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Separate Yourself From Everyone Else

Today's post is a short riff on finding success online.  This post is geared a little more toward entrepreneurs, hopefully traditional business people can get something out of it. It has absolutely nothing to do with what technology or any given Internet strategy.  It has more to do with "stem power," brain stem power to be precise. Of all the great Internet techniques and strategies I've come across few if any are universal to every online success story.  One person might be extremely successful with something that doesn't work for anyone else. There are commonalities at the mental level and they have to do with you as an individual and your business approach.  If you have the right mindset and approach you'll probably be far more successful than the person with all the tricks up their sleeve.

Your Mindset
The first place any online entrepreneur needs to start is with their own mind set.  This might sound cliche but what you believe dictates your reality both online and off.  If you think that there is little opportunity online or off for you than that is your reality. The most successful online entrepreneurs see the Internet as a hotbed for opportunity. You need to adopt an abundance mentality. There is more opportunity than you could possibly imagine.

Don't Limit Yourself Because of Your Educational Background
Many of the most highly sought after Internet Consultants don't have a Masters Degree in Computer Science or Internet Marketing. Some super successful online entrepreneurs don't even have a college degree. There are certain people who can teach you more about being successful online in a few days than you'll ever learn from a top Business school and you'll save yourself $100K+.  Formal education is important, but it isn't required.  It is more important to educate yourself on a continuing basis than it is to have a traditional education in a specific field.

One of the best education steps you can take is "going to the top of the mountain." Find something your passionate about and then approach the very best in your field. Don't let the Monday Morning Quarterbacks try to tell you what to do. Attend the conferences and seminars where the best in your field are to be found.  You can also find a wealth of information online in blogs and forums. Follow the advice of the best, not the second or third best.

Execute Your Ideas and Embrace Failure
Focus in on ideas that you are passionate about.  Play around your ideas and then QUICKLY put your ideas into motion. I spent years on perfecting million dollar ideas that have never been launched. How many times have you heard the saying, "An idea is no good unless you do something with it!" You'll be amazed by what you can learn just from trying something new.

I have friends with unbelievable talents and ideas who started their own web sites.  They're not going to see their dreams come to fruition because the can't overcome simple challenges and minor failures. Too many people are easily discouraged.  Learn to embrace failure and quickly get back in the saddle.  Just like Thomas Edison it isn't about how many times you fail, it's being able to look at each "failure" as a valuable lesson. You can learn an abundance of things online without spending a dime.

The ultimate litmus test for any online business endeavor is dollars in the bank, regardless of what technique or methodology you use.  I've seen the most improbable web sites make money and the most pristine fail miserably. Tomorrow I'm going to follow up with a real life success story full of great actionable advice.

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Simple Customer List Building Suggestions

Every company or business owner should have there own dedicated list of customers, members, or perspective customers.  For all my years doing Internet development and marketing, I believe that list building is one of the best ways to generate interest and sales for your products and services. In a number of cases a well build list can significantly reduce and in some cases replace the need for traditional advertising.  For all the benefits a dedicated customer list has there aren't that many businesses that build a list. Even fewer businesses properly manage and leverage their list. Below are a few consideration that almost anyone can easily implement.

Permission Based List Building
If you are doing any type of list building, make sure it is permission based.  Always ask for permission and acknowledgment from every person you add to your list.  For list building purposes, acknowledgment comes in the form of the double opt-in.  In a double opt-in the person is asked to verify their intension with an email send back to them.  Most bulk email programs have the double opt-in as a standard feature.

If people are signing up for an email list, make sure they white list you in their email and SPAM programs. Contact information is no good if you can make contact with someone.

Start with The People Who Know You
The easiest place to start list building is with your existing and perspective customers. If you have a traditional brick and mortar company like a restaurant, consider asking your patrons to sign up first.  It is much easier to get emails and mailing addresses from people who have an affinity for your product. If you have an event web site that has been running for a few years, consider asking all the people that emailed you to become subscribers. It is important that you ask people to sign up for your list. Because someone emails you doesn't give you the right to automatically add them to a subscriber list.

Use a Contest or Promotion
Remember when the Nintendo Wii or the iPhone was released? People will jump through hoops to get something they really want for free.  It might be worth giving away a highly sought after product or service in exchange for people subscribing to your list.  Consider running a promotion or giveaway to collect email addresses.

