Who are these people who write reviews on websites like Yelp, Amazon and Angie’s List? And why do they have so much power over your success?
Contrary to some opinions I’ve heard, online reviewers usually aren’t just disgruntled customers or dishonest competitors in disguise. They view themselves as part of a community that plays an important role in helping consumers make wise choices.
Remember that these online review websites are companies, and they have a business interest in encouraging reviewers. The more reputable and helpful their community is, the more successful the company will be.
For instance, Yelp recruits active reviewers to engage in its ‘Elite’ program, offering special free events and perks to this group. You can see from my Yelp profile that I participated in this community for awhile:
On a smaller scale, some companies offer sweepstakes giveaways or discounts to customers who write reviews. And we can never neglect the allure some feel of developing a following, being considered a community leader or creating a reputation as an expert (even if it’s just expertise in local restaurants).
Because online review companies develop authentic communities, your customers trust the reviews they read, and they make purchase decisions based on reviewers’ opinions. So be nice to the reviewers and encourage your loyal customers to make their voices heard.
More than 50% of customers view email marketing communications or social media marketing campaigns on a smartphone. This means every message you share must keep mobile in mind or risk being ignored by half of your customers.
Here are some tips for designing mobile-friendly marketing messages:
About 500 pixels wide will display beautifully on smart phones. Minimize the amount of horizontal scrolling required to see the content.
Try to keep file sizes as small as possible. Smartphones load content more slowly than desktop computers, and customers are ever more impatient. Also, you need to be mindful of how much data you are asking customers to download.
If you have fairly sophisticated abilities, design elements using responsive design that adapts with the customer’s screen size. One good option for email marketing are services like Mail Chimp that have responsive templates.
If you have to send your content as an image, use a PNG, GIF or JPG format. Avoid PDFs, as that format usually won’t display automatically like other file formats.
Designing mobile-friendly messages can be more challenging than designing for print or desktops, because screen sizes are different among devices. But if you embrace the challenge, you’ll have the marketing advantage over your competitors who stay stuck in the past.
Find the Differences that Matter to Beat the Competition
Customers will always compare your small business to your competitors. Their frame of reference for evaluating you is often if you are better or worse than what they’ve experienced in the past. If you learn what irks customers about competitors and excel in those areas, you will have a significant competitive advantage.
Not every difference matters. Customers probably don’t care if you’ve been in business 15 years, while your competitor has only been around for three. They might not even care that your certifications are more thorough. You must find the meaningful differences that can set you apart from the competition in the customer’s mind.
Let’s take my experience with construction contractors as an example. What really matters to me in a contractor is that he answers my call or calls me back the same day. I want a schedule that actually means something. When there’s a problem, I want him to tell me about it right away. That seems like basic customer service, doesn’t it? But compared to most contractors, a firm that meets those criteria will win my loyalty and business.
For some industries, being better than competitors is pretty simple. You just have to be aware of the differences that matter. How will you learn what matters? That’s also pretty simple. Ask your customers. They will tell you.
Small businesses benefit from the joy and luxury of being personality-driven. Also, when you’re small, you can more easily choose a focused strategy to serve a niche market. (Large companies usually need to serve large markets, in order to earn enough revenue.)
Here are ten small businesses that embraced these aspects by choosing creative, descriptive and differentiating names that appeal to their customers:
Powell’s City of Books – This Portland-based bookstore is gigantic. The name evokes the quirky atmosphere that is a book lover’s dream.
Grateful Grahams- Consumers today enjoy when a company has a larger purpose than simply selling products. Perfectly tailored for this market is a graham bakery that asks “What are you grateful for?”
Roadtrippers – It’s a website and app that helps you plan road trips. So simple!
Insight to Action – This firm delivers business strategies through the lens of market research. The name quickly and clearly differentiates it from other consultants.
Once Upon a Child- A thrift store that makes buying used children’s clothing sound like a fairy-tale adventure (of savings!). The name is cute and clever. Technically, this is not a small business, but each store is locally-owned by franchisees.
Frameri – Here’s an example of an upscale-boutique name that still clearly implies what they sell. Frameri is an online glasses store, where customers buy one set of lenses that fit into multiple, interchangeable frames.
Sleepy Bee Cafe- Without being blunt, this cafe makes it clear it’s a trendy breakfast and brunch place. Also, they specialize in honey condiments!
Taste of Belgium – This restaurant takes a different approach with its name by specifically letting customers know to expect Belgian food and beverages. The dining experience carries through, as each location feels very Continental European.
King Arthur’s Court Toys – Either Merlin or an amazing marketing strategy have kept this toy store thriving through the Toys ‘r Us and Amazon market invasions. The store’s magical name certainly helps capture both children and family’s imaginations.
Zoo in a Jungle Marketing – Forgive my self-aggragandizement. My company name, which is derived from Peter De Vries’ quote “Life is a zoo in a jungle,” helps prospective clients instantly sense my company’s personality and appeals to small businesses that seek to expand their horizons.
If you’re looking to name a small business or startup, get inspired with my top ten small business names list. And, remember, let your personality shine through!
For many of the small businesspeople I advise, Twitter is one of the most confusing or overwhelming social media networks to make sense of. The barrage of information on Twitter is unrelenting, and it’s hard to know what strategies will work best for marketing your small business.
Good news! Most small businesses can ignore Twitter altogether and focus on other areas of web marketing.
More good news! If Twitter marketing makes sense for your small business, you’ll find it fairly easy (and maybe even fun!) to get results.
