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There’s just a lot of marketing noise this time of year. Many businesses think they can capture subscribers’ attention with increasingly desperate offers: 15% off one week, 20% off the next, then 25% off, etc. etc.

But it is possible to stand out during the holiday season without offering those kinds of discounts. You may not win the price war, but you can expect to capture your audience’s attention with relevant content, a mobile presence, and customer reviews. And that will benefit you in the long run, not just between now and the end of the year.
Here are three ways to stand out:

1. Relevant content. Plain and simple: If you are sending relevant content, you will stand out. You’re reading this blog post because it’s covering a topic you care about. Your customers are going to read your emails and social media posts for the same reason. Not only does relevant content based on your customers’ interests help you stand out, it can lead to as many sales as free or discounted shipping offers can.

Delivering relevant content is easy to do! On your social media pages, pay attention to what your fans and followers respond to and engage with. Create more posts like that. For email, pay attention to what subscribers are clicking on and what they said they wanted at sign up, and send them targeted relevant mailings about those topics. Just in time for the holidays, you’ll see a higher open rate and clickthrough rate when you need it most.

2. Mobile. Your customers are on their mobile devices, and the businesses that are there too are the ones that stand out. It’s not just about having a mobile-friendly website but thinking about all the places people can find your business online. You should expand your presence because, according to Microsoft, 70% of all mobile searches result in action within one hour. Be there when customers are looking for you! And don’t stop there. Continue to engage them at your location. Make it easy for people to join your email list with their mobile phones using Text-to-Join.

3. Reviews. Do you trust ads? I don’t, and apparently, the majority of consumers don’t either. What your customers do trust is consumer reviews. They search for them online, they ask their social networks, and they rely on those before making a purchase. In fact, 71% of consumers say online reviews are important when considering purchasing a product. Reviews are important, so ask for them! Ask people to share their thoughts and opinions in an online survey, a Facebook poll, or just by directing them to your Yelp page. Once you have the reviews, don’t stop there. Promote them! Quote customer comments in your emails, link to them from your Facebook Page, or use a QR code to link to them in your store.

By talking to your customers about what they care about, engaging them where they are with mobile, and validating your messages with reviews, you can set your business apart this holiday season, no discounts needed.

how-to-blogWith a bit of creative writing, a small business can have big results from a blog. Many of my clients often ask, "What do I blog about?" and to this I have a question for them, "What are they interested in?" Below are other ideas to spark that creative writer hidden within all of us.

What to write about - a mini-brainstorming session

  • Future developments in your industry
  • Newsworthy (industry related) items that affect your clients directly
  • Ways you are incorporating "Green Living" into your life or business (studies show internet buyers are most interested in purchasing/doing business with people who are environmentally conscious).
  • How is your business different from your competitors? Quality? Variety of Services? Price?
  • Articles that address ways your product/service can help/benefit your customers
  • Broadcast sales or promotions
  • Announce new services
  • Share links about your industry, new products in the industry, etc
  • Include photos and descriptions of your [new] products

Just to give you an example: A friend of mine is starting up a business for her husband who does carpentry, building furniture, etc. I told her she should put a blog on her site and received the typical, "Why, what would we write about?" My reply was this. If someone is looking into a reputable carpenter for building furniture, I would want to know more about the furniture, his skills, what makes his furniture of the quality I would want, or how his is different from something I could purchase at IKEA. This definitely was an "ah-hah" moment for the client.

Promoting your blog

    • Post each new blog on your site, then spread the word to Social Media sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Here you can create an account and post a link back to your website blog article. Email your friends/contact that you've posted it. They can then vote for it on StumbleUpon, Digg it, Reddit, etc. This gets the visitor to your site to continue reading, to help your SEO.
    • Add an RSS Feed to your articles so readers can stay abreast of new postings.
    • Monitor what people leave for comments too. Comment on their comments. Keep the communication going.
    • eMail (eNewsletter, eVite) Marketing can also be a valuable way to get out informational and educational blog articles out to potential clients. Start the article in your email and link back to your site for them to continue reading.

blog1In times like this many business owners are looking for creative new outlets to attract potential clients. I cannot stress the importance of starting a blog on your website NOW. Reasons for this: It is predicted that 100,000 new blogs are created every day! As they say, “Timing is everything.”

With the popularity of blogs rapidly increasing now is the time to jump on the wagon. This doesn’t mean you have to blog everyday or even have every topic be ground-breaking. What it does mean is that you are getting the information out there to be found and linked to by potential clients. Over time, these links grow exponentially and soon, your site will have many inbound links to it.

A few basics
Albeit tempting to create a blog at a dedicated blogging site like “Wordpress” or “Blogger”, this doesn’t accomplish the same results as having a blog located at your own domain.

