To Market or to Brand? A question or an answer?

Marketing is simply “selling your business” while Branding is “selling your business—with the added benefit: repeat business.”

Simply put—ask yourself why your product or service is what someone needs or wants to have.

Logo_top_brandTo find out how your business is doing… take a day and put yourself on the other side of your business—be your customer for a day. How easy is it to find your business? Would you come and not come back? Would you come back and send forth new customers?

Branding is an emotional bond between you and your customer and marketing is giving your customer a reason to keep coming back to build that bond of loyalty, trust, and repeat business. To find out what your customers are saying – shop your audience by looking at blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and read what your customers are chatting about.

How is your brand defined?

How is it unique?

How do you lead your customers to you?

Can my brand be better?

Lastly, what does your brand say about you and your business?

At the end of the day, you can make your conclusions, and the next day begin building on that info. You will be able to not only market your business, but embrace success in branding your business!

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Water and Cell Phones Don’t Mix

And there my cell phone lay, nestled at the bottom of a deep, fast flowing river.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up. Have you ever had one of those life events that jammed a true, character-exposing dilemma in your face and said choose?

It was a sunny, Fall day when my wife, 10-year-old daughter and I were enjoying our one timeshare vacation week of the year. This year we had chosen an out of the way, rustic resort in central Tennessee.

And on this “special” day halfway through the week, we were exploring a nearby state park. With our chubby beagle in tow, we stopped at a beautiful arched bridge high over a river. Walking towards the middle of the stone bridge, my daughter asked me:

“Daddy, can I take a picture with your phone?”

“Sure, honey.” I reply handing over the device.

Then walking to the other side of the bridge, I took in the beauty that was the tree-lined hills adjoining both banks.

A minute later I felt a gentle tug on the back of my shirt.

“Daddy.” I turn around.

“Yes?” I said now wrestling with the dog leash as our canine had spotted a nearby squirrel.

“I dropped your phone.” My daughter said softly, her face revealing deep worry.

“Yeah, right. Very funny.” I said amused, glancing around for my phone.

“No dad. I dropped it. The picture I was trying to take… and it slipped.”

“It fell?” I said, “like, you mean… in the river?”

water-phoneShe meekly nodded. She led me back to where she had stood on the other side of the bridge and looked down. It was a good 200 feet to the swift current below. No sign of the phone. It was history. I turned back to the small face at my side, now visibly holding back tears.

“Honey, did you drop it on purpose or did it slip out?”

“It just slipped, and I tried to catch it but it was too far.”

“Well it was an accident then,” I said fighting back the sudden, intense feeling of loss and disappointment. The device had tons of pictures and all my contacts. “I’m not mad. Accidents happen. It’s okay. I can get a new one.”

Her face brightened some, still half expecting me to get angry. But soon she calmed down.

A few days later, I had my replacement phone in hand, busy re-entering my contacts. Now if I had dropped a camera that my dad or older brother had given me, I could easily have seen them getting furious and screaming at me. But somewhere along the line, someone taught me the difference between when something happens on purpose and when it happens by accident.

And I had just taught it to my daughter. Deep down that felt pretty cool.

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May the Force (of Internet Marketing) Be With You…

When I was 11, I saw Star Wars 23 times in my local theater in Philly. No, I did not have a mental problem. What I had was an insatiable desire to see a movie that has become an icon of science fiction. Last Sunday was Star Wars day (May the 4th… as in May the Fourth Be with You). My family and I watched the original movie and it brought back a lot of memories. After I saw the movie that many times as a kid, I was dedicated and could recite every line of dialog. That same kind of dedication can also help you in your website internet marketing efforts. It’s critical that you “keep at it” as they say. For example, you can continue to update your social media sites with fresh posts every few days. You can work on search engine optimization (SEO) for the various pages of your website each month. Basically, you have to stay engaged with your website marketing for it to be successful in the long run. While speaking at conferences around the country, I have talked to entrepreneurs and small business owners who think they can set up their website and wait for the traffic (and profits) to start rolling in. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

The old adage of “hard work pays off” is very true. I find that you should at least post to your social media channels at least 2 to 3 times per week. If you can post more often than that… great! But posting far less often can impact how people regard your business. You want to be an entity on social media where you continually offer helpful content to your target audience. By staying in their mind and helping them out, you become trustworthy . This sense of trust is what prompts them to offer up your company when a friend casually mentioned that he needs a service (or product) that you offer.

