There is an old philosophical question — if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
Today, I would ask — if I Google you and nothing appears, do you exist? In many situations, the answer, frightening as it is, might just be no! Moreover, not appearing online is making a brand statement in itself, and in most situations, probably not a positive one. In other words, your silence may be deafening.
We are in the midst of a revolution not seen before in any of our lifetimes. Communication is no longer one way, that is, from the few to the masses. Today, whether you choose to use YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogger, Twitter, Google +, Instagram, Pinterest or any of the plethora of platforms available, everyone now has the opportunity to communicate beyond anything imaginable a few years ago. Moreover, mobile technology means we can access these platforms from almost anywhere in the world at anytime.
This communication revolution has created opportunities never before experienced. The consequences of all this are far reaching. We are still at the beginning of understanding all the implications of this new world. However, what is becoming increasingly clear is that today everyone is a marketer whether they like it or not.
In previous generations, word of mouth would take place at the coffee machine or in a bar. Not many individuals would have a complete picture of you as an individual, except for a few very close friends and some family members. We would show very different sides of our personality depending on our environment. For example, we may behave quite differently in our workplace from at home.
However, platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are becoming the platforms of choice with which we share holiday photos, express likes and dislikes and interact with friends and business colleagues alike. Word of mouth has gone online and the consequences of this are twofold.
Firstly, by looking at the different platforms used by any individual, I can obtain a fairly detailed understanding of their lives. This can include their family situation, hobbies and interests, favourite music and films, sports teams they follow and work interests and challenges.
Secondly, there is now a blurring between business and personal life. Sure, someone can set up two Twitter accounts, for example, one business and one personal. However, when I search on that individual, it is most likely that I will be able to see both.
There are some significant consequences to all of this. It is becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to have two personas, that is, their business character that they show to colleagues and clients and then the person that they are at home with their friends and family.
In many ways this forces us to be more authentic in all our relationships. Family members may now have a better understanding of the business world we inhabit. Meanwhile, clients and colleagues are likely to have more insight into who we are outside of the workplace.
The other consequence is that everything we now do online is building our own personal brand. The comments we make, content we share, pictures we post and friends and colleagues with whom we connect, all go to build a picture of “the real you”.
Businesses, and those people in the public eye, have been doing this for generations and using professional advisers to help. Every interaction with customers, fans etc., has gone to build a picture and influence what we think about those organisations and individuals.
However, for the first time in history we are all in the same boat. Whether you are going for a job interview, meeting a potential client, making a new friend or have just started dating someone, it is likely their first point of call will be to search for you online.
Whether you like it or not, in a digital age, the reputation you have online will influence some of the outcomes in your life. In other words, everyone today is responsible for an undertaking previously left to marketers, that is, building a brand. And this one really matters, because it is you!
Maybe it is time to brush up on those marketing skills...
“Increasingly, the internet has become the place where we live our lives. But in the end, a small group of American companies may unilaterally dictate how billions of people work, play, communicate, and understand the world.”
A lot of our clients are struggling with the speed of change — in social media, in marketing and in customer behaviour. They are also struggling with innovation.
A friend (thanks Alan Boyd) recommended Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser. Boy am I impressed. It is a book that covers the impact of the introduction of personalised search. My search results on “soccer” will be very different than yours — and that has all kinds of consequences.
This book touches on privacy, data, innovation, culture, the role of news, democracy, marketing, selling, tracking and much more.
What this book shows is that Big Brother has arrived and he is called Acxiom (billions of data profiles), Bluecavia (database of every computer, mobile device, piece of hardware), Google and Facebook.
Thanks to this book I have learned lots of new terms and concepts, including: attention crash; click signals; retargeting; advertar; and information obesity. I have also learned some interesting facts — for instance, did you know that:
We are literally becoming what we click. As with food, you are what information you consume (information obesity). The ultimate consequence is the threat of monoculture (1984).
Through manipulation, curation, context and information flow, you can be managed. Imagine a world where Google searches, Facebook likes, your e-mails, your documents (Google docs!), your DNA, your location data from your smartphone, radio frequency identification (RFID) on all the items you bought, the data from cookies on your computer and more are all combined and are then used to: sell, manipulate and influence.
Increasingly, the internet has become the place where we live our lives. But in the end, a small group of American companies may unilaterally dictate how billions of people work, play, communicate, and understand the world. Protecting the early vision of radical connectedness and user control should be an urgent priority for all of us.
