Sep 14

Within the next several years we’re going to see a new role added to small and medium sized companies. The necessity for this new role is the ever increasing importance that the web will play for businesses.

So start writing the job description for your new hire: Web Manager. Sure, bigger businesses have individuals who do this-even departments (so what does that tell small to mid-sized businesses?). The issue that necessitates such a role is the need for relevant and timely information. Be that new news, new product information, blogs, podcasts, etc. The need for information is now. The web is beyond brochureware. A updated web site is now a necessity, which requires rich interactive content. This isn’t for getting ahead; this is to compete.

Bottom Line: Start planning to hire a Web Manager now. You’re going to need a full time employee to manage your web initiatives in the next five years-if not now.

Sep 01

On I-85, between Greenville and Atlanta, there are a series of billboards that make me laugh. They don’t make me laugh because they are good, they make me laugh because they are impossible to read and I wonder what in the world the ad agency that did them was thinking.

See, the thing is, you’re going about 80 mph, talking on your cell phone, so you have about 3 seconds to read the billboard. For these billboards in question, there’s no chance you will pick up half of what they’re trying to say.

Isn’t that about the same thing with web sites? We have about 3 seconds, we’re talking on the phone and surfing the web and we come across a web page (billboard). Does it grab us? Do we get it? Do we know what the company does?

Zoom. We fly by and go to the next web site.

Back to the billboards. One company that I think has it right is Cracker Barrel. They’re “Comin’ up” campaign has one main image, their logo and a 5 word (large type) slogan — ending in “Comin’ up.” For instance (sorry, this was the largest image I could get):

Cracker Barrel Billboard

conveys Quality, Fast and Convenient, Wholesome, Good, Filling, etc. All in 4 words and one picture. They nail the brand messaging, and do it with an easy, simple approach. Remember, these are billboards so you have to keep it simple! Simple is what you have to do when you’re creating a billboard.

And it’s not much different for web sites. You have 3 - 10 seconds to grab the attention of the user and make sure they know what you do and why they need it. Big image. Simple messaging. Then send them to the next page-that’s the role of the home page.

Bottom line: Think billboards when you’re designing (or redesigning) your web site. Make the message easy to get, and your users will stick around.

Aug 27

On September 22, 2008, I have the great privilege to speak to several students of Clemson’s Masters of Science in Marketing program.

Professor Tom Baker will be speaking on social media for the first half of the class, and I will discuss the integration of business strategy with web strategy.

I am honored that I have this opportunity to speak at such a great program and I look forward to sharing my notes and observations through this blog after preparing and speaking to the class.

Aug 24

Paid Search, typically known as Pay-per-click, is probably one of the best investments you can make. Paid Search typically shows up on the top or right-hand side of search results. These are “ads” that businesses buy on a per-click basis. An example is below:

Other forms of Paid Search includes contextual advertising, banners, video and almost any form of media you can think of. You can simply pay to show up in search results or on certain web sites.

Here are 6 reasons Paid Search is such a great investment:

1. Target. You can target who sees your ad. It’s like buying a billboard, but only those who are prospects can see your ad as they drive down the street.

2. Efficiency. You only pay when somebody actually clicks. Your ad can be seen a thousand times, but if nobody clicks, you pay nothing. It’s your web sites job to “convert” the prospect once they click through to your web site.

3. Tracking. You can track the results, from Click-thrus (a percentage of actual clicks / impressions) and conversions (a percentage of those who took action / number of clicks). Therefore, if you spent $500 on Paid Search and you received two new clients from the efforts, you know that you spend $250 per client. You can determine quickly if the investment is worth it or not.

4. Budget You’re in control of your budget. You tell Google, (or whoever your Paid Search provider is) how much you want to spend per month. They’ll tell you how much traffic they’ll send you and then you can decide if you want to participate. They pace the traffic over the month (or send the clicks all up front, as fast as they’ll come) and then turn your ad off so you don’t go over budget.

5. Fine-tune. You can run multiple ads for the same campaign and see which one’s are the most effective. You can turn off an under-performing ad at any time. Fine-tuning the effectiveness of your message is entirely up to you.

6. Beyond Search. You can also place your ads on web sites that target users by demographics. Advertise on web sites such as CNN or Martha Stewart.

