10 Reasons Why Your Small Business Marketing “Isn’t Working”

I had some time off recently and spent some of it considering the most common problems I see when I first start working with clients, in an effort to help customize some new marketing training materials. I brainstormed over 50 issues that can prevent small business marketers from achieving their desired results, but most small business marketing problems can be categorized in a few broad categories, so I refined my list to share with you in hopes your business will be able to avoid these common pitfalls and create the marketing ROI it deserves:

    1. Lack of planning. Yes, you’ve heard it so many times you likely tune it out. Or maybe you keep your plan “all in your head.” Either way, if you don’t have a written plan with a solid strategy, goals and measurable objectives, it’s going to be darn near impossible to put the structure in place to make your marketing “work” for your business.
    2. You don’t know who your customer truly is. Knowing who you are marketing to is ground zero for an effective marketing program yet so many businesses skip over this step completely in their marketing planning. If you don’t have an intimate knowledge of who you are selling to, you can’t possibly choose the right channels and messaging or anything else that will attract them to your business.
    3. Letting budget be the sole driver of your strategy. Marketing is an investment in your business, as such you should be prepared to pay for some of the tactics that you need to fulfill your strategic marketing plan. Choosing the tactics you will use simply because they are no or low-cost is not an effective way to run your marketing program.
    4. Having a herd mentality. Just because “everyone” else or your mother/brother/neighbor are using a specific social media platform or your competition is running ads on a certain blog doesn’t mean that you need to follow them. In fact, unless it makes sense to use those platforms to connect with your target audience or prospects, you shouldn’t use them.
    5. Copycatting the competition. If you’re obsessed with tracking every little thing your competitors do online, in print and elsewhere, you need to bring your focus back to the marketing life of your own company. Monitoring the competitive market is one thing, copycatting the competition instead of being engaged in your own marketing strategy is quite another.
    6. Being inconsistent. It’s a cardinal sin of corporate communications, public relations, strategic branding and positioning…if you’re not consistent in timing (Don’t “set it and forget it!”), voice, message and visual aesthetics, your efforts are more likely to confuse people and be detrimental to your company.
    7. You don’t measure it…so you don’t really know if it’s working. Many of us just love instant gratification. Humans, in general, are hardwired to seek the greatest reward with the least amount of effort. That’s why many businesses post to social media, push out an email or run an ad and then never follow-up to track the results at a more granular and objective level. Instead, because there was no immediate uptick in sales or inquiries they consider their efforts a failure instead of looking at marketing as a long game.
    8. Your employees are not brand trained. The true test of an effective brand marketing strategy begin, and ends, at the front line of your organization. The actual interactions that customers and prospects have with your company are what will drive value and determine if you’ll win the business or not. Train your employees to deliver on the promises you make as an organization and you will see positive results.
    9. Your marketing is all about you. I call this “we-zing”…if your company website, ad copy, social media and all other channels of communication only talk about how great “we” (your collective company and employees) are, you need to do a 180 and become clear about whom you are serving and what they need, so you can reframe your marketing messages to resonate with your customers.
    10. You do nothing. Maybe you’re not a pessimist who has given up on marketing, but you’re likely a very busy business owner. If you don’t have a marketing lead at your business or a third-party marketing service, it’s easy to put marketing on the back burner. Likewise, if you feel overwhelmed with no idea of how to choose from the array of marketing tactics out there, it’s easy to become paralyzed. Break out of the rut and ask for help!

This is by no means a comprehensive list of problems small business owners face when it comes to creating effective marketing programs, but if you do recognize your own struggles on the list, know that you are not alone and that Charisma Ink’s marketing experts are always ready to help!

 

Can’t Buy Me Love: The New Age of Customer Loyalty Programs

Customer loyalty programs are growing exponentially as part of client retention strategies for small businesses. It’s an established fact that winning new customers generally costs exponentially more than retaining existing ones. After all, brand evangelists and repeat purchasers are the lifeblood of financially healthy companies. It would seem to make perfect sense then to create programs that nurture this kind of loyalty—or does it?  According to Accenture’s recent research report, Seeing beyond the loyalty illusion: it’s time you invest more wisely traditional loyalty program models that reward high volume purchase behavior can actually have a negative impact on loyalty. Why? Because they aren’t built to accommodate current shifts in consumer attitudes toward brand relationships.

