How to Fail at Multi-Location Online Marketing

The Dilemma of Multi-Location Online MarketingI’ve worked for two large national brands to solve the dilemma of marketing multi-location, local businesses online in a cost-effective manner, Sylvan Learning Centers (1,100 locations) and Coast Dental (200 locations). And next week I start a new gig for a third, PowerChord Systems (thousands of client locations).

Those experiences have highlighted to me the biggest challenges facing multi-location businesses.

The Rub

Only when banded together, can local businesses get the economies of scale needed to implement the online marketing tactics and strategies that will crush their mom & pop competition.

But at the same time, they expect these tactics and strategies to be designed and customized for their and only their local customers.

But you can’t do that in a cost-effective manner if each local business were to hire a local agency. You need to design your multi-location online marketing in a way that solves the sometimes competing requirements of the corporate parent/franchisor AND the local dealer/franchisee/branch.

Corporate Requirements

  • Consistent Brand – protect the brand’s equity
  • Professional imagery – no stretched logos, clip art or incorrect use of colors
  • Approval and oversight – legal and business
  • Implement Best Practices – communication frequency, correct use of channels
  • Reporting – detailed breakdown of why some local businesses are seeing great results compared to others
  • Optimization – how can we better use our investments to get more leads per dollar?

Local Requirements

  • Hyper-local variations – keyword bidding, use of languages other than English
  • Customization – local name vs. corporate brand
  • Local Channels – local websites
  • On-Demand/Impulse Campaigns – weather-based, tragedy-based, event-based
  • Expense – want the Corporate rate but with local control
  • Reporting – how many customers did I get last month for my investment?

How to Fail

Considering these requirements you may think the solution is easy.  But here are three obvious solutions that will actually fail if implemented.

  1. Implement your corporate strategy as though it was developed for each local business.  The same banner ads, email newsletters and online offers are deployed in each location.  In doing this you just portray yourself to your prospects as a cold corporate machine.  Coca-Cola can get away with this.  You can’t.
  2. Hand over the keys to the local businesses.  Letting them solve the online marketing needs on their will guarantee you end up with 1,000 different strategies developed by 1,000 different local agencies. And your brand will slowly disappear as you know it.
  3. Develop your corporate strategy, tactics, campaigns and editorial calendars and then customize each of them for each location. You will quickly run out of money and time once the changes and demands from the local level overwhelm you and your budget. Your campaigns will never see the light of day due to a lack of funds.

How to Win

How to Win at Multi-Location Online MarketingI’ve found there is a solution that sits in between the requirements of the two parties. It’s a complex one, but when done right gets you closer to winning than any other method I’ve seen.

But I want to hear from you first.

  • How have you approached solving this dilemma?
  • How have you figured out how to solve the competing requirements of Corporate and the local businesses?

Let me know in the comments below.

Vendors in the Multi-Location Space

When I look around at vendors targeting the space of multi-location online marketing, they are few are far between.

Searching for the organically you find a lot vendors for telecommunications products or restaurant back office software for chains.  But what I consider online marketing for multi-location businesses really focuses on the management of a business or brand that has many brick and mortar locations.

While that seems to be dominated by B2C, there are also many B2B companies out there with this same need.

So I’ve down research lately to identify those vendors who might be able to help those of us managing this unique challenge.


Expion.com

Expionhttp://expion.com/

Expion is a SAAS that allows you to “dashboard” your individual location’s online presences.  From one console you can manage multiple Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts etc. This saves you from having to copy your updates to each portal as well consolidating the monitoring of them.

FishBowl

Fishbowlhttp://www.fishbowl.com/

Fishbowl is really a turnkey solution specifically for the restaurant space.  Not only do they cover the trendy social media aspects of a multi-location business, they also incorporate email guest management with analytics thrown in as well.  Depending on your restaurants’ other operational tools and how Fishbowl integrates with them (and therefore simplifies it for your frontline people), this could be a real silver bullet for you.

Awareness Inc.

Awarenesshttp://awarenessnetworks.com/

Similar to Expion, but really getting into the corporate workflow of auditing, approvals and multi-user involvement in the day-to-day management of a business’ online properties.

Valuevine

Valuevinehttp://valuevine.com/

Valuevine really focuses in on the brand management of a business.  Bringing in sentiment measurement and location-based aspects of monitoring their offering looks great for those who want to look at each location’s reputation and compare against each other.

GramercyOne

GramercyOnehttp://www.gramercyone.com

I included this one here to help contrast one  a different type of approach.  With GramercyOne and its tools you can focus on integrating everything in one place: appointment book, membership & loyalty, point of sale, gift certificates and, oh yes, marketing.  Facebook and Twitter are really a bolt-on to their turnkey solution.  Rather than build around the relationship, monitoring and participation of social media, it approaches them merely as another marketing channel.  Another outlet for your advertising campaign.  Not the way I would approach it.


