Getting your message out there.

Understanding your proposition, and the value that it adds is a critical first step to effective marketing communication. Once you are clear on this, the next step is to tell the world – or at least your target market. You will probably be using many media and channels to communicate your message. However, your website should sit squarely at the centre of your marketing. Your website is the vehicle over which you have the most control. This is to communicate with your markets and tell your story the way you want. If your website effectively communicates your value proposition, then getting the message out via channels like email and social media should be straightforward. They can all be used to drive and invite people to visit your website.

When did you last really look at your website?

When looking to promote your business, the process should start with your website. However, all too often websites are managed on a “build & forget” model. You build your website then move on to the next project. In reality, your website should be the ongoing heart of your marketing communication. It needs to be something that you are continually reviewing and developing. It is essential to regularly add new content to ensure that your site consistently reflects your business and proposition as they develop and evolve.

Are you proud of your website?

Ask yourself a question:

When someone enquires about your business, do you without hesitation direct them to your website?

If the answer to this is NO, then maybe you have to ask yourself why and what you need to do to change the answer to “Yes”?

If your site effectively communicates your value proposition, it should be the first place you send people to find out more. In my experience, too often, a person’s view of their website goes no further than whether they like the look of it. This can be a dangerous approach because it is easy to be seduced by your local web design company telling you they can come up with a cutting-edge new design for you. A new-look website will not solve your problem! Don’t get me wrong, a website must look professional and reflect your business proposition but potential customers don’t come to you just because you have a smart-looking website. It is what you say in your website, and the way you say it, that is most important. Content is king.

Does your site effectively reflect your proposition?

If the answer to this question is No, it is most likely because it no longer accurately reflects what you do or the image you wish to portray. Even a website which you were proud of when it was launched can lose its appeal over time. The answer is to keep it up to date:

  • Adding new developments in your offering
  • Removing references to things you no longer offer
  • Adding images, case studies & testimonials as they arise
  • Posting news & blog articles that back up and demonstrate your value proposition

Keeping your website current means it will continue to effectively reflect your proposition – and be a website you are proud of – that you want people to see.

Keeping marketing communication joined-up

If you are happy with the message that your website communicates, then join it up with other marketing:

  • Email
  • Social Media
  • Offline Marketing
  • Sales

All of these should flow from your website. Your marketing efforts should be about drawing people to find out more through your website.

Measuring Success

The more you know about your customers and markets, the easier it is to ensure your business proposition can meet their needs and deliver relevant value. Behind your website is a wealth of information about the visitors to your website and what they do when they are visiting. The statistics and analytics data available from your site can give you an insight into where your efforts are paying dividends. Analytics can be overwhelming but with thought and planning, they can make a real difference – but that’s another post – How well does your website work?

Does Your Proposition Add Real Value?

The first question you should be able to answer when you start marketing your business is, as Bender (From the TV show Futurama) would put it so eloquently, “Who are you and why should I care“. Or in other words…

What is your value proposition? Why should clients buy from YOU?

Defining your value proposition

The truth is that people do business with you because you and your products/services add value to them. The key to successful marketing is understanding this value and how to communicate it. First of all, ask yourself some questions:

  1. Why do you sell to people?
  2. Why do they buy from you?
  3. Are you good at what you do?
  4. Do your skills match the needs of your customers?

The fact that you offer a particular range of products or services may not be the main reason for customers to buy from you. It could be the way you do business, how you engage with customers, add-ons or support that you offer. It is worth taking time to really think about your value proposition. You may come to realise that the essence of your proposition is quite complex and subtle, and may even surprise you.

Competitive Market? Find Your Niche

In a competitive market, the definition of this value proposition needs even more thought. Finding ways to differentiate your offering and to stand out from the crowd. In these circumstances, it is even more important to focus your efforts on the areas where the value you add is greatest. For example:

Your location

Despite the globalisation of many markets, all other things being equal,  many people will still prefer to source locally. So focusing your marketing on your local area, and highlighting this in your marketing can pay dividends. But don’t fall into the trap of using “we are local” as your main message. You still need to be able to deliver as well as your competitors as few people will use you just because you are close by. But assuming you can deliver, then the fact that you are on the doorstep can give you the edge. It is also much easier to run and sustain a geographically focused marketing campaign both on and offline.

