This is a guest contribution from Jawad Khan.
2013 was the year when people started taking content marketing seriously. The momentum grew in 2014 and thousands of corporations, small businesses and startups invested heavily in content creation. 2015 will see this trend grow even further. Thousands of new blogs and millions of new blog posts will be created over the next 12 months.
Perhaps the biggest revelation is the way local bricks and mortar businesses have taken up content marketing. From search results to social media, the internet is getting more and more local. Many local businesses have realized that content is the cheapest way to build trust and attract customers from online channels. And the way people are turning towards Google for suggestions about their local outlets, means that more local businesses will start investing in different online marketing activities.
But with increased competition, content creation alone is not be enough to win you customers, especially if you own a local bricks and mortar business. You need to come up with a comprehensive promotional strategy to make your business stand out.
To simplify this for you, I’ve divided this strategy into six key activities. In 2015, you need to stay focused on these six areas to get ahead of your competitors and boost sales.
1. Content Marketing
Content marketing is the foundation of this strategy. Creating high-quality, actionable, and useful content is not an option anymore, it’s a necessity. If you want to be perceived as a company with in-depth knowledge and expertise of your industry, you need to create high quality content that addresses the problems and questions of your target customers.
This includes creating content for your own blog, guest blogging on other established blogs in your niche or a niche that complements your industry. Target the blogs where you can engage your potential customers.
Take your content right where your audience is. Get active on forums and discussions websites like Quora, LinkedIn groups, Twitter and any other platforms where you can talk directly to your customers. Share your content on social networks, create engaging and educational email courses, and write eBooks and Whitepapers on industry issues.
Make sure everything you know about your industry is out there in the form of your content.
2. Reputation Management
You’ve created a great blog with high-quality content. You have also been featured on high-traffic blogs in your niche. You have traffic flowing in to your website from different sources.
But when a customer decides to visit your outlet or buy from you online, what does he do first? He looks for reviews about your company.
Generating positive reviews and maintaining a strong online reputation is crucial, especially for local bricks and mortar businesses.
Research shows that dissatisfied customers are twice as likely to write an online review as compared to satisfied customers. So even if you have lots of happy clients, your reputation can be tarnished by just a few unhappy customers, because they speak out more often.
To counter this, make sure you have lots of happy client reviews on the web. Your reputation is at stake here and, with it, thousands of dollars in potential sales.
I personally recommend automating this reputation management process with Reputation Loop, a smart online reputation management tool.
It maximizes positive reviews from satisfied customers using a series of follow up emails and updates, and minimizes negative reviews by proactively approaching dissatisfied clients for feedback. So before they can write negative reviews about your company on a public forum, they’re given an outlet to express their anger and dissatisfaction.
In short, the online reputation of your business is the gatekeeper for all other forms of marketing. So take it seriously.
3. Influencer Outreach and Networking
Every niche or industry has certain influencers who command respect and enjoy a large following. They’re perceived as the ultimate industry experts and their opinion holds a lot of weight. Your target, as a local business, should be to get in the good books of these influencers. Even a few words of endorsement from influential figures in your industry can skyrocket your reputation, credibility and sales figures.
There are different ways of getting in their radar. For local bricks and mortar businesses, the best thing is to associate with the influencers in real world. But to do that, you’d first need to engage with them in the online world.
You can start by following their Twitter account and joining their blog’s mailing list. Tweet the different posts from their blog (don’t forget to tag them), comment on their posts and respond to their Tweets. Do this for a while so they start recognizing you. You can then invite them to your outlet or offer them something complementary (even if that means sending a gift through a courier service).
You need to invest time and energy in building your network and engaging the influential figures in your industry. These relationships can pay back dividends
4. Email List Building
If you’re not building an email list, you’re not building your business (even for a bricks and mortar business). In this age of competition, where companies are approaching customers through multiple channels, you need to engage your customers regularly even when they’re not buying from you. Keep reminding them about your presence and stay in touch with them through informative emails, exclusive offers and discounts.
Make sure your website and blog are optimized for email conversions. Place email opt-ins on multiple prominent locations of your website. Use pop-ups and free giveaways to seduce your visitors.
I’ve personally found great results with SumoMe List Builder. Even its free version has lots of great options for maximizing email conversions. You can use it as a pop-up, activate delayed appearance and many other useful features to get the attention of your readers and increase opt-ins.
5. Offer Ecommerce and Online Shopping
If you’re currently not offering online shopping options on your website, seriously consider doing so. The global ecommerce growth, thanks to smartphones and tablets, is reaching unprecedented heights. Just recently, the Chinese ecommerce giants Alibaba made more than $9 billion sales in one day. Even local customers are much more likely to buy from your online store as compared to previous years.
Thankfully, adding ecommerce features to your website or setting up an online store is not difficult these days. You can create a fully functional online store and add complete ecommerce features to your website with tools like Selz. It’s an easy to use ecommerce and shopping cart solution that is equally effective for selling digital and physical products and services.
Selz handles everything from product listing and store creation to payment collection and list building. You can embed a Selz store to your website by copy/pasting a simple html code or using their WordPress plugin.
There are other great ecommerce tools that you can choose as well. Here’s a useful comparison chart to help you.
6. Facebook Advertising
If there’s one paid advertising mode that I’d gladly recommend any day of the year it has to be Facebook advertising. It’s by far the most economical, targeted, and effective paid advertising mode especially for local small businesses. You can choose your target audience based on interests, age groups, location, Liked pages and many others criteria.
It’s most effective for boosting your list building activities. My personal formula is to create a landing page (use LeadPages or create a simple one on your blog), add a free giveaway on the page and use Facebook advertising to route traffic to the email list. It’s almost like switching a traffic button on.
But if you’re using it for the first time, start with a small budget. Test $20-30 ads with different configurations. Once you get the right combination, increase your budget gradually.
If trends from the previous years are anything to go by, 2015 will be a rocking year for small businesses that are prepared to take advantage of the different online marketing, advertising and promotional channels. The significance of content marketing will increase even more. But you’d have to combine smart reputation management techniques with it to ensure that visitors convert into customers. As I said at the start, if you stay focused on these six points, it’ll be hard for your competitors to catch you.
What are your thoughts? Which one will you be trying this year?