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Tag Archives: DigitalMarketing

Some Common Reasons a Small Business Fails

The Basics of Business Development

 

Branding in the Age of Social Media

Branding in the Age of Social Media

In the era of Facebook and YouTube, brand building has become a vexing challenge. This is not how things were supposed to turn out. A decade ago most companies were heralding the arrival of a new golden age of branding. They hired creative agencies and armies of technologists to insert brands throughout the digital universe. Viral, buzz, memes, stickiness, and form factor became the lingua franca of branding. But despite all the hoopla, such efforts have had very little payoff.

As a central feature of their digital strategy, companies made huge bets on what is often called branded content. The thinking went like this: Social media would allow your company to leapfrog traditional media and forge relationships directly with customers. If you told them great stories and connected with them in real time, your brand would become a hub for a community of consumers. Businesses have invested billions pursuing this vision. Yet few brands have generated meaningful consumer interest online. In fact, social media seems to have made brands less significant. What has gone wrong?

To solve this puzzle, we need to remember that brands succeed when they break through in culture. And branding is a set of techniques designed to generate cultural relevance. Digital technologies have not only created potent new social networks but also dramatically altered how culture works. Digital crowds now serve as very effective and prolific innovators of culture—a phenomenon I call crowdculture. Crowdculture changes the rules of branding—which techniques work and which do not. If we understand crowdculture, then, we can figure out why branded-content strategies have fallen flat—and what alternative branding methods are empowered by social media.

Why Branded Content and Sponsorships Used to Work

While promoters insist that branded content is a hot new thing, it’s actually a relic of the mass media age that has been repackaged as a digital concept. In the early days of that era, companies borrowed approaches from popular entertainment to make their brands famous, using short-form storytelling, cinematic tricks, songs, and empathetic characters to win over audiences. Classic ads like Alka-Seltzer’s “I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing,” Frito-Lay’s “Frito Bandito,” and Farrah Fawcett “creaming” Joe Namath with Noxema all snuck into popular culture by amusing audiences.

This early form of branded content worked well because the entertainment media were oligopolies, so cultural competition was limited. In the United States, three networks produced television programming for 30 weeks or so every year and then went into reruns. Films were distributed only through local movie theaters; similarly, magazine competition was restricted to what fit on the shelves at drugstores. Consumer marketing companies could buy their way to fame by paying to place their brands in this tightly controlled cultural arena.Once audiences could opt out of ads, it became harder for brands to buy fame.

Brands also infiltrated culture by sponsoring TV shows and events, attaching themselves to successful content. Since fans had limited access to their favorite entertainers, brands could act as intermediaries. For decades, we were accustomed to fast food chains’ sponsoring new blockbuster films, luxury autos’ bringing us golf and tennis competitions, and youth brands’ underwriting bands and festivals.

The rise of new technologies that allowed audiences to opt out of ads—from cable networks to DVRs and then the internet—made it much harder for brands to buy fame. Now they had to compete directly with real entertainment. So companies upped the ante. BMW pioneered the practice of creating short films for the internet. Soon corporations were hiring top film directors (Michael Bay, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson, David Lynch) and pushing for ever-more-spectacular special effects and production values.

These early (pre-social-media) digital efforts led companies to believe that if they delivered Hollywood-level creative at internet speed, they could gather huge engaged audiences around their brands. Thus was born the great push toward branded content. But its champions weren’t counting on new competition. And this time it came not from big media companies but from the crowd.

The Rise of Crowdculture

Historically, cultural innovation flowed from the margins of society—from fringe groups, social movements, and artistic circles that challenged mainstream norms and conventions. Companies and the mass media acted as intermediaries, diffusing these new ideas into the mass market. But social media has changed everything.

 

Social media binds together communities that once were geographically isolated, greatly increasing the pace and intensity of collaboration. Now that these once-remote communities are densely networked, their cultural influence has become direct and substantial. These new crowdcultures come in two flavors: subcultures, which incubate new ideologies and practices, and art worlds, which break new ground in entertainment.

Amplified subcultures.

Today you’ll find a flourishing crowdculture around almost any topic: espresso, the demise of the American Dream, Victorian novels, arts-and-crafts furniture, libertarianism, new urbanism, 3-D printing, anime, bird-watching, homeschooling, barbecue. Back in the day, these subculturalists had to gather physically and had very limited ways to communicate collectively: magazines and, later, primitive Usenet groups and meet-ups.

Social media has expanded and democratized these subcultures. With a few clicks, you can jump into the center of any subculture, and participants’ intensive interactions move seamlessly among the web, physical spaces, and traditional media. Together members are pushing forward new ideas, products, practices, and aesthetics—bypassing mass-culture gatekeepers. With the rise of crowdculture, cultural innovators and their early adopter markets have become one and the same.

Turbocharged art worlds.

Producing innovative popular entertainment requires a distinctive mode of organization—what sociologists call an art world. In art worlds, artists (musicians, filmmakers, writers, designers, cartoonists, and so on) gather in inspired collaborative competition: They work together, learn from one another, play off ideas, and push one another. The collective efforts of participants in these “scenes” often generate major creative breakthroughs. Before the rise of social media, the mass-culture industries (film, television, print media, fashion) thrived by pilfering and repurposing their innovations.

Crowdculture has turbocharged art worlds, vastly increasing the number of participants and the speed and quality of their interactions. No longer do you need to be part of a local scene; no longer do you need to work for a year to get funding and distribution for your short film. Now millions of nimble cultural entrepreneurs come together online to hone their craft, exchange ideas, fine-tune their content, and compete to produce hits. The net effect is a new mode of rapid cultural prototyping, in which you can get instant data on the market’s reception of ideas, have them critiqued, and then rework them so that the most resonant content quickly surfaces. In the process, new talent emerges and new genres form. Squeezing into every nook and cranny of pop culture, the new content is highly attuned to audiences and produced on the cheap. These art-world crowdcultures are the main reason why branded content has failed.

Beyond Branded Content

While companies have put their faith in branded content for the past decade, brute empirical evidence is now forcing them to reconsider. In YouTube or Instagram rankings of channels by number of subscribers, corporate brands barely appear. Only three have cracked the YouTube Top 500. Instead you’ll find entertainers you’ve never heard of, appearing as if from nowhere.

