Referrals and Setting the Bar High

Yesterday I had an interesting discussion with the partner of a very high end graphic design firm.  During the course of our brief conversation I asked her about how they generate business. The really interesting part about the graphic design firm's clients is their list of predominately high end clients. The person I was interviewing indicated they generate a good portion of new business as a result of referrals. This simple notion was a catalyst for my own insight into the referral process.

"What others say about you and your product, service, or business is at least 1,000 times more convincing than what you say, even if you are 2,000 times more eloquent."
- Dan Kennedy

You Need to Ask Before You Can Receive
The best way to get a referral is by asking for one. Yet, it's very common for business owners to be hesitant about asking for referrals. For all my years of business, I can't think of one client who referred me business without asking for a referral.  Don't be afraid to ask. My father always told me, "The worst they can do is say, No." Nobody will every think any less of you.

Go for the Cream of the Crop
All referrals are not created equal. I believe that any referrals you have an opportunity to approach have value. At the same time, I would argue that the more prestigious the client the better the referral.  If you have a product or service that you're confident works well, why not position try to position it as high as possible?  Some of my biggest business breaks came as a result of aligning my best services with very reputable clients. Look back a few years, I cannot think of a particularly good reason why any business should look to set the client bar as high as possible from the start.  If you have high end clients, chances are you are going to get high end referrals.
   
Eliminating Client Problems with High End Referrals
An important part of the business process is choosing the right clients.  Many businesses fall into the trap of taking on new business for financial gain.  At the same time, don't forget to consider all aspects of taking on a new client. It is very tempting to take a job that will pay nicely. Focus on the relationship aspects first, then the money part afterward.  Aaron Wall of SeoBook.com gave me some great advice during a telephone interview a few months ago.  You can eliminate 95% of your client problems by selecting the right clients.  Only do business with the people who are going to be a good fit for your product or services. The right clients shouldn't squabble about your price or second guess your methodology. The best thing you can do for your business is find clients that are a good fit.

Next time you think about a new client, take a few moments to consider the type of referrals they might be able to provide. Referrals are one of the best ways to generate new business. If you can get any referrals from your clients, at least get a testimonial.

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'I Feel the Need, The Need for "Reading" Speed'

My good friend Mike over at the Masonic T-Shirts web site ask me an interesting question over the weekend, "Do you need to practice reading?"  Upon first thought it seemed like a silly question. He had just started to read JRR Tolkien's, The Children of Húrin, a precursor to the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mike had previously read through the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit quickly and without any problems.  He conceded that it has been a few months since he last did any substantial reading. Eventually the conversation with Mike turned to speed reading.  Of all the skills one person can learn I believe speed reading to be one of the most important.

Reading at a Slug's Pace
I'm one of those people who would read every single word.  As a young lad my reading skills were sub par. I still remember my parents sending me to reading classes while in elementary school. Throughout high school and university I continued to read word for word. I'll never get any of that time spent plodding through books back. The worst part is that I couldn't remember half the stuff I read. Finally, about 8 years ago, I started to immerse myself in speed reading. After learning how to speed read, it was like night and day.  I had significantly more time and I could actually remember what I was reading.

Why Not Teach This Stuff In School?
As a freshman in university I was required to take a writing comprehension course, but never anything to improve my reading or memory. I really don't understand why educational systems, at least in the United States, don't place a huge emphasis teaching faster and more comprehensive reading skills.  Many educators point out the lack of writing skills found in university students. I whole heartily agree that writing comprehension is extremely important, but I would argue reading skills to be more important. Logic would dictate that great reader be at least a decent writer, correct?

Everyone Should Make the Investment
It's never too late to learn. If you get a chance invest some time into learning how to be a better reader. One excellent resource for speed reading is your local library. Search the library's catalog or ask one of the librarians if they have a speed reading course. If your local library doesn't have a speed reading course, encourage them to purchase one. It's should be a pretty straightforward justification.