I’m sure there are more out there that compete with these vendors, but they haven’t hit my radar.

Disclaimer

I am in no way associated with these vendors.  I also have not used any of their products or services (yet!) myself.  So I could be way off in my claims.  If so, let me know and I’ll be glad to update it.

Do You Have This Problem?

I would love to know what the many franchisor/franchisees use to solve these problems.  Likewise there are plenty of corporate-managed retail businesses that have either solved this problem in-house or use a similar product.

If that’s you, I’d love the hear from you.  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Ty Downing Interview

Ty Downing is one guy who walks the walk when it comes to nearly every aspect of social media.  That’s because he runs a business that manages it all.  With that in his back pocket, his involvement in Social Fresh Tampa will be one of the highlights for me.


Your Background

Ty Dowing
Mark Regan: Tell me a little about your background and how you came into your current role as CEO of SayItSocial.

Ty Downing: Well, I have been involved with internet marketing, and digital advertising going on 8 years now. I cut my teeth on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) obsessing over Google’s algorithms by sitting at the feet of Matt Cutts, and Danny Sullivan (Creator of SMX), thus slowly developing my other company “Perspective Internet Marketing” into a full-service internet marketing agency focusing on SEO, PPC,
local search, analytics & measuring site behaviors.

You could say I was an early adopter of social media in a field that mostly despised, or didn’t believe in social media (SEO’s), but I forged ahead, and in 2009 I co-founded SayItSocial, a social media consulting firm focused on corporate social media education & training, Facebook applications, social media strategy, conversation monitoring, and reputation management.

Early Adopter

Mark Regan: Your time at events/conferences must expose you to ideas and trends long before they hit the mainstream. How have you taken advantage of that?

Ty Downing: I utilize what I gain at these events by implementing them with our clients.  The only way I can keep my clients as well as SayItSocial’s reputation as a leader, we must act fast with implementation. Our field and client needs change rapidly as well as, so we take full advantage of these events.

Additionally, our team are thought leaders in social media, so we also bring new ideas to these events, for example in advance of Social Fresh, we are unveiling version 1.2 of Epicenter, a Facebook marketing CMS designed to create engaging custom Facebook landing pages with contests, lead generation, viral marketing, and loyalty programs. It’s a complete Facebook application with cutting edge technology and simplicity. We want to totally get this into mainstream quickly, it’s such an awesome tool that can help business leverage social media so much better, and measure ROI much easier.

Mark Regan: What new topic has become more frequent over the past 2-3 months?

Ty Downing: Facebook custom applications and Facebook consulting.

Personal Brand

Mark Regan: How has your experience in the business world helped you master your own personal brand marketing?

Ty Downing: That’s a good question. I think for me it’s been opposite? I say this because social media has empowered personal brands exponentially. Because of being an early adopter in social media, I mean one of the first subscribers to Twitter even, I was extremely active in marketing my personal brand with social networks, and personal videos that enabled people to “see the CEO”.

When people think of “Ty Downing” they think of SayItSocial & SEO. Obviously this is my own opinion, but I do feel this has been my personal experience.

Break It Down

Mark Regan: How do respond to clients who are jazzed about setting up their social media presence, but haven’t done some of the basics in online marketing well or at all?

Ty Downing: It’s like a golf swing. I tell them we will be “re-training” their swing, but not let them worry, that’s why they came to us in the first place. I (we) teach them simple basics before a strategy and profile building. Which tools should I use? Do I have staff & resources to have an active social media presence? So basically I ask a lot of questions, and then listen a lot!

Bonus Questions

Mark Regan: What is your favorite online marketing/social media toy of the day?

Ty Downing: Epicenter custom Facebook applications tool!

Mark Regan: Bonus: Any fun plans while you’re here in Tampa?

Ty Downing: Mark, please…please tell me the good places to eat? Any of your readers, please tell me what to see in Tampa!

UPDATE: OK Ty, here you go.

Don’t forget to invite me.

Contact

Mark Regan: Thanks Ty! I’m excited to welcome you to Tampa on February 22nd as part of Social Fresh Tampa. How can people find out more you and connect with you?

Ty Downing: You bet, lets connect on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn!

Nadia Aly Interview

One of the speakers I am most excited to hear from at Social Fresh Tampa is Nadia Aly.  This is someone who has so many personas online and just still manages to make them all work together without competing that I’m a bit envious.  She brings a strong social media presence to this year’s lineup!


