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Terry O’Reilly, of CBC’s Under the Influence, hosted a show with what could have been a very boring topic: The weather.

But when you link weather to marketing it gets down right fascinating.

There are some obvious weather marketing activities that have been going on for ages. When it starts to rain in New York City, somehow an army of street vendors instantly appear on every street corner selling umbrellas to those who either didn’t listen to the day’s forecast or chose to ignore it.

One less obvious example O’Reilly reported was for the crafts and hobby retailer, Michael’s. They knew that on rainy days, people prone to crafts were more likely to be engaged in their craft activity on that rainy day rather than on a sunny one. As a result, whenever it rained, Michael’s increased their media buy. It didn’t dramatically affect sales.  Then the light bulb went off in someone’s head: why not increase the media buy a couple of days ahead when there was a forecast of rain (or snow) to come? The result? A dramatic increase in sales. People got their supplies in anticipation of rainy weather rather than trying to get them and getting soaked at the same time.

Weather can affect much more than the sale of umbrellas or snow blowers. What is more powerful is not just the insights to buying habits based on weather but the speed of digital buys based on entities such as the Weather Network with its algorithms linked to media buying services and their algorithms.

Media buying and placement is now instantaneous, at least in the digital world. The advertising agency pulls the trigger at 2:02 PM and at 2:03PM their ad is turning up on someone’s Facebook feed. Or wherever.

Weather affects the sales of many products and businesses. An early, warm, bright sunny day in spring and it’s hard to find a parking spot in a nursery. During a thunderstorm with lightening bursts it’s hard to find a sane person on a golf course.

Weather predicting is one of the most complicated computing functions there is. If you think about conflicting air masses moving in three dimensional space with variables such as temperature, wind, humidity and air pressure and it’s not hard to understand why weather predictions aren’t always 100% accurate. Aviation weather forecasts are every six hours with special reports in between when there is a sudden change and pending hazards to flight. Long range forecasts? For the most part, pilots ignore them.

But weather reports are getting better and many marketers are benefiting from the speed of digital advertising and the accuracy of weather forecasts. If your business is impacted by weather it might be prudent to re-examine how and when you do a weather-related marketing push.

However, with the exception of meteorologists and some marketers, the weather can be an especially tedious conversation topic.

“It’s going to be a hot one today.”

“Sure is.”

It’s an understandable conversation topic because weather is often the only thing strangers have in common.

For the record, meteorologists do not hold a monopoly on weather forecasting. There was a beautiful pink sky this morning and that concerns me. Pink sky at night, a sailor’s delight. Pink sky in the morning and a sailor takes warning. Those high, wispy, pretty clouds (cirrus) you see? They point to good weather but are usually followed by bad weather in a day or two.  Wind from the east? A storm is on the way (in the northern hemisphere). The sky tells us a lot, yet I doubt I could convince advertisers to base media buying simply by staring up to the sky.

I recognize that the weather can be a very boring topic and this article certainly reflects that. My apologies.

But forecasts says the UV index will be high today so I think I’ll go down to the drug store and buy some sun screen.

fake-smile2Nothing tells me I am least valued more than when someone addresses me as a “valued customer”. This is arguably one of the worst salutations a direct mail writer has ever scribed. I would respond more favourably to “Hey you!”

There was a time when ‘Dear Valued Customer” was the best technology would allow. In direct mail marketing, mail merge didn’t arrive until about 1980. Wait a minute….that was over thirty-five years ago, the last year the planet was graced with the Ford Pinto, a car with the unique feature of blowing up when rear ended. A lot has happened since cars blew up when rear-ended, especially in mail merge technology.

In direct mail, or as a friend of mine calls it, “Dreck Mail” they took advantage of mail merge and laser printing to customize even the outside of the envelope. “Bob, we have a special offer inside just for you!” and other such lies.

Today, most mail at least has the courtesy to address you by name. Some try to be warm and personal, “Dear William” while others, like banks, feel it appropriate  to be more formal, “Dear Mr. Lower”. Of course, I have a trick up my sleeve. You see, I write and sign “William” but conversationally, I go by Bill. Rarely do I receive an unsolicited piece of direct mail or email with the salutation, “Dear Bill” but those I read because I figure somehow they know me.

