Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Top 7 1/2 Marketing Essentials for Your Start-Up

Maybe you’ve spent the past twenty years being told how amazing your house-fixing/pie-cooking/flower-planting/number-crunching skills are. (You can circle one, or just choose “other”.) And now after much deliberation, you’ve decided to start your own business. 

Or maybe you’ve spent the past twenty minutes sticking pencils into your cubicle wall and after some frustration, you’ve decided to start your own business. 

It doesn’t matter how you arrived at the decision to embark on this wooly adventure. You know it’s the right thing for you and you’re ready to ride. That being said, there are some marketing essentials you’ll want to seriously consider.

In a perfect world, you’d follow your passion and everyone would recognize your commitment to it and throw money at you to follow it. But in this world, that just isn’t the game.

Following some marketing essentials can make all the difference between the success or failure of your start-up.  

The short list of essentials that follows is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s rather more of a heads-up as to what’s up to give your start-up the one-up. These aren’t guarantees, mind you. Merely (strong and nagging) suggestions. 
#1. Elevator pitch

We are putting this at the top of marketing essentials because it’s absolutely crucial. And it won’t cost you a cent.

Right off the bat, you need to put together a short speech that could convince someone to invest in your business. And by short, we’re talking “elevator ride” short. Assuming you’re not heading to the top of the Empire State building, we mean less than 30-seconds short.   

The thing is, when you’re deep in the trenches of your marketing efforts, it’s all too easy to forget exactly what it is you’re marketing. And you need to be able to verbalize this. Even if you’re not big on talking - or elevators - you should still have this elevator pitch written out somewhere or blended in with your mission statement so you have it available to give to anyone who asks what it is you do.

#2. Website

You’re obviously going to want to get this done before you open. 

Sure, it’ll generate some buzz around you. But it’s also a marketing essential for a start-up because your website won’t reveal the size of your company. In other words, Lynette’s Crocheting Emporium (.com) feels far more vast and impressive than the actual crafts room where she and three friends make the goods they sell. 

Adding a blog to your website is also something to strongly consider, as having more content will help to boost your SEO and give you a nice connection with your customers. A surprising number of folks will relish in your story about, say, rescuing tree frogs and feel a profoundly deep connection with you.

Your website is a worthy investment, so if you have enough capital, put its design in the hands of experts. If not though, there are plenty of site-building options to get you going. It may not have the sleek design of a professional, but you can create a site that’s well-designed and helpful if you know what you’re doing. Or at least know somebody else who does.

#3. Logo

Much like your website, if you’ve got the funds, think about at least consulting with a designer for your logo. 

The logo is the face of your business. It’s going to be how people remember you and relate with you. And this “face” is going to be plastered all over your other collateral so you want it to be interesting and have some sort of special hook. Like a hooked nose, for instance. But not a hooked nose. 

You don’t need to rush to a designer from some high falutin’ agency or firm. Network with others in start-ups and you’ll probably find that by staying with smaller companies, you’re bound to find a designer who will charge a price you can afford.

#4. Business cards

They may seem old school, but business cards are proof that you don’t have to be big to talk loud. Since these bad boys are now two-sided, you can pack a lot of information on them. And while they should look good, it’s more important as a means for describing your company that fits neatly in one’s pocket or wallet. The big marketing gurus say it’s still one of the most effective marketing tools.

Joachim de Posada, who was a TED speaker and an internationally known expert on small business, noted that your business card “must be different, memorable, and prospects must want to keep it.” Just remember that certain types of “memorable” are not going to be something someone might want to keep.

We don't need to elaborate on that. 

#4. E-mail signature

Ah, back to another marketing essential that’s FREE.

Do not allow a single e-mail to whoosh away from your outbox without taking advantage of it as a marketing opportunity. Specialize your e-mail signature in some eye-catching sort of way. Use different colors and fonts from the default ones in the body content of your email. Include your name, business name, website name and contact information, of course, and then pop in that awesome new logo. 

From there you can throw in a catchy tag line or an announcement about a new product or service you’re offering. You could include a picture of that camel that spit on you when you visited Morocco, if it’s appropriate. It’s really up to you.

#5. Brochure

From henceforth we shall refer to this as The Mighty Brochure. (Not really.)

But the brochure can single-handedly tackle a variety of general needs like no other marketing document. Whether it’s the paper kind or the PDF variety, it’s the go-to for handing out at trade shows, pinning up on bulletin boards, sending out as snail mail or in an email, or left on someone’s front porch to give people information about your company.

It can be two-color, four-color, black-and-white, carved in stone - whatever speaks to you. Or more appropriately, whatever’s going to speak OF you.

