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The challenging economic climate of 2011 has created an opportunity for SMEs to capture business from their larger competitors. Entrepreneurs and business owners in all sectors are taking advantage of the situation with hard-hitting marketing and direct communication tactics to make sure they are front of mind with their target audiences.
For SMEs to achieve cut through and generate buzz around their businesses, they need tools that are as flexible and fast-moving as they are. As a result, one of the most popular tactics emerging in the sector is affiliate marketing. Its ease of use and accountability make return on investment transparent and straightforward to track, and the range of tools and publishers available mean that campaigns can be highly targeted.
These are my top three marketing trends to watch for 2011:
There’s a huge opportunity for SMEs in the current market — and digital tools are an ideal way to help them punch above their weight in the marketplace of 2011.
Liane Dietrich is the managing director of LinkShare UK.
Want to know more? Check out our guide to affiliate marketing.
Lots of small firms are getting in on the act when it comes to the Royal Wedding. From bunting to condoms and sick bags, it seems there are no limits to the products that can be given a royal Wedding twist. And that includes not-the-Royal Wedding memorabilia too.
But how much appetite is there for Royal Wedding merchandise? Well, it may all depend where you live, it seems. Republic, the campaign for an elected head of state, has conducted an audit looking at how many street parties are being planned in the UK.
The results make interesting reading for anyone looking to sell Royal Wedding merchandise. The broad trend is that southern areas are more likely to be hanging out the bunting while huge swathes of the north are showing little interest.
Kent is the council with the highest number of applications (54). Other places that are getting into the Royal Wedding spirit are: Cambridgeshire, Milton Keynes, South Gloucestershire, Bromley and Scarborough.
But altogether, a third of local authorities have had no applications from residents at all.
Even the residents of the Scilly Isles, many of them tenants of the Duchy of Cornwall, have no plans to put on a street party. And while David and Samantha Cameron are planning a bit of a do in Downing Street, elsewhere in London, no licences have been requested in Haringey and the City of London and there is only one application in Islington.
It must be noted that, with two weeks to go, there may well be a late flurry of applications.
All the same, this is certainly good market intelligence for anyone trying to sell Royal Wedding merchandise. My advice would be to target your marketing and distribution in the places where it is likely to be best received.
Rachel Miller, editor, Marketing Donut.
Read more about how the Royal Wedding could be good for your business.
Google is in the process of rolling out its Panda Update, an algorithm change that is set to reduce the value of content farm links. Across the web, you’ll see blogs about why this might be, the changes that will occur in the algorithm and numerous stats and figures documenting the affect the change has already had in the US.
But what do the changes mean to you and me — and, more importantly, to our businesses?
I’d like to start, as all good explanations should, at the beginning. You’ll no doubt be hearing a lot about “content farms” — essentially, these are websites which seek to gain traffic by seeding content which ranks highly for long tail keywords and search phrases. They typically use advertising as their revenue stream and therefore tend to feature a lot of adverts and not much real substance.
There has long been criticism of Google for the apparent lack of policing over these sites, which essentially “pollute” SERPs (search engine results pages) with poor quality content. The Panda Update intends to reduce the value of these pages, thus pushing them down the rankings and providing better search results for Google’s users.
Great news, wouldn’t you agree? Removing bad content and allowing for good quality content to rank higher — happy days!
And you know your website has good quality content, so you can only benefit – right?
Well, not exactly. Even though you’re probably pretty sure that your content is of a high quality, it’s not just the content farms that will suffer from the changes – nor will they suffer entirely.
Here’s what the algorithm change will mean for you and your business:
1. All pages need to be high quality content
The higher the proportion of high quality pages on your site, the better you will rank. So it’s really important that every page of your site is of the highest standard. That means redirecting, or removing entirely, those poor quality pages and replacing them with well-written, useful content that appeals to your end user.
2. Social validation will be more important than ever
Social validation is the trust we have in content or a brand based on what our friends and networks tell us. Google will be looking at how your content is shared and “liked” to ascertain whether or not people thought it worthy of recommending to their friends. You can help this by making social sharing easier (add social share buttons to your site) and by providing useful content that people will want to pass on to their networks.
3. Article marketing will get creative
The Panda Update means the common practice of seeding content through “content farms” will be devalued and sending out the same press release or article across the web will be pointless. Instead, you and your marketing team will need to seek relationships with influential bloggers, guest blog on relevant sites and generally ensure that every activity you do around link-building provides real benefit to your end user.
For Google, this will most likely be defined by the following attributes:
So do keep an eye on your Analytics — and don’t be afraid to cut the pages that just aren’t performing well.
Find out more in our section on SEO — packed with useful information and advice.
I often talk about powerful brands, and in fact the eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that I run branding workshops on the very subject. But what exactly is a powerful brand? And how do you get one?
Well, powerful brands are certainly about more than the way your logo looks or how pretty your website is (although they do play a role in the overall story). Powerful brands attract, engage and entice the right sorts of clients. They help you win and retain more profitable business, differentiate you from your competitors and generally make growing your business a lot easier.
Let’s start by looking at what makes a powerful brand:
Powerful brands are focused. They know exactly what they’re best at, who their most profitable clients are and what those clients value about what they do.
Powerful brands know what they want to be known for. And it’s that focus that lies at the heart of everything they do. They know what their core values are, they make sure they can deliver what they promise and they communicate that with a flourish.
Powerful brands have a point of difference. Something that makes them stand out from the competition. Something that adds value to their clients. Something that means they don’t need to compete on price.
