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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.

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!

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

Building a Strong Foundation

building

If you sit down with nearly any preschooler, they can probably tell you the story of the three little pigs. According to the story, there once were three pigs. Each set out to build themselves a home. The first built his home out of straw. He was done very quickly because of the material he chose. The second little pig chose to build his home out of sticks. Building with sticks might have taken the pig a little longer than using straw, but he was still done rather quickly. The third pig, however, built his home out of bricks and mortar. This house took the longest time to build, and the pig was forced to keep working, even when the other pigs were already relaxing and enjoying themselves.

Not long after the three pigs had finished their homes, the big bad wolf came looking for something to eat. He was able to quickly blow over the houses made of sticks and straw, but no matter how hard he tried, he was not able to blow over the house of bricks.

Building a strong foundation

The third little pig didn’t take the easy way out. He saw the other two pigs finishing faster than him and having the time to laugh and play, but when the chips were down, his house was the only one to stand up. The strong foundation made all the difference.

In life, as in business, it’s tempting to take the easy way out; to use the easier material that takes significantly less time. The problem comes when we discover just how quickly a weak foundation can fail us. Those who are looking to grow their businesses must keep this idea in mind.

Growing a business the smart way

There are a variety of ‘tricks’ companies can use to try to grow their businesses quickly. So-called ‘black hat SEO,’ which refers to techniques such as artificial keyword stuffing and using link farms to grow backlinks, may help companies achieve their objective rather quickly. They may rise quickly in the Google search engine ranks and see the number of visitors to their site rise as well. But Google has been cracking down on sites that use artificial SEO. Some companies have found their sites severely penalized, which has deeply hurt their businesses.

In marketing, companies may be tempted to blast every known platform all at once, without taking the time to develop a company message and brand. In these cases, the effects of the campaign typically fall short. A group that tries to go nationwide with a campaign too quickly might find that the effort exhausts their resources, placing the entire company in jeopardy. Starting local and growing as a reputation spreads is the way to achieve success.

Growing a business correctly means taking the time to grow organically. It means working to develop a quality website that is naturally optimized through a quality blog and well-written content. Marketing campaigns and customer reach goals should be built on a firm foundation that leaves room to grow. We can help customers develop marketing plans to appropriately meet new customers.

There’s no easy way to be successful. It requires perseverance and hard work. Like the little pigs discovered, however, there’s also no replacement for doing things right the first time. Instead of looking for shortcuts, invest time in learning about techniques to maximize investments and tools for saving time. We can help. Building a solid business foundation means your company will have something to grow on, rather than a flimsy foundation that can blow over. And that’s irreplaceable

Top Tips for Generating Customer Reviews

Ask us how we can help you with surveys, via email blasts, direct mail and follow-up...

Ask us how we can help you with surveys, via email blasts, direct mail and follow-up…

If you own a business, you probably know how important great online customer reviews can be to your bottom line. In fact, one 2013 study revealed that eight out of every 10 customers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations.

So how do you go about generating online feedback? Here are some simple things to get you started:

  • Get social: If you don’t have a Facebook page and Twitter account, now is the time to get one. If you already do have Facebook and Twitter accounts, make sure you’re checking them regularly for comments. You need to keep a close eye on your social pages and respond to customer comments — good and bad — as they arise. And of course, you need to make it easy for people to find your social sites, so include links on your website and in your emails.
  • Get your game on: Ever heard of gamification? Basically, that term refers to websites that incorporate some sort of game play into their design to make it more fun for customers to engage. You can get as complex as you want, but even a simple thing like adding virtual badges or trophies for customers who leave reviews can increase feedback.
  • Be generous: Everyone likes to score something for free, and offering a free sample or free trial period can be really effective at getting customers to leave reviews.
  • Follow up: A customer just made a purchase. Is that the end of the transaction? Not if you want to generate some (generally positive) reviews. Once a purchase is complete, touch base with the customer to discuss both the item they purchased and the purchase experience in general. When you get positive responses, ask if you can share them as testimonials on your site.

OK, so those are just a few ways to generate reviews and feedback, but what should you do if some of that feedback is negative? First, set aside your anger and indignation, and don’t stress: Every business is going to catch a little flak once in a while. Don’t ignore negative reviews; instead, reply politely to deescalate and help soothe the customer. Try not to get into a debate on your social page; instead, invite the customer to contact you by phone or email, or offer to contact them. Be sure to thank them for their feedback and apologize for any inconvenience they’ve felt. And of course, if the feedback is on target, use it to make needed improvements.

