Why Email Marketing is Broken, and How To Fix It

Email is brokenEmail marketing is broken but still remains a strong communication channel… Most business professionals spend an unprecedented amount of time per day (28% of the week to be exact) chained to their inboxes responding to countless amounts of email! This would make one think: if you have such a captive audience, then why is email marketing so broken? Well, it isn’t broken; it’s the way the majority of businesses structure their messages that makes it broken.

When you break down the messages from most email marketing campaigns, they fundamentally fall into a few categorical buckets, but they tend to focus on one thing: the sender of the message and not the receiver. Let’s dive in a little deeper on this. Most campaigns can fall under the following buckets: deals, product catalogues, and the super generic sales message. As a bit of an exercise, go into your inbox and find the last ten or twenty marketing messages and you’ll find that they fall into one of those few categories. You’ll find subject lines similar to the following: “Final days To Save 20%”, “Special Offer”, “Register for this event”, or the ever so cleaver “Did you see my last email message?” and “Can we talk at 3pm?”… In this day and age, we are truly amazed that any of these messages even work at all…

I’m going to personally pick on Lyft as an example. Personally, I use Uber, but once—and only once—I had to use Lyft. And as a result, every few days they hit my inbox with a new “compelling” marketing message… but are they really “compelling”? For starters, you’ll see on March 14th, 17th, 31st, and April 4th, their key message was 10% off, with three emails entitled “Ends Soon” with a date of April 9th. Seems compelling right? Well, not so much… On the 10th of April, only one day after that 9th deadline, they hit me with a 25% off special. As you can see from the screenshot below, every single message over the period of four months is essentially the same! I’m using Lyft as an example, though they are certainly not alone; I have an untold number of businesses that use the very same tactic, which makes those “compelling offers” not so compelling…

Lyft Marketing Campaign

This is essentially why email marketing is broken for so many today. The majority of campaigns focus on the great deal, showcasing a product, or those very witty generic sales emails (that quite honestly are not so witty). The only time these messages happen to work is when you happen to catch someone right about to make a purchase where saving 25% would be valuable. Otherwise, your emails are getting deleted or unsubscribed the minute they hit their inbox.

To unlock the secret of email marketing, you need to stop thinking about traditional email marketing and the idea of needing to generate sales with every message… There is a rule of thumb in sales that four out of every five touches should be non-sales related. This essentially means that the majority of your outreaches to a prospect or customer should be adding some type of value to them beyond asking for a sale (and, no, 25% off messages are not adding any real value to them). Translated into email marketing, that means that at least four out of every five campaigns should be non-sales related… When you can fundamentally make this shift as an organization, you’ll find that not only do you stop people from unsubscribing or deleting your emails, but people actually become engaged with your campaigns. As an example, let’s pick on Lyft once again… What if instead of constantly bombarding their prospects and customers with yet another 10 or 25% off special, they found more creative messaging. As a consumer, topics that would get me to at least open the email would be something like: “Top 10 Tips for Keeping Safe While Using Ride Sharing Apps”, “Did You Know Ride Sharing Costs x% Less than Traditional Cabs?”, “How to Use Ride Share to Plan Your Next Trip”, “The Top 10 Things Your Lyft Driver Would Like You to Know”, “Legislation is Trying to Kill Ride Share. Here is How You Can Fight Back”, “The Top 5 Reasons to Ride with Lyft over Uber”… These are just a few messages that literally took me about five minutes to think up and would compel me to at least open the email… Now, I only pick on Lyft because I am a fan of Ride Share but use their competitor, Uber, and through their marketing communications, Lyft has given me zero compelling reasons to shift.