#7. Packets for specialized needs

What’s the focus of your business? 

If you’re going to be selling handcrafted tools and instruments for tree surgeons, then you’ll want to be sure to create a packet that has brochures and spec sheets to hand out to interested tree surgeons.

On the other hand, if you’re all about public relations, then get some press releases going and put together a media press kit

Having these packets up and ready to go will make your life easier once things really get rolling. 

#7 1/2. Company clothing

This one isn’t a marketing essential for every startup, but it could be tremendously valuable if you’re not a fashionista. So we felt it warranted at least 1/2 of its own number. 

Consider being a human billboard for your company.

You’ve got your logo and your elevator pitch, so why not put it right out there? Get some T-shirts made with your logo and then get out there and strut your stuff.

“People will ask you what you do,” says Ruth King, small business expert and author of the book, The Ugly Truth About Small Business. “Then you can recite your pitch and ask for the order.”

And even if you don’t get the order, at least it’s an opportunity to hand over that killer business card. And maybe even a brochure.

Do you have anything you’d like to contribute? Let us know! 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Question of the week: What spots on the page are most effective for catching the reader's eye?

This is a good question. 

And like so many good questions - What is the meaning of life? Where is the remote? - the answer isn’t always simple.

There are so many elements that go into designing a page - whether it’s a webpage or the sort that’s still made from paper. But there’s one thing that seems pretty universal in terms of where people tend to look. And it’s the F-word.

In this case, the F-word refers to the F-Pattern. 

The F-Pattern is the super scientific term that hails from eye tracking research studies of the “inter- web” showing that people almost always browse in an F-shaped pattern which favors the upper left side of the screen. And pretty heavily.

More recent research shows that this isn’t specific only to the internet, but is the case across the board. It turns out that this F-Pattern also applies to articles, print ads, etc. Well, this is the case among those who speak and read English at least. 

See the pretty pictures below? Notice the Fs.

The reason for the F-pattern seems fairly obvious.

Especially considering that studies showed that the opposite is true for those users whose languages read from right to left. They prefer a backward F-pattern. (Or whatever symbol most closely represents that in their language. We’re not experts in linguistics.) 

Those of us who speak English have been trained as readers to start at the top left of the page, so this is just where our gaze naturally wanders now.

So that’s the most simplified answer to our question this week. Readers move to the upper left corner of a page first and tend to concentrate their focus there.

Just remember that there will always be other design factors too. And, of course, psychological factors.

As a quick case in point, simply placing the image of a fellow human looking toward something is a huge directional cue. Following others’ gazes is something we’ve done for a long time -  most likely rooted in an evolutionary need to “stay with the herd” in order to survive. So a visual cue could dispense of the F-Pattern and instead direct the reader’s eye to a different spot first.

Aren’t you curious about what she’s looking at?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Marketing question of the week: Is billboard advertising worth the expense?

With all of the constant buzz about the importance of websites, SEO and social media in your advertising strategy, you may not have considered billboards. In fact, being so fully immersed in our screen culture may have led you to believe that billboards are better off on the chopping block. 

This is not, however, the case. And that’s good. Because it would require a really huge chopping block and rather sizable knife. 

Even though our devices have allowed us to work more remotely, they’ve also fostered in a more mobile way of living. And with mobility comes driving. You see where we’re going here.

Bottom line - Americans are spending lot of time in the car. 

Check out these statistics from The American Driving Survey taken in 2015:

  • The average American spends 20 hours each week in the car traveling over 200 miles.
  • Americans tend to drive more during fall months- an average of 31.5 miles daily- and drive the least during winter months- 26.2 miles daily.
  • Americans ages 30-49 drive the most out of any age group, an annual average of 13,506 miles.
  • Midwesterners and Southerners drive more miles annually- an average of 11,295.

Yeah, okay. So what if people are driving a lot? Big deal, you say. That doesn’t mean they’re looking at the billboards. 

How can I be sure that billboard advertising is still an effective part of my advertising strategy?

Well, honestly, it may not be. Like all forms of advertising, you have to spend some time determining the best ways to reach your ideal demographic. For example, if you’re offering assistance services to shut-ins who never leave their homes, then a billboard isn’t going to be all that effective.

But seriously…

The most recent research on this was the 2013 Arbitron National In-Car study. And according to this research, billboard advertising was still making an impact on American drivers. And it was a pretty BIG impact.

 Here’s what they found:

  • 75% intentionally looked at billboard messages while driving and then later 40% patronized an event or restaurant being advertised
  • 56% who found a billboard funny mentioned it in a conversation
  • 37% report looking at an outdoor ad most of (if not EVERY) time they it
  • 28% noted a website address and 26% noted a phone number written on a billboard

So then it comes back down to whether a billboard is worth it for your business. It really depends upon your marketing budget and what you want to achieve. 

