New Website to Help Reunite Ireland

For St. Patrick’s Day, 2012 we launched a new Website for the Irish American Unity Conference. In addition, we revised their logo, launched a Facebook presence and coached them to continue their social media marketing initiatives.

The IAUC is a nationwide, nonpartisan, nonsectarian, chapter-based human rights organization working for justice and peace in Ireland. It’s mission is to bring all Irish, Irish Americans and others together on the basis of their common belief in Justice and Peace in a reunited Ireland. We wish them well in their peaceful endeavors to reunite Ireland. Adh mor ort (good luck to you) IAUC!

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How to Build a Great Website for Less

That’s less time, money and aggravation.

Over 10 years ago, when I started to really delve into Website design it was nothing for even simple sites to easily cost five figures.  Not today.

WordPress is the Best For Us

I’m a huge WordPress fan and it’s hard to argue against its robust open source platform, ease of use and cost (free) for Website design. We “eat our own dog food” at BrandMill (so to speak) as our Website actually is a WordPress site.

I highly recommend WordPress to most all of our clients and for them to use a competent Web designer or firm (like BrandMill  – wink)  to create a custom-branded template (StudioPress is an excellent turn-key solution) and to train them to update the site themselves.

20 Free (or Inexpensive) Website Services

However, in my travels, conversations and research, I’ve come across a growing list of inexpensive and/or free Web services available these days that may make some sense for start-ups and SMBs such as:

  1. Big Cartel (eCommerce)
  2. Big Commerce (eCommerce)
  3. Drupal Gardens
  4. Empowerkit
  5. iMatrix
  6. Jigsy
  7. Posterous
  8. Powweb
  9. Shopify (eCommerce)
  10. SiteKreator
  11. SnapPages
  12. Squarespace
  13. Vendder (eCommerce)
  14. Vendio (eCommerce)
  15. Volusion (eCommerce)
  16. Webpop
  17. Weebly
  18. Wix
  19. Yola
  20. YP Website Solutions

I dig Posterous, Vendio and Shopify and I’m sure sme of the other Shop sites are worth exploring) however our initial research into most of the other vendors still look like vendor sites from 10 years ago.

We consult with a lot of SMBs and nearly all of them need a new web presence if they’ve dabbled with one of the above vendors because of the lack of SEO, customer support and much, much more. You get what you pay for in life and with Websites. And, no Website in the world will achieve its true sales potential without constant care driven by keyword rich content marketing, SEO and more.

For the past few years, we’ve been providing marketing consulting for SMB borrowers of our financial client that manages a redevelopment loan fund. Most of the businesses they lend to are ‘mom and pop’ firms and their marketing funds are tight to non-existent.

Certainly if these brands could not afford a Website, we’d recommend against doing so, however in our opinion they can’t afford not to have one.  In the most extreme cases, a social media presence (e.g., Facebook) could be the marketing beginning for them, but we’ve found WordPress to be a perfect solution – it has decent Shop plugins too.  Facebook is great, but it is a ‘closed garden’ meaning that you need to participate/join to benefit whereas, with a Website you’re open to the world. Again, you can’t afford NOT to have a Website.

5 SMB Website Building Steps

In short, here are the 5 steps we’ve repeatedly used to help build a cost effective Website presence for our SMBs:

  1. Start a Facebook page, create a content strategy, contribute, respond, listen and deliver value (apply strategy to Website too)
  2. Buy your own domain (register.com, godaddy.com, name.com etc. – and, just get a .com extension)
  3. Host your domain with a reputable, cost-effective hosting firm.  We like godaddy.com (search for a coupon code and use it) because it’s inexpensive, can scale with you, plays well with WordPress and has super customer care.  You can actually talk to LIVE people. What a concept.
  4. Hire someone to help you launch a WordPress Website (e.g., a smart college intern could help too). You want to own your site and control your own brand destiny. You’ll want to add themes, analytics (WordPress comes complete with back-end analytics, but add (for free) Google analytics code to your site). Consider Flickr to host photos/albums and back into your site social media plugins.
  5. Read/study/master/execute content strategy. OK, well you don’t necessarily have to master Web design and code, but you should strive to gain a healthy working knowledge of it. Start with the WordPress for Dummies book.  Learning this stuff is no different than learning about any investment you make.  You need to have expert help to some degree, but to maximize that help, you need to understand what you’re getting into and what to expect. Keep adding rich valuable content to your site on at least a weekly basis.  A Blog will help.

For my money these are the 5  steps to get a great Website up and running for little time and money.

I hope this essay helps you experience much good fortune. Good luck!

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Five Marketing Lessons from Tornado Boy

Earlier this week on March 23, a devastating tornado swept through Hempfield Township (Greensburg), PA – a community about 40 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Young 15-year-old Tyler Tubbs’ first person account is now sweeping the internet with remixes and parodies. His video of the tornado has nearly 200K YouTube views and has earned national acclaim and coverage via media channels such as CNN. And today, Pittsburgh’s “Tornado Boy” is now being compared to “Double Rainbow Guy” with over 1 million views!