Does this mean you should cross creating a loyalty program off your to-do list altogether? Not necessarily, but Accenture’s research does provide some valuable guidance for businesses that want to be more effective in nurturing the loyalty that will help them retain and engage customers over the long term.

Accenture reports there are more than 3 billion U.S. consumers enrolled in loyalty membership programs. Yet, despite the heavy investment brands are making in promoting traditional loyalty incentives, it’s not having the positive impact on revenue you might expect. Consider these findings from Accenture’s consumer loyalty survey which included 25,000 respondents from around the globe:

  • 77 percent of all consumers surveyed admitted they now retract their loyalty more quickly than they did three years ago.
  • 71 percent of consumers claim loyalty programs do not influence their loyalty.
  • 61 percent of respondents switched some or all of their business from at least one brand or provider to another in the last year.
  • 23 percent demonstrate a negative or non-existent reaction to companies’ loyalty efforts—not surprisingly, this number is even higher for younger consumers.
  • Consumers who spend more on brands to which they are loyal switched 17 percent more often than those who spend less.
  • “Loyal” customers who spend more on a brand are actually 9 percent more likely to rescind their loyalty altogether and choose another brand.

Accenture sums all of this up rather glumly, “The sobering truth is that for nearly a quarter of consumers, all that spend [on loyalty programs] is actually hurting the relationship.”

It’s not all bad news, though. While Accenture’s survey shows traditional loyalty-building tactics are becoming less effective, it also reveals insights that businesses can use to earn and increase customer loyalty, including:

  • 85 percent of survey respondents were more likely to be loyal to brands that respect and safeguard the privacy of their personal information.
  • 81 percent of survey respondents agreed that they, “Feel loyal to brands that are there when they need them, but otherwise respect their time and leave them alone.”
  • 59 percent of consumers report having more loyalty to brands that give them small rewards for their loyalty such as gift cards and personalized discounts.
  • 44 percent said they have more loyalty to brands that help them design or create products.
  • 41 percent said they are loyal to brands that provide personalized program offerings.
  • 23 percent report being more loyal to brands that include celebrity endorsements.

The message here is clear: fostering loyalty requires respect for, and intimate knowledge of, the consumer—it’s not simply a matter of providing behavior-based rewards. In addition, providing customers with the opportunity to personalize both brand interactions and the products they buy is key. These insights provide a solid blueprint for developing a loyalty program that can improve customer retention and galvanize engagement—both of which will positively impact your company’s bottom line.

Does your business have a loyalty program? Is it working well? We’d love to hear about it! Share your experience in the comments section.

Key Trends to Guide Small Business Marketing in 2017

One sure sign that the year’s drawing to a close? We’re starting to see predictions for 2017 marketing trends. Here’s our take on the most important marketing trends for small businesses to help guide your plans for the coming year:

1. Customer intelligence integration. While lack of financial and human resources may have been a barrier for all but the largest brands to leverage customer intelligence in the past, today’s technology makes it easier for organizations to capture key information and utilize it to get closer to customers. From simple cloud-based survey tools to comprehensive platforms that provide predictive sales and engagement analytics, the advantage of having deep knowledge of your customers to inform your marketing strategy will continue to become more important to businesses next year and beyond, so consider which customer intelligence tools you have available and which ones you need to integrate key data into your marketing initiatives.

2. Formalized metrics and results. Hand-in-hand with the proliferation of customer intelligence tools mentioned above, is the trend toward a more formalized approach to measuring the impact and results of marketing initiatives. ATo maximize marketing ROI, you need to know how the marketing that you do affects profit, revenue, customer retention and satisfaction. Fortunately, there are many tools that can help you create a formal infrastructure that makes it easy to see what’s working and what’s not. Start with identifying what it is you want to measure, then look for tools to generate the information you need to determine what initiatives you should continue and where there are areas that need improvement. Do a little research and you’ll find a multitude applications available to measure results from very basic to very sophisticated. At a minimum, small businesses should use Google Analytics for website analysis, platform-specific tools (i.e. the reporting tools available on various social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.,),  the reporting found in most email marketing applications to measure the results of social media campaigns and email marketing as well as including calls to action or incentives that can be tracked and measured in every marketing or advertising campaign.