Therein lies the secret of email marketing: don’t make the message about you, make it about your customer. And again, no, a 25% off promotion is not a customer-centric message. The core of successful marketing campaigns is to find ways to continuously engage your prospects and customers by finding ways to add value to their lives. Topics that are informative and educational are exponentially more successful than your more traditional methods. There is also an interesting byproduct of utilizing email marketing in this nature, and that is creating a more informed and educated buyer… These types of buyers tend to take less time in the decision-making process and end up becoming more successful customers who are more likely to buy again, renew, or refer additional business. Email marketing done right can completely change how you function as a business…

Stuck on ideas for content for email campaigns? Here are a few tips:

  • Recent industry news
  • Addressing questions about the industry
  • Addressing frequent sales or support questions
  • Addressing legislation questions
  • Sharing an interesting use-case for your solution
  • Sharing cost of process savings stories
  • Customer testimonials

When it really comes down to it, almost anything directly or tangentially related to your company, industry, or solution are all areas that can be explored more to help keep your clients and prospects engaged via email. Once you start a strong stream of educational and informative content, it doesn’t hurt to drop in a sales-related email from time to time… Once people begin to trust your email brand, those 25% off offers will then become more valuable over time…. Finally, if you’re struggling on what messages work best, you can always address that via AB Testing which we discussed in another article. Finally, if you need assistance tackling this change of marketing methodology, you can always contact 3SixtySMB directly at 3SixtySMB@3SixtySMB.com.

 

Search Engine Optimization – What is it and why is it so important for Small Businesses?

SEO Search Engine Optimization for Small BusinessesThe internet has been around for a while now, and so has Google… Yet, most small businesses have no idea how the internet or Google work, leading to one of the major reasons for business failure in today’s market.

There is no escaping the fact that almost all sales (business and consumer) start with an online search, and this isn’t new. About ten years ago, we used to share a stat that around 50% of sales start with an online search—and this was ten years ago. Since then, that percentage has grown exponentially to 87%, quickly making online search one of the top facilitators for how buyers find and conduct research around items they are looking to purchase. This quite simply means, regardless of your business type, size, or industry, if you do not have a proper online presence or have a key understanding of how online search platforms such as Google work, you are losing business (not a little amount of business, but a lot). There are plenty of businesses that have embraced the internet and online search full-heartedly, making it a core part of their business functionality. As a result, they close a significant amount of business and are thriving where others are failing! Some have even created models where their entire online presence is geared around a touchless sale, allowing customers to find, research, and place orders for their products and services 100% online without ever having to interact with a representative. However, there are still 36% of small businesses that still do not even have a website. And the number of businesses that just have improperly formatted websites or a complete lack of understanding of how Google works, is quite staggering. Why is this the case? Well, it’s a reoccurring theme that comes up in most of our writings but comes down to the lack of understanding of how the internet really works, or just a general resistance to change. In this article, we’ll cover some of the basics of developing an online search presence.

As a starting point, we need to drive home the point that almost all business and consumer purchases start with an online search. Furthermore, when online search is solely used to start the process, there has been a transition to continue to use online search throughout the entire lifecycle of the buying process. Essentially, what this means is once a buyer has locked in on a prospective company, they will continue to conduct research on that company, industry, competition, along with the various product and solutions offerings. Again, this all boils down to the fact that if your business is not focused on online search, you are setting yourself up for failure. The starting point for all these searches and research efforts is Google! Google currently directs 92.81% of all online search traffic, making Google one of the most single important strategies businesses should be focused on from a marketing perspective. The strategy in relationship to Google, is what is commonly referred to as Search Engine Optimization or SEO. Search Engine Optimization is quite honestly a very simple strategy for optimizing your website and online presences to be properly found (or indexed) by Google and showcased in their search results. Although fairly simple in its nature, even bigger Fortune 500 companies do not know how to properly deploy SEO strategies and often get it wrong (Toys R Us pays $5.1 million for Toys.com domain name, forgets to set up 301 redirects).

