Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

High Tech Companies – It’s Time for Twitter!

It is time for high tech to get involved in Social Media. Even with the millions of people on Facebook, twitter, etc., there is a very small number of high tech companies joining the conversation. It’s not easy convincing these companies to get involve though – kind of a catch22 going on. Other companies are not on Twitter for instance, so companies don’t want to waste time talking to no one. Someone has to bite the bullet and start an industry trend, but no one wants to be first – and alone.

After putting much thought into this for the industry that I know best, fiberoptics, I have decided that Twitter is the place to be. OK – let me back up a bit. I guess I should clarify that I think all businesses should have a profile on LinkedIn and be active there, but I’m pushing for a high tech Twitter movement.

Here is my thinking. High Tech does not (in general) see much need for the social aspect of Twitter, but they can be well served by using it to share information. For many of us involved with twitter, one of the most useful aspects is how easy it is to find articles about things that interest us. We follow people and keywords that are relevant to what we want to read about and learn and are rewarded daily with snippets of information and links that prove to be helpful. This, I believe, is the key to social media engagement for tech industries.

The Proposal:
-Every industry has a trade association, a few industry news websites and even some local chapters/sub-chapters of associations. Start there. These organizations need to get active with twitter – posting industry news and info.
-Associations with member mailing lists need to email their members with a call to get engaged and share their knowledge and product information.
-Make a plan. Who will post for your company? What type of things will you tweet about? Don’t just sell – engage. Post info about what you offer, but balance it with industry news and general info that your potential customers may find informative. Make a plan for addressing complaints or nasty posts that may crop up. Monitor your business name and keywords.
-Set up your Twitter account and search out a few people to follow – look for customers, vendors, competitors, trade associations, industry news sites…
-Make sure to put a link to your twitter on your website.
-Send an email to your customers and vendors announcing your twitter address and encouraging them to join the conversation. Tell them what type of information you plan to post.
-Now engage! Use one of the many sites that help manage your social media info if you find that helpful. I use HootSuite, but you can use Tweetdeck, Tweetizen or many other sites.
-Remember, this is still “Social”, so send thank you notes to new followers, follow some of the people who follow you, retweet interesting posts, acknowledge people who retweet you.

That’s it – go for it. Don’t give up or get discouraged. It takes time to build a following. You will not have 100 followers in a week – or even a month. But, if you follow the plan and keep at it, you will suddenly realize that people are following and engaging and you are seeing posts with links to good information… It’s all good!

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10 questions small businesses need to answer

As a consultant, I have walked into many small companies on that first day and wondered what the next few weeks would be like. Every company is different and just about every job has had a different set of requirements and objectives. But, when I push aside the differences, I see some common threads. When it comes to small businesses, especially the 25 people or less kind, I have found that we have to sometimes get back to basics in order to move forward.
So, I thought I would share the top 10 things that I would ask any small business to think about and answer.

1. What do you make/do? OK, no snickering out there – this is serious stuff. It is often very hard for small companies to specifically define and clearly state what they do/sell. You should be able to clearly define your products and/or services in a couple of sentences.
2. Who are your competitors? This is not just a list of all the companies who sell the same thing(s) you sell. It is a list of the companies who sell their similar product to the people that you think would buy your product. There is a difference and it’s important to understand it. For instance, if you sell handmade soaps, your competitors are not Proctor and Gamble, Dove, Irish Spring, etc. Your competitors are more likely to be other handmade soaps, boutique soaps, specialty companies selling organic soaps and so on. Figure out who exactly is selling in your target market – which leads me to #3…
3. Who is your customer? Who are you trying to sell to? Who wants or needs your product? Where are they and what are they like? There are not too many small businesses out there who target an entire population – so figure this out. Once you do, it makes it a lot easier to find potential customers – at least you know what they might look like!
4. Why should anyone buy from you? What is your value proposition? You cannot convince someone to buy from you if you cannot define what value you can provide. What is better about you than the other guy? What needs do your customers have that will be addressed with your product? Are you faster, cheaper, nicer, bigger??? Ok – these are a whole bunch of questions – but I’m counting them as one!
5. Do you have the right people working for you? Small businesses can’t afford to have a bunch of ‘C’ players. You need to have the right people, because when there are just a few of you doing everything, you need to trust that things are being done right. Don’t tolerate incompetence – you can’t afford it.
6. Have you communicated with your employees? I always thought that big companies would be bad at the whole communication thing and that small companies would be great at it. Well, based on my experience, small companies do a terrible job at communicating to employees. I’m not sure why, and I’m sure it is not always the case, but it is common. The lack of more formal systems being in place for employee training, not having big department meetings and the fact that communications are generally informal, are all contributing factors. So, make an extra effort to talk to your staff. People need information in order to connect and they need to understand what is happening with the business.
7. How are you funding your growth? Do you know where your next round is going to come from? Can you/should you borrow? Cash is king and you need to know where the money is and what your cash flow looks like. (yes, for some businesses, this should be question #1)
8. How will you market/sell your products? What is your marketing strategy? Besides your web site, what are you doing to sell? Where are you selling? So many options here – you need a plan. Once you have a plan, you need to measure results and adjust as required. Don’t get stagnant here – it’s vital to re-visit your plan and try new things. Stick to the core message and branding though, otherwise you keep starting over instead of enhancing.
9. What price can you/should you charge for your product? Product Management 101 – the art of pricing. Pricing, for many businesses, is not an exact science. No one wants to leave money on the table, yet if we come out too high, business can be lost quickly. Do your homework on this one. Search competitive products, talk to people in the business, look at your costs and put a stake in the ground. Then, listen to your customers and sales people. Adjust accordingly, but don’t always jump when someone says they need a better price. We all say that. Know your market and your value.
10. How can I be better? This is the question that needs to be asked regularly. Never sit back and think everything is great. Things can always be improved and the market will change over time. Never be satisfied with the status quo. Never.
What would you add to this list?