Powerful brands communicate with a flourish. They take themselves and their image seriously. They invest in a look that communicates their core values, entices and engages their ideal clients and seduces them into buying.
Powerful brands deliver what they promise. They make doing business with them a pleasure. They delight their clients and those delighted clients refer more people like them.
Everyone that works for a powerful brand knows and buys into the brand. They’re proud of the business and they make it their business to deliver what they promise, delight their clients and reinforce the brand image.
You can see that a nice logo is only part of the story. There’s a lot more to a powerful brand than just the “look and feel”.
You’ve got an up-to-date, opted-in email list but how can you get the most from your email campaigns?
Here are 15 handy tips to help your emails on the way. Fly my pretties, fly..
They are your friend. Send your emails in a steady rate from a dedicated and consistent IP address. This way, you build up a nice reputation with the ISPs and the E-romance begins.
YourpalDatabroker@ = win. 0912478AJTY21@ = #Fail. Make it friendly. Make it personal.
Don’t use email data that is not permission based. It’s not big or clever and yes, we know there are technical work-arounds but you will just end up blacklisted and with a brand in tatters. That office stationary company in Bury – I will never use you because of your email policy.
Put an opt-in box on your email html to opt them in specifically for your company.
Ask to be put in the safe senders list within their address book. This decreases likelihood of your message ending up in the spam file.
No excuse not to, there is no point in speaking to people who are not interested in what you have to say. And make it easy, no more than two clicks required. Make sure that it’s branded with your logo and company name, this helps with trust.
If possible, have an offline point of contact for people to unsubscribe such as an address or phone number. Again, this helps with trust and service.
Flag your hard bounces and keep your list clean. Don’t waste good money to send to poor data. Your data is an asset and needs to be treated as such. Take out duplicates, flag gone-aways and keep it up to date.
Have a soft bounce policy to deal with temporary errors. A common one is three strikes and you’re out, if an email bounces three times then flag it as gone-away.
Consider Email Service Providers (ESPs) that offer a delivery management solution – this monitors your ISP reputation and status.
Again, consider using an ESP to take advantage of their reputation and status with ISPs. They are often white-listed and have years’ worth of good rep!
Avoid large images, lots of different coloured text and excessive numbers of links.
Nothing dodgy in there. Avoid FREE, OFFER, caps and !!!! — those little blighters will cause you spam problems.
Preview your HTML in various ISP inboxes to check it all looks fine and keep the best call to action above the fold (in the preview pane ).
The DMA has a whitepaper on Email Deliverability. This has additional detail and is certainly worth a read.
There are many different networks, each with their own pros and cons. Spend some time looking at the various options and listening to the online chatter, and assess what suits your business. Where are your customers most likely to be? Does LinkedIn make more sense for you than Facebook?
Participate where you can add the most value. Do not just try and be everywhere and likewise do not just stay within your own domains.
Keep flexible and aware. Technology is constantly changing and just because certain networks suit your business today does not mean they will necessarily be the right choices in three months’ time. Look out for key customer trends and where relevant, use them to your advantage.
Develop an online style. Become “human” online with a tone of voice and brand personality; but be true to you. You need a coherent message on your website, through social media, in advertising and in person. Think of your audience. If you are selling kids’ toys for example, is a corporate tone of voice appropriate? If you are selling luxury items is it appropriate to be relaxed and jokey or will this impact on perceived professionalism? Put yourself in the shoes of your customers.
Have a communication strategy; a framework that covers off how you plan on using the channels you decide to be involved in. This should look at frequency of comms, how to deal with specific queries, who to escalate to, what should be deleted (if anything) and how to deal with public complaints. It is very important that the people responsible for delivering the social media strategy fully understand the communication strategy. A joined-up approach is very important for a business, however small.
Think about your resources carefully. Do you have the resource to keep up the level of content you are planning? Do you have the resources to deal with feedback in real time? Do your team understand the communication strategy? Will any training be required to ensure consistency in approach and understanding of various networks? How will you monitor work vs. personal time on social media?
Do you have the technology to support your strategy? Are there any firewalls that could prevent access? Who do you want to have access to the sites? Could this cause internal conflict?
Within the networks you decide to join, do not just listen – that will not get you noticed. Do not just sell – that will get you ignored. Find a balance between offering advice, recognising others’ contributions, sharing content and telling people about yourself. The balance will vary depending on the network so make sure you take the time to sense and respect the norm.
Do not swamp people. Content is king but overload is not! The definition of “swamp” will vary across networks. For example, in a single day people would expect to see more than just you on their Facebook home page. Twitter is different. Because it is constantly moving, followers like information to be shared as long as it is relevant and interesting and therefore you could post a bit more if you wanted.
See what your competitors are doing and try and get a sense of how you can improve on it. Look at customer comments and what they are asking for. Assess what appears to work for others in your marketplace by looking at customer interactions and use it to your advantage. There is no point in starting right from the very beginning if you do not have to.
Be prepared for feedback, whether you ask for it or not. One of the best things about social media is the ability to hear customer feedback in real time. This is something many are afraid of but actually they should embrace. In order to build a community online you need to know what you do well and what you could improve, what people like about you and what they don’t, what you have above competitors and where you lack. Treat this information as gold dust. Respond to feedback honestly and publicly, in line with your communication strategy.
Thank people publicly. If people say nice things about you and your products, thank them. Engage with them so they know you appreciate their business and opinion. They are more likely to praise you again if they think they will get recognition in return.