It’s tempting for business owners to hibernate during, this, the winter of our economic discontent. Everyone wants to freeze their marketing budgets, and hunker down until warmer economic climates arrive. We’re all feeling the effects of these trying times, especially small business owners, who must crunch their finances and try to make the marketing dollars stretch.

Luckily, it doesn’t cost you hardly anything to market anymore. Thanks to the internet, creativity and knowledge are the new currencies. Adhere to these simple promotional tools and you’ll get that extra publicity boost you need to take your business to the next level.

Advertising Vs Public Relations

Before you begin promoting your business, you need to ask yourself the following question: What’s the difference between advertising and public relations? It may sound like a no-brainer, but many business owners use these terms interchangeably. They’re different, and here’s how:

  • Advertising: This is the term for a paid public promotion of a product or service (i.e. newspaper ad or online ad banner)
  • Public Relations: This is an unpaid promotion intended to create goodwill for a person, product or company (i.e. press conference or press release).

Now that you know the difference between advertising and publicity, it’s time to consider including some “public relations” initiatives into your marketing plan. Here are some can’t-miss actions you should take:

Create news-worthy press releases:

Not all news necessarily warrants its own press release, so exercise a bit of caution, here. Before you send out a press release, consider if it’s a topic that would interest the local media (or national media – depending on the scope/region of your business).  It’s really quality over quantity, here. If you are a food supplier, get to know your local community groups so you may contact them to break your news. If you’re a restaurant, send press releases to your local newspapers, internet groups, and advertise, advertise, advertise on many social media outlets. There are many places to post your press release online, and make sure to check your press release for errors and mistakes before you send it out.

Websites, blogs and social networking sites:

These are free publicity tools (a website is more expensive, but it’s an essential long-term investment) are readily available at anybody’s fingertips. If you haven’t developed a website or created a blog, then you are missing out on crucial promotional opportunities. Social networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Industry Blender are tools of connectivity and promotion that you simply cannot live without. They generate potential leads and customers, and can reach many more people than traditional advertising at a fraction of the cost

Organize free or low-cost special events:

Utilize your company’s conference room or restaurant for an after-hours or off-hours event that will help you meet new people and generate buzz for your business. It’s important to thank your customers and clients in this way because the gesture makes them feel appreciated. Even if it’s only an inexpensive morning coffee event, it’s important to put a “face” in front of your clients and customers. In this age of the email, text messaging, and voicemail, business owners sometimes forget that people buy from people, and that physical meetings will only enhance your transparency and “realness” that people seek when they’re buying in person and online. Free or low-cost special events put you right in front of your clients again.

Become involved in your community:

Even if you can’t afford to make a monetary donation, your volunteer time is just as important both for promotional purposes and to help worthy causes. Involvement allows you to give back to your community and provides a great networking opportunity. You can also give in-kind donations for auctions (both products and services), which is another great way to promote your business (and are tax write-offs). Pick a charitable organization that has personal meaning for you, and become a good steward within your community. You will meet other business owners and possibly land new clients and prospects.

Attend events that really target your audience/target market:

Before you take on every networking event or trade show, ask yourself a few questions: Is this event going to help my business? How many people are attending? What’s my return on investment? Is it free or is there cost involved? How many leads/contacts do I hope to land as a result of this event? Don’t get into the bad habit of saying “yes” to every event because you THINK you need to attend them all. Pick and choose the best networking events that you think will provide the most benefit.

21st century business owners market smarter, not harder. Try out some of these cost- effective tips and you’ll boost your reputation, become more visible to your customers, and improve sales more than you ever thought possible.

In the simplest terms, marketing is all about remaining highly visible to your customers, and reinforcing yourself or business so that you’re presented exactly the way you intend.  It may seem like a no-brainer, but some companies have a tendency to take their position for granted, and stop making continuous connections with their clients and customers.  It’s all about collaboration and continuity, and in today’s intimate technological world, that means revealing the human element behind your product or service.

Here are some tips on how you can keep things fresh and flowing, and earn the respect and continued business you work so hard to achieve.  They’re all small gestures, but if regularly nurtured, they will add up to a lot of quantifiable success.

