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Need a change in your marketing? Try telling a story.

The art of storytelling is as old as civilization itself. Through the years, storytellers have used their skills to educate, entertain, enthrall, and explain the world around them. Heroes, villains, gods, and demons. Storytellers breathe life into their characters and keep their audiences spellbound until the end.

So what does any of this have to do with business? A lot, really.

At its heart, marketing is storytelling. Like a storyteller of old, you need to connect with your audience (your customers and prospects), engage them, educate them, enthrall them, and inspire them to act on that newfound knowledge by buying your wares or responding to your offer.

Does that mean you need to strive to become the next Steinbeck or Shakespeare, or that you should fill your website with flowery prose? Certainly not. But it does mean you should try to make your materials more engaging and less dry, dull, and routine.

One way to tell your story is through the eyes of a satisfied customer. Case studies and testimonials provide an ideal medium. Start with a look at the customer involved. Introduce them and offer some background information about who they are and what they do. Next, present the challenge facing them (a difficult deadline, a tight budget, a bad experience with the competition). This will serve as your antagonist and provide the conflict necessary in all good storytelling. Finally, talk about how you (or someone at your company) helped them overcome those challenges and live happily ever after.

The key is to make the customer the focus of your story, not your company. Your company merely helps that person overcome their challenges. Readers need to relate to a story’s main character and to the struggles they face. Otherwise, they won’t feel invested in the story enough to care how it ends. They’ll also tune out if they sense a story is nothing more than chest-thumping and self-absorbed bravado.

Of course, storytelling isn’t limited just to case studies or testimonials. Consider your company-focused content, like your history and executive bios. Are there any interesting stories from your company’s past you’d like to share? For example, what led your company’s founders to start your company? Did they as consumers have a need that no one else was meeting? What challenges did they face? Were there any obstacles that stood in their way? And how did they position themselves to overcome those challenges…to the benefit of their customers (people like those who are reading your materials)?

Even product literature offers a chance to tell a story and captivate an audience. What led your company to introduce the product you’re writing about? What challenges does it help customers (like those reading your materials) overcome? How has customer feedback helped you improve the product? And what role do you see customer interaction playing in future product offerings and upgrades?

Notice a common theme here? In all of these, the focus is on the customer. They are the heroes of the stories you tell. It’s their challenges, struggles, and needs that shape your decisions and encourage you to do what you do.

And that makes for one very compelling storyline.

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Location-Based Marketing: A Small-Business Primer

Location-based services such as Gowalla, Foursquare, and Facebook Places are becoming increasingly popular. These services allow users to “check in” at restaurants, bars, stores, and other places of interest, directly from their smartphone or portable device. Users can add notes about the business, see who else is checked in, and earn points, badges, and other benefits. For their part, businesses can provide special incentives for customers who check in, such as coupons, discounts, and “check-in-only” specials.

AT&T got into the location-based act earlier this year when it launched ShopAlerts. The service (free to AT&T customers) sends text alerts to a user’s smartphone whenever the person is near a business that uses the ShopAlerts system. The messages contain product information, special promotions, event listings, or whatever the vendor wishes to say. Available in limited release in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, the company hopes to add more locations in the near future.

So should your business care about location-based marketing? Perhaps. At the very least, you’ll probably want to check your company’s listings on the most popular services (Facebook Places, Foursquare, and Gowalla) to a.) make sure there is a listing and b.) verify all the information is accurate. Typically, a service will require you to verify your claim of ownership before they allow you to edit any of the contact information. Foursquare recently changed its guidelines to make it easier to claim your business listing. Follow the links at the end of this post for more information.

You’ll also want to keep an eye on what users are saying when they check in. Read reviews and follow up on feedback, just as you would if someone voiced a complaint in person. As location-based services become more popular, people are using them to decide where to go to spend their money. Lousy reviews will hurt your referral traffic.

If you decide to run a promotion or special through a location-based service, make sure it’s tailored to your target audience. You can gauge the success of such efforts by tracking check-ins and people’s use of the promotions involved, then adapt your efforts and tweak them on the fly.

For more information about the most common services, here are a few links to get you started:

Facebook Places
Foursquare for Business
Gowalla – Business Services
SCVNGR for Business
Yelp for Business Owners

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Door Hanger Marketing for Bay Area Businesses

If you’re looking for a unique way to target a specific market, the solution may be hanging under your nose.

Because door hangers stand alone without competition, they are more likely to be read and remembered. While you can easily maximize marketing real estate and print messaging on both sides of the hanger, be careful not to bombard the reader with information. Door hangers are most effective when you provide a simple yet enticing message as creative as the hanger itself. Direct the reader to contact you or visit your website for more information.

While a single door hanger can create a lasting impression, a follow-up door hanger campaign will create even greater awareness and help readers think of you when their need for your product or service arises.

Want to track your campaign or ensure your recipients hang onto your door hanger after removing it from the knob? Consider including a tear-away discount card or coupon, affixing a magnet to the back, or offering a calendar of upcoming promotions and giveaways.

