Posted tagged ‘Blog’

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.

7 Reasons You Don’t Need a Business Blog

December 3, 2012

Does Your Small Business Really Need a Blog?

It may seem a bit self-defeating for a blog about small business blogging from a company that offers small business blogging services to suggest your company may not need a blog, but that’s exactly what this post is about. There actually are some types of small businesses that don’t need a blog or at least would get less success from blogging than from other social media use. Some companies, especially some large corporations, have found more value in social media than in blogging. Much depends on your content marketing strategy, how you share content, and why you need to share content. It also depends on how much time, effort, and (sometimes) money you’re willing to invest in blog maintenance. For some entrepreneurs, starting out with social media platforms like Facebook might be a better option.

So here are seven reasons your company may not need a small business blog:

  1. You’d rather write about personal issues than create an online business persona
  2. You don’t have the time to maintain your blog
  3. You’re not willing (or can’t afford right now) to hire someone to do it for you if the above points apply
  4. Your industry is regulated and requires disclosure or compliance oversight
  5. You aren’t sure if you might accidentally or purposely libel someone or how your content might do that (see also point one)
  6. Your business requires interacting every day with its customers
  7. You require real-time feedback from your customers

1. In a previous article, we looked at vanity blogging. As a small business writer you need to detach your own personal outlook on life from your online business persona. According to last year’s State of the Blogosphere report from Technorati, 60% of all blogs belong to people who just want to express their opinions and speak their minds.

Image representing Technorati as depicted in C...

Their primary success measurement is personal satisfaction. Entrepreneurs, however, who make up about 13% of the blogosphere, blog to share information about their company and industry. Their primary purpose is to gain professional recognition and attract new customers.If this isn’t your primary purpose for blogging, you probably shouldn’t have a small business blog.

2. Blogging is hard work. It involves planning, research, good communications skills, creativity, a reasonable knowledge of SEO techniques, and general marketing know-how. You need to keep a regular schedule and provide content that makes sense and is valuable to the person reading it. If you’re not sure if you can commit to all of this, think twice about starting a business blog. At the very least, discuss some planning techniques with a professional.

3. Some entrepreneurs, especially small business owners, don’t really see the value of blogging and can’t imagine there’s any real ROI to it.

ROI Webinar

Yet they’re willing to plunk down hundreds or even thousands of dollars every year to post a business card-sized ad in a local newspaper.

An excellent blog written by a professional small business blogging service can give you far more ongoing exposure than a newspaper ad, and at a fraction of the cost. If the first two points apply to you and you’re not able to pay for a professional small business blogging service, then you might want to wait before starting a business blog.

4. Some industries are highly regulated (e.g. funeral homes, financial services companies, insurance companies, etc.). If yours is one, you may not be allowed to blog independently or at least not without the help of a lawyer. Given the compliance violation risks and higher costs involved, you likely don’t need a blog.

Gavel (PSF)

5. If you can’t hold your tongue (or rather your keyboard) and your temper, you probably don’t need a blog. There are real risks of libel when you’re writing content that’s freely available online. Trashing another company or blogging about an annoying customer, revealing another company’s trade secrets, and so on, can bring real, serious, legal consequences, not to mention permanently and irreparably damaging your reputation. Here’s one small business owner who lost her temper and went too far after a customer’s online review of her restaurant: www.cbc.ca. Bottom line: If you don’t understand the concept of libel, hire a professional or don’t blog.

6. Some companies will definitely get more value and customer engagement from social media platforms rather than blogging. A lively restaurant or nightclub might get more benefit from fast and responsive tweeting than from a blog, for example. Companies that specialize in content marketing through social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc., can help you get the most out of the high engagement interactions that these platforms offer. If you need rapid, high customer engagement, you probably don’t need a blog.

7. A related issue is companies who need fast turnaround time in their customer interactions. Some businesses can lose sales if their customers and the business owners don’t have information quickly enough, especially when selling solely online. If you need real-time interaction with customers, you probably need social media platforms more than you need a blog.

