There’s a small independent toy shop near my home that I often walk past. I am always really impressed by just how well the staff dress the windows each season or tie in with key events and dates. I particularly loved their recent Six Nations window.
This shop is rightly aware that their window is prime real estate for the business. Make a splash with a fresh display and heads will turn. Dress it once and only make minor changes once in a while and people will walk past without noticing.
Rugby may not be everyone’s cup of tea but change will attract attention and create awareness. And one day, someone who noticed a Welsh flag one week will notice the push-along horse on display a few weeks later — and that would make a perfect gift for their nephew’s birthday.
Now why am I banging on about shop window displays? It’s because the home page of your website is your online shop window. And you can apply the shop window thinking to your own website.
Did you pat yourself on the back for a job well done and breathe a sigh of relief when your website first launched? How much work have you done on it since? Has the home page changed at all?
I meet so many small business owners who treat their websites as a one-off exercise and believe that an online presence is all that is required. Your website is like a living creature that needs to be constantly fed and cared for, if it is to do everything you want it to do. And that means regular updates — especially if yours is an ecommerce business.
And remember, it’s not just website visitors that love fresh, engaging content — so does Google.
It was while enjoying a series of single malt whiskies, in the Three Crowns Pub, that I was reminded of a marketing lesson that too many businesses are missing in this new digital world.
On finishing our drinks, I asked my brother if he wanted another round. After agreeing to have “one more for the road”, I duly went to the bar and ordered another couple of doubles of Glenlivet. The price I was charged would have made the bottle of Glenlivet just over £100. Yet it is widely available to buy by the bottle for around £30.
Why spend so much extra? I could have easily bought a bottle of Glenlivet in my local supermarket and sat at home with my brother. The drink would have been of equal quality.
The point is that the value was not in what this pub supplied — the drink. There are other pubs that sell the same brand, and there are also many other ways I could have purchased the whisky, many of which would have been more cost-effective.
Rather, the value was in how the pub delivered the product. In supplying pleasant surroundings, a comfortable place to sit, a good atmosphere, a log fire and showing the football, the pub created an experience that was bigger than just the quality whisky. The totality of the experience made the cost of the product acceptable at that moment in time.
Moreover, although this particular pub’s main product is beverages, the landlord had thought about other items a customer may want during their visit. Snacks including crisps, nuts and bowls of chips were available. There was also a quiz machine to play. OK, this is pretty standard inventory for a pub, so why the big deal?
The digital economy has seen the increasing commoditisation of products and services — whether you are a business-to-business company, or a business supplying consumers. We are all now working in the experience economy. Of course, products and services have to be delivered to a high standard in order to compete. However, today that is just the price of entry into any particular market.
The value for the customer is no longer in what you do. Your clients will, more than likely, have a multitude of options, of which you will be just one. The value is in how you deliver the product or service. It is the experience that will differentiate your business. It is also the experience that is more likely to be talked about, shared and which will generate referrals.
Moreover, what you deliver is likely to be the same as a number of other suppliers. This being the case, this is not where the value lies in your business. The most precious resource today is people’s attention. So the value in your business is more likely to exist in data and the customers you supply.
In other words, the real worth of your business is in the engagement and trust you have with your client base. The more you can deepen this, the more valuable your business becomes. Being able to provide added value to “the experience” enables an organisation to earn more money while creating more engagement and value for the customer.
Understanding your customers’ challenges and the contexts in which these occur, will enable you to create new offerings and obtain a greater share of a customer’s wallet. It means being truly customer centric and understanding what else a customer may require when they engage with your business. In other words, what is the equivalent of your crisps and nuts?
When jazz musicians Melvin “Sy” Oliver and James “Trummy” Young wrote the song ‘T’ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It) in the 1930s, little did they know they would be providing the perfect comment on marketing in the digital economy.
Ultimately, what you do allows you to exist, how you do it enables you to compete and differentiate. Too many companies focus all their energies on what they do, rather than how they do it and for whom.
Now that is sorted, I am off for a well-deserved single malt! Three Crowns anyone?
The world of search engine optimisation (SEO) has changed. Websites that tried to trick Google are now reaping what they have sown, with disastrous results. Instead of getting lots of traffic and making lots of sales, their SEO tactics have led to the exact opposite result. No traffic and no sales.
The sad thing is that the owners of these websites often had no idea what their SEO agency was up to. The owners were offered “No.1 ranking” in return for cash, and simply handed the money over.
Typically that cash was used to pay ‘link farms’, based abroad. These are the bad boys of the SEO world. Many of them use automated systems to ‘scrape’ content from respectable sites such as the Marketing Donut and upload it onto a series of new sites. They then sell links from these new sites, to boost the ranking of whichever web pages those links go to.
But Google algorithms are always getting smarter. And Google also has a small army of humans who search out and penalise such ‘black hat’ SEO practices. Well known websites such as Interflora and Halifax — and more recently the law firm Irwin Mitchell — have found themselves removed from the Google rankings. In 2013 Interflora only reappeared in the rankings once the company had already missed out on millions of pounds worth of flower sales over the crucial Mother’s Day period.
