Franchise Online Marketing: Effective Email Campaigning

People unfamiliar with email marketing often wonder what all the fuss is about. Didn’t spam kill email as a marketing vehicle? And if spam didn’t kill it, what about web feeds, instant messaging and all the other clever ways we can communicate online? Isn’t email outmoded?

Modern email marketing services, such as the integrated email marketing manager in the ElementsLocal platform, support database integration, segmentation and various other tricks and techniques for improving the targeting of outgoing messages. Advanced, franchise specific functionality, now allows Franchisor’s the ability to send out emails with the local owners names and addresses to reply to, thereby driving local marketing. Systems like the ElementsLocal platform also brand and content control email campaigns to be sent by franchise owners at the local level.

There are many proven benefits to Email Campaigning:

Email promotions and offers generate immediate action: sales, downloads, inquiries, registrations, etc. Informative email newsletters and other emails send people to offline stores and events, prepare the way for catalogs, build awareness, contribute to branding, strengthen relationships, encourage trust and cement loyalty.

Every email campaign you send out generates a heap of actionable data you can use to refine your approach and message.

According to research conducted by the Direct Marketing Association, email marketing generated an ROI of $57.25 for every dollar spent on it. As such, it outperformed all the other direct marketing channels examined, such as print catalogs. 47% of marketers surveyed by Marketing Sherpa said that their top performing online marketing tactic was “email marketing to house lists”. The tactic was second only to search marketing in performance. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen listed an email newsletter as “probably the single-highest ROI action you can take to improve your Internet presence”.

Why does email marketing for franchises work?

  1. It allows specific audience targeting
  2. It is data driven
  3. It drives direct sales
  4. It builds relationships, loyalty and trust
  5. It supports sales through other channels

Here are some quick tips for effective email marketing:

  • Focus on building a good list of people who want to hear from you
  • Craft a message and ensure the emails get through and you have a good ‘click through’ rate
  • Couple your email campaigns with web analytics to narrow the focus of your message and target the list it should go to
  • Use coupons and other incentives strategically. For example send coupons to customers who haven’t purchased something from you in more than 3 months. existing and potential customers

Start the email marketing journey with a look at our Franchise Online Marketing System. Our platform has built in email campaign capabilities. Use the leads generated by the proven local lead generator to target your audience for effective email marketing.

Learn more about our Franchise Online Marketing platform by visiting: ElementsLocal Franchise Online Marketing System. Take advantage of our free Webinar focusing on Franchise Marketing January 18, 2012, at 12:00 pm CST by registering at : ElementsLocal Webinar: Franchise Marketers Boot Camp 2012.

How Can Franchises Take Advantage of Everything Google Offers?

Google is the most popular search engine in the world for a few good reasons. Its simple uncluttered interface, vast number of webpages and great results are among the top reasons.

But that’s not all Google has to offer and we find Franchise businesses using Google more and more to market and advertise, enhance their social media and mobile marketing, analyze their website traffic and even optimize and split test how effective the conversion is on their websites.

So ELEMENTS has decided recommend some of the hottest Google tools we see Franchises using today. ELEMENTS will also be conducting a FREE webinar on this topic on June 21st (click here to sign up >>).

Local Search & Advertising

1) Google Places

One of the largest impacts to the local search arena stems from Google Places, an online local directory of businesses. Most importantly, Google Places is no longer a separate search product anymore. Google now displays Google Place’s search results blended directly into Google’s general or “Everything” search when the search terms indicate that the end user might be looking for a product or service that can be satisfied locally.

Google Places Local Blend

Franchises now must ensure all of their locations are setup properly and optimized in Google Places in order to show up when people perform searches that can be satisfied locally.

2) Google AdWords Location Extensions

AdWords is Google’s PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising platform. Google has added location extensions to their AdWords system which allows the owner of the advertisement to display their advertisements to specified locations. Location extensions help make the consumer aware that the product or service they are looking for can be fulfilled locally.

3) Google Keyword Tool and Google Trends

By using Google’s free Keyword Tool, companies are better able to determine what keywords people are searching for and which keyword term targets would just waste their website’s valuable real estate. To receive top rankings in Google a company must play by their rules, expand their offerings and monetizing the marketability of their products or services. Getting traffic is great, but converting traffic into sales or leads is the true goal of the SEO game.

The Google Trends Tool can help your company determine search traffic trends when comparing multiple sets of keywords. For example, the following search comparing Netflix, Block Buster and Hollywood Video shows the dramatic difference in searches for those three businesses:

Google Trends

Social Media

4) Social Signals Effect Rank

Recently both Bing and Google have admitted that mentions of and links to web pages found in public social media postings can positively effect a website’s search engine rankings. The idea behind this is that social media users will share links to websites that they trust and enjoy so the more users sharing these links through social media the more perceived value these websites have. However, not all social media personas carry the same weight. Search engines look at the “social authority” of the user that shared that link and give more value to links shared by users with more credibility.

