Oct 31, 2010

Up, Up and Away with an Innovative Push & Social Media Campaign

I think the lines between traditional Push, and Pull marketing are blurring, and especially as social media becomes more relevant to spreading the word about your service brand. My friend Roger Smith was kind enough to tell me about an interesting one involving the Northern California company Airship Ventures (owners and operators of one of only two blimps in the world), its marketing partner Farmers Insurance, and the online gaming site FarmVille. It’s a great example of how one company is leveraging traditional marketing investment in new ways to reach prospects it never would have through traditional means.

Farmers Insurance Group of companies, the nation's third-largest insurer of both private Personal Lines passenger automobile and homeowners insurance, also provides a wide range of other insurance and financial services products. Farmers operates primarily in 41 states through the efforts of approximately 20,000 exclusive and independent agents. responsible for serving more than 15 million customers. Bottom line – it is a big company, with plenty of resources for traditional marketing campaigns. Yet it has made a significant investment in using Social Media in a new and unique way.

Farmers is leveraging its investment in traditional push marketing via an unusual implementation of a floating bill board and a very new marketing vehicle, the Facebook Business page, to reach hundreds of thousands of new customers with content on its company, its offerings, and its brand promise. Here’s how it works:

Farmers invested a sum of money to advertise for a limited time on the sides of the Eureka, one of the world’s two functioning airships. In making this investment, the company is following the same marketing imperative to promote its brand for 80 years.

“This is the ultimate billboard for Farmers, showcasing our brand for miles,” commented Kevin Kelso, Chief Marketing Officer of Farmers Insurance Group Inc. “Whether it’s flying over sporting events or community-based fundraisers, the Farmers Airship is a larger-than-life reminder of Farmers’ commitment to the communities we serve.”

The Eureka, operated out of Moffet Field by Airship Ventures, has been seen frequently in the last 6 months in the skies above San Franicscos Bay, Los Angeles, and San Diego. It publishes a regular flight schedule, sells seats on its website, and even has charter opportunities available.

So Farmers creates a business page on Facebook and introduces a sweepstakes encouraging visitors to promote Farmers to their friends and enter a drawing for a ride on the blimp. Filling out a sweepstakes entry on the site and clicking on the LIKE button not only provides a lead for a local Farmers agent but also allows Facebook to put Farmers content on your personal Facebook page (they call it your Wall), which triggers a news feed to visitors’ FRIENDS lists. That’s right: if you complete the entry and click LIKE, all of your Facebook friends are notified that you "like" Farmers insurance and have entered the airship sweepstakes.

When I submitted my entry last week, I learned that over 37,000 entries had already been submitted. Seems like a lot, right? But consider that if each person submitting an entry has 10 friends, the contest has already helped the company reach 370,000 people with its product message. But wait, there’s more !

How do you get people to go to the Farmers Facebook page in the first place? Well, you can offer an incentive, you can publicize the incentive using traditional PR techniques, or you can tie in the campaign with ANOTHER online property with LOTS of traffic.

For example, there’s, Farmville from the online social gaming company Zynga. The Farmville game, played online with networks of online friends, is free to users, has a VAST following. Ever played it? If you are looking for reasons to give it a try, check out this posting. Apparently, it simulates lots of the competing forces that affect a typical farm, including bad weather. HOWEVER, if you click on the blimp, and “LIKE” Farmers Insurance, you receive protection from bad weather for a period of time (or could until Oct 27th, when this feature expired). A great many people felt this was reason enough to provide their contact information to Farmers and share the company’s information with their friends.

The point is that Farmers has made a significant investment in introducing its company and brand to a large and growing demographic (Facebook users, the “farmers” of Farmville) in what seems a powerful validation of the power of social media marketing.

To use social media to promote your brand, you don’t have to rent advertising space on the blimp—though that would certainly be cool! There are less costly vehicles: Do you have a blog? Have you created a Facebook page for your business? Consider adding these “online properties” to your marketing mix because they will enhance your ability to attract new customers.

Oct 5, 2010

Get Out of Your Own Way

The other day, I saw The Social Network. Much has been written about the movie and its underlying events. But, as usual, the movie got me thinking about my own less rarefied circumstances.