3. A focus on perfecting the customer experience. There’s nothing more counterproductive from a marketing standpoint than not being able to deliver on the promises you make in your advertising and other communications. From your overall brand philosophy to the products and services you offer, every interaction that people have with your organization matters. Given the multitude of choices consumers have today, the experience you provide is paramount for attracting and retaining customers. If you can’t deliver and delight clients using your current processes, make 2017 the year you figure out why and remedy the situation. You may want to start by reading our blog on how to recover from negative online reviews.

4. Increasingly personalized interactions. While personalization of marketing campaigns and customer experiences is not a new trend, it’s one that bears noting again for 2017 due to the major advances in implementation that are possible, thanks largely to consumer and artificial intelligence. Marrying the data you mine to unearth insights into your customer base with the technology available to help you respond to consumers based on their behavior, preferences and interactions with your brand provides significant potential to build deeper and more profitable connections with your customers. Recent American Marketing Association data shows that personalization is something that marketers continue to grapple with in terms of implementation and return on investment, however, it’s also viewed as a driving force in the future of effective communications. How can small businesses seize on this trend and personalize their own communications? Email marketing is one of the easiest places to start by personalizing content and by taking advantage of basic automation tools. Using online retargeting advertisements can also be an effective first step.

5. Messaging that’s easy on the eyes. While some of the trends above require a deep dive into the heart of your marketing operations and customer intelligence, this one is relatively easy to get a handle on: visual content is king. This means if you haven’t explored visually representing your brand using video or high quality photography online and in emails and other digital channels, it’s time to start factoring it into your 2017 plans.  While the written word still holds great power for connecting with consumers, especially those who are ready to do their due diligence on a product or who are motivated to learn more by reading reviews, blogs, whitepapers and e-books, in our on-demand society, visually-driven, mobile-friendly content is key for capturing attention, starting a conversation and keeping consumers engaged. Not to mention, when done well, visual content can be irresistably shareable. Hello, viral marketing success!

6. The evolution of social media beyond a marketing tool. Make 2017 the year that you change the way you use social media for your business. Instead of using social platforms as electronic posting boards for generic content, consider them as channels for creating customer value that can later translate into sales. Social platforms can help you drive customer engagement, further your customer intelligence gathering and improve your customer service.

So how can you put this into practice? Don’t just post on Facebook or other platforms and then go on with your day, set up auto-alerts on the social platforms you use to keep apprised of activity and respond to social interactions, questions and complaints. Short on time? Either delegate the monitoring of your social media to someone you trust or consider reducing the number of social channels you use to make it easier to be truly engaged with your social audience.

So there you have it, a quick review of the key 2017 marketing trends to help guide your marketing plans for the coming year and beyond. Feel free to share your own thoughts on what trends will be driving your marketing in the coming year below or, if you need assistance creating an effective marketing strategy or plan, reach out to us!

Oops! 5 Marketing Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

Mistakes are bound to happen…to err is human after all, but this list is not devoted to the minor typo or the campaign that just never quite got off the ground. We’re talking about the big picture mistakes that many businesses…even the big ones…make and what you can do to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Failing to identify your sweet spots – The world is crowded, your local market is crowded, if you don’t figure out what keeps you in business, you won’t be for very long. Develop a profile of your ideal customer (your evangelists) and what specifically your business provides that keeps them coming back, then use it to tell the story of why your business exists.

Mistake #2: Not sharing the story internally and externally – You may have a limited marketing budget which you believe is the reason why no one knows about your business (this is also a mistake). However, if you haven’t crafted and developed a compelling story (Mistake #1) and shared it with everyone you know (including your employees, friends, neighbors, and social media community) then you have no one but yourself to blame. Advertising does not equal marketing. Get creative about inspiring people who can help you share the story of why your organization rocks.

Mistake #3: Not living the story you are telling – This is actually an addendum to Mistakes #1 and #2, your story must not only be compelling, but it must also be true and authentic to what your organization is about. In other words, you and your employees must eat, breathe and believe in what your business says it delivers to its customers. So create and share your vision for what your brand stands for with those who are responsible for making it real.

