Looking back at lessons learned last year and expected trends for this year, columnist Wesley Young cuts through the clutter and suggests ways to make your marketing strategy simpler, clearer and easier to execute.
As I scoured articles proclaiming the top trends in marketing for 2016, one thing that struck me was how many new technologies and new products were being pushed out, all in the name of bigger and better. It was a bit overwhelming.
For the local business owner, marketing has become so complicated. Audiences are fragmented over hundreds of different media outlets, apps, platforms, search engines, social media sites and business listing products.
Yet technology is constantly evolving the way media is accessed and consumed, and it remains critical for businesses to use technology to stay competitive. Large businesses have the resources to utilize every new martech innovation and reach out through every available social media channel.
For the local business, instead of being a jack of all trades, doing a few things well may be more productive. For many, simplifying their marketing strategy may make it possible to take advantage of effective new technologies in manageable, bite-sized pieces.
Here are 10 strategies that will help you simplify and focus your search and marketing practices and make them more effective.
Extensive use of social media, with its free access and huge audience, can be tempting. But social media has yet to prove its worth in the search space in helping consumers find new local businesses.
Facebook is trying to change that with the launch of a new local search site , but it is still in beta mode, and the functionality of searching for local businesses on its current platform via Places is limited.
The exceptions may be Pinterest and Instagram, graphically oriented social platforms that are conducive to discovery of new retail products and food. In fact, Pinterest recently announced that it was only providing full customer support for businesses in the Retail and Consumer Goods sectors .
Otherwise, social media is effective at engaging with existing customers, keeping them updated on what’s going on, and reaching out to them with deals and offers. Engagement keeps your business top of mind and helps with retention and as a surrogate for branding.
It does take time to do it right, and time is a commodity many SMBs do not have. According to the Local Search Association (LSA) and Thrive Analytics ‘ 2015 Local Marketing Outlook for Home and Auto Emergency Related services, 64 percent of SMBs said the biggest challenge with digital marketing is time and knowledge to engage in effective marketing. In fact, 60 percent of SMBs that manage their own social media reported their content was updated only every six months or more.
Outdated or inaccurate information risks losing customers and is a poor reflection on the business. In that case, it may be better not to have a social media presence.
A study by Google demonstrated there was no real correlation between media usage and influence. In other words, just because a lot of people use Facebook or click on your business site, it doesn’t mean they will buy from you. What matters is the consumer experience and matching content with what consumers want or need.
Alternately, use your social media pages like an enhanced listing and redirect any traffic towards one place that is updated, such as your website, where the consumer experience matches the experience you’d want them to have in your store.
Mobile has already overtaken desktop in both local search and Google search . Instead of investing in responsive sites or multiple sites for different screens, simplify and design a site just for mobile devices.
Mobile sites are still accessible on desktops — they might have more white space than a regular website, but they function fine on a desktop. Low-res graphics meant for smaller screens may appear grainy, such as this one on American Airlines’ mobile site , but uploading higher resolution images will solve that. Macy’s mobile site looks good on a desktop but would function better with vertical scrolling only.
For those who plan to use their mobile site for all screens, these are easy adjustments to make. The design will satisfy Google’s algorithm for mobile search rank and the 67 percent of consumers who demand mobile-optimized sites. And it will simplify not just your strategy, but your customers’ experience, as well.
This strategy can be extended to other marketing formats such as emails, paid search ads, display ads and listings.
We all have friends who share TMI (too much information). Don’t make the same mistake in your marketing. I recently heard a radio ad that sounded like they hired a speed reader to read the script. The messaging was lost, and the call to action was rushed.
Consumers today are faced with information overload that clutters decision making. Here are some ideas for simplifying your customer experience that will help drive consumer action towards the path to purchase:
Simplifying your customer experience simplifies and focuses your marketing, as well.
How does simplifying your marketing world by 80 percent sound? Based on the 80/20 rule, or Pareto Principle , 80 percent of your results are driven by 20 percent of your marketing, including search visits from keywords, calls from call extensions in ads, and ultimately, sales from advertising.
Thus, it makes sense to identify and invest in that Top 20 Percent. If you do nothing else, at least test the rule and see where the cutoff for your best-performing marketing assets lies.
Many of these tips are derivative of this idea. But there’s a second lesson here. The fact that this principle isn’t cited more often is a testament to the volume of distractions we constantly face.
The repeated call to return “back to the basics” demonstrates a need to be reminded, again and again, to reset and look at what has worked in the past. It’s just become too easy to be caught up in always looking ahead.
Targeting simplifies your message and matches your marketing with those most likely to respond. But not all targeting is created equal.