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Six Steps to an Effective Email Signature Line for local businesses

Despite the growing popularity of Facebook, Twitter, and other communications channels, email remains popular in the business world. Here are a few tips to help you make your email messages stand out, with an effective signature line.

Create a standard. Maintaining a unified brand is essential for effective marketing and communication. You would (probably) never dream of letting each employee design their own unique business card or letterhead. Even if you did, you’d likely offer guidelines, such as standard color palettes, font selections, and basic layout rules. The same is true with email. A standard email template and signature will ensure that all communications from your company reinforce your brand and create a positive impression for your company.

Keep it professional. Many email programs provide a wide assortment of templates and font choices. Use both sparingly. Make sure your message doesn’t get lost in an overly busy layout or hard-to-read font.

Keep it concise. Make sure your signature isn’t so long that it proves a distraction for what you’re trying to say. Quotations, anecdotes, and unnecessary graphics can clutter up an otherwise effective signature line.

But not too brief. Of course, you do want to make sure people can reach you…and not just by hitting reply. Name, title, phone/extension, and company website are a good place to start. You might also want to include links to social media channels, such as your Twitter profile and company Facebook page.

Create multiple signatures, especially if you have more than one role at your company. Make sure each signature complies with the company standard and offers proper contact information based on the context of the message you’re sending.

Standardize any legalese. If your company has a policy about email confidentiality or proper email usage, add this to your signature line, and make sure the same wording gets added to the company’s email signature guidelines.

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Sweet Treats = Sweet Deals for business

Are you looking for a unique way to create a memorable atmosphere for your customers and prospects? Consider offering refreshments at your business on an everyday basis. Something as simple as coffee, lemonade, and cookies will encourage visitors to stop and chat while they enjoy a tasty treat. (By the way, cookies are even more enticing when baked fresh onsite — even if baked in a portable pizza oven.)

Celebrating a special event such as a corporate anniversary, coworker’s birthday, or holiday? Consider offering mini cupcakes, muffins, caramel roll bites, popcorn, or seasonal snacks.

Don’t attack visitors and push a sales pitch down their throat while they are enjoying a treat. Instead, create an inviting environment with a high-top table or small table and chairs, then use this perfect opportunity to visit and build relationships.

While your visitors will likely do a great job promoting your delicious goodies to others via word of mouth, don’t forget to devote some space in your next marketing promotion to invite others to stop by for a sweet treat and a sweet deal on XYZ.

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Need a Little Boost with Focus and Productivity?

It seems that the faster we run around to get things done, the faster the world spins around us and demands more of our limited time.

The more we turn our wheels, the harder it becomes to focus on the task at hand. Thankfully, there is a low-tech, free tool available to give us a hand. It is called the Pomodoro Technique. What is the Pomodoro Technique? Here is the explanation from the website:

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. It can be used for any kind of task and enables you to view time as a valuable ally in accomplishing what you want to do.

The technique uses a timer to break down periods of work into 25-minute intervals (referred to as “pomodoros”) separated by breaks. It’s based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility.

There are five basic steps to implementing the technique:

-Decide on the task to be done.
-Set the pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes.
-Work on the task until the timer rings, and record the task status.
-Take a short break (5 minutes).
-After every four “pomodoros,” take a longer break (15-20 minutes).

You can either use a simple cooking timer for setting the time intervals or you can go to this website to download a simple and free digital version to download for your computer (there is both a Mac and a PC version):


If the Pomodoro Technique can help you get just one extra task done, maybe you can devote that time to what is really important in your life.

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The Marketing Magic Pill

marketing pill
It seems that everywhere we turn, we are being bombarded with the latest marketing “magic pill.” One person claims Facebook advertising is the cure-all elixir. Another trumpets YouTube videos as the best way to reach everyone. Others say tweeting, blogging, and texting coupons are proven methods to get your message out. With so much information coming from so many different angles, it’s hard to decipher it all and keep it straight.

When the World Wide Web began taking root, businesses large and small were told that they must have a website, so many did just that — with no real thought and planning behind the why and what their website should accomplish. So websites that were basically glorified brochures popped up everywhere on the net.

Nowadays, social media is paid this same reverence. All businesses must be involved in all of the major social media outlets. Why? Because your competitors and the rest of the breathing world is in that space, that’s why!

Of course you need to interact with your audience wherever they happen to be, but if you want to actually accomplish anything worthwhile, you must first have a clear, focused strategy in hand. What objective does this initiative need to meet for your business? Does it help get you closer to your goals? Without clear answers to these questions, no matter how cool the new social media initiatives may be, they will only turn into the new version of the brochure websites that still clog the web today.

Your overall marketing strategy needs to always take into account the fact that different people consume your marketing messages in different ways. Some like to receive emails. Some enjoy receiving relevant direct mail. Others like to engage via social media. And many like some sort of combination.

The fact is there is no magic pill for effective marketing campaigns. The fundamentals of successful marketing are the same today as they’ve always been, with the added benefit of more outlets available to reach your prospects and customers. So find out what solutions your ideal customers are looking for that relate to your product or service. Provide useful, relevant, and valuable information through multichannel marketing campaigns aimed at your target audience. Let your prospects and customers receive information the way they prefer. And don’t let the self-proclaimed “experts” tell you any different!