The tornado left in its wake widespread destruction. And, while several families lost their homes, thankfully no one died and injuries were minor.

It’s easy to laugh now at Tyler’s hysterics because no one died or was seriously injured.  And, it’s especially funny to me as a Pittsburgher because his “Pittsburghese” comes shining through loud and clear! You got to love it!

OK, since this is a Marketing Blog and not the Weather Channel, what can marketer’s learn from Tyler’s ordeal? Well, here are five marketing lessons you can take away from Tyler’s experience to more effectively tell your brand’s story.

  1. Communicate with authenticity, transparent honesty and enthusiasm – Tyler was ‘in the moment!’ You feel his amazement, excitement, fear and heartfelt storytelling.  His repetitive “tornado” announcements and varying pitch of his voice reinforced his message.
  2. Always show and tell – Adding video to a story always adds more drama than simply reading a story in print with no visuals and adds to the experience.
  3. Publish now – Don’t hesitate with new news. Tyler didn’t wait to add music, supers, slick transitions or even edit the film to make it a mini movie of the week.  He immediately published and reaped the rewards of viewership. How many of us wait until something is perfect before we launch only to find that others have caught up to us and the parade passed us by?
  4. Always be prepared – Tyler had his camera with him and immediately acted. I’m sure 95% of all the folks in Hempfield had a cell phone camera of some sort, but they did not act – if they did, they certainly did not move as fast as Tyler.
  5. Get key influentials/networks to spread your viral effort – This isn’t quite true for Tyler – yet – but when Jimmy Kimmel tweeted Double Rainbow Guy’s video, his views took off!

We can’t expect to have a key influential like Jimmy Kimmel spread our good word, but today – with social media dominating  just about everyone’s lives these days and tools such as Facebook and Twitter making it so easy to spread news via our own networks of a few hundred friends and family – nearly everyone is more influential than we were 5-10 years ago making good news travel amazingly fast!

Remember that you are an influential and to publish NOW!

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SMBs Shun Websites – Big Mistake

In a Zoomerang survey of more than 750 small to medium sized businesses with marketing budgets less than $1,000, over a third said they use social media as part of their marketing strategy.

Here’s the breakdown of SMB social media channel usage :

Facebook – 80%
LinkedIn – 37%
Twitter – 27%

Sure, it’s smart business to explore social media channels, but neglecting to build a solid Website presence is being penny wise and pound foolish. Only about 50% of SMBs have a Website and those that do only provide a basic overview and contact information. Big mistake.

I’m sure many SMBs are running Facebook Pages for their web presence, but to be found online, you want to spread your good word on as many channels as possible. And, because of some of the search engine limitations of social media,  having a Website is a must.

With free WordPress templates and platforms such as Posterous, you can easily customize a Website and Blog so there’s no valid reason not to have one. And, the cool thing is that they easily interconnect with social media channels.

For example, all of my Website blog posts via my WordPress Website/Blog platform are reported in my Twitter feed and LinkedIn profile automatically.  And, I can connect Facebook as well.

As important, a Website is far more powerful than a Facebook page because:

  1. Not everyone is on Facebook – more people are online
  2. Facebook owns YOU and can change things anytime
  3. Facebook has SEO limitations within its 4 walls – most activity stays there not all over the Web

SMBs, if you don’t have a Website, get one…soon. You and your customers will be happy to have one.

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American Cancer Society Marketing Award

L-R - Stephen Wayhart, ACS RVP Glenn Callihan, Carly Neal

At a recent volunteer appreciation dinner given by the American Cancer Society’s Greater Pittsburgh Unit, BrandMill was recognized with a special Marketing Program Award.

As part of BrandMill’s commitment to the communities in which it conducts its business, the Pittsburgh based marketing consultancy, provided a pro-bono service to lead and create the American Cancer Society Western Region’s (now East Central Region) Facebook Fan Page.

This is the Region’s first foray into Social Media Marketing and it will help it to more cost effectively promote its programs, services and special events throughout Western Pennsylvania. BrandMill will continue to offer other Social Media Marketing consulting services for the Region.

For several years, BrandMill Managing Partner Stephen Wayhart was a Board member and most recently has been the chairperson for the Unit’s Marketing Committee.

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How to Improve Your Email Marketing Results

Email keeps rocking on as the killer app in online marketing (per DMA email’s ROI is over $40 to $1), and I continue to  be amazed that most brands don’t take the time to refine and improve their email marketing efforts. So many of us are far too quick to move on to the next new marketing tool without striving to flawlessly execute email marketing.

What a waste.

