Business Card Marketing: Evolution of the Smallest, Most Versatile Marketing Tool

unnamedQuick: Which single piece of marketing collateral combines two old adages — “first impressions are the most important” and “a picture is worth a thousand words” — and proves them both true?

It’s the trusty business card, of course! Given the wealth of information this compact little marketing tool holds and delivers in just a few inches of space, it’s no surprise they’ve been popular since the 1400s. Today, business cards are still evolving, with ever-more creative designs and options.A Rich Past: The Social History of the Business Card

The forerunner of the business card stretches back to 15th century China. At that time, royals and aristocrats would send their servants to the homes of other members of the upper classes, bearing “visiting cards,” announcing their intent to pay a visit.

Two centuries later, the practice caught on in France. During Louis XIV’s reign, visiting cards became all the rage in high society circles. Proper gentlemen and ladies handed out “calling cards” as a means of social introduction and as a way to request a meeting. Over time, the practice became more formal, and many rules surrounding the use of calling cards came into play.

The practice made its way to England and across the pond to the U.S. in the mid-19th century, bringing a strict etiquette along. For instance, a married woman had to hand out her husband’s cards along with her own, in order to avoid seeming risque. Also, the way a card was folded conveyed a message. These early cards were usually engraved on glossy paper and, along with the caller’s name, often featured a design such as a family coat of arms, flowers, or hearts.

Reaching Into the Business World

Around the same time, calling cards began making their way into the world of commerce. Known as trade cards, these early business cards were used both as advertisements for businesses and as maps to point the way to stores. Trade cards were usually printed using woodcuts or engraving and used monotones. They featured the name of a merchant, their address, directions to the business, and often a reproduction of the store’s sign.

Unlike social calling cards, the use of trade cards wasn’t limited to the upper classes. After the widespread use of the printing press created a boom in print advertising, trade cards became less of an advertisement and more of a way to introduce oneself and one’s business. Most were printed on white card stock with black ink, a trend that continued until recent decades.

Today, business cards are just as ubiquitous as ever — but much more creative in design.

The Boom of the Creative, Innovative Business Card

As digital and printing technologies continue to improve, so do business card designs. Long gone are the days of monotone cards with little to no personality. Instead, many people choose to create business cards that truly reflect their business and their own unique personality. In doing so, they make their company stand out to potential customers.

Some of the most innovative and clever cards integrate functionality into the card itself; for instance, a jeweler might create a card that folds into a ring sizer, a tire company might print a tread gauge on the bottom of the card, or a tailor might choose a folded card that can be unfolded and cut into a measuring tape.

Some modern business cards are just plain fun, such as restaurant cards that can be folded to look like little menus, or cards with cut-outs in the middle to create finger puppets.

Of course, your business cards don’t have to be over the top to show creativity. Just a little something different can make them stand out in a sea of traditional (boring) cards.

Connect With Your Customers

customer-service

No matter how great your product or service is — and we know it’s great — customers still make buying decisions based on emotions. Sadly, most businesses don’t strive to create that personal connection that influences buying behavior. When it comes to effective sales and marketing approaches, building relationships with customers is key. But how can you bring that all-important personal touch to every transaction and really make your business stand out?

These best practices will help you nurture personal connections with customers and build brand loyalty. 

Ask First, Sell Later

Before you jump right into a standard sales pitch, take the time to ask your customers a few questions. More importantly, really listen to their answers. A bit of gentle probing will help your customer articulate exactly what it is they need. That, in turn, will allow you to clearly explain exactly how your products or services will solve their problems. 

This way, you’re not simply pushing something that they may or may not really need or want. Instead, you’re taking their unique situation into account and providing a personalized, customized solution. At the same time, you’re building rapport by creating a personal interaction that’s so important.

Again, really listening is key. While your customer is speaking, stop what you’re doing, take a breath, and simply listen. Don’t attempt to think ahead and formulate answers before they’re finished talking. Remain in the moment, and place your full attention on them. They’ll notice the difference!