Mistake #4: Doing nothing – If you are not doing anything to promote your business and you are not willing to set time aside each week (at least) to think about your marketing strategy and to implement a communications plan, it is a mistake. Many small business owners believe they are too busy, don’t have enough money, or just feel overwhelmed by the process of “marketing.” It really doesn’t have to be that hard…if you just can’t pay attention to marketing then consider enlisting some outside help. One additional note…if you are doing some promotion of your business but you aren’t doing anything to measure the impact your efforts are having, you’ll want to correct that, too.

Mistake #5: Doing too much – On the flip side of Mistake #4, is the classic error of doing way too much to promote your business. You might ask, “Can you really promote your business too much?” The short answer is yes, you can. Signs that you are doing more than what is ideal for your business in the present moment include: a) you are in a feast or famine mode with your marketing (i.e. you are doing everything you can think of for short periods of time without having a measurable plan to guide you, then you do nothing for weeks or months at a time); b) the money you are spending outweighs the ROI you are getting from your efforts; and c) your current marketing budget and strategy are not sustainable (or do not exist).

Of course, this list could go on and on. Marketing mistakes abound, however, if you’re struggling to figure out why your business is struggling to gain ground in the market you are targeting (you do have a target market, right?), these are five of the key areas you may wish to work on as you move forward. If you need help in the process, let us know.

Outsourcing Your Marketing Doesn’t Mean Disowning It

Outsoured marketing…is it the right solution for your business? Here at Charisma Ink, we’re passionate about helping business owners build and protect their brands and brand assets. That’s why one of the first things we do when engaging with a new client is to address one of the most grievous errors small business owners tend to make when they outsource all or part of their marketing: Giving the keys to the store away. Literally.

If you only take one thing away from this blog, ever…make it this tip: By all means outsource your marketing or have people in-house assist you, but you, as a business owner, need to retain control of how your business is being portrayed and how your vision is being articulated internally and externally. In addition, from a technical and operational standpoint, please ensure you have the rights to, and control over, the strategic and creative work that you hire people to do for you.

So what can you do to protect your brand and your brand assets to ensure that you retain full ownership of them? Here are a few tips:

  • If you hire an agency, (or a trusted representative of your company who is intimately in tune with your vision for the company and the needs and characteristics of its customers), you must still be involved in helping to define your brand and the ways that it touches the world.
  • If you hire freelancers, be sure that you have all of the native design and content files archived online or on a computer hard drive and an external storage unit (back-up and ownership of files is critical). If you have an internal team helping you, make sure that all of their work is adequately archived and backed up to avoid disaster.
  • Do not let someone outside of your organization be your brand keeper. Remember, people move, relationships change, you need to be the guardian of your organizations assets.
  • Make sure that you have a secure list of passwords for all of your social media and other marketing-related digital service accounts. Too many times business owners end relationships with employees or contractors and have no idea how to access these important brand assets. Password recovery takes time and not having control over these assets also puts you at the mercy of someone who may or may not be expedient at releasing the information or may even withhold it.
  • Incorporate these specific tips as part of your overall engagement letter or contract when you work with a third-party. If your team is in-house, then create a process in your policy manual to include archive and storage of files and regular updates on what activities are happening on the marketing front.

When making an investment in developing a comprehensive brand presence and implementing an ongoing communications program to generate leads, retain clients and to support your content marketing and other promotional initiatives, you also need to take steps to protect the assets that are created in the process. If done well, your marketing and brand assets should have significant value to your organization, As such, you need to protect them —after all they are part of the business that you own.

Client Success: Email Marketing Grows the CPA for Freelancers® Community

Cute kittens.

Mouthwatering cupcakes.

Some small businesses and organizations have it easy.

But what if your business is focused on something a little less tempting — like, say, tax and accounting resources?

Can you ever create content that excites your audience?

This is a challenge the team at CPA for Freelancers® has been tackling since they started with email marketing six months ago.

“As far as accounting content, there’s a lot of dry and hard-to-understand content out there,” says Gaynor Meilke, community manager for CPA for Freelancers®. “What we want is to build a community where people can access information easily and in terms they understand.”