With your SEO efforts, I recommend revisiting your Google analytics data every few weeks to see what webpages on your site are not performing up to snuff. Then you can edit those pages, revamp the text content and repost on the web. So you get in the habit of optimizing sections of your site continually. That’s not to say you have to be continually updating the vast majority of your site all the time, just that you keep improving those pages that aren’t getting the desired ranking in the search engines.

If you keep to this dedication, as I did when I spent so many crazy hours watching a certain space movie, you will have a successful Internet marketing strategy and a successful business. The time and effort will pay off!

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Social Media for Social Good

This is an excerpt from my new book, Home Run Internet Marketing

Though social media can be a dangerous landscape if engaged in carelessly, it has already been of benefit to millions of people around the globe. Its ability to offer a new communication medium brings with it new found ways to reach out and help those in need. Here are three examples.

The Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan

When the earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastation hit Japan in 2011, thousands lost their lives or were made homeless. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter brought with them a variety of ways people could help those affected. During and just after the event, videos were posted on YouTube and other video sites showing the devastation and the people affected. People could see the event, and its aftermath within minutes. No longer did people have to wait for the evening news to catch up.

In addition, social media sites allowed people to set up donation centers as well as help raise money to help the affected population. Even the process of organizing groups of people to help was made more efficient through social media. The sites made a real impact in helping survivors get through the event. If we didn’t have social media, more people may have died or suffered needlessly.

The Eurostar Debacle

In December 2009, EuroStar, a company that operates trains through the tunnel connecting Britain and France faced an unprecedented crisis. During that month, Europe was hit with massive snowstorms. A week before Christmas, due to the snowy conditions, a EuroStar train broke down inside the channel tunnel. Over 2000 people were trapped in the trains for over 16 hours. With no water or electricity, and limited bathroom facilities, these people endured a very unpleasant situation. The passengers and those waiting for them at the stations began tweeting about the situation and trying to get answers. In dire need of updates on what was happening, they started a social media tidal wave of discontent and anger. Eurostar had no social media crisis plan in place and were totally caught off guard. In fact, the only twitter feed they had in place was solely for pushing out marketing messages.

When the stranded passengers finally got to safety, the social media onslaught against the Eurostar continued. People wanted answers. Finally, company executives had to acknowledge the social media backlash and respond to the issues via that medium. They were caught unaware of the power that social media could offer in communicating with customers and the public alike. People didn’t care that the one EuroStar Twitter feed was only for marketing. They wanted information about their loved ones. This event showed companies around the world that they need to adopt social media carefully and have an emergency plan at the ready should they experience a crisis.

The Occupy Movement

Starting in September 2011, the Occupy Movement was focused on bringing to light the issues of societal and economic inequality. As a protest tool, people began setting up tent cities in locations around the world, starting in New York City. One of the key communication tools used by the protesters was social media. It allowed an easy way to set up demonstrations, organize protests and distribute news in real-time. In a truly international way, social media let protesters communicate with like-minded people no matter their geographic location. Though the movement has died down and some ask what really has come from it, there’s no denying that it showed the organizing power of tools like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Societal movements in the future will surely build on the tactics and methods used by the Occupy participants.

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Is social media more hype than helpful?