Two reasons for this: it will drive more traffic to YOUR website instead of the dedicated blog site, and you will be able to track hits pertaining to what articles they are most interested.

WHY you need a blog
Blogs help you target and attract more of your audience for several reasons:

  • This is another outlet for potential customers that are going to search engines to locate you. You will be providing information based on what your customers are searching/shopping. If they came to your blog, then the must be interested in your product/service, right?
  • Think of a blog and your website as free advertising space. Sure you pay for hosting and the domain (like $60/year!?!), but what a great ROI if the visitors you are attracting are converted into customers.
  • Fresh content helps with your ranking. Frequently updated sites are “crawled” more often and therefore will rank higher. This is seen by search engines as being a worthwhile site with valuable content.
  • Visitors will be more tempted to bookmark your site and return to it if there is worthwhile content. More visits means better ranking in search engines.
  • Blogs allow for 2-way communication that brings a sense of knowing who you are working with.

PART II: How to start a blog

Video for driving traffic and salesDo you like to watch videos? Who doesn’t?! 74 million Internet users watched online video content for an average of 14.8 hours per viewer, according to comScore. And that’s just in the United States. People are watching video everywhere, both figuratively and literally: Mobile video viewing is up 41%, according to numbers from Nielsen.

In this blog, we’ll share with you why your business or organization should be leveraging online video in your marketing efforts, give you a few ideas for getting started, and provide a few tips for shooting a quality video without breaking the bank or looking like The Blair Witch Project.

Show It, Don’t Tell It

Video engages people in a way that photos and text alone can’t. For small business owners and nonprofit managers, using video in your marketing can bring faces, voices, personality, and heart to your operation, while also demonstrating your authenticity. To top that, video in email is said to be able to boost conversion rates by as much as 50 percent.

If that kind of conversion boost isn’t enough to convince you, here are five more reasons to add video to your marketing mix:

1. Tell your story quickly.
People don’t have a lot of time, so you want to get your message across quickly. Video can communicate a lot of information in a short amount of time. Inexpensive software tools such as Apple iMovie or Windows Live Movie Maker can be used to easily edit your video, add titles, music, and get it ready for uploading to a video hosting site.

2. Put a face to your business or organization.
A video helps bring your business or organization to life, and it makes your communications more personal. Putting people on camera makes you and your team real to your customers and members.

3. Get your readers to remember your message.
Let’s face it: In general, we remember little of what we read. Our retention of a message is much better (estimates are three times better) when it includes pictures, sound, and motion. Your readers can only take action if they remember what you said.

4. People enjoy video.
People like to read, but they really like video. We watch TV, go to the movies, stream video content to our computers and mobile phones, and more.

5. Videos are easy and inexpensive to create.
The great myth is that video is hard and expensive to create. Yes, the ads you see during the Super Bowl cost a lot, but you don’t have to spend much to get good video. Video cameras are cheap to buy (many cost less than $125) and easy to use. Look at a video camera such as the Kodak Zi8 (our videos featuring Red Oak Properties and the Currier Museum of Art were shot with the Zi8 and a simple clip-on microphone) or Sony Bloggie Duo HD Camera. They both allow you to shoot with one button. If you have an iPhone or some other mobile devices, you already have a video camera. You can also just use images and add a voiceover.

Plus, it’s free to host video on sites such as YouTube, Blip.tv, and Vimeo, making your videos easily accessible, easily shared through social media, and easily embeded on web sites and in blog posts. Not only that, videos hosted on these sites can help your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts as they give sites like Google and Bing yet another piece of content associated with your brand to crawl and serve up to the masses.

Customer Spotlight: Video Works for Fourword Marketing

As an author and speaker, and the owner of Fourword Marketing in Toronto, video has become an effective way for Marc Gordon to market himself and his company in a way that he believes cannot be accomplished with words alone.

“The impact of video is far beyond what you can do in a written blog.” As an author and speaker, and the owner of Fourword Marketing in Toronto, video has become an effective way for Marc Gordon to market himself and his company in a way that he believes cannot be accomplished with words alone.

“The impact of video is far beyond what you can do in a written blog,” Marc explains. “You can present things on so many different levels and illustrate examples in settings that people can visually understand, which can be challenging to do in a written blog.”