Branding your small company

Image building, branding, messaging – all so important to your business, but one of the most vague marketing concepts in my book. There are so many ways to say something, so many ways to design a logo and a look for your business. What looks great to you may seem odd or out of date to me – or vice versa. How do you know if what you are doing is right?

You can look at a few things and ask a few key questions to make sure you are at least on the right path. So, first and foremost – do no harm! If you do only one thing – make sure your web site, company look, email campaigns, Social Media and anything else you put out there, do not make you look bad in anyone’s eyes. Check that nothing you do could be considered inappropriate, insulting, or just plain sound stupid. Make sure you have good grammar, no typos and nothing that is just plain wrong.

Once you have done this, decide what your message is going to be and what company image you want to build. Everything you do should then revolve around these ideas. Check yourself often by asking if what you are doing fits into this message. For instance, are you trying to be a market leader, a low price solution, high quality/high price, the innovator – what is your value proposition? Then, what is your image (based, at least in part, on your target market)- modern/young, older and established, very corporate, kind of funky, artsy, on the cutting edge? Define your image with 2 or 3 adjectives and use those when evaluating design choices for your materials.

Now that you have determined your value proposition and your positioning, build your image around them. Start with your company name/logo and any tag line you may use. Do they fit the parameters you have just determined? Do they need to be adjusted? Will adding a tag line help? Is this a good time to design or re-design your logo? Choose colors for your logo that will extend into other areas like your website, printed materials, email marketing pieces, social media pages, etc.

Next, look at your web site. Does your home page tell the visitor what your value proposition is? Does it at least answer the question – “What does this company do?” in the first 5-8 seconds? Would you use your company “adjectives” to describe this site? Is it ‘funky’ or ‘corporate’ or ‘young’ looking? Is it visually appealing and does it look like your company? And, most of all, is it correct! Does everything link properly? Enough people will come and go, don’t give them a reason (like poor design) to leave.

This is just the tip of the image building iceberg, but I hope this gives you something to think about.

Social Media overload

Uncle! I am crying “Uncle”. How much time can one person spend on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Blogs, …?? It seems that almost all of my spare time lately has been spent on my laptop – poking and proding social networking sites, reading blog posts, skimming articles about social media marketing and tweeting. Well, I’m tired of it – are you? I realized that there are so many words out there, but not that many different things being said. Look at tweets about social media or marketing and you will see many links to many articles saying the same stuff as well as many tweets actually just re-tweeting each other.
So, I’m taking a break. I will probably keep putting out a few tweets – but write things from my own head, not just send along someone else’s thoughts (we’ll see if that can work) – at least for a while. I also can’t break my ties with linkedin, as I am in a job search and that is a key resource for me.
Do you think too much is being written about social media marketing? Is it all starting to sound the same? Does most of it just feel like common sense to you too?

I’m tweeting! – Really!

twitterI held out for a while, I really did. I thought Twitter was something that would come and go – a fad. How can anyone make use of this means of communication? And why would they? 140 characters and thousands of people tweeting about sitting on the porch, having a drink or whatever. How could this be useful at all?

Well, I am a convert! I am not tweeting about the minutia of my life – at least not often. I have figured out that it can be a useful and inexpensive business marketing tool (by inexpensive, I mean free). I have been tweeting for a client for a couple of months. Our followers are slowly increasing and our web site has been tracking that people are clicking in from Twitter – so something seems to be going right.

I have to say that I enjoy coming up with tweets each day. Finding a way to be succinct and get a useful message across or convey some meaningful information, is a challenge. I have chosen the tact of using twitter to build the company’s reputation and show it as a good resource, rather than have every tweet be a sales pitch. Not that I don’t pitch a link to a product page every now and then, but only after many tweets with links to useful and pertinent information.

Take a look at what I have been doing at http://www.twitter.com/wnlsafety. This is a small piece of the marketing plan, but is working quite well – with a great ROI, since the cost is near zero. We have a small following that grows each week and have had dozens of clicks into the web site – and orders placed as well. Pretty good for a skeptic!