Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hot Local Retailers

Which of your local competitors are Hot Retailers?

You'll want to check out the National Retail Federation's latest study, the results of which appear in their August magazine.

Though the retail industry grew 6.4 percent as a whole last year, a handful of fiery companies served as the pace car for others to follow. Convenience stores and department stores head the list, but you'll see plenty of your other competitors also including Sbarro, Gymboree, Restoration Hardware and Jos. A. Banks.

There is plenty to learn from these leaders. Check it out.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Woman of the Year

OPEN from American Express and Entrepreneur magazine will honor one outstanding woman entrepreneur as the 4th Annual Woman of the Year.

If you are the woman business owner who best exemplifies the qualities needed to be truly successful in business today--competitiveness, compassion and clarity of vision--you could be the winner. To qualify, a woman business owner must:

  • be a founder of the business
  • own at least 51% of her business
  • be actively involved in day-to-day operations
  • have been in business for at least one full year
  • have 2006 sales of at least $1 million, and
  • have less than 100 employees

Deadline is September 15, 2007.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Help for Local Businesses? Or is it HELP!

Last week I had a painter in my house. When I asked if he used Web advertising, he replied, "Who has time to figure it all out? Everybody wants my money." He's right. Too keep up with all the latest and greatest, a business needs a person who will devote a lot of time.

Over the next few days I saw several press releases about companies trying to help local businesses figure it out.

First, UK-based Vertical Leap, "pioneer of managed search engine marketing, has launched Local Leap, a new search optimisation service specifically for businesses whose market is local, rather than global. ...Local Leap comprises the same robust processes as Vertical Leap’s main Managed Search Engine Marketing service, but focuses on campaigning and maintaining search engine rankings for those businesses who know that 80% of all buying decisions are made within a 20 mile radius."

I didn't see promotion for Local Leap on the US home page, http://www.vertical-leap.net/, but an email query was promptly returned by President Jessica Faltot, who assured me they do offer Local Leap in the US. She referred me to the Web site.

The second PR came from Your Marketing Corner, announcing, "Your Marketing Corner, a new walk-in retail chain that provides Internet advertising and progressive marketing support services to local businesses, is announcing an expanded list of markets for its new retail stores."

Mostly hype, considering they haven't opened any stores so there is not yet anything to expand.

But I liked the idea and went to their Web site. I read the copy twice to convince myself these folks are for real. "Your Marketing Corner is a revolutionary new kind of retail store, staffed not by "employees" but by passionate "marketers" waiting for the next Restaurant Owner, Contractor, Attorney, Realtor, Car Dealer or Landscaper to walk in our store and say "I'm trying to reach new customers. Can you help?"

First of all, I'm not sure what a "marketer" in quotes means. Is there a wink-wink-nudge-nudge somewhere? And second, if these folks are sitting around waiting for auto dealers and Realtors to walk in and hand them money, they've been smoking something very funky in that corner of theirs.

My vote is that Local Leap offers "Real Marketing." Your Marketing Corner is "Get Real" marketing.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Local Media Changes - How do Local Marketers Keep Up?

Lots going on in local media.

For local marketers, this means that our communications vehicles are changing, changing, changing. We have to find ways to get the PR message out, to work with and be involved with, the changing media. (If it were up the the media folks, we'd just happily pay the bills via banner ads and keyword buying, as they go about their struggles to find an audience.)

The Chicago Tribune launched a site redesign. Faster, more video, increased interaction with Trib staffers, better search, and a new marketing campaign, "ChicagoTribune.com revolves around you."

The NY Times ups its single-copy pricing. Sunday moves from $5 single copy to $6 and daily moves from $1 to $1.25, Some subscriber prices are up as well. With the subscriber pricing, the Times promotes All Access, meaning you can get Times Select, extra email alerts and extra crosswords, Times Reader, Times Digest, and the electronic edition.

The Washington Post started their hyperlocal edition in Loundoun County, Virginia, LoudounExtra.com.

Seattle-based Fisher Communications, with 19 television stations and eight radio stations, purchased Dallas-based Pegasus News, a hyperlocal web site, with the intent to take the model to other markets. Earlier this year Pegasus introduced The Daily You, that creates personalized news based on user behavior.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Las Vegas You

Talk about a great local marketing campaign - not since New York's "Big Apple" campaign has any initiative had as much follow through as the "What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas" outreach.

And if you think you've seen it all, check out the Be Anyone in Las Vegas site, which helps you create an entirely new persona to use when you're in town. Fun, glitzy, and as quintessentially Vegas as a rhinestone headdress.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Yelp, Your Small Business, and Local Marketing

The first time I heard of Yelp was a year or so ago on my way out of a local restaurant. Knowing I had enjoyed the meal and service, the waiter handed me a card that said, "If you enjoyed your meal, please post your comments on Yelp." I went online, I posted, and I've used Yelp many times since.