With all of that said, let’s focus on the basics of Search Engine Optimization:

The very first item to understand is that there are two types of SEO: Paid and Organic… This leads to the biggest myth/issue when it comes to SEO strategy, as many believe the only way to properly rank in Google, is to pay Google. This is not entirely true as Google showcases results that are both paid and organic… Paid results are indicated as “Ads” and typically live in the first few results of a Google search, but then just below are the organic results. Let us break out the difference a bit:

Paid Search: Google Paid Search, has been Google’s bread and butter for revenue generation since the beginning. Essentially, Google allows individuals to bid on very specific keywords, so that their business will be ranked in Google searches. As an example, pull up Google and search “Search Engine Optimization.” The first three or four results in that search with the little “ad” box next to them are all paid results. Each business in this section has paid Google for their ranking… How it works: each keyword essentially has a value associated to it and Google will assess its value on how popular a keyword might be. Keywords that are more popular cost more money… But it doesn’t stop there; Google has created a bidding process around each of these keywords. Meaning, for example, if you wanted to outrank a competitor within Google’s paid search results, all you need to do is outbid them. Then, as people see your results and click on your links, you pay Google… Here is the catch: the minute you stop paying Google, you are completely dropped from their paid placement. The easiest way to think of this concept is renting a billboard on a super busy highway getting your business a lot of attention until your ad is removed… This also has the tendency to get expensive real quick, and remember, you are only renting this space.

Organic Search: Organic Search is the other way Google profiles businesses in their search results. Again, pull up Google and search “Search Engine Optimization.” The results that show up just below those paid ads were 100% free… That’s right, the companies that rank for that term did not pay Google a dime for that placement. What is even better, is unlike paid search where you are dropped the minute you stop paying Google, they maintain those rankings as long as they maintain a higher authority ranking in the eyes of Google… In the simplest of terms: where Paid search is like renting for that placement billboard, Organic search is like owning the placement… But like anything, there is a catch. Organic rankings take effort to properly rank within Google, and in some cases, organically ranking for super popular keywords such as “Search Engine Optimization” are almost impossible for newcomers. Ranking in Google organically doesn’t happen overnight—it takes time and effort combined with the knowledge of how SEO works to build up what Google referrers to as Authority. How Organic Search works is instead of paying Google for placement, Google looks at a series of characteristics of your online presences, and more importantly your website, and compares it to competing websites to determine which keywords you should rank for and where. In this article we will not cover the specifics of how that works, as there are plenty of articles online that cover the specifics of SEO in great detail.

Again, understanding how Google search works is quite honestly one of the most misunderstood aspects of online marketing for any business… If Google is so simple, why is it so misunderstood? Again, it comes down to a lack of understanding of how the internet works and just a general resistance to change, especially in small businesses. However, there is another aspect that comes into place as well: the website development community. When you look at small businesses, they typically have zero knowledge regarding how to develop a website, so they look to website developers to create a site for them with the thinking they know best. Unfortunately this couldn’t be further from the truth as most designers are taught how to develop a site for looks and functionality, but not for Google. It’s not their fault as colleges and other website design courses are historically slow to adapt to change. This results in website design courses that are built around how to develop a website for looks and functionality, not Google Search… Sure, slowly but surely, more colleges are adding Google SEO to the curriculum, but it is too late for a decent amount of the website development population as they are already out in the field building websites… All of this is a long-winded way of saying that most developers (not all), when building out a website for small businesses, build websites for looks and functionality and not Google. What this all boils down to is that the minute most websites publish, they are already at a disadvantage.

All is not lost… Unless you have a Flash-enabled site (Google does not like Flash sites), most existing websites can be modified with little effort to be optimized for Google. And then from there, it just takes time an effort to build up the proper elements that Google looks for to properly rank a website… Again, it just takes time and education to develop a proper SEO strategy. Spend some time searching Google around Search Engine Optimization Strategy or look at our recommendations: https://blog.hubspot.com/, https://moz.com/, and https://searchengineland.com/. This is also something 3SixtySMB can help with… Regardless of how you develop a strategy, it is important to get started sooner and not later! Your business’s future depends on it…