Your people

There is an old Saying “People buy from People”. On paper, you might offer exactly the same service as the competition, but your people will be different. In many businesses, the people in your organisation can be a massive factor in defining your value. Having a clear understanding what makes you different, and infusing the organisation with these values can create an environment that adds value. Our offices are right next door to the local Aldi Supermarket, so I am in there most days, and I think this is one area where they are different. I always get the impression that the people who work there enjoy their job. Whilst this may not be the case, they are trained to be friendly, helpful, and always look you in the eye when taking your money. This is one of the reasons I shop there. Again, they deliver good products & value, but so do other supermarkets. Its their people that make me want to shop there (That and the fact that its on my doorstep (See – “Your Location” above)

Your Specialities

The 3rd way you can find your niche and add value is to specialise. Smaller companies can compete with the big boys by being a specialist. By focusing, and developing exceptional knowledge & service in a particular area, you can create a much stronger value proposition. A great example of where this works is travel. Smaller companies can compete with the major operators by specialising in a specific area of the world or type of holiday. For example:

We have worked with Aardvark for a number of years, and Bon-Voyage helped me to plan a Route 66 trip a few years ago, so I know both companies. Each has a thorough knowledge of, and passion for, their respective areas. This speciality allows them to deliver value in their specialist areas way above that which could be delivered by the major travel companies.

The power of research

However you decide to differentiate yourself and add value, don’t try to guess what your customers think, ask them! This can be done personally or, if you have a lot of customers, there are several online survey systems which are easy to use and some are even free. Feedback from a customer survey will give you insight into what your customers think and the results can make great marketing copy. Don’t forget that something that may be obvious to you may not be so clear to others. As well as surveying your customers, ask people (friends, family, colleagues etc.) what they think. You may get valuable insight from some surprising answers! Don’t worry about always ‘getting it right‘. In fact, often there is no right answer. No value proposition statement will work for everyone, and you can always change (or should that be evolve) your proposition over time, based on experience. The important thing is that you are working with a proposition that you are comfortable with and that works with others.

Publishing your value proposition

OK, so you have pinned down a proposition statement that you are comfortable with and that has resonance with customers, prospects and others, what next? You need to make sure your proposition is consistent everywhere you communicate it. Most businesses use some (or all) of the following:

  • Website
  • Blog
  • Social Media
  • Advertising (off-line and on-line – including Pay per Click)
  • Literature and Brochures
  • Powerpoint Presentations
  • Exhibition Banners
  • Business Stationery
  • Business Cards

This is your Marketing Collateral. Does it effectively and consistently communicate your proposition? Taking an overall view may throw up some surprising disconnects. Eliminating (or at least minimising) these disconnects will give the consistency that drives a powerful marketing message.

Be joined-up

Communication of your proposition should be more than just selling to new prospects. Often there is too much focus on getting the order – sign up the new customer then move on to finding the next one. Your proposition goes beyond sales, it’s also about who you are, how you do what you do, why you do what you do, and ultimately its about communicating your value proposition, demonstrating the value that you add and making sure that your relationship with your customers is always developing and evolving, ensuring that it strengthens over time.

B2B marketing: too much misinformation?

Yesterday, I received a call from a (sales)man. He was telling me that our (ISDN) phone lines will stop working in July. However, he could sell me a new (VoIP/internet) service to avoid the problem. Yes, we know that ISDN is being phased out – but over 7 years, not 3 months. The earliest it will be switched off is 2025. We also sometimes get phone calls with horrible feedback or echoes resulting from overstretched VoIP services. Actually, when it comes to a normal phone call between 2 people, (IMHO) the old technology is more reliable just now. VoIP technology has improved, and I’m sure it will continue to do so. Sure, we need to be aware of the changes and plan for them. This should be on our timescales, not those of a salesman with next month’s targets to reach. Why does so much B2B marketing rely on misinformation, often playing on people’s uncertainties or fears?

