Your marketing plan is one of the most critical components of your business plan. It is the strategy that will help you focus and keep you on the path to success. This resource guide outlines the key components of a sound marketing plan. Use this guide to develop a new or critique an existing plan to ensure you are on the right path to success.

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7 Ways to Get Better Engagement with Email Marketing

Email Marketing - Open rate

If you are sending regular email marketing campaigns and your click-through rate falls below industry average, you are not engaging your customers.  In fact, you may be annoying them and damaging your brand.  The good news is that there are steps you can take to improve your email marketing.  These seven proven strategies will help you improve customer engagement with your emails.

#1.    Send fewer, better segmented emails

There are two key components to this tip: (1) evaluating the number of emails you send to each contact and (2) determining which contacts get sent which emails.  Your contacts will let you know if you are sending email too frequently.  They will either ignore your email or unsubscribe altogether.

Both of these actions are painful and expensive.  Most email marketing services (like MailChimp and Constant Contact) share industry average click-throughs or alert you if your unsubscribe rate is way above average.  Use these metrics as benchmarks along with the past performance of your own email campaigns to decide if you should send fewer emails.

To determine which contacts get which emails, you will need to segment your contact list.  Choose segments that are related to the content you are sending.  If you are sending an email about a specific product, create a segment of leads that previously expressed interest in that product (for instance, by viewing it on your website).  You can segment by demographic characteristics, by purchasing behavior (such prospect, customer or advocate) and other attributes of your contacts.

#2.    Send targeted, relevant messages

Once you have defined segments that work for your business, avoid sending mass emails to your entire contact list.  You will improve open rates and click-throughs if leads and customers feel like you are speaking to them directly.  It’s not only important to address contacts by name, but also to develop a habit of sending relevant information so that your email isn’t “filed” in the trash bin or spam folder.
When an email click-through rate (CTR) performs below average, look for opportunities to refine segmentation and send more targeted messaging to a specific audience.

#3.    Create inviting subject lines

Subject lines drive email open rates and open rates are a key metric in the email marketing funnel.  However, a subject line serves another equally important purpose.  A subject line tells the reader what is to come.  It is an anticipation builder.  If an email contact opens an email expecting to find content relevant to the subject line and the content does not meet expectations, it is likely that the reader will abandon the email without a click.  Using an inviting and relevant subject line helps to optimize CTRs.

#4.    Ask for the click

Facebook has added an optional call-to-action (CTA) button to the profile for business and community page owners.  The CTA button encourages visitors to engage by doing a specific action.  Similarly, it is useful and effective for email marketers to use a CTA to ask for the click.  Emails with CTAs are more likely to get a click than those without.  Use “Register now”, “Download”, “Sign Up”, “Play now” or other CTAs to increase engagement with your emails.

#5.    Create a sense of urgency

Contacts are far more likely to open an email sooner if there is a reason to not delay.  While it’s important to not overuse this tactic, emails with a deadline experience higher response rates as they are less likely to be relegated to the “I’ll respond later” pile.  (How many of those emails do you really get back to?)
You create this sense of urgency in the subject line.  Retailers are especially savvy with this approach.  They use “Last Day” or “Ends tomorrow” frequently in promotional sales emails.  When contacts have a short window in which to respond, they are more likely to open and engage sooner.

#6.    Use compelling images

Emails that are too dense (or too long) simply will not be read.  Consider the scan-ability of email and break up text with compelling images.  Be careful not to use images that are too large, as they can slow load times.  Use relevant alt text with your images so that when an image does not load, the reader gets a sense of the subject matter.

#7.    Multiple links for a SINGLE call-to-action

Your CTA is the action you want a reader to take.  Use links for buttons, texts and images to drive readers to a single CTA.  Keep your marketing emails brief and focused.  Multiple messages or calls-to-action can be overwhelming for a reader and lead to indecision and ultimately no engagement.  Whenever possible, limit your email to one focused point.

3 Ways to Create a Stronger Brand through People Management

People as Corporate Brand

How do the following recent headlines regarding workforce policies and practices impact corporate brand?

Clearly changes in the workforce have the potential to be brand-enhancing or brand-marring. It’s important that businesses contemplate how people management policies will be perceived in the public domain. Consider these three ways to create a stronger brand through people management.