5) Google +1

At the time of this publication Google +1 is currently in beta testing mode. The idea behind Google +1 is to use one’s social network (Google contacts) for recommendations on which search results they found the most for their own search queries. So if your friend marked a result as valuable, there is good cause for the Google search engine to think that you might like it as well because you both exist within the same social circle.

Today (June 1st), Google has launched their +1 Button which can be added to any website to encourage friend recommendations in the same way that Facebook users can currently “like” a website page. In a way, Google is leveraging its’ entire user-base as quality control staff. While Google states that under the current system recommendations only come from the user’s social network, we can foresee a time when Google will recommend websites from outside of your social circle based on the number of +1’s a website has received and the perceived social authority of the rankee.

Click here for more information on the +1 Button.

6) Google Places Reviews

Earlier we discussed the importance of Google Places to local search. Perhaps the most important factor in getting a Place’s page to rank well is the number of positive reviews a business has in relation to their local competition. The reviews found on Google Places can be drawn from several places. One such place is the social review website Yelp. Google also has its’ own social review system (formally called Hotpot) which has now been integrated directly into Google Places. Both Yelp & Google Places allow users to track reviews and interact with their friends within their social network. According to Google, they now have millions of users rating places more than a million times per month.

7) Google’s Realtime Social Media Search Results

Alongside their Everything and Places search Google has various other search types. One of these variant searches is Google’s Realtime search. Google’s Realtime search results display “up-to-the-second” updates from various social media outlets including news articles, blog posts and Tweets. The search result page is no longer a static listing, but instead updates when a new post relevant to your search query is detected by Google.

These real-time searches can be beneficial for businesses looking to leverage current trends in their marketing efforts or for franchises looking to react quickly to protect their brand when trouble arises.

8) Google’s Algorithmic Changes that Recognize Brands

Social media mentions of a company name will pass along a brand impression for that company. The more mentions of a company’s name Google can find the more likely it is to treat that business as a notable brand. Brands have become an important factor to Google when determining search engine rankings because Google now considers brand name products and services as more trustworthy and therefore ranks brands higher than their non-branded competition.

Franchises can leverage social media to expand their company’s brand impression. Companies should encourage their employees to create personal LinkedIn profiles and link them to their company. Facebook posts & Twitter tweets can now be found in both Google’s Realtime search and its’ Everything search giving more exposure to a company’s brand name than franchises with inactive social media accounts that are not engaging existing or potential customers through those social mediums. Serious and authentic blog commenting with a mention of your company’s brand is just another social media outlet that can garner your brand’s name more exposure.

Aside from social media there are other very useful ways to expose your brand’s name to consumers. Successful offline advertising can have a positive impact on brand recognition. Franchises could even publish an eBook or two about franchising and about their brand which not only will receive mentions from social media and traditional media sources like press releases, but these books can also be found in online libraries like Google Scholar.

Mobile Marketing

9) Google Mobile Location Based Ads

Google AdWords offers location centric mobile advertising to allow local businesses to target leads based on the user’s immediate location. These location based ads offer the interested user an expandable map with turn by directions and a click-to-call phone number. There is some chatter at Google about other new “rich ad units” for mobile coming down the pipe to further leverage the mobile platform, including ads meant specifically for tablet devices.

10) Google Places Offer Mobile Coupons

When customers find a specific local store or service on Google Places through their mobile device, that business can offer digital coupons directly to that device in order to convert that lead into a walk-in customer. Owners of the devices can then show the business their coupon directly on their phone without having to print it out on a piece of paper. One of the best benefits of Google Place’s mobile coupons is that the coupons get distributed for free, unlike many offline paper distribution methods.

Traffic Metrics & Conversion Optimization

11) Google Analytics Traffic & SEO Metrics

Google Analytics is a free traffic reporting tool that allows companies to tunnel deeply into their visitor and website metrics in order to better determine the success of their website. Just some of the valuable visitor and search metrics one can obtain from Google Analytics are the most popular pages on your websites, the keywords that are driving search traffic to your websites, what external websites are sending your website traffic and the level of engagement of your website.

Google Analytics has completely changed how businesses look at their website’s statistics. This free hosted solution makes adding metric tracking to your website a breeze and provides in depth reporting second to none. Along with these valuable benefits, Google Analytics also allows companies to integrate their Google AdWords & Google AdSense campaigns into its reports, to set goals with varying values for conversion tracking and to build custom scheduled statistical reports.

In the franchise space specifically, ELEMENTS has begun using Google Analytics to provide rollup reporting across an entire franchisee network of websites as well as offering franchisees access to their own individual Google Analytics reports.

