Step by Step: Planning Your 2016 Advertising Budget

With 2015 drawing to a close, many businesses are entering the planning stages for their 2016 budgets. Frequently, smaller businesses and agencies struggle with how to come up with theirs. Luckily we’re here to help! Keep reading for a step by step guide on planning your 2016 advertising budget.

1. Determine How Much You Need to Spend

Picking a number for your advertising budget can be daunting if done in a vacuum. Many people look at last years budget and think, “did I really need to spend that much?” without considering their return on investment. Or maybe you really did spend too much on advertising last year, and you should cut back this year. Luckily there are some easy ways to figure it out. I’ll start with an easy, common budgeting technique. First, you must consider your sales cycle and the sales goals for your business. Next, combine that with total revenue figures. It’s common for businesses to spend 8% of their top-line revenue on marketing in general. However, you might want to start at 5% and then adjust your projected spending up or down based on the size of your market, the cost of media, what you can learn about how much your competitors are spending, and the speed at which you’d like to grow. You will need to earmark marketing money for new business, current customer retention, community involvement and employee training and education. Don’t just think of this budget as an advertising budget!

Here is an example: You are an ophthalmologist and the most profitable service you offer is LASIK. Your top-line revenue is $3 million per year, so 5% of this is $150,000. However, you would like to acquire 100 new patients in 2016 on top of keeping current patients. Given the sales cycle for LASIK, will take about 6 months for a new prospect to become a patient, so you will need to assume that the fruits of your labor will start to sprout 4-8 months from the start of your campaign. If each new patient is worth $10,000 to you (lifetime), you may need to spend $2,500 per patient to acquire him or her given the competition in the Houston market. That will cost you $250,000 without considering referrals or organic customer accumulation from insurance, walk-ups or drive-by prospects. Don’t expect 100 new patients to come to your practice after spending $20,000 in advertising! You will either need to lower your expectations of new patients or increase the amount you have budgeted for this effort.

2. Determine Where to Spend Your Budget

The most important part here is to create a strategy for your one, three and five year plan. Too many business owners resort to a mirage of tactics with their advertising and get frustrated when the results don’t pan out. It’s great to use a tactic to shoot sales through the roof with a big sale or coupon offer. However, if there is no overall strategy, you’ll be at the mercy of each sale to meet your objectives.

First of all, let’s look at your target customer and spend some time thinking about this person. A good advertising plan should match your sales funnel – start with big, broad reach and funnel down to make sure you have touch-points along their purchasing path. You almost guide them directly to your business from awareness and research to purchase. Don’t assume you can just walk into a bar and get a date with the first person you see. Business is just like dating: you must flirt and court them before they will agree to a first date.

Utilize radio’s massive reach to achieve name recognition, branding and action from your audience. You’ll see results from some already interested consumers, but you’ve just begun work with those who may only be in the awareness and research phase. Use targeted digital ads to get in front of consumers who might be interested or who fall into your target profile. If you want to increase engagement with your brand- not necessarily for passing information- you’ll want to explore social media. Do you want to tell an emotional story? Consider video ads that will link to your website. Do you want to be the thought-leader in your industry? Think blogs and articles written and distributed within your own digital channels. Couponing and sales are great ways to push someone into buying when they may be on the fence, but it’s not a way to earn long-term business.

3. Utilize Competitive Information

How much you’ll spend and where you’ll spend it should both be decided by your current and projected revenue, historical data, but also competitive data. You can only thrive when you have the information. While competitors differ on so many levels, it’s good business acumen to take in to consideration what your competitors are spending and where they position themselves. This is not so you can compete one-on-one with them, but so you have an idea where there might be opportunities for you take ownership. If they spend $2 million a year in TV and nothing in radio, maybe you should consider jumping into the radio world and owning some of that platform? Consumers are everywhere and there isn’t one platform that is the end-all, be-all. They work together to create lead sources for you!

There you have it! Planning your advertising budget might seem like a daunting task at first, but it’s actually quite simple. As long as you know what you want to achieve, who you need to reach to meet your goals, and a good strategy to make it happen in both the short and long-term, you’ll see the fruits of your labor for years to come!

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Five Houston Topics that Might Affect Your Business

Houston, Texas is a great place for any business these days. A diverse economy, growing population and favorable tax rates are just a few reasons that are contributing to the success of both small and large companies in the greater Houston area.

With that being said, there are unique traits and trends in Houston that affect your business. You need to be aware of these external factors specific to Houston in order to give your company the best chance to grow and prosper.