Brand Tip #1 – Include a marketing liaison on human resources policy teams

The Marketing Department is commonly where the best understanding of marketplace trends lie. Marketers keep up with the latest trends, including changes in the demographics and psychographics of the population. Having a marketing liaison on human resources policy teams guarantees that this knowledge is front and center as an organization considers policy changes. A marketing liaison can provide input to the team to also ensure that any changes that are made align with the corporate image and brand. He or she can assist in developing strategic verbiage that would be well-received if human resource policies are shared externally. And, a marketing liaison can offer guidance on policies regarding external communications for customer-facing employees. Having a marketing liaison at the human resource table can help produce stronger brand-consistent policies.

Brand Tip #2 – Develop a clear social media policy for employees

As social media becomes more integrated into everyday conversations, employees—who often identify the company they work for in their social profiles—have an opportunity to represent (or misrepresent) the company. Therefore, businesses should have clearly defined and communicated guidelines for social media. A social media policy provides guidance that aligns, as much as possible, with company-managed social media pages and accounts. A common and sensible policy includes requesting that employees, who identify with a company but who are not managing company social media accounts, note that their posts are their own personal opinion. Clear guidance can help employees steer clear of brand-marring blunders.

Brand Tip #3 – Hire well

Attitude can be as important as aptitude when hiring employees. Certainly you want to hire for the competency needed to get the job done. But, as you identify qualified candidates, your next layer of analysis should be screening for character. Searching for candidates with a positive, hardworking and ethical temperament can minimize unwarranted strain on a company’s image and brand. Similarly, it is important to screen for cultural fit. Let’s define culture fit not as the homogeneity of the workforce but rather the ability to adapt behavior to effectively navigate and thrive in a particular environment. It is a delicate but important distinction between sameness and adaptability.

As we move deeper into a service economy, the workforce of a company has a greater impact on the company’s overall image. Make sure your workforce policies support creating a stronger brand.

Is Big Data Really Such a Big Deal?

Creativity with big data

I have worked with data for most of my career.  After college, I started out as a pricing analyst in the insurance sector.  I spent hours poring over data–you could call it big data–to figure out the optimal price for a risk.  I would look at historic cost data by a number of segments and try to predict what future costs would be.

In the last couple of years, many companies have been built on the idea of using “big data” and predictive analytics to make better decisions.  None of this is new to me.  However, my perspective on data has evolved.  I have come to the realization that businesses have to evolve beyond pure data.  Here’s what we need to know:

  1. Good judgment still matters.
  2. “Big data” will not identify all trends.
  3. Creativity will survive and thrive.

Good judgment still matters.

I am a Twitter user.  I like the platform but I don’t love it.  It’s noisy and it has some maturing to do.  Too many relationships—and I use that word loosely—on  thare shallow.  People follow to be followed.  My “Who to follow” list is littered with the most popular people to follow rather than the most relevant people to follow.  And, here’s the thing, Twitter has a TON of data.  Someone has actually written the algorithm that fuels my “Who to follow” list.  It’s just all wrong.

It is as if the process that is used to process the big data did not take into account any goals for the organization.  Quite frankly, I’m not convinced that anyone with big followings on Twitter has done any more than game the system.  Follow a few people.  Get them to follow you back.  Unfollow a few people.  Then repeat.  (Maybe pay for a few ghost followers too.)  Twitter is in the middle of a management shuffle.  I suspect they are in search of leadership that empowers, motivates and rewards others to use good judgment.  It matters…even when you have big data.

“Big data” will not identify all trends.

Media companies are in a frenzy today over cord-cutting.  Subscribers have been falling quarter over quarter for years for many cable and satellite providers.  For too many years, the providers’ answer was to raise prices; after all, they needed to replace the lost revenue.  Of course, that just led to more subscribers bailing.  While the media companies had millions of subscribers and terabyte after terabyte of data, they have been slow to get in on the megatrend of consumers watching video content online.  These same companies have been touting their data scientists’ ability to predict blockbusters. Unfortunately, developing more content for online consumption did not showed up in the tea leaves early enough.

Similarly, trends like advances in the sharing economy (think Uber and Airbnb) hit the transportation and hospitality industries a bit late.  And, why did Apple rather than a banking institution, with their troves of financial transactional data, innovate on the mobile payment systems first?  Perhaps data isn’t really king.

Creativity will survive and thrive.

I have a deep appreciation for data and analysis but it is quite clear that we have to evolve beyond our data.  Don’t get me wrong, I love math and science and we have made amazing advances in incorporating both to make better, stronger businesses.  But, ultimately, we will stick as much of those advances into a system or process that can generate automated outcomes.  What will survive and thrive is creativity.  I’m not just talking innovation.  Innovation builds upon some that exists.  I would say it’s even an outcome of predictive analysis.  But those who are creative, those who have an original idea that can be implemented to add value will be those who thrive.