The Importance of Having an Online Digital Presence for Local Small Businesses

Online and Digital PresenceI was reminded the other day of exactly why it is important to have an online digital presence in this day and age… Even though online and digital mediums have been around for more than 20 years, it seems that many local small businesses are still slow to pick up on the trend. We do understand why, as it was not too long ago that all a local small business needed for marketing was a good Yellow Page advertisement, a good direct local mail flyer, and maybe a well-placed radio ad. These worked extremely well for decades… However, from a traditional marketing perspective, times have changed. For example, Yellow Pages have gone from the must have item for every home, to getting thrown in the recycling bin before even making it into the house. Why has this happened? Well, for one, Google has virtually changed the way people look for various goods and services. Looking for an electrician, carpenter, pizza, or even a restaurant? You no longer need to flip through various ads in the Yellow Pages—you can just search directly in Google. Not only will Google pull the most relevant results, but they also pull other various important details regarding these businesses including address, phone number, website, Google, Yelp and Facebook Reviews, Facebook profiles, and other endless information. These elements alone have factored into the demise of the Yellow Pages. Again, this is not a new concept, as this shift has been happening over the past 20 years… In fact, HubSpot’s founders, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, revolutionized how people look at this shift almost 10 years ago when they published their book on Inbound Marketing and founded HubSpot. They haven’t stopped preaching the word around Inbound Marketing since…

This begs the question, why haven’t local small businesses caught up to their times of creating and maintaining an online digital presence? The reasons vary from anything from ownership not accustomed to change, to lack of understanding and education around how a local small business can create and maintain an online digital presence. Regardless of the reason, if a local business wants to continue to be in business for the foreseeable future, they need to embrace going online and digital. Let me share a personal experience to why this matters so much.

Residential construction has historically been one of the industries reliant on Yellow Pages, advertisement flyers, or word of mouth to help run their businesses. Looking back maybe ten years ago, the Yellow Pages alone were enough to keep phones ringing off the hooks… but those times have come and gone. Now it is a feast or famine industry, with some businesses still maintaining a strong revenue stream, while others that have resisted change are failing. When inviting a construction company into your home, people want to ensure that they are inviting someone that they can trust to do quality work in a timely manner. As a result, they tend to do research on these companies before calling… which is what happened with me, and it reminded me why a strong online digital presence is so important. My wife and I are personally looking into having some major work done on our home. Like any household, we receive various local advertisement flyers and ValPaks in the mail. This past week, I decided to take a look and see if there were any businesses we should be considering as part to the process. Interestingly enough, in both the local flyer and ValPak, I found a construction company’s very well-made flyer, advertising the exact service we were looking into having done. However, there was an instant red flag for us: the price. The price on the flyer was too good to be true, but I’ve come to learn to never judge a book by its cover. So we did some digging… Naturally, we started with a Google search and then looked at other resources such as Facebook and Yelp. What we found was beyond a website—they had zero online digital presence. No Google or Yelp reviews, nothing on Angie’s List, not even a Facebook profile. This was a bit concerning, so we took our search one step further creating a post on both Nextdoor.com and Facebook asking if anyone in our community has ever worked with this company. We received no feedback on the business at all. When performing our search, we had been hoping to come across reviews from others who have had a great experience with this contractor, or maybe even a Facebook profile showcasing some of their latest work. We were looking for anything to give us the confidence in their business and that we could welcome them into our home—but nothing. As result, I moved on to the next candidate on the list.

Therein lies the problem for small businesses today. If you are not working on building an online digital presence, you are guaranteed to lose revenue to competition… Interestingly enough, while searching for information on this particular construction company, I stumbled upon several other businesses with fantastic online presence, and they were the ones that received a phone call.

Websites are not enough anymore, especially for local small businesses. Building an online digital presence isn’t entirely that difficult, and in most cases, has a zero-dollar investment to get started; it just takes effort and time. We’ve actually been writing about various tactics to improving one’s online digital presence… Here are a few recent articles to help you get started:

We also recognize that creating a strategy to develop or improve your online digital presence is easier said than done… 3SixtySMB is happy to help. Through our 3SixtyAssessments, we will not only evaluate your current online digital presence state, but we will also provide actionable recommendations to developing your own strategy. Feel free to contact us directly via 3sixtysmb@3sixtysmb.com if you need help. As always, we welcome comments or questions below in the comments section of this article. Again, if you have been resistant to adopting an online digital strategy, and you don’t act fast, you could be risking the future of your business.