Back to Mike's question, "do you need to practice reading?" Absolutely, I do believe reading needs to be practiced. As the the old cliche goes, "Use it or lose it!" More importantly, I think everyone should take the time to increase both their reading skills and memory.  Time is the one of the few things we can't arbitrarily create. We're all on a clock that is ticking down. If you learn to read faster and with increased comprehension, you'll have more time for the other things in life. Investing into learning how to speed reading or a speed reading course is one of the most important investments anyone can make.

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High Speed Internet and the Wane of Dial Up

It was only a few years ago when more than half of the Internet users were getting online via dial up connections.  The problem was that many companies started to abandon the notion of keeping web pages small and load times quick as broadband connections became more mainstream.  As of 2007, about 20% of Internet users are still utilizing dial up access to get on the Internet. A full report detailing additional recent Internet usage statistics is available on the Ipsos North America web site.

Back in the day eight seconds was the typical attention span of a web user.  Ironically, I believe user attention spans have become even shorter than eight seconds. Broadband connections have reduced the patience of many Internet users.  If a web site doesn't start to load in a few seconds even I start to get frustrated. One of the fallouts from more high speed users has become bloated web sites with lots of video, graphics, plus unnecessary bells and whistles. In a time of high speed Internet it becomes beneficial not to think like everyone else. Instead of thinking about how much information you can stuff onto a single web page, think about providing just the right amount of information.

Thinking Backwards
There are times when a 'contrarian' mindset can serve almost any web site. A friend of mine runs a series of college humor web sites.  His video driven web site costs him thousands of dollars a month in hosting fees because of the ridiculous amount of bandwidth it requires. He told me he was measuring bandwidth for one of his college humor video web sites in terabytes. One day he came up with the idea of focusing on a picture driven web site. His desire to focus on picture web sites versus video web sites might shock some people. Someone I mentioned the idea to responded with, "everyone is interested in video web sites." Most people think that video is the way to go online. Interestingly, he has far more page views per user than his video web sites and pays far less in web site hosting each month. If I'm not mistaken his profit margin is much higher on his picture web sites than on his video web site.

Use it - Don't Abuse It
Because you have the bandwidth doesn't mean you need to use the bandwidth. Some of the most financially successful web pages I know of weight in under 100K.  That's smaller than most individual photographs contained on newspaper homepages. These light weight web sites are the epitome of simplicity.  Yet for most companies they're too simple to emulate. The best part is that they are driving millions of dollars of revenue for the companies running them.

Even though high speed connections are hear to stay, it's still tremendously beneficial to create web sites that load quickly. I have yet to receive a complaint about a web site that loaded too quickly.  In the predominately high speed Internet one of the best things any company can do is keep its' site "lean and mean."

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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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What Web Developers Can Learn From Facebook

A few months ago, some friends convinced me to join Facebook. It is in some ways similar to other social networking web sites such as MySpace and Multiply. For those that don't know, Facebook is a social networking web site that allows you and your friends to share stories, pictures, and other forms of user generated content. Facebook marks a return to the simpler side of the Internet. Like other social networking web sites, Facebook emphasizes user driven content. From a web design aspect, Facebook is an ode to the simple roots of the early Internet, plenty of text and picture content. There are a few lessons on content that any web developer can learn from Facebook and integrate into their own web projects. The biggest lesson to be learned comes in the form of relevant content.

High Quality Content Versus Relevant Content
From a content perspective Facebook becomes an interesting contrast of high quality content versus extremely relevant content. For years I've always been a big proponent of high quality content. But with social networking web sites the emphasis focuses on very relevant content. Consider the following choices, which would you choose to view first?

  1. A potentially great story or amazing photograph by someone you don't know.
  2. A story posted by a friend with decent pictures.

Most people I know would choose number 2. Too many web developers and web site owners have content on their web sites that doesn't interest their visitors. You see it all the time with companies that provide great offline services. They aren't able to effectively connect with their target market because of a lack of relevant content.

There are also other strengths that web developers can integrate into their own projects.