In today’s world of data mining, it is not hard to know a lot about your customer or potential customer. People who believe privacy still exists are also prone to looking under their pillow to see if the tooth fairy left them anything.

Having jollies playing some of those free games on Facebook? “Which famous author are you like?” (I got Salinger, my favourite author which freaked me out and I never played another game). But with that game went data. My data. That it took Zuckerberg so long to figure out what to do with all his data astounds me. Advertisers live and die based on consumer knowledge and insights.

I’m surprised I have not received some form of communication saying, “If you’re like Salinger, you’re going to love these widgets.”

Data reveals when we like to shop, how we like to shop, where we like to shop, whether we do online shopping through our computer, tablet or smartphone. It will reveal our favourite colours, our psychic make up (keep playing those free games) as well as the garden variety demographics that was all advertising agencies had to go on at one time.

Collecting data is not just for advertisers with big budgets and the manpower to create all the relevant subsets. Even small retailers can take advantage of the available technology whether they are sending Dreck mail or eDreck mail.

There is a small pizza place in my neighbourhood with an interesting business model. They prepare the pizzas but don’t cook them. You pick them up and bake them at home. They’re fresher, taste better and because they are not cooked food, you don’t pay tax. You are buying ingredients. They started collecting emails, and use them judiciously with relevant offers. And never once do they refer to me as a ‘valued customer’.

If a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint can figure this out, surely companies with a marketing staff can, too.

You don’t have to pay a company to create a logo for your business. You can get one for free. You don’t need to hire a company to create a positioning line for your company or brand. You can get one for free. You can get free images. You can get almost-free music. You can get free presentation templates. You can get free just about anything except money.

Creativity has all but become a commodity. This is good news for small businesses who wish to tap into the selling power of online marketing. Just about everything is free. All you need is an abundance of free time to source it and compile everything into an actionable marketing initiative.

What is not free is your plan. And without a plan, all that free stuff is worth exactly what you paid for it. Nothing.

A plan is a must. But good news: there are free templates for just about everything and that includes marketing plans.

Get no-cost marketing plans here.

Go here for free images.

This will help you generate headlines for nothing.

Here you can generate a logo.

Create a  3D book cover for that free guide you’re going to give away.

You can conduct surveys for absolutely nothing.

Mailing list marketing? Free.

Develop a free website.

We live in an open source, it’s-all-for-free-world. Wikipedia is an incredible free resource that lives off donations. However, most companies offering things for free have something to sell. For some, it’s your email address.

If you have the time, the discipline and know some of the basics, a small business can easily look professional and much bigger than they are. All for without giving out your credit card number.

However, what is not free is your time. I refer to doing a stock image search as “stock photo Hell”. It can take hours. And that is just for an image or images.

Also what is not free is the thinking required to intelligently fill in the blanks of that great looking template. Because more important to free, is having that plan before you start. While you can get a free marketing plan sample, someone has to make it relevant and appropriate for you.

Regardless of what you can get for nothing, you need a marketing professional for you to make all that stuff gel and work for you.

Or you can go it alone. There are literally millions of free choices for you. And you get to go through them, one by one.

There was a quite famous commercial some time ago for Quaker State Motor Oil. In it, a mechanic was talking about the motor oil and how it protects the engine. He summed it up saying, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.”

The same is true for marketing professionals.

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My marketing company targets SMEs and I have never met one who wanted to stay the size they were. Without growth, you have stagnation. However, over and over again I have seen SMEs succeed only at making their brand or company confusing while trying to make it look bigger than it is.

The most evident example is these companies’ websites. So many are clock-a-block full of long copy pages and child pages (drop down pages under main pages). While creating these would have been a writer’s dream, they are quite the opposite for the viewer.