YouTube’s greatest success by far is PewDiePie, a Swede who posts barely edited films with snarky voice-over commentary on the video games he plays. By January 2016 he had racked up nearly 11 billion views, and his YouTube channel had more than 41 million subscribers.

How did this happen? The story begins with the youth subcultures that formed around video games. When they landed on social media, they became a force. The once-oddball video-gaming-as-entertainment subculture of South Korea went global, producing a massive spectator sport, now known as E-Sports, with a fan base approaching 100 million people. (Amazon recently bought the E-Sports network Twitch for $970 million.)

In E-Sports, broadcasters provide play-by-play narration of video games. PewDiePie and his comrades riffed on this commentary, turning it into a potty-mouthed new form of sophomoric comedy. Other gamers who film themselves, are also influential members of this tribe. The crowdculture was initially organized by specialized media platforms that disseminated this content and by insider fans who gathered around and critiqued it, hyping some efforts and dissing others. PewDiePie became the star of this digital art world—just as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Patti Smith had done in urban art worlds back in the analog days. The main difference is that the power of crowdculture propelled him to global fame and influence in record time.

Gaming comedy is just one of hundreds of new genres that crowdculture has created. Those genres fill every imaginable entertainment gap in popular culture, from girls’ fashion advice to gross-out indulgent foods to fanboy sports criticism. Brands can’t compete, despite their investments. Compare PewDiePie, who cranks out inexpensive videos in his house, to McDonald’s, one of the world’s biggest spenders on social media. The McDonald’s channel (#9,414) has 204,000 YouTube subscribers. PewDiePie is 200 times as popular, for a minuscule fraction of the cost.

Or consider Red Bull, the most lauded branded-content success story. It has become a new-media hub producing extreme- and alternative-sports content. While Red Bull spends much of its $2 billion annual marketing budget on branded content, its YouTube channel (rank #184, 4.9 million subscribers) is lapped by dozens of crowdculture start-ups with production budgets under $100,000. Indeed, Dude Perfect (#81, 8 million subscribers), the brainchild of five college jocks from Texas who make videos of trick shots and goofy improvised athletic feats, does far better.

Coca-Cola offers another cautionary tale. In 2011 the company announced a new marketing strategy—called Liquid & Linked—with great fanfare. Going all in, it shifted its emphasis from “creative excellence” (the old mass-media approach) to “content excellence” (branded content in social media). Coke’s Jonathan Mildenhall claimed that Coke would continually produce “the world’s most compelling content,” which would capture “a disproportionate share of popular culture,” doubling sales by 2020.

The following year, Coca-Cola launched its first big bet, transforming the static corporate website into a digital magazine, Coca-Cola Journey. It runs stories on virtually every pop culture topic—from sports and food to sustainability and travel. It’s the epitome of a branded-content strategy.

Journey has now been live for over three years, and it barely registers views. It hasn’t cracked the top 10,000 sites in the United States or the top 20,000 worldwide. Likewise, the company’s YouTube channel (ranked #2,749) has only 676,000 subscribers.

It turns out that consumers have little interest in the content that brands churn out. Very few people want it in their feed. Most view it as clutter—as brand spam. When Facebook realized this, it began charging companies to get “sponsored” content into the feeds of people who were supposed to be their fans.

On social media, what works for Shakira backfires for Crest and Clorox.

The problem companies face is structural, not creative. Big companies organize their marketing efforts as the antithesis of art worlds, in what I have termed brand bureaucracies. They excel at coordinating and executing complex marketing programs across multiple markets around the world. But this organizational model leads to mediocrity when it comes to cultural innovation.

Brand Sponsors Are Disintermediated

Entertainment “properties”—performers, athletes, sports teams, films, television programs, and video games—are also hugely popular on social media. Across all the big platforms you’ll find the usual A-list of celebrities dominating. On YouTube musicians Rihanna, One Direction, Katy Perry, Eminem, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift have built massive audiences. On Twitter you’ll find a similar cast of singers, along with media stars like Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon, Oprah, Bill Gates, and the pope. Fans gather around the tweets of sports stars Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James, Neymar, and Kaká, and teams such as FC Barcelona and Real Madrid (which are far more popular than the two dominant sports brands, Nike and Adidas). On Instagram you’ll find more of the same.

These celebrities are all garnering the superengaged community that pundits have long promised social media would deliver. But it’s not available to companies and their branded goods and services. In retrospect, that shouldn’t be surprising: Interacting with a favored entertainer is different from interacting with a brand of rental car or orange juice. What works for Shakira backfires for Crest and Clorox. The idea that consumers could possibly want to talk about Corona or Coors in the same way that they debate the talents of Ronaldo and Messi is silly.

How One Brand Uses Celebrities to Break Through

Social media allows fans to create rich communities around entertainers, who interact directly with them in a barrage of tweets, pins, and posts. Sports teams now hire social media ambassadors to reach out to fans in real time during games, and once the game is over, the players send along insider photos and hold locker-room chats. Beyond the major platforms, new media sites like Vevo, SoundCloud, and Apple Music are spurring even more direct digital connections.

Of course, entertainers are still more than happy to take sponsors’ money, but the cultural value that’s supposed to rub off on the brand is fading.

Cultural Branding

While the rise of crowdculture diminishes the impact of branded content and sponsorships, it has greased the wheels for an alternative approach that I call cultural branding. The dramatic breakthrough of the fast-casual Mexican food chain Chipotle from 2011 to 2013 (before recent outbreaks of foodborne illness) demonstrates the power of this approach.

Chipotle took advantage of an enormous cultural opportunity created when the once-marginal movements that had challenged America’s dominant industrial food culture became a force to be reckoned with on social media. The chain jumped into the fray as a champion of this crowdculture’s ideology. By applying cultural branding, Chipotle became one of America’s most compelling and talked-about brands (though recent food-safety difficulties have dented its image). Specifically, Chipotle succeeded by following these five principles:

1. Map the cultural orthodoxy.

In cultural branding, the brand promotes an innovative ideology that breaks with category conventions. To do that, it first needs to identify which conventions to leapfrog—what I call the cultural orthodoxy. America’s industrial food ideology was invented in the early 20th century by food-marketing companies. Americans had come to believe that, through dazzling scientific discoveries (margarine, instant coffee, Tang) and standardized production processes, big companies, overseen by the Food and Drug Administration, would ensure bountiful, healthful, and tasty food. Those assumptions have undergirded the fast food category since McDonald’s took off in the 1960s.