When Twitter Marketing is Right for Your Business
Fame is your game. If you are a thought leader, public personality or otherwise benefit from personal fame, then Twitter is an important place to see and be seen.
You naturally have fans. For sports teams, restaurants, event venues and other brands that could describe their customers as ‘fans,’ Twitter is a great place for them to follow you.
You’re in the information business. Twitter traffics in information, so it’s a useful tool for information-based businesses like newspapers or recommendation services (like Roadtrippers, Angie’s List, etc.).
Your customers are active on Twitter. Usually, this applies when your business offers products or services to the previous three groups. Promoting your customers’ tweets and engaging with them on Twitter is a great business-building activity.
When Twitter Marketing is Wrong for Your Business
Businesses that don’t meet the above criteria can probably cross Twitter marketing off their list and move on to more profitable media. In addition, even if my list describes your business, Twitter marketing is wrong for your business if you don’t have the time or resources to develop an active, loyal following. Turning Twitter into business success requires a dedication to the community, including near-constant monitoring and engaging in authentic conversations.
Have you ever had a customer reach out to you with a customer service issue on social media?
Most businesses think of social media as only a marketing tool (if they think of these channels at all). But including social media in your customer service strategy could lead to happier customers who rave about your business in public.
One great example of a business using Facebook for customer service is my client Grady Veterinary Hospital. The practice receives frequent queries on Facebook, and always responds promptly and thoroughly, in a caring manner. If appropriate, the staff replies publicly. This customer service approach on Facebook is partially responsible for the practice’s 194 reviews, averaging 4.3 stars.
Customer service personnel need to be adept at more than just phone and email communication. Small businesses should empower them to interact on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp or other social media where your business has a presence.
By honoring customers’ communication preferences, you show that you listen to them and that they are important to you. Already, a reconciliatory tone has been set. And the customer has an easy platform to shout your praises from the virtual rooftops.
As a small business, if you have an automated phone system, it’s killing your marketing. From your customer’s perspective, everything you do is marketing. And the upbeat, chipper voice on your phone system drowns out all other marketing attempts.
When customers hear this:
“Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed.”
They already know you don’t care about them, and the feeling becomes mutual.
Maybe they are calling after receiving a flyer in the mail about your latest special offer. Or maybe a friend recommended they try you out. It doesn’t really matter why they are calling. It just matters that now they want to hang up instead of dealing with a phone system maze.
When you spend marketing money to get phone calls, make sure a real person picks up the phone. A customer’s impression of your business extends beyond the marketing campaign. As Steve Yastrow writes about his book Brand Harmony:
“When each experience you create for your customers blends with every other experience they have with your organization to tell one compelling, integrated story: that’s brand harmony.”
Consider the story you are telling your customer– does every interaction blend together to tell the best story of your brand?
A photograph is only worth a thousand words if you pick the right one for your marketing message. Here are examples from three photo shoots I have done for clients that we now use in their marketing campaigns.
Show your product in action.
Use a photo to tell the story of your brand and how it benefits your customers. TriState Water Works provides Prompt and Proven Sprinkler Service so that customers can enjoy lush lawns and beautiful gardens throughout the summer.
Rivet your audience.
Unique, dramatic or beautiful imagery will draw customers’ attention and interest them in your brand. Paramount Lawn + Landscape offers customers the beauty and drama of architectural landscape lighting, with the added benefit of security. For this product in particular, the photograph does more to encourage the sale than any marketing copy ever could.
Featuring people or animals is especially effective for small businesses that primarily provide services. This photograph for Grady Veterinary Hospital conveys happy, healthy pets and compassionate, understanding care.
Here’s something to avoid: clichés. Stock photography clichés like a woman wearing a telephone headset or a family holding hands and smiling cloyingly at the camera are completely useless for communicating marketing messages. Customers are so accustomed to seeing these images that they have become meaningless. I won’t even include an example stock photo image, because it might cause you to skip reading this paragraph entirely.
Finally, high-quality, professional photos are much more effective than ones taken by an amateur with a smartphone. Professional photographers know how to tell a story with their camera and capture your brand’s benefits to best effect. Choose a photographer who understands your business goals and brand personality.
When marketing your small business, keep in mind that customers are naturally less interested in seeing your marketing messages than you are in sharing them. One simple way to make it easier for customers to engage with your marketing content is to always think about removing barriers to accessing the content.
Let’s say you have a beautiful and effective direct mail piece that you want to share with your email marketing list and social media audiences.
Many small businesses will share a PDF or picture of the direct mail piece, inserting this image into an email or sharing a link to it on social media. But posting or emailing a PDF actually creates a barrier to seeing the content.
How do you remove the barriers and make your marketing more accessible?
When translating a printed piece for web marketing use, follow these tips:
Reduce the number of clicks required to view the content. Whenever possible, include the marketing message directly in the media. For example, instead of including a “Read More” link, put the entire message in the email or social media post.
Optimize loading speed. Build email marketing messages in HTML instead of embedding an image or PDF containing the entire communication. It will load faster, and if there’s a loading error, most of the message will still make it to the customer.
Consider the media you are using and how customers interact with that media. On a printed direct mail piece, customers expect all the information they need to call you or to buy. However, on Facebook or Twitter it’s easy to put a customer into information overload. Consider more frequent, shorter messages.
Make it easier for customers to interact with your marketing content, and you will enjoy improved results and happier customers!