Generally speaking, billboards are more effective in increasing brand awareness than generating sales. 

And keep in mind that the cost of renting a billboard will depend on several factors, including the size of the billboard that you are looking to rent, as well as its location. (Location, location, location.)

So if you want to really get noticed, discuss your options with the experts. They just may advise that you throw yourself into traffic. 

On a billboard, that is.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Marketing question of the week: What is the best type of collateral for my business?

Websites are terrific, aren’t they? The answer is yes. (Well, most of them.)

Great as they are though, websites are not all that tangible. 

At least, not until technology makes them so. So until such a time comes, it’s important that you have marketing collateral for your business. Not only does collateral give you tangible documents that increase your credence and professional status, but they’re the ultimate informational tool while simultaneously reminding the customer to BUY. They’re sneaky that way. 

There’s a whole slew of collateral advertising to be had out there. So which one(s) will suit your business best? Well, let’s take a look. 


Whether you’re B2B or B2C, the business card is an essential piece of advertising collateral. So that means you need them. Period. And not those stodgy black print on white stock that serve better as a table shim. Technology offers up a smorgasbord of options for business cards - so beyond the pertinent info, you can throw on a picture of yourself, your business, or your pet iguana. Whatever is gonna make it stand out. (Within reason, of course.) If it’s all too overwhelming, get yourself a solid designer. 


These are better suited for B2B than B2C and can be anything from a single folded sheet to a catalogue. Ideally something in between; to avoid either under- or overwhelming the client. The idea with a brochure is to have something to leave behind after a sales presentation, to stack on the counter at your business, to send as a direct mail or to give to people who want more information about your business.  


It’s hard to go wrong with postcards. They’re effective because they give a quick flash of your product or service in action with some brief into about your business. Think short attention span. Plus, business postcards are economical - meaning they’re relatively cheap. And they can become instant coupons. You don’t even have to add water and stir.


Do you want to entice people to spend money at your business? If not, you can skip this part. But if you answered yes, then pop out some flyers (in digital and printed form) about upcoming events at your business or trade shows in which your business will be exhibiting/participating. If you’re a B2C, include any sales you’ll be having to get them into your store or on your website.


These one-page sheets of detailed information (size, weight, different components, different materials, etc.) for each of your products really only makes sense if you’re selling or manufacturing complex products. You can bypass this if you’re providing a service. No one needs to know Zesty the Clown’s shoe size.


Newsletters and other public relations, in both snail mail and email form, give information on trends in the industry, news and reviews of your new products and services, testimonials from happy customers, or just plain interesting articles that your customers may enjoy. 


If you have a business that you believe is worthy of attention from the press for all of the right reasons (like it’s first-of-its-kind, quickly gaining popularity or is wildly unique) - then it’s a great idea to have a press kit on your website. This is a downloadable zip folder with your logo, pitch letter, press release, company fact sheet, product fact sheet, business cards, articles written about your company and background info on the business. Then if the media deems you buzz worthy, they can easily download this info.


People love free stuff.  And it can be anything. Put your logo on a freebie and people will remember the name of your business in a positive way. Try to make it something useful like a keychain or a flashlight rather than something frivolous, like a miniature singing bass to mount on a wall. Unless you’re selling those.

Ultimately, the type of collateral you choose has to make the most sense for you business. 

For example:

  • When and where will your prospects prefer to receive the information you’re offering?
  • Do you have a brick-and-mortar affair where it makes sense to distribute marketing documents in flyer form? 
  • When is email a better option? 
  • Do you want serious prospects to have to log in to your website to access certain data, such as white papers? 
  • Does your company have a sales team who can hand out marketing documents?

If you’re still unsure, worry not. Marketing/design experts can help sort it all out for you. They can advise you the most effective and economical route for your collateral marketing needs -  while discouraging you from plastering your spinach-laden winning smile all over your business cards. (Technology does have its drawbacks.)

Why Your 404 Error Page Is An Important Part of Your Web Design

Have you ever stopped to consider the importance of the 404 error page? Or have you turned away in repulsion - paralyzed by nail-biting fear that having such a page will expose your website as imperfect? 

The reality is, as long as humans are running things, no website is perfect. Someone will invariably drop the ball at some point and then, bam! A visitor or potential customer comes face-to-face with your 404 error page.

You can liken it to the collapse of modern civilization. Or you can see it as an opportunity. (Your immediate choice will depend to some degree on your personality but we recommend the latter.)

The 404 error page can be hugely utilitarian, yet it’s one of the most neglected web design elements that exists. 