In the movie, the character played by Jesse Eisenberg pursues a vision of a website for holders of "Harvard.edu" email addresses. Repeatedly, he seems surprised by the ideas others have for expanding on his idea. In my opinion, his vision of success was fairly humble. But It was enough to goad him into action and keep him working.

In the small business space, I see many people with great ideas who could move forward with reasonable success and safety but hesitate because they cannot see the end of the road. They let themselves be stymied because they have no clear idea of what should be their tenth steps—even though they have taken only a first step. I wish I could say to them, “Sometimes you don’t know what turns your business idea will take, so don’t worry about it—just keep moving forward.” People passionate about an idea should pursue it. And they should expect surprises around the bend. That’s what happened to Brian Backus.

Brian is the founder of a hot new start-up called Kidlandia. That’s right – as in "Kid’s Land". As a hobby and a labor of love, he started creating personalized maps of “fantasy lands” named after kids of friends and friends of friends. He had no idea how to scale the idea, and it seemed like a dead end, as a business. But now, with the help of some of his technology-savvy customers, www.kidlandia.com is on the Internet, he has automated the map production, and he is well on his way to founding a successful company. (I just created a map for my grandkids and I had as much fun creating it online, as they will have when they receive it).

One of my friends confessed to me the other day, “I censor myself sometimes. I keep myself from running with an idea, most of the time from fear that it won’t be successful.” Well, we all do that from time to time. But sometimes we learn lots from ideas that don’t work out….wisdom we bring to the next idea.

My thought for the day: don’t over analyze your idea. Unless you are gifted with precognition, you can’t know what will happen. Give your idea a chance to grow. Give yourself a chance to grow into your idea. Get out of your own way. Don’t let your drive to create the “best of the best” business keep you from exploring ideas that remain vague. You just might discover a treasure map.

Sep 20, 2010

People Take Pleasure in Rituals

Today I fled the house while my wife, Luda, was getting ready to go to the City. I figured a quick trip to Starbucks for some coffee would be just the ticket—and it was. I must have been unusually observant this morning because for the first time I noticed stenciled on the door to the coffee shop this “saying”:

Take Pleasure in Rituals

All morning, I’ve been thinking about this gentle command.

It’s not just because it’s smart marketing (make Starbucks your ritual daily stop and they sell not one espresso, but 300 this year!), but because it defines a lot of what I am seeing in today’s small business market. There is inertia out there that I have been tempted to blame on the economy but which is more likely a manifestation of one of our core behaviors: we take pleasure in doing things we can do on “automatic.” Such rituals offer comfort. And we change them only with great difficultly.

Luda and I talked about these matters in the car. When a person buys office supplies, for example, it‘s easier to call Joe at the office supply store and have him deliver XYZ than it is to get on the Internet and start price shopping for a supplier. Of course, as Luda pointed out, at least for professional services – legal, medical, dental, etc.—trust in the provider a person knows is probably more important than simply performing a ritual. As usual, Luda’s point is valid—BUT it seems to me that complementing that trust factor in returning us to vendors we know is our expectation of transacting our business smoothly, with no hassles, no surprises, no new formats, codes, procedures, etc. to master.

But what about visits to a health club? Let’s say that you’re a member of Fitness USA, and a new club opens up. The cost is about the same, but the facility is beautiful and has lots of shiny new equipment. Why doesn’t it get all the business? Perhaps because of the power and the appeal of ritual. Customers are used to the other place, and without feeling any strong dissatisfaction, they don’t have sufficient reason to forgo the familiar for what’s new.

It also helps to explain the mental dislocation associated with job loss. People who become separated from their daily occupations also lose connection with the places, people, and activities loosely associated with their particular physical location or work environment. It’s hard not to be getting that regular paycheck—but it’s also hard to be forced to give up the “rituals” that went along with it.

Luda shared another perspective. As an immigrant from Russia (she moved to the USA over 30 years ago), she and other immigrants had to deal every day with the loss of rituals – activities performed and items employed almost automatically. Nothing was done the same here as it had been done in Russia. “My head hurt, trying to think through every single life action,” she recalled.

How can this tendency help service businesses?