Engaging customers and generating positive reviews takes work, but it’s work that can yield big returns. Take a few minutes today to think about how your business can improve feedback and start building its own base of dedicated fans.  Then give us a call and we can help you get the ball rolling!

Improve the Effectiveness of your Newsletter

Don't believe that newsletters are a lost art..

Don’t believe that newsletters are a lost art..

Newsletters have a proven track record for creating front-of-mind awareness, establishing and maintaining credibility, and publicizing an organization to the community. Here are a few tips to improve the effectiveness of your newsletter:

  • Become a resource by including how-to articles, helpful industry tips and tricks, and links to other articles and podcasts that may be of interest to your audience.
  • Feature a special offer or promotion in each issue to track your newsletter results.
  • Include a customer testimonial section to highlight customers who are finding success using your products or services. This will not only boost your credibility, but also increase customer visibility.
  • Offer subscribers a “sneak peak” at new products. This will make them feel special and encourage them to spread the word about their insider knowledge.
  • Create an “Ask the Expert” section, featuring industry experts to answer customer questions. Include the name and business of the customer who asks the featured question.
  • Keep track of customer/recipient birthdays and send them a free birthday giveaway or discount.
  • Provide highlights from an online customer portal or discussion board where customers can chat about industry trends, new products, and other relevant issues. Include a web link, and encourage newsletter readers to join in the discussions.
  • Commit to a regular schedule. Readers will look forward to and expect your newsletter, so inform them if you take a hiatus from the regular routine.
  • Post current and archived issues on your website with a link to subscribe.

Give us a call today if you’d like to see examples or need more ideas for creating a newsletter that your audience will look forward to receiving. Our creative experts would love to help.

How to Make Networking as Easy as Child’s Play

Networking is an important aspect of the professional world on many levels. If you own a business, you network to find more clients, meet potential connections, and even find other companies you might collaborate with on a project one day. Those searching for a job have continuously heard how critical networking can be for finding the right fit.

cutelittlekids

Unfortunately, many of us find networking stressful. After all, it involves going up to people we’ve never met before, introducing ourselves, making small talk, and selling ourselves and our skills, all at the same time. While it may become more natural with practice, for most people it never becomes an easy process. Except, of course, for the under ten years old crowd.

While at the park the other day, two very young girls made eye contact and instantly became friends. Without so much as an introduction, they both stopped their respective games, took off toward the slide, and took turns racing each other around the playground. The mothers remarked how easy it is to find friends when you don’t even have to worry about making small talk. How do kids do it?

They’re confident.
Most little children don’t know too much about rejection just yet. When they approach a new potential friend, they don’t worry about being told ‘no.’ The child is having fun, they know they’re having fun, and they would enjoy it if the other child joined them. If the other child doesn’t want to, however, it really won’t affect the fun the first child is already having.

Business leaders need to adapt this attitude. Are you good at what you do? Do you have something important to bring to the business world? If so, be confident in those skills. Present them to new connections, and offer those folks the chance to work with you. But remember that a refusal is their loss, and don’t let it discourage you. Approach the next potential connection with the same enthusiasm.

They have something concrete in mind.
When children run up to another child on the playground, they don’t agree to play together and then idly stare at each other. Like the two little girls, they race off toward the slide or begin digging in the mud. When one child asks another to play, they already have some great activities to get started with.

When approaching another business professional, know some concrete ways you could help them directly. If you develop a software program, when the conversation turns toward business, discuss their current software situation as well as the needs of the company and how your product or expertise might be able to help.

They aren’t pushy.
Like adults, all kids have different personalities. Sometimes one child is shy or may not want to play with other kids on that particular day. If one child says they don’t want to play, that typically is the end of the discussion. The inquiring child will retreat or find someone else to play with.

Networking professionals must also find this balance. No one appreciates a connection who’s overly pushy, even after they’re told their products or services aren’t needed right now. Professionals also tend to dislike those who seem more interested in making sales instead of making more genuine connections. You should make sure to always handle rejection smoothly and, when at networking events, focus more on meeting people. The sale can always come later.