Disclosure
Let people know what they are getting into when they sign up to your list. If you promise them coupons on a regular basis make sure you deliver on your promises.  Create a privacy policy that is easily accessible.  Be very specific in letting people know they won't get spammed. Last but not least, don't spam! The quickest way to negate the effectiveness of your list is by spamming list subscribers.

Consider a List Broker
List brokers are a great way to jump start your list building endeavors. You can give a list broker specific demographic parameters and for a reasonable fee they will return target list of prospects.  If you're just starting with list building a broker might be the easiest way to go.

Go Old School For Big Returns
There are so many businesses that are currently using email marketing that you might want to consider going retro. Some of the savviest Internet marketers use the web to generate leads online and then follow up with snail mail.  For some this might be counter intuitive, but it really does work. One of my client's enjoyed a 1200%+ return on investment by leveraging one of her mailing lists with traditional snail mail. In today's digital world people still like tangible items.

Think Small for Big Returns
An intriguing question for any list builder is the quality versus quantity dilemma. Some would argue that the bigger the list the better. Interestingly enough smaller lists have proven to be diamond mines for a number of Internet Marketers. A small highly focused list will always get you more than a large board list. You are better off building a solid relationship of trust and credibility with a smaller list, as opposed to a general list

I'll be revisiting the notion of list building in future posts. There should be enough information above to at least get you thinking about setting up and refining your own list.

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Leveraging Your Existing Customer List

Last week a client sent out a direct marketing piece to their customer list via traditional snail mail.  I was aware that the client had both an email and traditional mail database for two years, yet I wasn't aware of the size of their traditional mailing list until last year. To my surprise the client had over 3,500 people on their mailing list for their local and national clients. They had built their list over the last twenty years.

It had been a few years since my client last tried any paper sales letters or announcements with their existing client base. They decided to send out an announcement about upcoming education sessions and the redesign of their web site.  I received a copy of the letter they sent out to their list and it left much to be desired.  But my emphasis was on getting something out, regardless of quality.  After almost a year of urging the client finally caved in to my request. The original mailing went out to 100 people in the local area. It pulled a very respectable response rate of around 5%. A few weeks after the campaign we measured the Return on Investment to be over 1200.00%. The above example illustrates one of the best revenue generating tools available to almost any company, an existing customer list.

Lead Online Follow Up With Mail
Now that many businesses are preoccupied with email marketing fewer companies are using traditional marketing methods. Some of the best internet marketers use their web sites as lead generation tools and follow up with traditional methods such as paper sales letters. Cultivating online leads with paper follow up has proven to be highly successful for a number of people.  Yet it is technique that few companies consider. It is important to remember that in today's digital world, people still like tangible items. Use tangible marketing materials to your advantage.

Those Who Have Bought Are More Likely to Buy
If you have spent the time to cultivate a good relationship with your potential customer and existing customer base, try approaching them before anyone investing in additional marketing of new customers. Some of the easiest people to sell to are those who already value and trust your advice, service, or product line.

A major blunder companies make is soliciting their customer lists with relentless sales pitches. People grow resentful of such techniques. I'm still a firm believer in Dr. Joe Vitale's suggestion of giving your customers/potential customers 95% information and 5% sales pitch.  You should build and reiterate the feelings of trust and credibility with customers and potential customers on a regular basis. Send them information that would be useful to them and don't get preoccupied with making the sale.  It might seem counter intuitive, but it really does work.

Revisiting Something Successful
In terms of event marketing, consider ticket sales. I have had experience with a service that sold event tickets online.  That particular service was able to enjoy an over 90% satisfaction rate for their ticketing service.  What good reason would there be not follow up with previous customers for upcoming or similar events? In my opinion, one of the single best investments of time and money for event marketers is in their previous customer list.  Use the time between events to build your list and keep your existing list subscribers informed.

If you are looking to quickly generate some additional revenue, start with your existing customer list. It's hard to think of any other marketing conduit that offers such a high return on investment.

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Fortune is In the Follow Up, But You Need to Follow Up

Do you have a follow plan for all your prospects? A few days ago I posted on a new client's success with traditional advertising they ported to a different medium in "Bring Your Offline Marketing To The Online World." Since then, the client was fortunate enough to have the same advertisement emailed to a list of local government employees.  According to the client, their telephone didn't stop ringing for two days with government employees calling to inquire about the email advertisement.  The success garnered with the advertisement is a great start. If you have advertising or marketing that is pulling a great initial response, it doesn't mean you can rest on your laurels.  It is important to have a follow up method to engage warm leads.

