So you think you’ve finished your studies? You may have graduated years ago, but let me tell you, in today’s economy, school is never out.
If you don’t have it already, you need to develop a philosophy of life-long learning. Things are changing much too fast to rely simply on what you learned at uni or TAFE.
For example, whether you’re a small or a large business, you can’t stick your head in the sand and ignore trends like social media. That means not only mastering existing tools, but staying abreast of emerging tools, as well.
It’s pretty clear that most businesses should have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. But when it comes to using some of the newer social media tools for your business, how do you pick a winner? You need to look at factors such as the take-up rate, how it integrates with other tools, and whether it offers something that is not only different, but hopefully useful, as well.
Google+ is one on the cusp (though, supported by and integrated with the raft of Google tools, it’s a pretty safe bet that it will be there for the long haul).
The location-based tool Foursquare, used by more than 15 million people who check in at locations and share their visits with friends, has had a lot of publicity and has attracted venture capital investment. But how important is it to people to become the ‘mayor’ of frequently visited spots? Are people using it mainly to make their friends jealous about where they can afford to go on a holiday?
A tool that I think ticks more of the boxes is Pinterest, an online pinboard service that, in the words of CBS Moneywatch, “attracts people who need to organize the chaos of Internet-age information overload.”
The site lets you create and curate multiple pinboards in any category you can create, as well as following others’ pinboards. It falls somewhere between window shopping and actual collecting. You can log on through Twitter or Facebook, so you can tell your friends and customers about your boards.
At the same time, In contrast to Facebook, Pinterest pinners may end up choosing to follow people they don’t know purely based on the photos they curate, creating seemingly random new networks.
In the competition between digital natives – Gen Y, which has grown up with online technology and digital immigrants – those of us who can remember typewriters and phones with cords attached – for primacy online, it seems that the digital natives have gained the upper hand.
Think Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook, and a billion dollar online empire by the time he reached his mid-20s) vs. Rupert Murdoch (MySpace, phone hacking scandals, declining dead tree media empire). Or Natalie Tran (24-year old Australian vlogger with 156,000 Twitter followers, more than 400 million YouTube views and a cozy career in the making) against say, Tony Abbott (50-something Australian politician with 56,000 Twitter followers but no YouTube channel).
If you read the media reports on what’s hot on the web, there appears to be a strong relationship between a lack of history and Internet success.
But it’s not that simple.
It can be useful to have a long-term view of the online world, which only a seasoned digital immigrant can have. If you can combine that with knowledge of traditional, pre-Internet business principles, you can look past current fads and build a business model that’s sustainable.
For example, the current obsession with whatever is the latest online application exploding in the public consciousness ignores the fragile nature of web success.
With all the current talk of community-building and developing personal relationships, you’d think the concept was invented by Facebook. Digital natives may be too young to remember, but digital immigrants will recall that when MySpace burst on the scene, it was seen as the long-term future of social media. That is, until Facebook came along.
Early digital immigrants can go back even further and remember GeoCities, an online community where people could create personal pages and create a following of fans, which was all the buzz way back in the 20th century.
And consider the power and ubiquity of the Google empire. It may be hard for digital natives to fathom a time pre-Google, but digital immigrants can remember when Yahoo! was seen as the impregnable leader in search (As an aside, it used its cash reserves to buy GeoCities back in 1999), a crown it took from the equally-invulnerable Alta Vista.
From Ray’s NETT blog:I’ve written in this blog previously about the extra demands on your business time created by new technology. One of the biggest pressures is the pressure to publish.
Rebecca Lieb, former chief editor of ClickZ and head of information merchant Econsultancy in the US, said to me in an interview, “Brands are not just businesses; they’re now media companies.” As a result, she said, all businesses now have to think like an editor.
That means you need to stop viewing your marketing with a campaign mindset (with a beginning, middle and end) and adopt a long-term perpetual strategy.
Constantly changing content is a necessary feature of this approach. Your online presence – your website, your social media activities, etc. – is now, to use one of my favourite phrases, “the beast that must be fed”.
I make part of my living out of helping large organisations “feed the beast”, while some companies hire their own in-house team of writers and editors to produce search-friendly content for their various online outlets. But most small businesses don’t have a big budget (or any budget at all, in some cases) available to feed this hungry mouth. What can you do?