Facebook's Strengths:

  • Hyper Relevant User Content
  • Very Simple Content: Predominately Pictures and Text
  • Near Instantaneous Updates
  • Quick Load Time
  • Integration of the Traditional Web with the Mobile Web
  • Advertising that doesn't overshadow content

Facebook does an excellent job of bridging traditional PC based web browsing with a quick loading and compact mobile phone applications.  Their mobile application is almost entirely text based. If you use the mobile phone interface, you can select the type of content and information alerts you receive.

For all its' strengths one of the biggest challenges I faced was learning to use the interface.  I wouldn't classify Facebook's user interface as being highly intuitive or extremely simple to use.  Since the service is so heavily driven by content it forces me to ask the question, "Is the user interface THAT important?"

The tremendous growth of Facebook's membership speaks for itself. The network and its' growth is built upon the premise of interacting and sharing information with your friends.  Facebook does a great job of reminding us to focus content supported by decent design. It drives home the point that content is still King on the Internet and graphic design is Queen. If you have a few minutes it's worth signing up for an account and networking with friends.

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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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Tracking The Effectiveness of Traditional Marketing with The Internet

In previous posts I've explored the idea of being web centric with your marketing efforts.  All points of advertising should point back to your web site. If you have analytics software working on your web site, the web offers the tremendous advantage of automatically collecting data each time a user visits your web site. The technique below has been used for a while and it's far from an original idea. There are simple steps almost anyone can take to leverage web site visitor data with traditional forms of advertising.  Depending on your desired level of sophistication, you can refine the method to track individual pieces of advertising.

Tracking Advertising Effectiveness with a Forward Slash /
If you use a forward slash after your domain name you can send users to a specific section (directory) of you web site. In doing so, you can refine your visitor tracking.

I believe the forward slash " / " works best with print and television advertising.   Radio is a little more difficult because you can't visually reinforce a domain name.  In print and television you can visually callout or reemphasize elements of your domain name. Use a different word after the forward slash for various marketing mediums. You can even segment down with different words after the forward slash for individual publications or television stations.

Here are some examples of the forward slash method.

  • yourwebsite.com/special
  • yourwebsite.com/discount
  • yourwebsite.com/offer
  • yourwebsite.com/2008

The forward slash method can lead the user to copy of your existing home page or an individual landing page.  My personal recommendation is using a landing page. If you use a landing page, you might want to consider making a special offer to the visitor or use the opportunity to collect a lead.  If you don't use  a landing page, the page where you send the visitor should have a good Unique Selling Proposition and a strong Call to Action. 

One Caveat
The method is predicated on you having decent analytics software installed. Our standard recommendation for collecting visitor traffic data is Google Analytics.  It's free, easy to integrate, and versatile enough to get collect good data. Ask your hosting company or web developer for assistance in ensuring you have the proper software and it is setup correctly.

How to Track Effectiveness
After the advertising has run check your web statistics, you should be able to correlate the various forms of advertising and see if there is a follow through with visitors to your web site. Make sure you request a copy of the ad schedule from each individual advertiser. The ad schedule should give an hourly break down of when your advertising was broadcast. Check to see if certain types of ads perform better during various parts of the day.

Why Not Use a Different Domain Name?

Some of my colleagues have pointed out that you can also track effectiveness by using different domain names.  My personal opinion is that it's far better to brand one domain name with your audience than using multiple domain names.  This is especially true for event marketers. If you have an event that takes place every year or every few years it's recommended that you stay with one domain name.

The technique outline above is not a perfect method for tracking all your advertising.  But it is significantly more effective than dumping all your users to your home page and not knowing how they ended up on the web site.  Ultimately, the process will assist you in identifying the advertising mediums that work the best or at least alert you to advertising that is performing poorly.

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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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Questions You Need To Ask Regarding Your Web Site

Last week, during a local marketing meeting, a thought occurred to me.  I was in a room full of 25 savvy marketers/business people. I thought to myself "why not ask the meeting attendees some simple yet important questions regarding their company web sites."  It was an informal survey and the results ended up resonating an important point.   My first question was, "Do you have a company web site?"  Almost everyone in the room raised their hand. Two questions later only three people had their hand still raised. Out of a group of 25 people only 3 (12%) had a web site that supported their business.  I believe there are three simple yet important questions any business owner could ask themselves to identify if their web site is supporting their business. The questions that follow are the same questions I asked the meeting participants.