Since March 2010, Marc has produced MarcTV, a bi-weekly six minute program that covers topics ranging from how to create a killer press release to good business networking practices. Marc shoots the videos in his “studio” — i.e., his office when filled with a few lights and a backdrop — and out and about in his native Canada. Once posted to his Vimeo account and embedded in a blog post, Marc promotes the videos across multiple channels, including his Constant Contact–based email list and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Marc uses a single camera and a wireless microphone for each shoot. When on location, Marc has a colleague shoot the video, but in the office, a tripod acts as the lone cameraman. Editing is done with Apple’s iMovie software. “A lot of people put in a lot of transitions and effects,” says Marc, who does all the editing himself. “You don’t need that. It’s all about simple, clean transitions that keep the video nice and clean. Let the content be the draw.”

For Marc, the message is important, but humor is a key aspect of his video effort. For instance, in a Halloween episode, Marc went shopping dressed as Wonder Woman. He also likes to use edgier titles on his videos to draw attention to certain clips — a tactic that seems to be working: Views of his videos have grown steadily and his email list has grown 29% since he started MarcTV.

“My initial goal was use MarcTV as a marketing tool to promote myself as an expert and personality,” Marc says. “But the popularity of the show has really given it a life of its own. People  from all kinds of industries are now reaching out to me as a result of the videos.”

Video Ideas for One and All

As with any type of marketing content, it may be difficult to think of video topics that apply to your business or organization. But there are plenty of simple ideas out there that can help jump-start your video efforts. Among them:

Thank your customers for their business or your volunteers for their support. Film yourself or a few of your staff members giving their well wishes, and stitch the clips together as fun way to say “thanks” to all those who support your business or organization.

Feature a customer raving about your company, product, or service. Catch people when they’re happy: getting ready to leave your restaurant after a great meal, just taking their first bites of that ice cream cone, or if they stop by to express their happiness with your service.

Share a cool company milestone. For example, when Constant Contact’s logo went up on our building, we filmed it. Any time your organization celebrates an achievement, film the celebration and put snippets up to share with your customers and members.

Include footage from a recent speaking engagement. If you’re invited to speak at the local chamber of commerce meeting, have someone run the camera for you. If your organization gets an award, film the ceremony.

Ask for feedback from your subscribers. We put a video in a recent #CTCT Social newsletter issue asking readers for their feedback and directing them to an online survey. We received more responses than our average because people watched the video and made a connection with our managing editor.

Share your expertise or provide tips for using your products.
• A mechanic could show what he looks for when examining various parts for wear
• Sales folks can demonstrate how their products work together
• Any business can introduce a new website and its features

Put the spotlight on your team to highlight your weird or wacky culture.

Review a book that your members or customers may enjoy.

Share highlights from a past year’s event to promote an upcoming gathering.

Have your staff wish customers and members a happy holidays.

Your video content doesn’t even have to be 30 frames-per-second of moving pictures. You could also:

Use Images with voiceover. Pictures or images are a great way to communicate. If you like, you can easily use what is known as voiceover on an image. This combines a narrative that you can record over the image. String a set of these together to tell your story.
• Your pictures: Using any camera, take pictures of your building, product, people, etc.
• Images: There are lots of places on the web to get images, either for free or for a relatively small investment. A few examples include Google Images, iStockphoto,Flickr, and stock.xchng.

Note: As with any media, be careful you’re abiding by copyright law.
Create a Screencast. Capturing a demonstration of your product or a walkthrough of your business or organization using your website is another way to create engaging video. Screencast software runs on your computer and captures what takes place on the screen. You can also record your voice speaking at the same time or add music. The combination makes for an informative and engaging experience.

There are many software tools that enable you to take an image and add a voiceover. Examples are Microsoft’s PowerPoint (10.0 or greater), Apple’s Keynote, TechSmith’s Camtasia, and iMovie.

4 Tips for Shooting Quality Video

It doesn’t take thousands of dollars in gear to make a great video, but paying attention to a few details will make your final product that much better:

Whenever possible, use a tripod.
Keeping the camera steady will make for better picture quality when you upload your video to a service like YouTube. Plus, your viewers won’t get seasick while watching.

Film in a quiet area.
This is particularly important if the only mic you have is the one built-in to the camera as those tend to pick up all the ambient noise as well as the speaker. In these cases, the less ambient noise, the better.

Bright light is good.
Cameras have come a long way when it comes to the ability to record in low light, but the more light you can provide, the better the video quality. When filming, have the subject facing the main source of light, not in front it:

Orientation is key.
When shooting on an iPhone, Android, or other video-capable smartphone, make sure to hold the device in a landscape (horizontal) mode and not vertically. Holding it vertically makes for a messy editing process as you crop the video to fit a standard size video window.

Video Is a Great Marketing Tool
Video is a fun and effective marketing tool that’s accessible to any business or organization — even those who are on a tight budget. Think about which of your marketing messages could benefit most by the color that video brings to the mix. If a picture says 1,000 words, a video can say it bigger, brighter, and better.