Businesses and the external environment

In today’s modern world with so much technology available small businesses for the first time in history are able to compete with bigger companies and in some instances on a level playing field.  Having the ability to showcase your company online often gives the impression that a company may be bigger than they are because the cost of creating a high quality website is fairly low.  I have seen websites of small businesses that look just as impressive as websites of fortune 500 companies, sometimes even better.  The one thing that separates the big players from the small players however is adaptation, big companies stay in business because they evolve over time.  IBM started out manufacturing type writers, if that was the only thing they ever produced they would have closed their doors years ago, because let’s face it there is not a big demand for typewriters these days.

It is imperative for a business regardless of size to have the ability to adapt to its external environment which it has no control over such as technology and the economy. We are currently living in a time when technologies are quickly changing the world around us from how we do our banking to how we read our favorite novel and in order for a business to not only be successful but to stay successful it has to have the ability to evolve as the environment around it changes.

As I discussed in a previous article (Small Businesses and their websites or lack of one) and as hard as it is to believe, many small businesses do not have a website, many of these are small local businesses such as diners, independent fast food restaurants, hair stylists, computer repair shops, etc.  As I stated in this article every business should not only have a web presence but needs a web presence and this was discussed in the interview recently with author Dave Chaffey (The Small Business and Digital Marketing – Interview with Best Selling Author Dave Chaffey July 6, 2010).  The business world is evolving to where having a web presence is now defined by much more than just having a website; Google SEO spiders that rank your website looks for evidence of social media, blogs, RSS and more.  But it’s not just about search engine rankings, it’s about having a presence that your customers and potential customers can see, it’s about visibility and connecting with the public whether that public is national, international, or just the local neighborhood.  People today are constantly on the go, and they are accessing information while they are on the go, they are doing this with smart phones, using mobile web, updating their status on facebook, using LinkedIn to discuss business with a vendor all while on the go, at work, at the gym, in a restaurant, in the car waiting for the light to change.

People are accessing information, wherever, whenever and however they can and new ways of communicating are being developed every day.  Just a few short years ago email was the number one way to communicate online and you had to do it while sitting in front of your PC, now they have instant messaging like Skype or blackberry messenger, there are applications for most social media platforms encouraging people to utilize these from their phones.  So as a business, even a small business, it is vital to keep up with the changing environment around you because if you don’t you are sure to be left in the dust by the competition.

Businesses must adapt to the ever changing external environment in which they exist, don’t get left behind…

Digital Billboards – The future of advertising?

Billboard marketing is something that just about everyone is familiar with, they line major highways and high traffic streets, busy intersections not to mention sports stadiums from minor league hockey to Major League baseball and National football. We can barely turn a corner without seeing some billboard advertising some product or company or promoting an event whether it be a concert, a sports team or a nonprofit event, they are everywhere and have been for some time. The most popular method of billboard advertising is aimed at drivers thus the reason we see them on busy highways and streets and they can be useful , letting you know what’s up ahead or how far to the next hotel or restaurant and are aimed at allowing a driver to quickly view and grasp the message being broadcast. Anyone who has ever driven across the United States is familiar with billboards advertising truck stops, restaurants, motels and hotels. I recall seeing billboards advertising the “Waffle House” across several states and starting in Kansas seeing billboards for “Stuckeys” all the way to Philadelphia.

 

The history of billboards goes back thousands of years starting with the Egyptians who used a large tall stone obelisk to publicize laws and treaties. This was one of the first methods of broadcasting a message to a large audiencedesktoppub.about.com. In 1436 Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press known as the Gutenberg press, and while this was a revolution in the production of books it also was the start of a technology that allowed and made it possible to cheaply disseminate information to the masses (inventors.about.com). This invention made it possible and led to the creation of the handbill, which was an advertisement intended for wide distribution (thefreedictionary.com). In early America we saw some of the first billboards as roadside advertising for local businesses. In 1835 Jared Bell starting printing posters for the circus and in New York is where the first large American poster was born and around the turn of the 20th century a national billboard advertising boom started with big advertisers mass producing billboards for the national market (about.com) advertising everything from toothpaste to cigarettes to tequila, coca-cola, and Disneyland docstoc.com.  Modern billboards are still going strong and cost anywhere from $500 to $2500 a month, depending on location, location, location.

Let’s fast forward to today and discuss a relatively new form of advertising which is Digital Billboards which is based on the traditional platform of billboard advertising using a digital format. While this is fairly new, some form of digital signage started being used in the 1970’s using in-store VCR’s and T.V.’s as a way to attract customers, but unlike modern digital signage this was always a closed circuit and prerecordedezinearticles.com.

Today digital billboards are popping up everywhere all over the country. Anyone who goes to Las Vegas for the weekend will see a myriad of digital billboards splattered across the Las Vegas Strip from the famous MGM Grand billboard to a smaller but very visible one at Circus Circus and of course anyone going to Times Square in New York has seen the giant digital billboard that encompasses that building.