Quid Pro Quo

Keep on building that relationship by offering some personal information about yourself, too. Don’t worry. You don’t have to give out your Social Security number or your home address. In fact, avoid TMI at all costs. Sharing just a bit will humanize you to your customer. Talking about where you where born, a common hobby, a sports team, or even a recent movie you watched or book you read can make a real impact.

Scientific studies support this strategy. A 2009 study in theJournal of Consumer Research found that customers were more likely to buy — and to be happy about their purchase — when a salesperson shared personal info like a birthday or a birthplace. But don’t fake it; the study also found that creating similarities where none really exist simply to make a connection tended to backfire, especially if the customer found out later that the salesperson wasn’t being forthcoming.

Keep in Touch

Regular newsletters are a great way to keep in touch with your customers — with the added benefit of keeping your brand in the forefront of their minds. CIO recommends sending a newsletter at least 10 times per year. Make it simple to scan and read, with short, concise articles and a prominent table of contents so customers can find what they’re looking for with ease. Focus on relevant content that your customers can use, making your newsletter something to look forward to. 

That Personal Touch

Sending a handwritten note or postcard is a great way to ensure that your business stands out. Handwritten communication proves beyond a doubt that you’ve taken the time to sit down and make an effort, which makes your customer feel valued. Try to include personalized content in each note to really make an impact. 

These simple steps will help you build that human connection that’s so key to driving sales and customer loyalty.

Building a Community No One Can Resist

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People enjoy feeling as though they belong. It’s a part of our universal desire to form strong bonds with other people and feel connected to those around us. From student clubs to neighborhood organizations, this desire plays out across our nation in a variety of settings. 

This desire also has a firm place in marketing. One of the best ways to encourage brand loyalty involves encouraging customers to feel as though they’re part of an exclusive group when they use your brand. When people feel connected to your company and to other users, they’re more likely to become repeat customers and even recommend your brand to others. Few companies have enjoyed the success Facebook has in this regard.

The early days of Facebook
Back when Facebook was first developed, it was available only to users at colleges and universities, and they had to have a .edu email address to register. This effort to create a distinctive market resulted in a very strong community among Facebook users. Many users today still reminisce about the early days when their parents and grandparents weren’t registered and it was just a way to communicate with their college friends. In many ways, the desire to belong to this exclusive ‘club’ of Facebook users helped the company grow exponentially.

Revising the Facebook exclusivity
After a few years of immense popularity with the college-age crowd, Facebook began to open registration up to people outside their original targeted demographic. At first, this upset many people who had eagerly waited until their college years to join, only to find that everyone else could now, too. In recent years, there have been some reports of the younger generations leaving as they search for a platform that allows them to converse with their friends without their parents and grandparents seeing their comments. Overall, however, the platform has continued to grow. This is because the developers have taken the time to still encourage feelings of community among users, even though everyone can now join.

How have they managed to maintain this feeling?

    1. Newsfeeds update users to their friends’ activities as soon as they log in. This offers a unique way to stay in contact with friends and family. Users know they would lose all this information if they were to leave.
    2. Games and similar activities encourage users to work together on the platform for entertainment, connecting people by common interests within the platform.
    3. Since Facebook use is so prevalent, the default is to use the platform. People expect to be able to connect and communicate with others through it. Those who don’t have a page risk losing out on a key form of communication.

How businesses can learn from Facebook
Facebook has managed to build a community so strong that it appeals to nearly every demographic. Few companies will have the reach to accomplish this, but they will be able to strengthen their own connections to encourage customer loyalty and retention.

For example, try building portions of your company website that allow and encourage communication between customers. You can occasionally interject advice as needed, but in general try to keep the conversations between end-users, to encourage a connection between your customers. 