Networking is undoubtedly an art. It requires confidence, eloquence, and the ability to form connections with other professionals to grow businesses and help people find the perfect position for their talents. Imagining a networking event to be a playground for adults can help you overcome your fears and approach the others in attendance easier and with confidence.

The 9 Best Business Blogs You Should Be Reading

9_best_blogs_to_Read

Ever feel like you’re missing out on the latest buzz from the business world? We get it: The sheer amount of info out there can seem overwhelming, but whether you’re a business owner, entrepreneur, or manager, it’s essential to keep up.

Now, here’s the good news: We’re here to make it easy for you to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry. We’ve searched the web for the best, brightest, and most innovative business blogs out there. Add these top blogs to your reading list for a simple way to stay in the loop!

1. You’re the Boss (http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com)

This New York Times blog is all about small business, from best practices to breaking trends. Written by entrepreneurs, business owners, and experts from a range of fields, You’re the Boss provides a place for small business owners to connect, share their successes (and mistakes), and compare notes from the battlefield.

2. Seth Godin’s Blog (http://sethgodin.typepad.com)

Seth Godin, a.k.a. marketing guru extraordinaire, provides a wide range of tips, ideas, advice, and general musings on a range of topics. The best thing about Godin’s, blog, however, is simply his quirky, creative writing style, which allows him to be motivational, inspirational, and insightful without ever slipping into cheesy territory.

3. Workshifting (http://www.workshifting.com)

Not only is Workshifting beautifully designed, but its content is hyper-focused on its readers’ needs and interests. Content melds work and lifestyle topics relevant to today’s on-the-move workforce, with an emphasis on the issues that affect work-from-home, flex schedule, and other employees who work outside the office environment.

4. She Takes on the World (http://www.shetakesontheworld.com)

With accolades from sources such as the Stevie Awards, Inc., and ForbesShe Takes on the World offers tips of the trade with a focus on female entrepreneurs. Along with content from founder Natalie McNeill, this blog offers content from a series of guest bloggers, expert advice from industry leaders, and articles about work-life balance. Yes, it’s geared toward women in business, but hey, it’s got a lot of great content for guys, too.

5. Pando Daily (http://pando.com)

For the latest in news from the tech front, turn to Pando Daily. Founded by Sarah Lacy — formerly of TechCrunch — this comprehensive blog serves as a journal of record for Silicon Valley. Its focus on start-ups, the tech industry, social media, marketing, and almost everything else that impacts the business world makes for interesting reading, as do its interviews with and features by industry insiders.

6. Naked Capitalism (http://www.nakedcapitalism.com)

Naked Capitalism offers a no-holds-barred look at the current state of the economy and the financial industry, and how it affects business. Economists, investment bankers, political advisors, and journalists make up the contributor list. Expect to put on your critical thinking cap when you sit down to read this thought-provoking blog.

7. Anita Loomba (http://anitaloomba.com)

For a clear picture of the confluence of digital marketing and social media, turn to Anita Loomba’s blog. Offering helpful tips, best practices, success stories, and the latest in industry news, Loomba covers the ever-changing, always increasing influence of social media and business marketing in her accessible blog.

8. How to Change the World (http://blog.guykawasaki.com)

Author, former Apple marketing guru, venture capitalist, and all-around smarty Guy Kawasaki offers hands-on advice to entrepreneurs in his How to Change the World blog. Expect to be motivated and inspired, but in a practical, realistic way.

9. Peter Shankman (http://shankman.com/blog/)

Finally, for a dose of humor to lighten the workweek, give Peter Shankman’s blog a read. An angel investor and entrepreneur, Shankman has a, shall we say, creative approach to the world of business, and his entertaining writing style reflects it. Plus, he’s got some good advice — so give it a try.

What, Exactly, is Content Marketing?

What, Exactly, is Content Marketing?

You’ve probably heard all the buzz about content marketing, yet may still be wondering what, exactly, it is. Content marketing is simply the new form of marketing that uses informative content, rather than blatant sales pitches, to attract potential customers. Instead of proverbially bashing people over the head with whatever you’re trying to sell, content marketing entices them to come to you to learn more about your product, services, and brand.So, how the heck do you do that?

I dont knowCreate a two-way conversation.