Don’t misunderstand me: I am all for resource-laden websites when it is relevant to someone’s business. I have created them myself. For example, Houseboat Holidays, a small client of mine in Gananoque. For them, it was prudent to offer up as much information about tourism in the 1000 Islands area because that, in theory, should keep visitors on the site instead of going elsewhere for information. A bounce rate of 13.78% suggests we were not wrong in our thinking. And that 2015 was their most successful year and this June is ahead of year-ago suggests our thinking and implementation is working.

But when I look at many SME sites, I see a hotchpotch of pages and pretty pixels. I see menu items with not much to offer. In one example, there was a menu item for “Partners” and clicking on it, I found that there were not ‘partners’ but ‘partner’. They only had one. And this is a page?

A department store will require a lot of pages and child pages. Most SME’s do not. And if you think about the amount of time you spend on websites, please justify a crowded menu with a litany of largely irrelevant pages.

In today’s world of parallax structure, the need for multiple pages and child pages is greatly reduced. Most, if not all, of the key information can be presented in a graphically appealing, easy to navigate, single page.

The irony is that a plethora of pages can make you look not big, but in fact, can signal small. And unsophisticated.

I often advise clients to look at Apple’s site. As of this writing, they had $215 billion in cash. They are not a small company. But look at their site. Clean, easy to navigate and not cluttered. Child pages are handled in such a way that the visitor does not get overwhelmed on navigational issues.

Another prime example of small trying to look big and failing is contact forms.

I have some critters in my wall so this morning (long before anyone was open for business) I sent an online ‘contact me for a quote’ form to a company in the pest control business.

At 3 o’clock in the afternoon I had still not heard from them. This is a simple fix. With ANY online submission there should be an automated response mechanism. This way, you can:

  1. Confirm the request was received
  2. Manage expectations
  3. Look capable

If you know it will take someone 24 hours to respond, tell the visitor that. Most just need to know that you are going to contact them. As for my pesky pest control people, I gave up waiting and tried to call. This is a large franchise business. And when I called, they had problems with their telephone lines and I got disconnected.

I then called a competitor.

If you have a franchise, you actually do belong to a large organization, even though you are small. But relying on Mother to look after all your marketing can be a mistake. Yes, you pay handsomely for these marketing services and while I do not wish to stir up that can of worms (I was the Creative Director on Midas in the US and completely understand franchise dynamics. “Nobody beats Midas. Nobody.” Until it comes to franchise pricing), there are affordable actions you can take to promote your business where Mother left off.

In today’s world, customer contact management is critical. That, more than a cluttered website, can make you look, if not big, at least respectable and reliable. And reliability is a benefit of ‘big’. Rightly or wrongly, we have a tendency to trust big companies. No wonder so many companies try to look bigger than they are. I confess: I do too. I am a global company. That’s because my default geek is, by day, a programmer for Skype in Estonia, my IT guy hales from Novi Sad (look it up), my go-to graphic designers are in Europe, my account partner is in Toronto and my back-end web technicians are in India. I usually get my music from London and I get my coffee at Starbucks. You get the picture.

Is my company big? No. Does it offer the capabilities of a large firm? Yes. And then some. We’re more agile, resourceful and accountable than our large competitors. You probably are, too.

Stop trying to look big. Put your energy into looking responsive. That way, who knows, you just might become big. Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Thomas Watson. They were all once like you: running a small business that didn’t want to stay that way. And who designed Thomas Watson’s logo? A freelancer in Philadelphia. The logo remains today. Just google “IBM”.

computer-searches-1172404_960_720I don’t know who will read this because I do not have a Google-friendly headline. However, anyone using the internet as a source of information should read this.

Writing is a pain. It is time-consuming and often thankless. But for content-driven enterprises the need for writing is at the core of their business model. What is a time-challenged, content-driven enterprise to do?

Content providers. They are out there and there are many of them. They have articles you purchase…tinker with if you wish…and post as your own. Some even re-sell the articles. Some re-sell the blather.

Think about it. If you have the potential to reach hundreds of millions of people, you don’t need a high rate of engagement to make a respectable rate of return.

The internet is not about information. The internet is about numbers.

I did a search for content providers and found what are supposedly respectable companies.