The Important Questions To Consider

  • Is my web site helping to generate revenue for my company?
  • Does my web site generate quantifiable sale leads for my company?
  • Does my web site save my company money on a regular basis?

Ideally, "Yes" should be the answer to all the questions above. A truly effective web site, at a minimum, should answer "Yes" to at least two of the questions.  Many people will answer yes to the questions, but give very nebulous information to support their answer. A "Yes" response should be followed by supporting data, "Yes, we generated sales leads with out web site, and here is how we accomplished that . . ."

A Difficult Path to Travel
It isn't easy to create a web site that you can answer yes to the three questions above. It took me years to figure out how to create a web site that generated leads, creates consistent revenue, and saves money on a regular basis. I'm still in the process of creating a web site that does all three things. Every company with a web site should strive to create a site that measurably saves money, generates leads, and increases revenue. "Because everyone else has one" isn't a good reason to have a web site.

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Leveraging Technology Versus Using "Bells and Whistles"

Are you leveraging technology or making use of "bells and whistles?" 
There are plenty of companies who are quick to integrate various forms of technology online or into their web site. Examples are numerous from online audio and video to flash and interactive polling. There are some great technologies out there that can automate a process into a few minutes compared to hours or days for traditional implementation. The leveraging of technology provides companies with a proven return on investment. "Bells and whistles" are nice to have, but never deliver a measurable or advantageous return on investment. It is important to know the difference between leveraging technology and making use of "bells and whistles."

It starts with companies being objective about their use of online technology. A large differentiator between those individuals and companies who are successful online and everyone else comes down to who consistently leverages technology. Consider the example of email marketing with programs like, AWeber, Constant Contact, or 1ShoppingCart.  How many people do you know make use of email marketing services? I personally know a number of companies and individuals who make use of email marketing technology.  For all the companies using email marketing programs,very few use the technology properly and on a regular basis.  For those that fail in their endeavors, you hear reasons like "we couldn't figure out how to make it work" or "it didn't work for us." Frustration replaces objectivity.

Tenacity and Determination
Those who are very successful online leverage technology to it's maximum potential.  They test and track their results on a regular basis. They don't quit because something doesn't go accordingly the first, second, or third time.  The online superstars realize the difference between being perfect and "good is good enough." For those that fail with their online efforts it is usually from a lack of tenacity and determination.

Be Introspective
One way to differentiate between "bells and whistles" and good technology is by asking yourself, "what's cool to have and what is truly useful?" Also ask yourself,"I am maximizing the usefulness of a given technology?" If not, it might be time to move on to something else. The hard part is knowing when to stay with a process and when to get out. In the past it was said "One Man's Junk is Another Man's Treasure." It isn't much different when it comes to technology. Those that take the time to figure it out the right nuances usually end up with most of the treasure.

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Building Anticipation For Your Event with Email Marketing

Do you or your organization have an upcoming event? Let's assume you already have a web site, high quality targeted email list, and an email distribution service. It is important to remember there are so many companies who now do email marketing that it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. If you plan on using email for event marketing you need to distinguish yourself. There are a few simple steps you can take to stand out from the crowd.

Send More Than One Email
It takes more than one simple email to get people to your event. Many event marketers assume that one or two emails are sufficient enough to compel the target audience to buy a ticket or induce a desirable action.  The consumer gets bombarded with so much advertising, it's easy for them to forget or simply not pay attention to your messaging. Take some time to think of a series of emails that will build interest and encourage measurable action over time.  This measurable action could come in the form of purchasing an online ticket, clicking a link for additional information, or signing up to volunteer.  You want to think with the final goal in mind.  Consider what you ultimately want to accomplish with your email marketing. How do you plan on measuring success? The biggest mistake you can make is by asking your audience to buy right from the start.