B2B marketing should be about real benefit

Some time ago. I came across the following definitions of B2C (Business to Consumer) and B2B (Business to Business) Marketing: B2C: Promoting products and services that customers want, but don’t need. B2B: Promoting products and services that customers need, but don’t want. Okay, it’s a bit clichéd but I think that the distinction makes an interesting point. B2C is often selling to emotion, while B2B is about delivering benefit to a business – or at least it should be – and for a  business to really benefit, the value should sustain over time. This isn’t necessarily the case with B2C Too often these days B2B marketing focuses on emotion/fear encouraging people to make snap decisions which may not really benefit the business. A proposition may look great in principle but no one is talking about the detail and the practicalities that will ultimately lead to disappointment as expectations are unrealistically raised and then not met. From some companies with a strong sales focus, the emphasis is on grabbing clients, building turnover and then worrying about whether they are actually delivering benefit. Is this right? Should businesses be selling products/services to people who don’t really need them?

  • GDPR ‘Compliance’
  • Telecoms
  • Digital Marketing

These are all areas where B2B services are regularly oversold just now. The goal is to sell the deal, then worry about whether you can deliver value – commonly leading to customer disappointment. Is overselling B2B services tantamount to a confidence trick?

Good Marketing is Valuable

I guess the problem is that people and businesses who misinform or oversell essentially have little confidence in their own product and services. Or they are in a race to the bottom where you have to grab market share without looking at whether your customers will benefit. They can’t believe that what they offer delivers any significant value – so the only way they can market it is to push the boundaries of truth. Or at least ethics. Most (though not all!) will carefully aim to stay the right side of the law in what they say while giving the impression that their proposition delivers more than it really does. However, good B2B marketing is really valuable. If you use your marketing to advise and inform your marketplace without pushing an option just because it is what you want, you can grow awareness of your company and, by demonstrating expertise and knowledge, build confidence in your capabilities. This way, when a potential customer has need of your services, they are more likely to know and trust you, and come to you for advice. If you can offer real benefit to them, the process of them doing business becomes a natural progression – easy!

Softly Softly

There is a downside to this ‘engagement’ approach. It takes longer, but the trade-off is that you are building relationships which stand a great chance of developing into long-term customer partnerships rather than just flash-in-the-pan quick win sales. It is no surprise that many really successful businesses started off slowly and then, as their brand became known and trusted, the business took off. The engagement approach takes planning, monitoring and budgeting but, in my opinion, stands a greater chance of building a better, long-term, business. I guess there will always be those who just want the quick win at any cost, then move on. Hopefully, a market can increasingly recognise this approach and make their own minds up as to whether or not a business who is prepared to bend the facts to their own ends is a suitable company to do business with. As always, get the facts and make the decision, the choice is yours. Ultimately, the good will win out.

Website 1-2-3 Visitors – Engagement – Outcomes

As I have said many times, a business website is fundamentally nothing more than a marketing communication tool. It is a channel through which you can communicate your business proposition and encourage your market to engage.   If your website is going to deliver benefit to your business you need to drive 3 things:

  1. Visitors – appropriate people coming to your website
  2. Engagement – accessible, relevant content demonstrating the value you deliver
  3. Outcomes – response from visitors through which you can develop revenue

This might seem obvious, so why is it that many SME businesses focus on number 1?

“If only I can get people to visit my site, business will follow.”

It’s convenient to think that if people know about you they will buy from you. But how effective is your website at showing people how you can deliver real benefit to meet their needs? How easy is it for them to find the information they are looking for on your website and then take the next step? Let’s take a look at the website 1-2-3 and developing a joined-up approach.

1. Visitors

Without visitors, your website is irrelevant! I said above that too often there is an excessive focus on driving website visitors. This said, it is undeniably true that even a very poor website stands a chance of delivering results if people are visiting. The best, website in the world is useless if nobody sees it! Nevertheless, the internet is a competitive marketplace and a poor site, even one that has traffic, will find the going harder and harder. There are many channels through which visitors can find your website:

  • Organic Search – driven by SEO
  • Paid Search – driven by Adwords, Facebook etc.
  • Direct access – visitors typing your domain name from:
    • Networking
    • Advertising (online and offline)
    • E-mail Marketing
    • Print Direct Mail
    • Directories
    • Word of Mouth
  • Referrals
    • Links from other websites
    • Social Media

It is unlikely that you will use all of the above in your own business. My advice is to consider each objectively and create the first step in a joined-up marketing plan to use the channels that are most appropriate to your particular target market.