One university professor I had taught us the art and science of deconstruction while we were studying art and criticism. It’s a useful tool. Take every phrase, each choice of words and every sentence to get at the core of their meaning.

This practice is a great way to sort through bullshit and get to the essence of what is being communicated.

So I downloaded a free sample from a reputable content provider and I received the following: (article in italics with bold italics where I have added observations/comments.)

Communication and Changing Your Mindset

Older theories about intelligence dictate to us that we are born a certain way. What exactly are these ‘older theories? And how can a theory ‘dictate’? By definition, can a theory not merely suggest? And exactly what does it mean that we are ‘born a certain way’?  We have certain traits that others do not possess, others have certain traits that we do not possess, and that is that. It is unlikely we have traits others do not posses. The number of ‘traits’ in the human condition is finite. And by saying ‘that is that’ does the author suggest that there is no counter argument to their statement that no one else possesses the traits we have? There is no room for growth or expansion. If there is no room for growth or expansion, exactly how did  the human species, among other things, put a man on the moon? Our intelligence is as it always was and there is no room for improvement. Perhaps this is true of the author.

However, today, we know better. I knew better before the preceding paragraph. We know that we have the ability to change our mindset and, therefore, improve our capacity for learning in leaps and bounds. Does changing our mindset improve our capacity to learn? And exactly what is the measure of a leap and the measure of a bound? No longer is the status quo necessary. Speaking of quantum physics, exactly how did we get from the preceding sentence to the status quo? We can grow and strive to achieve more academically and, therefore, in life. There are many people on this planet who could attest to the fact that achieving more academically does not guarantee an achievement in life. And how is an achievement in life measured?

Choose Your Words Carefully (The author of this article did not follow their own advice)

Each one of us go through our days speaking our mind, saying things without giving it much thought and sometimes even holding things in and not speaking up for ourselves only to berate ourselves later on for doing so. Huh? We speak our minds and we do not? If you take a moment to recognize and record the words you use daily, you may come to realize that the words you choose might directly relate to the mindset you have. Quantum physics at work again.

What is a Mindset?

A mindset is the mental attitude you adopt which dictates how you will or will not perceive, react and respond to situations. Why is it important? Your mindset can and will determine your life from academics to career and beyond. If a mindset is your attitude this sentence could read, “Your attitude can and will determine your life from academics to career and beyond.” Besides ringing untrue, exactly where is this ‘beyond’? Is this life after death? 

Why is it Important to Communicate Effectively?

The way you interpret your situation communicates to your brain. Huh? Gosh. I thought it was our brain that interpreted situations. Glad I got that one sorted out. When it comes to intelligence, you may have a long-standing belief that you are either one way or another. Either intelligent or unintelligent? Without getting too philosophical, wouldn’t one have to be somewhat intelligent to realize they weren’t? I’ve never met a dumb person who knew they were dumb.  For example, you may feel that you are average and are not questioning that old, limiting, and long-standing belief. It is important to communicate effectively by choosing the thoughts that will change the outcome. What? Here, I give up. You get the point, I hope. I encourage you to challenge each sentence that follows.

For example, there have been many firsts in your life. How is this related to choosing thoughts? You had to allow your first child get on the bus to go to kindergarten without you there. The next child it was a little easier and by the third child, if you had one, this task was not as big of a deal as the first time you had to face it.

By communicating to yourself that you can and will get through the many things that life sends your way, you are able to meet and face more and more challenges along the way. More importantly, you get to do it with ease and grace; as long as you communicate to yourself that, you can and are able to do so.

Communication is so much more than the words you speak to yourself; it is also the thoughts you think. When you challenge yourself and achieve, you reset the communication bar. You allow yourself to see that not only can you achieve more by learning new things and taking on more challenges, but you also get to see that you can take on a growth mindset instead of a limiting one.

End of ‘free content’.

And there you have it. Content you can tweak and post as your own. With little effort, you should be able to do one a day, adding to the unmeasurable, ever-expanding pixel pile of internet pollution. Or you can hire a writer.