So whether you own an established business or are new to the area, here are five trends in Houston that you should definitely take into account in the upcoming year that will likely affect your company (whether you like it or not):

1. Shifting Demographics

Houston is now considered to be one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in America. You might be thinking “that’s a wide variety of consumers, how can I appeal to different groups?” It’s important to note that Houston is one of the least integrated cities in the States, according to several sources. So if you expect to capture customers from the Hispanic demographic, for example, do your homework and make sure you have brand visibility where it reaches that specific audience. Demographic factors in Houston aren’t just limited to ethnicity, but to age as well. Houston is quickly becoming a “Millennial Magnet”, due to it’s well paying job market and reasonable cost of living. Houston is now among the top 10 cities in America with the fastest-growing Millennial population (ages 18-34), with a 25% increase in Millennials from 2000-2013. Some of the key areas for businesses seeking to tap into the Millennial market are mobile technology, social media and an individualized marketing approach. The Millennial explosion is is expected to continue and you should consider how to use this fact to benefit your business.

2. Changes in Weather

The climate in Houston can be classified as “humid subtropical,” making the weather very unpredictable at times. This can make planning for seasonal trends in Houston particularly challenging. Businesses need to be aware that Houston is prone to severe, potentially disastrous weather that includes tornadoes, tropical storms and even hurricanes. Hurricane season usually begins around the first of June and can last for months. Hurricane Ike had a lingering negative effect on the Houston-area economy after it hit in September, 2008. A particularly rainy season adversely affected outdoor-related businesses this spring. Having a contingency plans for adverse weather is recommended.

3. Football Season

The state of Texas is synonymous with football, and the city of Houston is no exception. Houston is home to the National Football League’s Houston Texans. The Texans attracted the 10th most fans in attendance for 2015, despite below average team performance. In addition, local fans avidly follow their college teams, including the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M, University of Houston, Baylor, Texas Christian, Rice and many more throughout the region. And Friday nights are traditionally high school football’s domain in the state. Over 54,000 fans attended the 2014 Texas 6A Championship, more than most of the college football bowls attracted during the same period.

Football season in Houston provides a great opportunity for businesses in terms of marketing. Some of the ways that businesses can leverage football season to their advantage are embracing a football theme for your space, offering Game Day discounts and engaging with fans that might be potential customers on social media.

4. The Local Livestock Show & Rodeo

You might not realize it, but rodeo season is one of the major trends in Houston that affect your business. The Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show is the largest rodeo in America. In 2010, the most recent for which the numbers are available, the HLS&R added approximately $320 million in economic output and $475 million in net sales for local businesses. It also generated the equivalent of 7,000 full time jobs during the three week period, making it an event that businesses in Houston shouldn’t ignore. Plan ahead and think of potential ways to use Houstonian’s rodeo experience to best benefit your business. Building a relationship with HLS&R, or smaller, more strategically located events and festivals around the area, could be a boon to your business.

5. The Super Bowl and NCAA Championships

Houston has become an epicenter for major professional and college sporting events. The city is set to host the NCAA men’s basketball championship in April of 2016, along with the NFL Super Bowl in February of 2017. In fact, Verizon has spent upwards of $173 million on a new and improved cell phone infrastructure in anticipation of the increased tourism these events are expected to bring. City officials and major corporations are extremely eager to showcase Houston during these events. What better time for local businesses to take advantage of the increased foot traffic and visibility? Major sporting events like these are expected to be one of the increasing trends in Houston, so make sure to have special marketing campaigns and promotions during these events to maximize your sales and brand exposure.

So there you have it, some of the major trends in Houston that will affect your business both in the near and longer term. By being aware of Houston’s shifting demographics, seasonal climate trends and major local events, you’ll know how best to position your business for success in one of the most beautiful, dynamic cities in the US.

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10 Scary Digital Marketing Mistakes You DON’T Want to Make

Halloween is right around the corner, but here in Houston, it’s not ghosts and ghouls were afraid of, it’s bad marketing. So bring your tablet around the campfire and check out these 10 very scary digital marketing mistakes you most definitely DON’T want to make.

1. Failing to Understand Your Audience

Come on now, it’s 2015. With all of the different ways there are to engage with, and learn about your audience there’s no excuse for not understanding them. And even if your target audience is zombies, if your base thinks you’re out of touch you can bet they won’t be paying you any attention.

2. Not Having Defined Goals

This is one of the scariest digital marketing mistakes you can make, because having ill defined marketing goals can throw a whole campaign out of whack. If you don’t know what you want to achieve with your marketing, you risk choosing a marketing technique that is ineffective for the situation, or else not tracking the proper metrics to allow you to accurately see whether the campaign was a success or a failure. You’ll be marketing-walking dead, wandering aimlessly, arms outstretched.