12) Website Optimizer for Conversion Optimization

The success of a website cannot purely be determined by the number of visitors to a website alone. Most websites have conversion goals like a checkout through their shopping cart or a newsletter sign-up for future targeted marketing. This is where conversion optimization comes into play.

Conversion optimization is the process of altering a page on a website in order to increase the amount achieved goals. Sometimes this can mean changing the call to action text or adding a big green button to the page. Conversion optimization is an art form but with Google’s Website Optimizer almost anyone can learn how to better their conversions on any given page.

In its simplest form, Website Optimizer allows you to create to competing pages and then it splits the traffic between the two pages and determines which page has the best conversion or goal achievement ratio. Website Optimizer also allows a company to alter individual page snippets in order to determine which of these snippets on the page lead to the most conversions.

2010 Internet Statistics

I have been sent this article about 5 times from different sources so I guess I better share it on our blog on the off chance you might have missed it.  The below article has estimated statistics of Internet usage for the entire 2010 calender year.

Some notable statistics are:

  • 107 trillion – The number of emails sent on the Internet in 2010.
  • 88.8 million – .COM domain names at the end of 2010.
  • 14% – Increase in Internet users since the previous year.
  • 600 million – People on Facebook at the end of 2010.
  • 175 million – People on Twitter as of September 2010.
  • 2 billion – The number of videos watched per day on YouTube.

You can read the full article at Pingdom here.

The Inbound Advantage: Tips to Evolve Your Franchise’s Marketing Strategy

 In a world where marketing messages abound in nearly every aspect of daily life, a new, discerning consumer has evolved – one adept at filtering and tuning out information irrelevant to personal interests. Rightly so, franchise marketing tactics need to also undergo a major shift, since traditional outbound techniques such as advertising and unsolicited email blasts are increasingly becoming blocked or ignored.

                “Franchises should focus the majority of their marketing budget on inbound, not outbound initiatives,” said Jeremy LaDuque, CEO of Elements Inc., creator of ElementsLocal™, a new software solution for franchises that increases company leads through maximized search engine results. “When you push your message out far and wide with little discretion, you’re essentially crossing your fingers that it will resonate with a few individuals. Inbound marketing generates leads that are more abundant and credible, as potential customers seeking your services have been attracted organically through search engines, blogs and social media.”

          

  • Get Local. Instead of relying on just one national web site for the entire franchise network, provide cross-linked autonomous and brand-compliant web sites for each location. As the franchisor, you benefit from:

o    A “network effect” of hundreds of web sites, each displaying relevant content about the company, being seen by search engines, which increases rankings and visibility

o    An ability to leverage each franchise by allowing franchisees to customize (according to franchisor specifications)  their web site with local content and local e-marketing campaigns

  • Get Optimized. Some simple ways to get started with search engine optimization:

1)       Focus the attention of each webpage to just a few keywords

2)       Add relevant content about those select key words to that webpage

3)       Add those keywords to the title and meta tags of that webpage

 

Get Social. Social media is the fastest-growing segment of the Internet, and best of all, it’s much less expensive than most other marketing tactics. Get your franchise on board by:

o    Participating in social media sites such as Facebook and You Tube. Start a corporate Facebook profile and seek out fans or upload informative – or even humorous – videos that have “pass-along” potential, such as an engaging company story or client testimonials. This will help attract more visitors to your web site, increase your exposure within a larger audience and boost your search engine ranking.

o    Using a blog and/or Twitter to publish information about your business. Gaining “followers” or subscribers not only increases the audience for your company message, but also helps you gain valuable insight from the comments consumers leave on your posts.

  • Get Efficient. Inbound marketing efforts are highly track-able, so employ various strategies to monitor the efficiency of your efforts. This will allow you to repeat what’s working, discontinue what’s not, and gauge what’s providing you with the best return on investment (ROI). Some helpful hints:

o    First, establish exactly what it is you want to track and make sure you have a way to measure what you want to track

o    Use statistical programs like Google Analytics to monitor web site traffic behavior – from number of pages viewed to length of time on the site

o    Use landing pages to track specific ad campaigns and/or marketing initiatives

o    Track throughout – from campaign to conversion to sale!

                “As franchises start to ‘think inbound’ in their marketing strategies, they’ll attract customers who are appropriate for and receptive to the company message,” said LaDuque. “This competitive advantage will not only save franchises money, but will also help them build lasting and loyal relationships with clients.”

               

The SEO Labyrinth and Successful Natural Search Results

Website Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is complex and requires a systemic approach when working to enhance your natural search results strategy. “Natural” or “organic” searches that drive traffic to your websites are just that: the natural choices a user would make in entering search words (or sometimes, a singlular word…resulting in the user finding a new universe on the internet rather than more directed results).

