Give Your Customers What They Want

When I was 14 years old, when the Internet was still ARPANET and “Amazon” was a female warrior from Greek mythology, I discovered science fiction. Satisfying my craving for new and exciting stories each week meant riding my bike to the nearest bookstore, which was just over three miles away, but felt more like ten. Soon, however, the ache in my legs (and posterior) began to pale in comparison to the joy of  getting lost in a bookstore. An hour or more of searching the shelves for “just the right book” was all part of the experience, and the discovery was at least as satisfying as devouring the book once I got home.

But along came a wife and family and with it, less free time. My trips to the bookstore became fewer and further between, eventually becoming an exercise in frustration, as there were far more books to read than time to read them. Still, I managed to slip in the occasional trip. But in the late 90’s, things began to change. I watched as Amazon went toe-to-toe with retail booksellers like Barnes & Noble, and I discovered that online bookstores were wonderfully convenient for the time-strapped working man with 2.5 kids. Then ebooks became all the rage; but somehow, reading a book on my computer wasn’t all that, despite the novelty. Even when devices like the Kindle and Nook came out, I stuck with my good-old-fashioned paperback. Although I have an iPad and use it mostly for online reading, given the choice between a printed book or its electronic counterpart, I’ll opt for paper and ink every time.

I realize I’ve become a minority. The tipping point came in May of this past year, when Amazon announced they were now selling more ebooks than printed ones—105 for every 100 print copies. For the majority of consumers, price and convenience has trumped the bookstore experience, and brick-and-mortar retail bookstores have become an endangered species.

James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, one of the U.K’s leading book chains, thinks otherwise. He says that people who shop for books online are “denying themselves the pleasure of browsing in a bookshop.”

The computer screen is a terrible environment in which to select books. All that “If you read this, you’ll like that”—it’s a dismal way to recommend books. A physical bookshop in which you browse, see, hold, touch and feel books is the environment you want.

So sorry, James. For at least 51 percent of consumers, a physical bookshop “in which you browse, see, hold, touch and feel books” is not the environment they want. Steve Jobs was fond of Henry Ford’s quote, If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’. And while that philosophy worked well for innovators like Ford and Jobs, with vast amounts of capital, high-rolling investors, and the brightest minds in their employ, you and I (and perhaps Mr. Daunt) might be well-advised to discover exactly what our customers want.

I’m not making a case for the death of printed books, or that bookstore lovers like me will disappear from the face of the earth. But telling 51 percent of your market that they should “want what you want them to want” doesn’t seem like an effective marketing strategy.

A design teacher of mine once told us, if you come up with an idea that no one’s ever thought of before, you’re either a genius or an idiot. I would issue the same caution regarding your customers. If you think you know what they want without asking them … well, you can decide which of the two you are..

9 Ways To Turn Web Video Into Your #1 Sales Tool

According to a 2011 Content Marketing Institute study, 90% of B2B marketers do some form of content marketing, whether they realize it or not.

More importantly, 60% of B2B marketers plan to spend more on content marketing in the next year. As interest in content marketing continues to rise, so does interest in video as a sales tool. In fact, 53.5% (and 70.8% of Internet users) will watch videos online in 2012. That’s a 7.1% increase from 2011!

Here’s how you can turn video into your number one sales tool. (Oh, you didn’t know? Video is also Content Marketing)

1. Hardwired to Watch

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: our brains are hardwired to respond to visual stimulation. We already know that research shows that nearly half the population learns visually. If given the choice between reading a full page of content and watching a 60-second explainer video, the video would win out every time. Not only is it faster to watch a video than read written content, but we retain more information when our brains are both verbally and visually stimulated.

Use this natural predisposition to video to your advantage. A simple video introducing your product or service can go a long way. Place it on your landing page and watch conversions increase.

2. Short and Sweet

We also know that the average person will spend 2.7 minutes watching an Internet video. Still, the idea is to ensure everyone watches your video from start to finish, so it’s best to keep your video short and sweet. We typically recommend between 60 and 90 seconds for best results.