You need to work smart and plan how you will feed the beast effectively and efficiently. Thinking like an editor, you will want to develop an annual editorial calendar for creating new content for your site, as well as publishing regular features and “sticky stuff”, quirky things that keep people coming back to your site.
So what types of interesting content can a small business produce without breaking the bank? Here are a few examples..
Our politicians have shown they could learn a thing or two from small business when it comes to marketing their wares.
You can be the best at something, but if people don’t know about it, that fact won’t get you anywhere.
The federal election brought home for me the importance of positioning and promotion when you’re marketing your business. The shambolic campaign and aftermath showed that you can be running the only western economy to emerge unscathed from the global financial crisis, which should be enough to get you elected a saint, but if you can’t sell your accomplishments – and you let your competitors dictate the agenda – you will be severely spanked.
Policy waffling, backstabbing and leaks didn’t help, but history tells us that Australians give a neophyte government a second chance, even if it’s made mistakes. For the government to have so many runs on the board, the election should have been a walkover. To my mind, Labor’s biggest problems were a lack of firm positioning and an inability to sell itself to its customer base – uh, I mean the electorate.
These principles also apply to running a small business. It’s not enough to be the best-in-class for service, delivery, reliability, range or innovation; if your customers and potential customers don’t know it, you won’t survive.
The first step in this process is positioning. You need to work out what you’re best at; what your salient attribute or point of difference is, and why it’s meaningful to your customers. It’s only worth focusing on a defining attribute if:
It’s important and valued by your target market;
It’s distinctive and can’t be easily copied;
It’s superior – you do a better job of it than your competition;
It’s communicable – you can make it obvious to consumers.
That last point leads into the importance of promotion.
You need to be able to use both modern and traditional communication tools to let your customer base know exactly what your points of difference are, and this starts with making it easy for your customers to find you on the internet.
Technology can help you accomplish a wide range of business tasks without needing to engage other people to get them done. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the way you should use it.
In a past life, I worked for the 2000 Sydney Olympics writing speeches for the CEO of the Paralympic Games. Most of the speeches I wrote back then revolved around the same theme: interdependence.
The CEO would often explain to audiences that when you’re a child, you’re dependent upon your parents for all your needs. As you grow up, you learn to take control of your own life and become independent.
Most people believe independence is the end game. However, as the CEO would point out, independence is only a step along the journey of interdependence. Working with other people and developing relationships of mutual co-operation is a higher form of psychological and social development, she would say.
This philosophy was an eye-opener to me at the time. It’s what the idea of community is all about – people working together to enrich their lives and accomplish more than they each could on their own.
Despite this epiphany, when I started my small business several years later, I forgot what she’d taught me. While I engaged contractors to perform some of the work, I focused on doing as much as possible myself – client liaison, project management, invoicing, marketing and sales, even bookkeeping.
When the iPad was released last year, there was a cacophony of ooohs and aaahs as geeks, early adopters and visionaries welcomed Apple’s shiny new thing. But if you listened carefully, you could also hear sighs and mumbles. That was from the people who were saying under their breath, “Oh s@!?# – another new technology to try and master – I give up!”
As a small business operator, it can be frustrating to try and stay on top of all of the technologies that may or may not be relevant to your business. It’s easy to question the justification for learning new things that may turn out to be a flash in the pan. Why get immersed in Facebook when it might turn out to be the next MySpace? So tablets are buzzing at the moment – didn’t the Palm Pilot have its day in the sun, to end up on a shelf gathering dust next to my Ipaq Pocket PC? Has Twitter peaked? Should I hitch my star to Foursquare, or Facebook Places – or neither? And I just signed up for a long contract with my iPhone 4 – don’t tell me that Android is the next big thing!
No one has a crystal ball that can tell you which technologies and platforms are going to be winners, or how things will evolve in the future.
Classic examples I use with my marketing students include the VHS vs. Beta wars of the 1980s, or the Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD stoush this past decade. Many people – and retailers – who invested in Betamax players and tapes or HD-DVD collections were left with expensive but useless equipment when they lost the marketing battle with their technologically inferior rivals.
It’s an understandable human reaction to say “Enough!” and refuse to adopt a technology until they work out the bugs, or until the winning format becomes clear. When I was a kid, my older brother installed a state-of-the-art 8-track player in his first car. When that technology collapsed soon after, he was so annoyed that he refused to buy a cassette player in case that technology became superceded, too. It did eventually get replaced by CDs, but in the meantime he spent more than 10 years in the music wilderness.