2. Locate the cultural opportunity.

As time passes, disruptions in society cause an orthodoxy to lose traction. Consumers begin searching for alternatives, which opens up an opportunity for innovative brands to push forward a new ideology in their categories.

How Cultural Branding Builds Icons

For industrial food, the tipping point came in 2001, when Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation powerfully challenged it. This was followed in 2004 by Morgan Spurlock’s film Super Size Me and in 2006 by Michael Pollan’s influential book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. These critiques dramatically affected the upper middle class, quickly spreading concerns about industrial food and providing huge momentum to Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, and a host of other upmarket food purveyors. The same transformation is unfolding in other countries dominated by industrial food ideology. For instance, in the United Kingdom the celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have played a similar role.

Before social media, the influence of these works would have remained locked within this small fraction of society. Instead, crowdcultures grabbed the critiques and blew them up, pushing industrial food anxiety into the mainstream. News about every major problem linked to industrial food production—processed foods loaded with sugar, carcinogenic preservatives, rBGH in milk, bisphenol A leaching from plastics, GMOs, and so on—began to circulate at internet speed. Videos of the meatlike substance “pink slime” went viral. Parents worried endlessly about what they were feeding their kids. Crowdculture converted an elite concern into a national social trauma that galvanized a broad public challenge.

3. Target the crowdculture.

Challengers to the industrial food ideology had lurked at the margins for more than 40 years but had been easily pushed aside as crazy Luddites. Small subcultures had evolved around organic farming and pastured livestock, eking out a living at the fringes of the market in community-supported agriculture and farmers’ markets. But as social media took off, an influential and diverse cluster of overlapping subcultures pushed hard for food innovations. They included advocates of evolutionary nutrition and paleo diets, sustainable ranchers, a new generation of environmental activists, urban gardeners, and farm-to-table restaurants. In short order, a massive cultural movement had organized around the revival of preindustrial foods. Chipotle succeeded because it jumped into this crowdculture and took on its cause.

4. Diffuse the new ideology.

Chipotle promoted preindustrial food ideology with two films. In 2011 the company launched Back to the Start, an animated film with simple wooden figures. In it, an old-fashioned farm is transformed into a parody of a hyper-rationalized industrial farm: The pigs are stuffed together inside a concrete barn, then enter an assembly line where they are injected with chemicals that fatten them into blimps, and then are pressed into cubes and deposited in a fleet of semis. The farmer is haunted by this transformation and decides to convert his farm back to its original pastoral version.

Crowdculture converted an elite concern into a national social trauma.

The second film, The Scarecrow, parodied an industrial food company that branded its products using natural farm imagery. The company is actually a factory in which animals are injected with drugs and treated inhumanely. It cranks out premade meals stamped “100% beef-ish” that kids, oblivious to the real process, eagerly gobble up. A scarecrow who works at the factory is depressed by what he witnesses until he gets an idea. He picks a bunch of produce from his garden, takes it to the city, and opens up a little taqueria—a facsimile of a Chipotle.

The films were launched with tiny media buys and then seeded out on social media platforms. Both were extremely influential, were watched by tens of millions, generated huge media hits, and helped drive impressive sales and profit gains. Each won the Grand Prix at the Cannes advertising festival.

Chipotle’s films are wrongly understood simply as great examples of branded content. They worked because they went beyond mere entertainment. The films were artful, but so are many thousands of films that don’t cut through. Their stories weren’t particularly original; they had been repeated over and over with creative vigor for the previous decade or so. But they exploded on social media because they were myths that passionately captured the ideology of the burgeoning preindustrial food crowdculture. Chipotle painted an inspired vision of America returning to bucolic agricultural and food production traditions and reversing many problems in the dominant food system.

The bête noire of the preindustrial food movement is fast food, so the idea that a major fast food company would promote that story was particularly potent with the crowd. Chipotle was taking on pink slime! Moreover, boutique locavore food was expensive, but at Chipotle people could now assuage their worries with a $7 burrito. Because they tapped into anxieties percolating in the crowdculture, Chipotle’s films never had to compete as great entertainment.

5. Innovate continually, using cultural flashpoints.

A brand can sustain its cultural relevance by playing off particularly intriguing or contentious issues that dominate the media discourse related to an ideology. That’s what Ben & Jerry’s did so well in championing its sustainable business philosophy. The company used new-product introductions to playfully spar with the Reagan administration on timely issues such as nuclear weapons, the destruction of the rain forests, and the war on drugs.

To thrive, Chipotle must continue to lead on flashpoint issues with products and communiqués. The company has been less successful in this respect: It followed up with a Hulu series that had little social media impact because it simply mimicked the prior films rather than staking out new flashpoints. Then Chipotle moved on to a new issue, championing food without GMOs. Aside from the fact that this claim challenged its credibility (after all, Chipotle still sold meat fed by GMO grain and soft drinks made with GMO sweeteners), GMO was a relatively weak flashpoint, a contentious issue only among the most activist consumers and already touted by many hundreds of products. These efforts failed to rally the crowdculture. A number of other flashpoints, such as sugary drinks and industrial vegetable oils, generate far more controversy and have yet to be tackled by a major food business.

Of course, leading with ideology in the mass market can be a double-edged sword. The brand has to walk the walk or it will be called out. Chipotle is a large and growing business with many industrial-scale processes, not a small farm-to-table taqueria. Delivering perishable fresh food, which the company is committed to as a preindustrial food champion, is a huge operational challenge. Chipotle’s reputation has taken a painful hit with highly publicized outbreaks of E. coli and norovirus contamination. Chipotle won’t win back consumer trust through ads or public relations efforts. Rather, the company has to convince the crowdculture that it’s doubling down on its commitment to get preindustrial food right, and then the crowd will advocate for its brand once again.

