I read the 2014 Lloyds Bank Business Digital Index with interest. Its findings broadly corroborate our own research conducted at the London Business Show into SMEs’ attitudes to online marketing — although the Browser Media survey found that most small firms do in fact have websites, compared to the 50% in the Lloyds study.
However, both reports found that SMEs generally have a laissez-faire attitude to digital marketing. Many small businesses build their website and sit back and wait for clients to arrive, instead of actively promoting themselves online.
It’s not that SMEs think their website is working for them — many admit to being unhappy with their Google rankings and online presence — but they aren’t investing in marketing to improve the situation.
I initially thought this was a financial issue and still believe that’s a big part of the problem. Any small business will tell you they have to cut their cloth according to their means and can’t invest in everything on their wish list.
However, I also think there may be a certain “Britishness” behind these attitudes as well. Many small businesses start up because the owner has already worked in a particular field or has a particular personal interest. Either way, the business tends to focus on a small group of prospects at first; and, let’s face it, promoting yourself is just not a very British thing to do.
Our research also found that those companies that were using an external agency for digital marketing were happier with the results than those who were undertaking this in-house. This may be partly because the external agencies have more expertise but it is also much easier to market someone else than market yourself.
We also looked at SMEs’ understanding of various marketing disciplines: most had heard of social media marketing and email marketing but few were aware of content or inbound marketing (although more were familiar with the related field of SEO).
In fact, small businesses can really make an impact with content and inbound marketing as they’ve usually got a lot of niche expertise. Building up a loyal customer base by providing useful content is an excellent way to create a long-term business.
If you’re a small business, don’t make the mistake that other SMEs may be making of sitting back and admiring your shiny new website — use content as an online megaphone and spread the word about your business to the digital universe. If recent survey findings are anything to go by, you’ll already be one step ahead of the competition.
Ali Cort is the PR director at digital marketing agency, Browser Media.
You may or may not know (or even care) that the average YouTube video is 4 minutes and 12 seconds long. Taken in isolation, this figure is pretty meaningless and perhaps not that surprising.
But what if we take that average YouTube video length and compare it to two of the newest video platforms on the block — Instagram and Vine? With their compulsory video lengths of just 15 and 6 seconds respectively, the average YouTube video looks like a feature-length film in comparison.
Let’s put this into perspective. Placed alongside Vine’s 6-second limit, the average YouTube’s video is a whopping 42 times longer. Think about it this way — Peter Jackson’s first Lord of the Rings film, at 178 minutes, is 42 times longer than the average YouTube clip. So the difference between a Vine video and a YouTube video is epic.
The death of the linear brand narrative and the rise of omni-screening (watching TV whilst browsing content on a tablet or smartphone) is redefining how advertisers and marketers are interacting with their target audiences.
So what is driving this trend towards ever-shorter pieces of visual content? And how can these different marketing platforms work together?
Jon Mowat, managing director at Hurricane Media, spoke about this at his recent presentation at the SES conference: “If YouTube marketing is all about creating minutes, then Vine and Instagram marketing must be about creating moments.”
Just as the narrative in a film or television series follows a series of beats in which character and plot develop towards a conclusion, now marketing narratives have beats that are usually in the form of a question and answer or an emotional connection.
If the linear brand narrative is dead, then the key challenge to marketers in the new multi-platform age is developing strategies that respond to the beats of different narrative drums. In other words, you must get your moments to compliment your minutes.
This means engaging with consumers and the wider online communities at a level never seen before. It involves knocking down barriers that have traditionally existed between corporates and the consumers, with new kinds of video content produced on-the-fly.
Understanding what’s funny and what’s not, what’s on-topic and what’s yesterday’s news, has become more important than ever before on Vine and Instagram.
There’s no doubt that keeping it short and sweet is key to video marketing on Vine and Instagram, as is injecting brand personality. Involving your community is also essential, as well as planning and reacting. In fact, marketing on Vine and Instagram can be condensed into three stages:
Effective marketing on Vine is about reacting and responding. The ability to plan your video marketing around key events or opportunities in your sector is one thing; using quick thinking to create potentially viral content that plays off the unpredictable at these events is quite another.
You have to understand the condensed nature of the micro-movie format. Content needs to get to the point and be uncluttered. Comic content, using techniques such as animation and montage, call for precision and timing.