So clearly blogging isn’t for every small business. Now, to be sure, most of these points don’t represent reasons not to have a blog at all. You could very well use both blogging and social media in your content marketing efforts, with blogging playing a minor or secondary role. Social media platforms absolutely can be more effective (and safer) than blogs in certain circumstances.

The flip-side is that if you do have a blog and it’s not very well written or its irregular in terms of posting articles, you could actually end up doing more damage to your business reputation than good. People judge you and your business by the content you provide. You’re not trying to be Hemingway or Nietzsche, you’re just trying to be a good, solid, reliable source of information about your company and your industry. You don’t need to be profound, just memorable.

Have a question about small business blogging? Contact us or visit our website today!

Use Your Business Plan to Create a Content Marketing Strategy

November 17, 2012

English: A woman typing on a laptop Français :...

Have you run out of ideas for blog posts on your small business blog? Did you start your blog with great enthusiasm then encounter writer’s block, wondering what to write about next? This is pretty common. Many entrepreneurs who started out full-steam ahead haven’t written a blog post for months and now wonder why they even have a blog in the first place.

Don’t despair and don’t give up just yet. There are strategies to overcome this situation. Short of hiring a small business blogging service, here are some tips that will help you to create a viable, long-term content marketing strategy for your business.

Mining for Content Gold: Revisit Your Business Plan

Many small business start-up owners have written a business plan prior to their opening day. Business plans are often compared to a road map of where the business will go over the near- and long-term life of the company. If you’re an entrepreneur thinking about creating your own small business blog, you’ll be pleased to know that some elements of your business plan can help you to work out a clearly-defined content marketing plan, too.

Good market research is one of the building blocks of a well-written business plan. It will help you better understand your industry, your competition, and your target market. That’s why the marketing section of your business plan is the perfect section to re-visit as you start thinking about your content marketing plan. This plan will include your blog, social media usage such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on, and any of the other ways that you share information valuable to potential and existing customers (e.g. newsletters, eBooks, etc.).

Five Short Steps to Blogging Success

Here are five steps you can take to get your content marketing plan working for your business:

  1. SWOT Analysis
  2. Position Yourself
  3. Stake Your Territorial Claim
  4. Create a Content Marketing Plan and Schedule
  5. Execute Your Content Marketing Plan

SWOT Analysis

A SWOT analysis is a good place to start. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. You should have a clear idea in your mind of who your competitors are, whether you’re a start-up entrepreneur or a seasoned business owner. You have your strengths and weaknesses, and so do your competitors, whether in the form of the inventory you/they carry, your/their customer service, your/their marketing efforts, etc. You can exploit their weaknesses to strengthen your business, just as they can yours. Remember, you should look at local direct competition, local indirect competition, online direct competition, and online indirect competition, even if you’re a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer. You especially need to know what competitors are doing online to position themselves in your market.

In addition, you should be aware of a variety of opportunities and threats in your industry. Opportunities are things like new products coming to market that you can jump on, consumer buying trends that you can exploit, a local competitor business owner retiring or selling (e.g. this might mean that you could shift your products and services a bit to accommodate that business’s customer base), and so on. Threats could be anything from new government regulations (at all levels of government), a competing business opening up, a supplier going out of business, and above all, the activities of direct competitors.

The Microsoft Office website has a number of free SWOT analysis templates that you can try out or simply create the SWOT grid in a spreadsheet and fill it in. This is a good place to begin if you are in the start-up phase or you are already in business but you haven’t looked at your business plan for a while.

Once you understand your market and your competitors, you’ll be able to position yourself better in the marketplace and stake your territorial claim. How to do that in your particular industry is outside the scope and intent of this blog (however feel free to direct questions to our comments section or by email). Helping you to understand how your content marketing plan fits in with that positioning is our goal here.