 

Salesforce.com Pushes Businesses to Adopt New Lightning Platform

On December 17th, 2018 Salesforce.com announced a strategic move to shift all accounts to their new Lightning platform on a rolling basis… Salesforce.com’s new Lightning platform actually isn’t all that new as it has been around for a few years now, officially launching on XX. We find this forced shift to the new platform a little disconcerting, as most organizations are not ready for this shift. The challenge is that Salesforce.com’s growing customer base of 3.75 million users has become extremely familiar with the existing platform. Personally, I cannot remember much of a change in the overall platform for the past ten years. With this new change, Salesforce.com is essentially forcing their entire userbase (with the exception of early adopters) to relearn this new platform… This in itself is not a huge issue, as most users will grow to forget the old platform in little time, with the end result being some—but not total—disruption.

We have been working to strategically get more departments integrated into Salesforce.com over the years taking advantage of the platform’s full potential. Challenge is, once you go beyond sales, the inherent knowledge of a CRM system drastically drops. Anyone that has deployed a CRM to any department beyond sales has experienced a fairly significant learning curve to get these departments onboarded to the CRM. Therein lies the problem: with this change, you’ll find that those same departments that were so difficult to get onboarded will need to be retrained once again.

With this new platform being deployed over the next few months, we advise that businesses start their planning and training on the new platform now. Salesforce.com has made the new platform available now for select users within organizations to get familiar with the system. Our suggestion is to get your most active users on the new Lightning platform today, allowing them to learn the new system sooner than later. Then, start setting up sessions with the various teams and departments to educate them on the new platform… The sooner you can get them educated and adjusted around this new platform, the less downtime your organization will be subject to when Salesforce.com flips the switch.

The Industry and Technology are Killing the Industry, not Millennials

Millennials are killingThere is a fundamental shift in consumer-driven businesses that has been emerging over the past few years, and it’s shaking up industries and businesses that once stood as giants for decades. Almost daily, an industry giant is either declaring bankruptcy, layoffs, closing locations, or reporting yet another quarter of subpar numbers. The writing is on the wall…. Yet, most industry leaders are refusing to accept reality. Instead, they choose to blame millennials for their demise… Along with these bankruptcies, layoffs, and store closings, we also see newly published articles regarding how “millennials” are completely decimating industries, businesses, and traditions that have stood the test of time. Here’s the thing: are millennials really to blame? We think not… We are believers that the industry and businesses themselves are the cause of their ow demise—not millennials, or any age group, for that matter.

Let’s elaborate on what we mean by that… The reality is that a majority of businesses are failing to recognize the changing time and focusing on “business as usual”. Looking back on twenty years ago during downtimes, “business as usual” typically meant finding areas of cutting cost to increase margins or creating a few more marketing promotions with the hopes of increasing sales just enough to ride out the lulls in the economy. Those strategies typically worked for most businesses because, looking back at those times, there were only so many places to shop, eat, or consume entertainment. Each industry essentially had a handful of businesses that monopolized their respective industries, which lead to their economic ebbs and flows with the economy. At those times, there were only so many places consumers could spend their money… Great for businesses in those days, right? Here lies the problem—most executive leaders within long-established consumer-oriented businesses are continuing to run their businesses as if it was the 1980s or 90s. However, the market has drastically changed since then. First, in the age of technology and consumer preferences, the 80s & 90s were essentially a 100 years ago. A very millennial statement, but here’s the reality: the market is truly changing at the speed of light, and even looking five years back has shown drastic changes in both technology and consumers preferences. Technology has enabled consumers to essentially have the knowledge of the internet at their fingertips, and forward-thinking businesses have capitalized on this fact enabling an “On-Demand Economy”. Technology has also enabled almost anyone to start up their own online business with the same technological capabilities of a multimillion-dollar business. Never mind the fact that a small startup with a little knowledge of how Search Engine Marketing works can easily outrank a multimillion-dollar organization in a matter of weeks by using the right Google industry keywords. Technology and increased competition are the real reasons these consumer-facing industries are struggling, not millennials… Businesses just can’t cut cost and rely on a few promotions to ride out the lulls anymore, as competition is all too eager to steal that business away. 

