Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Don't Overlook SMS: Why Your Marketing Strategies Should Incorporate Text Messaging

Mobile text messaging, also known as SMS (for short message service), may just represent the next frontier in mobile marketing. Why? More than 4 billion people worldwide -- and 75 percent of Americans -- regularly send and receive text messages. With the recent announcement that social media giant Facebook is acquiring WhatsApp -- an SMS platform that allows users to send free text messages on smart phones of all kinds -- texting's popularity isn't likely to decrease anytime soon.

Here's why you should take advantage of this growing market and add SMS to your marketing strategies.

The Power of the Personal

In Internet years, text messaging is a virtual grandfather; after all, the technology has been around for more than 20 years. In fact, it's been around so long that a (mind-blowing) two-thirds of the Earth's population has access to it. Perhaps due to the well-established nature of SMS, many companies have bypassed it as a marketing strategy, probably in their rush to drive customers to the mobile-optimized versions of their websites.

However, as any marketing guru will tell you, customers respond best when a campaign engages them personally. That's where text message marketing comes in. Stats from Techipedia reveal that:

  • 98 percent of all sent text messages are opened

  • 83 percent of text messages are opened within three minutes

  • SMS marketing campaigns boast response rates of up to 45 percent, as compared to email campaigns, which average a 6 percent response rate

Given these high response rates, using SMS seems like a no-brainer. Just send out a few well-worded messages to leads, and watch the sales grow -- right? Of course, there's a catch.

In order to be successful, text message marketing requires thoughtful implementation.

Effective Implementation of Text Message Marketing

Consider how annoying you (probably) find telemarketing calls, spammy-sounding emails, and all of that other marketing stuff you're constantly bombarded with but didn't sign up for. Same goes for SMS; no one wants to receive random or irrelevant text messages all the time. Add in the fact that some mobile users have to pay for each text message they receive, and the importance of only sending texts to those who've opted in becomes crystal clear. It's all about relevance.

Speaking of relevance, one of the most effective uses of text message marketing is keeping in contact with your existing customers. They've already tried your product or service and decided they like you. SMS offers a cost-effective way to keep in touch. Whether you're announcing a special event, sending a coupon code, or implementing a loyalty program, the judicious use of text messages keeps your company in your customers' consciousness.

SMS can also enhance your customers' experience. Text messages containing reminders, schedules, notices of last-minute availability, and even customer satisfaction surveys provide value to your customers while saving them time and hassles.

Appropriate Uses of SMS Marketing

Here are a few ways to incorporate text messaging into your marketing plan in a way that customers will appreciate.

Promotions and Sales: Send promo codes, coupons, and special event notices. Consider geo-fencing to send offers to opted-in customers when they come near your place of business.

Receipts: Sending receipts makes it easy for customers to keep track of spending.

Surveys: Customers can fill out surveys about their experience, providing you with valuable feedback.

Loyalty Programs: Make it easy for customers to join your loyalty program via text, and get information you need to develop detailed customer profiles that help your marketing strategies.

No matter what you're using SMS for, the key lies in creating an opt-in program and focusing on content that provides value to customers. Text messaging shouldn't be used to generate leads; instead, it should provide relevant information to interested customers.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Being the Apple of the Industry

When it comes to technology, few companies have enjoyed the branding success of Apple. In certain circles, they've cast themselves as the industry standard. Customers across the country line up for days to be the first to buy their latest products, even if their latest phone has only minor improvements over the previous one. Apple's products are so coveted that many people even overlook the company requiring them to buy special parts or the lack of synchronization with other technologies inherent in some Apple products, just for the opportunity to be part of the Apple community.

The power of the Apple symbol and reputation is something many companies can only hope to one day taste. What makes the power even more incredible is that among the technologically inclined, there is still a debate if Apple products are actually superior to other brands.

So how in the world did Apple manage to control the conversation about technology so completely that users of their devices feel so superior? Perhaps even more importantly, what can you learn from Apple's experience and apply to your own business?

