use to put events on your marketing radar? And how does having that information power your efforts?

Image credit: Amanda M Hatfield, via Creative Commons on Flickr

Group-buying local deals site fever

Team HuddleEver since Groupon started making a big noise in the US, and Livingsocial moved into the one-day sale market, similar sites have cropped up around the globe.

There are the blatant rip offs in Russia and China to the more subtle US based me-toos and German-backed startup MyCityDeal, now acquired by Groupon. Other UK and European competitors like KeyNoir and Groupola and more show that the market is big enough for a number of players. Even Prague has a Groupon clone: Slevomat.

How it works

Merchant approaches/is approached by deal site to be featured for a day. Merchant sets a price for their deal they want to charge, compared to the original price, and a minimum (and optionally a maximum) quantity of the deal to be sold. The customer is motivated to get the deal to ‘tip’ so that they get it, so they are very likely to share the deal with friends on social networks. Once enough people have pledged the cash, the deal site takes the payments, sends the purchasers their coupon/voucher and tells the merchant how many were sold.
How much the featured merchant gets from the total varies from site to site and even based on product or service category. Numbers reported from Groupon are as much as 50%, so if a deal is offering $150 worth of service for $75, the merchant can be making as little as $37.50.
If you’re considering using a deal site to promote your business or product, here’s a short list of the pros and cons:

Advantages

  • Reach a lot of potential new customers
  • Business when you might otherwise be quiet, especially if bookings are required and you’ve set the expectation that your busy times are excluded from the offer
  • Search engine link juice – a link from a fairly high pagerank site – the previous deals pages hang around for a while
  • Able to set minimum and maximum quantity, overall and per person
  • No initial cost outlay

Disadvantages

  • Unless you can turn those customers into repeat business you may be losing money on each one
  • Need to give a large discount to capture attention
  • Deal site may keep a large percentage of the sticker price
  • Might have to wait a while to receive payment from deal site
  • Can’t be overdone or you risk undermining your revenue permanently

Questions to ask

  1. What’s the revenue split?
  2. How soon is the money transferred to me?
  3. Do I get the customer’s email addresses (or have to acquire them myself)?
  4. Do you have any data on whether deal customers become regular customers?
  5. What percentage of businesses have expressed an interest in running another deal?

For consumers, this is a good list of caveats.

Have  you tried one of these sites for your business? How’d it go? Care to share in the comments section below?

Just looking for a global list of daily deal sites?

image credit: Megan Soh via Creative Commons on Flickr

OK, so you’re remarkable, now what?

Why local business and tourist venues should enable customers to remark about them

Purple CowWhy local business and tourist venues should enable customers to remark about them

We should by now all be aware of the importance of being remarkable, but one thing that’s often missing is making it REALLY easy for people to share that “remarkability” with their friends with the simple act of giving them a free wifi connection.

Mobile devices are getting smarter, more capable, high-speed mobile data is becoming more widespread, but that doesn’t mean businesses are off the hook when it comes to hooking their customers up to a fast, free internet connection (yes, I’m looking at you Hilton, Marriot and any other short-sighted money grubbing hotel that bilks their customers up to $20 a day for internet access). In fact sometimes the free wifi in itself is remarkable enough for a mention.

Given that very few data plans remain unlimited and in many cases a lot of people at a venue may be from out-of-country so have no data plan or desire to rack up huge roaming charges, it’s the very least you can do to be a good host.

If you’re responsible for the marketing of a local business, tourist attraction or pretty much anywhere people go and have an experience that you’re confident enough in that you want them to talk about, how about handing them that megaphone?

You want people shooting video, taking pictures, geotagging it and uploading it to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube and all the other social media sites. You want people checking in on Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt or whatever (bonus points for making sure that your wifi access point has been submitted to SkyHook Wireless to give accurate geolocation). Enabling this is a matter of installing a public-access wireless network (segregated from your internal one) on a decent internet connection.

You can DIY it if you wish, taking care to block file-sharing ports and the like, or have a consultant install it for you if your needs are more complex. It may cost a few hundred dollars or pounds (up to a few thousand for a multiple access point setup for larger locations) but it’s a lot cheaper and more effective to have your customers spread the word than what you spend on interruption marketing.

Image credit: sunclover via Creative Commons on Flickr

Make your customers look good

Here in the Czech Republic it’s a long weekend. And by long I mean very long; there are two bank holidays, on Monday and Tuesday.
It seems like the whole city’s shutting up shop right now (Friday afternoon) and heading out of town but not everyone will be able to get out of the city for the 4 day weekend.
My gym has taken the opportunity to offer an “Open Holiday” to members’ friends. From Saturday through Tuesday you can take a friend who is also stuck in the city to the gym with you, free of charge. Fact is their 4 gyms will be deserted over these 4 days anyway, why not give members the opportunity to share their gym with friends. Maybe those friends will like it enough to join up too.

Action Item

What can you do in your business, at minimal marginal cost, to encourage trial by flipping the funnel and have your existing customers help out with your acquisition and allow them to give something to their friends too?

Banding Together

Is your local retail business going well? Some of your (not ‘really competing’) neighbours doing worse?

I wrote a piece last year about why you might want to help out those who you might consider competitors. I’ve just seen first hand what can happen when a company’s neighbour goes out of business: a much more serious competitor can move in.

My local sandwich shop, a small independently owned business has been serving baguettes, salads and paninis for over 5 years. Later this month a sandwich-shop chain is opening up in place of a cafe, just three doors away. They should have them beaten on price, unless the new shop gets aggressive and goes after their loyal customer base of office workers from around the area. As it stands they’ll attract business just on the basis of curiosity.

Now is the time for the little guy to raise their game, whether they broaden the menu, encourage loyalty (the chain already has a loyalty discount card) and raise their service level: offer delivery, take pre-orders – all the things the chain isn’t willing to do.

If that situation sounds familiar to you, now might be a good time to reach out to them and work on some co-marketing efforts – banding together to ward off a bigger threat.

Image credit: Chiceaux via Creative Commons on Flickr