Today I read a blog post, "Can Yelp Help Your Small Business".

Jennifer Laycock writes, "Chance are high that you've never heard of Yelp, so you probably have no idea what it says about you. This is a mistake. Yelp is growing and it's growing fast, drawing more than 1.8 million users turn to it for information each month. In fact, I've found myself looking at top five search listings for Yelp on Google time and time again in the past couple of months. That's why I'll ask you again, what does Yelp say about you?"

Check out her entire post to see why you should know what Yelp is saying about your business. It's one of those local marketing tactics that you should know about and care about.

More Bad Customer Service - This Time It's Best Buy

Reading Susan Gunelius great marketing blog tipped me off to a situation, which she titled Bad Customer Service Negates the Best Marketing Plans. It's a tale of pathetic customer service, originally from a blog post by Antonio Cangiano titled, The Ugly Truth about Best Buy Refunds.

In short, Cangiano bought a defective computer from Best Buy and got the run-around when he tried to make the situation right. Like my own experience at Home Depot, Corporate Campaigns - Sunk by Morons, Cangiano's story prompted me to think about the pathetic state of customer service in retail today.

Are we simply bad consumers, unwilling to hold retailers accountable? Is it bad corporate policies, bad training at the store level? Perhaps a little of all three.

I was shocked when, after my experience at Home Depot, I heard from two store employees that three other customers had come in earlier and - like me - been told the store would not honor the rain checks. But I was the only one who had stood my ground, and the only one whose rain check had been honored.

Cangiano is right to beat the drum loudly in his complaint. And while I respect that sometimes consumers do try to get something for nothing, Best Buy handled this badly and that should be a cause for us to remember the old slogan, "Buyers Beware."

Monday, July 23, 2007

Transforming Traditional Media

My pal Beverly Crandon has a post, Transforming Traditional Media, about the foolishness of newspapers that just post a .PDF for their online content. It's hard to believe that in this day-and-age any publication would just port over their information but I see it all the time, especially in business journals.

Any medium that believes it is sufficient to just repurpose print information is definitely in the "Get Real!" category of marketing. Bev's example of Gannett's Information Centre is one that all publications should take to heart.

Another great case study is what the Washington Post is doing with their Hyperlocal strategy. PaidContent has a good piece about this.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Small Business Needs Online Marketing

Christine Churchill of KeyRelevance.com writes a nifty article for small businesses in Search Engine Land. "Small businesses not only have to know their core industry inside out, but now they have the additional burden of being proficient in online marketing," she warns in When Ignorance Isn't Bliss: What You Don't Know About Your Web Site Can Hurt You.

Here are some of her tips that small businesses need to watch for, and if you link through to the full article, she also gives deeper explanations and tips for the fix:

1. Your domain name is about to expire, and you don't know it
Every domain name has at least three contacts associated with it: administrative, technical and registrant. When the domain name is about to expire, renewal notices are sent multiple times.

2. Your robots.txt file has banished search engines from your site
This is one of those invisible problems that can kill your site with regard to rankings. To make matters worse, it can go on for months without anyone knowing there is a problem. How do you tell what's in your robots.txt file? The easiest way to view your robots.txt is to go to a browser and type your domain name followed by a slash then "robots.txt."

3. Your site is scaring your customers with expired SSL certificate notices
If you're a small business conducting ecommerce, you're probably familiar with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Certificates. These certificates enable encryption of sensitive information during online transactions. When the certificate is up to date the technology protects your web site and lets customers know they can trust you. Sadly, many times the person who originally set up the certificate moves on. Because their email no longer works, the renewal notices fall to the side. So you plod along unaware of the lurking danger.

4. Your content management system (CMS) is limiting your search engine success
Search engine optimizers have a love-hate relationship with CMS. The CMS can make adding content to a site easy for the non-programmer, but often times the system is hostile toward search engines. A CMS that doesn't allow unique titles, META tags, breadcrumbs, unique alt attributes, and other on-page optimization techniques can limit a site's success. For more details, I highly recommend you read an article by my colleague, Stephan Spencer, on search-friendly content management systems.

5. When you changed domain names, your redirects were set up improperly

6. Your site is sharing an IP address with a spamming site
Many small businesses choose to use a virtual or shared hosting service rather than purchasing their own server. This arrangement is usually less expensive than dedicated hosting and meets the needs of the small business. In many cases a virtual hosting arrangement is fine, but keep in mind that the search engines pay attention to who your neighbors are on that shared server.

7. You've got the overloaded server blues
Does your site take forever to load? If your page file size is reasonable and you have a fast browser connection, the problem may not be with your site, but with the server at the hosting company.