Noisy Little Monkey has been brought in to sort out several such messes and in one case we found no fewer than three million spammy links in place — none of which the website owners knew about, as they had simply trusted the SEO agency to get on with improving the rankings.
Google eventually has to reinstate big brands such as Interflora, as so many people search specifically for the brand name and Google has to serve its users. But the same is not true of a small business. In some cases you cannot even re-use your old content on a completely new website, as Google treats it as the same website that was given the penalty previously. At this point businesses are better off jettisoning their website and starting afresh with a new URL and new content.
All of which is irrelevant if you have always followed the guidelines that Google publishes. These guidelines can be summarised in two words: Don’t cheat. If you do anything that is not ‘natural’, it is probably cheating. Paid-for advertorial that has a link back to your website is cheating, as that link would not be there unless you had paid for it. So if you want to do advertorials, make sure that any links in the content are ‘no-follow’ links.
And we can all recognise a spammy link when we see one. For example, those annoying website comments: Great post! Paul Paul’s Office Furniture [with an optimised link to a page on Paul’s furniture website]. Unless the comment and the link are contributing to the discussion, the purpose of such comments is as obvious to Google as it is to the rest of us. ‘Low value’ links like this will not help your website’s rankings at all.
Proper SEO in has always been about optimising each page. The easy wins are the same as they have always been. Choose one or two key phrases that you want a page to rank for. Mark up the HTML carefully. Optimise the page title of each page. Make full use of high quality online directories such as Google+ Local, Yell and maybe your local chamber of commerce (ie those directories that people use to find things) and make sure that your contact details are identical, including even the spaces in your phone number — which ideally should have a local code and not an 0845 code.
Above all, you need to have high quality content, because that is what Google and the other search engines are all about. Put yourself in Google’s shoes. If someone searches for ‘Solicitor in Bristol’, there may be 50 firms to choose from. Which one would you rank at the top? It would be the site that has traffic, that visitors spend time on, and that people link to and mention in blogs and in social media — all of which adds up to a winning digital footprint. It would not be a site that people arrive at and then quickly leave.
Finally, if you are using an SEO agency, make sure you know what they are doing. Google Webmaster Tools is free and is easy to use. If nothing else, just look in the messages section. Any really bad news from Google about your website will be in there.
Why do they call it social media? It is anything but social. It is antisocial.
What social media does can be really damaging to a business. Under the mistaken idea that they are “doing business”, business owners and sales/marketing people get preoccupied with social media and replace the basic, traditional forms of sales and marketing with counting clicks, likes and followers.
The bare facts are that doing business is about understanding who your customers are, what their problems are and engaging with them so that they buy from you when they are ready.
Too many people confuse talking business with doing business. They become social media-obsessed and confuse their social media interactions with their original purpose. In effect, they become busy fools.
Most businesses spend:
This is all so wrong. So upside-down...
You need to turn this pyramid on its head and spend:
Obviously, social media done well is another matter.
Robert Craven runs The Directors’ Centre, helping businesses to grow and advising on how to work smarter. He is a keynote speaker and best-selling author of Kick-Start Your Business and Grow Your Service Firm.
Lead generation is vital for any business. I have tracked with interest the evolution of marketing automation companies and lead tracking technology providers. Lead generation software gives marketers incredible power to scale marketing to thousands and to track, nurture and ultimately convert interested followers into paying customers.
But while technology is great, when it comes to start-ups and small firms, I am concerned that lead nurturing technology actually confuses rather than helps. You don’t need a Ferrari to collect your groceries when you can walk around the corner to the supermarket or order them online.
There is always the classic sales/marketing schism which runs like this: sales find that the leads they are provided with by marketing are no good, while marketing feel the leads were great but sales can’t close them. Entrepreneurs don’t have time for this.
I remember working with the ceo of a start-up who needed 12 trial customers within three months. I sat down with the sales director and asked how many leads they had in the pipeline. I also asked about the sales process. I then asked what key collateral was needed to help them close deals — case studies, fact sheets, press coverage, advocates. In this case, if marketing didn’t support sales then after 12 weeks neither would exist.
I also worked for an enterprise workflow start-up vendor and the ceo asked me to draft the business plan to help secure funding. I was delighted, as I knew that the revenue targets would shape how many leads marketing had to generate which would, in turn, flow down to a series of tactics I could deliver.
It’s not just about brand, share of voice, tone of message — it’s about leads. Yes, you need to get the other metrics right. But my experience has told me that we must be united about leads. As Bruce Springsteen puts it, “If you don’t stick together you won’t stick around”.
Once we have the leads, we need to work out which ones are really worth pursuing and which ones are time-wasters that will stall you. As entrepreneurs, we can’t confuse interest with commitment.
Ultimately, we are after customers and once you have a lead you need to know what to do with it — play or pass. The other point to remember is that going for glory — and the time, effort and resources involved in chasing the one big name account — may not be worth as much as the lower hanging fruit, the deals that are easier to close and will generate cash more quickly.
Marc Duke is a marketing consultant.
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.