Forrester reported in a recent survey, that just 7% of American consumers believe the emails they get blasted with, are important or relevant.

With the ton of consumer data most brands have at their disposal, it’s a simple case of lazy marketing.

As this MarketingSherpa chart shows, there are many easy ways to improve your email marketing open and click-through rates.

For example, at a minimum brands could  testing subject lines, offers or calls to action, send time or day of week, copy and layout, landing pages and from lines, hyperlink quantity, placement and more.

The kicker is you got to do it…you got to “bring it.”

As the chart points out, over 50% of the surveyed brands have yet to take advantage of these easy ways to improve their performance.

In addition, you need to “bucket” your email addresses into databases of similar behaviors and/or event-based activities such as:

  • Life changes (e.g., new home buyer, new mother etc. )
  • Brand activities and interactions (e.g., purchase or complaint etc.)
  • Industry/environmental shifts (e.g., interest rate changes, price shifts etc.,)

Then, you move from this simple exercise to a “next best action” tactic whereby based on a customer’s previous interaction (e.g., purchase), your marketing follow-up message is related (e.g., promote service guarantee, insurance etc.,)

With any new effort, it’s wise to walk before you run with new activities you’re not accustomed to doing.

For example, one of our restaurant clients does a ton of wine tastings, so we simply started with separating our “wine enthusiasts” into a separate database and emailed wine event information only to them. Then, we only sent reminders to those who opened the initial email invitation and significantly increased open rates, click through rates, reduced opt-outs and event attendance.

Before you move on to the next new shiny tool in your marketing toolbox, make sure you can truly hammer out great email campaigns. You need to realize that you never quite arrive in this business, you got to keep striving, keep testing, keep doing – net…keep on keeping on.

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3 Secrets to Achieving Social Media Success

If you want to be a successful, profitable brand via Social Media Marketing, first remember one thing above all – it’s not about the tools, so don’t be one!

The secrets to success in life and business are so basically simple (certainly putting them to practice requires focus, hard work ) that we get so caught up in tools, investments and processes that we lose sight of the easiest ways to get from Point A to Point B.

For example:

  • If you want to lose weight, eat less and exercise more. Burn up more calories than you consume.
  • To find love in your life, first be a loving person. Give and you shall receive. Knock and it shall be opened etc.
  • If you want to be treated nice, follow the Golden Rule and on and on

Brands today get so caught up in the the “new new” tools of Social Media (Blogs, Twitter Facebook etc.,) that they lose sight of the true secrets of success. The reason I call them secrets is because most brands are unaware of them, avoid them or think they’ve already uncovered and accomplished them, but they’re not even close.

And, these secrets are not tasks you complete once and move on, rather they’re they’re three pillars of success that need to be strengthened every day through a brand’s daily actions.

Here are my three secrets to Social Media Success.

1. Build a Rock Solid Brand of Character and Integrity – Are you a stand up brand when no one is watching? Do you keep and deliver on your promises? Do you follow your ethical standards in tough times? Not easy to do, but certainly doable.

Check out Gallup Ethical Standards ranking of people in the various fields listed below. Take for example, “business people” – only 12% say they have very high/high standards. Don’t you think we can all work a bit harder on building our reputations than another Facebook Fan Page?

If/when you do, your customers and acquaintances in the Social Media world will be banging their Social Media Marketing drums, praising your name!

Gallup Ethical Standards 11.09

2. Deliver REMARKable Products and Services – Do you simply produce a product or service to get by or do you really “bring it and WOW people!” Are your standards and expectations higher than the norm? Do you sometimes hit them or blow them away all the time? Do you work hard to surprise and delight your team members and customers? Do you deliver a truly unique, meaningful and memorable experience?

When the REMARKable Susan Boyle performed awhile back on Britain’s Got Talent, her authentic, transparent and awesome talent delivered a a truly unique, unexpected (can you say, “WOW”) meaningful and memorable experience?

And, in a few hours/days, 100+ Million Youtube Views were achieved and she became a richer person and a household name.

The REMARKable Brand of Susan Boyle

3. Be a Servant Leader – Lead from Behind

Finally, brand leaders would do well to remember that the most successful ones long-term lead best by serving the needs of their people. In a servant leadership based brand, the leader’s role is one of a resource (people, capital etc.,) steward and encourages leaders to serve others while staying focused on achieving results in line with the organization’s values and integrity.

People (customers, vendors and employees) want to be aligned with brands they respect, value and admire and servant leadership driven brands deliver on every one.

10 Key Servant Leader Traits

If brands today would simply work hard to lead and improve their business in these three key ways, the social media world would take care of the rest and freely spread their good news and great stories using their Social Media Marketing tools!

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Social Media Marketing Presentation

Yesterday, I was honored to give a Social Media Marketing presentation at the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association’s Western Chapter’s Harvest Your Profits Fall Summit (click here to download presentation). The presentation certainly had a restaurant, hospitality focus, but it’s applicable to most any retail industry.