A natural search assumes that you may not yet have other strategies in place, or if you do, you are still trying to optimize this type of search. Other strategies you can pay for include SEO/Search Engine Marketing (SEM) analysis services, pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, linkbuilding services and trend analysis.

It Happens Overnight?

Not exactly, it takes a few months, maybe as many as 4-6 or 7 after you’ve put these strategies in place for you to see good results. One source sites “over 200 SEO factors that Google uses to rank pages in the Google search results.” So a working understanding of how search engines (SE) do their magic will help increase the chances of your site appearing high in a list of thousands or more search results.

Certain keywords and/or keyword phrases are highly competitive – meaning they describe and are used for a wide array of businesses with websites offering those products or services. “Cooking” and “appliances” describe a huge variety of products and services and keywords like these are competitive. So, logically, there are hundreds and hundreds of websites using these as keywords; it would be an uphill battle to achieve a Top 10 search result with natural searches.

Most internet users know what they want and often know specific details about what they want. One of the keys through this Labyrinth is to understand what specific goal or target users have when they search. For example, after a home fire, a user may know they want to find a “residential restoration” service or they may know they want to find a “residential restoration fire water damage” service or even more specifically “paul davis residential fire water damage  restoration theirtown.”

The last two sets are much more specific and competition for these is probably lower – they are applicable to fewer companies offering those products or services. Using more specific keywords and phrases can help better optimization and search rankings, providing there are enough numbers of people searching on those terms. Choosing keywords that are specific but not popular with users won’t necessarily deliver better results.

A Good Foundation

Doing some keyword research will help you build a good foundation for choosing keywords for your website. Doing some marketing research for your geographic area or your own target audience will give you even more ammunition. And trust yourself. You are the expert in your industry and your local area…how would your target audience search for you?  There are several free keyword search tools online. They give you an indication of how popular certain words or phrases are based on current databases from companies such as Google and Nielsen. Keep in mind, the results provide good indicator – not the end all of keyword results. Your industry, vertical market, product and geographic location are among the things that affect the outcome, not to mention results from automated traffic (you guess it, another Labyrinth path).

Cross check your word search with various free tools. We found a few:

Improving Your Search Results Ranking

When a user enters words into a search field, the search engines go to work and in seconds, have wound their way through countless number of websites and web pages looking for the combination of keywords the user entered.  By using some smart content strategies you can help increase your search results ranking. The following are some factors that affect page ranking and most are things you can put into place yourself.

So there are a few important “on-page” items and “off-page” factors that we look at:

Things to do On-Page:

  • Include one or more keywords in your site domain name.
  • Use keywords in your directory paths or folders on your site.
  • Include keywords in your Title Tag.
  • Use the keywords in your Title Tag in several variations that mirror your product or service and get a lot of searches as well:

    Home Fire Water Damage Repair – Fire Water Damage Mitigation – Residential Reconstruction and Restoration

  • Include keywords in your H1 Tag (first header tag).
  • Make your content keyword-dense; include your keywords often in the body content.
  • You need to incorporate your keywords and phrases logically in your content; you cannot merely repeat these words over and over. Use your keywords in your content in a logical and relevant way.
  • Create a customized keyword set for each section of your site, or better, each page.

Things that affect your site ranking Off-Page:

  • Length of time your site has been live.
  • How popular your website links are.
  • Link popularity within the site’s internal link structure.
    ~ Whether others linking to your site are relevant to the topic of your site.
  • Topical relevance of inbound links to site.
    ~ Whether the inbound links to your site are well-worded and use your keywords.
  • Anchor text of inbound links
  • The quality of sites who link to your site.
    ~ Whether your site links are popular overall and draw users to your site.
  • Global link popularity of site

Several off-page items are dependent on other websites’ awareness of your website and content. There are strategies you can employ on your site that can influence this, especially when they involve other sites linking to your site. Since this is yet another path in the Labyrinth, we will save this topic for another discussion.

Search Engines Are Your Friends

These days there are so many metrics that add value to search rankings, but keywords still provide the foundation of attracting search traffic. Search engines, depending on how many (or few) words the user queries, return a list of relevant sites that is ordered by relevancy or importance to the keywords. Again – searching through what could be thousands of websites and thousands and thousands of webpages, almost in a blink of an eye. As the web designer and/or content author, you can help your search engines friends by making your sites and content more SE “compliant” – by getting with their program and using keywords in the same key positions on the webpage.

Page Construction to Optimize Keywords

Once you’ve determined your keywords and phrases that users most often use to find your company, product and/or service, you’ll need to incorporate them into your webpages. The days of hiding keywords with white text (stealthy invisible), or using them repetitively in every html tag are gone. Keywords must now be incorporated logically into your content and add to the usability of your page and content from a users’ standpoint. Using the stealth strategy will actually cost you SE ranking as the SEs will realize the tactic and penalize your site accordingly. Search engines and their algorithms don’t like when we webmortals think we can outsmart them.

