At the start of any new year we are often tempted to make a fresh start. Businesses frequently do the same thing — giving their websites a bit of a refresh, changing their policies, targeting new audiences and even updating how they get in touch with their customers.
So what’s in store for email marketing? It has been a key business tool for some time and it should continue to grow, but by how much? And what are the key trends for 2014?
The amount of money being spent on email marketing has been increasing for some time and 2013 saw a significant rise — 20% in fact. That’s a pretty hefty figure but current predictions suggest that email marketing spending will keep growing. Budgets are likely to increase by about 10% this year.
But what will that money actually go on? With more and more people using mobile devices, there will be an increase in spending on mobile optimisation for websites. Having a site that is mobile-optimised is likely to bring in more customers and the same can be said for emails. If businesses want to increase their open rates, they need to make their messages as mobile-friendly as possible.
This means that businesses are going to have to look closely at where the rest of their finances are going. And the likelihood is that companies are going to scale back on printed marketing material because everything is going digital.
Even if customers purchase items in-store, rather than online, there is an increasing chance that the transaction will be completed online. Digital receipts could be given out, so customers don’t have to worry about losing a little piece of paper.
Companies are increasingly encouraging people to buy online by offering them offline deals that push them towards the internet. In-store promotions, for instance, can ask customers to go online to receive a prize or more information. As retailers encourage more customers to shop online, the number of people signing up for email marketing is likely to increase.
Email marketers are constantly sending us all kinds of content. The problem is, for the most part, it's not useful to most of us. Yes, we will get the odd gem and an amazing deal that is perfectly suited to our preferences but a lot of companies just create a general email, hit send to all and hope for the best.
This year, customers are not going to stand for that and marketers are going to have to up their game as a result. Statistics have shown that 43% of emails are opened on mobile devices so it's simply unacceptable for businesses not to get on board with this. Emails need to be optimised for mobile use but the messaging must also undergo a makeover.
Rather than the generic, one-size-fits-all model, businesses will increasingly use data to drill down to specific interests and requirements of their subscribers. More carefully targeted campaigns should result in more sales.
So, there’s no doubt that change is on the way — the question is, how much impact will it have on conversion rates?
This is a guest blog from Lauren Sutton
Everyone wants to be the stand out exhibition at an event. No matter how big or small your stand or budget, you need to make an impact.
But an impressive exhibition stand takes ambition, creativity and a solid understanding of how to show your business in a unique and relevant way. This last point is key and will, most likely, take up a considerable amount of your planning and design time.
If you have exhibited before, the first step is to objectively review your past performances at exhibitions. You can learn from your mistakes as well as those exhibits that ticked along but didn’t garner as much attention as you hoped. Carefully analyse your previous performance — what worked, what didn’t and what could be fine-tuned for re-use.
If you’ve never exhibited before, or even if you have, it’s essential you check out the competition within your sector. Focus on exhibitors that have won awards for their displays or those that are considered to be top of their game. Taking inspiration from previous exhibits that were particularly impressive is a great way forward.
Then take a look outside your industry to find fresh ideas. In addition, spend time on design websites to see what’s being shared and commended. Are there any elements that can inspire your exhibition?
Exhibition stands are evolving at an impressive rate. Just consider that integrating tablets into your presentation would have been unheard of three years ago — and flat screen displays five years before that.
Check out those websites that discuss advances in the event industry. Visiting a showroom is also an excellent way to discover what exhibition experts consider to be the future of event marketing. Looking into these advances could inspire some really creative ways to promote your business.
It’s actually quite easy to be the stand that everyone talks about if money isn’t an issue. But you want to see a return on your investment, which means carefully weighing up the benefits of taking your stand in a certain direction with the confidence that it will drive conversions.
The most straightforward way of gaining good leads from your stand is to make sure it is relevant to your business. All forms of promotion should be easily and recognisably associated with your business within five seconds of someone first seeing your stand. It should also feature eye-catching elements that are complementary to the brand message.
A bad example would be a bottled water company sporting a massive aquarium. The connection is there but it’s not immediately apparent what fish and drinking water have in common. A better example would be a travel company displaying a large aquarium to promote glamorous destinations, suggesting exotic adventures.
Once you’ve taken these steps, you should be in a strong position to create a great exhibition stand with the wow factor that everyone talks about.
Kelly Edwards is assistant ecommerce manager at Nimlok.
Helping shoppers go from browsing to buying is the name of the game in ecommerce. But it’s not as easy as it looks. Did you know?
Find out more on this excellent infographic courtesy of Vouchercloud
Consumer Psychology and the E-Commerce Checkout - An infographic by the team at vouchercloud
Thanks to the internet, businesses can find themselves competing against competitors all over the world. As a result of globalisation, customers are getting bombarded every day with brand messages. Even when you have an excellent service or product, simply getting people's attention and having your company stand out is a challenge.
What’s more, people are busier than ever. Customers today know they have alternatives and won't hesitate to turn to them if you don't meet their expectations. All customers have to do if they're not happy is click away from your site, do a quick search for what they need, and then you're out of the picture. With more people shopping online, improving your customers' experience with your website is essential to maintaining a solid client base and getting referrals.