Your Background

Nadia Aly

Mark Regan: Tell me a little about your background and how you came into your current role as Online Community Manager at Microsoft.

Nadia Aly: I started dabbling in social media in 2003 when I was attending University of Victoria. . It really took off for me when I started my Masters in Digital Media., and it became a clear focus as I progressed through my Masters. I started building niche communities and my passion just exploded from there.

Microsoft Tag

Mark Regan: Tell me a little bit more about Microsoft Tag and how you would love to see it adopted?

Nadia Aly: Microsoft Tag is a type of customizable 2D barcode that can be displayed anywhere and connects almost anything in the real world to information, entertainment, and interactive experiences on your mobile phone. They can be black and white or color, and customized with a logo, product image or other design. Tags are scanned using the free downloadable Microsoft Tag Reader on your smartphone, available at www.gettag.mobi.

Microsoft Tag technology is far superior to many other solutions out there, especially for those in the marketing and advertising world. Tag offers robust analytics, heat maps and many other features that help marketers execute and adjust campaigns. We’re seeing great adoption across a variety of industries including magazine publishing, retail, advertising and entertainment and expect to see the technology really take off as brands continue to experiment.

New Ideas

Mark Regan: You’ve seen a lot of your ideas see the light of day and be implemented. I’m sure there are more in various stages of creation in your head. How do you decide which ones to pursue?

Nadia Aly: Usually when I come up with ideas, I circulate them to selected friends and colleagues. I am very open minded , and getting a sense of what they think and getting their feedback helps me shape my thoughts. The process is the same for both personal and work campaigns. Making sure that I see value in any campaign that we move forward with.

Visuals

Mark Regan: Personally, you incorporate visuals (images, photos, videos) quite a bit into your online brand. Do you also take that same approach towards your business initiatives?

Nadia Aly: Definitely! Media is a great way to engage people online. That not new news! The more visual assets you can showcase for a business or product the more attention you will get. That’s why these days you will see many companies/brands with a Flickr and YouTube as part of their circle of social networks.

Bonus Questions

Mark Regan: What is your favorite online marketing/social media toy of the day?

Nadia Aly: To this day I still stand by Tweet Adder. Some see this a spammy tool – but it really is a great way to find targeted Twitter users online. Even if only for the search functions it provides. You are able to search profile data, location, followers of a user, users followed by a user and much more. For example I am able to find people who have the word Microsoft in their profile bio who live in Redmond. I don’t know many other tools that can do that. On top of that you are able to automate many different things. I tend to stay away from those tools. To each their own!

Mark Regan: Any fun plans while you’re here in Tampa?

Nadia Aly: Yes! I run ScubaDiverLife.com – and one of the things I have been dying to do is Scuba Dive at Epcot! Also get some dives done in or around Tampa.

Contact

Mark Regan: Thanks Nadia! I’m excited to welcome you to Tampa on February 22nd as part of Social Fresh Tampa. How can people find out more about you and connect with you?

Nadia Aly: People are able to connect with me on Twitter: @DigitalkVan or Facebook : facebook.com/NadiaAly or good old fashion email : nadia@digitalklabs.com

Zena Weist Interview

Zena’s joining a full line-up of speakers in this month’s Social Fresh Tampa conference.  In my interview with her, she stresses the 1-to-1 relationship of social media and a little more “doing” and less “trying” by the brand owners.


Your Background

JohnWeist, ZenaWeist & ZachCobb

JohnWeist, ZenaWeist & ZachCobbphoto credit: westsidestudiokc.com

Mark Regan: Tell me a little about your background and how you came into your current role as H&R Block’s Social Media Director.

Zena Weist: Direct marketing has been something I’ve been drawn to since college. I enjoyed advertising, which was my emphasis, but I craved that back and forth brand discussion with customers. When I was working on my MBA in direct marketing, I was taking a Henry Bloch entrepreneurial course where I met with a digital start-up CEO. His company was selling bulk computer components on discussion boards (this was before the web and mass use of email). Yes, I’m old.

When I saw the back and forth dialogue via the internet, I was hooked. The digital start-up hired me. My first online marketing role had me dive into newsgroups and forums back in 1994. We rolled out a web site in late fall of 1994. I knew the web was my professional home. I thrive on the 1:1 interaction.

My first exposure to a velvet-roped online community was with Hallmark in 2004. Blogger outreach started in 2006 for me. I began developing the first social media roadmap for my company, Embarq, a spin-off of Sprint, in 2007. I was hired by H&R Block in January, 2010. The Social Media Director role was newly created by the CMO.