3. You’re Trying Too Much

No one expects you to become a marketing superhero overnight, especially if you’re just starting out. Think of yourself as more like a marketing Karate Kid instead. Start small, and see what works. Wax on. Wax off. Learn how to A/B test your campaigns, and you’ll be able to identify what works best for you in no time.

4. You Have Unrealistic Expectations

The internet is really a wonderful thing. While you’re reading this post you could, in mere seconds, order that gorilla costume you wanted for Halloween, and have it appear at your doorstep tomorrow morning. Instant gratification at it’s finest. But (unfortunately) digital marketing doesn’t work like ordering a gorilla costume online. It takes time.

Often times advertisers get frustrated with a digital campaign when it doesn’t immediately yield results. But let’s use this as an example, the average social media campaign takes six months before it shows results. That’s a lot of tweets, but patience pays off in the end.

5. Not Budgeting Properly

Creating a digital advertising budget can seem daunting to the uninitiated, but it’s really quite simple. So simple that even the slowest of digital marketing zombies could follow it.

6. Too Much Social Media

When it comes to social media, your business doesn’t need to be everywhere. As long as you’re engaging your audience where it counts. Pick one or two social media sites that are most appropriate for your strategy and stick with them! Professional businesses seem to do best on sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, while restaurants and retail stores, for example, might find a more welcoming audience on Facebook or Instagram.

Wherever you choose to get social, don’t post too much, lest you see your audience begin to tune you out, and your social pages turn into digital ghost towns.

7. You Don’t Understand the Importance of Content

Creating content and/or blogging not only helps you get found online but it helps educate your customers and position you as a leader in your industry. And even more, it works for driving conversions! In fact, inbound marketing drives 54% more leads into your marketing funnel than traditional methods.

8. You Don’t Understand Keywords

Keyword stuffing is a terrifying digital marketing mistake, and there is a lot to learn about how keywords work today. It’s more about the quality and placement of your keywords and not the quantity. Search engines algorithms have gotten smarter and are ranking your website based on how useful viewers find the content, not by how many times a keyword appears. Brush up on your SEO best practices and watch your site climb the ranks today!

9. You’re Not Thinking About Mobile

Mobilegeddon — Google’s latest algorithm update — was six months ago, and if you haven’t optimized your site for mobile yet, you are seriously harming your search engine rankings, and regardless of what updates are made to the search engines we know that mobile matters today more than any other time. With 60% of internet access mostly mobile, it might even matter more than any other format.

10. You’re Not Tracking Your Efforts

One of the biggest advantages that digital marketing has over other mediums is its enhanced ability to track the success (or failure) of your marketing efforts, so that you may improve future campaigns based on what did/didn’t work in the past. It’s what separates a banner ad from skywriting.

So there you have it. Can you identify if your business is making any of these fatal digital marketing mistakes? Heed these warnings, and begin to improve your overall digital strategy today. If you dare!

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Email Marketing Best Practices: It Starts with the Subject Line

Email marketing is one of the most effective, and economical ways to reach out to your business’ target audience. And, just as the headline plays an important role in content marketing, so does the subject line in email marketing. Keep reading for some email subject line best practices that are sure to call attention.

Your Subject Line: The Ultimate Call to Action

Email subject lines are your ultimate calls-to-action. A full 35% of email recipients will open an email, just on its subject line alone, so a strong subject line can be just the push you need to drive conversions.

Personalization Matters

“Names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Dale Carnegie’s influential words remain as relevant today as they did 100 years ago. They’re possibly even more important in the digital realm, which can seem cold and impersonal all too easily.

Whenever possible, personalize the subject line of your email. Not only does this simple practice increase open rates by 2.6%, is just might brighten someone’s day.

The Words You Include Matter

Some words are better than others, that’s no secret. But the words you use in your email subject line can affect everything from open and click rates, to how many people unsubscribe from your mailing list. So choose wisely. And be sure to check out this list from mailup.com of some common email subject line words, and how they perform in the wild.

Keep It Short

Subject lines with fewer than 10 characters have an open rate of 58%. Enough said.

Don’t Be Deceptive

It might seem like a good idea, but you know who adds tags like FWD and RE to email subjects when they don’t belong? Spammers. Not only are deceptive subject lines annoying, but they can hurt your entire campaign: once enough recipients mark your email as spam, emails from that address will begin to be filtered by the service provider’s spam filter. That’s definitely something you want to avoid.

Be Very Specific

Instead, opt to tell the reader exactly what the email is about. Your subject line is your email marketing call-to-action, remember. And just like any other CTA, specificity is key. For example, if you’re business is running a Fall sale, don’t simply put “Sale!” in the subject line, use something like “Jon, You Can Save Up To 50% at [your store] Now Through Oct 31.”