Apple and Innovation

Apple is nearly synonymous with innovation. The company prides itself on being the first to develop a wide range of products. For products that are already in existence, they look for ways to make theirs superior. Being a follower is not in the vocabulary of an Apple designer. Steve Jobs and his business partners were experts at getting people excited. Even if an idea had already been used by other companies, they had a way of making investors and customers feel as though they were getting something new and exciting, and people jumped at the chance.

As a business leader, you should aspire to this same spirit of innovation. Rather than looking and seeing what has made your competitors successful, try instead to see where your competitors still fall short, and capitalize on those differences. Take these weaknesses and use them to drive the industry forward, with your company at the helm.

Apple and Price

There's no denying that Apple products tend to cost more than comparable products from other companies, yet that has not hindered the company's progress. While customers like feeling as though they're getting a good deal, they're more concerned about getting quality and service. An estimated 70 percent of customers would be willing to pay up to 13 percent more if it meant having a more positive customer experience. Apple has fine-tuned the customer experience. Just walk into one of the stores, and watch how carefully the associates acknowledge you, get to know your name, and find out what you're looking for.

The products themselves also define style and elegance. While people might debate whether Apple is the actual industry leader, few would deny that their products do perform well and continue to amaze people with what technology is capable of doing. When companies successfully combine innovation, customer service, and solid products, sometimes a bump in price can actually work in their favor. The higher prices Apple charges only add to the perception that their products are superiorly made.

Whether people love or hate Apple and its products, they cannot deny the influence the company has had on the technology industry. For many, the company represents the pinnacle of branding and controlling an industry conversation. Although only a few companies can so completely dominate their respective industries, all businesses can learn from Apple's business model. Apple offers lessons for even the most seasoned of business professionals looking to improve customer reach. If you're not sure how to go about implementing these ideas, we can help you hone your message and control your brand conversation.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Improve Customer Loyalty

It's far more cost-effective to retain existing customers than it is to attract new ones. Here are a few tips to increase customer retention rates by improving your customer loyalty:

  • Mail personalized thank you cards showing your appreciation for recent purchases or interest in your products and services.

  • Create a customer loyalty program that offers special promotions and incentives for return customers, such as birthday discounts, a reward punch card, free shipping, monthly discounts, or free upgrades.

  • Give customers a great experience with your brand. Offer a quality product and stand behind it.

  • Encourage open communication with customers by requesting feedback and suggestions. Offer options such as e-mail, online surveys, a toll-free number, and discussion forums.

  • Humanize your brand and create a personal connection with your customers by interacting in social media. Encourage customers to respond to your blog posts, attend trade shows, provide open houses, offer hands-on training sessions, and more.

  • Treat your customers like insiders. Include them in decisions, ask for feedback, and assure them their opinions are valued.

  • Consistently under-promise and over-deliver to ensure customer satisfaction.

  • Surprise your customers with something they don't expect, such as a coupon for "$10 off your next $10 purchase" just because.

  • Remember the golden rule. Think about the type of treatment you would like to receive as a customer.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Building a Strong Foundation

If you sit down with nearly any preschooler, they can probably tell you the story of the three little pigs. According to the story, there once were three pigs. Each set out to build themselves a home. The first built his home out of straw. He was done very quickly because of the material he chose. The second little pig chose to build his home out of sticks. Building with sticks might have taken the pig a little longer than using straw, but he was still done rather quickly. The third pig, however, built his home out of bricks and mortar. This house took the longest time to build, and the pig was forced to keep working, even when the other pigs were already relaxing and enjoying themselves.

Not long after the three pigs had finished their homes, the big bad wolf came looking for something to eat. He was able to quickly blow over the houses made of sticks and straw, but no matter how hard he tried, he was not able to blow over the house of bricks.

Building a strong foundation

The third little pig didn't take the easy way out. He saw the other two pigs finishing faster than him and having the time to laugh and play, but when the chips were down, his house was the only one to stand up. The strong foundation made all the difference.

In life, as in business, it's tempting to take the easy way out; to use the easier material that takes significantly less time. The problem comes when we discover just how quickly a weak foundation can fail us. Those who are looking to grow their businesses must keep this idea in mind.