Loyalty programs and rewards programs are also helpful. By offering prizes to those who use your products and services regularly, you’ll show your appreciation and encourage customers to return to earn more. Publicly rewarding customers, such as showcasing particular people for their loyalty, can also help enhance brand loyalty. Even promotions such as free t-shirts can help customers feel connected to your company.

Facebook has shown the business world what is possible when a brand manages to build such a strong sense of community that users cannot imagine doing without it. Companies of all sizes can take some of the lessons to heart and begin to build their own communities. If you’re interested in developing materials to help reach your consumer base and encourage them to be a part of your community, reach out to us. We’d be happy to help you!

Top 5 Secrets of Successful Direct Mailers

Savvy marketers know that direct mail offers a cost-effective and potentially profitable marketing method — but in order to work, it must be done right! In fact, some of today’s most innovative and creative advertising is sent through the mail, according to Entrepreneur magazine.hold the fort

An effective direct-mail campaign can accomplish several goals, including: 

  • Generating leads
  • Attracting new customers
  • Engaging with current customers
  • Expanding the reach of your brand
  • Producing profits

Here are the top five secrets of successful direct mailers. 

1. Focus, Focus, and More Focus

The success of any direct-mail campaign depends in large part on your audience, so you need to target the right people. A direct-marketing rule known as the 60-30-10 states that 60% of success depends on the list, 30% depends on the offer you present, and 10% lies in creative elements. This highlights the importance of choosing the right list for your mailing.

If you’re building your own list, start with your past and current customers. After all, they’re a known factor — they’ve purchased your product or service before, and you probably already have all of their info. (If you don’t, now’s the time to start collecting it!)

If you’re purchasing or creating a list, consider your target audience’s characteristics carefully. Who’s your “ideal” customer? Look at demographics such as age, gender, locale, interests, buying patterns, climate, and leisure activities when compiling your mailing list. The more specifically targeted you can get, the better.

2. Keep it Updated

If it’s been a while since you updated your customer data, a direct mailing is a good place to start. People change addresses more than you might think! Simply add a request for address corrections onto the label; the post office will send undeliverable mail back with the recipient’s new address. It costs a bit more, but doing this at least once per year keeps your database updated.

3. Determine Your Goal

What do you want this particular campaign to achieve? Do you want to generate orders, build your brand, or produce leads? Setting a clear, measurable objective will help you drive the creative portion of your campaign. If your goals are too broad, your message is likely to be vague — and less effective — as well. 

4. Grab their Attention

You only have a few seconds to grab their attention — and if you don’t, they won’t even open the envelope. Take a look at your own mail; what are you most likely to open? Are you enticed by offers of “FREE MONEY!” or “AMAZING PRIZES!”? Probably not, and your audience is similarly jaded to cheesy, gimmicky headlines. Instead, pique their interest with a creative headline, interesting use of color, a hand-addressed envelope, or a bit of humor. In other words, go for elements that stereotypical “junk mail” doesn’t have. 

5. Develop a Relevant Offer

Now that you’ve gotten your customer to open the mail, present them with an offer that appeals to them. Here’s where knowing your audience is key. Be brief, but include the information they need to make an on-the-spot decision. Why do they need your product? How will your service benefit them? Testimonials from satisfied customers can be powerful in this capacity.

Above all else, make it easy for them to respond. Provide multiple contact channels, including a website, email address, and phone number, but don’t leave it at that. Always (ALWAYS) include a call to action. Tell them to call, email, or visit your website. Remember, if you don’t tell them what you want them to do, they simply won’t do it.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go (In Business)

dr. siuessCongratulations!

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

You’ll look up and down streets. Look ‘em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.


And when things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening, too.

OH!
THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!

The opening lines of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go!have been read by graduating students, entrepreneurs, and business professionals alike. The words are inspirational, calling upon each of us to contemplate what we’re capable of accomplishing. Even the most monotonous worker will find that the language can stir something deep inside them, propelling them to try to accomplish great things. Beyond just the immediate emotions the words stir within the reader, however, Dr. Seuss’s wisdom about success and inspiration also rings true at a much deeper level.