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Thinking Green for your business? Inform yourself about it first

Can you imagine a day when there would be no more Christmas trees? Today, Christmas tree farms are still a viable industry, but if everyone changed to fake trees or just quit buying them, there would be no reason to grow Christmas trees anymore. The tree farms would go neglected. Left unmanaged, they would probably eventually vanish.

Whether we like it or not, economics still influence many environmental decisions. One of these economic decisions being played out today is the use of paper versus the many electronic devices available (like the iPhone, iPad, laptops, and smartphones).

Most of us love our digital devices, and there is no doubt they hold a valuable place in our lives. E-devices are here to stay and are a part of our daily life. But due to misinformation and false perceptions gone unchecked over many years, there is a popular belief that paper consumption is bad for the environment because it leads to deforestation. The flood of digital devices has helped feed this cycle of incorrect assumptions. For self-serving reasons, digital device manufacturers never reveal how much power it takes to keep all of these devices operating; from server farms that require massive amount of energy to operate to the environmentally harmful lithium batteries inside of these electronic devices, there’s a big tradeoff in the rapid switch to digital. Electronic does not mean free and definitely does not equate to clean energy.

What is conveniently left out of the discussion is that paper is 100% recyclable. The paper and forest industries work together to grow and harvest trees specifically for the making of paper. The trees are grown in well-managed forests that have the side benefit of protecting land from other uses like real estate and commercial development. When you print on paper, you create a demand for these types of trees, which helps perpetuate the cycle of continual growth of these managed forest areas.

We not only work in a print company, but we also live in a community we’re proud to call home. We understand the need for environmentally friendly procedures and probably recycle more than most businesses.

Here is a quote from an excellent, unbiased article about this issue. The full text is available here: Informed Choices Save Trees:

“Centuries ago, the widespread adoption of paper and printing resulted in a spread of literacy that ended the dark ages, spawned a renaissance, and changed our world for the better. Despite these advances, our environment now faces challenges on many fronts that call for a new literacy about the state of the environment and the “hidden” lifecycle impacts of the media choices we make. The widespread adoption of sustainable print and digital media supply chains can change our world again and help us restore our environment. On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to be misled by false dilemmas or deceived into making unsustainable choices, distal concerns about destruction of the environment and the decline of our forests will soon become a harsh and uncomfortable reality.”

To learn more about this topic, please visit http://www.PrintGrowsTrees.com.

Now, in regard to that little blurb at the bottom of some emails that encourages you not to print the email or all the solicitations you get about switching from paper billing to electronic billing to save trees, hopefully you see that the only thing being saved is extra money going into the pockets of the company using this tactic. They may not be doing this knowingly. So do us a favor. Print this blog and mail it to anyone who sends you these kinds of solicitations, so they can learn, too! And you have our permission to print all the emails you want, as long as you promise to recycle them, so the paper comes back to us over and over again. We love Christmas trees and our sustainable forests.

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The best way to get your customer’s attention: use their name in print.

When we first came kicking and screaming into this world, we were the center of attention. After all that time hanging out in the womb by ourselves, it makes perfect sense that we would believe everything revolved around us.

As we get older, some of us figure out that there are actually others out there, too. But one thing we never outgrow is the joy we get out of hearing our name. Successful retailers have learned that customers are much more likely to become loyal to their establishment if they get to know them well enough to greet them by name.

Studies have shown that when informational and advertising direct mailers are personalized with relevant information, including the recipient’s name, interaction and response rates rise dramatically. This form of personalization is also referred to as Variable Data Printing (VDP). VDP allows not only text to be personalized but also the graphics and the images to be changed for each individual printed piece.

VDP allows you to reach your customers and prospects in a much more personal way. It’s effective because it plays on our enjoyment and appreciation for seeing our name in print, as if we are hearing our name out loud. It evokes some of the deep-seated memories from our childhood that made us feel that we were the center of the world. Of course, this is only the first step to a hopefully long-term, mutually beneficial relationship, but it gives your company a much better chance to get past just hello.

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Marketing as an Underdog

Have you ever watched a small, passionate business overcome challenges and succeed when the odds are against them? While getting your feet off the ground may be tough, there are actually several advantages to marketing as an underdog. Here are a few reasons why customers love and support the underdogs, especially during difficult economic times:
Customers relate to the underdog’s passion and determination to succeed against the odds.

Underdogs often start local. By supporting them, you are also supporting your community.

Underdogs will work harder at keeping your loyalty, while business giants may view you as just another fish in the sea.

Underdogs often resolve any issues much faster and change rules or policies easily to better accommodate their customers.

Underdogs are often smaller and can take on creative opportunities or risks that business giants won’t consider.

Even if companies grow large, people identify with them easier when they understand the journey the company has had to endure along the way.
As Vince Lombardi once said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.” If your business has an encouraging story to tell about how your business persevered, share it in your marketing materials, website, blog, etc. Stories about overcoming adversity are a great way to connect and strengthen relationships with prospects and customers.

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