Managing Marketing Complexity

In my last post I talked a little about the importance and value of managing the technicalities of website hosting, but in reality, the technical aspects of marketing your business tend to go way beyond hosting. This scenario begs the question:

What is the role of a marketing partner?

Typically offerings fall into One of 3 categories:

  1. Consultancy – looking at strategy & planning
  2. Management of marketing tools like web, social media, SEO etc
  3. Technical aspects that facilitate the delivery of marketing activities

We looked in detail at the value of linking the first 2 in our recent post about Combining Planning and Implementation, and touched on the value of linking the last 2  in the case of web hosting in the post Do You Care About Your Web Hosting. However, as I stated earlier, the technical aspects of marketing your business tend to go way beyond hosting. What I want to look at here id the issue of managing the wider technicalities of marketing in 21st Century, and how having a marketing partner with a good working knowledge of the technicalities can be very valuable. To Illustrate this point, I would like to look at a few of the requests we have had for support on Marketing projects over the last 12 months:

  1. I would like to list my products on Amazon in the USA
  2. I would like my products to appear as images at the top of Google listing
  3. My site doesn’t appear on Google for phrase <<insert keyword here>> What can I do about it
  4. We want to do a Twitter style survey but don’t want to do it on Twitter
  5. Can I integrate my website e-commerce system with my accounts package/CRM?
  6. I need a web payment gateway that will also work when I am selling things in the physical world
  7. I’d like to make sure my website is optimised for a visitors across the Globe
  8. We need to efficiently segment my email sending to optimise personalisation
  9. I have had a call about <<insert web marketing service here>> does it add value
  10. I would like to implement a “where to buy” Directory on my website how do I go about it?

Whilst these requests are all very different, they all have two things in common.

  1. They are all perfectly relevant marketing issues
  2. They all require technical knowledge to implement

In the world of SMEs, working with a different partner for each of these projects would be challenging, and few marketing specialists would have the skills to handle all of these requests, but in our view, a marketing partner should be able to deal with any of this, and At BSA Marketing we can.

So how do we do this without compromising quality?

The answer is two-fold:

  1. A great deal of experience in Digital Marketing – Having grown up marketing over the past 20 years as the web has grown in importance, we have an excellent working knowledge of how the marketing works in the digital world, so know what skills are needed to deliver, and in many cases we have those skills in house
  2. A fantastic network of specialist knowledge to call on when we need it – Having been delivering marketing solutions for clients over this time, we have build relationships with a network of people who have specialist knowledge in many different areas. We are now able to call on thin knowledge when needed to deliver for clients.

Marketing in the current world is complex

The truth is delivering effective marketing support in the current SME environment is complex, but we are confident that whatever your requirements from the reliable hosting of a website to the complex scenarios outlined earlier in this post, we have the expertise & partnerships to make them happen without breaking the bank. If you would like to talk to us about how we could add value to your marketing activities, give us a call, or drop us an email

Combining planning and implementation

Planning and implementation are 2 essential elements for any business wanting sustainable marketing success. So why is it, when looking for support with marketing, options for planning and implementation are so often separated? In over 30 years working with SME businesses, I have seen a constant; there are consultants/coaches/mentors etc. who will help you plan, and marketing service suppliers (print/digital/design/communication etc.) who will help you action, yet finding a genuinely joined-up combination is remarkably rare. There are certainly planners who purport to get involved with implementation. Even more so, there are implementers who purport to get involved with planning. However, when you look under the skin they are almost always one or the other! It is something I think about regularly so here is my take on why I think it happens…

Marketing is speculative

Whether we like it or not, marketing is speculative. You commit resources with service suppliers now in the hope/expectation of benefit later. A good personal relationship, based on confidence is extremely valuable when you want to discuss outcomes and plan future action. With business services suppliers, relationships with the people you work with is no less important than outcomes, SMEs like dealing with SMEs. Big companies can (sometimes!) be good at delivering value in a mass commoditised market. When things get more subjective, having someone with experience, who you know and trust, to talk with is extremely appealing.

Logic suggests that the ideal service partner would be a personable,
effective and experienced member of the Chartered Institute
of Marketing who is also a graphic designer, copywriter, web coder
and an expert in data management, SEO, PPC and Social Media.
  I don't know about you but I haven't met them yet!

Back to reality

The focus of many marketing service partners tends either planning or action. This is where their strengths and experience lie – and hopefully what they enjoy doing! Furthermore, whether you are looking at planning or implementation, it isn’t a case of ‘one size fits all’. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Working with people who play to their strengths is normally the best formula for success.