The First Thing They Read

Your messaging starts with the email's subject line.  You need to give the user a good reason to open your email.  Remember that your target audience is being inundated with "Free Viagra" and "Your Pre-Approved" messages on a regular basis. The better the subject line the better email open rates. The best open rates I've seen my clients achieve with their email marketing efforts ranges between 30-40%.  I personally don't know of anyone in the industry who achieves email open rates above 60% on a regular basis.

Building Interest
When engaging in email event marketing you need to be conscious of the fine line between being persistent and annoying your list subscribers. If each email you send is asking someone to "buy now, buy now!" and overly sales pitch oriented, you're going to annoy your target audience. Engage your audience at the emotional level. It is possible to sell something without being overly "salesman-like." I'm a firm believer in providing an overwhelming amount of useful and entertaining information with little or no sales pitch.  It is hard to build trust and credibility when you are always asking for the sale. Tease them with great content or a link to an interesting video.  Don't over do the persistence of your messaging. Send your messages about every two weeks leading up to your event.

Consider some of the steps outlined above for the next time you start an event marketing campaign. The most important thing you can do is deliver high quality and relevant information to your target audience.  It's difficult for someone not to open a new email when the last one was so engaging.

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"Can Your Computer or the Internet Kill You?"

"There I was . . ." rolling out after landing in a Canadian Harvard (AT-6 Texan).  I had landed the airplane on the runway and began rolling out.  During the landing there was a steady breeze from the right. Because of my lack of correcting for the wind the airplane's right wing started to rise, creating a very dangerous predicament. I was but a few seconds from wrecking a beautiful vintage World War II airplane. The stick abruptly moved on it's own to the right to correct the extremely dangerous situation. 

A second later a very stern voice came into my headset, "I just saved your ass! NEVER let that happen again!"  The quick control correction and stern voice was my Instructor Pilot, "Holiday," from the back seat.  In flying it's really easy to make a simple mistake that leads to a life threatening situation.  In retrospect, too many people approach their personal use of computers and the Internet as though they were piloting an airplane on their own for the first time. I don't know of anyone who has ever been injured or killed using a computer, trying to create a web page, or accessing the Internet from their home or office.  The biggest challenge to getting computer phobics to use a computer is their fear of "breaking it." There are things in this world we all do that can easily hurt us, using a computer isn't one of them.

Why Fear of Something That Can't Hurt You?
One of the best ways to overcome the fear of computers or the Internet is by immersing yourself in the experience. "I'm afraid that I'll mess something up" is a statement repeated by novice computer users on a regular basis. The irony is that in today's world computers have never been easier to operate.  It's perfectly fine to make simple mistakes on the computer. Gone are the days of DOS when all you had to do was delete a critical file sending the whole computer into a tizzy. Thomas Edison would agree that the more mistakes we make the more we learn.  The great Babe Ruth had 1,330 strike outs on his way to 741 home runs. Is he remembered for his strike outs (mistakes) or home runs?

Good SA Makes for An Easy Recovery
After years of wrecking my own computers and crashing perfectly good web sites, there is one technique that has assisted me in correcting more issues than any other technique: having good SA.  In the piloting world it's called SA (Situational Awareness).  The best pilots know exactly what is going on around them at all times.  If good pilot gets into a dicey situation, he or she quickly corrects the action based on knowing what just happened. You can apply good SA to dealing with computer problems. It is very important to be conscious of what you are doing at all times. Don't forget the standards like frequently saving the file(s) you are working on and having good anti-virus software. 

If your computer, or a web site your working on breaks, try to retrace your steps. The biggest challenge and frustration to anyone who's trying to troubleshoot a problem web page or problematic computer is figuring out what caused the problem in the first place.  "I don't know what I did!" Those words create more frustration for computer repair techs or your guardian angel computer geek trying to help solve a problem. The easiest solutions are those where the problem is easily identified and quickly retraced to the source. If the cause of the problem isn't known it could take hours to correct.

Provided the problem with your computer or web site isn't so bad as to knock out your Internet, you can find a solution on your own.  Go to Google and type in the problem in the search box.  In almost every instance you will be able to quickly find a solution. Goto a resident computer geek if you don't feel comfortable trying to solve the solution on your own.