Big data needs big thinking.  Take your data gathering, analysis and interpretation to the next level with creativity and good judgment.  You might just find yourself ahead of the trend.

Referral Marketing: Letting Customers Lead the Way

Referral Marketing - Employee Engagement

Referral marketing is all about getting leads through existing relationships.  People like to share good finds and good experiences so developing a referral marketing effort should be an essential part of a nearly every marketing plan.  Your plan should focus on the customer and their experience and aim for customer-centric leadership in the channel.  Let’s look at why customer referrals work.

Birds of a feather really do flock together

Your best leads—the ones most likely to convert to a sale—come from employees and customers.  Why?  It turns out that your parents were right when they told you that birds of a feather flock together.  Networks tend to be full of like-minded peers.  Business owners network with other business owners.  Lawyers tend to belong to the same professional organizations.  Stay-at-home moms share finds with other stay-at-home moms.  The goal of referral marketing is to get targeted leads from your existing customer base and relationships.  Find your way into the circle-of-peers conversations by encouraging customers to share their product experience with others.

You already have their attention

While the Marketing department creates leads, it is Sales organization’s job to convert them.  Right?  Absolutely not.  Sales and Marketing must work collaboratively to develop qualified leads.  When a sales rep closes a deal with a customer, she should ask “Do you know anyone else who could benefit from ….”  There is little downside to asking for the referral.  Another good time to ask for referrals is during a service experience.  Of course, good judgment is required here.  If a customer service manager is handling an escalated call, it may not be a good time to ask for referrals.  You should assess your customer touch points and identify the best opportunities to engage.

That employee touch point is already a sunk cost

If you think that the time it takes for a sales or service rep to ask for a referral is too expensive, I encourage you to think more deeply about your costs.  Most sales reps are salaried with commission.  Consider the incremental cost of asking for the referral versus spending your marketing budget on another marketing channel (radio, direct mail, even social media).  You will likely find that the cost of using additional media far exceeds the cost of using the human resources you already have engaged.

Of course, you don’t have to limit your referral marketing to customers and employees.  You can give vendors, contractors and others an incentive to refer leads as well.  But before you dive into an incentive-based referral program, start with a no-incentive program.  Start with the low hanging fruit.  Start with your customers.  You might be surprised by what happy, satisfied customers will do for you.

Moving Beyond Loyalty to Customer Advocacy

Beyond Loyalty to Advocacy

The average U.S. household participates in nearly 22 loyalty programs every year.  However, that does not mean that householders are, in fact, loyal to these brands.  Repeat purchases rather than just loyalty program sign-ups ought to be the core metric for loyalty.  How many widgets a person buys determines how loyal they are to the widget maker.  But, in our digitally-charged economy, companies should aspire to lead customers beyond loyalty to advocacy.

“They generate word of mouth advertising.  They like your social pages.  They share information on your brand on their own social pages.  They refer other business your way.  And, they generate more revenue…”

Customer Advocates Improve Your Top and Bottom Line

A customer advocate not only makes more purchases but also tells others about their positive experience with your brand.  They generate word of mouth advertising.  They like your social pages.  They share information on your brand on their own social pages.  They refer other business your way.  And, they generate more revenue—from their direct purchases and influenced purchases.  All of this activity reduces your acquisition costs, which improves the bottom line.

There are some categories that lend themselves to higher levels of customer advocacy.  For instance, new car owners are more likely than toothpaste buyers to be passionate about their purchases.  However, when new features are introduced—even in toothpaste, a campaign aimed at increasing customer advocacy can really help a business improve the efficiency of the marketing spend.

Customer Advocacy Should be Nurtured

We have all seen the social posts that say “The first person to tweet ‘#LoveXYZProduct’ gets a $25 gift card.”  These ads are promotions but they do not increase customer advocacy.  They are a temporary, one-time lift in awareness that is not likely to be sustainable.

Advocacy Through Social Media

Customer advocacy in social media should be initiated by the customer BUT making it easy for the customer to share information can increase advocacy efforts.  Include social buttons on your online product pages.  Be sure your social handles are included on product packaging that reaches the customer.  In mobile advertising, use hashtags or shareable links in your creative.  Take advantage of very opportunity to help the customer share your message.

