You might think that the year 2000 was a bad time to start an internet business. After all, that was the year the dot-com bubble burst, and investment in online companies dried up
But the crash didn't destroy every internet business. Take Prezzybox. This online gift retailer launched in September 2000, by founder Zak Edwards and a small team.
Initially run from a borrowed office with a bright orange wall, the company has since grown to have an annual turnover of £5m. In a highly-competitive sector, that's no mean feat.
Website eCommerce MasterPlan recently interviewed Zak for their regular podcast. During the half-hour discussion, he explains how the business got started, reveals his favourite online tools, and gives essential advice for anyone who's running - or thinking of starting - an ecommerce business. Listen now:
Some might say we live in a world of oversharing. You can find just about anything on your social feed - from what your friend ate for lunch to a video of a squirrel getting drunk on fermented pumpkin. We share unique content (like this blog post) and we share frequently because we're positively reinforced with "favorites", "likes" or an increase of new followers. It becomes a cycle, a lifestyle.
But does this trend carry over to email marketing? Just what is social sharing in email and how effective is it?
If you've researched social sharing in the past, you may have seen mixed results across studies. One recent study showed that including links to share on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter generated a 115% higher CTR (click-through-rate) than emails without an option to share.
But another study, by MarketingSherpa, suggests that social sharing buttons are not as effective.
So should we or shouldn't we add social buttons? The answer is that it depends on both your audience and the content that's being shared.
Always have your audience and your end goal in mind. Producing highly relevant, quality content will always be the best motivator for customers to share.
On the flip side, social sharing buttons can eat away at traffic or conversions if you aren't careful. If the goal of the email is to increase blog traffic, you may want to consider having social sharing buttons that directly promote the highlighted blog post.
Or, if you're aiming to drive sign-ups through social, provide a direct link to the landing page for users to share.
Having users refer your product to a friend is much more organic, with the added value of social proof. In return, it guarantees that you're able to attract those with similar interests to your most engaged customers.
Additionally, if you're simply looking to drive exposure on social, you can consider adding "Follow Us" buttons instead. I use these in my own email campaigns and have seen 20% of click-throughs attributed to social media follows.
So always have a specific ask and work to integrate all parts of the email towards that one goal.
There are a few ways to add social sharing buttons into your email.
Most template editors allow you to drag and drop in pre-made social sharing buttons. For a more customised approach, you can code your own button. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have documentation with pre-made code you can use.
Twitter's Tweet Button allows you to craft a personalised message for your contact list to share. The Facebook button may be a little bit trickier for the non-developer to pick up, but is also highly customisable.
Social sharing buttons have the potential to be highly impactful, providing a high ROI for the time it takes to create and integrate them into your email templates.
Copyright © 2015 Amir Jirbandeyis marketing lead UK at Mailjet.
After some sites have been seeing ranking fluctuations, speculation is starting to build about a potential new Panda update from Google.
We're certainly intrigued as to what a new Panda update could mean for small businesses and content marketers. From what we have learned, it seems that the update will be less of a quality penalisation (which we have previously seen) and more of a quality assessment, where Google is re-assessing what it sees as good and bad ranking factors and encouraging sites to up the quality of the content on their site.
It is expected that Google will:
The new update highlights the need for truly valuable content; content that is useful, relevant and engaging for the target audience. Now is the time to really focus on and invest in creating high quality content.
There are two top-level actions you can take as the owner or manager of your business:
After speaking with a contact at Google, we've learned that Google wants online marketing to be an even more integrated part of a company's marketing function, where online marketers and SEO experts work together to devise strategies and produce content that is highly detailed and relevant to their audiences.
But Google is also aware that many digital marketers don't have long-term content plans and that one-hit-wonder content ideas don't build on a wider digital marketing strategy.
The Panda update will affect a wide range of business types, it's not just content aggregators that are going to be affected by the update.
