Archive for March 2013

Majority of Canadian Small Business Owners Are Still Living in the 1980s

March 25, 2013

Author: Brenna Pearce

I’m straying from small business blog writing advice in this post once again, but I thought the subject was important. I was doing some research for a presentation I’m giving about blogging for small businesses and I came across some interesting statistics I’d like to share with you. A recent (February 27, 2013) poll conducted by Ipsos Reid and commissioned by RBC, shows that the majority of small business owners in Canada are still living in the 1980s. Are you one of them? Read on.

Are You Missing a Major Marketing Opportunity?

The poll has some disturbing results; disturbing because so many companies are missing out on, and seemingly oblivious to, a major marketing opportunity. Among its results, the survey of small businesses in Canada showed that more than half of all small businesses in Canada have no dedicated website for their business. The poll doesn’t indicate if they have some other online presence, such as Facebook, which might be considered by some a dedicated website. My view is that a dedicated website would be a website exclusively owned by the company and hosted by some Internet hosting company. In other words, the company would have its own domain name and its website content would be created by, for, and about the company itself. Facebook wouldn’t qualify as a dedicated small business website by that definition.

English: A NES console with the Super Mario Br...

Living in the 1980s

So, the poll says, only 46% of Canadian small business owners have their own website. It’s no surprise then that 56% of business owners say that they believe finding and keeping customers is the biggest challenge they face in the coming year. Back in the 1980s the most common link to the outside world was the telephone. The most common way to market your business was through traditional advertising methods. Still, someone thought up the repugnant idea of using the telephone to market certain types of businesses and telemarketing was born. But again, this is still the marketing model for 54% of Canadian small businesses in 2013, 20+ years after the Internet Revolution began.

Is Your Website Just an Online Billboard?

English: British Columbia billboard photograph...

So, by now you’re thinking proudly to yourself, “I have a website for my small business”. Well, maybe you shouldn’t be so smug just yet. How are you using your small business website? Is it just an online billboard that features your products and services? Are you actively promoting your business online? In fact, only 41% of small business who actually have a website use it actively to promote their business, according to the poll. It isn’t enough just to have a website, you also have to make use of it to market your business.

According to Statistics Canada, 80% of the Canadian population is online. If you’re not trying to drive potential customers to your website, then what good is it? Recently I had a discussion with a new acquaintance about blogging. At one point he responded that he had an archive of articles on his website that he had written about his professional activities. Great, I asked; who’s reading them? How are people finding your articles? And how are people finding your website? By accident? By you directing them to your website when they come into your store or when you meet them at a networking function?

Create an Active Online Presence

Seriously, small business owners, it’s not enough just to hand out business cards with your website URL printed on them. You need to create an active online presence. How do you do that? One of the best ways, of course, is by blogging about your company, your industry, and the products and services that you sell.

My Cyber Social Map

While it is true that a blog eventually becomes a series of archived articles, writing a blog also needs to be an ongoing, dynamic process. Websites on their own are static rather than dynamic and plugged in to the daily digital Internet “news cycle”. A blog serves to keep your small business constantly connected to the worldwide online community. Each new subscriber is also a potential sharer of your information. Add the blog to Facebook and LinkedIn and you suddenly have access to all of the people you are connected to as you share each new blog post. They in turn may share your blog post to all of their friends. This is the organic nature of information-spread across the Internet. You in turn, need to visit bloggers’ sites similar to yours and post comments and share your website address. This gives you a very simple method of creating back-links, which is another way that Google uses your information to make you more visible in the search returns. Also, you create cross-links in each blog post that point to your other sites, such as your primary website and other social media websites, again creating interest from Google. Each blog post also needs to be created with SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in mind. The more relevant searchable terms you can add to your blog posts (without keyword stuffing which Google will ban you for), the more visible you will be in search returns. So you can essentially funnel new readers to your primary website.

Also keep in mind that a site like WordPress has almost 40 million users. You can “Press” each and every blog post and it is featured on the main news aggregator section of the WordPress site. That is a tremendous amount of new exposure for each and every blog article you post although, admittedly, only for a short period of time. Still, your blog posts also go into a classification category that indexes your blog site and makes it available for anyone interested in your information category. If you’re looking for worldwide exposure, this is certainly a fantastic way to get that. I have visitors on my blogs from all over the world.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult!

Are you a small business owner still living in the 1980s? Still relying on telephones, newspaper ads, and other antiquated technology? Confused about how to turn your website from an online billboard hoping that someone might “drive by” on the Information Highway and see it, to a dynamic, vital part of a content marketing strategy that will bring in new business? Leave a message in the comments section below or visit our website; we can help you with all of that!

Finally, remember this sobering fact: of the 46% of Canadian small business owners from the RBC survey who had websites, 38% generate 25% to 50% of all their revenues from online activities. Can you afford to throw away that much business? If not, you should start thinking about creating a content marketing strategy.

Dollar Sign in Space - Illustration

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My Brand is the Conversation?

March 21, 2013

I thought I’d do more of an opinion piece for this post. To kick this off and let you know why, the other day I visited the Facebook page of a friend of mine who is a social media marketing specialist, Sherry Crummy of Crummy Media Solutions. She is way better at the instant engagement aspects of SMM than I am, let’s be clear. Her most recent post when I visited her page was a quote about branding, apparently reposted from Pinterest. I thought this might be a relevant subject, since, as small business bloggers, we’re actually contributing to building our own brands through our blogs’ messages.