Fear Not!
Computers can open up an amazing world of information and communication for anyone who is willing to try something new. There is no need to fear something that can't really hurt you. There are plenty of geeks around to help you out.

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How Name Branding Impacts Event Web Site Marketing

Event Web Site - Name Branding
If you are supporting your event with a web site, domain names are a crucial part of event branding.  When people think of your event do they know about the associated web site?  More importantly, can they easily recall the domain name? This is a core concept of web centric event marketing.  All points of advertising should lead to your web site. When people already know where to find information on your event it is far easier to focus your advertising campaigns on promoting event awareness. It costs far less money to promote awareness as opposed to trying to brand a new event and enticing people to attend.  Affinity and prior customer satisfaction make it significantly easier for event organizers to get patrons to their next event.

A Real World Example of Branding
Recently, I had a client make a last minute decision to change their existing domain name to a new domain name.  The scope of their event had changed and they wanted a domain name that better reflected the change. At first glance their decision appeared to be a smart idea. In actuality it might turn out to be a huge strategic mistake.  For years the client spent tens of thousands of dollars to brand the previous domain name. A few weeks before their event started they decided to change their domain name.  Their decision to change the domain name can have a negative impact on their branding efforts. They made the right decision in forwarding their domain to their new domain.  Always make sure your old domain forwards to the new one and never immediately stop using your old domain name.

It's Never Too Early to Establishing Event Awareness
One of my air show mentors who has participated in and organized hundreds of air shows keeps reminding me of the following: You can never get the message across too early.  Keep your event web site up and running between each year you have your event, even if there is a break of a two to three years.  For organizations it takes anywhere from six months to a year just to position their event web site in top search engines for certain keywords.

Search Engine Optimization Impact
Going back to the previous client example. The client's decision to change their domain name a few weeks before the event could have a very negative fallout for search engine optimization. For most organizations it takes months, if not years to get a proper search engine listing. If people are searching for the previous event they might not recognize the new branding.  In some cases the domain name might not even show up as a proper listing in search engines. If you are going to change your domain name or web site for your event, do so at least 6 months in advance.

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On Testing: Make Sure Your Tests Fit the Environment

Yesterday, I received an email from a design firm. On occasion the firm sending the email hires me to consult on their web projects. In this particular instance they were looking to send some web designs, in print format, to a perspective client.  Their proposed idea gave me a quick flash back to a serious issue that arose a few years earlier during a final web site review meeting.

Reviewing a Web Site Design on Paper
A few years ago I was sitting in on a meeting held between another design firm and their client to update the progress of the client's nearly completed web site. Until that meeting the design firm responsible for web development had been submitting their web page designs for approval on paper. During our meeting the client held up their printed version to compare and contrast the version on their computer screen. The client's first response was "It looks different, I like what I see on paper better." There were a number of small discrepancies between the web version and the print version. The end result cost the development company thousands of dollars in design changes. Big lesson to be learned: review web sites on a computer browser not on printed sheets of paper.

The Looking Glass
When conducting any sort of web site testing for clients, ensure that the testing takes place on the user's own computers.  Think of your home or work office computer as your personal "looking glass" into the world wide web.  Everyone has a different looking glass (computer and monitor setup). Taking a user away from their normal perspective can create a number of issues especially when it comes to usability testing. The was the issue with the meeting example above.  The client was accustomed to seeing the web designs being presented on paper.  When the client was finally presented with the web version of their web site their perspective changed enough to become an issue of concern.

Keeping It Native
When you are developing or testing a web site, keep the testing within its' native environment.  The above example illustrates just one of the factors associated with attempting to show web work on paper. There are any number of variables that could be different from a printed hard copy to the actual computer screen.  Make sure you are testing your web projects in a web browser and test print pieces on paper.

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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.

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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.