 

There are hundreds of  digital billboards popping up in metropolitan areas all over the U.S. which pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of traditional billboards seen all over America, but these numbers are expected to grow and rapidly qualitylogoproducts.com. So what is all the hullabaloo about? While digital is sexier and is the all dressed up ready to party version of billboard advertising, but from the advertiser’s perspective, what’s the difference? Does it really make a difference? The difference is they are backlit, easier to read, advertising can be changed frequently and on the fly and from the marketing companies perspective they can rotate through several clients ads instead of just one being there, so that each time a driver passes by they can potentially see a different ad. These billboards can rotate ads every few seconds and they can change the ad from miles away, and clients can change ads anytime, without having to wait a month for the redesign to be applied. Want to change the dates, or add a location? No problem, it will be changed this afternoon washingtonpost.com Paul Meyers the CEO of Clear Channel says this technology is not limited to just large billboards, it can be applied to anywhere there is a flat surface such as buses, bus stops, taxi cabs, mall kiosks and more.

Okay so you want to cut to the chase, how much does it cost? The cost varies depending on the size and the location but the average cost is anywhere from $1200 to $10,000 a month, a huge lead from $500 to $2500 a month. Is it worth it? Only time will tell but according to Magic Media Jimmy McAndrew within a few years all billboards will be digital inc.com.

Unfortunately the news on digital billboards is not all good; some cities are banning this new technology due to safety issues. In March, the city of Denver has outright banned them and other cities have temporarily suspended them pending a federal study on whether or not they distract drivers. In Los Angeles a one year moratorium was placed which was challenged in federal court by Liberty Media Corp. but U.S. District Judge Audrey B. Collins tentatively upheld the band for the time being latimes.com.

“The digital billboards are a distraction,” says Fred Wessels, an alderman in St. Louis, which just approved a one-year moratorium on new signs in that city. (Copeland, L., 2010, usatoday.com) “There’s no doubt in my mind that they are not a driving distraction,” says Bryan Parker, an executive vice president for Clear Channel Outdoor (Copeland, L., 2010, usatoday.com) So the jury is still out on the legal future of digital billboards… Stay tuned.

The Small Business and Digital Marketing – Interview with Best Selling Author Dave Chaffey

Digital and Internet marketing is growing by leaps and bounds and over the past year or so the marketing world around us has become very dynamic and is evolving and changing before our very eyes. It is an exciting time to be in business and also a bit scary as well, everything that we have known is either becoming obsolete or changing on such a scale that we no longer recognize it. For example, the traditional billboard that lines highways across the globe is something that has been around for many years, they are used to promote products and services or businesses themselves such as restaraunts, casino’s, hotels and more and are placed in high traffic areas and we are starting to see them splattered across highways all across the U.S. (Stay tuned for our next article on Digital Billboards). The marketing arena is changing and most large companies are changing right along with it, but how about smaller businesses that do not have the manpower not to mention the budget to keep up with all of these changes are they just being left in the dust or is there hope for them?  The big question on everyone’s mind is can the small business utilize new Internet technologies such as a blog and social media.  I have noticed that many small mom and pop type businesses do not even have a website, do they need one?  Does the small business truly need all this technology, it is within their budget and does it make sense for their businesses to evolve along with the technologies of this modern age we are living in?

You have read my thoughts on many if not most of these subjects in previous articles so I thought I’d get the opinion of another professional.  Dave Chaffey is a best selling author, consultant and speaker who specializes in digital marketing. I sat down with Dave around three weeks ago and asked him a series of questions on the viability of the small business utizlizing digital marketing.

Joe Melle: The use of Digital Marketing is hitting the marketing spectrum like a storm and like most things the small business isn’t always able to utilize many of the applications due to them being cost prohibitive. In your opinion are small businesses able to effectively use Digital Marketing?

Dave Chaffey:  Absolutely! Digital marketing “levels the playing field” as we say in the UK, which helps smaller businesses use many of the same techniques that larger business can use. Small businesses also have the advantage that their more agile than larger businesses which means they can adapt the latest techniques to get an edge. Of course, every business has to make priorities and decide what will work best for them. In my books I outline the key digital marketing techniques that all companies should review. Here’s my take on their relevance for growing new business for SMEs with scores out of 10 for cost-effectiveness: 

1. Search Engine Marketing (Search Engine Optimisation, SEO, 9/10 and PPC or Google Adwords, 6/10). But remember to go niche – don’t focus on the most commonly search 2 to 3 word keywords, instead try to attract more qualified traffic on the longer-tail terms of 4 words or longer.

 2. Online PR (8/10 for article marketing and press releases which help with your SEO) and Social media (4/10 which can help if you can build a viral buzz around your posts). Both of these are effectively free, so rank right up there, they take a lot of time though and I see social media often workig better for gaining repeat visitors and sales.

 3. Affiliate and partner marketing (5/10) – you need to be bigger to make it worth the while of affiliates promoting you. Still some smaller affiliates such as specialist bloggers may promote you to get a return. Affiliate marketing uses a paid commission, but all online businesses have the option to partner with businesses targeting a similar audience but not directly competing. Contra-deal marketing is one of the biggest opportunities for swapping content, links and contacts to name but some.