For a number of years now, it has been almost a foregone conclusion that social media is a wonderful thing. It helps people connect with each other; it helps companies gain higher profits. It can even fix your marriage if it’s on the rocks. Okay, that last one is probably not true. But it seems the media and the Internet is all about touting the coolness and power of social media.

Is it all hype?

I have been in the Internet marketing “game” for a while now, and I have to say that for the most part, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest can be of use to our daily lives. I am sure many of you enjoy the interactions contained in Facebook. Although I have had a friend share the pain of his impending divorce… which was way too personal. These sites can be wonderful  ways to keep in contact with others and see what interests them. There is a sneaky feeling I am getting however. A feeling that social media as a business tool is more hype than helpful.

So why do I say that? The key to using social media in business is for audience engagement. If you build up a strong following of people who like your social media sites and post regularly, then you gain their trust and they are more likely to buy from you. This all seems well and good on the surface But does it really pan out? After a few years of watching this process in the industry, I am certain that in a small way, such engagement is helpful to a company or organization. But let’s be honest. If you have a local restaurant and you are doing awesome social media engagement, but last year another restaurant opens up in town and they offer as good food as you do, then will your social media keep people from grabbing their lunch at that place and not yours? I say no. I may be the biggest fan of a certain local cheese steam, place (I come from Philly, as you can guess), but if one of my friends told me about a cool new place that has terrific steak sandwiches, man, I can tell you, I would check it out, and if they were as good as he said, then I would jump ship from the old place. I just don’t feel people have any sort of allegiance with commercial/business entities. You find a coupon to a competitor, you use it. If you find a better cell phone plan at the place across town, you dump your existing one and save some cash each month.

So I now tell my clients that social media is just one part of your whole marketing plan. It will not bring in gobs of clients nor will it create a tide of enthusiastic cheerleaders for your products and services. But if you use it strategically and focus on helping your clients and not spouting about how great your company is, then it can be an essential ingredient in your overall outreach and marketing strategy.

Great, now I’m hungry for a cheese steak.

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Crafting Awesome Content – The Core of Every SEO Effort

This is an excerpt from my new book, Home Run Internet Marketing

As far as the big search engines are concerned, they don’t give a hoot how beautiful your website graphics are or your cutting edge composition and color scheme. When search engines scan through your site trying to understand what it’s about, they are doing one thing above all else: reading your text. By scanning your text, they try to ascertain what each web page is “about.”

So you must create super-terrific, mind-blowing, freakin’ awesome textual content so search engines understand your topic and people visit and stay on your site. This is the most challenging, time intensive part of most Internet Marketing efforts, yet it is essential. When people arrive at your site, give them a reason to stay. This means providing a wealth of free, genuinely useful information and resources related to your subject matter.

Some examples:

  • Do you sell gardening supplies on your site? Provide articles on yard care and organic gardening basics.
  • Your company provides geriatric health nurses for in-home care? Include a variety of articles on home safety and caring for elderly loved ones.
  • Ichiwawa! Your e-commerce site hawks a wide variety of hot sauces from around the world? Create lots of recipes for spicy main courses and party appetizers.

Get the idea? Think about it from a viewer’s perspective. If one site sells children’s party supplies, but another site offers the same party supplies but also has lots of ideas for age-appropriate parties and even includes helpful shopping lists, well, which site would you probably visit and buy from?

The other SEO byproduct of providing awesome content on your site is that other websites are much more likely to link to your site. Search engines will naturally rank you higher if they see that lots of other websites link to your content. So take the time to accumulate quality, text-based content (articles, white papers, guides, workbook, tip sheets, etc.). All of your hard work in getting your site in front of your audience’s eyes using social media and SEO will be wasted if, when people do arrive, they find little value and promptly leave. Your content must be stellar!

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Build Your SEO Foundation – Keyword Research

There are so many steps and techniques to search engine optimization, it’s helpful to remember the key step that must be done at the start of your efforts. It’s called keyword research (or keyword analysis).

So what is it?