By providing useful and engaging content, CPA for Freelancers® has added over 2,000 subscribers to their email list and turned leads into paying clients.

Here are their best tips for creating engaging content in a seemingly “boring” industry:

1. Focus on your customers’ problems.

Every piece of content you write should address a problem your audience members struggle with and offer a possible solution to overcome it.

For CPA for Freelancers®, content inspiration often comes directly from conversations the founder, Jonathan Medows, CPA, has had with clients and prospects.

“Jonathan has served the freelance community for over a decade, so he’s encountered a lot of questions over the years,” says Gaynor. “We work to answer these questions with an interesting twist on what otherwise might be mundane topics. We try to keep it fresh, but also keep it relevant so people can put it to use.”

Read the full story on the Constant Contact blog!

Just Listen! Why We Avoid Real Customer Engagement

In business—and especially in marketing—we tend to make a lot of noise. We’re always looking for the best way to “get the word out,” but we often view marketing as a one-way street.

A business sends out its message with the assumption that all intended recipients heard it. Then the marketing cycle moves on. This strategy, in my opinion, can be categorized as an “epic fail,” especially if other facets of a company’s marketing program don’t include formal and informal feedback and direct listening mechanisms.

Although almost every company has some “marketing program,” so few take the time to plan and implement a formalized “listening program,” or better yet, to instill a culture of listening. As such, organizations lose out on what is arguably the most effective form of customer engagement—a genuine and tangible illustration of the care and respect they have for their customers.

The fear factor: You can be silent, but you can’t hide

One of the biggest barriers that prevents businesses from engaging in active listening is, simply put, fear. From my experience, the fear is related to a) having to actually invest time and resources to listen and b) to having to take the heat (and respond) to real people. While I am sure that getting negative feedback from customers (and people in general) is not at the top of anyone’s “Favorite Things” list, when handled correctly, a negative online review or unhappy call from a customer (remember those offline channels, too!) is actually a golden opportunity to show your customers what your company is made of. Research has shown that if a complaint is handled well (with respect, courtesy and a fair resolution) it can actually have a positive impact on customer impressions of an organization. Closing your eyes and plugging your ears, on the other hand, will not help—especially in our connected world where a digital soapbox is only a click away.

Getting over the fear of real people interacting with your organization

While it can be scary to make your organization a little bit vulnerable by creating a culture of listening, opening up the lines of communication with your customers (and to be super-effective your employees, as well) has benefits that far outweigh the risks—as long as you have a plan for how you will engage and resolve any any problems identified by your customer ranks. If you do experience a lot of complaints from customers, it’s time to take a look in that proverbial mirror, and to thank them for being honest. After all, by listening to what your customers have to say, you’ll have an invaluable opportunity to learn what your business needs to do to better serve them.

Do Your Headlines Pass the Two-Second Test?

If you think that creating content to sustain your content marketing strategy is already challenging, consider this: in the age of “glanceable content” (a phrase coined by best-selling author, Rohit Bhargava) you have about two seconds to capture the attention of your intended audience and move them to action as they scroll through search results on the web or their social newsfeeds. Two seconds—if you’re lucky. So how do you avoid this potential barrier to engagement and conversions? Add the Two-second Test to your content development checklist. That is, write your headlines and titles then test them with your content reviewers to see if they can be comprehended in two seconds or less. Keep this test in mind when you create your visual content, too—any social graphics or infographics should also be easily “glanceable.”

How to: writing headlines and titles that pass the Two-second Test
So how do you make the headlines and titles that you write for blogs, social posts, emails and other digital communications engaging enough to draw in your audience within two seconds while clearly communicating what the reader can expect if they do invest their time and attention in reading your stuff? Marketing software vendors Hubspot and Outbrain recently released a study of their 2013-2014 content marketing data which provides some research-based insights into how to structure your headlines for maximum inbound marketing impact, here are some of the highlights:

  • Headlines that included the word “who” generated a 22% higher CTR (click-through-rate) than headlines without the word “who.” “Why,” on the other hand, decreased CTR by 37%. When it comes to intriguing readers with your headlines, focus on who not why.
  • Headlines featuring the word “photo(s)” performed 37% better than headlines without this word.
  • Headlines with bracketed clarifications performed 38% better than headlines without clarifications, suggesting readers are more likely to click when they have a clear picture of what lies behind the headline.

