Inbound Marketing: An Overview for Small Business

Small business marketing is evolving rapidly, and one of the biggest shifts in recent years has been from traditional outbound marketing (advertising, sponsorships, partnerships, etc.) to inbound marketing. But what, exactly, is inbound marketing? What does it entail, and why is it worth the effort? Read on for the answers.
What Is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is the umbrella term for marketing tactics that help consumers find and connect with your business through unpaid means. The main goal of inbound marketing is to create value, provide help, and educate/entertain an audience.

Why Is Inbound Marketing Effective?

Rather than disrupting people as they go about their business online, inbound marketing reaches consumers where they are with information that is relevant and interesting to them.

Inbound marketing also encourages engagement and participation by consumers on a brand’s behalf. Instead of being a one-way conversation, with the business talking at the consumer, inbound marketing promotes a two-way conversation between consumers and brands.

What Are Inbound Marketing Techniques?

When it comes to inbound marketing, content rules, whether it’s content you create from scratch or content you share from another source.

Some inbound marketing techniques include:

  • Social media
  • Online listings
  • Blog posts
  • Emails
  • Comments on online forums
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

How Much Does Inbound Marketing Cost?

Overall, inbound marketing costs about 62% less than outbound marketing in terms of budget. But there are additional costs associated with inbound marketing that have nothing to do with money. It takes time and talent to produce and curate great content. It also requires a strategy and dedicated resources to get involved in conversations where your potential customers are online.

The good news is that, while inbound marketing is labor-intensive, it definitely pays off. According to a recent HubSpot survey, inbound marketing generates 54% more leads than outbound sources, and the cost per lead is lower across all inbound marketing channels.

The Bottom Line

If you haven’t already started to invest in inbound marketing for your small business, or if your inbound investment is minimal, consider adjusting your strategy for 2014 to take advantage of all that inbound has to offer.

[News] Apple Files Patent for Restaurant Reservation & Ordering System

Here’s a highlight of some of the top local-business-related news of the week:

[Restaurant Tech News] Apple Takes on Restaurant Technology With a New Reservation And Ordering System

News Source: The Next Web 

This week, Apple filed a patent for a proprietary reservation and ordering system that would give consumers the ability to manage reservations, see waitlist times, and make orders right from their iDevices. Additionally, the system will offer menu recommendations to consumers based on allergies or preferences indicated on a user’s mobile device.

It’s unclear at this point how exactly the system will impact restaurants in terms of staffing, data management, and ticketing procedures. The patent hasn’t been approved yet, so there’s no word yet on if or when this system will come to market.

Key Takeaway: Apple’s entry into the reservation and ordering foray will put more information and control into the hands of the consumer than ever before. But will that be a good thing for restaurants? The app seems to have the greatest upside for fast-casual establishments by helping diners know how long they’ll have to wait and which menu items might be intriguing to them ahead of time. For more upscale establishments, where service is part of the experience and price tag, Apple’s technology seems less applicable. However the technology is employed, it’ll be interesting to see how Apple fares against more specialized, industry-specific companies already established in the restaurant tech space. Speaking of which…

[Restaurant Tech News] OpenTable Purchases Quickcue to Develop Mobile Waitlist Technology

News Source: Eater

On Monday, OpenTable announced the acquisition of Quickcue, a start-up that allows front-of-house staff to manage tables, see wait times, track guest preferences and histories, and view operational analytics via iPad.

As of today, OpenTable’s reservation system does not rely on real-time waitlists, which is a major drawback for customers. Quickcue will provide the tools they need to find tables in real time. They also plan to help businesses with a high volume of walk-ins seat tables in a more efficient way.

Key Takeaway: OpenTable’s mobile waitlist technology is directly in line with Apple’s proposed reservation and ordering system. However, Quickcue gives more control to the restaurants themselves over the process, and does not incorporate ordering functionality. Both OpenTable and Apple’s moves emphasize the importance of real-time information and mobile ease-of-use as consumers increasingly turn toward small-screen devices to manage their lives.