It is the process of narrowing down and selecting those phrases that you want to rank well for in the search engines. This is a tactical process. If done correctly, you will have a short list of valuable phrases that lots of people are searching on but also have lower levels of competition (that is, the amount of websites that are also “chasing after” those phrases). The problem is many sites do SEO without properly conducting keyword research first. They in fact are going after phrases that have unknown value. This is a critical mistake.

So how do you do it?

The first step is to brainstorm a list of phrases you and your cohorts feel are the best ones to target. Ask coworkers, friends, family… basically anyone you can watch let phrases they would search on to get to your company website.

Next, take this list and use a keyword analysis tool (my two favorites are www.wordtracker.com and www.keyworddiscovery.com). Take a few hours to explore the tool you decide upon. Tools like these are subscription-based, so plan on plunking down between $75 to $100 for a month of usage. For a less precise but free option, you can always use Google’s Keyword Analysis Tool. Crunching your initial list through tools like these will allow you to distill your list down to 10 or 15 very powerful phrases to target.

Finally, you take your list and begin placing the chosen phrases throughout your site (in the meta-tags, URL strings, headings, contents, and so on). When done carefully, you will have the firm SEO foundation you need. The last thing you want to do with SEO is pick phrases that no one in your target audience is searching on!

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Top 10 Website Design Mistakes

This is an excerpt from my new book, Home Run Internet Marketing

1. The Website’s Purpose Is Not Obvious

When you arrive at a website, within moments you want to know what it’s all about. Why does this site exist? If people can’t figure out the site’s purpose very quickly, you have used up a chunk of their patience, and they will be off to your competitor’s site. Tell them the purpose of your site and tell them quick.

2. Outdated Content

People (and search engines) love to see fresh content. The reason people keep coming back to a site is because of the new, relevant information it provides. The best sites on the web continually post fresh content that entices visitors to return again and again. So don’t let your site become stale.

3. The Site Navigation Mirrors the Company’s Organizational Chart

If a website’s information hierarchy matches the company’s organizational chart, that’s a bad thing. During the development phase, no one was thinking about how visitors expect to view the site information. It’s easy to have the site simply mimic the org chart, but it just doesn’t make sense to your viewers. It’s best to organize the site around what the user will be looking for. It’s all about them after all.

4. Too Much Happy Talk

This is the website text that offers no real value to the viewer. It’s just there to fill space and sound polite. Like ”Welcome to our contact us page. Here you can see our phone number and email address below, blah, blah, blah.” Lose the happy talk and keep the text to the point. If there is no need for text, leave it out! People are in a hurry. Don’t waste their time.

5. Navigational Failures

When people arrive at a new site, the first two things they ask themselves are “Where am I?” and “Where can I go next?” Many times people can’t answer these two basic questions because the website’s navigation system is confusing. Conduct usability tests and uncover these potential problems before your users become irate and pass you over. Keep your navigation simple and consistent.

6. Audio or Video That Auto Plays

Argh! When people arrive on your site, don’t start playing music or a video right away. It’s rude. Give each person a heads up about the media and let them make the choice whether to play it. People may be on the web at work and have their speakers on. If media auto-plays when people first arrive, guess what website they will likely never return to.

7. Opening Unnecessary Browser Windows

There are very few times you will need to open a new browser window from a link on your site. If you are linking to an outside site, then it’s okay. But never link to another part of your site that opens a new window. It annoys your users, and there’s just no reason for it.

8. Turning Text into Graphics

Turning your text into graphics is bad for two reasons: One, it takes time for the graphic to download (whereas downloading text is nearly instantaneous). And two, the search engine can’t scan a graphic and read the text, so you lose out on potential SEO benefits. Forget about transforming your text into some zany font. Leave your text as just that… text. Your visitors will thank you.