Now that you know your business’s positioning in the market and have staked your claim, you can start to take it online in the form of content marketing. One place to start is simply telling potential customers about you and your business. You could answer the following questions that customers might have in your first blog posts:

  • Who are you?
  • Why should I trust you?
  • What products and services do you sell?
  • What is your customer service policy?
  • Why are you better than the guy down the street?

These are all questions most of us have asked when considering a new business, whether it’s retail shopping, eating at a restaurant, or even hiring a lawyer or realtor. Many customers want answers to these questions.

Of course, you need to make the answers seem like they’re not answers to questions at all. They should just come out “naturally” over the course of several articles. You’re writing blog articles that must be interesting and informative, after all. Simply writing a two paragraph blurb that amounts to, “I’m Jane Doe and I’ve been in this industry for 20 years and decided I want to have my own company”, really isn’t telling customers who you are or what your business ethos is or much of anything else. Be creative. Explain your passion for your industry. Get your customers excited about it, too.

Next, write to your position in the marketplace. Again, what specifically to write is your decision because you know your business and your market. Remember, though, that this generally means writing quality content that will get you recognized as an expert, because people who like it will share it with others. This sharing creates more and more traffic and makes it more likely that search engines will pick up your blog first. Sharing your own blog post links on social media sites like Facebook is also essential for visibility. To use that process most effectively, you may need to hire someone who specializes in that particular type of content marketing.

As to how to put together a sound content marketing plan and an editorial schedule for writing your small business blog posts, that is what this blog is about. In future posts, you’ll find creative ideas for blog posts for your business and details about how to put together an editorial schedule that will keep your blog interesting and constantly fresh. Please follow us to access the latest information.

The Small Business Blogger’s Blog is written with the small business owner in mind. Remember: Small business blogs should be about the business and its customers, not about the owner.

Have a question about small business blogging? Leave a comment or visit our Facebook page!

Batman’s Butler Asks the Right Question

November 14, 2012

The Batsuit of Batman Begins, worn by Christia...

In the film, “Batman Begins”, Alfred the butler asks a dejected Bruce Wayne, “Why do we fall?” The answer: “So that we can learn to pick ourselves up again”. Why am I quoting Alfred the butler? The answer: because, in a way, this same principle applies to small business blogging. Many small business owners have tried blogging without seeing any real success from their writing activities and have let their blogs fall. Why do blogs fall? I think it’s because they haven’t asked themselves that one crucial question: “Why do I blog?”

So why do we blog? The answer to this question should be straightforward, but, paradoxically, isn’t for many of us. People blog on an almost infinite array of issues, but all blogs can be distilled into one basic, common principle: communicating important information of interest to other people.

What is important to you, however, may not be that important to a lot of other people. The trick in blogging effectively is realizing what ideas you have in common with the highest number of people possible, strangers in essence, and sharing important information about common concerns with them. This is especially true in small business blogging.

For example, I thought about what I wanted this blog to be about for quite a while. There are so many websites offering advice to would-be bloggers. I decided, after reviewing a number of local business blogs, that there was a real need for advice on how to blog as well as why a small business blog is a good thing. The important information I want to share with as many people as possible, those who I think share common concerns, small business owners, is how to make blog posts unique to their business and use them most effectively to generate new business. I believe this starts with writing well and writing strategically (i.e. with a definable purpose).

So, small business owner, why do you want to blog? Here are some of the reasons why small business owners should start a blog:

  • Improve search engine results (visibility)
  • Establish your industry expertise (credibility)
  • Influence social media platforms (networking/visibility)
  • Get customer response (engagement)
  • Answer common questions that many customers ask (FAQs)

Almost everything that goes on in your business is part of a subset of one of the above principles. Your blog helps you to articulate your business philosophy, your dedication to customer service, your unique selling proposition, and so on, to a very wide potential audience. A blog is more like setting up a table on the sidewalk and talking to random passersby to directly engage them in a conversation than it is like a newspaper or other traditional media advertisement. That’s why it has to be good. You want people to listen to you, not ignore you.