By staying well below the average, you ensure that you have the potential to hold everyone’s attention. Plus, 60 seconds means 140 to 160 words. That script restriction means only your most important (and powerful) benefits make the video.

3. Make the Call Pop

Your script and visual effects will be the focus for the majority of the video, but they won’t turn your viewers into customers. What truly increases sales is a fantastic call to action at the end of the video. Just as it is on a landing page, a video call to action is what pushes visitors into the sales funnel. The best calls to action tie into the theme of the video while still standing out.

For example, Comet’s whiteboard style explainer video has an effective call to action. The logo and tagline are visible for a full 10 seconds. All of the whiteboard elements from earlier in the video surround the branded info, bringing the entire video full circle. Also, the voiceover narrator clearly defines the next step for the viewer: contact Comet to discuss potential solutions.

For even better results, use tools that allow you to add links to your video content. For example, Google Voice’s explainer video has an active website link thanks to a YouTube feature. All viewers have to do to act on the call is click the bubble around the link in the video.

4. Perfect the Tone

The tone of your script and voiceover narrator is vital. Do you want your video to be conservative and to-the-point or casual and laid back? The bigger question is: how do you want your brand to be perceived? The words and style of your script can make a huge difference. Of course, so can the way the voiceover actor reads the script. The same sentence could be interpreted in two very different ways, depending on the tone the narrator uses.

SonicBox is the perfect example of a company that put a great deal of thought into its explainer video’s tone. The team wanted a video that resonated with a young, fun audience. The tone of the video fits the target demographic perfectly and depicts SonicBox as an edgy brand. Note that the content of the script and the product are not all that edgy. It’s the video’s tone that conveys that message.

5. Set to Music

Voiceover narration is not the only auditory stimulation your video should be capitalizing on. Whether you set your video to music or sound effects, finding the perfect match can be difficult. The key is to insert the music or sound effects strategically, much like you would a keyword on a landing page. You don’t want to overuse or underuse the two. Music should be played softly in the background so not to distract from the script. For the same reason, sound effects should only be used to match animation or movement.

“We found that the video with music performed better than the same video without the background music. People watched longer and around 10% more people completed the video”, says Daniel Debow, Co-Founder of Rypple.

Be sure the tempo and genre of music matches your theme and brand. If the video is upbeat and fast-paced, don’t set it to classical music.

6. Live Action vs. Animation

With so many options, deciding on the style of your video is an adventure in itself. Live action and animation are just the beginning. Whiteboard and claymation style videos are also wildly popular. When it comes down to it, the decision depends on who your target audience is and what your goal for the video is.

For example, whiteboard style tends to be more popular with business or professional facing videos. Conversely, animation tends to be more popular with consumer facing videos. The deciding factor is truly your personal preference and what you believe will resonate with your specific audience (while accurately representing your brand).

7. Stay Funny and Edgy

Earlier, we mentioned representing your brand with a conservative and to-the-point video.

Some brands are simply traditional and less than casual. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t translate to video well.

No matter how short a video is, if it’s not interesting and entertaining, it will lose viewers (and potential customers). That’s why we recommend that companies look to insert either humor, edginess or controversy into their videos. Whether that added element is in the script or the visual aspect of the video, it’s important that it’s there (even if it’s just a little bit).

8. Search Engine Boost

Optimizing videos for search engines is really quite easy, but the results are spectacular. In fact, research shows that video results are 50% more likely to appear on the first page of Google search results than written content. All it really takes is tweaking the title, description and tags to match your keywords.

Your title should be under 120 characters, just like a blog post title. Your description should mention two to three keywords naturally. Your tags should do the same, especially since some video hosts use tags as a way of searching and sorting content.

Another great way to use video to your SEO advantage is by uploading a transcript, which will also contain your keywords.

9. Simplify Brand Messaging

We mentioned that the brevity of effective videos greatly restricts the word count. That means there’s only room in your script for the best and most powerful benefits. The restriction forces you to choose your words carefully and simplify your brand messaging.

Your value proposition must be established quickly and clearly, which potential customers appreciate. By removing unnecessary details that complicate your communication with potential customers, you can look forward to increased sales.