The lessons for business; opportunity, threat, be aware, take a position.
British SMEs are missing a trick — and billions of pounds — by ignoring the importance of marketing.
Research commissioned by Pitney Bowes Smart Essentials and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), shows that only 39% of marketing strategy is being implemented, leading to a potential £122billion in lost sales for UK SMEs. What’s more, 11% of small business owners admit to doing none of the marketing they had planned.
This is not surprising — SME owners are always short of time and this can get in the way of successful marketing practice. So here are six key principles that can become the bedrock of your marketing activity.
By 2014, mobile phones and tablets will be the most common way to access the internet. But is your website optimised for mobile? There are ways to get your mobile site up for less than a tenner and you can optimise a couple of pages in ten minutes.
2. Use social media strategically
If you’re going to start using a social media channel for your business, it’s important to understand the basics — there are plenty of free online guides — and make sure you use analytics; it’s the only way to tell if it is working. I used to think social media was too time-consuming but I realised how valuable it was when we happened to see a negative tweet from a client. We uncovered a case miscommunication, resolved the situation and the customer became a fan, posting an excellent review. The alternative was a frustrated, disgruntled client, who would have given negative feedback about us to others.
3. Measure and respond to user behaviour
Marketers can use free tools such as Google Analytics to see exactly how many visitors are accessing their website from a desktop or mobile device. Give different techniques a go and see what gives you the greatest success. If, for example, you find users are visiting your webpage but not staying for long, try hosting different content — video might prove more engaging, for instance.
4. Don’t discount, add value
It can be tempting to offer discounts to get customers through the door. Try to avoid doing this because you risk being seen as cheap. Instead, add value — for example, a free consultation or product trial. If they understand why, your customers will pay that bit extra for a better experience and your brand will be the stronger for it.
5. Stay in your brand uniform
Think about, write down and clarify your own brand values. Ensure you present a consistent look and feel to your business across all channels and every communication — from the colours you use to the tone of voice you use. Also remember that a sales opportunity can arise at any time. When I first started my business I was shy telling others about it, especially in personal circumstances such as weddings or birthdays. I quickly learnt that I was missing a trick.
6. Don’t be afraid to get others involved
I used to spend a lot of time on getting our IT working and it prevented me from focusing on my customers. In the end I bit the bullet and outsourced IT. It actually didn't cost as much as I thought and we became so productive that I wished I had done it months ago. You can also try skill swapping with other business owners, or perhaps think about hiring an apprentice or intern. After all, you don’t want to spend time ordering stationery when you could be planning your next marketing campaign or talking to customers.
Pitney Bowes has an online app to help SMEs benchmark their marketing against others.
Assiduous networkers such as myself know that, every six months or so, it's time to do some radical pruning of the people in our online networks.
This may surprise anyone who has ever been to an event featuring a so-called social networking guru. Their message is simple: if you are not on several online networks, connecting furiously on a regular basis, you are dead to the world and your company is at severe risk of imminent bankruptcy.
This is utter hokum, as anyone who really understands the art of networking will tell you. Any network is all about quality rather than quantity, the depth rather than the breadth of your connections.
Business is about trust, and you cannot build up any sensible level of trust with a few instant messages over the Internet. Real trust only happens when people meet face-to-face, which is why all meetings should be carefully scheduled, and if they have a proper business purpose, run to a pre-agreed agenda.
There is a strong argument that we only really know 150 people, sometimes defined as Dunbar's number, named after the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who calculated a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.
In networking terms, this represents people who, even if you meet them in a public place out of context, you would instantly recognise and with whom you would also remember the key elements of your business or personal relationship.
To this I would add the extra caveat that you also like them, to the extent that you would happily set aside some social time with them away from your busy work schedule.
Of course, we all have to spend some time with people we do not particularly like for work purposes, but the more we concentrate our business activities on those we like personally, the more we will enjoy life in general.
This is particularly true for salespeople, who are always encouraged by their managers to play what is called “the numbers game”. This is the simple premise that if you visit ten customers, you will have ten times more chance of making a sale.
But every experienced salesperson knows that the biggest single factor in securing a sale is that the prospect likes the person selling to them. This is about liking someone in the broadest sense, not just the personal manner of the salesperson; it also includes the overall premise of the company they work for, including product quality and value for money.
This is why the most expert networkers, such as very successful salespeople, may appear to have a very large network, but in reality work very hard indeed on a much smaller number of people. They are also aware that, as an extrovert, less people like them than they immediately assume. It is important for them to sense if they are irritating people with their naturally talkative style.