Competing for Crowdcultures

To brand effectively with social media, companies should target crowdcultures. Today, in pursuit of relevance, most brands chase after trends. But this is a commodity approach to branding: Hundreds of companies are doing exactly the same thing with the same generic list of trends. It’s no wonder consumers don’t pay attention. By targeting novel ideologies flowing out of crowdcultures, brands can assert a point of view that stands out in the overstuffed media environment.

Take the personal care category. Three brands—Dove, Axe, and Old Spice—have generated tremendous consumer interest and identification in a historically low-involvement category, one you would never expect to get attention on social media. They succeeded by championing distinctive gender ideologies around which crowdcultures had formed.

Axe mines the lad crowd. In the 1990s feminist critiques of patriarchal culture were promulgated by academics in American universities. These attacks whipped up a conservative backlash mocking “politically correct” gender politics. It held that men were under siege and needed to rekindle their traditional masculinity. In the UK and then the United States, this rebellion gave rise to a tongue-in-cheek form of sexism called “lad culture.” New magazines like Maxim, FHM, and Loaded harked back to the Playboy era, featuring lewd stories with soft-porn photos. This ideology struck a chord with many young men. By the early 2000s lad culture was migrating onto the web as a vital crowdculture.

Axe (sold as Lynx in the UK and Ireland) had been marketed in Europe and Latin America since the 1980s but had become a dated, also-ran brand. That is, until the company jumped onto the lad bandwagon with “The Axe Effect,” a campaign that pushed to bombastic extremes politically incorrect sexual fantasies. It spread like wildfire on the internet and instantly established Axe as the over-the-top cheerleader for the lad crowd.

By targeting novel ideologies from crowdcultures, brands can stand out.

Dove leads the body-positive crowd. Axe’s aggressive stand set up a perfect opportunity for another brand to champion the feminist side of this “gender war.” Dove was a mundane, old-fashioned brand in a category in which marketing usually rode the coattails of the beauty trends set by fashion houses and media. By the 2000s the ideal of the woman’s body had been pushed to ridiculous extremes. Feminist critiques of the use of starved size 0 models began to circulate in traditional and social media. Instead of presenting an aspiration, beauty marketing had become inaccessible and alienating to many women.

Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” tapped into this emerging crowdculture by celebrating real women’s physiques in all their normal diversity—old, young, curvy, skinny, short, tall, wrinkled, smooth. Women all over the world pitched in to produce, circulate, and cheer for images of bodies that didn’t conform to the beauty myth. Throughout the past decade, Dove has continued to target cultural flashpoints—such as the use of heavily Photoshopped images in fashion magazines—to keep the brand at the center of this gender discourse.

Old Spice taps the hipster crowd. The ideological battle between the laddish view and body-positive feminism left untouched one other cultural opportunity in the personal care market. In the 2000s, a new “hipster” ideology arose in urban subcultures to define sophistication among young cosmopolitan adults. They embraced the historical bohemian ideal with gusto but also with self-referential irony. Ironic white-trash wardrobes (foam trucker hats, ugly Salvation Army sweaters) and facial hair (waxed handlebar mustaches, bushy beards) became pervasive. Brooklyn was chock-full of lumberjacks. Amplified by crowdculture, this sensibility rapidly spread across the country.

Old Spice branding piggybacked on hipster sophistication with a parody of Axe and masculine clichés. The campaign featured a chiseled, bare-chested former football player, Isaiah Mustafa, as a huckster for Old Spice—“the man your man could smell like.” The films hit the hipster bull’s-eye, serving up an extremely “hot” guy whose shtick is to make fun of the conventions of male attractiveness. You too can be hot if you offer your woman amazing adventures, diamonds and gold, and studly body poses, all with aggressive spraying of Old Spice.

These three brands broke through in social media because they used cultural branding—a strategy that works differently from the conventional branded-content model. Each engaged a cultural discourse about gender and sexuality in wide circulation in social media—a crowdculture—which espoused a distinctive ideology. Each acted as a proselytizer, promoting this ideology to a mass audience. Such opportunities come into view only if we use the prism of cultural branding—doing research to identify ideologies that are relevant to the category and gaining traction in crowdcultures. Companies that rely on traditional segmentation models and trend reports will always have trouble identifying those opportunities.

A decade in, companies are still struggling to come up with a branding model that works in the chaotic world of social media. The big platforms—the Facebooks and YouTubes and Instagrams—seem to call the shots, while the vast majority of brands are cultural mutes, despite investing billions. Companies need to shift their focus away from the platforms themselves and toward the real locus of digital power—crowdcultures. They are creating more opportunities than ever for brands. Old Spice succeeded not with a Facebook strategy but with a strategy that leveraged the ironic hipster aesthetic. Chipotle succeeded not with a YouTube strategy but with products and communications that spoke to the preindustrial food movement. Companies can once again win the battle for cultural relevance with cultural branding, which will allow them to tap into the power of the crowd.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

 

Laws of Social Media Marketing

 Laws of Social Media Marketing

Social Media Marketing

 

Leveraging the power of content and social media marketing can help elevate your audience and customer base in a dramatic way. But getting started without any previous experience or insight could be challenging.

It's vital that you understand social media marketing fundamentals. From maximizing quality to increasing your online entry points, abiding by these 10 laws will help build a foundation that will serve your customers, your brand and — perhaps most importantly — your bottom line.

1. The Law of Listening

Success with social media and content marketing requires more listening and less talking. Read your target audience’s online content and join discussions to learn what’s important to them. Only then can you create content and spark conversations that add value rather than clutter to their lives.

2. The Law of Focus

It’s better to specialize than to be a jack-of-all-trades. A highly-focused social media and content marketing strategy intended to build a strong brand has a better chance for success than a broad strategy that attempts to be all things to all people.

3. The Law of Quality

Quality trumps quantity. It’s better to have 1,000 online connections who read, share and talk about your content with their own audiences than 10,000 connections who disappear after connecting with you the first time.

4. The Law of Patience

Social media and content marketing success does not happen overnight. While it’s possible to catch lightning in a bottle, it’s far more likely that you’ll need to commit to the long haul to achieve results.

5. The Law of Compounding

If you publish amazing, quality content and work to build your online audience of quality followers, they’ll share it with their own audiences on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, their own blogs and more.