Agency – Client

Mark Regan: You’ve been on both the agency and client side of online marketing, how would you compare the two relative to social media adoption/implementation?

Zena Weist: In general, on the adoption/implementation front I think agencies and clients are both in the early growth stage of social media. Before you say, “but Zena get your head out of the Tampa sand,” please give me a paragraph or two to explain.

There are brand and agency social media examples we hold up as best in class. They just aren’t the norm, they are the exception. So now how can we all help each other power forward through to shift social media methods from “sitting at the kids table to moving up to the adult table.”

For me, the agency should already be integrating social media into any marketing or communications project from the onset. I’d like to see all agencies move away from bolting on social media tactics after the pitch is fully baked. What I am seeing that is working really well is when the agency plays that much needed third-party-social-media- strategy-advocate role. They help their clients build their social media roadmap for incorporating social media tools into all customer touchpoints. A majority of what I’m seeing from agencies is integrating social media into marketing communication plans. To me this is still fairly project specific and I’m looking forward to the industry maturing with more and more strategic consulting and long-term planning.
From my experience, client side social media has to be more holistic to succeed. The brand needs to weave social media methods into business processes, not bolt-on social media in a “toe-dipping, let’s try this out” approach. Given consumers’ expectations, for brands there is no try in social, there’s only do. Let’s help each other do social business well together. Let’s lift each other up. (And yes, I’m a huge Yoda fan.)

Stakeholders

Mark Regan: How have you approached the ROI-focused stakeholders who discount social media as not worth the investment?

Zena Weist: In order to get my peers’ and my executives’ attention, I have to speak their ROI language and use their metrics or I won’t be taken seriously. My team has acquisition, share of voice, brand awareness and impression goals just like our traditional marketing and corporate communication teams do.

Competition

Mark Regan: I imagine that H&R Block’s main competitors are local, private tax professionals more than other multi-location businesses. Does size give you an advantage on the social web or is it a liability?

Zena Weist: In this case, I think size doesn’t really matter. What matters is if you are meeting customer expectations online. Are you listening, responding and sharing WHERE your customers/prospects are online? If you aren’t, you aren’t meeting customer expectation and they will be vocal about their disappointment and seek out your competition.

Bonus Questions

Mark Regan: Bonus: What is your favorite online marketing/social media toy of the day?

Zena Weist: Ok, my favorite public community right now is Quora. I’m addicted to it. I’m more of a lurker than anything right now. I’m trying to move into more of a contributor-role but I catch myself spending hours (at night) reading up on social trends, tech news and my personal interests.

Mark Regan: Bonus: Any fun plans while you’re here in Tampa?

Zena Weist: I ❤ Tampa and I’m not just saying that because Social Fresh is in Tampa. I try to get there at least every other year. The vibe is relaxed and fun. My family loves the friendly folks, warm weather and beaches. This quick trip, I’m hoping to get a chance to go to the ocean for a bit and enjoy the warm weather as I’m landlocked and freezing in Kansas City.

Contact

Mark Regan: Thanks Zena! I’m excited to welcome you to Tampa on February 22nd as part of Social Fresh Tampa. How can people find out more about you and connect with you?

Zena Weist: Zena (@ZenaWeist) is an iWorkingmom who’s passionate about her four fun-loving kids, one adorable husband, customer advocacy, autism awareness, craft beers, red wine and all things chocolate; therefore she’s into running as well :-). Zena blogs a bit about all this at Nothing but socNET and she is a founding member of the Kansas City Chapter of the Social Media Club.

Corey Creed Interview

Corey’s going to be laying it all out in a few weeks at Social Fresh Tampa talking about Facebook, social media and tons more. I had a chance to talk to him about his background and the work-life balance of the social web.


Your Background

Corey Creed
Mark Regan: Tell me a little about yourself and your background.

Corey Creed: For most my life, I’ve done public speaking and training. I’ve also done a lot of project management and instructional design. But more recently, I’ve been using those skills with Internet marketing and social media. Here’s how it all came about…

I grew up outside of Boston and then moved to New York for ten years. In 2002, I moved back to Massachusetts for one year. I had a hard time finding work, so ended up helping a friend with his e-commerce business. In three months, we tripled his sales. But it was way too cold in Massachusetts, especially for my wife who is originally from Daytona, FL!

So in 2003, my wife and I moved to North Carolina and started HIPPO which has two parts to it. HIPPO Inc sells products via e-commerce to the hospitality industry. Hippo Internet Marketing did SEO, AdWords, and more for clients. In 2007, we stopped taking clients and started teaching Internet marketing seminars. In 2010, we stopped teaching seminars and started moving our content online instead.

In 2011, I also started working with Social Fresh as the Training Director.