Many firms make the mistake of producing detached and irrelevant content that doesn’t engage their targeted viewers at all. Vine and Instagram isn’t just about content marketing but communication. Use video to open up a dialogue with your community or to respond or offer up commentary on something trending within your target communities.
There’s a completely different raft of considerations that go into creating content that is 6 or 15 seconds in length. Vine and Instagram movie-making demands marketers adapt to short narrative beats and rise to the challenges of building brand awareness on these platforms.
Joe Cox is head of content at Bespoke Digital.
So, what’s the most useful business technique I could show you?
Well, I don’t know. It depends on all sorts of things — your personality, your skills, your priorities, your current challenges. But if I could just ask you a few quick questions, I’d be able to tell you exactly what you most want to know.
Using the words “I don’t know” in response to someone’s question can often help you. It gives you the chance to ask more questions first — ones that will show you the best way to answer their original question. It also stops you saying the wrong things or losing the power in a conversation.
Here are other situations where saying “I don’t know” could be extremely helpful:
All these examples help you regain control of the conversation. After all, if you answer their question before you have enough information, you’ll be guessing. And guessing increases the chance of your answer being too long or irrelevant.
This is especially important for people who sell. The instant you give your price before discussing your value, people think you’re too expensive. They’re already thinking, “can you reduce it?”.
A price doesn’t make sense on its own. Here’s a question for you: “Is £10,000 expensive?” It’s impossible to say, isn’t it? It depends what it’s for. It’s cheap for a Bentley; but exorbitant for a sandwich. So you first have to discuss what they’re buying, and establish the value they perceive is in it. And the only way to do this is? Ask them what they perceive as valuable.
Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.
It’s good to be able to vary your copy style — different styles for different tasks.
Deep level service pages or white papers, for example, are a place where people will be looking for detail, and will expect to find copy that lays out your process or explains the nitty gritty of how your products work.
Your home page and blogs, however, are a different matter. Here you’re after copy that grabs people quickly, and packs a real punch.
So how do you do that?
The quickest way to pack a punch with your copy is to address the reader directly. Putting “you” into whatever you’re writing is your short circuit to making a connection. How do you feel about that? More connected, I’ll bet than if I had written how does the person reading this feel about that?
Direct from me to you is the shortest way to hit home fast. Imagine your ideal reader, and forget about everything else, just write it to them.
Short sentences are another way to keep people moving so quickly through the copy in a way that doesn’t feel like a long hard read. Keep sentences short. That way people won’t drift off. They’ll stick with you.
Of course not every sentence needs to be super short. You want to pack a punch, not make the reader feel under fire. So vary the sentence length sometimes, so it feels conversational, but not like gunfire.
Active verbs make writing punchier. Seeing, running, jumping are all pacier than saw, ran or jumped. Similarly cutting out unnecessary “wills” and “cans” make your writing more direct. So don’t say, we can deliver solutions. Say, we deliver solutions. (Except avoid the word solutions at all costs. Find some real words that describe things people can picture instead).
Metaphors and analogies can help pack power into your writing. I could tell you that last night in an Aberdeen hotel surprised me, because there seemed to be no women anywhere, except those working as waitresses, and that all the men seemed to be sizing each other up, and you might get the picture. If I told you it was like the Wild West, you’d get a quicker and sharper image of the place, and that picture will stay with you for longer. Metaphors add colour and vision to whatever you’re writing.
To summarise, the key to writing copy that packs a punch is to make it resonate with the reader. Put them at the heart of whatever you’re writing, keep the writing pacey and colourful, and get creative with your comparisons. It will knock them out!
There is no doubt about it, the unrelenting rise of the smartphone and tablet cannot be ignored. Your customers are constantly on the go and being able to access their life in the palm of their hand makes it all a bit easier.
But does your website do the same for them? Have you tried to undertake your main customer website activities on a smartphone or tablet? Was it as easy as on a desktop device?
For many businesses, the answer is simply “no”.
A recent article by eMarketer indicated that in 2012 the global smartphone audience surpassed the one billion mark and will reach 1.75 billion in 2014 and continue to rise.
By 2017, smartphone penetration among mobile phone users globally is likely to be approximately 50%. Recent Deloitte research stated that the number of smartphone users in the UK has reached 72% — that means that seven out of ten of your customers may be viewing your website on a smartphone.
Will they like what they see? And how do you know whether mobile customers are important to your business?