This sharing and discussing of your content opens new entry points for search engines like Google to find it in keyword searches. Those entry points could grow to hundreds or thousands of more potential ways for people to find you online.

6. The Law of Influence

Spend time finding the online influencers in your market who have quality audiences and are likely to be interested in your products, services, and business. Connect with those people and work to build relationships with them.

If you get on their radar as an authoritative, interesting source of useful information, they might share your content with their own followers, which could put you and your business in front of a huge new audience.

7. The Law of Value

If you spend all your time on the social Web directly promoting your products and services, people will stop listening. You must add value to the conversation. Focus less on conversions and more on creating amazing content and developing relationships with online influencers. In time, those people will become a powerful catalyst for word-of-mouth marketing for your business.

8. The Law of Acknowledgment

You wouldn’t ignore someone who reaches out to you in person so don’t ignore them online. Building relationships is one of the most important parts of social media marketing success, so always acknowledge every person who reaches out to you.

9. The Law of Accessibility

Don’t publish your content and then disappear. Be available to your audience. That means you need to consistently publish content and participate in conversations. Followers online can be fickle and they won’t hesitate to replace you if you disappear for weeks or months.

10. The Law of Reciprocity

You can’t expect others to share your content and talk about you if you don’t do the same for them. So, a portion of the time you spend on social media should be focused on sharing and talking about content published by others. 

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

A Marketing Plan for More Traffic, More Leads, and Higher Customer Retention

A Marketing Plan for More Traffic, More Leads, and Higher Customer Retention

Are you up against competition that has deep pockets and can outspend you using traditional advertising methods?

Does it seem like a losing battle to go head-to-head with them to get new prospects?

Particularly for start-up companies, using traditional advertising and marketing methods can get expensive…especially if you’re up against an established company with more money than you. This is why you need to use marketing channels that will bring you the attention and customers you need without breaking your bank. Fortunately, you have an entire group of channels that you can use…

 Inbound Marketing.

This diagram explains all the techniques behind inbound marketing:

Traditional outbound marketing can end up being a poor investment. You have to rely on channels like cold-calling, paid branding and print advertising.

All of those channels can get really expensive really fast.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, will help you capture attention, generate leads, convert customers and keep those customers…all at a lower cost to you than your competition.

So, if you need help getting more traffic, more leads and retaining customers, then let’s look at a few steps you need to take to get there.

Step #1 – Ignore Sales And Focus On Marketing

Before you accuse me of losing my mind, let me explain. While hiring a killer sales team is very important, it’s much better to create a marketing strategy that feeds that team qualified, warm leads, instead of cold, and possibly dead leads. This way your sales team doesn’t spend their time chasing down unqualified prospects and following up on bad leads.

Instead, your efforts should be focused on building a marketing team with excellent marketing skills. Like::

  • Hire brilliant marketers – Look for talented men and women who have a reputation for building a huge fan base, generating qualified leads and using the tools that are involved in inbound marketing (SEO, social media, and content marketing) to bring brand exposure. It’s also better to find those who have worked with a startup company before.
  • Focus on tightly targeted markets – Understand your audience, break them down into relevant segments and then create tailor-made campaigns for each segment. This narrow approach will also raise your conversion rates.
  • Close qualified leads –What does a qualified sales lead look like? It comes down to the answer of these three questions:
    • Do they have the authority to buy?
    • Do they have the budget to buy?
    • When do they plan on buying?

You want your sales team to avoid leads that are NINAs—no influence, no authority. You want to just send them mostly A leads (is ready to buy in 3 months or less), some B leads (is ready to buy in three to twelve months). The C leads marketing can keep. This process should make the sales team’s job seem like they are shooting fish in a barrel.

Step #2. Focus On Multiple Inbound Channels

The key behind an effective inbound marketing strategy is to create and deliver valuable content. This strategy gives you a lot of different channels to use.

Here is a template that you can use for your own inbound marketing strategy:

  • Blog – Your team should focus on publishing quality content two to five times a week. By quality I mean it is search-engine friendly, highly-researched and compelling.
  • Engage in comment marketing – Someone on your team should focus on visiting sites within your industry to interact with bloggers and readers in the comment section. Commenting is a great SEO strategy too, but more importantly, it will bring you attention, help build you up as an authority and prepare you to write guest blog posts.
  • Publish guest blog posts – Guest blogging is one of the fastest ways to grow your subscriber base. Fortunately, because of the high demand for content many blogs are looking for guest writers.
  • Produce online video – Video can help improve your search rankings, to raise the amount of time, people stay on your page and even boost conversion rates on your landings pages.
  • Interact in the social bookmarking world – While this isn’t one of the most popular ways to generate leads, it is definitely one you shouldn’t ignore. In fact, certain industries include heavy users of social bookmarks sites like delicious.com or Readability.
  • Establish authority on Q+A sites – Quora has really established itself as a place for a professional exchange of ideas. Search for questions related to your industry, leave thoughtful answers and interact with other contributors. This process will help build your credibility.
  • Design brilliant infographics – Some companies like Wordstream use a heavy dose of infographics to generate traffic and back links to their sites. But making a great infographic is not easy. A bad infographic can set you back, so get this one right. Visual.ly, a one-stop shop for infographic creation, also has this inbound marketing technique nailed.
  • Build a social media audience on the big four – Focus your audience-building efforts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+. If your target audience is on Pinterest or Tumblr, then use those sites as well. Keep in mind—don’t spread yourself too thin. Pick two or three that you can maximize your exposure.
  • Implement a solid startup SEO plan – If you run a startup, then you are in an excellent position to take advantage of everything that SEO has to offer.the Cool thing is if you are doing all the things above…you are halfway into a great SEO plan. Now you just need to cover some other basics like on-page optimization.

All of the efforts behind a good inbound marketing plan won’t cost you a dime except for the sweat equity you invest. This means you can compete with bigger competition that is better funded.

For each of the inbound marketing efforts above you’ll want to break them down into steps. To show you how to do that we’ll break down one of these techniques into detailed steps. And we’ll choose a social media strategy where there is little competition so you can take advantage of this strategy now.