Is there a way you can position or deliver your service that would help your customer participate in a new “ritual” that is closely associated with your business? Like Starbucks’ encouraging customers entering its stores make frequent and regular visits, can you create a ritual opportunity for your customer? Maybe a regular newsletter, a weekly check-in call, a complementary newspaper subscription, or delivery of a monthly business book of your selection (with a note). Perhaps there’s a way to combine a customer-pleasing ritual with the routine delivery of your service. Instead of working against human nature, trying leveraging this tendency. You will keep your customers longer, they will be happier and, maybe, be more willing to tell others what a great job you are doing for them.

Are you already using rituals that strengthen your relationships with customers? I would be interested in learning how you use our natural preference for ritual in your service business efforts. Please share interesting stories with me. I will write in a future blog post about the most interesting examples I receive.

Sep 13, 2010

Integration is the Key to Small Business Development Success

When I talk to groups of small business owners, the frequent question is usually about how to get more customers.

“The approaches that have worked for years aren’t working in this market!” they complain.

Yup, the marketing techniques have changed to keep pace with the evolving customer attitudes. Consider this interesting observation, recently published by Juniper Research, a major market research company:

Sixty-six percent (66%) of consumers responding to an offline advertisement visited the web site of the company advertised or a search engine to learn more. Fourteen percent (14%) called a phone number from the advertisement.

This simple observation supports the experience of many and the recommendations of almost every professional marketer I know: to be successful, your strategy must include PUSH marketing (ads, so called “interrupt media”), PULL marketing (like websites, Facebook business pages, review sites, etc) and PERSONAL marketing (networking events, Chamber events, speeches and public presentations).

To be successful in your integrated marketing effort, you would be well advised to become familiar with some of the best practices in each of these areas. A complete briefing on that would call for a book (hmm) but let me give you ONE idea to focus on in each of these areas.

When designing your PUSH marketing materials, I strongly recommend mixing graphics with text. If the graphics are relevant to the text and the audience, marketers who routinely follow this approach can enjoy a response rate 2.5 times greater than that enjoyed by promoters who do not.

When considering what to serve up to your prospects on websites and blogs, the guiding principle should be relevance to your target audience. Forget about fancy visual effects, if it is relevant it will be persuasive. To insure relevance, many times marketers use “micro-sites” or customized landing pages to insure that the searcher gets exactly what he is looking for. Someone searching for a patent law resource might be directed to the patent law landing page of a large site devoted to a range of services provided by a large law firm. Because the searcher does not have to go digging for the information he needs, he is more likely to be favorably impressed by great content.

Ready to start networking and building your personal contacts? Yes, business mixers are great, and even joining dues paying networking groups can work for some people. But the key to building momentum from your personal networking is making a lasting impression. It is hard to do that by trading “elevator speeches”. Instead of approaching this effort with a self-interest focus, try instead to figure out how you can help the people you meet. Can you introduce them to someone you know? Can you invite them to a meeting or steer someone to them that will provide a service they need? Focusing on the needs of the other guy will get you noticed in the long run, and will compliment your other marketing efforts.

Pursuing an integrated approach to marketing your business and growing your network is not a short term strategy but it can be cost effective and successful in the long run.

Jun 24, 2010

Why the time for Branded Email is NOW!

This is a GREAT time for anyone in business to start using Branded Email rather than plain text email messages. Those who don’t will miss out on today’s best deal in “push” marketing.

Every week, I speak with many people about their marketing – what’s working, what’s not, and why. Those that read this blog regularly know that I am passionate about preaching a balanced marketing effort: a combination of Push, Pull, and Personal marketing efforts that, together, generate the results you want. Yet it’s amazing how often I hear, “I have a website, but I get no traffic!” Search engines are great, but you can’t depend on SEO to give you all the visibility your business needs. You need to drive your own traffic.

Here’s where “push” Marketing comes into play. Ads, postcards, email marketing campaigns, and even social media are all great for driving traffic. The most frequent “push marketing collateral” that businesses create is the 20 or so emails that each and every employee sends in the course of a usual business day. Now is time to harness that volume to drive brand awareness and traffic to your website, blog, or Facebook page.