If you look at your Google Analytics data you will see the constant rise of your mobile device visitor (you do check your GA reports, don’t you?). I’m certainly seeing this pattern across the website stats for many of my clients. Some business sectors are seeing larger shifts to mobile device visitors than others but I can assure you that every business is seeing these percentages on the up.
If you have a website that has a transactional element to it — so your user needs to complete a purchase or a task, like registration or sign up — then I think you need to consider developing a responsive design website. This is the gold standard in mobile web and means that no matter what device is used to access your site it will shrink and adjust how it displays content, making the user experience easy and enjoyable.
If yours is a brochure-style website, you can probably get away with what you have for the moment. However, I would highly recommend you test it on tablets and smartphone devices to see how it renders and if it is still usable. I have seen some absolute shockers in terms of what can happen to your beautiful website when viewed on a smartphone! If it’s unusable for your customer you are risking losing out on business.
I would recommend a responsive design website as a minimum and then consider if any part of your customer journey is suitable for translating into an app. Apps have many advantages — generally they do not need an internet connection, the user interface can be streamlined, and you can focus the customer on the task in hand.
But be careful not to get drawn into developing an app simply for the sake of it. You don’t necessarily need one, they’re not cheap (around £5,000 upwards) and they have ongoing development costs, so it isn’t a one-off investment.
As with all marketing tools, it depends on your target audience. Find out first how your customers behave online — are they increasingly accessing your site via their mobile devices. This should drive your decision to develop a more mobile/tablet-friendly online presence to aid website conversion and sales growth.
Business use of social media reminds me a little of the arrival of the mobile phone. While embraced as exciting by some, at the beginning, many found the idea of a mobile phone abhorrent. “Why would I want people to be able to contact me everywhere I go?” was a usual retort I often heard. Of course, over time usage grew and now most people would find it hard to live without their mobile phone.
There now seems to be a general acceptance among companies that social media is a vital marketing tool. And eventually companies will not be able to live without it at all. I think we are close to that situation already, although many organisations have failed to realise that this is the case.
However, while most businesses are embracing social media, many are disappointed with the results they are getting. Having created their Twitter, Facebook or Google+ accounts, they simply cannot understand why customers are not coming to them in droves. It is akin to signing up for gym membership and then waking up the next morning disappointed that you don’t feel healthier and you still aren’t sporting a six pack.
The benefits obtained by going to the gym take time. They are a result of using the equipment correctly and planning a proper regime of exercise, which is adhered to and monitored over time. Social media is no different. The benefits to a business will take time to appear. They will be a result of using the correct social platforms for that particular organisation, and strategically planning and measuring success.
While more customers and greater client retention may be outcomes that result from effective use of social media, they are not the main objectives you should be concentrating on. Quite simply, social media is highly effective in two areas.
Firstly, social media is an excellent engagement tool. It’s a way of obtaining attention in the marketplace and keeping it. However, this can only occur if companies provide their audience with value. Whether this is interesting information, easy shortcuts to get things done, games or competitions with great prizes, providing people with an interesting stage to voice their own opinions or making people laugh — your audience must get something out of the exchange.
The use of the word exchange is deliberate, because that is the nature of social media. In the first instance a company must provide value. However, social media should not be used as a broadcast mechanism. It is social. Therefore, when people take the time to contribute comments, ask questions and get involved, companies need to respond and make the communication two-way.
The reason why this engagement is so valuable to a business today, is that the most precious element in marketing now is to obtain people’s attention. In this multi-channel digital world, it is hard to get and easy to lose. The most successful organisations, however, have the attention of their marketplace. Today, before a company achieves share of wallet they need share of time. Social media can deliver this.
The second aspect in which social media can play a big part is in delivering a great customer experience. Many firms can no longer demarcate themselves by what they do. In the experience economy, the opportunity to differentiate comes from how a company delivers.
Whether it is meeting customer’s service demands, allowing them to have a voice in the development of new products and services or enabling them to share their own knowledge and practices with others, social media provides businesses with a fantastic opportunity for companies to enrich the experience they give to customers.
So how are you currently using social media? Are you trying to generate engagement and enhance the experience you provide customers or are you frustrated that having posted your profile on LinkedIn you haven’t yet received one enquiry?
Now, if you excuse me, I am off to sign up for some violin lessons. I should be a virtuoso by the morning, right?