2. Engagement

Visitors come to your website with expectations. To convert visitors to customers, you must deliver on these expectations. It doesn’t take long for someone to decide that a website isn’t what they are looking for – possibly only a few seconds. You need to make sure that whatever page they see first when they reach your site gives them enough information to commit to exploring further. Once you have this commitment you should try to lead them on an engaging, interesting and relevant journey which builds to inviting them to take a next step. Your site should deliver:

  • Relevant, up to date content
  • Intuitive navigation
  • Benefits, not just features
    • Information and advice
    • Downloads
    • Introductory offers

Again, not all of the above will be relevant every time. The expectations of your visitors will vary depending on your target market sectors. Use your knowledge and experience to create a flow of appropriate content into your joined-up marketing plan. Regularly adding and refreshing content means returning visitors will always find something new. Never forget, your content should be about what your visitor wants, not what you want. The skill is to weave your message into delivering on their expectations.

3. Outcomes

Most people like an easy life. Being invited to do something is easier than trying to figure out the next step for yourself! This is never truer than on a website. Your content may thoroughly engage your visitor but at some point, you need to invite them to progress towards becoming a customer. Have a clear Call to Action on every page. This can be as simple as making sure your phone number or email address is prominent, or a link to your contact or newsletter sign-up page. Remember that a call to action is asking your visitor for more commitment. You might like it for a new visitor to jump straight to placing an order but this may well be too much, too quickly for them. Proposing marriage on a first date isn’t normally recommended! You need to allow time for confidence in your offering to grow to a point that you don’t need to ask for the order. Your visitors decide for themselves that they want to do business with you. So long as you deliver on your proposition, you have the basis of a great business relationship. The best approach is normally to make the next step easy. What is appropriate will vary depending on your business. Here are some ideas:

  1. Offers & guarantees
  2. Try before you buy
  3. Testimonials and Case studies
  4. E-newsletter sign-up
  5. Initial meeting with no obligation

Honest and Open

It may sound obvious but honesty and openness is a great way to do business. It is often a good idea to give some indication of your fees/costs. While this might put some people off getting in touch, maybe this is no bad thing! Also, it means that when you do receive enquiries, these people already have an idea of what you charge. The key is to engage without too much additional commitment from your visitor – small steps. Good business development is a process, not an event! If you are an e-commerce business then often, securing orders will come down to price and availability – but even here, demonstrating you are a reliable business can be the difference between receiving an order and not. People learn quickly that the cheapest price is often not the best deal! In other businesses, particularly where you provide a service, then the relationship between you and your customer is key. You may come across websites that make promises which seem too good to be true. These might generate some short-term revenue but too often lead to customer disappointment and rarely build solid, long-term business relations. If you would like to discuss options for a joined-up marketing approach for your business, do get in touch. There is no obligation 🙂

WordPress Hosting from BSA

WordPress is a great business and marketing tool, and as anyone who reads our blog regularly will know, we are big fans. However nothing is perfect, and WordPress does have a couple of shortcomings.

WordPress can be quite resource hungry

WordPress is an open source platform. Whilst this gives many advantages, it does mean that, whilst being incredibly flexible, it is not the most efficient piece of software on the market. As a result one criticism that can be levelled is that sites based on WordPress can be a little slow, especially when running more complex eCommerce systems. As with anything though, there is a solution, and that is to choose the right host. WordPress will run on pretty much any hosting package that offers PHP and a MySQL Database, but many hosting packages will have high contention rates (Lots of sites on a single server), and with no control over the other sites on the server, this can mean that your WordPress website becomes a little sluggish.

The BSA Solution

Because 90% of the sites managed by us are built in WordPress, we make sure that our hosting is designed with the platform in mind. Furthermore, because we are 100% business focused we appreciate that one solution will not fit every situation. For this reason, we offer 3 levels of hosting from a simple low cost offering, through shared hosting optimised for WordPress, to VPS hosting on our own private server. With these 3 options it is always going to be a solution that fits your needs.