Advocacy Through the Product Experience

Many customer advocates will share their experience in interacting with the product.  Marketers need to contemplate this in the delivery, use and ownership of the product.  To encourage customer advocacy:

  • Seamlessly integrate your product into the customer’s day-to-day
  • Make the product easy to buy and use
  • Deliver unexpected (and infrequent) surprises

Loyal customers generate revenue through their own purchases.  Customer advocates generate revenue through their own purchases and by influencing the purchases of others.  Business leaders would be well-served to identify and nurture customer advocates among their buying population.

Can Rebranding Lead to Sales Growth?

New Brand

In today’s world of the internet of everything and big data, every executive and every business owner is more concerned than ever about the ROI of every activity.  Marketing leaders have espoused the benefits of a strong brand for years.  Recently, more marketers have been asked to justify their activities, including brand-building efforts.  Business leaders want to know:  What return can I get from a branding or rebranding campaign?

First, let’s examine what rebranding is not.  There are components of rebranding that will, as standalone activities, likely have little or no effect on sales.

  • Rebranding is not simply a logo change.  And, a logo change in itself is not likely to increase sales.
  • Rebranding is not just a name change.  In fact, a name change may have a negative impact on sales, depending on the strength of your existing brand.
  • Rebranding is not just creating a new tagline.  Creating a new tagline is not likely to have an immediate impact on sales either.

When, then, does rebranding drive sales?

When more relevant messaging is delivered to the target audience.  Delivering the right messaging to the right audience is the core success factor of any rebranding campaign.  Your goal should be to increase awareness with your target market.  Of course, this requires knowing who your potential buyers are.  It also requires crafting a message that will make your product or service preferred over the competition.

When your media budget increases to support a rebranding campaign.  It is important to note when other changes that are implemented with a rebranding campaign.  Oftentimes, a rebranding campaign is a result of an increased marketing budget which includes other components, like increased media spend.  Be careful not to attribute an increase in sales to one campaign component without contemplating how all components may have impacted results.

When quality SEO is implemented to counter a decline in website traffic.  Google still owns the online search market and many online websites are still recovering from the so called Google Penguin update of 2012.  With this update to their search algorithm, Google closed the loop on SEO practices that artificially increased page rankings by gaming the prior search algorithm.  As a result, many websites have gone through a “rebranding” in an attempt to increase traffic.  The effort, accompanied by quality SEO (and often a brand new website and URL), has been successful for many.

The good news is that with the right components, a rebranding campaign will increase sales.  However, there is no magic formula for such and the process may be iterative.  It is important to have a clear strategy and a sound measurement tools to build an effective rebranding effort.

TV Advertising Is no Longer the Holy Grail

TV advertising

Fragmentation in advertising is good for small businesses as it gives such businesses an opportunity to compete effectively.  Where small businesses were previously left out of advertising on video-rich platforms like television, YouTube has created opportunity.

Nearly 50% of U.S. households now have digital video recorders (DVRs), which have resulted in fewer television commercials being watched, but the proliferation of DVRs is not the only thing causing the shift in ad dollars from television to YouTube.  Here are four other drivers of this shift that small business owners need to know to take advantage of the increasingly fragmented advertising market.

  • YouTube advertising is more targeted than TV advertising.  Because audiences are so broad on television, TV advertisers end up spending ad dollars on prospects that are not their target.  With YouTube, advertisers can specifically target subscribers by age, gender, location and even interest.  And, they only pay when their ad is watched.
  • YouTube advertising is more measurable than TV advertising.  An advertiser just cannot know with certainty if a specific audience was reached on television.  Nielsen’s use of a representative sample of the population (measured through people meters) is far less sophisticated than the viewer analytics available to advertisers on YouTube.
  • Smartphones rule.  YouTube audiences are growing while television audiences are shrinking.  YouTube is among the top ten most frequently used smartphone apps.  How many Cord cutters and Cord nevers have a smartphone?  A majority.  In fact, these individuals are more likely than the general population to use smartphones.  So, YouTube advertisers have an opportunity to reach an audience that is unreachable for TV advertisers.
  • YouTube advertising is more affordable than TV advertising.  Most small business don’t dare to dream of using television advertising to get the word out about their products.  By its very definition, broadcast advertising gets audio or video content out to a mass audience.  Mass audiences cost mass dollars.  Marketers can more effectively spend more modest advertising budgets on YouTube, where costs can be controlled on a daily basis.

While it’s great to have a budget large enough to warrant television advertising, it is not the only place to build brands today.  Advertisers with modest budgets can deliver targeted, measurable ads online and reach an audience that is not even accessible on television.  TV is no longer the Holy Grail of advertising…and that’s good news for small business owners.