Striving for Web Site Perfection, When Good is Good Enough

There was a powerful passage I recently found that really struck a chord for me from Tim Ferriss' The Four Hour Work Week.  It illustrates a point that needs to be carefully considered with anything done on the Internet. Below is an excerpt from Tim's book:

"Most endeavors are like learning to speak a foreign language: to be correct 95% of the time requires six months of concentrated effort, whereas to be correct 98% of the time requires 20-30 years. Focus on great for a few things and good enough for the rest. Perfection is a good ideal and direction to have, but recognize it for what it is: an impossible destination."

Ferriss, Timothy. The Four Hour Work Week, Crown Publishing, 2007.

There are many times when other aspects of life can teach you something about creating a successful web site. I have yet to stumble across the perfect web site. Tim's point of learning a new language can also be applied to the time vested in creating or maintaining a web site. Web project management and web strategy are each very distinct and through disciplines.  I'm not trying to diminish their value in any way.  Yet the decision makers involved should always ask themselves "Is X worth the time and money on this project?"

There are web development companies who hedge their entire development budget on very specific details that bring no additional value to a web site. I've been in the same scenario myself.  You get passionate about a belief that you personally think will make a huge difference only to ultimately find out that the 20 extra hours you spent tweaking something goes completely unnoticed and has no positive impact.

Good is Good Enough
The marketing great Dan Kennedy is a big proponent of "Good is Good Enough!" Take a look a Dan's web site. There are plenty of web sites that are visually unappealing to say they least. Those same visually unappealing make a ridiculous amount of money for their owners. The notion of "Good is Good Enough" shouldn't be confused with sloppy, reckless, or lazy. If it isn't a well thought and properly implemented effort then it's "Not enough."

The Yang
At the opposite side of the spectrum there are far too many companies who also do far too little with their web site.  The "shiny" new web site gets all the care and attention after being launched only to get moved to the back burner in a month or two.

Companies can get far more out of their web sites by focusing on the right things as opposed to focusing too much on the wrong things. Thinking objectively is one of the easiest ways to refocus on the right things. Instead of thinking of what's going to best represent your company online, think of what might best serve your user's needs.

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Reading the User's Mind and Then Doing Nothing About It

Want to find out what users of your web site are thinking?
The simplest place to start is by looking at your web site log files with an analytics program. Right now, I know that a number of people reading this are saying to themselves "Thank You, Dr. Obvious!" Of course if you look at your web stats you'll get better information on what the users are thinking.  Each user movement through your web site tallies up in various trends for interpretation on web reports.  The process takes a good portion of the guess work out of the equation as it pertains to "what are the users thinking?

Doing Nothing With Good Information
I've seen more web reports than I care to recall.  These reports include everything from a short synopsis of user activity to 75 pages of data that a statistician would drool over.  For all the great analytics packages on the market, some solutions being absolutely free, most companies don't take the time to implement web strategy changes in accordance with their web stats.  At web stat review meetings  everyone is "amazed and really interested in all the findings." After a review meeting most findings fall to the way side or nothing gets changed.

Linking Your Statistics with Goals
I discussed the challenge of web stats falling to the wayside with my friend Matt from ITMonkey.  He shared some of the same concerns and suggested some very practical advice. Matt said it starts with "creating realistic and measurable goals that you can reference against your web stats." You need to go beyond the standard metrics such as visitors, page views, average time on site, etc. Some simple goal oriented suggestions include the following:

  • If your goal is to increase the usability of your web site, your web statistics are a great starting point for any usability testing.  The history of your site gives a historical retrospective on who, what, when, where, as it pertains to users. You can also test new strategies against old trends.
  • Web statistics are a great bridge into establishing or refining a Search Engine Optimization campaign.  Again use collected keyword data as a starting point.  Are your new keywords as effective as generating traffic?
  • Are links you've recently traded or purchased to your web site providing you with an appreciable return on investment?
  • If you have an advertising campaign you are running in the traditional media use your analytics software to track the effectiveness of your marketing.  There was one campaign that was run earlier this year that actually showed a better return on investment from Pay Per Click Advertising versus radio advertising.

Companies need to go beyond just reading web statistics for all the obvious reasons.  Look deeper and tie the statistical data to measurable goals over time. Companies are getting a pretty precise map of what their web users are thinking and doing, but what's the use of a map that you never reference?

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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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