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Recently I was lucky enough to spend some time with a voluntary worker for Oxfam. He was a fascinating chap and gave me some really valuable input into how the charity sector works. One of the major challenges Oxfam has faced recently is the perception of it being old fashioned. The brand was seen to represent something the charity didn’t, and this was a major problem.
Oxfam’s solution was to identify ways to appeal to a younger audience and in 2006 it launched OxJam, a UK-wide series of music festivals. Every year local Oxfam branches team up with schools and universities in their area to organise the events, hunt for musicians and discover interesting venues. The results are impressive; not only has the charity used OxJam to raise awareness and money, but it’s also an effective way of recruiting the next generation of supporters.
This got me thinking about brand perception with traditional businesses. Now unless you are led by your demographic — SAGA springs to mind — being perceived as old fashioned could be a major problem.
There has been a lot of discussion regarding retaining customers and servicing their requirements, however the risk is your business grows old with your existing customers at the expense of the all-important new blood. Honda is another great example. During research in the 90s it discovered the average customer was over 50. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it was counter to the Honda marketing strategy.
As business owners, it’s important we understand how our brand is being perceived against the markets we are targeting.
Are you unintentionally growing old?
The Vuvuzela can be pretty annoying. It is the noise and talk of the World Cup. The constant barrage of that atonal hum is enough to drive anyone loopy. Just imagine what it is like in the concentrated bowl of a stadium setting, amplified and focused. Everyone broadcasting into the middle with a relentless stream of trying to be louder than the Vuvuzellist next to you may make for a charged atmosphere, but at the end of the day it is all noise and no respite — remind you of anything?
Now picture this. A large number of people all wanting to be heard and throwing out their constant and near identical marketing message — all in one concentrated area or bowl, such as Twitter — just hoping that in a sea of similar noisy messages someone will listen, take interest and give you some money for your product or service.
I can’t claim that I can solve the Vuvuzela crisis, but I can certainly recommend that we all take a look at our own trumpeting.
Drayton Bird is a renowned direct marketing teacher, speaker and author. Find out more about him on his profile.
Whether you’re a creative type, a business owner or an experienced marketer, the proliferation of social media recently can confuse, bemuse and excite in equal measure.
It’s no longer enough to send out monthly newsletters or email campaigns to talk to potential customers – now we’re supposed to actually engage with them, talk to them, and respond to them in real-time across social media platforms.
The worst thing? You can’t escape it.
Facebook has more than 400 million users, Twitter accounts have increased by nearly 1,382 per cent in the last 12-month period alone, while Technorati currently monitors more than 133 million blogs across the Internet. To survive online, social media involvement appears to be a must-have activity. Businesses are being told to go where their customers hang out.
There are, however, some basic considerations for effective social media engagement. Here’s my Top 11 Commandments for social media:
1. Thou shall not spam
Whatever you do, don’t spam your customers or target markets. They won’t appreciate a barrage of poorly-researched, irrelevant and inbox-clogging spam emails. Spamming inboxes – whether it’s company email addresses, Twitter accounts or Facebook will win zero brownie points and alienate you from any further contact. Once credibility is lost, it’s not coming back anytime soon, if ever.
Hyperlinking and acknowledging external sources on your blog makes common sense.
2. Thou shall not steal
Stealing links to stories, news items, funky new websites and wonderful products from another source and passing them off as your own is a huge social media no-no. For example, on Twitter the re-tweet or RT function is an essential part of Twitequette, while hyperlinking and acknowledging external sources on your blog makes common sense. It engages and links you with the world.
3. Thou shall not covet your competitor’s blog
One of the most unattractive and unprofessional social media rules to break is that of taking your competitor’s content, services, products and online offerings – and copying it. And there’s a lot of it about. After all, ideas and innovation do have a commercial value. Advice? Brainstorm and generate new products and services within your own creative team instead. It’s actually good fun, too!
If you sell directly to them via your social media channels, you’ll lose them. Instantly.