The converse is true of introverted or shy people, such as engineers and accountants. Rather more people like them than they first assume, and often the level of trust they have with customers is much higher than salespeople, who are often mistrusted when pushing for a sale.
So, my advice for all business people, whether they are expert networkers or more naturally reserved, is to go through your online address books and identify the 150 people you actually like the most, and make some quality time for them.
The mathematics is on your side. They also have 150 people they like and trust, which makes a total of 22,500 people in your close circle, or one degree separated. Whatever you do for a living, this is easily enough potential business for you and your company.
Copyright ©Mike Southon 2012. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
Marketing automation will create a world where brands will know what you need before you do. However, there will always be a temptation to go one step too far.
Exploiting the power of big data, we're told, will deliver the marketer's holy grail and a promise of untold riches; delivering a VIP experience to consumers across all the channels they use. That means giving your customers a personal service highlighting the things that interest them via email, online, social media, mobile or geo-location.
Armed with the right tools, businesses are already analysing big data to predict what we’d like even before we’ve thought about it. Data is mined as we go about our daily lives and our behaviour is analysed —interactions made online, over email or through our mobiles. Put through a recommendation engine, our needs can be predicted then electronically addressed wherever we happen to be.
The technology that makes this happen is already here. Marketing automation is acting as the glue that binds these elements together, helping marketers shift from manually creating campaigns to fully automating the majority of their communications with customers.
Take lifecycle marketing — technology is used to manage and send out emails or messages at calculated times using predictive technologies; sending the right messages at appropriate times:
All of these are automated marketing activities, which are executed in the background and based on a series of events. Created once then forgotten, an automated marketing engine manages the whole process.
In the case of abandoned shopping carts where a purchase had not been completed, the automated marketing engine knows to send you a reminder some hours later, telling you how and where to pick up from in order to finish your purchase.
Automated marketing engines can be set to manage multi-step or single-step triggers; automating tasks so customers can be treated as individuals.
Of course, small businesses may not have the resources to exploit big data. But the principles remain the same. Overuse of email, for instance, with broad messaging that is neither timely nor relevant can harm your firm’s reputation. Persistent offenders will, at the very least, be unsubscribed and could be reported as spam.
A more focused approach — using audience segmentation and relevant communication — will pay dividends, not just by reinforcing positive brand but by driving more sales.
Fast forward and imagine a world where businesses can reach you anywhere with a message to buy based on what you had been doing. Just around the corner there are a clutch of new technologies that will give marketers the opportunity to reach consumers anywhere and anytime.
Augmented Reality systems could open the floodgates for imaginative marketers and brands to bombard us with messaging 24/7 and potentially intrude in our private lives. But is it inevitable that someone might go a step too far?
It’s all about exercising restraint. Avoid bombarding people with what is unnecessary. Marketing automation with big data is going to deliver the actionable intelligence to tell us what we want, when we want but, if used correctly, it will also keep a check on that step too far.
John Fleming is marketing VP at Emarsys, the global provider of email marketing solutions and services.
If you’ve just launched a new website, you may want to offer registration so that users can become a member and interact with your site, access premium content or to undertake a free trial.
Registration can help you identify serious users who have shown interest in your site as they have taken the time to complete the registration process.
Ensure that there is a link to your registration form on almost every page on your site. And using a service like Google’s analytics, you’ll have some wonderful information at your fingertips — such as how the user arrived at your site and which pages they viewed.
A registration form should always be as simple as possible and ask for the minimum of information to fulfil the process; the more fields you include, the more likely you’ll put users off finishing the registration.
There are many organisations on the internet that target legitimate sites for spamming on forums or posts. A piece of software called a bot may try to register for your site to post spam links.
You can help reduce the likelihood of a bot attack by making a user confirm their email address through a unique link or by a captchta phrase that displays an image of usually two distorted words that only humans can read.
The simple answer here is — wait and see what the user does on your website.
This information can give you a valuable intelligence for future marketing campaigns such as: which words to target for a PPC campaign and also identifying the areas of your website that may require more refinement or promotion.
Once a user has registered, you’ll immediately have a warm lead that you can follow up. Not only can you get valuable information about your site, you may also have a good opportunity to sell your product or service and find out more about what the user is actually looking for and what other sites they have researched.
Neil Cavanagh is the managing director of Xpress Data Systems.