Growing a business the smart way

There are a variety of 'tricks' companies can use to try to grow their businesses quickly. So-called 'black hat SEO,' which refers to techniques such as artificial keyword stuffing and using link farms to grow backlinks, may help companies achieve their objective rather quickly. They may rise quickly in the Google search engine ranks and see the number of visitors to their site rise as well. But Google has been cracking down on sites that use artificial SEO. Some companies have found their sites severely penalized, which has deeply hurt their businesses.

In marketing, companies may be tempted to blast every known platform all at once, without taking the time to develop a company message and brand. In these cases, the effects of the campaign typically fall short. A group that tries to go nationwide with a campaign too quickly might find that the effort exhausts their resources, placing the entire company in jeopardy. Starting local and growing as a reputation spreads is the way to achieve success.

Growing a business correctly means taking the time to grow organically. It means working to develop a quality website that is naturally optimized through a quality blog and well-written content. Marketing campaigns and customer reach goals should be built on a firm foundation that leaves room to grow. Here at Print It, we can help customers develop marketing plans to appropriately meet new customers. Plans we've done in the past include all forms of media - print, web/social, personal sales and radio/tv.

There's no easy way to be successful. It requires perseverance and hard work. Like the little pigs discovered, however, there's also no replacement for doing things right the first time. Instead of looking for shortcuts, invest time in learning about techniques to maximize investments and tools for saving time. We can help. Building a solid business foundation means your company will have something to grow on, rather than a flimsy foundation that can blow over. And that's irreplaceable.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

All Brochures are NOT Created Equal

When it comes to marketing your business, professionally printed brochures from Print It are a great way to build credibility, while also telling your story. Here are a few tips to help you create successful, sales-building brochures:

  • Focus on your audience and their needs. List benefits your customers will receive by choosing your product.

  • Design an appealing cover that motivates readers to look inside. Include product benefits, a thought-provoking statement, industry tips, and other items your customers will find valuable.

  • Keep it brief. Since brochures have limited space, provide a brief summary of your information, along with links for interested readers to go online and learn more.

  • Provide clear headlines that make it easy to find information, along with high-quality imagery that supplements your messaging.

  • Consider a creatively shaped or unusually sized brochure to grab attention.

  • Include information that encourages the ready to keep your brochure. This may include how-to information, tips and tricks, sales calendars, and more.

  • Consider providing a Q&A section to answer questions you think your readers may have when learning about your products or services.

  • If your brochure is lengthy (8 pages or more), consider creating a table of contents to pique reader interest and make information easier to find.

  • Include a call to action, so readers know how to respond. An 800 number, reply card, website landing page, or email address are all good examples to try.

If you need help creating an effective brochure, give us a call at Print It today at 864-882-3609. We have many samples and creative design ideas your customers will be sure to love.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Increase Awareness About Your Products

One of the biggest reasons many people don't buy quality products from businesses is because they simply aren't aware of what products are offered. Here are a few ways to increase awareness about your products and services:

  • Consider creative marketing avenues you haven't tried before. These may include table tents, lumpy direct mailers, door hangers, event flyers, bag inserts, statement stuffers, social media posts, chat forums, industry publications, tradeshows, and more. Test your marketing results via coupon codes and targeted promotions.

  • Create a regular product spotlight postcard campaign that highlights various products or services you offer.

  • Create a customer referral program that encourages loyal customers to spread the word about your business and do the selling for you.

  • Showcase happy customers who are using your product. Consider testimonial stories or brief customer quotes.

  • Team your marketing efforts with an established business that complements your offerings. Offer discounted promotions when purchasing both.

  • Create a goodwill marketing plan to increase name recognition and drive business while also giving back to your community. For example, you might sponsor a local charity event or donate a portion of your profits to a charity (e.g., "10 percent of all sales in June will be donated to XYZ charity").

  • Provide a risk-free trial offer and satisfaction guarantee to take the worry out of trying a new product.

  • Utilize social media by creating a company LinkedIn and Facebook page, and build your audience through employee connections.

  • Differentiate yourself from the competition by offering value add-ons, educating customers about industry trends, providing helpful tips, or simply having a live person answer your phones instead of a confusing, automated system.

  • Build your customer base by offering exclusive first-time customer promotions.