Time Management

Mark Regan: You seem to have your time spread out a lot from clients, training, speaking and your own personal brand.  How do you manage the sometimes competing obligations?

Corey Creed: I’m all about time management.  Over the years, I’ve fired almost all of my clients.  The few remaining are the best ones.  I enjoy working with them and we each respect each other’s time.  I regularly prioritize and keep my inbox down to zero several times per week.  I move things to my to do list and work on one thing at a time in priority order.

Oh, and I have three monitors.  That helps.  I only work 40 hours per week or less.  I spend time with my wife and on other non-profit activities outside of work.

Fads

Mark Regan: What social media tactic do you see people jumping into too quickly?  and what should they do more of in advance?

Corey Creed: I see people jumping into the “shiny new things” way too quick.  We all need to get better at Facebook.  It’s good to stay somewhat informed of new things and to know what’s out there.  But we’ve got to get better at what we have now.  Focus on the opportunities that exist today and do them better.

Content is King

Mark Regan: Regarding social media, if you could make a business owner/stakeholder do one thing that they always don’t want to do, what would it be?

Corey Creed: They almost always need to become better writers.  Content is king, but that’s just the beginning.  The better we get at writing in all its various forms, the more success we’ll have.  Good writing is not easy, but all marketers and business owners should work at it and stop trying to outsource it.  It’s that important.

LBSNs

Mark Regan: How should small businesses take advantage of location-based social networks like Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places? How can they gain a competitive edge with them?

Corey Creed: This one is tricky.  The adoption rate of these services is not that impressive yet.  Small businesses have a lot to do.  It may not be worth their time to put a lot of effort into this.  At the same time, being an early adopter can get you extra business.  Give it a shot and see what happens.  But don’t waste too much time on it.

Bonus Questions

Mark Regan: What is your favorite online marketing/social media toy of the day?

Corey Creed: For seeing what others do when they visit my site, my favorite cool new tool is Mouseflow.  My every day tools are Microsoft Outlook, Google Chrome, BlogJet, Digsby & Hootsuite.

Mark Regan: Bonus: Any fun plans while you’re here in Tampa?

Corey Creed: Not really, Jason Keath has me working the entire first day of Facebook training.  Also, I’ve got to keep up on my own business at the same time.  But I do hope it’s warm that week.  I hate the cold!  🙂

Contact

Mark Regan: Thanks Corey!  I’m excited to welcome you to Tampa on February 22nd as part of Social Fresh Tampa.  How can people find out more about Hippo Internet Marketing and connect with you?

Corey Creed: You can find most everything I do at www.CoreyCreed.com and www.HippoIMT.com.

Thanks for the opportunity to be interviewed.  It’s nice meeting you and I’m really excited to meet the various social media and Internet marketing people in sunny Tampa!  See you at Social Fresh!

Foursquare Captures Photos – Bad Idea?

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=18267386&server=vimeo.com&show_title=0&show_byline=0&show_portrait=0&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

Note: This video was shot using a Flip video MinoHD 8GB camcorder (Amazon affiliate link) and a Fat Gecko Double Knuckle Camera Mount (Amazon affiliate link). Boo-Yah!

My Flip is awesome! Though I wish I had the 3rd generation version which includes image stabilization. The Fat Gecko is wicked. Use it in or out of your car, snowboards, mountain bikes, bike helmets. I love it!


Transcription

I’ve had this video transcribed below for those who prefer to read rather than listen or watch. The transcription provided by me.

Hey everybody! It’s Mark again from Tampa where it is 32 degrees. It’s cold here.

I want to share with you a little something about Foursquare. Recently my Verizon Incredible was updated with a new version of the Foursquare app. And on that I noticed that they added a couple of new features. The biggest one was the ability to add photos to Checkin.

So last night, I was out. Had wings with a buddy of mine and stopped by the World of Beer down the street to have a beer before going home. I checked in while I was there and I thought I’ll add a photo. And so I took a picture of their monstrous cooler where they have over thousands of beers—its kind of cool, artistic photo—I added it. It was cool. Nice photo. You go into the venue now, and now you see that there’s a photo attached to it, I didn’t add any commentary but obviously you can add a little caption to in any of your photos. But what it did do for me is it made me think about what the addition of photos to the check-in mentality that is part and parcel to location-based social networking does.