Rather than envisioning your 404 page as a giant slap in the face to your visitor, recognize it for its brilliant ability to actually keep the visitor on your site. 

Remember, the sole function of this page is to tell the user where to go next (hint - it’s somewhere else on your site) and thus can be incorporated into your website design in a way that’s both creative and functional. After all, they’re not mutually exclusive.

Calm the user.

Here’s the scenario.

A visitor has typed in what s/he believes is your URL and is ready to land on your page in a quick and efficient manner. But a mistyped URL, or a slight variation in it, may land them on your 404 page instead. Remain calm.

Throughout it all, there’s consistency. Even the most unique 404 page can still retain the style and visual language of the rest of your site will help to establish a sense of familiarity while simultaneously encouraging your visitor to explore.

You can tell the user, in simple and plain language, why the page doesn’t exist. Encourage them to check their spelling and then give it another shot. If they land on it again, design in the option of reporting the error. 

Feel free to soften the blow by tossing in some humor. (If humor’s not your thing, find a writer who can do it for you.) Your 404 page needn’t by chock full of borderline frightening technical jargon. Unless your users are into that sort of thing. (Some are.) 

This is a great example of a 404 page that’s pretty funny and still maintains the feel and design of Steve’s site. The user gets a good sense of Steve’s sense of humor, while still having access to rest of the site. Trauma averted.

Give the user a solution.

Sure, a cool graphic with some amusing text can be soothing. But you don’t want the visitors to get a good laugh and then move on to some other hilarious side-splitting site. Your goal is to keep users on your site as long as possible, so give them some solutions to keep them from leaving.

For example:

  • If the visitor came to your site from another website, provide a link to your homepage so that they can get familiar with what you’re offering.

  • If someone has found a faulty link on your site, don’t you want to know about it? Include contact information which will allow them to send you a message. Maybe even ask them which page they came from and link they followed.

  • Including a menu allows the user to target their desired location rather going off willy nilly. It can also help to retain the overall design of your site so it’s not a total departure from your brand.

  • If the page has been moved, you can give the user the option of searching for its whereabouts by including a search bar.

  • And finally, you can provide a link to post archives also aides the user in finding what they’re looking for much faster.

The example below from Jamie Huskisson is a great example of providing a link to post archives while incorporating some funny text.

Check your broken links.

Ideally, your 404 page isn’t going to be viewed by very many people.

To further avoid this situation, keep checking for broken links within your site. We suggest checking your site for missing articles, videos, pictures, etc. about once per month. Maybe more if you have a lot of content.

But just remember that “stuff” still happens.

By making your 404 page user-friendly and memorable, you have an opportunity communicate in a new way with your audience. And your visitors are far less likely to stray from you - which is really the whole point of the page. So don’t underestimate this elusive page.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Marketing Question of the Week: What's A Good Way to Gauge Customer Satisfaction?

Ask yourself this. Are your customers happy? 

A good indicator of this is to track your customer referral numbers. If you already have a slew of customer referrals, you’re obviously doing something right and your customers are satisfied. Otherwise they wouldn’t be running around singing your praises. So you can keep on keepin’ on with what you’re doing.

If your referral numbers aren’t as high as you’d like though - or if they’ve dropped - then your customers are either indifferent (meh) about your company, or they’re not happy with it. 

Neither of these situations is going to generate customer referrals. The latter might even create customer deferrals. 

You want customer referrals because they are the one marketing effort in which 90% of customers actually trust. (Which once could surmise means that 90% of people trust their friends and family to guide them well, while the other 10% believe their friends or family to have sketchy opinions. We’re not going to delve into relationship stuff.)

The bottom line - you definitely don’t want your customers disliking you. 

But indifference isn’t a whole lot better. 

You want your customers to be enthusiastic and feel good about you. You want them to be loyal. Here’s why:
  • It costs a lot more to acquire new customers than to retain current customers. 
  • Repeat customers typically spend anywhere far more than new customers do. 
  • Loyal customers will give you customer referrals.
Then there’s these stats from Referral Saasquatch - a company that specializes in referral marketing:
  • 65% of new business comes from referrals – New York Times
  • 92% of respondents trusted referrals from people they knew – Nielsen
  • People are 4 times more likely to buy when referred by a friend – Nielsen
  • Non-cash incentives are 24% more effective at boosting performance than cash incentives – University of Chicago 
  • Offering a reward increases referral likelihood, but the size of the reward does not matter – American Marketing Association
  • The LifeTime Value of a new referral customer is 16% higher – Wharton School of Business
  • 83% of consumers are willing to refer after a positive experience—yet only 29% actually do – Texas Tech

Customer loyalty is vital to the success of your business. 