On-Page Factors

Again, the goal is to place your keywords in positions on the page that SEs can find them easily. Search engines interpret how important the keywords are to the user by the keywords’ placement on the page. Roll up your sleeves and revamp your pages and content:

Title Tag. Place a keyword phrase in the title tag; the title tag is about the most important factor when SEs rank webpages. Including keywords in the title tag shows the SEs the page’s focus. It is important to have a title tag on pages such as special interest, product, and services pages.

Header – H1 Tag. In HTML-speak, your “H1 tag” is the “header” or “headline” – generally, the large one liner at the top of your page. Bigger is better in this case: SEs consider larger type to be more important because it is more visible and easily read.  HTML header codes go from largest to smallest, H1 to H6. Your H1 Tag should contain your keywords for that page.

Other Header Tags – H2 to H6. The H-Tags specify a text hierarchy for headlines or subheads on your page. The higher the H-Tag number the smaller the text size. Generally, H1 is the only headline on the page, appearing at the top of the page. H2 tags are slightly smaller and can appear as subheads for the page. H3 tags are even smaller and may serve as a header for a bulleted list. H6 is the smallest text size and you may want to use this tag for image captions.

You don’t need to use all of the H-Tags, but their hierarchy should stay in tact. Again, part of the SE search involves keywords in the H1 tag, so remember to use a keyword or two in the headline of the page. In this way, you are optimizing the relevance of the keywords on the page as well as providing reinforcement to your users. They’ll see the Title Tag and the page headline (H1) with the same words they’ve searched for and know that they’ve come to the right website.

Keyword-rich Content. This may be “logical” but it is still worth mentioning. Your page content should contain your keywords and phrases several times. If you have target keywords per page, each page should mirror the unique set of key words. The content should be relevant and different for each page.

Creating extra pages on your site with duplicate content is another strategy that SEs don’t like; they will recognize the duplicate page content and give your site a lower rating. Also, if you mindlessly repeat your content, SE filters would catch it and not rank your site.  Unique content using your keywords is critical when you are dependent on natural search results.

There are a few ways to increase unique keyword-rich content that make SEs happy:

  • Break up your content by using subheads containing keywords.
  • Include keywords in the first sentence of your content and tie it up nicely with a summary sentence containing keywords.
  • Depending on the page design, bold your keywords now and then for emphasis. Create visual interest by pulling out important aspects of content as a bulleted list – keywords should also appear in this list.
  • Attribute images with a caption containing keywords.
  • Give your images and links Alt-Tags (or a Title Tag) using keywords.
  • Also, provide a way for your users or solicit your users to send you testimonials about your product, service or company (for example, a blog that users may participate in by submitting comments)
    ~ Content from your users is highly coveted because it can provide relevant and unique content without you having to generate it.

Keyword-rich Links

Search engines also looks at your internal links (page containing a link and the page the link goes to within your website). By making some text a link, you create “anchor text.” When you use keywords in your “anchor text” search engines consider the page it links to important to that keyword.

Meta Description Tags.

Meta Description Tags summarize the page “in 25 words or so” and are put into a “hidden” or background part of the webpage. When search engines display search results, they typically display the Meta Description Tag under the title of the page in the results. Again, include your keywords and keyword phrases. Use the most important keywords for that specific webpage.

If you feel as if the Tasmanian Devil has just whirled around your head a few times, you’re not alone. Search Engine Optimization is logical, but its logic contains many, many variables. These variables must be in place for the SEs to find your site among possibly thousands in a natural search query. Some of the variables are more difficult to control (mainly the age of your site). But by following these key strategies, you increase your search result rankings within the SEO Labyrinth.

Let’s review:

  • Update your site often – with photos and content. Activity on your site always verifies to SEs that your site is authentic.
  • Generate key words and phrases for each page of your site. You can do this just by sections of your site as well.
  • Include keywords in your Title Tag. Make sure your keywords are also in your Headline (H1) of the page; use the H1 to H6 tag hierarchy giving relative importance to text on your webpage.
  • Mirror your key words and key phrases in your content at least 3 or 4 times. Use the terms logically – you cannot just type your key word over and over and over.
  • Use bullet point lists containing keywords as a way to break up the page content and add key words w/out having to write longer sentences.
  • Bold at least one of your keywords within your content – it gives importance to that word. If you can do this to several keywords without making the content awkward, this is even better.
  • Use keywords in your text links to your own site pages.
  • Give your images captions and alternative text – this is an opportunity for you to get more key words on the page.
  • Acquire user-generated content.