The good thing about it is obvious when you think about the emptiness of the check-in. There’s really not a lot of value to them but when you can add a photo while you’re out on a restaurant of the dish that you’re enjoying of the staff at a bar and say, “Hey, let’s go to Ryan. This is Ryan, make sure he takes care of you. You tell him Mark sent you” and interiors of any kind of restaurant. “This is corner table where we love to have our Valentine’s dinner” what have you. Very cool things, tips and tricks, as they call it, very good to add that imagery, I’m sure video would be possibility to add to one day. Awkward things, but it then also so as a consumer, that’s what I think of. As an online marketing professional,

I wonder about some of the shady side of this including if you go to a restaurant and you have a bad dish, you take a photo off of your phone that isn’t in the dish and added to that, what value does that do? Not only do you have to worry about the legitimacy of the photos but the value checking in to a hotel where things aren’t right—there’s mold, there’s a cockroach—how does that help the business in a one time instance because the date of it is not as prominent.  In Foursquare at least, it is when you look at things like review sites where you can have businesses responding and stuff plus, you know, if I go and take a picture of a cockroach somewhere else and then put it in at the local Holiday Inn, you know, I am damaging a business without any repercussions to me, maybe I am doing it as a joke.

Likewise, taking pictures and posing it about it at an event or a park where you take pictures of a long line, airports, or malls, push people away and damage the business a lot more than they add any value to either the person posting the picture or the people that might view the picture. But more importantly is, like I said, as the consumer I worry—I enjoy these kind of features but as an online marketing professional I am responsible for over a hundred different businesses, I worry about privacy policy,

I worry about someone coming into one of my practices taking pictures of other patients, staff, taking pictures of personal, private records, not only break the confidence reality of the other patients, and the staff, but also put you, as a business owner at risk for regulation violations, legal violations, and the like.

I am all about all the new techniques and pushing above all for these technologies but this is one of the ones that make me nervous for some reason.

I’d be interested to see what you think. Do you see more value in there?

Or is this just something that could really be something in the long run amongst the other online marketing features?

Give me a comment below and I appreciate it. I promise I’ll respond. Take care.

Eric Speeth Interview

Data and Analytics Meet The Real World

Eric Speeth is a brilliant guy.  If you want to learn about how businesses are applying data analysis to online marketing, he’s your guy.  And he’s right here in Tampa.  Buy him a beer (a really good beer) and you’ll learn more than you ever will from some high-priced consultant.


Your Background

Eric Speeth Interview

Mark Regan: Tell me a little about your background and how you came into your current role as the Manager of Analytics Operations at Triad Digital.

Eric Speeth: I’ve been involved with web development and online marketing for about 8 years.  I began my career working for an asset management firm that operated around 20 startup, small and mid-sized businesses, some online and others brick and mortar.  Soon after I started, the firm’s partners handed all site development and online marketing initiatives to me.  I was young with limited experience.  I felt overwhelmed and was extremely understaffed. I learned quickly that proving success meant that my time was best spent analyzing site and campaign initiatives in an effort to drive strategy, leaving the heavy development work to the experts. This plan worked well.  Even given rudimentary tools, I was able to quantify success, build actionable strategies and help the firm achieve several major online objectives.

I continued exploring analytics through my tenure there and eventually made it my focus as I moved to Tampa and began consulting as a performance-based marketer.  In 2008, I was recruited by Triad Digital Media and entered their organization as a web analyst.  I was given the opportunity to lead their analytics relationship with several major publishers and advertisers and now manage the analytics operations and media implementation team for all Triad accounts.

Social Media Analytics

Mark Regan: How has your background in web analytics been applied to your tracking needs in the social media space?

Eric Speeth: Social is a hot topic with a lot of brands that I work with, both in expansion of retail opportunities and brand engagement/loyalty.  Beyond sheer reach, arguably, a lot of what’s caused organizations to gravitate toward use of social channels is the value in measuring audience and action-based information.

When I first started seeing brands integrate socially, there weren’t many ways to evaluate success. From what was measurable, I would notice variable impact due to a lack of audience insight.  It took several years for analytics to catch up.  However, it’s now nearly the opposite.  With tools like Facebook analytics, app integration with several analytics vendors and the plethora of independent social media monitoring tools (i.e. Radian 6, Viralheat), the ability to measure and optimize initiatives living in the social space is practically limitless. Now, the challenge to someone like myself is identifying what is truly valuable out of each initiative and finding ways to optimize those important metrics.

If I were to give an overarching recommendation to brands/businesses marketing through social channels it would be to leverage the value of capturing demographic and user activity data to find your target audience.  Free or low cost tools like Viralheat can help easily dashboard and allow you to take action on this information.  Next, do everything you can to “close the loop”.  Facebook and Twitter are great mechanisms for initiating engagement, entertaining your audience or leading them to your brand’s next conversion point, but they aren’t all inclusive destinations (not yet anyway).  Make sure you are tracking social visitation through to purchase/conversion paths.  Channel/campaign variables are capable of tracking this in nearly every modern analytics solution whether your using Google Analytics, Coremetrics, Webtrends or Site Catalyst.

