For small businesses looking to improve results in a tough economy, online marketing became even more essential in 2012. Venerable print standbys like yellow pages, newspapers, and direct mail continued to decline in usage. If you didn’t have a reasonably current website (optimized for Google keyword searches on both desktop and mobile devices), a LinkedIn page, and a Facebook page, you were missing out on orders you could have received at an attractive ROI. Many small businesses found Facebook posts and Tweets drove word of mouth, and pay per click (PPC) campaigns resulted in increased lookups and new order flow. Daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social drove trial for many businesses (though buzz about online coupons cooled). And if you didn’t use E-mail marketing or text messaging linked to a database or customer relationship management (CRM) system, you lost repeat business and learned less about your customers than you could have and should have. The bottom line in 2012 was that consumers spent more time using computers, tablets, and mobile devices than ever before to make local purchasing decisions and small business marketers who delivered their message when and where consumers were ready to receive it got rewarded. The trend will only grow stronger in 2013 so small business marketers must adapt or risk losing ground to more savvy national and big-box players. The good news is that many online tools are inexpensive to use and in fact should level the playing field between small businesses and the national players with whom they compete. The key for small businesses is to find an online provider or consultant whom you trust and to get started — now.
Newspaper publishers should study last week’s purchase by AOL of the Huffington Post for $315 million. Isn’t this an era when newspapers are failing? How did HuffPo, which started with $1 million in funding in 2005, grow so fast? The answer is HuffPo doesn’t think like a newspaper. Much of HuffPo’s content is created by bloggers for free. Articles are optimized (SEO‘d) for Google search. Keywords are posted above articles to drive Google SERP rankings. Sharing and tweeting of articles is encouraged. Live blogs and comment streams from readers run alongside articles to be shared and retweeted. As a result, the New York Times reports, 35 percent of the Huffington Post’s traffic comes from SEO. Perhaps coincidentally, January saw the IPO of Demand Media, a company that identifies topics with high advertising potential (via search engine query data and bids on ad auctions) and then creates and delivers that content via owned and operated sites like eHow. This puts Demand Media in a similar category as Associated Content and AOL’s Seed, platforms that accept submissions from writers and photographers who get paid for each work submitted. Some traditional journalists find these models unseemly, because they turn the traditional journalism model on its head. Articles are created based on reader search patterns by freelancers and bloggers instead of based on what professional journalists deem newsworthy. But these models succeed because they leverage the strengths of the web. The web puts power in the hands of users. These models recognize that search and social sharing are the expressions of user demand. If newspapers continue to deliver only what they consider fit to print, they will continue to watch online upstarts benefit at their expense.
The news in yellow pages land has not been good. Last year saw the bankruptcies of RHD (now Dex One) and Supermedia (formerly Idearc), followed by announcements of layoffs at those companies. Last week brought news of layoffs at Yellowbook. Now comes Greg Sterling‘s Screenwerk blog noting that Comscore is looking at possible traffic assignment irregularities at IYPs. The traffic assignment issue stems from the practice where one site buys traffic from another: local searches get routed from one site to another and results are served up by the buyer. accepts an assignment letter and traffic gets credited to the buyer. This can raise questions about whether credit has been apportioned correctly or whether double counting has occurred. More broadly, this brings to light the question of IYP popularity. IYPs have boasted that swelling Comscore traffic numbers proved increased site popularity. The fact is that purchased traffic for some IYPs exceeds 50%. So increased Comscore numbers may reflect not more popularity but bigger budgets. Essentially IYPs are buying clicks from 3rd parties and reselling it to advertisers (at higher rates). It’s an arbitrage game. The purchases are necessary because IYP organic traffic is not growing fast enough. For this reason, yellow page players are looking to products outside the IYP — such as SEM, Social Media Management, Reputation Management, and Group Buying Sites — to show much needed revenue growth.
By now everybody knows the story. Groupon started in 2007 as The Point, then morphed into a group buying site juggernaut with a reported $2 billion run rate (Mashable) that launched an army of 500 clones led by Living Social, which itself, after receiving $175 million in Amazon funding, yesterday sold 1 million vouchers of $20 Amazon gift certificates for $10 each. The question is, why didn’t yellow pages, newspapers, or direct mailers — the original coupon companies — do this first? And how can they be the ones to innovate next time? The answer lies in how traditional media businesses have treated the internet. As Simon Waldman points out in his brilliant book Creative Disruption, before 2000 most media companies doubted the internet would impact their revenues more than 10 percent. Then after the dotcom bust they thought the internet might go away. Then it was an add-on in a bundle. Now, as revenues tumble, traditional media companies are embracing the internet as resellers. They resell Google campaigns, manage Facebook and Twitter campaigns, and even sell other companies’ Groupon clone deals. They are agencies. Maybe innovation is so expensive and risky it only works in a start-up culture. Achieving radical core transformation, like IBM achieved in the 1990s going from mainframes to services, causes massive dislocation and enormous senior level commitment. Others have achieved it almost by accident – the Washington Post luckily back in 1984 acquired the Kaplan education business, whose profits now offset the newspaper’s losses. Traditional media companies feel they must protect their core businesses and so are reluctant to disrupt them. But to thrive they must challenge their core (or make smart bets on start-ups). The next Groupon, whatever it may look like, is being launched right now by 3 kids in a garage somewhere, with no legacy business to protect.