[Social Media News] Twitter Tests “Nearby” Service To Show Users More Local Tweets

News Source: Entrepreneur

Reports came in this week that Twitter is testing a new mobile-app service that shows tweets from nearby users, whether or not they follow particular users in their area. This new “Nearby” service will provide hyperlocal information such as news, events, and business offers on a map interface above a timeline of local tweets.

Tweets will only be incorporated into the “Nearby” feature if a user has location tagging turned on, so those who want greater privacy can remain off the grid.

Key Takeaway: Local businesses have already begun to see the positive impact of real-time, local recommendations with apps like Foursquare. Displaying tweets to nearby users could give small businesses another outlet to provide appetizing information and offers to local consumers. Positive customer feedback about your business will be easier for users to see with the Nearby feature as well. All the more reason for you to be active on your Twitter account, turn on location tagging, and encourage customers to share feedback about your business on social.

Other news catch your eye this week? Leave a comment and let us know! 

5 Ways to Market Your Small Business on Mobile

Mobile marketing is on the rise for businesses of all shapes and sizes, and it’s primed to take off in a big way for SMBs in 2014. Consumers are more and more frequently turning to mobile devices to search for local businesses—which means that small business marketing spending and efforts should shift accordingly. Here are a few ways you can market your business on mobile and reach new customers in 2014:

1. Host a Mobile Site or App

The easiest way to help consumers find your business on mobile is to have a mobile-friendly website or dedicated app. Your goal should be to provide the information that mobile users are looking for in a format that loads quickly and is easy to read on a small screen.

2. Text / SMS Marketing

Reaching customers by text or SMS is an effective way to deliver just-in-time messages on a periodic basis (once or twice a month is usually the most that consumers can handle). Create a sign-up list either in your store or online, and make sure to sweeten the deal with exclusive offers, discounts, and tips to incentivize participation.

3. Mobile Search Advertising

Just as there are many paid search options for desktop advertising, there are also an array of mobile paid search options. From text ads to location-based ads to click-to-call ads, you have a variety of formats to choose from when it comes to mobile search campaigns. Given that 75% of mobile searches are conducted to obtain location-based information, advertising on mobile is a great option to consider for your small business.

4. Mobile-Friendly Business Listings

Having a mobile-friendly website or app is important, but it’s also vital to make sure your business listings are mobile-friendly as well. If you haven’t already, be sure to claim your listings on the mobile apps where consumers are performing local searches for your industry, and include a mobile-friendly version of your menu or list of products and services so consumers can find the information they need to make a purchase decision.

5. Mobile Social Media Advertising

More than half of consumers are turning to mobile devices to access social networks these days. Running mobile-specific ads on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and other platforms will get your business in front of local consumers as they network on mobile. Retargeting and location-based messaging capabilities on social networks makes these ad formats especially appealing for small businesses.

The Bottom Line

Consumers will be relying on mobile more than ever in 2014. Make sure to meet local patrons where they’re at as you market your products and services in the new year.

Less Is the New More: Keeping it Simple in Small Business

The success of brands like Google and Apple have proven that, when it comes to messaging, product offerings, and user experience, simple is better. Current research also backs up this idea: According to Siegle + Gale’s most recent Global Brand Simplicity Index, 75% of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand because it provides a simpler experience and communication. Simpler brands also inspire greater trust and loyalty than complex ones.
How can you make sure your small business’s branding, communications, and overall customer experience remain simple and straightforward? Here are 4 areas you can streamline.

1. Simplify Your Market

It’s tempting to try and keep your target audience broad so that you have more potential customers to go after. But trying to be all things to all people will only water down your message and complicate your business offerings (see point #2 below). Our recommendation: Go after a well-defined market segment and commit to it.

2. Simplify Your Offerings

Take a hard look at your product and service list. If you own a diner, do you really need 20 different kinds of sandwiches on the menu? If you own a salon, do you really need to offer 15 different mani + pedi packages at different price points? When in doubt, stick to the following mantra: Less is the new more. Keep in mind that the fewer products and services you provide, the more time and effort you can spend perfecting them.