Step #3. Dominate LinkedIn Groups

While the big three social media sites get all the attention, LinkedIn is quietly becoming a powerhouse. With over 150 million users, you have a lot of opportunities to generate some serious attention. The specific strategy I want to focus on is with Groups. Contribute and engage with LinkedIn Groups with this quick 5-step strategy and you’ll generate some high-quality leads.

  • Find the best Group to join – LinkedIn has lots of groups that are divided into categories. Find three to five small groups that most accurately represent your target demographic. The reason you want to join small groups is there will be less competition and easier opportunity to get attention.
  • Target popular discussions – You’ll waste your time if you simply try to join every discussion. Instead, search for the most popular discussions—these will have the most visibility. These discussions usually involve hot button issues, and attract a lot of members. You’ll find these discussions on the top of the group discussion page. Read the post, review some of the comments and jump in!
  • Start a new discussion – Before you start your own discussion, make sure you spend some time in other discussions. Get a feel for the culture of the group and find out what is important to them.
  • Follow up – It’s not easy keeping track of discussions, so you’ll have to be proactively visit your groups and monitor the discussions—especially the ones you started.
  • Start a Group – This is a perfect way to establish your authority. But you have to be strategic here. Make this group center on your brand and how your message is different than the competition. Brands That Defy Gravity is a great example of a group that stands out in a crowded market.

Let’s look closely at another strategy.

Step #4. Never Attend A Trade Show Again

If your industry has a lot of trade shows, you may be tempted to attend a few. Why not? Trade shows are a great place to meet new people, build relationships and build your brand. But trade shows can be very expensive. From buying the ticket to the show (which can cost upward of a thousand dollars), to flying to and from the show, buying food and spending money on a room…you could easily drop ten thousand dollars a year. There is a more effective—and cheaper—way to leverage the power of trade shows.

Most conferences are online in some way, so you don’t actually have to go or even pay. In fact a lot of these conferences share so much content during the show that you can tweet about it as if you are actually there, using the conference related hashtags, of course.

Here’s what you could do also:

  • Blog about the main points of each speaker – During an event you can check the website and pull down the points that he is sharing. Then publish a blog post as soon as possible and promote it on your social site. This will engage you with those who are actually at the conference!
  • Summarize the conference – The day after the event create a blog post or white paper about the conference. Include points from each speaker and even offer take away lessons that you learned. This is effective because you were building a captive audience while you were tweeting and blogging during the event.

“Attending” conferences and trade shows via the internet will probably give you more insight than those who are actually attending since you’ll have a 30,000 foot view. Make sure you are engaging both attendees and speakers at these events, and notifying them when you share content.

Conclusion

Inbound marketing is truly a gift to startups who are strapped for cash. Depending upon how big your team is, you will all probably end up working like a slave to get it all done…but it will be worth the effort. Dozens of companies like Mashable and SEOmoz got tremendous exposure for their companies from their tireless inbound marketing efforts. What other inbound marketing techniques have you used?

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Myths About Inbound Marketing

3 Myths About Inbound Marketing
Inbound marketing is widely regarded as one of the most effective forms of marketing.

 

Inbound marketing is widely regarded as one of the most effective forms of marketing.

The term first emerged as a buzzword in the midst of the online marketing frenzy, as marketers started to realize fully the value of the digital world in attracting leads, nurturing prospects, and even generating conversions without the hard-core sales methodologies of the past.

While some may believe that inbound marketing is just another one of those passing Internet fads, it's anything but. The concepts, methods, and best practices that comprise the core of inbound marketing aren't going anywhere as long as there's a need for marketers to reach prospects and buyers at critical junctions and touch points throughout the buying journey to influence decision making.

Consider the fact that consumers are increasingly tuning out traditional advertisements and the importance of inbound marketing–in which marketers engage consumers with relevant, intriguing information that educates or entertains, earning their interest instead of buying it–and the importance of inbound marketing becomes pretty clear. In fact, 84% of 25- to 34-year-olds bounce from websites when they encounter an intrusive or irrelevant advertisement, and 86% of people skip over television ads.

Despite the growing importance of inbound marketing, there continue to be myths permeating the industry about what inbound marketing is, its effectiveness, and how it works. Let's examine three of the most prominent myths about inbound marketing.

1. Inbound marketing is free.

While it's true that inbound marketing can be more affordable than outbound marketing, it's not entirely free. You won't be paying for advertisements, but you'll still need to pay professionals to produce top-quality content, manage your social media presence, organize and host webinars, design compelling infographics, research white papers, and the like.

You'll also need to invest in tools such as inbound marketing automation software, CRM systems, and other tools of the trade that increase marketing productivity. In fact,companies that use marketing automation to nurture prospects experience a 451 percent increase in qualified leads," and companies that automate lead management processes "see a 10 percent or greater increase in revenue in 6-9 months."

"Yes, there's an investment required to do inbound marketing. But if done well, brands will see a return on that investment that can last for a long time. Unlike outbound marketing, where a paid advertisement lives only for a short period of time, inbound marketing has a longer shelf life. It's an investment that provides much higher returns over the long term, Inbound marketing is a complex function that encompasses multiple marketing channels and strategies, from SEO to content marketing, social media, and more; arming yourself with the talent and tools to get the job done is half the battle.

2. Quantity trumps quality.

In the early days of SEO, it was possible to produce an abundance of (let's be honest–crappy) articles stuffed with target keywords and rank for your desired terms in the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Those days are long gone, yet the notion that quantity is more critical to success than quality still permeates the inbound marketing industry.

Of course, inbound marketing is more than just content marketing, and it's more than just SEO.But the belief that the best way to realize inbound marketing success is to do simply "more" of it couldn't be further from the truth.

Today's consumers are savvy. It doesn't matter whether your business is B2B or B2C; your audience knows when you're putting out a poor quality content or posting updates on social media for the sake of creating "more." Your audience wants quality; they want something valuable that engages, educates, and entertains–something that's so good that it compels them to share or hand over their email address just to get the rest.

It's like the, "If you build it, they will come," mentality common in the early days of the web. You simply can't skimp on quality in inbound marketing; you have to bring your audience to you and to do that you must stand out from the hundreds of other companies attempting to engage the same target market. Whether you're designing graphics, creating slide decks, or writing industry reports, cutting corners is the surest way to alienate your audience.