A recent study by psychologists at Rice University has revealed that the content of an online video, not its technical quality, is its most important feature.
The study “The Effect of Content Desirability on Subjective Video Quality Ratings”, appears in the journal Human Factors.
The researchers showed 100 study participants 180 movie clips encoded at nine different levels, from 550 kilobits per second up to DVD quality. Participants viewed the two-minute clips and then were asked about the video quality of the clips and desirability of the movie content.
They found a strong correlation between the desirability of movie content and subjective ratings of video quality.
Study leader Professor Philip Kortum said, “At first we were really surprised by the data. We were seeing that low-quality movies were being rated higher in quality than some of the high-quality videos. But after we started analyzing the data, we determined what was driving this was the actual desirability of the content. If you’re at home watching and enjoying a movie, we found that you’re probably not going to notice or even concern yourself with how many pixels the video is or if the data is being compressed.”
How embarrassing, an online content consultancy that doesn’t update its own blog. I’ll eschew all the obvious analogies such as the plumber who doesn’t have time to do the plumbing at his own house, and instead just point to some of the things that have kept me away from the blog:
In an interview with Zazoo published this week on the HotHouse blog, Econsultancy vice president Rebecca Lieb observed that the Internet is bringing about a fundamental shift in power within companies from advertising to marketing.
She says that “not only has online search technology made it simple for customers to connect with businesses, the evidence shows that most searchers are going straight to a company’s website for more information about their products. In other words, it’s not advertising driving people to your business online, it’s search.”
Companies, she says, need to shift their thinking from an emphasis on advertising to an emphasis on marketing and content creation. That means there’s “lots more media to play with. And it’s free – but that doesn’t mean you can mess with it.”
In the digital age, she says, you need a long-term perpetual strategy. To be able to successfully develop and execute a perpetual strategy, according to Rebecca, “You need to think like an editor.”
“Brands are not just businesses,” Rebecca says, they’re now media companies.”
An excerpt from the story:
“…traditional media based their business model on a (mostly) clear separation between advertising and content. What happens when the ‘advertiser’ is also the content provider?
“In the digital context, according to Rebecca Lieb, ‘Being authoritative is more important than being objective – though transparency and disclosure are incredibly important.
“’If, for example, you’re a sporting goods company and you publish information on your site about mountain climbing. That information can be entertaining. The information is not invalid, as long as you know where it’s coming from.’
“Rebecca concludes: ‘The rules aren’t different; it’s the channels that are shifting.’”
Are you ready to act like a publisher with your website and social media program?
Zazoo was asked to put together a workshop article for NETT magazine on how to promote your business online using video. The article has been published in this month’s issue (see a PDF version here).
Here are a couple of excerpts:
“Online video is no longer a nice-to-have addition to your marketing mix: it’s becoming an essential tool for small businesses trying to stand out in a crowded market. Yet, often the biggest challenge for SMEs interested in creating online video is taking that first step. Your dream may be to create something that goes viral, but where do you start? How do you make it interesting enough to get people to watch – and then spread the message? The good news is, creating online video is getting cheaper and easier to do.
“….The biggest challenge for businesses, especially SMEs, is taking the first step. Video can confound people who are only familiar with traditional marketing. Developing an interesting concept is the next challenge. Viewers have been conditioned by years of television watching to expect video to be entertaining as well as informational, so that talking head presentation from your MD is an online video no-no.
“….Each video and each campaign is different, so work out ways you candetermine the success of your video in meeting your goals.How can you tell whether increased sales are due to your video? You do things like link from the video to a particular landing page on your site instead of the home page. Measure hits to this page and add a call-to-action…. As you produce more videos, you can see what type of content gives you the most business impact.”
Keep on the lookout for future articles in NETT and other publications.
Last week I interviewed Rebecca Lieb, US vice-president for the digital marketing research and publishing company Econsultancy, for a HotHouse podcast on the topics of search engine optimisation and content strategy. Her main message: Like it or not, the evolution of search on the Internet now means that every company is a publisher - people are going to come straight to your website for information about your products/services and about your category in general. As a result, you need to “think like an editor” and create fresh, engaging content for your website - constantly.