MAKE THE CALL

Few things deliver more happiness and appreciation than when a person with whom they do business reaches out to simply touch base.  Ask them how things have been.  What they’re doing.  What they’ve been up to.  It doesn’t take much time or effort, and who knows what opportunity it may create.

PAY A VISIT

When you’ve got time to spare, make arrangements to meet up with your client at his or her place of business for a chat.  Perhaps you can tour their facilities and catch up with their business concerns.  This is an immeasurably valuable way to show that you want to stay plugged in with their concerns, and simply that you care about what’s going on with them.

JUST SAY THANK YOU

It’s just two words, but for some, it can make or break a day.  Try to go out of your way to thank your clients, whether it’s with regards to a special occasion, or just because.  Send out a card or handwritten letter, or stick a quick postcard in the mail.  This is especially important for clients new, loyal and profoundly generous.

DON’T LEAVE THEM HANGING

In today’s business world, it’s all about speed and making adjustments.  As your clients are your business, it’s imperative to respond quickly to all their questions, phone calls, emails, comments and concerns.  Not only is it courteous, it can also be an effective marketing technique.  If you cannot reply promptly, make sure your voice mail and email are checked by a trustworthy member of your staff.  Let your client know that you are not available, but when you are you will call or email.  This helps you keep a positive rapport with your clients, and it is something they will certainly appreciate.

SEND OUT CARDS

Sure, they probably get a thousand of these, and may not even notice if yours is absent, but don’t take that chance. If you’re worried about getting lost in the shuffle, send a card out early to improve your chances of getting noticed.  “It’s the thought that counts” couldn’t be truer in this situation.  And everyone sends Christmas wishes, but don’t forget about the more obscure holidays – Easter, Thanksgiving, International Talk like a Pirate Day.  But seriously, a little effort here can go a long way.

BECOME THEIR CUSTOMERS

Whatever it is that your clients do, see if you can benefit from the services they offer, as well.  If you cater for a uniform distributor, seek out their business when selecting your own professional duds.  If it’s something you need for your business, try to see if you can get it from someone you already serve.

Throw a Black-Tie Gala

March 5, 2009

Unroll the red carpet and treat your customers to a night of glitz and glamour by throwing a thursday night black tie event.  Send out professionally-made invitations to some of your best customers and give out gift bags or a special desert option to close out the evening.  Women will love having a place to wear a new outfit, and everyone will feel special for a few hours.

And when we say “unroll the red carpet,” we mean just that.  If you can, obtain a red carpet, dress the servers up like a million bucks, and take lots of pictures for your website.  Make it a night they’ll really remember, and remind them when the pictures will be posted so you can get some special exposure on a different night to advertise your next upcoming shindig.

Make Yourself Buzz Worthy

February 26, 2009

By Ed Dugas

Every business has characteristics that set it apart from the competition.  To succeed, businesses must establish credibility, a competitive edge, and get favourable publicity to accelerate sales. Been recognized in a contest or other awards arena? Use those kudos to reinforce the core values, strategic initiatives, and marketing claims of your business to your customers.

Just as travelers rely upon the star rating system to choose a hotel or a Zagat survey to choose a restaurant, buyers of any variety of products and services want to spend their money with winners – and they do. In fact, a research study by Hendricks & Singhal of the University of Western Ontario and Georgia Institute of Technology, revealed more than 600 quality corporate award winners had 37 percent more sales growth and 44 percent higher stock price return than their peers. Please visit this link to learn more about the study.

If you’ve received any kind of award, from an industry-exclusive competition to a personal recognition for the impact and influence of your organization on the local or national business landscape, these opportunities pay off. Of course, not all businesses have won awards, but dig deep and try to find something relevant you can use. When leveraged correctly, award wins will build your credibility and reputation in the marketplace, attract winning team members, foster a sense of pride and accomplishment throughout your organization, and compel potential clients to take notice. And if you don’t participate in contests, it could generate a pay-off that is well worth the effort.

Here are a few more benefits to justify your investment of time and effort in award competitions.

GET TO “YES”

Winning prestigious award contests can help unknown, unproven, or emerging companies better compete for and win new business. Award wins make choosing a company less risky for buyers and potential employees.

PUBLICITY

Favorable local, trade, or national publicity and word-of-mouth referrals often result from contest wins, filling the lead generation pipeline.