Convinced this is a great investment? This is how you get started:

1. Setup a Google Adwords Account.

2. Click the Start Now Button.

3. Choose the Starter addition, and input your telephone number.

4. And you should be off…Google will walk you through a myriad of other options to build your campaign, write your ad, select your keywords and more.

For all of the details, see Google’s guide.

And of course for any further assistance, let Merge help you.

This will be one of the best investments you ever make, and I hope you end up making it!

Aug 19

Yesterday I met two people who were “in-transition.” One can joke the people I met are trying to figure out what they want to do when they grow up. They are at a point in their life where they’re asking, “what is it I really want to do with my life?”

Golden Career Strategies is a firm in Greenville, SC that helps people in-transition. And more often than not, the services they provide to their in-transition clients are life changing.

Merge’s primary client is in-transition as well. They’ve been in business for 15 or more years, have almost always sold or marketed the same way, but now they’re looking at the web wondering if there’s a better way. We get alot of requests for “just web sites” but we resist the urge to be a web site factory. Instead, we develop custom strategies for our clients to leverage the web-we align their web objectives with their business objectives. Then we develop the web site that will help them accomplish their goals.

Like Golden Career Strategies, we keep the end in sight. Golden Career doesn’t want to simply provide a job. They want to get their candidates into a fulfilling career. Merge doesn’t want to just give our clients a web site. We want to provide a solution that moves their business forward in a significant way.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Aug 12

Zingerman’s is a deli in Ann Arbor Michigan. It’s not any old deli, it’s a world-renowned deli and they do “deli” better than anyone else in the world. They also do a hell of a job with the deli, online.

I just got back from a meeting where Joe Erwin, of Erwin-Penland, explained that Zingerman’s is the fifth largest “producer” of online food. And they do the majority of that through their web site.

Zingerman’s had been sending out catalogs on a prospective basis with little positive sales impact for some time. “When we had an online presence, the response rates really picked up – as though our web site gave us some additional credibility that prompted people to act.” -Mo Frechette, managing partner of the Zingerman’s mail order business, source.

The fifth largest. This is a little deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Fifth largest. Wow.

It’s amazing what happens when you take a best-in-world mentality and combine it with the web. Sure, Zingerman’s could have said “We’re a relationship business, the web won’t work for us.” or “Why would someone from Florida buy Olive Oil from a deli in Michigan?” or “We’re a deli. You can’t eat online.”

Zingerman’s hired and attributes part of their success to 5th Food Group, an agency that specializes in marketing gourmet food online.

So what’s the bottom-line here?

1. Be open minded as to what the web can do for your business. Your business may do something that you think the web can’t help you with at all. Don’t downplay the role your web strategy could have in growing your business.

2. Hire the expert that fits. Zingerman’s could of had their nephew do a web site for them or relegated it to somebody in IT. Instead, they went to an agency that specialized in their industry and in online marketing. They remained the experts in deli-food, and let the experts be experts on the web. The results are, well, history.

3. Thinking world-class needs a world-class budget. Zingerman’s success online stems from their world-class mentality offline. If you’re world-class (or at least the best in your market), don’t limit what your web site could do by limiting it to a second-class budget.

Fifth in the world. Wow.

Aug 08

There is one question, that if you ask yourself personally, you’ll find that it’s a very difficult question to answer. Want to know what that question is? Don’t read any further unless you want to drive yourself nuts.

“What is the one thing that you’re best at?”

Ok, for some, the answer may come quickly. Yet for most of you-if you’re like me-the answer to that question is evasive. What is the one thing that I’m best at? The. One. Thing.

Answer that question and you should know what you want to do for the rest of your life. Don’t answer that question and you’ll potentially live an unfocused, ambiguous life of mediocrity.

How is this relevant in this blog? Because as companies, or web sites (i.e. marketing) we won’t settle on one thing.

On my way home from work, I pass a dentist’s office that says:

-We specialize in Children, Teens, Adults.

In other words, we “specialize” in everyone. Like the dentist, most companies think they need to do everything, as much as possible, and they fear focus.

The result = average. As Jim Collins says, “Good is the Enemy of Great.” Collin’s hedgehog principal is all about 1) What are you best at, 2) Focus and then be the best!