And that’s all there is to it! Marketing experts are predicting that video will continue to grow in popularity. Now is the time to start learning more about the strategy behind, and the production of, videos.

It’s time to start tapping into that 70.8% of the Internet population that’s watching video.

8 Ways to Avoid The Email Spam Filter

You can’t afford to spend time, money and energy creating email campaigns only to have them land in the spam filter.

The list of criteria for what constitutes spam is growing and more savvy software is being developed to protect people from unsolicited emails.

Make no mistake, spamming is wrong, but it doesn’t take a spammer to get caught in the spam filter. With all this robust cyber security, how do we make sure our email campaigns get to their desired destination?

Before we start, there are common mistakes that will land you in the spam filter, these still apply so if you’re new to email marketing then make yourself familiar with these common things to avoid.

Common Spam Avoidance Techniques

Choose body content and subject lines carefully

Firstly make sure you have a subject line and avoid spammy language like ‘buy now’ ‘click here’ ‘last chance to win…’ ‘why pay more’. Don’t use capitals, urgent phrases and excessive punctuation!!!!!!!!

Words like ‘viagra’ or ‘cialis’ appearing in an email are nearly always quarantined.

But they aren’t the only targets. Using words like ‘free’, ‘cash’ or even just including dollar signs ($) in your email can trigger a spam filter particularly if they are found in the email subject line.

Get Permission

Sounds simple I know, but often the goal of trying to gain email addresses outweigh the priority to get permission.

Ensure you have explicit permission to email the registered address for the specific purpose you are intending to use it for. For example, you may have collected email addresses over time through your business for general correspondence or client contact, but this doesn’t mean these people automatically want you to start sending them coupons and specials.

Seek explicit consent so that your subscriber doesn’t mark you for spam, or even worse, report you for abuse.

Use A Double Opt In

The best way to get permission from a subscriber is to use a double opt in method.

How it works:

  • the user puts their email into an online form (First Opt In)
  • they receive a confirmation link
  • they confirm by clicking the link and then are added to the list (Second Opt In)
  • if they don’t click, then they’re not added to the list

8 Lesser Know Spam Avoidance Techniques

Now, on to some more advanced concepts in avoiding the spam box.

Use Tools

Make sure you test your email campaign before you send it. This can save you time and disappointment. Use a free online spam testing tool like Contactology or Mailing Check.

If you are using an email campaign program such as Constant Contact, Mailchimp or Mad Mimi, use their internal Spam grading tools to see how likely it is that your email will trigger spam alerts.

Use a normal font size

Fonts that are too big or too small can trigger a Spam filter. The reason is that many Spammers either try to hide text in an email with tiny font sizes or they use huge font sizes to make an offer. Use a standard font size to avoid Spam filters.
Email early

If you’re collecting email addresses for your subscriber list, don’t wait until you have 1000 subscribers before you send your first campaign. Suddenly sending to large quantities of addresses will trigger spam filters. Start sending to a small group first while you are building your list.
Watch your text to image ratio

Spammers often use images to communicate their offer because Spam filters can’t read what is in the image. Spam filters look skeptically upon emails that contain very little text but a large image.

Watch your link to text ratio

Spammers often send emails with little or no text and a link or numerous links. When marketing with email, links are often a critical part of the email. We usually need to place a link to the offer or to the content we are sharing with the email list. However, be sure to include ample HTML text when including links or risk being marked as Spam.

Be careful who you link to

Just as it is important not to link to spammers on your website, it’s doubly important not to do so in an email. Linking to a known spammer is a surefire way to get a bad reputation.

Use clean code and proofread your text

Spam filters are keen to some of the more common spam formatting like red text in the body of the email or excessive use of underlining and bolding.

But they are also looking for anything out of the ordinary. Things like blank lines, words with gaps (spaces) in them and excessive use of the same words can add to your Spam score.

Timing is important

This issue is less related to a Spam filter and more related to subscribers that might mark you as Spam in their email program.

Develop a regular email pattern and stick to it.

If you email too often you run the risk of your subscriber marking you as junk for being annoying. Conversely if you don’t email often enough, users will forget they signed up to your list and will unsubscribe or flag the email as spam.