A few other tips:

  • To rank higher in search, a good rule-of-thumb is to keep your headlines under 65 characters so that they don’t get shortened in search engine results. If you can’t get your headlines under 65 characters, make sure you include the most vital information early on in your headline.
  • To optimize your headlines and titles for both social and search be sure to use the keywords you know your audience is searching for. Keywords work best when they’re at the front of the headline.
  • Make sure your headlines are tweetable: you need them to be under 140 characters, but shorter is even better, so that they can be retweeted without truncation.

Given the massive amounts of information that most of us are bombarded with on a daily basis, creating glanceable and engaging content means that headlines and titles play an increasingly critical role in content marketing success. Keep the Two-second test and the research above in mind as you are writing, and, of course always measure your results so you can learn what style or format generates the best results for your business.

Need help formulating engaging headlines and lead-generating content? Contact us.

Charisma Ink Featured on Business Unplugged Blog

What are the biggest frustrations for business owners?

Charisma Ink’s principal, Gaynor Meilke, offered advice for creating productive vendor relationships that reduce frustration on Carol Roth’s Business Unplugged blog.

Check out #6 on the list of 76! Read the blog here.

Chop, Drip and Other Tips for Maximizing Content Marketing ROI

There’s no doubt that content marketing is an effective way of promoting your business and your personal brand, but creating great content requires an investment of time. If you  take a “one and done” approach to content sharing you’re not maximizing the ROI of your efforts. That’s why it’s key to have an efficient system in place for leveraging the fruits of your content generation labor and increasing the impact of every thought-provoking blog post, article, whitepaper or ebook you create. Here are five ways to leverage your content and create ongoing engagement with  your clients and prospects:

1. Chop – When you write an article, blog post, white paper or other piece of content of any significant length, think about structuring it in a way that allows it to be “chopped” into a series of shorter posts for your social media channels and email campaigns.

A blog post that focuses on more than one key point or contains several tips usually has natural “chopping points.” Segment out each tip and use it to create a series of blog posts or social media updates instead of giving your audience everything at once–they will likely digest and retain the information better this way, too.

2. Drip – Drip campaigns (where you send out information-rich content on a metered schedule) are very effective for social media and email communications, but if you publish a blog or, better yet, long-form content like a newsletter or a magazine, be sure to “wring it” for all it’s worth and drip out all of that great content!

For example, on social media you could offer a “Daily Tip” to drip out a series of tips contained in one blog post or magazine article, rather than just posting a link to the entire article on a single occasion. This is an easy way to increase your post frequency and to drive traffic to your website to read a full article (and while they are there, discover how awesome your business is). For email, focusing on one or two tips in each campaign rather than full articles improves the chances that recipients will actually read the email…and follow a link to read the rest on your site.

3. Repackage – If your content contains interesting statistics or research, why not use that information to create an infographic or presentation to share them in a more visually engaging format? Repackaging information allows you to use it longer and more often, but it can also make it easier to reach and impact your audience in a way that has more visual impact.

4. Recycle – Considering the amount of time and effort it takes to create quality content, it’s not only a shame to use it only once, it’s also not very effective when it comes to audience engagement. Statistics about the true reach of social platforms support this theory, showing that sharing content only once greatly reduces its impact since many in your intended audience will miss it the first time around.

An organic post on Facebook will reach the Newsfeed of at very most 20 percent of those who follow your Company Page.  As such, reposting your content with a slightly different headline, introductory statement or question will increase the chance that you reach a new segment of your audience and any new followers you may have gained since your original post.

5. Collaborate – This is where it pays to have friends in online places. Sharing the content you create on your own platforms and with your networks is great, but you’ll get even more mileage out of it if you can forge formal sharing agreements with other organizations (i.e. guest blogs, social post sharing, and links to your content on their websites) so you can extend the reach of your content to their audiences as well.

There you have it: chop, drip, recycle, repackage and collaborate, the five keys to maximizing the ROI of your content marketing investment and all great ways to keep your clients and prospects engaged over the long term.