3. You can't measure the ROI of inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing is one alternative to the traditional outbound advertising methods such as billboards or radio advertising. Interestingly, one of the common beliefs about inbound marketing is that it's not measurable, yet it's really radio, billboards, and similar traditional advertising methods that make proving ROI a challenge.

In the early days of digital marketing, we didn't have the advantage of Big Data, but today practically any action you take online is measurable. Thanks to tools like Google Analytics, you can determine how many visitors arrived on your landing page and then converted to leads or paying customers. You can determine how many attendees participated in a webinar, how many users engaged with a Twitter chat, how many Facebook users watched a video, and even how many recipients clicked on a particular link in an email marketing message.

Everything is measurable, and that means ROI is easy to prove although the factors that one business uses to determine ROI may differ from the equation relied on by another. That's why it's critical to determine your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) before launching a campaign and identify the metrics used to evaluate performance.

Inbound marketing isn't free, but it can be incredibly effective for both B2B and B2C companies. However, if you're prioritizing quantity over quality or you're not measuring ROI, you're doing it wrong. Focusing on quality coupled with clearly defined goals and performance metrics, along with the tools to measure results, is the surest path to inbound marketing success.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

The Most Overlooked Strategy for Business Development

The Most Overlooked Strategy for

Business Development

There are plenty of good ways to feed your pipeline — from public speaking to online advertising to content creation and direct mail. But one of the most satisfying methods of bringing in new business is through involvement in charitable causes. Too often, entrepreneurs think of charitable involvement as a non-essential “nice way to give back.” But in a busy world, it’s a lot easier to justify donating your time and talents if you recognize that it’s also a business development strategy.

In a new book Stand Out, I profile Thalia Tringo, a realtor in Somerville, Mass., just outside Boston. I got to know her when we served together on the board of East Somerville Main Streets, a civic improvement group. But that wasn’t the only cause she supported. She’s an active board member of the Somerville Homeless Coalition and donates $250 to charity for every real estate transaction she completes. “I’m not a religious person,” she says, “but I try to tithe a percentage of my income. That’s hard to do when you’re a realtor [because of the variable income stream], so when I started, I decided I’d give a certain amount for every transaction, and that way I’ll know I’ll have done my giving.”

Her reputation for civic-mindedness has become a core part of her brand, and her client base draws on many people she’s met through her volunteering. “Today, I had a closing with somebody I would never have met, except we serve on the board of the Homeless Coalition together,” she told me. Her charitable involvement “was never really a marketing strategy,” she says. “It’s a good marketing strategy, but that wasn’t the intent.”

If you’d like to make charitable involvement a prong in your business development strategy, here are three key principles to follow.

Choose a cause you’re passionate about.

Volunteering isn’t always sexy, and you’ll likely be called upon to do menial or boring tasks sometimes, from setting up for events to making phone calls. Commitment to the cause can get you through, even if you wouldn’t otherwise choose to spend your nights and weekends doing those tasks.

Go deep, not wide.

It might seem like a good idea to get involved in many charities, because you’ll be meeting a large variety of people. But when it comes to developing new business contacts, deep is better than wide. I know plenty of realtors from social events around town, but I chose Thalia to handle my condo sale because of the depth of relationship we’d created by working together for several years.

Volunteer your talents.

Sometimes what’s needed most is simply a pair of hands; if you’re willing to pick up trash on a Saturday or check tickets at the door of a fundraiser that may be a valuable contribution to an organization. But in order to stay engaged and motivated over time, make an effort to volunteer on projects that will utilize your unique skills. If you’re a graphic designer, it’s far more meaningful to design a brochure for a charity — a task where you can excel and share your gifts — than it is to keep stuffing envelopes week after week.

Volunteering for nonprofits you believe in is a great way to help others. But it’s also a win-win, with real business benefits to you. If you can figure out how to live out your values in every aspect of your business, the relationships you build as a result will be among the strongest and best you have, because they’re founded on a shared commitment to something larger than yourself.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Business Development – What does it mean?

Business Development – What does it mean?

Is it the same for everyone?

Having now worked in a number of roles that you might consider as business development (BD), I thought I'd start my publishing journey on LinkedIn (this is my first post) with a bit of reflection. I often get asked what the difference between straight selling and BD is, so I thought I'd try and define the differences (for my own sake, if nothing more!). To some degree, they're different sides of the same coin.

Selling and BD go hand in hand.

There have been in roles where there's been strictly selling, others where there is a combination of sales and BD, and also in roles that would be considered true and pure BD. In all, however, some could be linked to what would be considered BD within that particular business. So the answer to the header title is no, I think; BD is different for everyone and every business, dependent on a number of factors – budget, size of workforce, attitude to BD, etc.

What is 'true and pure' BD?

The sales process is one that involves a lot of people – product development, designers, pricing, marketing, technical, management – 'front-line' salesmen and 'top-end' management need to combine forces to deliver a product that their customers want.

If you walk into a shop to buy a pair of trainers, for example, this has been designed from the early stages by trained footwear designers, manufactured from these designs in a production process of sorts (industrial or bespoke, depending on the brand), marketed in the appropriate manner to raise awareness of the product, eventually landing on the shelves of the shop you're in, with a friendly guy/gal willing to help you transact some business when you make the decision to buy them.

So where does BD fit into this process? What's it all about then? The foremost word that comes up in the BD world is 'relationships'. That's pretty much what it's all about. Good business development will help identify, maintain and encourage relationship building within a firm, building rapport with both suppliers and customers. It helps strengthen the bonds between these links, supporting the marketing copy and material that establishes your product in the relevant marketplace.

It helps provide information as to what the client needs to the 'front line' sales team, assisting them in closing the deal at the end of the process. It helps inform management as to how the market is moving, providing insights into new developments of technology, social media and other digital avenues that the firm can take advantage of, to build and maintain loyalty. It helps small companies access bigger markets and large companies engage newcomers. So my definition of 'true and pure' BD is 'helping a business to develop its relationships'.

Plain and simple.

It's networking on a daily basis; attending cutting-edge events to learn about the industry you're working in; finding (er… stalking?) people on LinkedIn to see what events they're attending and making sure you meet them there, in person, so that you can have that all-important introductory chat; it's offering your loyal customers something more than a newsletter – why not run a seminar and invite them along to it? They might be happy to be invited.