Start By Getting Their Information
When a perspective customer calls or emails you and they're interested in your product or service based a piece of marketing or referral, get their contact information. One of the most important things you can do is kindly attempt to get their contact information. This is the first step in establishing a follow up process with warm leads.

Have a Follow Up Process In Place

One of the biggest mistakes I see businesses make is not having enough follow up with a perspective client or customer.  Most businesses send one or two pieces of marketing material, usually laden with a bunch of sales pitch and little valuable information.  They don't do enough to establish trust and credibility with a perspective client or customer. How many businesses do you have a five or more step follow up process?  I'm not trying to encourage anyone to frivolously spend money. But the more times you target the right people with the right message, the more success you'll enjoy.

People Are Unlike To Say "Stop!" if there is Value
Some people are nervous about asking for contact information or beginning the follow up process. There is a difference between "I'm not interested right now" and "stop calling because you're getting on my nerves!" Always have some information ready to go to send out to a perspective client or customer.  It can be anything from a free report or other pertinent information.

Engaging your customers or clients takes more than just a few short interactions.  Consider the sales process like a relationship.  How many people are successful with asking "Would you like to get married?" after the first date?  Compare that with someone who asks the same question after the 50th date.  Take some time to build trust and credibility through a good follow up process.  You'll find it much easier to close deals and keep your business going.

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"I Have No Clue What They Do, Do You?"

A few weeks ago I was in a follow up meeting with a client.  The client couldn't stop raving about the positive feedback they were receiving on their newly redesigned web site. The design firm that redesigned the client's web site had done a great job. My part of the project was to advise on web usability issues. During the course of our discussion the client decided to visit the development company's web site.  It was at that point that the discussion became very interesting.

We've Spent Three Months Working With Them
As the client loaded the developer's web page, I took the opportunity to conduct an impromptu usability study.  Initially, the client spent a few moments on the home page and then a few minutes noodling on secondary pages.  After a few more minutes of exploring the developer's web site the client responded with this statement, "we've spent the last three months working with this company, yet when I go to their web site I have no idea what they actually do." The irony of the situation is that this same scenario presented above plays out on a regular basis for many companies. Regardless how good your product or service, your web site might not give users the information they seek.  It is also important for companies to ask the question, "am I giving the web user a good reason to pickup the phone or contact me via email?"

Going to the Stat Sheet
After meeting with the client, I decided to look into the matter a little further. The first place I started was with the development company's web statistics.  The owner of the development company is a friend and he was good enough to allow me access to the company's web statistics. Their web statistics tell a very interesting story.  The average user spends over eight minutes of time on the company's web site and views more than 7 individual pages.  Those are some pretty respectable numbers for any company web site. A majority of their users aren't bouncing out off the site after viewing a page or two. Thousands of people visited this company's web site, and not one visitor has picked up the phone or emailed to inquire about their services. If thousands of people are coming to your web site and taking absolutely no action, you should be concerned.

A Silver Lining
I do believe that the situation presents an advantageous opportunity for the development company or any other company caught in a similar dilemma. If you haven't had an opportunity to do so, get your current clients to review your company web site. I find that satisfied clients are pretty good about providing good feedback without patronizing.  If don't have clients to rely on, ask some friends who are objective to help. As long as you can view the feedback objectively, the information you collect can be used to strengthen and refine your online presence. You might be surprised what you can learn.

The lesson to be learned is pretty straight forward. If thousands of people are visiting your company web site, viewing numerous pages, and spending a lot of time on your site, then doing nothing about it . . . you have a problem.  You need to recognize the situation and do something about it.

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The $martest Advertisers Recognize the Need To Test

Over the last two years I've spent a tremendous amount of time studying some of the most successful marketing strategies on the Internet and from traditional marketplaces.  Most, if not all, of the top marketers test their marketing materials. Those that fail to test their online efforts: web site, email marketing campaign, Adwords campaign, etc. are setting themselves up for failure.

Test, Measure, Change, Retest
The ability to test and measure a web site or a piece of marketing material, e.g. an Adwords Ad, can make a significant amount of difference in your marketing efforts. Tested ads save advertisers money and increase their revenue. Too many companies and individual are turned off by the prospect of repeatedly testing a web site or their ads for effectiveness. Some classic excuses are "we don't have the time" or "we tried X once and it didn't work."  Consider your Google Adwords Campaign.  Do you test, measure, and retest changes to your Adwords copy and associated landing pages regularly?