Old-school advertising was pretty much a one-way street with the company doing all the talking. Content marketing turns it into a two-way conversation by actively engaging the audience. Do this by encouraging comments on your blog posts and social media sites, holding contests, or otherwise reaching out to your audience for input.

Keep up your end of the bargain.

Asking for audience participation is good, but it’s not so good if you do nothing with the information you gleaned. Reply to audience comments; respond to their requests and needs. Perhaps a certain aspect of your website keeps getting the same complaint. Hold up your end of the conversation by acknowledging the issue and perhaps even tweaking what ever’s wrong to better fill people’s needs.

Make it easy to find you.

Of course, you won’t have any conversations at all if people can’t find you. In addition to a user-friendly company website, you should set up a blog and accounts on your chosen social media platforms that all easily link back to your website. When you share a blog post or add new information to your website, share the link across your social media channels.

You don’t have to go nuts and join every single social media platform out there. Instead, focus on the ones where your target audience is most likely to tread. Learn more by analyzing the social media habits of your target demographic, then go where those folks go.

Fuel your audience with quality content.

Keeping your audience engaged means keeping up a steady flow of quality content. Again, you don’t have to go nuts trying to post something new and exciting every five minutes, but you do want to add fuel to your content marketing fire with fresh content on a regular basis.

Note the keyword “quality” here. Provide content that’s polished, informative, compelling, and even entertaining. While text may make up a good chunk of your content, also take advantage of the power of pictures and videos. Include them in related posts, or let them fly solo if they say all they need to say on their own.

Since people are none too fond of reading the same stuff again and again, make sure you cover a variety of different topics that are relevant to your audience.

Don’t bombard your audience.

Bombarding your audience can consist of that aforementioned strategy of beating them over the head to “buy, buy, buy” with every post you create. But it can also include posting at such a rapid and fanatical rate that your audience has no time to absorb, respond, or even breathe.

More is not necessarily better, especially if the more is of poor quality. Over-posting can not only mar your reputation as a professional, but it can backfire in a big way. Instead of being attracted to your company, you may instead find your audience fleeing in droves, leaving you with no one left to talk to but yourself.

Mastering the art of attraction is just one aspect of content marketing, but it’s one of the most essential for eventual success.

Blaze Your Own Trail to Business Success

blaze a trail

Something interesting happens between childhood and adulthood. As children, people tend to not want others to copy them. As adults, however, we spend a considerable amount of time trying to copy those around us. We see someone with a new idea, and all we want to do is imitate their accomplishments. Someone successfully develops a new app, and 50 similar ones seem to spring up overnight.While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it’s not always the key to success.

Consider this example: Two sisters, Anna and Mary, sit down together to draw pictures. As with many big sister/little sister pairs, Mary looks up to her big sister. She carefully watches as Anna sets about drawing a picture of their family house with everyone out in the yard. Mary picks up each crayon as Anna lays it down, then goes about copying her sister’s artwork.

After a few minutes, Anna notices what Mary is doing. “Mary, don’t just copy me!” she exclaims. “You have to make your own picture.”

Anna recognizes what many adults fail to see. If Mary simply copies her picture, she won’t be able to demonstrate her own strengths. If the sisters’ drawings are exactly the same, neither will stand out as unique. When they both create their own pictures, however, then each picture stands on its own merits and creative vision.

How to apply this to business

Developing new ideas in business is difficult. It takes a uniquely creative mind to come up with a useful service or product that no one else has thought of before. It can certainly be tempting to just copy another company or business model and hitch a ride on their road to success.

Unfortunately, this strategy rarely works. If you’re offering potential customers exactly the same product or service as an already established company, what reason would they possibly have to switch to you? Your business isn’t unique or special. Instead, it’s a copy of one they already know and trust.

Creating something unique

There’s nothing wrong with using another person‘s success as a source of inspiration, but have confidence that you have something special to bring to the table, too. Find a way to work that into your business model.

For example, say you worked in retail for a considerable amount of time while putting yourself through school. You may decide to specialize in helping retail stores with their marketing plans. Or perhaps you’ve found new ways to cut administrative costs and are able to offer potential clients lower prices for the same high-quality service.

Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur or an established business pro, keep looking for things you can bring to the table that your competitors can’t.

Blaze your own trail. Find your own niche. And build your own success story other entrepreneurs will want to copy.

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