You can find all kinds of information on the Internet about how to start a blog and how to market it effectively. There are tips on how to share your blog on social media, how to syndicate your content, learn search engine optimization tactics, and discover where you can go to find blog space. Fewer blogs concentrate on the basic mechanics of strategically writing individual blog posts and writing them well. Fewer still concentrate on doing this when you’re a small business owner trying to blog for a local customer base.

Small business owners need this information. It’s a common concern for many (even if they don’t know it yet). Doing a great job marketing your blog doesn’t amount to anything if you’re highly visible but also highly irrelevant or boring. That’s why I blog. I want to help small business owners pick themselves again up in terms of their business blogging.

We will be looking at some of the other tips I mentioned above in future posts related to marketing your blog. These things go hand in hand with the essential purpose of small business blogging, which is generating new sales leads. However, my main concentration is how you, as a small business owner, can write well and engage your readers. This, in turn, will lead to increased interest in your company and to new sales. You won’t find any flashy gewgaws or doodads in these pages; just straightforward information that will help you write better and be more interesting to a greater number of people who need your products and services.

Now that you know why you blog, why you should blog, and you know there is help out there, pick yourself up again and start blogging well.

Today’s Title: I chose today’s title because, as I was asking myself the question “why do we blog?”, Alfred the butler kept whispering in my memory: “Why do we fall?”. I guess it was the similarity of the wording that evoked the parallel with the concept of small business blogs “falling” and Alfred’s “Why do we fall?” question.

Do you have a small business blogging question you’d like to see answered? Let me know in the comments section below, email me using the contact form on my website,  or drop by and leave a comment on the Pearce Enterprise Research Facebook page.

Visit Pearce Enterprise Research today to discover how we can help your small business blog generate new sales!

12,000 Canadian Facebook Users Dead

November 13, 2012

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

You’ve just been drawn in by a misleading headline. But don’t leave! Small business owners, read on. There’s a reason for this headline (and I promise not to do it again).

The Spin

This article probably isn’t what you expected when you first read the headline. You might have been thinking, “OMG, what happened?”, or something like that. In fact, my headline is like many online news article and blog headlines: misleading. The sole purpose of a skewed headline like this is to get your attention and pique your interest so that you will read the article.

You may already have guessed the spin behind this headline. In Canada Facebook has penetrated approximately 55% of the population (statistic from http://www.socialbakers.com). Assuming that, among the 22,500 Canadian deceased people ages 15-64 reported by Statistics Canada in their most recent report on deaths in Canada, we have the 55% Facebook penetration rate of the general population, then 12,340 people who died in 2009 may have had Facebook pages. So, 12,000 Canadian Facebook users are dead (although I’m playing a bit fast and loose with the statistics, I admit). I’m going to teach you in this blog post how not to create deceptive spin. And I’m going to show you how to make your blog post titles more engaging.

The Rationale

If you’re a small business owner with a blog, you do need to get the attention of potential customers. That starts with providing valuable and interesting information on your website and in your blog; but a big part of making that content appealing is picking the right headlines for your blog posts. And by the way, my Facebook-related headline here really is not appropriate for this article. This blog article is about creating engaging blog post titles, not about deceased Facebook users.

I could have called this blog post “How to Choose the Right Titles for Your Blog Posts”. Instead, I chose a dramatic, deliberately misleading title that at once shows how to and how not to choose a blog post title. It actually illustrates both main points of this article.

So how do you pick a good headline for your small business blog?

Wordle Cloud of the Internet Marketing Blog - ...

The Process

You might be tempted to start with a title and work backward from that to write the article. Generally, this is not a good idea because if you do that you’ll be limiting your creativity. You’ll find yourself stuck wondering how to write something that fits the title. Write your post first, look at it again, give it some dynamic spin if you can, then choose an engaging title that reflects the intent of your content.