What about Security

With WordPress powering nearly 30% of the sites on the internet (and a 50% share of the CMS market), its no surprise that it is a target for hackers. Whilst this can cause issues, with some forethought & careful management, it need not be a reason to miss out on the many benefits that WordPress offers.

The BSA Solution

We have been running WordPress websites for many years (our own website has been on the platform since 2008), so we have some experience of WordPress, and how to manage it. As a result we have 4 golden rules for keeping a site secure:

  1. Be Careful what plugins & themes you use – Most vulnerabilities in WordPress are introduced through plugins & themes some of which are poorly written & maintained. By being careful to only use well respected, and well maintained plugins, you can keep these risks to a minimum.Some of the better plugins are charged for, and we actually think this is a good thing, as it encourages developers to update & maintain their software. Because we run many sites using the same plugins, in many cases we have multi site licences for these plugins. We are therefore able to use them on clients sites, and include the cost in the monthly hosting fees. Our experience also means that we are happy to advise clients when they are considering using a plugin on their site.
  2. Make sure it is up to date – Because WordPress has a huge user base, when vulnerabilities do get identified,  fixes are usually created and published very quickly. WordPress also has a great system for notifying you of updates, and applying them is as simple as clicking a button.Keeping your site up to date is the best way to protect against vulnerabilities in the WordPress code.
  3. Run a good security plugin to keep the hackers out – We run a plugin called Wordfence on all our sites. Wordfence uses the fact that it is deployed on a huge network of sites (Over 2 million at last count) to spot threats as soon as they appear and as once it identifies a threat (or after 30 days for the free version), it will roll out a defence against it to all the sites on its network. Furthermore, the plugin allows scanning of sites against standard file sets & known malware, so if your site does get compromised you know as quickly as possible.The final thing that Wordfence will do is protect your site against brute force attacks by monitoring it for suspicious activity (people trying to access non existent pages or trying to log in with incorrect credentials), and will automatically ban offenders.Whilst there are other security plugins available, in our experience Wordfence offers a good balance between functionality & cost.Running a good security plugin like WordPress is a great second line of defence.
  4. Back up your site regularly – No defences are perfect, and no matter what precautions you take, there is always the risk that the worst happens, and your site gets hacked. At this point, if you have a good backup routine, getting your site up and running should be as simple as restoring a clean backup.

BSA Website Hosting Plus

As experts in managing WordPress websites, we have come up with 3 levels of hosting,  based on the 4 principals above. £15 per month* – This is our basic hosting package on a standard shared server. This low cost option is perfect for those that need a website, but don’t need anything fancy. At this level, we will host your website, back it up regularly. The rest is up to you. £35 per month* – This is our most popular option. In addition to the above, this will give you access to a range of premium plugins used commonly on website (eg Gravity forms, Advanced custom fields Pro Wordfence Premium, many Woo Commerce add ons, to name a few) We can also offer discounts on other premium WordPress plugin licences. In addition, the site will be hosted on a server optimised for WordPress. Whilst still a public shared server, this can offer a significant speed benefit over standard shared hosting. We will also include an ssl as standard, so your site is reported as “secure” by browsers £60 per month* – Our top level of hosting is on our private managed server. At this level, we have 100% control over the hosting environment & the sites running on it. Furthermore, sites on this server are monitored every 15 minutes, so as soon as there is an issue with the site, our technical teams are notified and able to address the situation quickly. If non of these fit – Whilst one of these options is likely to meet the requirements of most people, we recognise that sometimes, requirement may be different, and we are always happy to work with clients to create a hosting environment that works for you.

Run your business, let us run your WordPress website

If you run a WordPress site, and would like to talk to us about hosting, please get in touch, we would love to hear from you. (* all prices quoted ex VAT)

New Google Data Retention Policy for Analytics

Starting on 25th May 2018, to coincide with the implementation of GDPR,  The Google Data Retention policy is being updated for user and event data on Google Analytics.  The default position is that Google retains user and event data (identifying the visitor) for 26 months. After this period, Google deletes the data. Once deleted it will not be available for analysis. The change does not affect reports based on aggregated data. If a visitor returns to the website, the clock resets. A one-time visitor on 25th May 2018 who never returns, will be deleted on 25th July 2020 (i.e. 26 Months later). If they revisited the site on 20th July 2020, the clock resets. The earliest their data would delete would be September 2022.