Marketers today think they are doing a pretty good job at targeting. But according to Forrester, however, while 66 percent of marketers feel they are doing an excellent or very good job at personalizing advertising and marketing; only 31 percent of consumers agree.
One problem is that not enough data points are being used to drive relevant search ads to the right audience. A study by VentureBeat found that the amount of data being used for targeting varied widely among those using email marketing, a digital channel that is highly amenable to personalization.
About 50 percent of marketers used 10 or fewer profile segments for targeting, while the other half used up to 100 segments, including 10 percent that personalized on an individual basis.
While collecting more data points may seem counter to simplifying, doing this work up front will streamline the entire process to cut out unnecessary and wasteful efforts. It simplifies the choices you make in reaching that audience.
In today’s data-driven world, very detailed profiles can be created and targeted. The more you know about your ideal customer, the better you can deliver relevant search results and advertising.
That means when paid search ads are delivered, they are not driven just by keywords, but by many other factors such as geography, demographics, past search history and other profile-specific information of the user.
Putting all your data in one place not only simplifies analyzing and managing it, but it makes your data much more effective to use. Gathering a lot of specific information for targeting isn’t effective if only bits and pieces are used at any given time.
Yet Forrester found that marketers average 15 separate systems to store customer data. Even if cumulatively those 15 systems contained 50 different customer data points, having the data spread out renders on average just over three data points that can be used together.
Only 22 percent of marketers used a single database allowing them to use all of the data together to build a full customer profile. Seventy percent of those expressed that the data was very useful in creating individual customer profiles, compared to 52 percent of those without a single database.
Programmatic buying puts all that rich data to good use and automatically matches precise, high conversion leads with your business. It also makes managing your ad buying much simpler with a single, or just a few, interfaces to work with.
Not manually managing individual placement doesn’t mean ads shouldn’t be tested and the criteria shouldn’t be tweaked. But programmatic buying can help place ads on multiple platforms across a multitude of media outlets.
In other words, you get a wide breadth of coverage across media, but only those customers who are most valuable to your business see the ads. Use the time saved to create better content.
Concerns about the cost of highly targeted marketing largely focus on those targeted keywords that receive significant traffic. But that isn’t necessarily what you are looking for. Instead, focus on “ long-tail keywords ” more specific keywords that together more accurately describe the user’s intent and match your targeted customer profile.
Our big data economy gives rise to more ways, more programs and more services that help you analyze the data. It’s easy, however, to get caught up in the metrics that everyone else measures or that marketers cite as proof that ads are working. Sometimes those numbers are in conflict with one another.
For example, a study by xAd revealed that the almost universally tracked measurement, CTR, negatively affects secondary actions such as phone calls. Optimizing ads for CTR increased the rate by 38 percent but caused the secondary action rate to fall by 69 percent — not a good result if your best leads come from phone calls.
Focusing on the numbers that matter to your business helps cut through the clutter of analytics and will sharpen your ability to make good business decisions.
The benefits of automated tools and e-commerce seem obvious. Yet SMBs are slow to adapt — for example, only five percent of restaurants have adopted automated tools such as online orders or reservations.
The barrier for local businesses is likely the time and adjustment it takes to overhaul the current system and the fear of disruption due to change.
Get past that fear by thinking of it like cleaning out your closet. You’ve got to empty it out, and the rest of your room might look like a disaster until you purge, organize and put things back. But the investment in automated tools will pay dividends quickly and for a long time.
Using e-commerce platforms means leads are captured 24/7, orders are taken and filled automatically, reminders are emailed, fewer cancelations result, fewer errors are made and customers are happier.
Integration with back-end systems improves reporting and increases ROI. While it does take some front-end work to transition, the end result will be more efficiency and simpler operations.
Larger businesses might employ staff for each form of media, or even each media channel that allows them to create unique content for emails, search campaigns, display ads, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ to take advantage of the nuances of each interface and general audience. Small businesses likely can’t afford that luxury.
SMBs may be better off creating one high-quality piece of content they can share across all media channels, rather than customizing content for each channel that suffers from inattention.
Note that this is not the opposite of targeting your customers with relevant information as discussed above. Rather, targeting focuses on which users of media see your content. Reusing your content across media channels reaches those same customers across platforms but with the same targeted message.
If marketing is overwhelming you, implementing even some of these strategies might help save some time and effort to free you up to do a better job at those more important tasks or allow you to put in the upfront work to adapt technologies for the long term.
Simplifying your marketing strategy doesn’t always mean it takes less time or work. But it does mean less confusion and clearer goals that allow your marketing to be more focused and more effective.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here .
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