The Internet is one of the single greatest testing mediums available to almost anyone.  Thanks to live web log analysis and the ability of online interactivity you can test marketing ideas in just a few minutes.  One caveat to this that you are giving other an opportunity to see "the cards you are playing." But if you test smartly and regularly the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Testing Outside the Company
Another mistake prevalent to testing of ads, marketing pieces, or web sites is failure to test with the intended audience.  Numerous companies test inside the company with their own employees, but this isn't true testing.  It is very difficult to understand the user's perspective objectivity unless you are testing with the intended audience.  Whenever and whatever you test make sure you make use of real users from a targeted demographic. Someone in the next department doesn't work.

It is possible to get carried away with testing at times so make sure to set reasonable limits.  Some testing is far better than no testing at all. From my experience, as it pertains to web site testing, companies are amazed by user feedback derived from web usability testing. Objective user feedback can give companies information and insight they might have never considered.  Dollar for dollar testing your advertising or web site shouldn't even be a discussion, just do it. Provided the web site or ads are tested properly, they'll always perform better than untested ads.

Additional Resources:

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Delivering High Quality Service Via Valuable Information

On Wednesday, I had a meeting with to a client to discuss the possibilities of their participation in an event marketing coaching program.  The emphasis of the coaching program teaches companies how to inform their clients, members, or patrons about their various events in a timely and effective manner using proven Internet marketing techniques.  During the meeting the client raised a number of valid points questioning the value of coaching program to their organization and specifically to their patrons.  Their primary goal is to provide their clients the highest possible quality of service. While being asked all the questions by the client regarding the service an interesting (yet completely unoriginal) thought came to my mind, can you deliver high quality service through relevant and timely information? I believe the answer is absolutely!

The Value of Information
All information has value.  Depending on the type of information, its' presentation, and ultimately how it is used, the value of that information could be insignificant or massive.  It's intriguing to see how people and organizations value and act upon various forms of information.  If you're a consultant or web developer, how many times have you given away free professional advice only to have it fall on the client's deaf ears?  As soon as you take the same exact information you gave away for free and charge for it, the perceived value of the information changes dramatically.

Someone Has Figured It Out
Information marketers are a neoclassical example of selling information which possess a high perceived value.  Over the years I've purchased a number of expensive information marketing programs that were crammed with great information.  The irony is that you can find most of the information contained in the programs I purchased for free on the Internet or local library.  At the same time, it would have taken hundreds of hours of my own time collect all the information. What's worth more to you, hundreds of hours of your personal time or hundreds of dollars from your wallet?

What's Important to Them
One of the key factors to valuing information is asking the question, "What is the value of the information that I'm providing my clients, members, or patrons?" What information do they think is of higher value and what is of insignificance to them?  A lack of know the answers to the previous questions is one of the largest disconnects when it comes to companies and their customers.  Numerous companies believe that they know what's best for their customers.  Trouble arises when companies "think" they know what their customers want and the customers know what they want. That disconnect forms the basis for testing a product or web site repeatedly.

I believe that any organization or consultant that can provide clients, members or patrons, information of that relevant to them and time delivers a tremendous amount of customer service.  How can anybody not be satisfied with a company that meets all their wants and needs when it comes to customer service? The challenge is providing the right information to the right people at the right time.





Bring Your Offline Marketing To The Online World

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with a local business owner regarding a marketing campaign for her business. She had recently integrated portions of a print ad into a Craigslist post.  The strength of the ad was rooting in a compelling headline, a good unique selling proposition, and a specific call to action. Within a short time of posting the online ad she had a number of inquires regarding the promotion. The ad reinvigorated a promotion that the business had been running for a few years with only some success.

Have you run successful marketing campaigns offline?
Businesses should explore the possibilities of bringing some of their offline marketing campaigns to the online world.  Do you have an ad or piece of print marketing material that could be easily integrated into an online campaign? One of the easiest ways to integrate your traditional marketing materials to online marketing is through a keyword based pay per click (PPC) campaign. PPC campaigns allow advertisers to setup an ad and test its effectiveness in a matter of a few minutes. Not only is the advertising time frame to market shortened, but so is the cost involved.  You can start most PPC campaigns for less than $10 USD. I cannot think of any other form of advertising that allows you to test advertising with so little initial investment.

If you want to take the test a little further, setup a specific landing page to expand on your offer and give users even more interest in what you have to offer.