Big Business and Web Analytics

Mark Regan: You’ve worked with many Fortune 500 companies, regarding web analytics what do you think big business does better than small to medium-size businesses?

Eric Speeth: A lot of larger businesses have recognized the power that analytics-driven strategy brings to the to their organization.  Almost every major marketing publication mentions analytics strategy at least once per issue, newsletter or blog post.  Big business eats this up.  Once a larger entity decides to pursue an analytics focused model, their budgets allow them to recruit top talent who know and believe in analytics from executives to analysts.  This top-down support system enables them to roll out best-in-class analytics solutions, testing platforms and research models that really help drive major strategic decisions.   It can take years to build a platform that is optimized for success.  However, once this framework is in place, that organization will have a huge upper hand against the competition.

Mark Regan: What surprises you about what the big firms don’t do so well?

Eric Speeth: Big firms aren’t generally nimble.  Once a company gets to a certain critical mass, there are meetings just to discuss other upcoming meetings.  Marketing strategy and media spends can be forecasted out a year or more in advance with little consideration for the need to change mid-stride.  Even though they know its in their best interest, a large organization may not be able to act on a change until they can brainstorm about it, get funding and resource approval for it, develop project plans against it, then finally execute on it.  Analysis needs are becoming much more real-time which means a smaller entity where only a few individuals are making the marketing decisions can react more responsively to change.  It also means that they can fail and learn faster.  This is something that several big businesses struggle with.

Small Business Tactics

Mark Regan: If you owned a small business what steps would you take to manage your online marketing activities knowing you had a limited budget?

Eric Speeth: Setting strategic and measurable goals is probably the most important first step a small business can take towards driving a successful marketing strategy.  Being able to break those goals down over a one-year period into quarters, then months will also help give better perspective on where you need to be over shorter periods of time in order to achieve those longer 1+ year targets.  One myth I’d like to dispel is that setting short or even long term goals DOES NOT require pinpoint accurate benchmarks or elaborate forecasting methodologies, but all goals should be actionable and impacting (i.e. increasing brand reach in social or viral channels, optimizing on-site conversion paths, further identifying audience segments, etc.).

Once you’ve identified a strategy to reach those goals, its important to spend your budget wisely. One piece of advice I would lend is not to put all your eggs in one basket.  Spending all of your dollars on one three month awareness initiative may not magically bring an audience back for the rest of the year.  It’s also extremely important to stay targeted, focused and relevant with your campaigns (geographically, demographically, socioeconomically, seasonally, etc.).

With that in mind, it’s vital to purchase media through outlets that are able to demonstrate they are reaching your desired audience while they’re in the right mindset.  Signing a long-term agreement with a media partner without running test or trial campaigns is probably not a good choice.   Make any media channel prove its worth before making a really expensive mistake. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that you should always take advantage of relevantly marketing yourself on any low or no-cost media channels (be it social, viral, etc.).

Lastly, be aware of how you plan on learning more about your audience and improving your campaign as you continue your spend throughout the year.  The best way to do this is through a combination of free surveys, creative testing and optimization. If you aren’t setting up your site and your marketing campaigns on some kind of optimization platform (Google Website Optimizer, Omniture Test & Target, etc.), you aren’t maximizing your marketing dollars. A terrific book that answers questions on how to do this using free tools and few resources is called Always Be Testing and is a must read for any business that wants to set themselves up to maximize their marketing testing and optimization efforts.

The Future

Mark Regan: Looking ahead 12-24 months, what tools should vendors in the online marketing space develop to help people like you?

Eric Speeth: One challenge we face in analytics is the integration/centralization of data between marketing tools. To put it simply, the ability to tie data together quickly and easily throughout all of your initiatives doesn’t exist.  Right now, you have two choices:

  1. Pull data manually out of a dozen or more tools and put it all together into a sensible report, then spend whatever remaining minutes you have to compile insight or
  2. Convince your organization to buy expensive servers and software, then hire a team of database professionals to integrate and manage your marketing analytics for you.  Next, hire a dedicated resource to pull all that information together into a beautiful report where you, as a marketer, can spend your time extracting insight and driving strategy.

I can’t tell you how disappointed I am at those options. The data already exists, it just doesn’t exist where you need it to (in a report with other information from other tools).  Paying to extract and store a copy of the data isn’t a sustainable practice. Neither is paying a team of database professionals to manage and compile that information.  I foresee a lot of progress being made on this, maybe not in the next two years, but certainly in the next five.