Having worked in hospitality and restaurant marketing for over 20 years, it’s close to my heart because it’s one of the toughest, yet most gratifying industries. If you’re looking for leading edge marketing, look no further than the folks in the hospitality industry because the great ones know that they need to “bring it” every day – the successful ones know that they’re only as good as their last meal!

You got to love people with that kind of attitude and passion – it’s contagious – and a BIG reason I love working in the industry.

And, you got to love the people who volunteer their time and expertise to associations like the PRA and staffers such as Heidi Howard. They selflessly work hard to help move the hospitality industry forward  to make it better for themselves and their customers and at the same time defend it against government controls – many of which are unconscionable efforts to blatantly rob them (e.g., crazy drink taxes) of their hard earned money.

My thanks to PRA Western Chapter president Steve Musciano of ARAMARK and his board for inviting me, Susan Sansale, owner/operator of the beautiful venue The Chadwick (and incoming PRA Western Chapter president) for hosting the event and super organizer and board member extraordinaire Murrie Emamzadeh for orchestrating a super event!

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New iPad Wine List Rocks

I got my new iPad back in May – a moment in time I’ll always refer to as my “Christmas in May” and am having a love affair with it.

Sure there are things about the iPad that I wished it had, but the positives outweigh the negatives.

When I started to play with the iPad, I started to think thought long and hard about how we can apply it to improve our client’s business.

We do a ton of hospitality marketing work and this past summer, one of our great clients, Kevin Joyce owner of The Carlton Restaurant in Pittsburgh had closed his restaurant for two months for a much needed remodel after 25 years in business.

Kevin called me to go over some new ideas to kick off the new restaurant with a bang –  especially since his reopening was scheduled to take place on Wednesday, August 18 – opening night of Pittsburgh’s new Consol Energy Center with a concert by Sir Paul McCartney.

One of my first thoughts, was what could we do to:

  1. Reaffirm the fact that The Carlton has the biggest and best wine lists (15+ year Wine Spectator Award winner) – Great Wine is a big USP for the restaurant
  2. Complement The Carlton’s new 450 bottle wine library – the restaurant’s soul
  3. Showcase the fact that The Carlton offers the best wine dinners in Pittsburgh

In a snap, we thought, “Create an iPad Wine List to replace The Carlton’s 45 page paper wine list.” Using an iPad wine list would create a “halo” effect of flawless contemporary execution of the Carlton’s 45 page paper wine list and separate them even more so from the pack of restaurants they compete against.

As an aside – I know I may be biased, but I think The Carlton i the best restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh and I thought that fact to be true long before I started working for them…anyway…

Instinctively back in May, we Googled “iPad wine list” and could not find any U.S. restaurant using iPads for menus, but we found a great story about an Australian restaurant that swapped out its menus for iPads.

Kevin and I must have been doing a “Vulcan Mind Meld” at the time, because when we called him, he said he saw the Aussie story  and was ready to rock.

Our iPad wine list is not as aggressive as the Aussie menu – we prefer to walk before we run with the wine list first then potentially move to the food menu – but I can tell you that the iPad has significantly improved The Carlton’s brand image of Pittsburgh’s premier dining and wine establishment and improved wine sales too – customers love it!

We’ll soon cut a brief video explaining how the wine list works, but know these things:

  1. The iPad can be used to help lift your business
  2. Look for products and/or service executions that create brand “halo” USPs
  3. It’s better to phase in technology improvements to your business to flawlessly execute and gain an immediate WOW from your customers before someone else comes along and steals your marketing thunder and you look like a market follower and/or a “me too” brand**
  4. Great clients make great marketing firms

**Note: In the time we started to work on and launch The Carlton’s iPad wine list, there have been major news articles about iPad wine lists in use at Central Park South Gate restaurant (7.2.10),  Bones in Atlanta (9.13.10), III Forks in Jacksonville (8.11.10), but hey The Carlton had the first iPad wine list in Pennsylvania! More news to come as we continue to improve our iPad wine list effort.

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Erik Qualman’s Social Media Revolution Part Deux

I’m a big fan of Erik Qualman and his Social Media Blog Socialnomics.

He’s helped me and my clients a ton. He’s a smart guy – so smart that being a James Bond fan, I think I’ll call him “Q.”

Q’s Socialnomics the book is a great read too.

And, his outstanding Social Media Revolution video which hit YouTube last year generated about 2 million views.

If you haven’t seen SMR 1 don’t worry, check out Q’s new Social Media Revolution 2 video below which launched a few weeks ago and has been updated with more fascinating facts.

Next time someone tells you that Social Media is a fad, send them a link to Q’s video!

P.S.: The facts blaze by, so if you’re interested in Q’s key facts in text, click here.

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