Website Optimization and Marketing Consulting
ELEMENTS Inc. | 805-547-1160 x205

The primary objective of any focused marketing initiative is to drive qualified leads, which convert into users, customers and clients. ELEMENTS specializes in creating business results for franchise and mid-size companies using integrated website optimization and internet marketing strategies, with a firm belief that success can not be obtained with a singular focus on one small portion of “Search Engine Optimization”.

Successful website optimization requires holistic planning and management of all aspects of search engine marketing (SEM) including public relations, website content, keyword buys and search engine optimization, as well as most aspects of information architecture, user-interface and online community best practices. ELEMENTS applies both marketing sensibility and technical expertise for campaigns that focus on customer acquisition and retention.

Riding Out the Recession – 8 Marketing Strategies for ’09

While the President-elect Barack Obama readies an economic stimulus plan to revive our failed economy, franchises can turn the current recession into positive and successful sales and marketing opportunities. There are a myriad of ways to help you ride the storm, one of them is to revise your marketing strategy.

John Quelch, a professor at Harvard Business School and known worldwide for his expertise in global marketing, branding and communications, discusses this issue in the Harvard Business Review. His original blog was posted in February 2008 and outlines some excellent ways to address marketing revisions.

Quelch was one of ten marketing experts profiled in Conversations with Marketing Masters, (Laura Mazur and Louella Miles). He also co-authored Greater Good: How Good Marketing Makes for Better Democracy (Quelch and Katherine Jocz). Additionally is a non-executive director of WPP Group plc, the world’s second largest marketing services company, and of Pepsi Bottling Group. He served previously as a director of Reebok International.

Please read the full article at the HBR, John Quelch, Marketing KnowHow: How to Market in a Recession.

The ripples of our nation’s recession have gotten wider and more far-reaching, touching everyone. Effects from the subprime mortgage crisis have stretched consumer confidence and spending (on credit) to its limit, both of which have been keeping our economy afloat.

Your 2008 marketing strategies are probably already updated this late in the year. We’ve distilled Quelch’s eight factors here. Give yourself some flexibility and consider these principles for your 2009 plans.

1. Know your target customer.
The economy has left consumers with less diposable income and everyone is now more frugal and savvy at finding the good deal. We will spend more time searching for goods and services, drive a harder bargain at the counter, or will trade off: put off purchases until a better deal comes along, settle for less, or buy less. We weigh: want vs. need more heavily. Although brand loyalty is high and those brands can pull off a new product launch, think about limiting new product lines and new brands – they may not be so successful in this market.

2. Home sweet home.
It’s human nature to retreat to the hearth-and-home in stressful times. Rethink and gear your advertising images from action-packed, extreme, and fear factors toward warm-and-fuzzy family images. We spend less by staying in, but still want to be connected, therefore, we will still spend on things that make our homes more comfortable (furnishing and entertainment), as well as greeting cards, telephone and internet use.

3. Maintain marketing spending.
As competitors cut their advertising budget, companies increasing their advertising during a recession experience a high level of success. They improve their market share and lower their return-on-investment. As more consumers stay in, television watching increases and lowers the rate of cost-per-thousand impressions. If you need to reduce your marketing, maintain your frequency of exposure by shifting to shorter advertisements; incorporate radio and direct marketing, possibly giving you more immediate impact on new sales.

4. Keep product line essentials.
Companies need to re-evaluate their product lines and trim the weaker products. Consumers look for good values now more than ever and opt for multi-purpose over specialized products; private label/store brands over more expensive national brands; goods and services a la carte rather than bundled. If you’re launching a new product that puts pressure on competitors by addressing current consumer needs, focus your advertising on a high level of price performance rather than trying to extend your corporate image.

5. Support distributors.
Give your distributors added incentive to stock your full product line by offering early-buy allowances, financing and flexible return policies. Acquiring some strong distribution channels that have been let go by other company and phasing out your own weaker ones may also be good way to beef up your sales force. Beware of damaging the strength of your existing distributors and brand image by expanding into lower-priced channels.

6. Make the price right.
Consumers are hungry for the best deal in tough times. Sweepstakes, mail-in rebates and other promotions requiring a customer’s time and effort are not very attractive. Offer temporary price reductions, lower quantities for bulk discounts, extended credit (trusted customers) and better pricing for smaller pack sizes.

7. Protect your market share.
In this present economy, market share can be a matter of survival, not just a battle for a share. Before implementing cuts or consolidations, make sure you know your cost structure to avoid adversely impacting your customers. Strong national companies with productive cost structures have the best chance at a possible gain in market share. Smaller, but still profitable companies can also vie for a bigger share by acquiring weaker competitors.

8. Put people first.
Companies have had to implement different cost saving strategies, including letting employees go, closing facilities and the like. Executives need to maintain employee and customer morale and confidence by focusing on quality products and services and continuing to provide these to their clients. In a recession when concerns are redirected toward profit and loss, it’s easy to concentrate on balance sheets and managing company capital instead of managing relationships with people – internal and external.