Marketing Basics Still Apply on Social Media

Marketing Basics - Social Media

Many seasoned marketers are all too eager to leave the social media marketing to younger professionals. The ever-evolving social media space can feel daunting to traditional marketers accustomed to broadcast and print marketing. But while the technology is different, the basic building blocks of marketing still hold true.

When creating a marketing campaign delivered through any media, you must…

  1. Identify your target market. In traditional marketing, we get to know the target market through quantitative or qualitative market research. With social media marketing, we can get to know the target by “listening” on the social media platform. What are customers saying about the product? About what they want? About how they use the product? Same questions, new media.
  2. Create relevant messaging. In traditional marketing, the development of the message can be a very long, intensive process. With social media marketing, the creative development cycle is usually much faster. Some of the most effective social media campaigns will build on current trending topics or hashtags.
  3. Measure your campaign results. With traditional marketing, effectiveness can be measured by reach and frequency. With social media marketing, engagement is king because the platforms are inherently interactive.

Let’s take a few examples of how these marketing fundamentals apply in a social media context.

Oreo seizes social moment at 2013 Super Bowl

Oreo’s 2013 Super Bowl social media campaign spoke to a large audience at the right time. When the lights went out at the Superdome during the 2013 Super Bowl game, Oreo saw an opportunity and tweeted, “You can still dunk in the dark.”

By contributing to an ongoing trending topic, Oreo received nearly 16,000 retweets. The now-famous blackout tweet demonstrates how relevant messaging can reach a targeted audience and ignite viral engagement.

Yeti Coolers engages Facebook fans

Social media can also improve the playing field for lesser known brands. Igloo and Coleman are strong brand names in the cooler market, but the (once) lesser known Yeti now has cooler sales revenue that rivals its competitors. Yeti makes rugged coolers for those who have a passion for outdoor activities. The company’s social media strategy speaks to this audience in their language. On its Facebook page, Yeti regularly shares imagery of its product featured in the fun and adventure of the great outdoors.

The company’s more than 207,000 Facebook fans routinely engage with these posts. In fact, it’s quite common for the company to get 500 likes per Facebook post. That works out to an engagement rate of 0.24%. Compare that to Disney, one of the most recognized brands in the world, which gets about 35,000 likes per Facebook post. Disney has 48.4 million Facebook fans, an engagement rate of 0.07%. Yeti may have a smaller presence, but it is more effectively engaging its audience.

You’ve heard this marketing refrain before: Deliver the right message for the right audience at the right time. It is as relevant today as it has always been.

Social media hasn’t reinvented marketing: If anything, it underscores that the basics of marketing are as valuable as ever.

6 Tips to Launching a Successful Cause Marketing Program

cause marketing

Cause marketing is a term used to describe a company’s efforts to partner with a solution to a societal problem.  Nowadays there are a number of “social enterprises” that exist to sell something AND bring awareness to or solve a social problem.  But, even if your business is not a social enterprise, you may benefit from creating a cause marketing program that customers an rally behind.  Consider these tips before launch your program.

  1. Align program with your corporate marketing strategy.  You can drive awareness of and preference for your brand through cause marketing.  An effective program must aligned with your overall marketing strategy.  If consumers cannot make the connection between your support and the charitable cause, it’s less likely that your program will have a positive effect on your brand.
  2. Develop criteria for potential nonprofit partners.  It’s best to develop a list of criteria for your nonprofit charitable partner.  There are a number of charity evaluators (like Charity Navigator) that offer criteria for consideration.  You should also consider criteria that are specific to your needs.  For instance, if you are trying to grow in a specific region, you may want to identify a nonprofit who serves in that region.
  3. Interview other donors of your potential partner.  It’s always a good idea to talk to references.  Charitable partners who have good relationships with other donors will want you to talk with those donors.  Once you find a partner, ask for reporting that helps you evaluate your program. Other donors or partners have likely asked for something similar.  Find out if they delivered as expected.
  4. Define success.  As with any marketing program, you should have specific goals that delineate what a successful campaign will look like.  Are you looking to increase the number of clients served by the nonprofit organization?  Are you expecting to improve your own brand image?  Defining goals will help you measure progress after the program is implemented.
  5. Identify an executive champion.  Your internal champion should be from your leadership team and well-versed in your cause marketing strategy.  This leader should ensure that the program is integrated with your other marketing efforts.  They can also serve as your spokesperson regarding the cause and your commitment to it.
  6. Measure results.  And, refine as needed.