I hope you’ll truly take a moment and think about what that one thing is. If you find the answer, will you be brave enough to focus?

Aug 04

The role of a web site can be many things-create awareness, improve your image (branding), sell product (ecommerce), provide a client portal, and even begin relationships.

Begin relationships?

“Well, we’re a relationship business. Our web site won’t sell our products. Our relationships do.”

True, true. Sort of.

Your web site can begin a relationship. It can maintain a relationship. Your web site can even improve a relationship.

Saying you’re in the relationship business and therefore you don’t need an effective web site is, well, short-sighted. For instance, we offer free webinars through our web site. People we’ve never met sign-up for our webinars, we do the webinar and then naturally follow-up with them to get to know them and see if there’s anything we can do for them. Hey, our web site created a new relationship we wouldn’t have otherwise had!

Your web site can do the same. It can introduce you to a stranger. It can help an acquaintance become a customer (whether you know it or not) and it can help a customer become a repeat buyer and even an advocate.

If you’re in the relationship business, then an effective web site that helps you build new and better relationships should be part of your strategy. It will be part of your customer’s strategy…

Bottomline: If relationships are a big part of your sales process, develop a web strategy that will help build new relationships and improve existing relationships.

Jul 27

Sometimes I wonder if Merge was to hire someone to do redesign our web site, what we would look for in that company and/or service. Here’s what questions Merge would ask:

1. How do your services impact our bottom line? I would expect a good web development firm to ask me, “How’s this going to help your company monetarily?” If they don’t care about providing real results, then I’m not interested in hiring them.

2. Does your strategy make [common] sense? If a company promised me the latest tips and tricks are awesome, or that super-duper cool design would be really neat, I’d balk. Tell me how you’re going to do it, and I wouldn’t have to understand the technology completely, but it would need to be reasonable from a common sense approach.

3. Is the price too good to be true? If they promised me the moon for $2,500, I’d walk. I’d simply ask them how they price their services, and see if it makes sense that their fee lines up with the value they’re promising.

4. Are you 100% referenceable? I don’t want them to provide the testimonials, instead, I would randomly call any of the customers in their portfolio. They need to be 100% referenceable.

5. Do you promise to support us, until death do us part? Can I count on them to be there when I need them? Will they be around after they complete the project? If they can’t answer those questions in the affirmative, no dice.

These are five things that Merge would be asking a web development firm if we, for some crazy reason would hire one. Notice I ask nothing about design, seo, programming etc. We would know if they were any good at that before we ever talked to them (i.e. we would google “web design, greenville sc” to see where they themselves show up and we would look at their portfolio to get a feel of their design abilities).

The Bottomline: Ask questions of a web firm to make sure the web solution will provide the business results you actually need-not just a web site.

Jul 27

The newspaper is dieing. For the baby-boomer generation, that may be a sad thing. For my generation (X), that’s a “huh” sort of thing, and for Generation Y, they’re almost asking, “What’s a newspaper?”

Why is the newspaper dieing? There are many theories and reasons I’m sure, but the one that is obvious to me is because publishers focused on the means to the end (the actual, physical paper), and not the end itself.

There’s a great question to ask yourself to make sure you’re on the right track with your business. “What business am I in?” The famous response to this question came from Ray Kroc, who at the time was the head of McDonald’s, said, “That’s easy. Real Estate.” Most people may scratch their head, thinking the answer should have been hamburgers. But if you think about it, the reason for McDonald’s success is because you can find one almost anywhere you need one. And they locate themselves in the most convenient location to make it easy to get in and out.

Publishers actually thought they were in the newspaper business-putting ink on paper and distributing that paper to something they call subscribers. So when the internet came along, they defended their glorious little papers to preserve what they’ve been doing for 100 years.

If they would have realized they were in the advertising business and not news and not newspaper then they would have done what any logical company has done. They would have seen the trend of the internet and embraced the new technology to expand their advertising service online. Some have done so, though it may be a little too late so save the entity.

On one-hand its sad to see the newspapers go, but on the other it’s exciting to see the world evolve and progress.

The bottomline: Ask the hard question, “What business am I in?” And then ask yourself how you’re using or going to use the web to further your true business.

Picture Credit: The Economist, Who Killed the Newspaper?