Since the advent of the consumer Internet in the early 1990s, the forces of creative disruption have wreaked havoc on the business models of huge industries and countless companies. The first industries to feel the effects were those where digital media or online search provided a clearly superior or less expensive experience: newspaper classifieds, printed directories, encyclopedias, photographic film, travel agencies, and music and video labels, retail outlets and mail order clubs. I had the vantage point of working in three of those (newspapers, directories, and mail order clubs). This process of creative disruption is far from over. The spread of broadband and the explosion of the mobile internet will render other companies or business models obsolete. Already internet pioneers like AOL are struggling to replace obsolete business models. Who’s next? And how can you reinvent your company to succeed amidst change occurring at light speed? IBM is often cited as a company that reinvented itself successfully (and Eastman Kodak as one that did not). In coming blogs I will focus on companies that reinvented their business models successfully and point out strategies you can use to make sure your company continues to thrive amidst unprecedented change.
As a manager, you only develop new products once you know what return on investment you can expect. You should measure the effectiveness of your marketing spending just as carefully.
Managers often hire marketers or agencies who tell them they must conduct branding campaigns that cannot be effectively measured.
Divide the campaign cost by the number of new customers to get the cost per acquisition (CPA). Then compare the CPA to your marketing allowable to see if the campaign is working.
The marketing allowable is the lifetime spending per customer minus the cost of producing and delivering the product, including required margins. If your CPA exceeds your marketing allowable, your campaign isn’t working.
If you are not a direct response marketer, measure increases in new customers via your sales channels during and immediately following the campaign. The customer count increases should justify the cost of the campaign.
Determine the appropriate time frame to measure. For example, a campaign introducing a new product will take longer to work than a campaign introducing a 1-day sale at a store.
If your marketers say the campaign is about driving traffic to your website, find out the linkage between traffic and orders. Traffic alone doesn’t build a business.
Digital campaigns, including digital branding campaigns such as online display, are often less expensive than offline campaigns, and they are eminently trackable.
With digital marketing, you can often generate a tremendous response at a low cost. Digital news releases, blogs, tweets, and Facebook and LinkedIn pages can be produced for very little since your media costs are low.
Even videos can be shot and uploaded to video sharing sites like Youtube and Vimeo for less than a typical paid media campaign. Blendtec created funny videos of its blenders crushing familiar products like iPhones and generated over 100 million views.
The web has changed the rules of marketing. Offline you must interrupt prospects to get their attention.
But on the web, prospects are looking for your product or service, so you are what you publish. Provide them the detailed information they are seeking and they will find you.
As a small business you may feel like you are a David vs. Goliath when it comes to marketing. You compete against bigger, better funded companies. Your marketing strategy is essentially to hope your friendly customer service will keep you viable.
If that is the case, the web offers you an opportunity to compete as never before. The reason is that until the web became the main way to research a product or service, traditional paid media ruled, and small businesses could always be outspent by bigger ones.
But with the web, you can get noticed on even a small marketing budget, because you can reach your prospects and customers directly without paying an intermediary media filter, e.g. TV, radio, newspapers, yellow pages or even direct mail.
Let’s look at some examples.
Twitter: Setting up a Twitter account is free, and while “Follow us on Twitter” signs are everywhere, few companies really Tweet regularly. When they do, it is to shout a promotion. But what consumers want is knowledge. If you provide timely advice on your website or blog, a Tweet can call attention to that information and drive prospects to your site.
Press Release: Press releases were once designed only for the press. But on the web, press releases are findable by consumers looking for products and services on Google. Write press releases announcing your new products and services. Use the targeted keywords used by your consumers in their searches (brand names, models, features) and provide links to your site.
Coupons: Without spending marketing money upfront, you can offer prospects a coupon via group buying sites like Groupon or one of its competitors . These companies do the marketing for you in return for a cut of the discount. Price your offer so you can handle a lot of orders and still break even (you will make money when customers buy more or return).
If you doubt these tactics work, consider Barack Obama. Regardless of your politics, look at how Obama used the web to win the election of ’08. When he started out, he was less known and less well funded than Hillary Clinton and John McCain. While those candidates relied on traditional media, Obama used the web. 13 million people signed up for his e-mail list, 5 million “friended” him on Facebook, 2 million joined his online organizing site MyBO, and 1 million subscribed to his campaign text messages. He used the web to beat better funded Goliaths. You can too.