9. Big Honking Chunks of Text

This is a website, not a philosophy text book. When visitors see a page with five huge paragraphs of unbroken text, do you think they will take the time to read it all? Heck no. People scan web pages for clues about content. Break up your large paragraphs into smaller ones and use bullets and plenty of white space. It helps people consume your awesome content.

10. Spelling and Grammar Mistakes

How do you think people feel about a website’s authority if they find typos and grammar mistakes in the content? They think: What else on this site isn’t being attended to with care? People lose faith in a site if it trips up on the small stuff. Spell checkers are plentiful. Have someone review your text carefully before you post it for the world to see.

To read more, order your copy of Home Run Internet Marketing.

 

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Go On… Write that Book!

“Someday I’m gonna write a book.” Many of you have uttered those words at some point. I have too. This past year, I finally buckled down and got it done. The book is off to the printer now and will be available in August. Entitled “Home Run Internet Marketing,” it shows how to market on the web using search engine optimization (SEO) and social media. If I had known how involved and difficult it would be to complete a book, I probably wouldn’t have gotten started. Sure the writing process was long. Every day I would settle down with my pen, pad of paper and resource books. A sore wrist would always kick in after a few hours, and I’d have to stop. Luckily, I had a remarkable technology to help me. After I had written out a chunk of content, I would put on a headset microphone and dictate the copy into the computer using voice recognition software (Dragon NaturallySpeaking). This wonderful technology saved me hours of hand typing (I am not a touch typist). And after only a few hours using the software, it becomes remarkably accurate at turning my words into text.

In retrospect, it was premature for me to be relieved when I finally finished writing the last chapter since it was only then that the loooong editing process began. Granted, spewing out your knowledge on paper is a critical part of writing a book, but it’s in the editing phase where your baby really takes shape. And I didn’t just read through the book a few times making improvements. I must have gone through seven editing cycles before I felt it was really ready. And by “ready” I mean it was ready for a professional editor to review. When I got it back and placed the graphics in, I could finally consider it done. It was tons of long days and bleary eyes.

So if any of you decide that now’s the time to pen your own book, by all means do it! I learned so much about the topic and about myself as a writer, and you can too. If there is a book in you, don’t wait. Pick up the pen and get cranking! If I can do it, anyone can.

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With your closest friends, is social media a wonder or a wedge?

Photo by Mark Singleton

When I counsel my Internet Marketing clients on starting their social media efforts in support of their business, I tell them unless they have a team at the ready, they should pick just a couple sites and “go deep.” In that I mean, it’s better to create just a Facebook and Twitter account and excel at engaging your audience and providing them value rather than set up half a dozen sites and not have the ability to keep them maintained and fresh. Then it occurred to me. That same guideline rings true for your friends. I am 46 years old and have a pretty wide swath of friends I know and keep in occasional touch with. But with the emergence of the web as a social interaction tool, it seems far too easy to let your friendship communication slide into the lax mode of just the occasional Facebook comment, brief Tweet or “Thumbs up.”

The media seems to be covering more and more of this effect. The effect that people may be even more isolated and alone yet unknowingly maintain a facade that they have 126 friends on social media and so that must mean they have a thriving personal life And support structure. But most of us know that when it comes to really personal things and not-so-happy events occurring in our lives, social media just doesn’t seem the right place to get help and support. I had had an old school buddy that shared his upcoming marriage breakup and subsequent custody challenges on his Facebook account. Though I found the news heart breaking, I also felt I couldn’t offer him any help and that maybe he shouldn’t throw such personal tragedies out via that medium. Then,  of course, that could just be me.

But as I see social media giving the impression of virtual friends, I feel we are better off holding on to a few close friends and really connecting with them. Pick up the phone and call them, set up a time to meet and grab some grub, but stay genuinely focused and engaged with those who you feel closest to. It’s far too easy to let online communication place a veil over what makes us happy when we really take time to share with one another. It means so much more to both parties when you do it by voice or eye to eye, rather than some text quickly tapped out while stopped at a red light.

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