3. Simplify Your Process

Whether they’re checking out from an online shopping cart, bringing in a product for exchange, or having something repaired, consumers hate to waste time on confusing, inefficient, or laborious processes. Wherever possible, make sure your customer-facing processes are as simple as possible. Fewer steps will lead to a faster resolution, which is good news for both customers and employees.

If your internal processes are also complex, you may want to consider making changes there as well to promote employee productivity and job satisfaction.

4. Simplify Your Communications

There’s no quicker way to turn a customer off than to overwhelm them with too many details, too many selling points, or inconsistent messaging. Once you’ve nailed down your brand’s position and story, stick to it. Your customers will retain your brand’s message and value much more easily if you always talk about your business in a simple, consistent way.

The Bottom Line

From a marketing and customer service perspective, more isn’t always better. Keep it simple, and you’ll keep your customers happy.

[News] Apple Launches iBeacon Technology

Here’s a highlight of some of the top local-business-related news of the week:

[Retail News] Apple Launches iBeacon Tech to Target in-Store Shoppers

News Source: Digital Trends

Shoppers in every U.S. Apple store will now receive informational messages on their iDevices via iBeacon, Apple’s new location-based technology. iBeacon can be used to send product details, reminders, or event invites depending on a consumer’s location in the store.

Some messages are general to the store itself; others are specific to a particular product aisle, wall, or demo table.

Macy’s has also begun to pilot iBeacon technology in its New York and San Francisco stores to present discounts, recommendations, and other information to its shoppers.

Key Takeaway: This type of location-based targeting may become the future of in-store shopping. iBeacon and other similar technologies will provide businesses with the ability to give additional guidance and information as shoppers browse, thereby improving engagement and conversions.

[Payments News] Square Releases Thinner, More Accurate Card Reader

News Source: Entrepreneur

This week, Square released a new version of its credit card reader that’s more accurate and twice as thin as the previous version.

The updated device also comes with an audio jack that makes it compatible with more mobile devices.

New users who sign up for a Square account will automatically get the new reader; it will be available for purchase in-store sometime next year.

Key Takeaway: Mobile credit card reader companies are making strides to provide a better user experience for small businesses, offering enhanced functionality and performance for their percentage of earnings. If you aren’t accepting credit cards currently, you may want to look into your options again in 2014.

[Advertising News] New Google+ Ads Won’t Run on Google+

News Source: Mashable

On Monday, Google announced a new type of display ad called +Post ads. These ads are based on Google+ posts, but will not run on Google+ itself; rather, the ads will run in Google’s extensive display network of over 2 million sites. Social annotations such as Comments and +1s will be displayed as part of the ad.

+Post ads can be based on any type of Public Post a business creates, including photo, video, or even Hangout Posts. This type of format goes head to head with Facebook and Twitter’s Sponsored Post ads.

A handful of businesses, include Toyota and Ritz, are beta testing the format right now; all businesses will have access starting in January.

Key Takeaway: Businesses advertising on Google now have an additional format to try. If you have an active Google+ Page and are running Google ad campaigns for your business, you may want to consider throwing this new social format into the mix.

5 Ways to Incorporate Visuals in Your Marketing

Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, Flickr, YouTube—all the hottest social networks today are highly focused on visual content. For small businesses, the rise of visual marketing tools presents a great opportunity to tell the story of a brand through different media. But for those folks who may not be visually inclined, coming up with ideas to showcase your business with photos and videos may be challenging.
If you’re struggling to think of ways to incorporate visuals into your marketing campaigns, here are 5 ideas to kickstart your creative engines.

1. Showcase Your Products and Services

Chances are, if you run a business with a storefront, you have physical products and services that you can photograph and film. And consumers are hungry to take in visuals before they make a visit to a local business or purchase an item online. So get snapping and recording!

2. Give a Face to Your Business

Sharing pictures and videos of your staff will help give a face to your company and encourage sharing among employees and their friends on social media. Remember to tag the photos you post (with permission, of course) for maximum exposure.

3. Solve Problems

Do you have multiple customers who complain about a similar problem or point of confusion? A few how-to videos can be a huge help, and an effective way to engage viewers. These days, it’s easier than ever to create informational video content—all you need is a smartphone, a steady hand, and a plan.