TIP NEW BUSINESS IN YOUR FAVOR

Just like Avis – the rental car company with a reputation for trying harder to beat Hertz out of the number one position – award winners may be perceived as working with greater diligence to demonstrate their value.

JUDGES COULD BECOME CUSTOMERS

Judges often visit award candidate’s businesses because they like what they read in award applications and want to experience the company’s services and products for themselves.

HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN

If you are convinced that award wins can pay off for your business and your brand, follow these tips when putting pen to paper:

PRIORITIZE

Again, when choosing a contest, make sure it’s legitimate and prestigious, and that it will reinforce your company’s core values, strategic initiatives, and marketing claims. Try to find contests that are government/state sponsored or generate a lot of local media attention.

DO THE APPLICATION JUSTICE

Assign the task of creating award-worthy entries to someone who has the passion, experience, storytelling ability, and time to do the job right. Last minute efforts rarely deliver a winning result. And remember to address all the award criteria (deadlines, requirements), so you will have the best chance to earn a place in the winner’s circle. And be sure to submit entries on deadline.

PROVE YOUR POINTS

Call out winning ways in easy-to-read bullets. Share anecdotes, customer and employee testimonials, and press coverage to prove why your company is award-worthy. Steer clear of hyperbole and rambling commentary that will take up space and bore the judges.

PRESENTATION, PRESENTATION, PRESENTATION

When submitting to a contest, make sure to spring for the extras that will make your application stand out. Invest in high-quality paper, dividers, presentation binders, and if possible have the materials printed professionally. Having a visually pleasing application may very well get you more attention and a better chance at victory.

GO IN TO WIN

If you can’t weigh in with a stellar effort, sit out the competition and save your time and money until you can. Only a 100% effort will justify this investment.
When you receive recognition from entering or winning awards competitions, it’s important to use this in merchandising your brand coverage and building a business advantage. Here are a few ideas.

USE YOUR CLIPS

To increase your credibility and influence in the marketplace, share any and all publicity with your clients, prospects, referral partners and friends. These materials can act in conjunction with a call to action to engage your services.

INCLUDE THE ONLINE ARTICLE LINK IN YOUR NEWSLETTER

Get the word out to an audience that already engages with your company and its news. Ask recipients to spread the news and invite their quality referrals.

SHOW THE ARTICLE

Hang any awards or articles in your lobby, retail window, building lobby, or conference room. Seeing these in restaurant windows have certainly compelled me to try places I wouldn’t normally go.

POST THE COVERAGE ON THE WEB

Put it into your online media room and/or on your home page, depending on the importance of the coverage. And remember to write about it in your blog, as well.

Award wins serve as powerful tools to help build your company’s brand and reputation. Follow these tips, and you’ll be in good position to profit from the media awareness that results from your winning ways.

In an age of economic instability and rapid technological change, there exists a great deal of anxiety in the business world. But borne from these challenges are many opportunities for exciting new strategies to flourish. It’s important to stay current with new trends and advancements because the-times-they-are-a-changing. What follows is a detailed approach of how to embrace 21st century marketing and make it work for your business in ways you never thought possible.

– Build an Online Presence –

Online advertising spending estimates from eMarketer predict that year-over-year growth will slow from 25.6% in 2007 to 14.5% by 2009. But don’t panic! Assuming that the economy recovers from the current recession, those estimates jump back over the 20% range by 2011. The numbers suggest that Internet advertising is a sustainable and smart long-term investment.

Booz & Company media professional Christopher Vollmer writes: “…the focus for…2009 will be on advertising that works. Marketers are looking for advertising environments that are targeted, accountable and interactive–all of those dimensions continue to benefit online.”

As we pointed out in the first part of this series, the internet is absolutely the most powerful way to maximize your productivity. It’s also the least expensive, most accessible and easiest to control. Of course, you can’t take advantage of everything the internet has to offer if you’re not online!

If you’ve yet to establish web contact, it is wise to develop this into your business strategy as soon as possible.

– Eliminate Dead Money –

I use the term, “dead money” to represent capital you’ve spent on advertising or some other aspect of your operation that is no longer helping you make money. When you choose direct-mail or print advertising, there’s really no way of knowing the number of people you reached. In a volatile economic climate, investing wisely has never been more important.

