We’re all bombarded with messages about how to succeed online… We should be optimizing our websites for SEO, posting content on social media, purchasing advertising with Google, Facebook and others… the list goes on.
For many people in the SME space online marketing is a bewildering maze of buzzwords and slick promises. Most business people aren’t equipped with the knowledge, much less the time to put an effective online marketing strategy together. And in many cases when they do tackle things head on, they focus on one small aspect instead of building a sustainable strategy that can deliver you business on an ongoing basis.
In this article, we’re going to talk, in plain English, about what you can do to create a simple, effective marketing plan that will help you get more customers.
We’re going to use our websites, social media channels, and email marketing to create an online marketing machine that will get stronger and stronger the more you use it.
The first thing that we need to do, is to understand that not all website visitors are created equal. Web site visitors come to us from a variety of places. Some come from Google or other search engines, some come from links on social media, some come through links and advertisements on other websites, and others happen upon us through word of mouth or offline engagement.
Just as with real-world stores, some customers walk in the door knowing what they want and head straight for that product, others are just browsing, and some walk in the door, look around and walk straight back out again.
In the online world we talk about visitors being “unqualified” and “qualified”.
Most of our visitors are “unqualified”. The unqualified visitor is the one who has stumbled upon us through, for example, a Google search. They don’t have any connection to our business, they’ve never visited us before, and they might be looking for a product, for information about our business, or for something else entirely.
The unqualified visitor is least likely to make a purchase from us. Our challenge is to engage them and try to turn them into a qualified visitor. Unqualified visitors are potential sales prospects and we need to turn them into qualified visitors so that they are transformed into real sales leads.
The qualified visitor is someone who has connected with our business in some way previously. They may be someone who has visited our site previously, someone who has connected with us on social media, someone who is on our mailing list, or someone who has had some real world engagement with our business.
The qualified visitor is most likely to make a purchase from us. They are already predisposed to look upon our business in a positive light. This is because they are already made a connection with us at some level, and presumably they found that experience positive or they wouldn’t be coming back.
Now that we know that there are different types of visitors, we can start to think about how we can engage with them and bring more visitors to our website and how we can turn those people into qualified visitors and ultimately into customers.
Broadly speaking, we have three levels of engagement with our visitors online:
1. Through our website
2. Through our social media
3. Through our email marketing
We can think of these three levels of engagement like a funnel. A funnel is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom and acts to channel things to a defined destination. Just like we might use a funnel for channeling water from a big container into a little one, we’re going to use our website, social media and email marketing tools to create a marketing funnel that will take our unqualified website visitors and channel them into becoming qualified website visitors then into sales leads, then into becoming customers, and finally into becoming repeat customers.
Through our website we will attract visitors. As we’ve said, these are usually unqualified visitors, the real world equivalent of window shoppers. Our website allows us to engage with the public to acquire sales prospects.
Through our social media we will connect to people. Our fans and followers on social media have already connected to us. They are qualified visitors, the equivalent of sales leads. Our activities on social media allows us to cultivate these sales leads.
Through our email marketing we will promote our products and services. Our email subscribers are committed to receiving information from us directly to their inbox. They are connected to us on a deeper level than our social media followers. Through email marketing we are going to active these sales leads.
And here’s the great thing about this process, by doing it once we’ll be creating a marketing machine that grows stronger and stronger every time we use it!
What we want to do is gather as many visitors to our website as we can, and once they are there, encourage them to connect with us by providing them with something that will be useful to them. The best way to create that special something is to offer visitors some useful information.
For a design company our special something could be a free guide, such as “How to build a better website”. A stock broking firm might offer “A beginners guide to trading stocks and shares”. A marketing company could provide visitors with a guide to “Improving your customer retention in three easy steps”. A financial services company could offer a pensions guide such as, “Changing Jobs? Don’t forget your pension”. The possibilities are endless.
So let’s put a strategy in place to develop and deliver useful content and in doing that increase our website traffic, increase the number of people that are connected to us on social media, build our email marketing lists, drive more qualified traffic back into our websites, and increase our sales.
Before we get started, we need to make sure that we have all the tools in place. The good news is that most business have some or all of these tools already, and for those that don’t, acquiring them is, for the most part, cost free!
A website that host blog posts
We’ll need a website that can host blog posts. Most websites have this capability. If your website is built on the WordPress platform, your site already contains a blog function. Similarly if you’re using Square Space, Joomla or a host of other systems, you should be able to easily add blog posts to your site. If you’re not sure, ask your web guys. If they’re not sure, ask us.