  • Learn from others. Collect examples of marketing materials or creative ideas that caught your attention, and combine some of your favorite features into customized ideas for your business.

We use many of these methods here at Print It! and have helped our clients throughout Seneca, Upstate South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina. If you need help creating the perfect marketing materials that are sure to get noticed and remembered, give Mike a call or email today!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Top Tips for Generating Customer Reviews

I was at a conference last week and participated in a discussion on customer reviews. At Print It! we actively seek and request customer reviews. If you own a business, you probably know how important great online customer reviews can be to your bottom line. In fact, one 2013 study revealed that eight out of every 10 customers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations.

So how do you go about generating online feedback? Here are some simple things to get you started:
  • Get social: If you don't have a Facebook page and Twitter account, now is the time to get one. If you already do have Facebook and Twitter accounts, make sure you're checking them regularly for comments. You need to keep a close eye on your social pages and respond to customer comments -- good and bad -- as they arise. And of course, you need to make it easy for people to find your social sites, so include links on your website and in your emails.

  • Make it easy to be nice: Sure, you may like to go on and on about how great your product or service is, but your customers may not be that chatty. For the verbally shy, make reviews easy by adding non-verbal options like multiple choice options or a star-rating system.

  • Get your game on: Ever heard of gamification? Basically, that term refers to websites that incorporate some sort of game play into their design to make it more fun for customers to engage. You can get as complex as you want, but even a simple thing like adding virtual badges or trophies for customers who leave reviews can increase feedback.

  • Be generous: Everyone likes to score something for free, and offering a free sample or free trial period can be really effective at getting customers to leave reviews.

  • Follow up: A customer just made a purchase. Is that the end of the transaction? Not if you want to generate some (generally positive) reviews. Once a purchase is complete, touch base with the customer to discuss both the item they purchased and the purchase experience in general. When you get positive responses, ask if you can share them as testimonials on your site.
OK, so those are just a few ways to generate reviews and feedback, but what should you do if some of that feedback is negative? First, set aside your anger and indignation, and don't stress: Every business is going to catch a little flak once in a while. Don't ignore negative reviews; instead, reply politely to deescalate and help soothe the customer. Try not to get into a debate on your social page; instead, invite the customer to contact you by phone or email, or offer to contact them. Be sure to thank them for their feedback and apologize for any inconvenience they've felt. And of course, if the feedback is on target, use it to make needed improvements.

Engaging customers and generating positive reviews takes work, but it's work that can yield big returns. Take a few minutes today to think about how your business can improve feedback and start building its own base of dedicated fans.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Turn You Competitors' Customers into YOUR Customers

Here are a few creative ways to help turn your competitors' customers into your own:

  • Offer a comparison chart that focuses on reasons why customers should choose your product over the competition. For example, you may offer a standard five-year warranty, while your competitors may only offer a three-year warranty. Or perhaps they offer an extended five-year warranty option, but at an additional price.

  • Stay informed of what your competitors are doing, but avoid copying their ideas. Instead, add value and make their ideas even better. For example, if a competitor offers free shipping on purchases of $100+, you could provide free shipping on all purchases and possibly even returns.

  • Create a unique tagline or slogan that focuses on your key selling points, such as: "Hassle-Free Returns" or "Receive your lunch order within 30 minutes or it's free."

  • Add value to a comparable product through added services, such as longer support hours, free training, and live phone operators (no automated phone service).

  • Create a customer survey. Ask your audience how you can improve, what new offerings they wish you provided, what they like best about your company, and what areas they may find lacking. Their answers could easily point to ideas that will help you gain a competitive advantage.

  • Provide a risk-free trial to test your products or services before committing to a change.

  • Compare your guarantee to your competition. If your competitors don't offer a guarantee, this is an extra reason to promote your guarantee heavily.

  • Compete with low-price competitors in creative ways. Offer exclusive discounts when items are purchased together as a package, or offer free or discounted add-on bonuses.

  • Romance your competitors' customers. Show them the affection they may be missing from their current vendor, and let them know you're willing to go the extra mile to win their business.

  • Even if prospects are happy with their current provider, be sure to continue your marketing efforts. Create front-of-mind awareness so you're at the top of their list if they ever change their mind.