Avoid Spamming to Avoid Email Firewalls

Because spam is increasing at an exponential rate many email service providers (ESP’s) now have email firewalls.

They are being implemented globally throughout large businesses, ISP’s, governments and corporations. The important thing to note here is that these email firewalls communicate with one another, sharing information about who is a spammer, what spam is and who to block.

The moral of the story is that if you get enough complaints against you, email firewalls will communicate globally about your status notifying everyone that you are spammer. Obviously you can see the disadvantage to this, so keeping out of spam filters is even more important than ever.

Here are some of the widely used email gateway and firewall services:

  • Cloudmark
  • Barracuda Networks
  • Postini
  • IronPort
  • Brightmail
  • MessageLabs

Spam is a serious issue so make sure all the work you’ve put into email marketing isn’t hindered by ending up in a spam filter.

This can lead to future issues such as abuse reports and having your details shared amongst global email gatekeeper and firewalls. By understanding how spam is blocked you can ensure that you’re delivering your content in a legitimate way.

About the Author: Sofia Woods is a freelance web designer specialising in WordPress web design and training, social media strategies, blogging and copywriting. She thrives on the ever changing digital world and helping businesses understand how to better utilise online technologies..

7 Tips For Startups Selling To Small Businesses

There are currently 500 million small businesses around the world, and new ones are being born every second with the bulk including: restaurants, cafés, professional firms, real estate companies, health and fitness centers, and more.

If you can reliably sell to small businesses, your enterprise has unlimited potential. The tips below will help you figure out how to do it.

1. Get Feedback from Day One

Get feedback from small business prospects early and often. If you’re a developer, you probably haven’t run a brick-and-mortar local business. Your armchair ideas, while they may be visionary, need the influence and grounding of concrete feedback from actual buyers.

You have to go out to the businesses and strike up conversations. A lot of them. If they seem interested before you finish your pitch, you’re on the right track.

For example, if you’re building a mobile app for restaurants, go by some actual restaurants and see what type of phones the owners use. Don’t simply assume that all restaurant owners have the newest iPhone 5 and all the latest apps.

2. Solve a very specific problem

You need to find something well defined that is a huge pain to small business owners, and then solve it. Put yourself in their shoes. If you can do one thing very well, you’re way ahead of competitors that do many things “sort of adequately.”

3. Be willing to hand-hold

The average small business owner is notoriously tech-illiterate. Your solutions have to be simple, and you have to be ready to do things automatically, or provide clear, brief, step-by-step instructions.

Small business owners want you to do things for them.

4. Deliver real value

If you can’t show, with the utmost clarity, how money that your customers give to you comes back to them with a nice return, you don’t belong in business. Small business owners don’t have money to blow, and they need to stretch every dollar as far as it can go.

Your product should have a nice, demonstrable ROI, or it should be changed until it gets one.

5. Nail down your marketing message

This ties into the last point. Your message to the market should be clear about how the product saves the customer time, money, or both. Whatever your key benefits are, find a way to communicate them that is immediately understood by your target audience, and that also resonates with them emotionally, if appropriate.

For many small business owners, a big concern is having enough business. If you can tie into a way to boost their business, you’ve likely got their attention.

6. Don’t be afraid to cold call

Get comfortable with rejection – you’re going to experience a lot of it. The upside, however, is that your pitch will get well honed and you will have a new, cost-effective way to increase your sales. Not every industry is ripe for cold calling, but many small business owners live offline, and this is a great way to reach them.

If you have a compelling pitch, the time-honored tradition of cold calling can be your startup’s bread and butter.

7. Keep it simple

Confusing a small business owner with your convoluted pitch is the fastest way to lose their interest, as well as any chance of winning them over as a client. You’re probably very passionate about your product, but make sure that this passion doesn’t lead to nonsensical meth-fueled rants to prospects about the glory of your offerings.

This applies to product design as well. Focus your product on a few core features and keep it simple. Don’t overthink things, and emphasize ease-of-use and setup speed.

Keep your attention on helping others first, and the rest will take care of itself.

Conclusion

Selling to small businesses is challenging, but very rewarding if you can develop a reliable, repeatable method for success.