A Branded Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter page for your Business
You don’t need to be on every social media channel that’s out there, but you should pick at least one that you think suits you. Once you have your page set up, make sure you brand it with your company logo and colours. Don’t confuse your visitors. It’s important that a user that leaves your website and goes to your Facebook page (or vice-versa) can see an obvious connection between the two. If you need help branding your social media page ask your web guys, and if they can’t help, ask us.
Email Marketing System (such as MailChimp.com)
There are lots of email marketing systems out there, ConstantContact.com, MailChimp.com, Newsweaver.com… etc. We recommend MailChimp.com because we think it’s the easiest, smartest one of them all, but the important thing is that you have a system in place for sending email to large lists of people. These systems will handle the management of your mailing lists, the sending of the emails, and provide you with detailed information on who received your email, who opened them, and who clicked on them. If you need help setting up email marketing for your business, ask your web guys. If they can’t help, ask us.
It’s important that we’re ready to respond appropriately on social media and through any other contact channels that we have online (such as email). While most people are familiar with business email etiquette, this is not always the case with social media. The playbook is a simple set of rules that will cover the following:
Roles, Responsibilities and Expectations
It’s important that we know who within the organization should respond to our social media followers. If there is more than one person, we need to make sure that these people are co-ordinating their efforts and that correspondence is not being missed or responded to more than once. It’s also important that staff are clear that they are expected to respond to any queries within a specific timeframe.
Determining What to Respond to and What Not to Respond to
Most enquiries through social media are genuine questions and require simple and straight-forward responses but it’s essential that staff are made aware that they should not respond to people who are being abusive, or who are being malicious. The golden rule here is when in doubt, take the conversation offline. Social media is a public forum and if you’re unsure about whether or not a person is attempting to be provocative online, just ask them to contact the business by phone or email and you will help them to resolve whatever issue they have.
Knowing the Who, How and When to Respond
Respond to all feedback. Respond politely and respectfully. Respond as soon as possible. In most cases, responses must be handled on an individual basis. But what do you do when you ask a question on Facebook and you get responses from 50 fans? You might not be able to respond to all 50 people and that’s okay. Thank everyone for their contributions. You can also use this as an engagement opportunity by asking a question in the comments that encourages the conversation to continue. The key is to make it clear that your post wasn’t just shared by some automated robot. “Don’t just post your initial status and then leave the post forever.”
Create a simple set of rules for your staff so that they know what to do when they can’t answer a question from a social media follower. You don’t want to leave people’s questions unanswered but you also want to make sure that the questioner gets the appropriate response. So where there’s a question that staff can’t answer, have a process in place that allows them to “kick it upstairs” to a manager. Similarly, if someone is trolling or being abusive to you or others on your social media channels, staff need to know that it is appropriate for them to escalate that to their manager. The manager can then decide how that the abusive individual should be handled.
Make sure that you have everything in place to get the stats that you need from your social media channels. You want to make sure that you’re able to see what level of engagement you have on social media, how that traffic is flowing to and from your website and where the points of engagement are. Your web guys should be able to help with this. If they can’t help, ask us
By having a playbook that addresses these topics, we will have a consistent and documented approach to listening and engaging with your community. It will also enable us to provide reporting, metrics and accountability.
At the outset we said that we were going to create a simple, effective marketing plan that will help you get more customers. This involves building a strategy that combines web, social & email marketing to:
1. Build a marketing funnel that will turn website visitors into customers
2. Create a sustainable marketing strategy that’s going to become more effective, and stronger the more we use it.
Creating our campaign requires that we take three simple steps: Plan the campaign… Execute the campaign… Review the campaign
This may sound like I am over-simplifying what’s involved, but if we have all the tools we need in place, then it’s going to be snap!
It’s an old and hackneyed true-ism, but if you fail to plan, you plan to fail! So our first step is always to put a plan together. If the thoughts of making a plan is giving you cold sweats, don’t worry, we’re not landing men on the moon here, so there’s no need to make things complicated. There are three elements to our plan
1. Set our goals
We need to decide what we want to achieve. Do we want this specific campaign to achieve? It could be any one of a variety of things. The most common goals are such things as: More sales; Brand recognition; Build our lists/contacts/followers. In fact you might have more than one goal, but if this is your first campaign then our advice is to keep it simple and just pick one.