While corporations are looking at their calculators, small businesses & startups are focusing on

  • Creating a digital marketing strategy to essentially make the big brands completely irrelevant online.
  • Providing consumers with exactly what they need in the easiest way possible.
  • Creating flexible pricing and packages that match what consumers really want, not finding ways to charge more for the same (or lesser) service
  • Providing value for free when others want to charge for it.
  • Increasing quality, not cutting it.
  • Working on loyalty reward programs that actually provide real value and rewards

When you begin to peel back the layers of the onion, millennials almost have nothing to do with the demise of these industries and businesses at all… Failure lies solely on their shoulders. Let’s take for example Sears… Sears was once an industry giant that had stood for more than 100 years, and for a majority of the time in business, they were the gold standard in retail. In their early days, when obtaining certain items for the general population was almost impossible, they created a first-of-its-kind catalogue of thousands of items that could be delivered to your front door. Then in the 1960s when consumer need for faster access to consumable goods became more prevalent, it led to the blossoming business of malls and Sears was quick to capitalize. Looking back to the 1980s, there probably wasn’t a mall in the country without a Sears taking up some major real-estate. As Sears grew, they made investments in Craftsman tools, DieHard batteries, Kenmore appliances, and others. All of this led to Sears being a formidable industry giant, and they enjoyed that success for decades… However, in the early 90s, Sears decided to focus more on cost-cutting metrics instead of innovation. We called attention to this in another article. As an example, in January 1993, Sears announced the closing of the catalogue, eliminating 50,000 jobs as they didn’t see a market in delivering items directly to consumers’ front doors, and keeping that business running was “too expensive”. Interestingly enough, in July of 1994, Amazon was born, which ended up being a company that could deliver items directly to consumers’ front doors. Yes, really, had Sears thought about where technology was going like Amazon did, they literally could have been the Amazon of today. However, Sears’s cost-cutting didn’t stop there, and for thirty years now Sears has been focusing on cost-saving metrics across the board… Anyone that has been at a Sears in the past few years has come across stores in disrepair, sub-par inventory levels, long lines, and employees that generally don’t seem to care. It’s no surprise that Sears is now closing stores almost daily and in bankruptcy litigation.

However, on the flip slide, you have Target, Best Buy, Walmart and others all seeing great success in today’s tough economy. The reason why is simple: they have all been focusing on innovation, bringing choices and convenience to the consumer. Best Buy, from the beginning, has strived to have a strong ecommerce presence, becoming one of the first big-box retail organizations to have a true website with online purchasing availability. They were also one of the primary innovators of ecommerce purchasing with in-store pickups. Target has focused on innovative payment methods, allowing consumers to skip the line and pay for items in the aisle instead. Target also recently launched a new program to use local stores as virtual ecommerce warehouses decreasing overhead while speeding up the entire delivery process to consumers. Walmart recently announced strong revenues directly related to curbside pickup… These are just a few areas of innovation that has allowed other big-box retailers to stay on top. In contrast, Sears has attempted nothing even remotely close to these innovative methods to save their business.

However, big companies are also not the only businesses thriving. In fact, only 53 companies have been on the Fortune 500 since 1955, including 17 newcomers to the list in 2018. Companies such as Uber, Yelp, Spotify, DoorDash, Zapos, Salesforce.com, Amazon, Facebook, Google were all startups less than twenty years ago. They are not alone; almost daily, a new startup comes from almost nowhere to be a new industry-leading giant… The reality of the whole situation is that millennials are not killing industries… The big-business thinking of yesteryear is.  We’re in a climate where most of the consumer industries that are in the midst of major shake-ups, such as Retail, Cable, General Medical Care, Transportation, Food, and Entertainment, are all struggling… Each are struggling with their own issues of conducting business as if it was still the 1980s or 90s while pointing fingers at millennials for their changing buying habits and lack of brand loyalty. Here is the reality—they are doing it to themselves for all the reasons listed earlier in this article, and it is up to them to recognize the writing on the wall. However, we are in favor of the small businesses and startups!