If you only remember one thing from this post, remember to give the product to actual customers and get feedback as often as possible. They know the secret to your small business becoming a large business – you just have to get it out of them..

20 Must-Do Business Boosters

With 2012 almost over. Here are 20 actions to do over the next few weeks to ensure your business gets off to a flying start.

  1. Call one of your biggest clients and wish them a happy new year. No catch, no sales spiel, simply call and thank them for their business and wish them a happy new year. This will be genuine and a great way to reinforce your relationship.
  2. Run a report in your accounting package to determine who spent how much with you last calendar year. Print out the top 10 clients and ensure you give them extra special treatment.
  3. Using the same list, look at the bottom ten spenders. Do you see a few that seem to take up a lot of your time, yet their spending doesn’t reflect this? Perhaps you should consider letting these clients move on, so to speak. Don’t leave them in the lurch though – send through names of suppliers that will look after them well.
  4. Schedule in a time in your calendar every week to spend on marketing. It could literally be half an hour to write a blog post, or an hour a week to attend a networking event.
  5. Call a client that you haven’t done any work for in the last twelve months and say hello. Offer to catch up over a coffee (your shout) and enquire how their business is going, and how you could help.
  6. Cast a critical eye over your own website. Can you spot any improvements that you should be making? Schedule some time over the coming month to get these done, and ensure your website is in tip-top shape for 2012.
  7. Look at overhauling your email signature, to include a line with services you offer. It’s amazing how often clients don’t realize the full spread of services a supplier may provide.
  8. Rekindle a relationship with an old friend. If there’s someone who you haven’t seen socially for a while, call or email them and invite them to meet for a coffee or meal. Being happier in your social life means you’ll be more productive in business life too.
  9. Schedule your leave for the year. That’s right: I’m ordering you to take a holiday. Plan when a good time would be, and mark your calendar with the dates now. It gives you a goal to work towards, and ensures you take time to refresh yourself.
  10. If you have employees, take a moment to share your vision for the year ahead. A ship with the whole crew working towards the same goals gets there faster than a ship with a crew kept in the dark.
  11. Buy yourself some new professional attire. It’s important to always look the part, and if you haven’t bought some new shirts or clothes in a while, this may be just what you need to feel more confident in what you do.
  12. Write a list of goals for the year. I’ve written about this a few times, including my last newsletter for 2011. Take time to have an action list and stick to it.
  13. Start a new healthy habit. Maybe an early morning walk or making time for a healthy lunch each day. Whatever it is, the start of the year is a good time as any to build a new habit. Healthier means more productive and happier too.
  14. Thank your employees. A big complaint amongst full time workers is the lack of appreciation they often feel. Take a moment to verbally thank a colleague or employee for their hard efforts – they will appreciate the gesture.
  15. Look at your top ten clients (point two above). What makes them different than those further down your profitability list? Look at ways you could advertise or market yourself to more of those sorts of clients, and less of the low spenders.
  16. Ask a colleague to review a recent proposal or pitch document. Get them to provide critical feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Make changes to your documents to make them sell and read better than the ones you used in 2011.
  17. Buy a book on a topic you want to learn about this year. It could be developing mobile sites, a how-to primer for HTML5 or more accounting or productivity knowledge – order it now and start reading it as soon as it arrives.
  18. Using the same list I mentioned before, look at the next group of clients, the ‘B group’, so to speak. What services are our ‘A Group’ using that your ‘B Group’ should? Contact them and market these particular services to them: you’ll end up with more clients in that A group than before.
  19. Look at the list of goals you had at the start of 2011 – is there still one or two you haven’t crossed off? Make a point to dive into these straight away.
  20. Take time to enjoy life – your world shouldn’t just revolve around work. Learn a new language, take up a hobby or visit with friends more often.

If you complete all 20 of the actions above, I am absolutely positive that you’ll be putting your business in a better stead for the coming year. Best of luck with 2012!.

Why Landing Page Videos Lead To Phenomenal Results

Your customers have an attention span of 8 seconds.

A goldfish has a 9-second attention span.