Our ElementsLocal™ online solution provides franchise systems an unmatched ability to give franchise leaders BrandSecure™ online marketing tools. ElementsLocal puts the power of online marketing in your franchisees’ hands, while consistently driving your brand across all web properties.
For more information, call us at 805-547-1160 x205 or visit us at http://www.elementslocal.com/cm/Home.html.

Beholding the Eye of the User

Numerous research groups have conducted studies to determine how people read online (and print) content. Eye tracking research tests the theories and assumptions about this consumer behavior and can help us build a better website and guide better designs.

Although the test methodology may differ, researchers have collected and analyzed data regarding how different aspects of a web page are viewed (headlines, subhead/tag lines, ads, photos and other graphics); how people navigate a website; how long the readers stay with an article and how much of the content they read and content placement may affect any of this. Some research even tests reader retention.

Generally, eye trackers use fancy eye tracking equipment that records the users’ eye movements on a page. The results typically show red/orange/yellow spots where the reader’s eye stops or lingers; green/blue indicate areas that the reader finds less important or interesting, or, in some studies, the areas a reader does not even look at. Some tests also record where the reader clicks on their mouse and how far down the page the participant read or scrolled before bouncing away somewhere else.

Left, Right, Left

Reading in our Western culture flows top left corner to right and has a great influence in these studies. Not surprisingly, the upper left corner of the page (print or web) seems to be the overwhelming favorite gateway to websites. The upper left side of the page was strengthened when strong headlines and company logos (flags) were incorporated into the design of the page. Larger sized headlines obviously being more noticeable than smaller headlines.

Top, Right or Left

After starting in the top left corner of the web page, users’ eyes then moved left to right so logically, users focused on  main navigation bars or other navigational elements that were placed at the top of the page. In some studies, main nav elements in the right hand column got more attention than those in the left hand column. The argument for a right side secondary nav is that the scroll bars are usually on the right side of the browser window. By putting the navigational elements on the right side, you increase your users’ efficiency on your website.

The argument for a left hand secondary nav is that the users’ eye always traveled back to the left side of the page (Western reading), so using the left column for this navigation would seem appropriate. The majority of websites are designed with left hand navigation and users’ are comfortable finding it in this area – force of habit. Forcing a change in this habit could force your user to have to work to figure the page out and potentially spend less time on the important content, or leave the site altogether. A good compromise is to leave the secondary navigation  in the left column and include other calls-to-action items or links in the right column.

Pretty Picture or Catchy Headline?

There’s some controversy over whether people are more attracted to a photo or the web page’s headlines. After landing on a homepage, most users were attracted to content – catchy headlines – more than they were large photos. Content also guides the users’ actions on a site, so good content is critical. Users gravitated toward headlines and summaries leading into the main article as well. In most studies, they preferred content written in short paragraphs. Remember most online users scan for what they are looking for, rather than reading entire paragraphs of content.

However in some studies, users were attracted to larger and more eye-catching photos with good placement: mid-page and above the fold. Users do like content broken up with images (photos or graphics; photos were viewed more than graphics in general), whether larger or icon-sized. Since the text dictates the users actions more than images, compelling images will supplement your content well.

Ads and Folds

Ads placed in those same areas (left side of page, top of page) received a lot of attention, but that placement can cause a design challenge if you want to establish clear brand identity. Ad placement on a web page has more limits on the real estate, so it’s an extremely important exposure issue for advertisers. Users also looked at bigger ads over smaller ones and those placed near content they were interested in reading.

Content and ads placed “below the fold” or in the lower parts of the screen received some attention, but were often overlooked, especially if the user has to scroll too far down. There is some controversy over content placement in the lower right corner or lower parts of a web page, as those areas would be the logical end of the users’ eye movement. The decisions about where to place a call-to-action or an ad are: how far south on the page and above or below the fold. Best practice is usually above the fold.

F+

What we’re really looking at here is an ‘F’. The user enters your web page at the top left corner of the page (top left corner of the ‘F’) . Their eyes them move across the page to the right, comes back to the left side move down the page and then across the page to the right again….a loose ‘F’ pattern. Good web design will take advantage of this almost automatic reading behavior and place critical elements in the page’s strategic hot spots.

  • ~ Place a captivating image or a dynamic headline in the top left area is great; combine the two and placing them together has even greater impact.
  • ~ Use your left column for secondary navigation – it’s a natural fit for the spine of the ‘F’. And place other important navigational or calls-to-action on the right side of the page where the users’ eye naturally travel makes perfect sense.
  • ~ Keep your most important content and eye-catching photographs above the fold helps grab users quickly.
  • ~ Write in a way a scanner can rapidly absorb information on your home page to keep their interest. Include links or other strategies to lead users to sub pages where they can read articles in full or gather more information.