With the internet, you can track the effectiveness of your spending through ad clicks, site visitors, feedback and other statistics. The data will tell you exactly how many people came into contact with your materials. You can break down the cost on a person-to-person basis, and adjust your efforts accordingly.

– Be your own Marketer –

IndustryBlender provides information to our members because we believe that empowering businesses with knowledge is a key ingredient for success. Of course, it is sometimes necessary to seek counsel from marketing and advertising professionals, but you can do a lot of it yourself.

Nobody knows your business better than you. Why let others deliver your message when you can do it yourself! You’re an expert at what you do, and that’s how you should market your business to the public.

With websites and interactive public profiles, the opportunity to brand yourself to your customers has never been more available. You can interact with them directly, and they’ll tell you what they want and need. This makes 3rd party intervention unnecessary. That’s money saved that can be reinvested into other areas of your business.

– Update Frequently –

As we’ve stated before, newsletters are a great way to keep your customers up-to-speed on the evolution of your business. This is what marketers call “sticky content.” Frequently advertising and updating your content maintains your freshness and is keeps you in the public eye. When you hear about something relevant to your industry or have interesting news, share it!

– Name Recognition –

WHITE SPOT

Whoa. Probably weren’t thinking about them at this moment, were you? An important reason companies like Visa and McDonalds sponsor the Olympics and make other public investments is so that you won’t forget they exist. Send out email updates and let the people decide whether they want to read what you have to say. The important thing is to get them to remember your name. It’s like a pop-up, except less invasive and annoying, and more valuable.

– Avoid Dirty Copy –

Chad White, of the Email Experience Council, writes, “Don’t raise questions about your attention to detail or competence by having misspellings or errant copy.”

Delivering a clear, concise and persuasive message is one of the cornerstones for success. It is important to carefully craft and proofread all copy to make sure it is clean and tight. Be understandable and honest about your business and what you do, and always seek additional proofreaders for feedback to ensure the integrity of your message.

– Internet Coupons –

Internet coupon company, NearbyThis, reports: “According to the Interactive Advertising bureau (IAB), online coupons receive up to 10 times the click through of regular banner or text ads. And according to an article in Marketing Daily, over 36 Million consumers printed and used online coupons in 2007. Coupons give you measurable results.”

Internet coupons also help eliminate waste and allow customers to choose what promotions they want to receive. It’s never good to advertise your environmental initiatives simply for the sake of doing so, but if you can truthfully say you’re implementing actions which help sustain the Earth, it’s always wise to do so.

– Be Engaging! –

The idea of engagement is a concept of emerging importance in today’s media landscape. Appealing to your market via genuine and authentic communication is becoming increasingly important. Consumers want to know as much as they can before committing financially to a product or service. This means that businesses must be people first, and a business second.

Mark Brooks of the Motley Fool and America Online writes: “Small is the new big, indeed… Corporations are non-entities by definition, and consumers have had enough. They want to deal with people at some point.”

– Seek Inexpensive Public Relations –

It is recommended that 15-30% of your advertising budget be spent on PR. The internet has created a way to reach millions of people inexpensively and efficiently, but it means sending the right message, and making sure it reaches your target audience.

Press releases are one of the best ways to deliver your message to the general public. In a significant report, titled “Search Marketing Benchmark Guide,” MarketingSherpa reported that online press releases, combined with organic search engine optimization, are one of the most effective Internet marketing strategies.

– Follow your Own Lead –

We’ve all heard the saying, “March to the beat of your own drummer,” but that doesn’t stop people from peeking at what the business across the street is doing. It also raises doubt when small businesses watch larger corporations succeed without implementing new technologies and methods. To paraphrase entrepreneur and author David Silver, the reason for this is because behemoth companies are so steeped in bureaucracy and tradition that they move very slowly and are reluctant to change their business models. Many of them simply haven’t caught up with our rapidly changing technological world.

Don’t let this deter your efforts. Continue to explore progressive marketing strategies because the data supports your efforts. Our industry is comprised of social and innovative individuals – many of whom lack financial flexibility – who rely on understanding the pulse of a changing culture. Our legacy will be that we were the catalysts of a business revolution. Our swiftness and adaptability will serve us well in the future.