 4. Display advertising (banners) (3/10). Forget it – banner blindness rules! Not generally cost-effective at generating click-throughs or branding. The Google network may be worth exploring though for targeting visitors on related sites.

 5. Email marketing (4/10). Still one of the best techniques for marketing to existing customers, it’s less strong for gaining new customers since response is low and you can look like a spammer. The best option is advertising in someone elses Enewsletter.

 6. Viral marketing (6/10). I’ve pulled out this one separately since to show it can be built into all the other techniques. Always build in viral agent to your online campaigns, thinking what will encourage others to promote you whether it’s humour or a great coupon offer.

 Joe Melle: It is common for medium and large size businesses to engage in multichannel marketing, is this a viable method for the small business and can it be cost-effective?

Dave Chaffey:  Unless you’re addicted to Second Life or World of Warcraft we all still spend more time in the real world than the virtual world. This means there are many offline opportunities to influence your prospects. I think some small business owners have blinkers to multichannel marketing. I know some online pureplays who spend 100% of their budget online, but would never consider a print, radio or TV ad to drive visitors to their website. To me, this is plain stubborn. Yes offline media costs and if you’re a startup with little or no budget for advertising then it’s not an option.

But if you’re an established business and can reinvest your profits to grow the business then you should at least test it. Web response is the name of the game. Use powerful multichannel offers to encourage visitors to go through to your site. Use a strong call to action, not just “visit our website”, but “don’t miss out on our unique online exclusive”. Look at the way Dell does this “Order online by 24/10 to Double your memory”

Joe Melle:  Some small businesses claim that it serves no purpose for them to have a web presence, in your opinion is there any small business vertical in which a web presence would not be beneficial?

Dave Chaffey: Well I can’t think of a sector where zero percent of the target audience uses the web. Can you? Maybe in some sectors you don’t use the web to look for a provider – local businesses like a hairdresser is an example. You will know what’s available – you don’t look online unless you’re new in town.  So in this case, maybe it’s not worth running and maintaining a website. But the website is only one form of web presence and today some of the other forms of online presence are more important. Keeping with our example of a hairdresser, these are all viable options, maybe all more cost-effective than a web presence:

* Facebook or Twitter page for updating existing customers on offers and news

* Listing in a Yellow pages local business directory

* A simple blog updating customers on new developments and pulling in some search traffic hopefully

* A local search listing in Google Places (formerly Google Local Business Center) if you have any premises

How broad is your online representation?

Joe Melle: Is social media important to the small business?

Dave Chaffey: Well, I’m not sure about “important” – I think it’s relatively unimportant compared with other techniques I mentioned above like Online PR, SEO or if relevant, affiliate and partner marketing.  But it depends what you’re looking to achieve. I see social media as most important as a way of keeping in touch with past customers – these are the guys who are most likely to follow you on Twitter or Like you on Facebook. But past customers will also recommend new customers and the social networks are most powerful for their viral effect. If a member of your network likes what you’re offering whether its a humorous gag, a piece of good advice or a great deal, then they’ll thank you for it or recommend it to others in your network and for something outstanding it will ripple out further to friends of friends of friends of.

Joe Melle: Many small businesses have claimed they do not have the manpower to dedicate any one employee to social media full time, what is your advice to them in terms of making social media effective while using the limited resources that they have?

Dave Chaffey: The great thing about social media for the small business is that it’s relatively low cost and lends itself to quick experimentation. I’d argue that it’s a lot cheaper and less time intensive to run a Twitter account or a Facebook page than a blog. So experiment. I’d recommend starting with a Facebook account for most businesses since many more of your customers, I’d say 10 times, will use it than Twitter. But social media can be a time sink or a serious distraction if you’re not serious about it. It probably works best with a bigger business publisher mentality. To avoid wasting your time you need a plan where you think through:

* Goals – what are you trying to achieve through social media – new sales, repeat sales or customer service?

* Targeting – each social network tends to appeal to different types of people, so think what your priorities are for targeting these different audiences

* Value proposition and content strategy – what type of content and offers are you offering through each of the social channels. If you want to sign up people to different social channels, then you should think about the exclusive benefits for each – so if you have someone on your email already, they’re more likely to Like you on Facebook if you offer them a great exclusive on Facebook

* Editorial calendar – make a virtual or physical folder of all the different types of content you will offer and add them to the folder when you think of them and then schedule them so you already have something to publish it when you get the time to publish it

* Integration – how can you link together your social content with other content which you may have on your. How can you reuse your content across the different options?

Just to show it’s possible, my social media strategy uses Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and social media all integrated with a blog and good old email newsletter. And I also write books, train and consult. I say that feeding the content monster takes a long day a week though.

Remember that the main social networks are just part of your social network options. I’d recommend reviewing all the tools listed here – and the book by Tamar Weinberg.

http://www.smartinsights.com/blog/online-pr-social-media/best-social-media-book/

I would like to thank Dave for taking the time to discuss these issues with me so that I could share his insights and knowledge with our readers.