The upside

For most SMEs, I don’t anticipate this will have a major impact though it is another example of how GDPR is making us take more notice of the personal data we hold. With data becoming a key differentiator in many business marketing propositions, from a marketing perspective this is no bad thing in my opinion. It may feel like a bit of a challenge just now and yet another piece of bureaucracy to have to deal with but, in the longer term, it can make your business better. There are options in your Analytics Admin (under Tracking Info) to change the retention period. You can also disable the timer reset if you wish. Remember though that under GDPR you should not retain personal data longer than is appropriate. Google is also planning to introduce a specific user deletion tool to remove individual visitor data if this proves necessary. Let me know if you have any questions

How well does your website work?

Analytics can help drive your marketingYour website is the Shop Window for your business. It doesn’t matter how your prospective customers find your website. From Adwords and SEO to Social Media and even your URL on your business card, all of these channels simply get people to your website. They don’t significantly influence what visitors do when they get there. Wouldn’t it be great if you could see how visitors interact with your website and identify ‘pinch points‘ where the traffic stalls and things could be improved? Website Analytics are the way to see this information. However, for many (if not most) SME businesses they are just too complicated to set up, understand and use. As a result, too often, web analytics become the preserve of techies and web specialists.

Analytics are NOT tech tools, they are marketing tools

Analytics should be used to understand customer and prospect engagement. This is marketing stuff. Used properly, analytics can deliver real insight into what is going on in your website. This helps put your website as a tool at the heart of your marketing rather than your website being your marketing. In essence, analytics comes down to providing answers to 4 fundamental marketing questions:

  1. What are visitors doing when they visit your website?
  2. Are they engaging with your content in the way you plan for?
  3. If not, why not?
  4. What can you do about it?

It is then possible to make changes to the site based on what you have learnt and then review the analytics to see if things have changed in the right direction. The problem is that, depending on how they are used, analytics can either be blinding, or immensely valuable. Here are my Top Tips for making analytics really work to help market your business:

1. Keep analytics simple

Analytics can be overwhelming so think marketing first. What do you need to know to make your business marketing decisions? Pick a maximum of 3 or 4 key things to measure and focus on these. You can always adapt your focus over time as you learn more. Remember: Analytics are the How, not the What. Don’t get carried away with the options and risk drowning in data

2. Keep things real

You are analysing the actions and interaction of your site visitors. These are real people! Think how you engage with websites. What do you like and what annoys you. Plan your analytic measurements around real people. As well as the analytics, why not ask your customers for feedback to help build a picture of what people think of your website.

3. Don’t count your own visits to your website.

If you are working on your own website, you may well be the most regular visitor. This can really distort the numbers – particularly if your site is new with only a few visitors. You can set your analytics to filter out your own IP address(es) so you don’t sway the stats with your own results. Give me a call if you want to know how to do this

4. Give yourself time

Unless your website has a decent amount of traffic (>100-200 visitors/day) it can take time to build a valid picture. Set your plans and leave for a month to allow meaningful stats to build up. Getting useful data from analytics doesn’t happen overnight.

5. Investigate Google Tag Manager

Google Tag Manager (GTM) is a free tool that gives real control to your analytics management. It allows you to ask detailed questions of your analytics without delving into the website code which used to be the only way. If you have a WordPress site you can combine GTM with a single WordPress plugin for a ZERO CODING solution that really works. Here are some examples of what you can learn with analytics and GTM:

  • Do visitors read to the end of your blog posts?
  • Do they watch your videos? – if so, how much?
  • Is your Call To Action button visible on the page before a visitor leaves?
  • Do visitors click your CTA button?
  • Set filters to track specific content elements (buttons, images, forms, links etc.

The possibilities are endless. By staying planned and focussed, you can get a real insight to truly drive your marketing. Want to know more. Contact me.