The personal touch is always a winner. We hear more and more now about relationships marketing, social currency, engagement, etc. BD is the platform that most of this is built on.

Who is it for?

As I've mentioned before, I've worked in roles that have been classed as BD but have really been sales. I've worked in hybrid roles where you might do a bit of both. What this has shown me is that BD has a place in every business. You can't 'develop' your business without a good BD strategy. So whether you're encouraging your front-line staff to sign up to a few newsletters, or get yourself down to a few networking events, or join a LinkedIn group and start up a discussion, BD is something that can't be overlooked.

It's all very well to have a great product and a nicely designed website, with some great leaflets and a slick business card but, without the right approach to BD, no one is going to see it in the way you want to. Having worked as a supplier to a lot of startups and growing SMEs, the one thing that I've noticed which has set apart the successes from the failures is their approach to BD.

Develop the relationships – build a community around your business and your product just needs to do what it says on the tin. The rest will fall into place and you'll have a strong, loyal customer base who are happy to sing your praises.For that reason alone, if nothing else, BD is essential for pretty much any business going.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

The Difference Between Sales and Business Development

The Difference Between Sales and Business Development

Almost daily, I run into the misconception that the function of sales and business development are interchangeable, from co-workers to industry peers. This stems primarily, I believe, from the shift in titles of salespeople to business development — which has been done in an effort to avoid the negative connotation that surrounds it.

In reality, the two are very different. Hence, this tweet. But 140 characters just isn't enough to explain of the subtleties, so here we are. When you think about the function of business development, it should be thought of as a marketing function. Yes, there are some soft sales skills (qualification, negotiation, etc.) that are necessary to become a good business development professional, but at the end of the day, it's a marketing function. If you were to think about it on a sliding scale between a pure function of sales or marketing, it would wind up somewhere around here.

Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 8.24.31 PM.png

The reason behind this is that typical goals of business development include brand placement, market expansion, new user acquisition, and awareness — all of which are shared goals of marketing. The slight slide towards sales is simply because of the tactics business development employs to achieve those goals.

Which is where we get into the meat of it. Regardless of the company, business development tends to hold the same structure, which I sketched up quickly below.

Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 8.42.03 PM.png

Simply stated, the function of sales is to sell directly to the end customer. The function of business development is to work with partners to sell to the end customer, in a scalable way.

That last part is key.

Scalability is the differentiator. It allows a company to use pre-existing sales teams or communities that a partner has developed to reach new audiences. Sales is very much an equation of capacity, which is why sales teams tend to grow so large. Business development teams, on the other hand, are typically very small, maintaining their small size by working through existing partner infrastructures. The art of business development comes in identifying partners that fit that description, while finding a way to provide value to the partner's end customer and business.

You can see this relationship in a few of the examples I laid out in a previous post on the role of business development at a startup.

Now, all of this isn't meant to devalue the function of sales. Truth be told, I really respect good salespeople. It's an extremely difficult career, one with constant denial and pressure to succeed. Sales is hard, and should be respected when it's done at a high level.

But the two are very different, despite their apparent overlap.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

The Best Website Builder List for 2016

The Best Website Builder List for 2016

Wix is a drag-and-drop website builder, founded in 2006. They started utilizing HTML5 in 2012 and now power more than 70 million websites, with 44,000 new member sign ups every single day.Dominant features include free for life plans (hosted on Wix’s servers and domain), a large App market, hundreds of designer templates, mobile friendly layout and a vibrant community. Wix went public in 2013 and is traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Did you happen to catch their latest Super Bowl ad?

Based in San Francisco, Weebly is another leading host and website creation service. Catering to freelancers, small businesses, and service providers that are building a website for the first time – Weebly is easy to use and fast to deploy. Some say they have managed to create appealing websites in under 15 minutes.

Being featured in magazines and journals, such as Entrepreneur & WSJ, they are praised for simplicity and versatile features, in addition to their ecommerce abilities. They are reasonably priced, and it is always good when a service includes a free-for-life plan as well. See our extensive Weebly themes and templates collection.

WordPress is a leading open source, PHP based content management system that reportedly powers more than 24% of the internet as of 2016. With a mission statement to “democratize publishing”, this blog solution is great for intermediate users, and enables endless possibilities due to a vibrant community and related marketplaces.

If you are looking for an ecommerce solution, Shopify might fit the bill. Based in Ontario, they were set to disrupt the online store market with a new solution that incorporates social channels, multiple high end integrated applications, and premium support.

Today, the company reports that more than 200,000 store owners use their online software and has even added offline features, like a point of sale system, which integrates into the online shop. They are a bit pricey but we do think Shopify is a great ecommerce solution, and they have a two week trial, too.

Bigcommerce, a privately held company, is another one of the big ecommerce solutions out there. They recently reported that more than 5 billion dollars in sales were processed, using their platform. Social and mobile integration applications were professionally executed, and the overall design and feel of the platform is inviting. We thought their pricing was fairly high and recommend using Bigcommerce if you already have some basic experience.

Drupal is known as an advanced CMS suited for advanced designers and developers looking to handle large traffic volumes and pages. Distributed under the General Public License and great for corporate users, Drupal gained traction and marketplaces for add-ons, designs and services sprouted over time. Drupal templates and themes are available at relatively low price.

Web.com is a publicly traded company, based in Florida, which offers web and marketing services to small – medium sized businesses. With millions of customers, thousands of templates to choose from, and great support, it’s no surprise they are one of the leading website creation services. That being said, Web only offers a limited free option, and most start with the monthly plan (which includes a .COM domain).

Web has introduced the “Website Coach” system, in which a certified expert guides you as you build your first website, including live help after the launch. Their system fits both first time novices and business.

GoDaddy started as a domain registrar and hosting provider back in 1997. They provide web creation services for personal and enterprise uses as well. Pricing for their various plans is competitive, compared to offered space and bandwidth. Although the brand is solid and known internationally, the service is not quite up to par with industry standards to our taste. You can definitely try GoDaddy, but there are better solutions in our opinion.

Chuck Reynolds

Contributor

Ecosystem for all Entrepreneurs