You’re on your own. And you know what you know. / And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

Business leaders need to have confidence in their own knowledge and direction. When you’re at the helm of a company, you cannot rely on others to tell you what you can accomplish or what direction your should take. It doesn’t do your business any good to copy another company, no matter how successful that company may be. Instead, use the knowledge and experience you have about your industry to plot your own course. Find a specific industry niche that you can uniquely fill and work to build a company with that specialty in mind. 

With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, / you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

Like anything else, there are plenty of ways to cheat in business. There are ways to take advantage of people, to steal, to doctor books. While taking these shortcuts might pay off in the short term, such actions can come back to haunt you in the long run. Major corporations have been brought down by uncovered cheating scandals. On a small scale, burning bridges with possible connections only makes it harder to build a business, not easier. You might find you need to change course, relocate and establish yourself elsewhere, or take some unbeaten paths to success, but that’s ok. Don’t be afraid to set off on your own path, even if it takes you ‘straight out of town.’

And when things start to happen, / don’t worry. Don’t stew. / Just go right along. / You’ll start happening, too.

It can be difficult to see everyone around you start to become successful. This doesn’t mean you’re a failure or that you won’t succeed. If you’re pulling in clients and slowly growing your business, you’re on the path to success, and you will ‘start happening.’ Sometimes, it just takes a little time to see fantastic results. Be realistic about your goals and the progress of your company, but don’t begin to despair over what others are accomplishing.

Dr. Seuss’s words of wisdom can apply to everyone, from students to successful business leaders. Taking the time to listen to the entertaining rhymes can help inspire you and encourage you to accomplish your dreams. If you’re looking for more advice or help with growing your business through marketing, reach out to us. We would be happy to help you get started on the right path.

Keeping in Touch with Your Customers — Without Annoying Them

When you’re trying to build your business, it’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of the hunt — for new customers, that is. However, as studies from the Harvard Business School show, focusing attention on existing customers and increasing retention rates by just 5% will increase your profits by 25% to 95%!

Of course, savvy business owners know there’s a fine line between keeping in touch and being a bit… well… annoying, or even worse, stalky.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes: How many e-mails do you want to receive every day? How many phone calls do you want to take? Sure, persistence is important in cultivating your customer base, but overdoing it can prove counterproductive by annoying the very customers you’re trying to reach. Here’s how to find the right balance.
stop yelling
Make it Personal
Who doesn’t like to receive a personalized card or handwritten note in the mail? There’s a world of difference between sending out an impersonal flyer or form letter and a customized note printed on attractive card stock. Which would you be more likely to open and read?

Send personalized updates on the “regular” occasions — clients’ birthdays, anniversaries, major holidays, and the like — but also consider spicing it up a bit by sending a note or card when they don’t expect it. After all, most businesses send appreciation cards and letters during the winter holidays, so that’s just par for the course. Stand out by also picking a random date to surprise them.

Loyalty Programs
And speaking of dates, choose a day with significance for your customer — like their birthday or the anniversary of their first major purchase from your business — and use that occasion to automatically enroll them in a loyalty program. All you have to do is send an email letting them know you’ve enrolled them into your “VIP” program, or whatever you choose to call it.

Why automatically? Because a key to successful loyalty programs lies in making it as effortless for your customers as possible, without requiring them to take any extra steps or actions.

Artificial Advancement
The other key to successful loyalty programs lies in creating what’s known as “artificial advancement” toward a goal or milestone. A 2006 study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that customers who received punch cards as part of a loyalty program were more likely to become repeat customers if they were given a head start toward reaching a goal. For instance, many coffee shops offer loyalty cards that give a customer a stamp for each coffee drink they buy, then reward them with a free drink once they’ve accrued 10 stamps.

