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A couple of years ago, I was driving through Burbank, CA, the home of both Walt Disney and the Warner Brothers studio headquarters. I was meeting a friend for a lunch meeting, and I was having considerable trouble finding the Chinese restaurant we had agreed to. Although I’d lived in and around Burbank for more than 6 years, I had never been to this restaurant. But it was close to downtown and had great Yelp reviews. Luckily, my friend was running late.

Finally, I found the location – my GPS brought me in from behind the building. I pulled in and noticed the parking lot was empty – rare anytime in this part of town. I parked, looked around, then hopped out of my car to walk to the entrance.

When I got around the corner, the storefront was clearly closed, and it appeared there was construction inside. A homeless man walking down the street looked up from his shopping cart and hollered to me that the place had been closed for at least six months.

Clearly people in the immediate area knew the restaurant was closed, “temporarily,” but the business owner (and other prospective diners) neglected to let Yelp know the updated status. I later found out that the business had never been claimed on Yelp. That’s likely one of the many reasons it’s still closed as far as I know.

When you’re developing your marketing strategy, you have to dig deep. You have to look at everything about your business and every possible way and means people might find your business and make sure they align. Otherwise…

Continuing Down the Path

Welcome to Part 2 of the Seven questions all small businesses must ask to find and drive their marketing strategy, and how to track it. For the next few weeks, I’m breaking down the essentials to get you started – or restarted – on an effective marketing strategy that will grow your business to match your dreams. The seven questions often overlap and connect, so you’ll probably notice some repeated or rephrased information as we go. Hopefully, the various means of presentation will spark different ideas as we go.

Our brains are working constantly trying to detect and define patterns. I’m not sure why we were created this way (or developed, if you prefer), but it can often lead to issues. It’s one of the reasons we look to the stars to help us understand our moods, think that random events are keys to something larger and sometimes insist that our experiences are universal. It’s also what leads us to look for concrete rules such as what are the 10 or 12 steps to follow to achieve success in some area.

That’s all well and good in school, and in some aspects of business. But marketing and strategy are both areas where science and art overlap. We’re more likely to burn creative fuel than knock things down by the numbers. So while I’m going to claim a fair bit of authority here, based on my personal experience and the success of the Grow the Dream training and approach over the years, nothing I’m writing here is set in stone. These are guidelines – tools, not rules. Try them, see if they work for you, and feel free to rejigger them as needed. And maybe bookmark these posts if you need to go back to basics later.

Previously on…

Last week, we looked at the question, “Where are your customers coming from?” We started with the tried and true, ask the customer, then looked at several ways to help narrow your focus. Several were Google-based. And in this online world we live in now, there are really four main ways that people find most businesses. Google (with a little – and I do mean little help from Bing & Yahoo), Facebook/Instagram, Yelp (and similar review sites) and Twitter.

All of these platforms and their trying-to-catch-up competitors utilize the data they can access to improve the user interface and functions, and share it, for a fee, with interested parties. There’s Google Analytics, Facebook & Instagram Insights, Twitter Analytics Dashboard and Yelp Business Analytics.

In addition to taking advantage of these tools, you need to do what the Chinese restaurant I found didn’t do – claim your business. This may seem like it’s not a big deal. But one of the biggest mistakes many businesses make is not controlling their narrative.

It happened just this past week with AMC Theaters. They sent a letter to their mailing list with lots of info on being clean and keeping people safe. Moments later, hundreds of articles popped up online. The headline? AMC was not requiring customers to wear masks. Nevermind consulting healthcare experts, or partnering with Clorox or spending millions of dollars to keep things cleaner. All anyone focused on was the fact that only employees would be required to wear masks/PPE’s.

Claiming your business allows you to tell your story, solidify your brand, and add a location-sensitive aspect to your marketing reach – and in most cases, it won’t cost you a penny. Oh, and even if they don’t check in or you forget to ask, the platforms will log the customers’ visits.

Virtual Ad Space

Similar to last week’s question, you’ll want to do your best to track where your customers were when they first noticed you and what caught their attention. Did they stumble onto your website through a Google search? Did they respond to an ad on Google? Were you on the first page – or even better, in the top 5, what we used to call “above the fold” back in the newspaper days.

If you’re a local business, did they find you by searching for the solution you provide in their city?

Did they have to dig through a lot of other results before they found you? If so, why did they keep looking and how did your company stand out as the one with the answer? What did they search for – specifically? What words, phrases, did they ask Siri or Alexa a question out loud? Take note if the question they asked or search they did was one you’re not currently targeting.

Interrogating the Results

The questions people ask are important – and often not what you’d normally imagine. Remember, you have knowledge and a way of speaking about your business – even industry-specific terms that the average person wouldn’t know.

People don’t search for the solution they need – they search for the answer to their questions. Now, that may seem like I’m overanalyzing semantics, but let me give you an example.

If you run a dog training school, you might want to target the keywords, “Dog Obedience School in Bradenton, FL” That seems reasonable, right? But in fact, what potential customers are searching for is more likely, “How do I get my dog to stop peeing in the house,” or “What will keep my dog from barking all night.”