Open Partnerships – What good looks like

Over the past few years, BSA has developed partnerships where we work as a team with other people/businesses. We work together to help our SME clients achieve their goals. I believe these partnerships deliver remarkable value to our joint customers. We are proud of the fact that these team relationships sustain for years. Key to this success is the openness of the partnerships. There is no expectation when any partner starts working with a client that there will be opportunity for another partner. Maybe there will and maybe there won’t. the aim is always giving the best advice and support for the client’s needs. A cohort of solid business and marketing expertise which is known, trusted and respected, coupled with an entirely client-benefit focused approach means that decisions on the best approach are more objective. Plans get the resource to make sure they are effectively implemented and implementation is based on an independently considered approach using the best tools to achieve the client objectives. The approach also delivers unrivalled flexibility. As I said, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. By having the option to call on specialists, there is no need to rely on someone just because it is who you know. Even better, the development of the genuine client-centred approach can be highly cost effective as it is in the interest of the whole partnership to deliver economically sustainable results which mean that everyone wants the process to continue! If you would like to find out more about open partnerships to help integrate planning and implementation to drive your business forward, do get in touch.

Do You Care About Your Web Hosting

Following on from my last posts – Do you control your marketing – Which highlighted the importance of your website in your marketing mix, I thought it would be worth devoting a post to the subject of websites, and more specifically, web hosting

Web hosts are not created equal

Hosting a website is technical, and ensuring it stays available 24/7 requires some scary technical stuff. The job of a web host is to ensure that you don’t have to worry about any of it. In reality, the way that hosting companies manage this complexity defines the service they offer. To generalise, hosts fall into one of 3 categories:

  1. Cheap & Cheerful shared hosting – Under this model, the company manages the complexity by removing flexibility, and reduces cost by creating a one size fits all offering, hosting many (often hundreds) of unrelated sites on a single “host”. This type of hosting tends to be cheap (Typically £5-£10 per month), and offered limited flexibility & support will be basic. In the Real World – If your requirements are fairly basic, and the site is non-mission critical, then this is a sensible option. Especially if supplied through an added value reseller like BSA Marketing. The cost may be slightly higher, but the support will (or should) be much better.
  2. Managed Shared Hosting – In this scenario, an added value reseller will buy dedicated hosting from a specialist hosting supplier. Whilst still shared hosting, other sites will be fewer in number and all under the direct control of your provider. This means that the performance tends to be better as hardware resources are stretched less thinly, and managed more actively. In the Real World – If you are running a more complex site (e-commerce for example), or have requirements that would stretch the capabilities of a “one size fits all” host this is the way to go. Here, the Job of your host is to remove complexity and to translate your business requirements into a technical solution. Working with the specialists to deliver your requirements. Other benefits are that sites will tend to be actively monitored. This ensures that issues are sorted quickly without the need for you to notify your host of the problem.
  3. Dedicated Server Hosting – Here you have dedicated hardware (either a physical box or a virtual machine on a cloud platform). For SMEs this tends to be the ultimate solution, giving full technical control over your hosting platform. In the Real World – In terms of the levels of service, there is little difference between this and Managed Shared Hosting. The key difference is flexibility and the ability to handle more exotic technical environments. Because you have 100% control over the server it can be set up to meet your exact requirements. The other scenario where this type of hosting makes sense is if you have a requirement for hosting multiple sites, as they tend to be charged based on resources used rather than on a per domain basis.

So why should I care about all this

As I said at the beginning of this post:

hosting a website is technical

Choosing the right hosting scenario, and the right host can ensure that this technicality is managed appropriately without paying over the odds. Normally these issues arise when hosting is not up to the task you are asking it to do, either technically, or from a customer service/support perspective. To illustrate this point I would like to present two hypothetical cases:

Case 1 – Technical issues

In this case, the site in question has outgrown the hosting environment & the hosting company are not in a position to scale the requirements to meet the demand. The site which started life a simple e-commerce site with a few products grew in terms of both the number of products and the traffic, to a point where the hosting can not cope and the site falls over! Had this person considered their hosting more carefully, they could have seen this coming and managed the move to a more robust platform. In reality, the first they know of the issue was when the site fell over. The hosting company was then unable to fix the issue. The key issues here are having a host who will:

  1. Work with you and your business to plan for the future
  2. Be flexible enough to offer the hosting scenario that is currently most appropriate
Customer Service Issues

However good website hosting is not just about managing the technical environment. It is also about working with you to make sure that the site delivers from a business perspective, ensuring that it is kept up to date & relevant. Whilst this work is often done by you, it’s important that the hosting company is able to give the level of support required to facilitate it. In this case, this support isn’t forthcoming, severely impacting the value of the site from a business perspective. Lack of support and assistance from a host can prevent you from fully utilising the site as a marketing tool. Ultimately this will significantly reduce its value The key issues here are having a host who will:

  1. Work with you to manage your site effectively on an ongoing basis
  2. Be responsive when things get too technical. Thus allowing you to do what you want with the site without having to know all the technical stuff

What happens when it all goes when it all goes wrong

However good your hosting is, There will be times when things will go wrong, In these scenarios, it is about fixing things and getting sites running normally as quickly as possible. The key to this is backups. Usually, when things go wrong they can be quickly fixed. In some circumstances however they can’t. In those cases the route to a speedy recovery of the site is to restore from a backup. Most hosts offer backup as an option, but few (especially at the cheaper end) offer it as standard. In our view having good backups of your site is critical.

So “Do You Care About Your Web Hosting”?

If you are involved in marketing your business via the web, then the answer should most definitely be “Yes”. Has this has got you thinking about the subject of hosting? If so, the first thing to do is to talk to your hosting company. If they can’t offer satisfactory solution, then we would be delighted to talk to you about how you can take control of your website and its hosting.

Search Engine Optimisation – A Practical Example

Search Engine Optimisation is commonly referred to as SEO. This is the process of aligning the content of your website to what your potential customers are searching for. For this article, I am focusing on a particular request we received from a client. They are a special gas burner manufacturer. One of their products is a Ribbon Burner. Searches for “Ribbon Burner” were not appearing and they wanted us to do something.

As you will be aware, there are 3 main search engines: Google, Yahoo and Bing; with around 67 percent of all searches going through Google. It is vital to ensure that your website/blog gets to the top of the ranking. I will be explaining how to organically promote your post. Potential customers will start their search by using their desired search engine and typing in keywords such as your company name (if known), product, category or location. With these keywords, the search engines will search their databases of millions of webpages they have logged. The results of this search are what the search engine deems to be the closest match to your desired search.

Keywords

If I was to create a post promoting Ribbon Burners, then there are numerous ways that can boost your ranking. The first thing that you need to know is how your target market searches online and especially what keywords and key phrases they are likely to use in the search. These are the words that will navigate the traffic to your website. For example, if I was to search “Burners” on Google. It doesn’t specifically show the product I was looking for. Equally “Ribbon” isn’t very helpful. As I am looking for ribbon burners, the keyword/keyphrase is “ribbon burners.” This then narrows the search down to specific sites and products. Google, in particular, has several tools to help select and improve your keywords choices with the aim to increase traffic to your website, for example:

Try to include your Keyword in your page title, URL (webpage address) and page content (On average for the best results – 2.5% of your content should be your keyword or phrase.) You can even save your image files using your keyword as (part of) the page title; for the maximum effect. Other areas in which you may include your keywords and phrases are in the tags – such as title tags, meta tags etc. When constructing an article about ribbon burners the key points I would consider are:

  1. Short URLs work better for SEO
  2. Localisation – Websites having display maps, local listings and reviews will have a higher ranking and most importantly attract potential customers nearby.
  3. Media – Content that includes Images and Videos will work better for SEO.
  4. Finally, the quality of content. To optimise the search, many of the search engines require good quality content.

Web sites that are ‘optimised’ have a greater chance of being found if they appear on the first page, or the second page of the search results. With a greater advantage of being found, comes also the possibility that your company will be chosen by the viewer. This leading to the greater likelihood of your business obtaining any purchases made. In turn, the higher the search ranking, the more traffic to your website and the more chance of some of the viewers selecting your company for their purchases. Regarding our work for our client on ribbon burners, I am pleased to report that we achieved page one Google listings within two weeks. Remember: The higher the ranking…The more traffic your website will get!

Do You Control Your Marketing?

This may seem like a dumb question, but in reality, the answer may not be so clear.

Facebook wants to own you

Over recent years, it is clear that the strategy of social media platforms (I use Facebook as a case in point) has been to keep you on their sites and minimise the requirement to view content elsewhere. Their rationale is that while users are on their site, those users are delivering both data and opportunities the site owner can use to monetise the user activity. Part of this strategy is to make it easy for content marketers to host their content (Video, audio, quiz, blog post survey audio, images etc) on Facebook rather than elsewhere. But there is a payback for this “easy life”. That payment is loss of control. Every bit of content you put on Facebook (or any other social media platform) is owned and controlled by that platform.