There are many ways to keep your customers satisfied online, depending on your operational constraints and needs. You could try the following options:-
Customers want to be able to see what they've picked out from your site, not only to make sure they have everything they need or want, but also because they need to see what everything is going to cost them. Make it easier for your customers to see what they've selected, what each item costs, what the total expense will be and how much you're adding in taxes and/or shipping.
Discounts need to be clear, too. They help customers feel like they're getting a good deal. Mention promotions and offers one last time, such as a reduced rate for spending more than a certain amount. This way, customers get a second chance and won't feel cheated if they find out about them after buying. In general, keep the shopping cart near the top of your page, because people tend not to scroll down far. It should be easy to spot and identify.
Customer service software, such as CRM applications, allow you to determine things like how long it has been since a customer visited your site or what they bought. This enables you to suggest other items or services, send reminders or even automate sales. Your customers often get a streamlined experience and at the same time, they feel as though you're treating them as an individual.
If you don't follow up with clients, they can get the impression that you are lukewarm about them — and that’s when competitors can easily attract their attention. Email is a decent way to follow up, but more and more companies are also using text. Remember, your customers don't just want confirmation of their purchases. They want to be involved, and they need a helping hand once in a while.
Ask for feedback and touch base just to see if their needs have changed. Offer more information, support or access, and send reminders about events, maintenance or other options. As Forbes suggests, testimonials and customer reviews work well because they build trust and inspire customers to take action.
Jack Bishop is an eCommerce guru, writing for Shopify customer service software solutions. He has a passion for helping small businesses run well with modern technology.
Every entrepreneur needs to focus on PR — as founder you are often at the centre of the PR story.
You have to make sure that as many people out there know about your product/service/company as possible and make this happen as cheaply as possible. PR is the answer. It’s cheap and its power immense. But the question is how do we do it? More to the point, what exactly are we “PRing”?
Image: Richard Branson, courtesy of Gulltagen on Flickr.
Many technology start-ups rush to appoint a PR bod or an agency to spread the word or to build the profile of the founder. I have heard many an expert tell me that for a start up to be successful the PR has to be great, even better than early revenues or a killer product. Get your company mentioned in Mashable, TechCrunch and VentureBeat and it’s job done.
But how? That’s the tricky bit. You love your company, in fact you live for it, that is why you are an entrepreneur. Chances are everyone you know will have heard the elevator pitch, even if you are nowhere near a lift. But to get PR your story needs to be different and relevant to your audience. What if you are whizz in developing a product, devising the strategy but don’t see yourself as a celebrity entrepreneur — then what?
Think carefully. Before you appoint someone, think about payment for results and how you will use the coverage they generate. Exactly who do you want to speak to, and what publications/titles/sites do you want to appear in/on. It’s all about the targets.
One final point, you might not think of your story as interesting but the fact that you have the guts to be an entrepreneur is, without bragging, an inspiration to others so always talk to journalists about what you are up to. You never know where it will lead.
Marc Duke is the founder of Marc Duke Consulting.
Paid media and inbound marketing were once seen as mutually exclusive — and content arguably took centre stage in an increasingly competitive race to the top of the search engine results pages.
Certainly, businesses have come to love inbound marketing because it offers recurring gains for the initial investment in content; gains that can recur for years.
At the same time, “paid” became something of a dirty word. But paid media does still have its place, providing it’s used ethically and naturally as part of a holistic marketing campaign.
Let’s look at five types of paid media that are still worthy of investment.
1. Google AdWords
Google AdWords is the cornerstone of every paid media strategy and not just because of its phenomenal reach. AdWords provides crucial keyword data that’s impossible to glean through organic search due to the rise of keywords that are ‘not provided’. As such, AdWords still has a role to play in bridging paid media and inbound marketing.
2. Press release distribution
Press releases have been highlighted by Matt Cutts as a source of discounted links. But while a press release won’t do anything for PageRank, the press release is still an extremely valuable paid media tool for traffic building. Aim to use a distributor that gets the majority of its releases into Google News.
3. Facebook Exchange
Facebook is phasing out some of its advertising efforts and pushing Facebook Exchange as an alternative. Exchange (also known as FBX) is a retargeting system based on real-time bidding. While Exchange is initially slightly less accessible than Promoted Posts or Sponsored Stories, it represents a move to a more sophisticated type of paid social media marketing where content can still play its part.
4. Stumbleupon ads
On Stumbleupon, you can purchase paid exposure for content, giving it a second lease of life. Stumbleupon prices its Paid Discovery product on a pay-per-visitor model. Stumbleupon is sometimes sidelined — perhaps because it requires some effort to gain traction — yet it’s still effective. Incorporating it into a paid media strategy is the final piece in the puzzle.
5. Promoted Tweets
Practically every brand has a Twitter account; many have more than one. Promoted Tweets give brands a new way to leverage their content. Tweets are set up in advance and promoted to people who search for keywords. Twitter doesn’t offer sophisticated analytics yet, but the service is reasonably new.
By blending paid media and inbound marketing, you should aim to get the best of both worlds for an affordable cost. Your content marketing projects should also get a valuable boost from the paid media strategy you devise.
Alistair Norman is marketing manager at inbound marketing consultancy, Tomorrow People.