2. Set realistic targets.
Targets help us to gauge how well we’re doing, if we don’t have a target, we can’t know if we have succeeded. So set yourself some targets that you think should be achievable. If you set the bar too high, you’ll always be disappointed with the results and your team might start to loose heart. If you set the bar too low then the worst thing that can happen is that you exceed your targets by a large margin. If you do exceed your targets that’s not a problem, you’ll know that you should raise them a bit higher next time.
3. Decide what your offer is going to be, give people a reason to engage, and make it easy.
So we know what our aims are, we know our goals, we know our targets. All we need to do now is to put our offer together.
There’s often, but not always, two aspects to our offer. The first is the soft sell, the second is the hard sell.
The soft sell, is simply the provision of useful, entertaining, and engaging information to our target audience. This is usually delivered through the blog section of our site.
The hard sell is a product offering, a tangible product that the visitor can buy (usually at a discount) that comes as an accompaniment to your soft sell offering.
Often times what we’re calling the “soft sell” might be all that you’re offering, and that’s OK. But often, the soft sell is a way to engage a visitor’s interest, and, while you have them on your website, you have an opportunity to highlight to them the benefits of your product (i.e. the hard sell)
For example, let’s suppose we are selling insurance. We have a new home insurance product that we want to promote. Our hard sell is our new insurance product.
Our soft sell might be to provide our website visitors with a series of blog posts about home security. In this example, we might have a series of blog posts about ways to keep your home secure, e.g. “Part 1. Light up your home”, “Part 2. Install a security system”, “Part 3. Know your neighbours”… etc.
Top Tip: If you’re offering multipart guides in blog format to your website visitors, bundle the whole series together into a downloadable PDF guide and make that available to your website visitors to download. Make sure that you require vistiors to enter their email address into a form before they obtain the download so that you’re using this as a means of gathering email addresses for your email marketing and thereby building and strengthening your marketing machine.
Our hard sell in this example might be a 20% discount on our brand new home insurance product. We don’t need to ram this down people’s throats, we just need to make sure that if people come to our website to read our free home security guide, they see our new product clearly advertised on that page.
People often ask us about the value of offering discounts online. There is a reason why promotions that you see online (and offline) offer you a discount such as 10, 20 or even 50% off if you place an order. Giving people an incentive to take action is a tried and trusted way of encouraging people to take action. So make sure that part of your campaign includes offering people a reward for clicking through.
Remember, it’s quite OK if the only thing that you’re offering is a soft sell. It may be that the reward you’re offering is free advice, or an entertainment and that’s a valid offer too.
Whatever your offer is, you also need to make it as easy as possible for the user to get the reward. So, for example, if the reward for clicking through to your website is a free downloadable guide, then set this up so that when the user clicks the link, all they need to do to download the guide is enter their email address. Don’t ask them for their life story.
If you’re offering a price discount on a product, we always advise our clients to make sure that they make that offer time limited. Offers that expire soon always gather more clicks than offers that appear to be open ended. So make your offer time limited.
By this stage we are ready to roll! We have our goals set, we have our offer ready to go, all we need to do is take action.
Create the blog posts and schedule them
The first thing we’re going to do is to Create the blog posts and schedule them. Website content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress allow you to write your blog posts and schedule them to be published at a date and time of your choosing. Of course, you can do them one by one, but prepping your posts in advance and setting them to automatically appear on specific dates ahead of time can be a handy time-saving little trick, so it’s worth considering.
Create the accompanying newsletters and schedule them
Login to your MailChimp account and create a newsletter to go with each of your blog posts.
If you want you can also schedule the emails to send to your list(s) on a specific date and time. Again, you can do this one newsletter at a time if you’re more comfortable working that way.
Share each post on social media when they’re published
As soon as you have your blog posts published share them on your social media channels
This can also be automated with WordPress and MailChimp. Your web guys should be able to help with this. If they can’t help, ask us.
In each blog post include a “Call to Action” – This might be a section to encourage people to buy the product your selling. If you are selling a product make sure it’s clear that there’s a discount for purchasing within a certain time.
Make sure that you have “sharing” buttons at the bottom of your blog posts so that visitors can easily share your posts on their own Facebook page, Twitter feed, LinkedIn page etc.
If you’re offering a download, make sure we have an option to download the file from every blog post, and from the homepage also for as long as your campaign is running. And make sure that you have this set up so that users need to input their email address in order to download the file. That way you’re using this feature to help you gather email addresses for your email marketing list and thereby building and strengthening your marketing machine.
So you’ve put in the hard work, you’ve got your campaign out there. It’s drawing visitors to your site, being shared on social media, and being mailed directly to your email subscribers.