Researchers found that customers were almost three times more likely to use their punch cards — and spend money at a business — if at least two stamps were already present on the card when they first received it. Apparently, customers like to feel that they’re already well on their way to receiving awards!

Make Contacts Worth Their While
Whether it’s in an e-mail, through a printed newsletter, or on a sales call, providing customers with information they can use adds value to your communications and eliminates the annoyance factor. Offering industry news, community updates, or other data that’s relevant and useful to your customers goes a long way toward transforming the way they perceive your marketing efforts. A professionally written and well-designed direct mail piece sent a few times a year that’s packed with info they can use is always welcome.

If you keep your communications relevant, concise, respectful, useful, and personalized, you’ll never have to worry about being too persistent.

Picking Teams for Sports or Business: The Same Strategies Apply

Team Matters.

Team Matters.

Pickup games are the basis of many fond childhood memories — or nightmares, depending on who you ask. Whether the neighborhood children preferred to play games of basketball, baseball, or hockey, standing in line while waiting for the ‘captains’ to select you could be pure torture. Those with a bit of athletic prowess would eagerly wait to see if they were going to be on the same team as their friends. Those with a bit less skill crossed their fingers that they wouldn’t be picked last.

What made picking those teams so stressful
Children understand that the team you choose matters. The team will decide whether you’ll emerge victorious or go home to dinner with your tail between your legs. Growing up, being picked first was an honor. It meant the other kids respected your abilities. Being picked last was something to be avoided.

Team captains would fight to fill out their teams with people who could successfully fill each position on the court or field. Even a casual game, like a snowball fight, needed players who had certain skills. No captain worth their salt would pick just anyone.

While those picked at the end might rather repress these memories, they do have to admit that the captains tended to know what they were doing. Those of us in business can learn something from them.

Why the team matters
Whatever the sport, the teams would work together to devise some kind of strategy under the leadership of their captain. Yet, no matter how talented that captain was or how genius their game strategies were, they couldn’t win on their own. They still needed the talents and help of everyone else on the team. The same goes for business.

Countless startups get so wrapped into their vision and dreams for the future that they neglect building their own team to help them get there. However, just like a childhood sports team, a business won’t succeed if it relies solely on the grand plans or talents of one person. As important as developing the ideas and plan for the company may be, carefully picking the team to get you there is just as (if not more) important.

Picking your team
Captains of sports teams pick players based on where they can play on the field. They work to get a variety of skills on the team. In baseball, it doesn’t do much good to have a team of hitters if no one can field. Similarly, in business, it’s important to pick members with various talents and strengths to create a complete picture.

Begin by outlining who is needed to help the business grow. Find people who share your vision and can help fill in your own gaps, so you can work on building your company’s future. Different people will bring different ideas to the table, which will challenge you to develop and grow as a team.

Success for startups (and even more established companies) often depends heavily on the types of people the company founders surround themselves with. Fresh people bring fresh ideas, and no person can fill every role.

Rather than trying to be everything for your company, focus instead on building a strong team that can work together to take your company to the top. Just like the kids from childhood sports games understood, strategy and big plans will only get you so far. Sometimes who you pick will make the most difference.

When you’re ready to build your marketing team, we can help you make smart decisions about your strategy and how your team will work to reach your customers.

Building the Main Street of the Past Into Your Modern Business

houses

For many of us, the idea of the small town is iconic. For some, it embodies the place where they grew up or currently live. For others, it represents more of an ideal than anything based on personal experience. In any case, quintessential small town life presents a business model we all can learn from.Main StreetEvery small town, it seems, has a Main Street — a place dotted with mom-and-pop shops, each with its own inviting display, encouraging people to stop in and check out their wares. The bakery or candy shop often has samples out front for people to stop by and taste as they walk down the street. The neighborhood grocer knows the patrons by name and has a variety of appealing fruits and vegetables right out front. The local cafe offers places for people to sit outside and engage with others as they pass by.