Google_bounceThey are a small client, one served as much for love as anything else. This little company in Gananoque, Ontario has a seasonal business renting houseboats on the 1000 Islands. I have been a yearly customer since 1994 and a couple of years ago took them on as a client. They had virtually no online presence save for a very dated, circa 1998 website. Our thinking was to do whatever we could to make them ‘experts’ on the 1000 Island experience and drive a content-based website.

With virtually no budget, we have a respectable showing on Facebook, have targeted cottage-seekers through AirBnB (so AirBnB revenue is new revenue), have successfully competed with giants (Gananoque Boat Lines) on Trip Advisor and have a few thousand YouTube views on how to dock a houseboat. And then we have our traffic numbers from Google. 

That’s where we are seeing the some interesting numbers. While I don’t want to give everything away (I have to save something for new business pitches), one intriguing number is their bounce rate. As of this writing, it is 13.49%.  

There are many points of view about bounce rates, with some breaking out measures by industry or sector and others taking a more aggregate view of random website samples. In the later, one US company in the business of helping clients with online marketing stated that most websites range between 26% and 70%. Obviously the 26 number is seen as an excellent score. Those who measured by industry, claim that simple landing pages have a 70-90% bounce rate while portals such as MSN, Yahoo groups, etc. will enjoy a 10-30% bounce rate. Both make sense. 

Bounce rate is a way of indicating how engaged your audience is. And just like in advertising, if you say the right thing to the right people at the right time you will probably enjoy success.

My client’s sales are up dramatically and they told me last year was their best year ever since they opened their doors in 1972. I’d like to take some credit for that.

 


by William Lower and Peter Hickey

If you pay attention to online marketing forums and groups, you will know there is a plethora of articles, eBooks, software solutions and even entire companies focused on one thing: helping companies get more leads and subsequently more sales for their business.

The obvious question is, “Where are those leads coming from?” Are they coming from companies that don’t have a current supplier for the products or services you offer? Or are those leads and sales going to come at the expense of your existing customer base?

 (more…)

by William Lower and Peter Hickey

B2B_Lead_Generation_2016Apparently, getting new business leads is easy. Google the topic and you will find 140,000,000 articles in less time than to took to read this sentence. I guess with this article there will be 140,000,001 responses.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Lead generation is challenging and only becomes more challenging if you set your sites on quality leads.

There are companies that specialize in lead generation. Ka-ching. There is a multitude of software products engineered to help you in your search for leads with a host of up-sell services to help you better/faster/smarter find those leads.

And then there is you.

Some of the tools you can implement yourself are things such as writing an informative eBook. You have the time for that, right? You can write a newsletter, a blog, produce a video, get more involved with Twitter, host a Webinar, get out and do some old-fashioned but effective networking, create a commercial and put it on YouTube, produce an infographic, get some media attention (formerly known as PR) and on and on we can go.

These are nothing more than examples of information distribution.

But before you begin to splash into information distribution, before you layout that newsletter, create that eBook, tweet or re-tweet that message you need to do something that is neither sexy nor easy.  You need a strategy and it’s a fool’s errand to start marketing or acting without one.

At the end of the day, lead generation is fundamentally simple: make sure you are saying/offering the right product/service to the right person/company and use the appropriate distribution channels to reach them. Digital information channels have not changed a core and necessary ingredient found in traditional media channels: Relevance.

But don’t take our word for it. Read the 140,000,000 articles out there promising to help in your quest for lead generation.

Then we should talk.

rabbit hole“The possibilities are endless.” Such are some company claims who provide online marketing ‘tools”. And if you have endless time to devote to harnessing these tools, you might get somewhere. Maybe. Depends on whose tools you buy into.

There is a formula for promoting online expertise. The usual one consists of posting articles with headlines such as “Five things you need to know to INSERT TOPIC HERE.” “The three best tools to help you INSERT FUNCTION HERE.”

You get the idea.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many companies out there providing relevant tools and expertise for those engaged in online marketing. I know. I use some. Not just for myself but for my clients as well.

Therein lies the challenge. Any marketer, including small businesses, can scour the internet looking to tap resources they don’t have and learn marketing tips from the experts.