Distinguishing between “Branded Email” and “Email Campaign Management” is important. Branded Email is sent in the normal manner of email generation – one message at a time using your desktop email client, while “Email Campaign Management” is a single message sent to a list of addresses, usually using a special website facility that provides metrics like click through rates, open rates, and opt-out tracking. Both types of email have a place in the overall marketing effort, but Campaign Management is more complicated, requiring that messages are sent from within a specialized website, which is $20 to $50 per month per account and usually limited to a few specialized operators that run this tool for the small businesses. Branded Email, a facility that is common to all the addresses in a given domain, involves some incremental cost but does not generally incur high costs, running about $7.00 per month per address. The benefit from Branded Email comes from the sheer number of emails generated by the business, each containing branding and a marketing link.

Branded email delivers your logo, your image, your marketing message, and even a link to thousands of correspondents every day. And if your addressees choose to forward your message, for a myriad of business reasons, additional people could see and react to your company’s branded message. Best of all, it is very cost effective: a flat annual fee offers you unlimited usage per account.

Not all mail is equal – and that is especially true of branded email. Email began as ASCII character-based messages. Over time, technical innovations allowed transmittal of HTML versions of email. But every email client (the application running on your desktop) decodes HTML email messages a bit differently. As a result, some email clients will display Branded-email in odd ways or may block it completely as suspected SPAM. In such cases, not only is your branded message not seen, your information-laden email, perhaps containing important instructions or data, does not reach its intended recipient.

Fortunately, companies that are in the Branded Email business have figured out ways to keep this from happening. When Outlook comes out with a new service pack, branded email vendors implement changes to their back-end programming to keep customers’ messages from being trapped by spam filters or scrambled by graphics filters.

In considering a Branded Email vendor, here’s what you need to look for:

1. Cost effectiveness – look for an annual cost of about $100 per account without restriction on number of emails sent.

2. Platform independence – look for a solution that will work regardless of the email client being used by the sender or the recipient

3. Spam compliance – seek a vendor that provides some assurance about the ability to get through spam filtering now part of most desktop email clients.

4. Flexibility – make sure you can change template, messages, and content at will.

Start getting that traffic boost today! Start using Branded Email for your routine company email messages.

May 6, 2010

Small Service Business Marketing Synergy Ideas

Although true success in Small Business Marketing Rests on a combination of Push, Pull and Personal Marketing techniques, there is particular power in those initiatives that combine aspects of all three. Here are some suggestions:

---- Build a Facebook Page (used to be called Fan Pages) for your business and add to it each day.

In particular, add info of your upcoming talks, appearances, or networking events that you would like to invite people to (even if you are not speaking). Promote your page and ask people to “opt in” to receive your feed by clicking on the “like” button. This is a powerful integrated investment. You get the power of push, the reach of pull and if you get more face time with prospects, all the advantages of a personal marketing overture. If you're not sure why this is a great idea, check this link out for LOTS of reasons to do it!

------ Arrange a small wine and cheese event at your place of business or a neutral venue. Make a speech or give a tour. Record it. Share it.

I recently saw a presentation that explained how to get on to YouTube in 10 minutes. It is that simple now with new video tools. If you have a place of business, invite some prospects for a tour. If you run a virtual business, choose a nice meeting room and put together a presentation. Invite them. Make a video of your presentation (either during the talk or afterwards with your webcam). Use YouTube and use a variety of techniques to promote your video as a “pull marketing” element http://www.webtvwire.com/15-ways-to-promote-your-video-online.

------- Do you belong to a local chapter of The Rotary Club, Lions, Elks, Women in Technology, or any other service or professional group? Leverage this membership to enrich existing connections.

When is the next meeting? Is the program of general interest? Do they allow guests? Why not announce the program on Facebook, in your newsletter, or use a program like Evite (http://www.evite.com/) to send out an email to your LinkedIn connections or your Outlook contacts? Arrange to meet your guests at the door and introduce them around. They will appreciate the networking, you will solidify your relationship with them, and after the meeting, write up a little piece for your blog or newsletter and POST it.

If you need some additional ideas, give me a call for an appointment. I offer a free 1 hour of consultation without obligation or charge.

Tom Pencek

Service for Profit, LLC