Deconstructing Your Home Page

Your web site’s home page design should be insightful and creative. It should engage your clients and guide them through your site, compelling them to take action in the places you specify. Your home page is also your client and future clients’ first impression of you as a person, company, brand, product and/or service. And at the hyper-speed with which everything technological moves these days, you want your home page to do it all and say it all – all in a few minutes.

Eye Contact

A visually appealing design will draw your clients into your site, but placing your important messaging and calls to action in prime locations encourages them to stay and participate. By structuring your home page effectively, you’ll create a visual hierarchy that provides users with an intuitive path through your home page.

Understanding how users’ eyes typically move on a web page will help give some logic to getting the most from your home page’s real estate. Most users’ eyes begin either in the upper left corner of the page or in the middle of the page and then move to the upper left corner. So, placing your company logo and possibly your brand messaging in the upper left corner is a great start.

Your clients’ eyes may then scan across the top of the page to the upper right corner. This path is logical based on Western readers reading from left to right and generally follows your main navigation bar. The users’ eyes may then zig back left and down, so putting calls to action or action items in a left side bar (buy now, join now, learn more) tells your users how to participate.

Typically, your users’ eye movement zags the rest of the page ending in the lower right corner of the page. So, this gives you another chance to make an impact on your client.

Remember, these are general eye movement theories*. There are many other synergistic factors that draw your clients into the site and compel them to move through the page and stay on your site.

This Company Speaks to Me

Establish your credibility immediately on your home page with accurate and compelling content. Your home page introduction should not be a dissertation because users “scan” and “skim” more than read. Convey what you do or are offering to your audience and why you do it better than your competition. Get this message across in the first minute of their visit.

Make your headlines inspiring and informative. “Welcome to my home page” misses the boat…think Ferris Bueller’s econ teacher, “anyone…anyone.” Establishing what you do or what you want your clients to know in your headline is much more interesting. For example, we want our clients and our future clients to know that we “Know why. Know how.” We know why our clients need our products and services and we know how to implement solutions to achieve our client’s goals.

Your content should be relevant to your target audience and make clients say, “this company speaks to me.” Educating your customers with information they want and need gives them a reason to visit, stay, and return, again and again.

Are We There Yet?

Easy and intuitive navigation is a must for your home page and web site. Web sites that use breadcrumbs help their clients navigate backward. This is especially helpful if your site is large. Also, limiting the amount of levels your users need to “drill down” into to find the info they want is good user-friendly design. Making your clients and users work to find information is a great tool to drive them away. Users equate a poorly organized site with the quality of your company, product or service.

  • ~ Place important page links in several place on the page (main navigation, side bars, call to action buttons)
  • ~ Offer different ways to get there. Use both text links and graphic buttons for site navigation.
  • ~ Organize content on your page so it’s logical. Place the most important message pieces in prime spots “above the fold.”

Less is More

Graphical elements can add elegance to your home page. But, if your design is not thoughtful, your site can look and feel like a three-ring circus. Your graphics should fit your company’s messaging and branding. Flash might be snazzy, but it can also be distracting to search engine spiders and eat up valuable user time. Automated slide shows are a nice alternative. Used wisely, slide shows dynamically feature multiple images in one place. If your business requires other images on the same page, give careful attention to the number of other images and their sizes relative to your main image area.

Interactivity

Calls to action such as joining your e-newsletter, signing up for a monthly email, donating online or buying your product offer your users direct interaction with you in a click of a button…well, a click and then some data entry. These links or graphic button links should be clearly labeled and strategically placed. Putting an important call to action or two in various places on your home page gives your clients several opportunities to participate.

Keyword Relevancy and Density

Search engines are looking for relevant keywords within your content. This doesn’t mean just repeating your keywords over and over; they need to be written logically into the text. A good rule of thumb is between 150-250 keyword rich content. You can write more, but keep in mind that scrolling can sometimes be an issue for users. Keep your main messaging “above the fold” for good measure.

Double-Check and Check Again

Links that go back home, nowhere or contain 404 errors are frustrating for your clients. Typos and grammatical errors are a big no-no. Invest in the time to make sure your message is proofread and spelled correctly. With spelling and grammar check programs, there is no excuse for these errors on your home page. It destroys your clients’ confidence in you and creates the impression that you are not competent, therefore whatever your offering is of poor quality.

Make your page visually stimulating and easy to navigate. Optimize your branding and calls to action by placing these messages in strategically smart locations. Make your sparkling content accurate and error-free. Remember, your home page is your first impression and sometimes, you only get one chance to make it a lasting one.

*We will discuss eye movement and web site design more in-depth soon!