Clearly your obedience school would be the answer to those questions. But if you’re not targeting these search strings, you’re likely not ranking in the top five or ten results on the page. And that’s costing you customers.

Studies tracking the results of Google searches, as recent as 2019, show that the #1 spot in Google organic search results gets almost 32 of the traffic. In fact people click the top spot 10x more often than the one at the bottom of the page.

And that’s just the first page.

The odds of people finding you on later pages drops precipitously, because 95% of people never click past page one.

Oh, and that same study found that content blogs with questions in the title, like the one you’re reading, have a 14% better chance of being clicked.

Social Media Currency  

If you’re paying attention at all to marketing and/or social media trends, you’ve probably heard rumors that the organic reach of business pages on Facebook and Instagram are in the gutter. Unfortunately, the rumors are true. Just anecdotally, a post on one of those social media platforms by itself gets less than 1/3rd of the traffic generated when just one human account shares the post.

But this just means you have to adjust to accommodate and improve, not abandon, using the platforms entirely. The simplest effort is for you to just share on your personal page the posts from your business page. Granted, that may not work for everyone, but if your content is good, shareable, motivational, or funny, it’s liable to be passed around – after you share it.

Videos still rank higher in engagement across the board – even if they’re not shared by personal accounts. Videos posted by businesses can double or triple the organic reach of text or photo posts.

Increasingly people are using Facebook to research companies before they buy. Especially if they were born in the last 25 years. And it’s even more crucial for small businesses. Facebook even rolled out a program last month for small businesses previously dependent on their brick and mortar stores. Now they can sell on Facebook and Instagram for limited overhead.

Even if you only want to do the bare minimum with Facebook, you have to at least have a presence on the platform. Facebook is essentially what the yellow pages were for our parents- a one stop shop for basic information.

Ground Level

Of course, traditional methods of advertising are still a factor, especially if your ideal client skews older in age – although even that is lessening. Even if your customers buy from you online, their discovery of you might have been in the “real world.”

The yellow pages do still exist – I know, they drop one off at my doorstep every spring. You’ve probably noticed though that they’re getting smaller in every way. But that also means that the people who do use the phone book are more likely to find you there. Again, if it fits your ideal client.

If you have a physical location, is your signage clear? Do you also include the web address? While you can’t track a store sign with a cookie or pixel, at least its exposing your online presence even to people driving by.

Theaters are still a viable place to advertise – sometimes it feels like there are as many ads as there are trailers or behind the scenes featurettes airing before the film starts. I always laugh when Maria Menounos recaps her Noovie pre-show by telling us we learned about how AT&T is doing whatever – it’s just a long commercial.

As physical means of advertising drop off in popularity, they often become more affordable. You might not be able to justify the cost of a billboard, but a bus bench, cab topper or mural might be within your means, and gets your company name out there.

Paper Trails

Another largely untapped source of credibility and name recognition for you and your business is magazine articles. Print and online. These publications still do profiles – you don’t even need to be famous. Something published about you in your industry trade is great. But a mention, quote or endorsement in People or Vanity Fair or even the local shopper is even more effective.

There’s a service called HARO – Help A Reporter Out. You can register as an expert in your field and when someone’s looking for a quote in that area, you pop up. They also send out a daily blast with topics they need comment on and you can respond to those. Again, more potential client eyes on your business.

Another clever way to leverage your story and knowledge is to partner with others who serve similar customers with different services (or at different budget levels). Write a guest blog post for them. Get them to write one for you. When you both promote it, you gain each other’s audience and credibility, at least for the short term. This is also a popular practice on Instagram, Snap and TikTok.

Targeting the Tipping Point

The final step of answering this question is also the hardest. Even companies like Coke and Budweiser struggle with this part. What was the moment – the decision point – where the customer decided to make the first move (that included you)?

Was their first encounter with you on your business’ Facebook page? Did they happen to see something someone else shared of yours that was relevant? Was their research started on Facebook, Twitter, etc.? Did they follow you? Was their first encounter with you on social media or another means?

Whether it was Google, Facebook, the real world or all of the above – something flipped that switch in their brain and they decided you were the best option to answer their question. And it isn’t always a long-term thing either. It might be as simple as your link at the top of the results for your question – and the preview shows you actually answering that question.

Sometimes it isn’t a purchase decision yet – they might still be in the research phase – but something about you or your site triggers them to want to know more, leading to a transaction – which is the subject of next week’s article.

Until then, please feel free to comment on any questions or thoughts that you’re having, or I’m not answering to your satisfaction. We’d love this to be a discussion; especially if you see a blind spot that I’m missing (it happens to all of us!).

If you want to get started today on your custom marketing strategy, based on our proven methods, please reach out. We’ve built our business helping small businesses grow and we’d love to do what we can to serve you too!  

If you missed any of the other articles in this series, the links to them are included below.

7 Questions Your Small Business Should Ask to Focus & Track Key Performance Indicators in Your Marketing Strategy

Where Are Your Customers Coming From?

How Often Does Finding You Lead to a Transaction?

Are Your Customers Looking for Long Term Solutions or Quick Fixes?

What’s The Cost to Get a Customer?

What is the Lifetime Value of a Customer?