Consider how the update may impact your business and industry. Are you selling a service? Ensure that all of your services are represented throughout your site with well-written service descriptions and structured supporting content.
Are you selling a product? Think about your product pages – are they well-written? Product descriptions should be unique to your site and have strong levels of information, if they don't, then you may see drops in rankings.
We believe that Google's strong focus on content is going to continue well into the future. If the search giant is going to retain their very large market share, then they need to continue to provide the highest quality search results. Meanwhile, business owners must invest in an effective online marketing strategy, regardless of algorithm updates.
Many independent retail businesses spend a significant amount of their budget on advertising to drive footfall into their store; but they miss out on potential sales because of poor store layout and a lack of in-store promotional materials.
In-store marketing has the power to turn prospects into converted customers and drive add-on sales. But where do you start?
Do you have any shop window space? Go outside your store and look in from the outside. If you were a passer-by would you be tempted to enter? Your window space is your most valuable piece of in-store advertising; think of it the same way you do your website homepage. You want to communicate your brand to passing trade; as well as using your products, a simple window cling can add colour or advertise a special offer.
When you walk into your store, what's the first thing you see and where are your eyes drawn? Ideally your best sellers should be as near to the entrance as possible; you know these products sell well, they are a safe bet and the perfect introductory point. The entrance to your store should have a distinct space to give your customer time to orientate themselves, so position these products close to your entrance but don't over-crowd the space.
Have you ever simply observed the way your customers move around your store? This can be insightful. Nine times out of ten, first time visitors are likely to pick up the first thing they see, it helps them familiarise themselves with their surroundings and your products. However this can be different dependent upon the store layout and product – take notes.
As a rule of thumb your high traffic areas tend to be the till point and fitting rooms (if you have them), so make the most of these areas. For example, if you're a clothing retailer try merchandising a wall next to the fitting room with jewellery and accessories. It will prompt your customers to consider whether they need something to match the item they plan on purchasing. At the till point customers have already made the decision to purchase an item and are in a purchasing frame of mind. This is why we tend to advertise lower value items here. Try placing a brightly coloured Dump Bin near your till point that advertises special offers.
No matter how small the space, you want to encourage people to move around. If you're a relatively small store you might have to use a free-flow layout. Instead of having defined aisles, the angles and corners of fixtures guide customers around your store. If space is tight you may find a free-standing display unit helpful, providing shelf space but with a relatively small footprint. You can brand these with your company logo, text and colours too.
We all know that when applying for jobs the same CV does not work for all the roles you might be applying for. To be successful you have to draw out specific experience and knowledge and tailor it to the job description to show that you meet the employer's needs.
Segmentation is pretty much the same. It's about aligning your products and services with a specific target audience so you appear more relevant to them.
It is the process of splitting customers into different, definable groups, within which customers with similar characteristics have similar needs. You might use segmentation to identify a group that would benefit from an existing product or you might create a new product or service to address the needs of an identified group.
In short, segmentation is good business practice and is about satisfying the customer's requirements. Meeting customer needs better than your rivals gives you competitive advantage.
To identify your segments you will need to find out more about your customers and their buying habits. This information will be very different depending whether you are selling to consumers (B2C) or other businesses (B2B). Whilst there will be some cross-over of criteria, such as location and frequency of purchase, you might also want to consider a number of other influences:
For B2C: Demographics, social class, age, personal life stage (married, retired etc), interests.
For B2B: Business size, usage rate, company turnover/revenue, business stage (ie start-up or mature business), internal purchasing process, key people.
Firstly, you will reduce your marketing costs by only targeting real prospects. The marketing will be more effective and will help build a relationship with the customer. In time you will create loyalty, boosting both customer retention, and advocacy.
For segmentation to be effective the target group must be distinct, tangible and accessible. Not all your customers and prospects will be at the same stage in the product lifecycle. New customers will have different needs from those who have been a customer for some time and know your product well – so your communication will need to be different.