4. Thou shall not sell – anything, ever
The whole point of social media is to attract and engage an audience – hopefully a significant one – who will them promote your business on your behalf. Your audience are NOT there to sell to. They are there because they value your content, insights and advice. If you sell directly to them via your social media channels, you’ll lose them. Instantly. Play it smart – give, give, give. Never sell.
5. Thou shall not kill
Nothing is quite as bad in social media-land as an account which is established and then sits there. Dead. No content. Nothing contributed. Setting up a social media space, such as a Facebook fan page, Twitter feed, or company blog, and then not adding content to it regularly is a sure-fire way of killing your social media credibility in front of a global audience. Add content. Add value. Just add!
6. Thou shall not take the name of social media in vain
Remember that despite the fact social media can seem quite light-hearted, harmless and fun, your inputs on social media networks are on the web for time immemorial. So be careful what you post. Add value, contribute to the flow of conversation. Think carefully before you post anything, anywhere, anytime, which can be viewed as an attack or negative comment in your industry.
7. Thou shall not commit adultery
Social media adultery can be committed without thinking, but the effect and long-term damage is hard to recover from. Because many social media networks operate on an informality level which standard marketing does not recognise, the rules of engagement are still the same. Remain professional, polite and polished at all times. Remember your social media content is your legacy.
Make sure you cater for your audience’s requirements, needs and wants.
8. Thou shall honour thy audience
Simple really – without an audience, your social media inputs are little more than an exercise in commercial vanity. Without followers, readers, commentators and fans of your social media content, being there is effectively a waste of your marketing budget and time. Make sure you cater for your audience’s requirements, needs and wants. It is, unfortunately, all about them. Always.
9. Thou shall not forget the Sabbath Day
So, you think social media is a Monday to Friday exercise? Afraid not. In our 24/7, always-on, on-demand culture, social media plays an essential part of the online marketing mix, and your inputs need to cover the full seven days of the week. The good news is that you can pre-schedule posts, tweets and social media content using established tools to maintain an ever-present presence.
10. Thou shall not worship any false gods
What this means, essentially, is that just because an individual or company has oodles of followers or friends on a social media network, it doesn’t make them God. Challenge them, make them think, debate their content, get involved. This adds to your credibility and also hooks you into the audiences of the big players. Think of it as a subtle way of piggy-backing for exposure. Classic tactic.
11. Thou shall not forget Commandments 1-10
Simple really, this one: be mindful of Commandments 1-10.
For many entrepreneurs and small business owners, performance metrics can be a bit of detail that feels like it gets in the way. But without metrics there is no way of knowing whether performance can be improved, repeated or discarded.
For the first time, including the internet in your marketing mix, measurement is easy and doesn’t need lots of technical experience.
Here are five easy performance metrics for measuring marketing activity:
Use vanity URLs
These can be short URLs used for specific reasons. You can buy short domain names for campaigns or add a short code after your normal name. For example, www.HaveMoreClients.co.uk goes to the Facebook fan page of Have More Clients.
Alternatively, there are the subscription based shortener URL services where you can assign a URL and the service tracks the number of clicks and where they came from. There are several services – budurl.com, cli.gs and bit.ly, for example.
Web and email analytics
Google offers free web analytics where you can monitor every page, as well as campaigns. There are other companies offering paid-for analytics and you would be best to review the different offerings.
Also, by using a good email marketing system, you will know who clicks on links and where they go. This information gives your sales team, whether that’s you or your marketing VA/assistant, something very specific to contact that person about.
Sign up for Google Alerts and add in the keywords you wish to have information on. It's a good idea to include your company name and the names of key staff members so you can be contacted if something is going awry. Of course, then you need to take action – head in the sand is not the appropriate action.
Subscriptions to your blog feed, newsletter and downloads
If you have a blog, then linking the feed to Feedburner.com will mean people can subscribe to the blog and receive posts as they are published without ever going to the site.
Having subscriptions is just the start of the story; it's monitoring what happens to these people as a result of your activity that is important. This is linked to web analytics: for example, by tracking the behaviour of people and making appropriate adjustments, your headings improve, the content improves and the calls to action have more action straight to the bottom line!