Anyone can do it. You do not need a marketing agency, you may not even need a marketing or sales director. If you have the time to pursue and evaluate the resources available to you, you can save considerable money. That is, assuming that your time IS NOT money. That assumes your business runs so smoothly, you can put it on auto pilot while you wrestle the online marketing gorilla to the floor.

Many companies do not have that luxury. Their CEOs or Presidents have larger issues to attend to.  Such as growing their business.

The power of internet marketing gives you the ability to target right down to people who wear brown shoes versus those who wear black; to which way a person’s house faces, be it north, south,east or west and whether they are more or less prone to purchase online or off.

But the real power of the internet is captured when a company’s business goals and objectives are clearly defined and milestones for achievements are clearly marked on the internet road to success.

Almost every B2B business wants to generate leads. To do that, you need to capture emails. We can measure that. To legally get those emails you need to get the visitor to your site to opt in. We can easily measure that, too. Oops. Forgot. First we have to get people to the site in the first place. We can measure that, too. We can measure where they came from, where they went, how long they stayed on your site, whether they set sail to other sites after just visiting your landing page.

We can measure what people search for and if that search relates to our business, we can plant our ads when they visit other sites. There is so much we can measure. The rabbit hole of digital measurement has almost endless burrows.  The one with a dead end sign is the one labelled “Why?”

‘Why’ is one of the most potent questions in any strategic exercise including choosing online tools to help marketing efforts

I love online marketing because of its precision, predictability and accountability. I am an ad guy. I get my kicks from helping clients gain market share, grow awareness or change behaviour. And I love what online communications can do to help me do my job. That’s why most of my work now is online. What I don’t like is seeing intelligent management being lured through the digital looking glass and down the rabbit hole. 

stock-illustration-61558616-text_marketing_flatelement_backupIf no one needed advertising, companies’ bottom lines would be healthier, businesses would have one less complication and the series Mad Men would have no traction or relevance and would probably never have been produced.

However, to increase sales, companies have to sell. To sell, companies need advertising. Let me define what I mean by advertising. It is any tool used to reach a target audience and deliver a selling proposition. That includes broadcast communication (TV, radio) Direct Mail, print, digital or online communications (websites, apps, Twitter, Youtube, Facebook etc) and even door-to-door sales people. Advertising is disseminating information.

The question is not whether you need advertising, it is when and how to deploy advertising.

Communication strategies are most successful when they dovetail with marketing strategies which in turn work best when they intelligently dovetail with the larger corporate growth strategy .

However, it is not uncommon for companies to turn to advertising to solve a problem. There was a delightful campaign done many years ago for an Oregon beer, Henry Weinhard’s, competing with the giants like Anheuser Busch. This Oregon beer was made with all natural ingredients and the campaign was based on a foil of two characters (like a Mutt and Jeff) who were responsible for delivering “Schludwiller” into Oregon. In one spot, they were driving their tractor trailer through tiny backroads in an effort to sneak the beer into the state. Mutt was going on about how Henry Weinhard’s was made with all natural ingredients, etc.

He asks Jeff, “Is Schludwiller?”

Jeff: Nope.

Mutt: Well if it’s not, how do we plan to sell Schludwiller?

Jeff: Heck, Mutt, that’s what advertising’s for: to make up for stuff like that.

And so many people believe. But effective advertising, no matter what the media, is not a cure for flaws. Can it reposition a product or service in a new and relevant way? Absolutely. And this is where marketing and advertising strategies get muddied. The truth is that identifying how a product or service should be repositioned is in many ways at the role of marketing. However, analyzing the competitive communication landscape is part of what defines a communication strategy. Here, they can overlap.

Regardless of who takes the lead, identifying opportunities and defences against threats is a strategic one. Advertising is not the first thing a company or government should do in the face of unexpected crises or opportunity but the last.

The first thing to do? Get smart. Research. Intelligent research.

You get the right strategy and give that to people who deliver on strategy and I guarantee your advertising will work. I have the proof to back that up. If you want to hear it, contact me.

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