4. Highlight Patrons

As evidenced by the “selfie” craze, people love to share photos and videos of themselves. Tap into your customers’ desire to be in the spotlight by posting photos and videos of patrons visiting your store, using your products or services, or sporting your business’s branding.

5. Ask Customers to Share Visuals

Consumers also love to capture their own photos and videos and upload for friends, family, and strangers to enjoy. Tap into this trend by running a contest asking customers to submit their own visual media related to your brand for a prize. You can also create simple campaigns to crowdsource content on your social accounts.

The Bottom Line

Visual marketing is a key way to engage with current customers and new consumers, bringing your business to life and showing some personality behind your brand. Luckily, it’s not hard to get visual with modern technology at your disposal.

Did you know? SinglePlatform distributes photos along with business listings information and menus across the web. Learn more about how we can help you distribute visual content to engage consumers.

[News] Small Business Saturday Brings in $5.7 Billion

Here’s a highlight of some of the top local-business-related news of the week:

[Holiday Retail News] Small Business Saturday Generates $5.7 Billion

News Source: Businessweek

Businessweek reported that last weekend’s Small Business Saturday brought in $5.7 billion of revenue in the US, according to a preliminary survey. Revenue from this year’s event was projected to come in at $5.5 billion.

Additionally, 41 governors declared support for the event this year, and over 3.3 million Facebook users have liked the Small Business Saturday Page since its inception last year.

Key Takeaway: Both consumers and officials turned out to support Small Business Saturday in a big way this year. For businesses that ran marketing campaigns around the event, the investment seems to have paid off.

[Social Media News] Facebook Adjusts News Feed Algorithm to Emphasize High Quality Content

News Source: Mashable

This week, Facebook made a new round of updates to its News Feed algorithm that controls what users see in their main stream. The changes place a greater emphasis on relevant content such as news articles, rather than generic content such as memes.

Facebook will also begin to display related articles underneath an original post for users who click on a link from their feed.

Key Takeaway: These News Feed changes reflect a broader demand from users for more relevant, interesting content across social media. Make sure that the content you’re sharing on your business’s Facebook Page is helpful, entertaining, or otherwise engaging for your audience. If so, Facebook will reward your Posts with greater visibility in your followers’ News Feeds.

[Restaurant News] Recent Survey Shows Gift Card Purchases on the Rise

News Source: Nation’s Restaurant News

A recent survey by GiftCardRescue found that consumers are purchasing more restaurant gift cards as the economy rebounds. The study showed increased rankings from food chains such as Darden Restaurant Group, Starbucks, Subway, McDonald’s, and Panera Bread.

According to another survey by the National Retail Federation, more than 80% of consumers plan to purchase at least one gift card this holiday season, a 4% increase over 2012, and overall gift card spending per consumer is expected to rise as well.

Key Takeaway: The food industry is primed to see an uptick in business as the economy becomes stronger. If you run a restaurant, café, bakery, or other food establishment, be sure to have some gift cards ready for shoppers who are looking for a convenient gift option this holiday season.

[Social Media News] Twitter Launches Retargeted Ads

News Source: TechCrunch

On Thursday, Twitter announced the launch of a new feature called “tailored audiences”. This feature allows businesses to retarget ads on Twitter to people who’ve shown an interest in their products or services.

These ads rely on tying a user’s identity on Twitter to their activity on a personal computer. Twitter will analyze the cookies from a user’s non-mobile-web browsing activity and then retarget to that user on a smartphone or tablet when they log into Twitter with the same credentials. This gives businesses the ability to run retargeted ads on mobile, which has been difficult to do since mobile web activity can’t be tracked the same way that PC traffic can.

This feature was tested with a small group of businesses over summer, but is now available globally.

Key Takeaway: Twitter ad targeting up to this point has left much to be desired. With this new tailored audiences feature, businesses will be able to run ads for a much more specific, engaged audience—and on mobile devices, where retargeting has traditionally been impossible.

Other news catch your eye this week? Leave a comment and let us know!