Don’t just sit back and relax, this is the fun part! You need to check your stats!
Did you get any new business? If you’re goal was to drive sales, you should be seeing some return for all your efforts. Check to see where your new sales are coming from.
Sales are not our only metric. We’re building a marketing machine, remember? We need to see how each part of the machine is doing.
Let’s start with who’s opening the emails we’re sending. Login to MailChimp and click on the recent campaign to view the statistics. MailChimp will give you great insights into exactly what has happened to your emails after they were sent.
You can see how many people received the emails, and how many didn’t. You’ll always get a small number of people who don’t get the email. They’ll appear as “bounces” in the stats reports. If you get very high numbers of bounces then something is wrong and you’ll need someone to help you get to the bottom of that problem. Your web guys should be able to help with this. If they can’t help, ask us.
Apart from seeing who did (and didn’t) get the emails, you can see how many people opened the email – Low open rates could mean that you’re not making the subject line enticing enough. You’ll also see how many people clicked on the links in your email, and what links they clicked on. If you’re not getting good numbers clicking through to your site from your emails, that’s a sign that you need to go back to the drawing board with either your design or your messaging.
Use your MailChimp stats to help you refine your campaigns. No one gets things 100% right the first time and it could take a while for you to really start getting this right, but practice makes perfect, so don’t lose heart!
Social Media Stats
Your social media channels will also give you a good idea of what messaging is popular on the network. You’ll be able to see who is liking and sharing your content on Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels. Usually, you’ll get a good correlation between what is popular on social media and what is generating sales of products through your site. However, sometimes what is popular on social media won’t lead to lots of direct sales, but it will help you to broaden and deepen your connection with your audience, so don’t neglect that aspect of your campaigns.
Login to Google Analytics and check your website stats. You’ll be able to see how many people are clicking through to your site from email, social media etc. You should see a good correlation between the dates when your campaign emails were sent and increases in traffic.
You can get very accurate figures for what activities are generating traffic and which of those visitors are resulting in sales. If set up correctly, Google Analytics can tell you exactly which channels are producing the sales, when those sales are being made, and what products are being sold. All that information is going to help you target your efforts more effectively. So it could be worth investing some time in getting this set up correctly. Your web guys should be able to help with this. If they can’t help, ask us.
Don’t forget to follow up
The follow up on any campaign is important, arguably it’s the most important aspect of the process. We’ve spent time and energy on putting together a marketing campaign and (hopefully) it’s been a success. But whether it did everything you hoped or not, you need to do the following:
Follow up on enquiries
I know that this is obvious, but I am going to say it anyway, don’t let any enquiries that arise out of your campaign slip by you. You should make sure that anyone who contacts you by phone during or after a campaign is asked how they got your contact details. Make sure that all email enquiries through your site are followed up and that people contacting you are asked if they would like to join your mailing list. Finally, make sure that you follow up on any sales with an email to thank your customers and maybe even offer them a loyalty discount a little way down the road – Now there’s an idea for a new campaign to turn those new customers into repeat customers!
Follow up on your email campaign
Make sure you send your users a follow up email. MailChimp lets you automate this in lots of ways. You can set the system to automatically email people who did open the emails but didn’t click on any links. For example, you could send them a message reminding them of the offer and that the time is running out for them to get that 20% discount.
You can also use MailChimp automation to email list members who did click through to your site but didn’t make a purchase. MailChimp offers tools that even go as far as sending subscribers automatic emails based on what web pages they viewed when they got to your site!
Follow up on social media
You should be responding promptly to your social media enquiries and engaging with your followers as and when the need arises. But you also need to follow up by making note of what has succeeded in gaining traction on this platform and what hasn’t. Use that information to improve your next campaign. You also need to make those new followers feel special. Give them something that shows you appreciate them.
Remember, we’re building a marketing machine here. We’re making our website bigger and more attractive to the search engines and that’s going to help us capture more visitors.
Once we have those visitors we’re going to provide them with such great content that they are going to be inclined to like us on social media or join our mailing list.
If they like us on social media we’re going to make sure that they are attended to and that we cultivate our relationship with them.
If they join our mailing list we’re going to make sure that we keep them informed everytime we have some great new content on our site and we’re going to reward them with special offers and discounts. In doing that, we’re activating these sales leads to turn them into paying customers.
Every time we run a campaign we are making the funnel bigger and we are strengthening our relationship with our followers on social media and with our email list subscribers.
All that’s left to do is to make a start! If you need help, your web guys should be able to help with this. If they can’t help, ask us.