By segmenting these groups, you can target your marketing more effectively. This might mean varying the content of emails, newsletter and offers that you send or even how often you get in touch.
Understanding their needs and habits will help improve your communication and timeliness. For example, a new customer may need more support as they start to use your product. Long-term customers may need greater incentives to stay loyal. You might want to consider how easy it is for them to switch suppliers and think about creating "stickiness" - incentives to stay.
It can be a good idea to carry out research to find out more about who your customers are and their buying habits. You may already have data stored that will give you an insight, such as sales records, or you might need to conduct a survey to find out more.
If you have a good CRM system you will be able to see how these groups and individuals have responded to previous campaigns. Did they open and click though on your last email campaign? Did they respond to a promotion?
Segmenting your database to activity level gives you real competitive advantage. And using a good email marketing system that integrates with your CRM will mean you can easily mail your database at an individual level, responding to the customer's needs.
This technology isn't just for the Amazons of this world – through cloud technology it is now easily affordable, or even free, for small businesses too.
Copyright © 2015 Helen Armour, marketing manager at Really Simple Systems.
I was talking to a client in the retail sector and reviewing the important figures in his company. A quick overview showed us that the sales were taking a dive and something needed to be done to increase those sales before the end of the quarter.
My first thought was to look at pricing strategies and consider an end of season sale to boost takings.
As a business coach, I usually guide my clients to the right answers. But in this case, the error in judgement and the potential profit impact was so high that I had to immediately banish the thought.
The idea that people will buy from you because you are the cheapest is totally flawed. There is a difference between price and value and the truth is, people are looking to buy value, not spend the least.
Discounting your product actually has a much larger impact on your business than you may think.
Imagine that your customer is paying £100 for your product or service. Let us take £60 as your direct costs. So with a total price of £100 and direct costs of £60, you have a gross profit of £40.
Now let us assume you decide on a 10% discount. You are reducing the amount that you get from your customer to £90. Your direct costs, however, remain the same at £60. Now you are making a gross profit of £30. The decrease in just 10% of the price is creating a 25% decrease in your actual profit. And the smaller your margin, the bigger the drop in profits.
So if you are planning to discount your product, make sure you assess the real impact on your business. Most of the time, it won't be worth it.
When business owners come to me for business coaching, they are usually trying to take their business to the next level. And yet, the only time they have ever increased their prices is because of an increase in costs.
This is a huge missed opportunity, especially for those who provide services. If you have been practicing your business for some years, your brand has gained value. You have proven that there is a market for your expertise and that in itself makes it more valuable.
When the value of your product or service has changed, you can reconsider your pricing strategies.
If your costs have not gone up, a small price increase can dramatically increase your profit margin. If your price is £100 and your costs are £60 and you put up your prices by just 10%, you are actually increasing your profit by 25%.
When you increase your prices, even by a small incremental amount, the effect on your profits can be just as dramatic as the damage that comes from discounting your products.
You cannot just increase prices whenever you like. You have to assess what the value is of the product you are offering and whether your price truly reflects that value. So your pricing strategies should focus not on price but on value.
One way of adding value is to assess your expertise. As a long-standing and trust-worthy business, you provide assurance to customers and you can add a premium for that assurance.
Another way is to identify your competitors and figure out how and why you are better. If you are not, then make yourself better so you can increase your prices.
It is possible to add value in some way without discounting, while providing a lower fee to your customers. You can do this by providing offers instead of discounts.
A really great example is what supermarkets do, where they offer vouchers for "£6 off your next £40 spend" or something to that effect. You can also create "buy 2 get 1 at half price" deals and add value without discounting too much much.
If you feel that you absolutely must offer a discount then make it work for you in some other way. An easy way to get value for your business out of a discount is to relate the discount to an early-bird payment or shorter credit terms such as, "10% off if you pay up front".
But whenever you can, say no to discounting. Instead, come up with smart pricing strategies to provide value without slashing your profits.
Copyright © 2015 Graham Thatcher