And there is the Catch 22

Let’s face it, digital marketing relies on social media and search platforms. As a marketer, you need your message to be seen in the places people hang out, and in the modern world they hang out on platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google. You need to have your content visible in these places. The trick is to use the platforms to promote your content, but don’t rely on them to host it! However, there are cases when this may not hold true. Sometimes you may be better off deciding not to use a particular channel.If you do take the decision to hosting all your marketing content on a platform like LinkedIn or Facebook, you need to be aware of the fact that the payment for this “free service” is their ownership and use of your content!

So what is the answer?

Once you have set your objectives and plan, digital marketing can be split into 2 areas:

  1. Your Messages/Content that define your brand
  2. The tools you use to promote these messages

The key to staying in control is to recognise where the various players fit into these roles and to use them appropriately. It is the first of these points that is key. As a simple rule of thumb

Whoever hosts your content owns and controls it

By making sure you own the platform where your content is hosted ensures that you control it. Usually, this will mean your own website.

There is always an exception

The one exception to this is video. Hosting video in a format that can be easily streamed is resource hungry, and usually hosting it yourself is not the best option. Best practice here is to host it on one of the streaming platforms (Probably Vimeo or Youtube – more on these next time) and then embed it into your own site. In these circumstances, the key to maintaining control is to ensure that you have copies of the video content locally. So if you edit the video online, make sure to download a copy of the final video. That way if there is an issue on the site hosting it, you can always go elsewhere!

Use social media/search to promote the content

With all your content all safely hosted on your own platform, you are then free to use the most appropriate tools available to promote that content to your market. In this scenario, re-posting content onto the various platforms is no problem, as if anything happens to compromise that content you can again, go elsewhere. However, your goal should always be to promote content that you host, and not content hosted on the social media platform.

Plus ça change…

The fact is that whilst marketing fundamentals remain pretty constant, the tools and the popularity of digital platforms change.  Some die (remember these 10 failed Social Media sites!) and new platforms arise which may fit better with your marketing objectives. By ensuring that you stay in control of your content, you are free to make the best decisions for now and the future, independent of the platforms you use.

Marketing development – is the tail wagging the dog?

Why is implementing marketing ideas that involve the web often seen as such a big deal? Perhaps because too many digital marketers want to make it a big deal? In my experience, many digital marketers are techies first and marketers second – but isn’t this a bit like the tail wagging the dog? Effective marketing is the driver of business development and growth while digital tools are some of the options available for use in a marketing plan. The plan should dictate the method and not vice-versa! When a company makes a decision to use a particular (digital) tool to achieve their business development objectives, the requirements could be quite modest technically yet a techie-focussed ‘digital marketer’ may be keen to build the work into a ‘significant’ project. As I have said many times, marketing is a process, not an event. The dynamic nature of marketing drives a range of objectives which can be best delivered by different tools. Taking the approach described in the previous paragraph can all too quickly see costs spiralling. As a consequence, it becomes more difficult to achieve objectives cost-effectively or ideas are put on hold. In either case, satisfaction will take a hit!

So what is the answer?

Take a different perspective, let the marketing process be the lead and tap into digital tools only when appropriate, and as modestly as you like! Every bit of marketing doesn’t need to be a major project. By developing and implementing a marketing process focussed on business development, using digital tools as and when appropriate can allow a more fluid approach Examples of what we have done to support clients:

  • Rescale a website to take advantage of modern monitor and device screen sizes
  • Implement a web-based Customer Survey integrated into your website
  • Add a poll to your website – a Twitter poll without Twitter
  • A fully interactive, graphical ‘Where to buy’ facility to allow customers to search your website for their nearest supplier
  • Fully tracked email to take advantage of a last-minute opportunity
  • SEO for a particular product offer (Achieving Page 1 Google within 2 weeks).
  • Add a completely new service range to your website
  • A new ‘Downloads page’ with comprehensive content management

It doesn’t need to take long. Each of these took less than 24 hours to implement and some took less than an hour. Launching a marketing idea doesn’t need to cost the earth.

The advantage of a flexible system

Several years ago, after much investigation (and a few false starts!) we elected to focus on WordPress as our web development platform of choice. Since that decision, I am yet to be disappointed. WordPress continues to impress me. Bias! I hear someone shouting! Sure, WordPress isn’t perfect. There are numerous blog posts with titles in the vein of ’10 reasons why you shouldn’t use WordPress’ yet I would be happy to discuss these with anyone. I don’t believe any of these ‘reasons’ is valid for a regular SME business I’m not looking for the ultimate in technically beautiful web development (that costs a fortune to implement and maintain!), I want to offer a practical, effective and flexible solution that can address and meet real marketing objectives in the real world, quickly and cost-effectively. It is down to the flexibility and power of the WordPress platform that developments can be implemented so quickly and easily. If you want your digital marketing to be responsive and cost effective, make sure that the dog is wagging its tail!