Location-Based Social Networks

Mark Regan: Bonus question: What are your thoughts on location-based social networks like Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places? How do you see this concept helping businesses?

Eric Speeth: As mobile device technology continues to grow, location-based applications could undoubtedly have a HUGE impact on a brick & mortar business’s success. The more prevalent your organization is on these networks, the more opportunities you are giving yourself to succeed in the future.

Speaking in the current, even something as simple as Google Maps and their use of reviews/recommended listings leveraging feeds from Yelp!, Urban Spoon, Trip Advisor, etc. has opened businesses up to a sort of transparency that can literally make or break them. If a business is smart, they are monitoring their reputations very closely to see what their customers are saying, learning from their mistakes and actively seeking to correct them.  They should also be participating in real-time marketing opportunities.  Whether that involves tweeting a one-day promo code or running a campaign through Groupon, smart businesses should realize that the next step beyond monitoring and managing their reputation is to be as active as its customers are through use of real time promotions.  I foresee location-based networks to hold even further value as additional features are developed to allow for more functional marketing opportunities within them.

Contacting You

Mark Regan: Thanks Eric!  How can people find out more about your analytics work and connect with you?

Eric Speeth: You can follow me on LinkedIn or through acuteinsights.com.

Pump Up Your Website With These 25 No-Brainers

<span class="drop_cap">T</span>Whether you’re new to online marketing or a seasoned veteran, it sure is nice to see what others consider important when setting up or taking over the online marketing for a business and its website.

Below is my Top 25 list of things to do from Day One.

It’s a simple list and knocking them out is not really that hard after you’ve done each once.  So don’t let it intimidate you.

Start with the simple ones and move from there!

  1. Implement Web Analytics!
  2. Setup Google Webmaster Tools
  3. Setup Google Webmaster Tools for www and non-www
  4. Track 404 Errors – Pages Not Found
  5. Create 301 Redirects for pages not found
  6. Exclude yourself from Web Analytics (Google Analytics, Adobe Omniture SiteCatalyst, etc.)
  7. Create a mobile version of your site using MobiSiteGalore
  8. Test your page load times using Page Speed
  9. Create HTML, XML and geo sitemaps
  10. Archive your website using SurfOffline
  11. Audit broken outbound links  using Xenu Link Sleuth
  12. Use a trackable phone number
  13. Create robots.txt
  14. Implement Hcard
  15. Redirect non-ww to www
  16. Redirect index.html to /
  17. Claim your business on Google Places
  18. Create a favicon.ico for your website
  19. Confirm your website’s IP address is not blacklisted
  20. Add alt tags to your website images
  21. Validate the HTML used on your website
  22. Claim your business on Yelp.com, CitySearch.com and JudysBook.com
  23. Set up Google Alerts
  24. Validate Browser compatibility
  25. Set up site search within Google Alerts
  26. Set up a globally recognized avatar (gravatar)

My list is actually much longer than this, but these are my top 25.

Do you think they’re right?
What did I leave off?

Tell me in the comments below.

How can I best use Google Voice?

If you are fortunate enough to have received an invite to join the Google Voice beta, then you may be wondering what you should do with it. Here are some suggestions and also some pitfalls.

Suggestions

  1. If you live from your cell phone, Google Voice can help you protect access to that number. By placing your Google phone number on your business cards, email signatures or even your personal website/blog you don’t have to worry about abuse. It will act a screening mechanism. After you have established a relationship with someone you can share you real cell phone number.
  2. If you load your contacts into your Google account you can make intelligent decision on how those callers make it through to you. You can create a friends or family group that doesn’t have to announce their name before being forwarded to your phone. Or you can route callers not in your list directly to voicemail thereby limiting only know callers to your cell phone.
  3. Using their widget you can have Google connect you and a website visitor without exposing your real phone number. This is great for customer support or relationships that need a level of discretion.

Pitfalls

  1. You have to choose your area code when you create your account. Carefully think this through. Is there a move in your future? Are there multiple area codes available to you such that you can represent a presence in a city you may want to? If you so, choose wisely. It’s a one-time decision.
  2. Since the Google phone number you’ve chosen merely routes to another phone number, it is hard to respond to callers without exposing your real number. It can be done through the Google Voice system, but it’s likely more work than it’s worth.
  3. You cannot have two Google Voice numbers routing to the same phone number currently. While it would be nice to have a Google Voice work number and a Google Voice family number (that’s routes to you and your spouse), it won’t work. If you try to you will kick off the first account in place of the second.

Google Voice will grow and become even more powerful than its current adolescent self. When that happens its reach will have a significant impact into other applications currently supported by Google and used by us all.