8. Your site is broken on Firefox
During the "browser wars" of the late 1990s, it was important to check your site under multiple browsers (including browsers for Macs and Unix) because many times a site would "break" or render oddly under different browsers. As Internet Explorer (IE) achieved dominance, many IE-centric web designers thought of browser compatibility as an issue of the past because IE was very forgiving. IE would properly display even sloppily coded sites. With the enthusiastic spread of the Firefox browser, the compatibility issue has reared its head again.

Help for Local Cultural and Theatre Groups

E-mail marketing is revolutionizing the marketing of theatre and cultural organizations. PatronMail is a key e-mail provider for more than 700 arts and cultural organizations.

DM News runs an interview with Bil Schroeder, director of marketing at Buffalo, NY’s Studio Arena Theatre that reveals how an email program can help smart marketers bring home the money...and there are good tips here for any local business.

For instance, Schroeder says they "developed an e-club which offers discounted tickets and “insider information” to the patrons on our e-mail list. If a performance isn’t selling well we create a special discount and promote it only to e-club members."

So simple. And truly, "real marketing."

Car Dealer Promotion Goes Awry


A Roswell, NM car dealer promotion went way astray when a direct-mail marketing company mistakenly sent out 50,000 scratch-off tickets to residents all of them declaring the ticket-holder the $1,000 grand prize winner.

Just one of the tickets was supposed to be the grand prize winner.

Jeff Kohn, Roswell Honda general manager said a typographical error by Atlanta-based Force Events Direct Marketing, which printed the tickets had given all 50,000 scratch-off tickets grand prizes.

Check out the full story, and then ask yourself, "If this happened to me, how would I deal with it to make my customers still feel really good -- short of giving away the $50,000?"

Monday, July 16, 2007

Another Contest for Small Businesses

The Business Breakthrough Contest from Visa offers an interesting opportunity for your business: the prize is an evaluation of your business by an expert in your field AND a package of solutions worth up to $10,000 customized for your business based on the expert's evaluation.

To enter you write, in 500 words or less, how your business could be more efficient in one of the five Business Breakthrough categories. There will be one winner in each category. Deadline is September 30.

And don't forget the UPS contest I mentioned previously, and the Ikea contest (deadline for Ikea's contest is July 26, so hurry).

Toyota Joins the "Get Real" Marketing Group

You know by now how much I despair over idiot marketing. Blogger Susan Gunelius has an example of marketing that is nothing short of, "Get Real!" See her post about an experience at her Toyota dealer titled #1 Brand Killer: Arrogance.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

5 Cheap and Easy Ways to Market Your Local Business

1) Work your customer list. Eighteen months ago I plunked down a five-figure payment to an air conditioning/heating company to bring my 1940's-era house up to date. I was pleased with them and when I had problems after the installation they were on my doorstep in a day. It's a family owned business, and I know from talking to the owner that they are always looking for referrals.

But I have never once received a follow up. We've gone through two air conditioning seasons and one winter check up season and I have never gotten a note from the owner saying, "Our customers are our best advertising. If your neighbors and friends are looking for air conditioning or heating service or upgrades, here is a 10% coupon for them and my personal cell phone. I promise you they will receive great personal and professional service."

2)Partner with other local businesses. A spa nearby my home did that recently - they sent me a note and said, "We're offering you a 15% discount plus our next door neighbors, XXX coffee shop, have given us coupons for a free coffee and pastry."

I thought that was a dynamite idea, and I stopped by to interview the folks at the spa to ask about the response they received. But when I got there, and saw the coupon from the coffee shop, it was a dud! For one thing, the coupon was a buy one-get one, which isn't quite the same. And the coupon had expired a month before the spa sent the mailing. The receptionist at the spa just shrugged when I pointed this out. Think I'd ever trust them to give me a spa treatment? My impression is they are sloppy and careless.

Still, the concept was good, and worth trying.

3) Find referral sources. There are plenty of places that could send business to you, but you need to make your business known to them and keep in touch. There is a hotel in downtown San Jose that has a beauty salon but (since I'm a regular customer at the salon) I happen to know that they frequently cannot meet the needs of hotel guests. Yet when I stopped in at a nearby salon and asked if they stayed in touch with the concierge at the hotel, the owner said, "No. They have their own salon. They aren't going to send me customers."

4) Develop a mailing list and work it. I stopped by an estate sale a couple of years back, and signed up for the mailing list. Since then, every month, faithfully, I've received a mailing advising me of that month's sales, including pictures of items for sales. I've been back several times, and on occasion, have told friends about items coming up for sale.

5) Donate services to local charity auctions and fund raising activities. Some businesses act like it is money out of their pocket, and they will only donate goods or services "when a special customer asks." But it's more than just placating a good customer when you donate something to help area non-profits. It's a way to get your name out to a wider audience, to get new people into your store, and, really, it's the right thing to do if you want to be part of the local community.

Local Marketing for Social Organizations

Eiler Communications of Ann Arbor, MI has a handy blog entry about how local organizations can get wider press coverage. Great tips for anyone who works for or with a non-profit.