So, here is the quote: “Your brand is the summation of conversation about you, without you.” The quote is attributed to Marcel LeBrun.

Now, on the face of it you might agree with this statement. Actually, a number of people on my friend’s Facebook page did agree with this statement. As I thought about it, though, something didn’t seem quite right about the message. The more I thought about it, more and more questions started popping into my head.

My first question was: “Who is Marcel LeBrun?” I wondered how many other people who had liked this post actually knew who Marcel LeBrun was. How many of them knew why he had made this statement or knew fully what he was trying to say? I didn’t. That’s why I started questioning the quote in the first place. I didn’t know the context of the quote and it didn’t seem entirely true in essence.

I have since googled “Marcel LeBrun” to discover that he is the Senior Vice-President and Chief Product Officer of a company called Salesforce Marketing Cloud and maybe General Manager and CEO of Radian6 (depending on whether you read his LinkedIn page or his Twitter profile), and an author. He has “twelve years of experience with various technology start-ups”, according to his Salesforce Marketing Cloud profile. One strange thing is that I couldn’t find the origin of the quote attributed to him. It shows up on various other company Facebook pages, on Twitter, and on Pinterest, not to mention quote mining websites, but I didn’t find anything that originated with Marcel LeBrun himself. (So if any of my readers knows the origin of the quote I’d be happy to hear from you.) This is questionable in itself; not because I doubt that the quote did come from him, but because of the fact that so many people have bounced it around the Internet probably with no idea of the origins or context of the original message. I am discomfited by quotes that I can’t verify and contextualize. I could email Mr. LeBrun about it, I suppose, but it’s not really essential to why I’m writing this post.

So, okay, I accept that this gentleman has some idea of what he is talking about. However, that doesn’t mean that I have to agree with him necessarily. My experience in sales and marketing is probably a little thinner than his, with respect to its online aspects, although I, too, am an author and have written, contributed to, and edited literally dozens of small business start-up and career books, and my experience in sales and small business goes back somewhat further than twelve years.

Anyway, I thought I’d stop pestering Sherry on her Facebook page, trying to engage her in a conversation maybe she didn’t necessarily want to have. And, since the best place to have a conversation with myself is my own blog, I thought I’d write a post dissecting this statement. So that’s the genesis of the idea for this post.

“Your brand is the summation of conversation”; that’s the bit I had the most trouble with. I’m going to be a bit literalistic here and assume that “summation” means just what I think it means: “the sum total of things added together”. You know, like when you add 1+2+3 you’ll always get 6. There can be no other result. So if that’s true, then my brand is always no less and no more than the conversation that results when you add all the elements of my brand together. In other words, according to Mr. LeBrun’s message, my brand is the conversation.

But I don’t think that’s true. While I do agree that a positive conversation about my brand among hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people would be a wonderful thing (that has yet to happen, I admit), I don’t think the conversation about my brand necessarily represents the brand itself. Rather, it’s an outgrowth of my brand. In other words, my brand speaks for itself about itself without reference to anyone else’s conversation about it. The “conversation” is a natural outgrowth of the brand principles, rather than a “summation” of the integral parts that go into the brand itself. I don’t even think it’s true of major well-known brands that the brand is the summation of the conversation. For example, I recently took issue with Purina’s Beneful brand on the brand’s Facebook page, because my dogs started getting sick after eating it. Do I think that the conversation I had with the many others on Facebook doing the same thing represents a new summary interpretation of the Beneful brand? No. It’s probably a supply chain issue and something’s getting into the food that shouldn’t be there. I truly do think that Purina wants people’s pets to live long and healthy lives. That’s their real brand message. Like any brand, the brand principles, for me at least, survive or don’t on their own merits, regardless of the direction the conversation about the brand takes. And yet, I have stopped buying that brand until they can reassure me in a meaningful way that their food is safe for my dogs to eat.

As Sherry Crummy points out, sometimes there are two brand messages, one external and one internal. The internal message is what your brand is all about. The external brand is the perception consumers have about your brand. Those perceptions are what drives the conversation about your brand. And as Sherry rightly says, brand perception can make or break a brand.

After considering the quote carefully, I do agree that conversation is a vital part of any small business’s branding of itself. However, core brand principles are equally vital. If people don’t read, understand,  and like the message of your brand and its underlying principles, there likely won’t be any conversation about it anyway. As Simon Sinek of startwithwhy.com says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. That’s why I think that small business blogging is so essential to your brand and your brand message. People can easily start to have all kinds of conversations, both good and bad, about your company in the fast-paced world of social media engagement. But a well-written blog that constantly reiterates your core branding message and teaches people why you do what you do will always be a point of engagement that helps you influence the conversation in positive ways. That starts with having a clear and likeable message that people can relate to. What are you doing to get that message across? If you’re doing nothing else online, you should at least be blogging. Visit our website to learn more.

Finally, I would flip Mr. LeBrun’s statement to say that “conversation, with or without you, is the result of the sum of all of your brand principles and message”. And you can quote me on that.