You have 8 seconds to make a first impression with your landing page. Once you have their attention, you need to maintain it every 8 seconds (that’s approximately every 20 words).

So, how do you communicate your product benefits when your customers are constantly distracted by the white noise of the Internet?

Video helps simplify your product benefits in a way that appeals to your audience. Instead of explaining their product and its benefits in plain text on an average page, innovative companies are turning to video.

Only 28% of the words on an average page of a website are actually read. A single Internet video, on the other hand, holds attention for approximately 2.7 minutes.

Simplifying all of your product information into a 60-second, 150 word video just makes sense.

A video is more likely to be consumed in its entirety, the information is more likely to be retained, it’s easier to share with friends, and it’s more likely to entertain or impress. If you place a video on your product page, most people will be more interested in watching that video than reading through hundreds of words of Helvetica.

Our learning styles build the case for video as well. A recent study of 221 university students showed that nearly half (105) were visual learners, while only 11 were verbal learners. People would rather watch how something works than read or hear about how it works – it’s easier for them to understand.

Combined with the fact that the average American adult has a grade eight reading level, video wins out every time.

So, what do our visually-focused goldfish-sized attention spans crave more: a 60-second video or a standard website page? Google Drive, for one, is banking on the former.

Notice that there are no written words in the video; the message is exclusively visual and auditory. You’ll also notice that there are no demonstrations of the actual tool itself. Whether or not showing Google Drive itself was a strategic approach is debatable, but experts agree that the benefits are clearly explained in the video.

Google Drive isn’t the only one to turn to video to simplify product benefits. Here are three other examples of companies visualizing and clarifying what they do through video.

1. Rypple

Rypple’s video is displayed proudly on the homepage as an introduction to the problem it solves, its benefits and a trial free. After adding the video to the website, Rypple saw an incredible 20% increase in conversions. Approximately 30% of the traffic that lands on the page watches the video, and approximately 50% of those viewers watch the video in its entirety.

“I hear from lots of people at top companies that the video tells a story that they can easily relate to, and very clearly. That probably also explains why overall engagement with the app was higher – more inspiration to explore Rypple […],” said Jesse Goldman, VP of Customer Success at Rypple.

2. Dropbox

Dropbox’s video was displayed on the homepage as well. Unlike Rypple, Dropbox placed only a logo, the video, a login button and a download button above the fold. When this particular video was on the landing page, it received almost 30 thousand hits a day during the week. In one month alone, it was viewed 750 thousand times. The video increased conversions by over 10%, giving Dropbox an estimated “several thousand” extra signups per day.

“The goal with a video was not viral marketing. It was not getting people to blog about it. It was focused on providing an on-site resource for people to get turned onto the product,” said Lee LeFever, founder of Common Craft, which is the company behind the video’s production.

3. Inbenta

nbenta’s video made itself a home on the company website, much like the Rypple and Dropbox videos. The team conducted tests to find that the average visitor converted at a rate of 1%.

Visitors who viewed the video converted at a rate of 15%! Overall, the video led to a 20% increase in total online leads generated. What’s interesting about Inbenta’s video is that it appeared in a video lightbox, which enlarges the video and dims the background. Video lightbox has been proven to increase conversions by up to 20% compared to traditional video displays.

“We are now able to explain what our company does in a few minutes with a fun, yet highly informative video. Since the video was posted on our website, we have seen a 20% increase in online leads,” said Jordi Torras, CEO at Inbenta.

You have 8 seconds to make an impression.

A video simplifies everything your business does and all of your messaging into a digestible piece of content. Compared to pages and pages of text, a video ultimately takes less time to create, takes up less valuable website real estate, and explains your benefits more effectively.

Plain text just doesn’t appeal to the modern customer the way video does – it’s brain (and conversion) science.

About the Author: Andrew Angus is the founder and CEO of Switch Video, a North American based company that produces simple explanatory videos that help clients clearly explain what they do and engage with their prospects. Angus, a well respected leader in the explainer video industry, spearheads the movement to integrate brain science, web metrics into the production of animated explainer videos and has recently launched their course: How to Tell Your Companies Story & The Brain Science to Make It Stick .

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