And this is another reason to track your customer referrals. They will indicate how loyal your customers are. 

If your numbers are low, you may want to consider setting up a simple system that rewards clients for referring friends to your business, like half off a product or service. Or you could set up a customer loyalty program in the form of punch cards, point systems or tiered rewards. These incentives keep your customers coming back and developing a relationship with you. 

So first, you want customer referrals. And then you want to keep tracking them because doing so is an inexpensive way to determine how happy your customers are and whether they’re going to stick with you. 

If only other relationships were that easy. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

How Outsourcing Your Marketing Efforts Saves You Time And Money Over DIY

If you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of capital, the notion of DIY marketing is probably pretty appealing. And maybe you just need to get the ball rolling. Makes sense. Particularly if your product or service is of a very specified niche. (Think wealth management consulting in Appalachia or pork rinds for the Israeli market.)

You may have already decided that the dabble in DYI is only temporary until you have the resources to go the professional route. That’s great. The only caveat is, will you eventually make the shift? 

It can seem like DIY saves you a lot of money on your marketing efforts.

And you may not be eager to opt in for professional services down the road. But you have to ask yourself - what’s the true cost of DIY?

There are a slew of reasons to consider hiring professional marketers, all of which will save you money in the long term.

First of all, consumers are getting pickier. 

That’s because people have a bunch of choices and they’re getting easily overwhelmed. Faced with the vast array of cushioned toilet seats, for example, they can become nearly paralyzed with indecision. 
So only those brands that are able to anticipate consumer needs and then deliver real-time solutions are going to get noticed. And once you’re noticed, you’ll want to monitor and deliver customer experiences through advanced marketing technology like marketing automation, PPC advertising and display retargeting. 

Unless you’re a whiz who can get a freakishly effective grasp on this technology over lunch, you’ll want to put this in the hands of marketing professionals.

Messaging is the thing these days.

Professional marketers will help you to:

  • articulate the value that your business brings to the marketplace.  
  • discover the key benefits you offer.
  • differentiate you from your competition. 
  • establish proof points and net takeaways.

The professionals are keenly aware of changes in the marketplace and know the best ways to apply your marketing in response to them. Even if your core messaging doesn’t change, how you communicate it might.

See, it’s tough to be objective about all of this without some outsider perspective. A professional marketer will see the larger picture and help you whittle it down to the most important messages you need to build your marketing foundation.

So maybe you’re starting to see the value of bringing in the pros. Yet, there’s still some hesitation. So in an attempt to cut a few more corners, you arrive at this conclusion:

Well, I can do at least go DIY on my website and logo. Right? 

Of course you can!

With today’s dazzling technology, you can build a site with zero experience using an interface. Mind you, it’s an easy sort of non-technical interface by which you’ll be limited, thus making it tough to make customizations that you may need to best represent your business and serve your customers. But who cares?

What’s more, it’s easy to use a basic template to implement your business content. And with the money you save using this template, it’s nearly guaranteed to deliver an amateurish result once executed. (Go ahead and incorporate that brightly colored bubble font to really pack a punch.
People love the 1970s.)

Plus, DIY web builders are difficult to optimize.

This is a HUGE benefit if you’re a member of the teeny tiny renegade counter-culture that thinks optimization is overrated.

As for logo design, you could outsource it to a design competition website instead of a professional. This is a great option for the adventurous type that wants the most popular - though not the BEST - logo design provided by amateur designers who may or may not have plagiarized it. So go for it, risk takers!

Okay. Obviously, we’re being sarcastic.

Yeah, a website build and logo design are going to require some upfront cost. But the heavy payback comes with the positive first impression they’ll make on potential customers. People can usually tell when a website and logo are the product of a DIY venture. 

And here’s another thing to consider. When you use an online DIY system, whom do you call when something goes wrong, you need additional help, or you need information about best practices? 

Yourself. That’s who.

So it turns out that affordable DIY marketing is actually… expensive.

When you run a do-it-yourself marketing program, you’ve given yourself another job. Instead of filling your calendar with meetings with decision makers that could be hugely beneficial, you’re busy pulling your hair out while managing and executing an editorial calendar. It will save you time, money and STRESS to entrust a marketing professional to manage and execute that editorial calendar.

Think about it.

If a tree on your property needed to be removed, would you grab a saw and do it? Well, maybe. If you’re a tree-cutting service. In which case you would know better than to use just a saw.

The point is, you started your business because it’s your passion, it’s in your wheel house and it’s where you excel. So why not get back to doing it? With a skilled marketing team to back you up, the possibility of growth is endless.