But don’t take that last concept too far. One real danger is that you might choose a title that creates an expectation of the blog post content that disappoints your reader, just as I did with the title of this post. There likely will be many readers who come across this post title, click to read it, and then roll their eyes when they realize they’ve been misled. They hit the “Back” button and they’re gone, unlikely to return. That’s what could happen if you mislead readers by an overzealous spin on your title. There is good spin and there is bad spin. Spin is not about lying to your readers.

Initially, you will derive your headline from your editorial schedule and calendar. When you set up your content marketing editorial schedule (and you should already have done this), including planning related social media content posting, you first choose a theme for a series of posts. Then from that theme you drill down to specific subjects to write about and post online. However, it isn’t always enough simply to choose a subject summary as the title.

For example, let’s imagine that you’re a retailer selling widgets and you have just added the latest and greatest widget to your product line. You write an article about the benefits and advantages of these particular widgets over other, similar widgets. You could entitle the article “XYZ Company Adds New Widget to Product Line”, but that’s really not very exciting. “Big deal”, thinks the headline reader, who then yawns and clicks away from your website. So before that happens you need to start thinking about putting spin on the article before you post in order to make it more interesting to your readers.

Going back to our imaginary example, you suddenly remember a customer who had purchased one of your new widgets and took it with her on a recent vacation to Nepal. A good idea at this point would be to go back and do a bit of re-writing to focus more on the customer’s experience of the product. This is your spin.

Getting back to picking a good title, how about this: “Local Woman Takes XYZ Company Widget on Mount Everest Climb”. Although you probably won’t have too many customers who climb Mount Everest, the point is to think of more exciting ways to spin your articles. When your blog article includes information about your own customers using a product in interesting ways, potential customers visiting your website and blog for the first time are intrigued and want to learn more.

Mount Everest

Add a relevant image for greater effect

The example title above helps to raise questions in readers’ minds, such as:

  • “Who is this local woman climbing Mount Everest?”
  •  “Why did she take this company’s product with her?”
  • “Would I benefit from this product?”

Those questions might lead to thoughts like: “Maybe I should check out this company and this product.” That urge potentially leads to increased sales. And increased sales is the whole point of small business blogging. It’s a kind of intense advertising.

However, my perception is that many small business owners who already blog give very little thought to how their blog can generate additional sales, let alone to how the titles of their blog posts contribute to this. At best, they pick a humdrum, functional title that simply describes the subject they’re writing about. Often, this is simply because they don’t plan the article ahead of time. They write a blog post at the last minute and then neglect its title in their haste to get the article posted. But if you don’t engage your readers from the get-go your blog posts will go unread.

The Rules

The reason I chose this as my first subject for this blog is to start you thinking about the underlying concepts or “rules” of good small business blog writing. If you’ve already started writing your business blog and it isn’t producing any new sales leads, I encourage you to go back and take a second look at your existing posts. If you don’t have a business blog yet, then you’re already a step ahead by knowing how to encourage readers to look at your future posts.

Consider the following five general rules as you plan your blog posts and titles:

  1. Don’t mislead.
  2. Do find a fun, interesting, unique (honest) spin.
  3. Don’t “settle” for a mediocre title. Always remember, you’re trying to get new sales.
  4. Do make sure your content fulfills the reader’s expectations of the title.
  5. Do plan ahead so you have time to think about an interesting idea for every post.

Good blogging always includes well-considered post titles.  This comes from advance planning. Do start an editorial calendar and plan your themes and subjects ahead of time. We’ll explore how to do this in future posts, so please follow our blog to learn more.

The Small Business Bloggers’ Blog, is written with the small business owner in mind. Remember: Small business blogs should be about the business and its customers, not about the owner.

Visit Pearce Enterprise Research today to discover how we can help your small business blog generate new sales!