This may seem a bit old fashioned and off the wall against the hi-tech solutions, but the simplest methods can still be very effective. You can add a question to all the engagement points asking where they heard about you. This gives you feedback on which channel is working for you and which needs attention!
Adding a survey to encourage responses is helpful not only for the information gained, but it is an opportunity for your client and prospect list to engage – moving them from the passive to the active.
Once you have the measurements, set aside time to respond to this information and make changes to your marketing campaigns. Re-evaluate what is and isn’t working and improve. These techniques work whether you are tracking your social media, online activities or offline, too.
There’s an important, and often overlooked, correlation between the strength of your brand strategy and the effectiveness of your marketing activity. In other words, people who have defined their niche in the market and communicate that consistently find it much more cost effective to market their businesses than those that don’t.
Have you defined your niche yet? It’s pretty simple. You look at what you’re good at, what you want to be known for and what your clients love about you. Then you look at what your competitors are doing, and what they’re known for or good at. Ideally, there will be a nice slot for you somewhere that you can occupy: your niche.
Let me give you an example. A client of ours makes widgets. Those widgets are beautifully designed and expertly made in the UK. She’s utterly detail focused and so that’s the niche she’s chosen to occupy: high quality and great design. Over the past couple of years she’s found that a lot of competitors have sprung up around her, many of which are outright copying her designs. A fair few have copied her marketing design, too – her website, brochures, etc. And because she’s been on maternity leave, she’s understandably let the communication slide. She’s slipped into a nasty situation where they’re all jostling in the same marketplace for the same clients. It’s easy to get cross and upset about this, but ultimately she’s got to “own” her space and that should fend them off. They’re not all offering the same product, hers are higher quality and she leads the field in design, so by making sure she communicates where her niche is, she can quickly and cost effectively get things back on track.
So how do you go about owning your niche in the market?
Once you’re happy that you are really occupying a “niche” (because there’s no point in directly competing with your competitors) then you need to keep that niche at the centre of everything you do. By that I mean sitting down, and actually mapping out what you’re going to do to communicate your brand position. That could be that you create “engaging brand identities and powerful marketing campaigns that help people grow their businesses”; it might be that you’re the “UK’s leading colour consultancy” or that you’re a “gardener with knowledge”.
Once you’ve defined this, map out what marketing activity you’re going to undertake to communicate this. This is such a powerful thing to do because not only will you save money (ie, you won’t be tempted by that last minute “deal” in the local newspaper to take a full page advert), you’ll also find that your marketing is a whole lot more effective because your target market will be attracted to what you do; and they’ll “get” it much faster because throughout the year you’ve been talking to them consistently. So how do you do this?
Well you find activities that will support this, and you also make sure that at every opportunity you’re reinforcing and re-communicating your brand strategy. In other words, you stay focused. Many small businesses make life difficult for themselves because they fail to carve themselves out a niche, and once they’ve got that, they rarely communicate that niche via their marketing activity.
I’m going to visit a potential client this afternoon who owns a children’s shop. This is an enormously competitive marketplace to be in: you’re competing with the multi-million pound marketing budgets of the likes of JoJo Maman Bebe, Gap and Monsoon. You can compete on a smaller scale, but you’ve got to be focused.
Once we’ve worked out what her niche is, we need to communicate that in everything she does. She already has a plan to run a competition (fantastic idea!) but she’s got to be clear on what the style of the shop is and who her target market are. She needs to make sure that when the winners’ photo shoot happens it’s done in a location that supports her brand strategy and that will appeal to her ideal client. And all the design of the entry forms and adverts needs to look instantly engaging and attractive to her audience. Once she has these photos, she needs to use them in a way that backs up her niche and makes the most of them – and that’s just one piece of marketing that she needs to think about!
“Owning” your niche is hard work. It takes focus, determination and, frankly, some investment of your time, if not your money and someone else’s time, up front. But it WILL pay off. You’ll find that you spend less time and money in the long term on marketing that doesn’t work; and you’ll also find that your marketing is much, much more effective for it.