The ‘Main Street’ of the Internet

For many people, this real life type of Main Street is just a figment of their imagination or a distant memory of days gone by. Their reality is comprised more of national brands and busy shopping malls. What marketers have increasingly found, however, is that customers find it more appealing to shop on websites that contain many of the popular features of these once commonplace Main Streets than websites that don’t. Even though the world has become more interconnected and people are increasingly more accustomed to the hustle of city life, the desire to feel welcomed into a place of business and valued as a customer never goes away. 

What businesses can learn from the mom-and-pop shops of the past

The secrets to success for the shops of Main Street continue to work today. The stores of Main Street made every customer feel welcome to stop and check out their place of business right from the street. These welcoming shops would also offer a variety of samples customers could try in order to see if a particular product would work for them.

As you think about your own company, take a close look at your website, physical place of business, and advertising materials. Are each of these designed to encourage customers to see what you have to offer? Do you offer customers incentives such as discounts, free samples, or rewards for using your business?

One of biggest lessons that modern companies can learn from the past, however, is personalization. Main Street business owners took the time to learn the names of their customers and greet them personally when they entered the shop. You should strive to accomplish a similar effect online and off.

Start by keeping careful records of how customers use your website. Responsive sites that can remember what a customer looked at the last time they visited or what they bought in the past tend to encourage more repeat business than those that don’t.

Train your in-store representatives to remember what customers say when they enter the shop to provide them with an individualized experience.

Such personalization can even extend to your marketing materials. For example, consider using variable data to personalize your direct mail campaigns and targeted mailings to reach niche buyers who may be interested in the products or services you sell.

While the ultimate Main Street might no longer exist for many people, the desire for finding welcoming shops that remember our names has not gone away. Incorporating as many of these values as possible into your marketing efforts can impress customers and help build relationships around trust and loyalty.

We can help you find ways to express these values in your marketing materials, so reach out to us today!

Add Pinterest to Your Marketing Strategies

Add Pinterest to Your Marketing Strategies

As a savvy business owner, you’re probably already using multiple marketing channels — such as printed media, ads, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter — to get the word out about all that your company has to offer. But you may be overlooking one of the most popular and fastest-growing social sites of all: Pinterest. 

If you think of Pinterest as simply a place to “pin” cute pictures of your dog or the handmade decorations from your kid’s latest birthday party, think again. A 2014 consumer trends report from ShareThis shares a few (very) interesting Pinterest trends that should make any business owner who wants to take advantage of all possible marketing channels stand up and take careful notice, such as:

  • Pinterest users grew by 58 percent in 2013, making it the fastest-growing sharing site, even beating out Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Pinterest is the third-largest social sharing platform.
  • Sharing on Pinterest has outpaced sharing through e-mail, an especially notable development given that the platform has only been around since 2008.

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And if that isn’t enough to convince you, consider a 2013 study from Piquora that found that:

  • Pins are 100 times more likely to go “viral” than tweets.
  • The average pin drives $.78 in sales, a number that’s on the rise.
  • Pins continue to drive sales for 3.5 months, much longer than Facebook posts or tweets.

Piqued your interest yet? Here’s how you can incorporate Pinterest into your print and digital marketing strategies and use this up-and-coming platform to drive traffic to your website, enhance your brand’s online image, and boost sales. 

Get Verified
First step: Verify your business. Not only does Pinterest’s simple verification process prove that you are, indeed, who you say you are (i.e., adds to your trustworthiness), but it also allows you to take full advantage of Pinterest’s on-site analytics features. Analytics provide an easy way to track what your customers are looking at and repinning, as well as what’s getting repinned from your website. These metrics help your marketing team determine what’s working and what needs improvement. 