The podcast has now been published on the HotHouse blog - you can listen to it/download it here. I’ll also provide links to related articles that will be published on the HoHouse blog as soon as they’re published later this month.
Hindsight’s a wonderful thing… a couple of blogs have picked up a copy of an article printed in Newsweek back in 1995 that dismissed the Internet as a fad. I love the title: “The Internet? Bah!” Writer Clifford Stoll dropped a number of clangers in his original article. Here are a couple of examples:
“Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic. Baloney.”
“…no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”
“…Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.”
“…the Internet is one big ocean of unedited data, without any pretense of completeness. Lacking editors, reviewers or critics, the Internet has become a wasteland of unfiltered data. You don’t know what to ignore and what’s worth reading.”
“Computers and networks isolate us from one another. A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee. No interactive multimedia display comes close to the excitement of a live concert. And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing?”
“At the time, I was trying to speak against the tide of futuristic commentary on how The Internet Will Solve Our Problems.
“Gives me pause. Most of my screwups have had limited publicity: Forgetting my lines in my 4th grade play. Misidentifying a Gilbert and Sullivan song while suddenly drafted to fill in as announcer on a classical radio station. Wasting a week hunting for planets interior to Mercury’s orbit using an infrared system with a noise level so high that it couldn’t possibly detect ‘em. Heck – trying to dry my sneakers in a microwave oven (a quarter century later, there’s still a smudge on the kitchen ceiling)
“And, as I’ve laughed at others’ foibles, I think back to some of my own cringeworthy contributions. Now, whenever I think I know what’s happening, I temper my thoughts: Might be wrong, Cliff…”
At least he’s man enough to admit he got it wrong…
There may be a disconnect between the types of online content that customers want and the types that marketers think they want, according to a recently-published survey.
Marketing Sherpa and IDG Connect asked both marketers and buyers what types of offers would be increase the likelihood of clickthrough, and there were some sizable differences between the two groups. Marketers placed more weight on the impact of educational content (92%) and free research reports (86%) than buyers did (65% and 64%, respectively).
Marketing Sherpa reported that “While educational content, such as whitepapers or relevant industry research reports have their place, sending too many of these offers can further diminish their impact in buyers’ eyes. You need to create the right mix of offers, timed to stages of the buying cycle and contact role, to encourage continued interaction with your email messages.”
The survey revealed that buyers are receptive to receiving industry news and articles from vendor sources (84%), but only 73% of marketers felt the same way.
Marketing Sherpa recommended that marketers ”consider developing competitive comparison tools or guides to help prospects manage the buying process. Although more marketers than buyers said these tools increased their likelihood of a click, buyers still ranked comparisons and buying guides third on this list.
“….It’s difficult for a vendor to present a competitive comparison in an unbiased way, but at the very least you can provide a framework for doing competitive comparison.”
The survey asked how much more likely recipients were to click on certain types of offers. Surprisingly, buyers gave the highest rank to promotional content.
According to IDG Connect VP Bob Johnson, “Buyers want to see your promotional content. They need to understand what you do as a vendor, and need details about what your products and services offer.”
However, you can’t try to pass off promotional content as educational content. “That angers and frustrates them,” says Johnson.
Email body copy is another area in which marketers can provide more value for subscribers.
When asked which features would make vendor emails more useful, buyers ranked “highlight key words and points” (using bold fonts and hotlinks) third out of 12 options - more valuable than social media links, and more valuable than graphic imagery.
Phyllis Zimbler Miller writes this week in the Internet Business Examiner about a cost-effective way to drive more traffic to your site - turn your existing text content into video content.
She writes, “Turning your written content into short (2-3 minute) videos can be a very effective way to repurpose your content.
“You can break up the content of a long article or post into two or three short videos of you talking about the subject and then upload these to YouTube with appropriate keyword tags. Next you can embed the videos on your own site and leave the video link on other places around the Web.
“Of course, it’s a good idea to include your site’s URL on the video itself so that anyone seeing the video can instantly connect to you.”
While I think repurposing text content as video can be very effective, I would caution against just producing a talking head video of someone reading out your articles verbatim. You need to be a bit more creative and think of how you can tell the story visually, using pictures and graphics, rather than just someone’s face. That creative touch can mean the difference between traffic arriving at your page and bouncing off, and traffic that stays and moves down the conversion funnel.