Here's the example they give:

But let’s say I want to go bigger. Let’s say I have a story that I think will appeal to a larger audience (like the fact that we are trying to start a social enterprise with homeless families). Where does one begin to look when trying to get more exposure? How does one reach out to large publications? Any thoughts you have would be much appreciated!

And here's the first part of the answer. If this is at all your "thing," it is definitely worth a read of the entire article:

Obviously, national or multi-national organizations have an easier time obtaining national media coverage than smaller, local organizations. But smaller organizations can and do obtain national coverage. The trick is to tell your story in a way that shows national media you’re worth writing about.

First, it’s important to realize what journalists are looking for. The criteria for newsworthiness are timeliness, proximity, impact or relevance, prominence (is someone well-known or famous involved?), conflict and novelty. The more criteria met by your story, the better your chances of being written about. That being said, there are a few tricks of the PR trade that can help you fit within the editorial scope of your target national publications.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

I Need it Now

My friend, co-worker, and sometimes boss, Richard Rosen is considered an expert in phone applications for local search marketing and he has an article, I Need it Now, in the recent Adotas newsletter.

Richard says, "But here’s the brutal truth: most of today’s local search directories currently in the field aren’t in a position to help anyone’s faucet get fixed. Even with the requisite trappings of Web 2.0 — user rankings and comments and integrated search results – they are only the first step in the evolution of a truly useful local search product. And because those local search directories aren’t yet genuinely useful, they’ve stymied the Web’s penetration of small business."

Richard is currently working on a new method for local search directories, an application that benefits consumers and local businesses in a way local search doesn't at the present time, so we'll be hearing more from him soon.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Future of Small Business

Intuit offers a fascinating look at the next decade of American business in the Intuit Future of Small Business Report, a three phase study authored by the Institute for the Future.

Phase one, released in January, focused on the dramatic changes in the face of small business, as seasoned baby boomers, kids fresh out of high school, mid-career women, "mompreneurs" and new immigrants come together to create the most diverse pool of entrepreneurs ever.

The disruptions that have beset workers -- economic, social and technological change — and an increased interest in flexible work schedules — will produce a more independent workforce seeking a better work-life balance.

Phase two of the report was released June 26, and finds that tomorrow's successful small business owners will be far more reliant on technology than their current counterparts. They'll be more connected in a mobile world, market to customers in ways only imagined today and blur the lines between the virtual and physical worlds as the hype surrounding today's technology becomes tomorrow's reality. The findings include three emerging technology trends that will revolutionize the very nature of running a small business:

  • On My Time, On My Terms – In a connected world, small business management will increasingly be "on my time" and "on my terms" for owners.
  • Global, Local, Virtual – The evolution of the Web will fuel small business formation, operations and innovation.
  • From "Push" to "Pull" – The small business marketing approach will shift from "push" to "pull."

The very nature of local business, retail and service included, is dramatically shifting. Anyone in the field of marketing to, or for, a local business should read this report.

15 Sites for Promoting Your Business

You've already considered Yahoo Local and Google AdWords, but have you thought about MerchantCircle.com, AskCity, TrueLocal, and YellowPages.com?

Writer Kristin Edelhauser has compiled a list (many of the ideas are free) to help promote your business including AskCity, MerchantCircle.com, and Froogle Local (now renamed "Google Product Search") in the Entrepreneur.com article that every local business should check out for some real marketing ideas: 15 Sites for Promoting Your Local Business

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Contests for Local Businesses

Looking for local online marketing ideas for your small business? Check out the winners of Yahoo's Ultimate Connection Contest, three local businesses that won a $25,000 Yahoo ad budget plus other perks.

And if you missed out on the Yahoo contest but still want to turn your really good marketing into cash, the UPS Out-of-the-Box Small Business Contest is open until September 1 with a chance to win prizes from $5,000 to $25,000.

Blockbuster - Mixed Messaging

On one hand, Blockbuster runs an extensive TV schedule promoting their advantage over NetFlix: don't wait for the mail, exchange your rentals at a Blockbuster retail location.

On the other hand, they announced on June 28 that they are closing 282 retail locations to concentrate on their online business. This is after shuttering 290 stores last year.

With 5000 stores nationwide, it's not that 600 or so Blockbuster outlets will be sorely missed. But some consumers prefer that a promise made in an ad is a corporate-wide initiative. If you promise convenience, show me how you are working to make it more convenient, not less convenient.

I vote this as "Get Real" marketing.

Sort of like a newspaper that promises more local coverage then lays off reporters, replacing local reporting with wire copy.

Or a cereal company that promises lower prices but replaces the existing packaging with a same-sized box that has less conent.

Sorry Blockbuster. The hassle of driving all over town looking for the movies we want is why NetFlix was so popular in the first place.