Visual Marketing
Using the right images is key to Pinterest success, so choose your pins carefully. Choose visually striking images that grabs viewers’ attention and inspire them to repin. And think twice before using images that include faces; studies find that users are almost 25% more likely to repin a brand-related image if it doesn’t include a face. Also of note, users tend to prefer images that are:

  • Colorful
  • Predominantly red, brown, or orange, rather than blue
  • Of medium lightness, rather than very dark or mostly black

On a similar note, keep your pins focused on images you know will appeal to your target audience. One way to figure this out? Use analytics!

Targeting the Audience
Speaking of target audiences, another easy way to figure out exactly who’s out there is by doing a bit of sleuthing on those who follow your business. What else are they pinning? What types of content are generating comments and conversation? These trends make it easier to pinpoint your ideal audience.

Another great tool: Following other boards with the same images. Pinterest allows you to “follow” other users that pin the same images on their boards — and prompt them to follow you, too. Remember, the more you pin, the greater the chances of this happening. 

User Friendly
Focus pin content on information that’s useful to your target audience. Whether this is an industry infographic, a well-done video presentation, or even a great marketing book that you just finished, providing your audience with content that offers a solution or helps your customers will keep them coming back for more. 

Finally, provide easy ways for your users to interact with you. Adding questions to your descriptions fields, such as “What could this be?” or “Have you ever used one of these?” opens up a conversation with your potential clients and helps build brand recognition and loyalty.

Social Media: American Idol for Small Businesses?

Saying the truth on social media, is in how you respond to the negative.

Saying the truth on social media, is in how you respond to the negative.

For thirteen years, American Idol has entertained the country by bringing would-be singers to the center stage and giving them a fair shot at becoming the superstars they believe they can be. Countless people have auditioned before a panel of very strict judges. Out of the masses, one singer rises to the top to win each season. It’s from this show that popular stars such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have found their way to fame.For most of these stars, American Idol really changed the game. Without the nationwide audience and opportunity to get in front of the camera, many would have struggled to find their “big break.”

Most businesses can relate to this mentality. In the past, small businesses struggled to get their brands and names known within their community. The idea of finding a nationwide platform remained a pipe dream for the vast majority of companies. But just as American Idol has provided a new avenue for struggling singers, social media has changed the landscape for small businesses, too.

Social Media: A “Star” is Born
Social media offers small businesses the exposure they need to break out and become “stars” in their own right. With the rise of ecommerce, many companies can now do business with people thousands of miles away. Through Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Google+, and the rest of the common social media channels available to them, these businesses are getting their message out and building relationships with potential customers across the globe.

Learning the Ropes
Unfortunately, not every company that sets out on their journey is going to make it to the top. The singers who audition for American Idol cannot just walk up to the judges and tell them, “Hi, I’m a fantastic singer. All my friends say so. You need to give me a ticket to the next round.” Similarly, small businesses cannot just sign up for social media and expect customers to come pouring in to use their services. In both cases, people must sell their talents. The singers must prove to the judges that they have the skills needed to compete on the nationwide scale, and businesses must prove the same to their potential customers.

Rolling With the Punches
One of the factors that made American Idol so popular was the extremely harsh criticism that Simon Cowell famously dished out to nearly every competitor. Many people noted that while his words might even be described as cruel, they were rarely untrue. He said what many people thought but were too kind to say. It was the responsibility of each competitor, especially those who received his critique but remained on the show, to take what he said and learn from it before they sang again.

Many small businesses have quickly discovered that in social media few people feel much inhibition in making their opinions known. And some of those critiques would even make Simon Cowell blush. Learning how to respond to such criticism is an important skill to master. A key part of that response is deciding what feedback to take to heart and then making the changes needed to better serve customers.

Social media has given small businesses across the country the opportunity to reach clients in an unprecedented way. No longer are they confined to their local market, with distant hopes of one day striking it big. Just as American Idol has provided singers with a new way to showcase their talents, social media has done the same for companies looking to grow their customer base. Understanding how to take advantage of this opportunity and learn from it can make all the difference

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