Beware Watchful Eyes
As with most things in life, for every virtue there is a vice. One of the dangers of bringing marketing items from the offline world is that competing advertisers and marketers will see your ad almost instantaneously.  Savvy competitors can quickly reverse engineer one of your ads for their own purposes.  The offline world allows marketers to run certain campaigns for a few months, in some cases a few years, before they need to make changes to their headlines, copy, or unique selling proposition. Unfortunately the speed of the Internet can create a marketing liability for certain marketers.

Regardless of some of the vices associated with bringing your offline marketing to the traditional world, every business owner should consider the possibilities of modifying offline campaigns for the online world. The results might just be a pleasant surprise.

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Beyond the Obvious: Regarding Your Web Site . . .

One of the most common questions asked in the business world is "Do you have a web site?" The question is somewhat of a self validating factor for many companies. "If you build it, they will come" worked wonders for Kevin Kosner in Field of Dreams, but as many companies and individuals find out that mantra doesn't pan out so well on the Internet.  There have been companies that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their web development with little or no return on their investment.  Companies should view web sites as an extension of their marketing, not as a piece of artwork to be admired.

All Looks and No Brains
There are company web sites that are visually extraordinary and do absolutely nothing in terms of generating leads or revenue. The lack of return on investment then prompts these companies to dump even more cash into a hopeless cause. At the same time there are web sites that look visually horrendous yet bring high quality leads and thousands in revenue month.

In my experience the companies that have the most successful web presence are those that are steeped with good marketing experience.  Those companies take the basics of good marketing and bring that to their web site. The best web sites are a amalgamation of directing marketing basics, strong copywriting, consistent testing, and lastly decent design.  Design is one of the most over emphasized components on the web.  Design is important to any web site, but it isn't the most important element. Users will almost always opt for simple and useful over superior graphics and technologically advanced web sites.

It helps to set practical marketing goals for your web site. How many sales leads did you generate from your web site last month?  If you didn't generate enough leads, what are you doing to correct the problem? 

Think about the following questions as they pertain to your web site:

  • Is your web site part of your current marketing plan? If not - why?
  • How does my web site contribute to additional sales or services for my business?
  • Do you integrate feedback given by your users?
  • When was the last time you looked at your web statistics?

Companies need to start thinking of their web site as a tool for marketing and extending their business, not just something you have "because everyone else has one."

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Event Promotion: Online Coupons and Discounts

Have You Considered Using a Coupon or Discount lately?
No discussion on internet marketing would be complete if you didn't bring up the topic of Coupons and Discounts. Coupons and discounts are a great way to get prospects to take near immediate action online. It's hard to debate that people are LESS likely to buy your products or service if they have a coupon in hand. In spite of a coupon’s versatility beyond just discounting, few businesses choose to make use of them. You can do the same - use coupons to drive sales, track marketing effectiveness, and create lifetime value customers.

Coupons are a Waste, Right?
A few years ago I tried to convince a client to provide coupons to his customers. The client is involved in the restaurant business. Up until that point in time he considered any type of coupon as bad.  We ran a test . . . give away a 25 cent to produce product and see what happens. The average ticket was over $30 per party.  Then the client said this . . . “What happens when people make copies and there are thousands of coupons floating around? I think that makes us look cheap.”  I would argue that thousands of people with a coupon for your restaurant is a good thing - especially when you're raking in an average of $30 per party. 

Correct Pricing
A number of business owners think coupons and discounts are a money losing proposition.  If you’re loosing money on coupons or discounts, you’re doing something wrong. (This doesn't include loss-leaders) The proper pricing of the product or service needs to be done with discounting in mind from the beginning.  If you set your price point intentionally high, you can avoid dipping into your profit margin. If you're going to start using coupons, target high margin items. Is there anything you can set to a higher price and then coupon?

Tracking Marketing Effectiveness

Coupons can also be used to track your marketing efforts. I'd argue couponing is less about giving a discount and more about finding out what advertising channels work. Have you ever checked out of an online store and entered a promotional code or discount coupon?  That is most likely tied back to a strategic marketing campaign.  Consider using a free consultation (coupon) as a way to lure perspective leads.

Creating Lifetime Value Customers
You can’t look at the single transaction as the ultimate indication of success.  Too many business owners think in terms of “If I could just get each person to buy X.” The question that needs to be asked is what is the value of your customer over time?  The value of a one time sale is minimal, the value of a lifetime customer is massive. Coupons can be used to assist you in creating lifetime value customers.

Use coupons to drive sales beyond just one transaction. Coupons should be part of your long term strategy. It's all about the lifetime value of a customer.

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