Don’t Recycle the Same Subject Lines

If you’re using the same subject line over and over again, people will begin to tune it out. Unlike other forms of marketing, repetition will do you no favors when it comes to email. Opening, reading, and acting/responding to an email is a much more active process than say, hearing an ad on the radio. And people are busy. So keep your content fresh.

Some More Things To Try

Using brackets or unicode to set off words or phrases may lend urgency or emphasis to your message. While one copywriter found that putting her company name in brackets [Like This] at the end of the subjects lines gained a boost in open rates, your mileage may vary. Likewise for unicode symbols.

Ultimately these are aesthetic choices, and whether you should use them or not depends on your message, and most importantly, the preferences of your target audience. If they might like it, give it a try.

Now that you’ve brushed up on your email marketing subject line skills, get out there and send some emails. Experiment with a few A/B tests, and find what works best for you.

The 5 Steps to Creating an Online Advertising Budget

Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried to figure out how to create an online advertising budget for your business, but had no idea where to start.

When you start the process of creating an online advertising budget, you’re hit with a ton of different options from Google ads to SEO services. Finding the right mix of products, services, and internal resources to allocate can quickly turn into a major headache.

Deciding to spend some of your business’s hard earned cash to increase your online footprint can be difficult – but there’s good news: Creating a budget for digital marketing doesn’t have to be intimidating. With the right research, planning and strategies you can easily create a powerful online advertising budget — all without much time or energy going to waste.

Below we’ll walk you through the five basic steps to creating an online advertising budget. When you’re done you’ll have a better idea on how much to budget, where to spend and how to plan for the future.

1. Determine a Percentage of Overall Revenue to Spend

Allocating a percentage of overall revenue is an important first step to creating an online advertising budget. This model creates a consistent and repeatable method for developing your digital marketing spend. According to Gartner, companies spent around 2.5% of their annual revenue for online marketing in 2014. This will only continue to increase significantly in upcoming years. Don’t be afraid to start small and increase the percentage as you become familiar with what works and what doesn’t. The main point is that you have a well-reasoned, predetermined amount to get your digital marketing efforts off the ground.

2. Use the Competition’s Budget as a Reference Point

Building greater brand recognition than the competition is one of the primary objectives of advertising online. By using competitors’ budgets as a benchmark, you know about how much you need to spend in order to match their level of brand awareness in the marketplace. Surprisingly, there are a variety of tools and applications available online that can provide insight into your competitors’ budgets. For example, iSpionage allows you to enter a competitor’s website address and subsequently generate a report detailing how much they spend on both organic and paid search. Use this data as a guidepost, and cross-reference it with your figure from the previous step to get an even more accurate figure of what you should probably spend.

3. Determine What Your Strategic Goals Are

Deciding how to create an online advertising budget depends heavily on the overall strategic business goals of your company. This can vary depending on each situation, and include things like generating brand awareness, capturing inbound leads or increasing sales conversions. Implementing a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Based) goal-planning methodology for your overall business is a great first step. Once you’ve identified the key, big-picture success metrics — revenue targets, increase in client base — you can then determine how online marketing will help you achieve those goals and how much you’ll need to spend in order to get there.

4. Use Historical Data and Analysis

In today’s landscape, having a data-driven approach pays huge dividends by way of making accurate, well-informed business decisions. In terms of creating an online advertising budget, there are quite a few research databases that provide historical online marketing data. These can be broken down by time period, industry, company size and other variables. Tools such as SimilarWeb provide historical benchmarks for statistics like web visitors and mobile app usage. A comparison of the relevant historical data with your current statistics and marketing objectives will then lead you to make more informed decisions in the next step, which is choosing the appropriate online advertising tools and platforms.

5. Select the Online Advertising Channels That Are Right for You

Finally, and perhaps the most important of the five steps to creating an online advertising budget, is deciding the online platforms and channels that best suit your business. These can include, but are not limited to, Google ads, Social Media, Video Content, and Retargeting ads. Each comes with its own set of strengths, weaknesses and associated cost structure. You may want to start by gauging the status of your current basic online marketing efforts, which typically include website performance, SEO and company blog — if you don’t have one now, you probably should. Based on the previous four steps you can then assess your potential online marketing mix, how much each one will cost and what they will likely contribute to your long-term business goals.

Complete these five steps to creating your advertising budget and you’ll be well on the way to digital marketing success. And do you know what the best part is? Creating your online advertising budget for the next year won’t feel nearly as daunting.

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Is Your Business Haunted by Poor Online Reviews?

As a small business, you know all too well how important word-of-mouth marketing can be for your reputation and bottom line. In this age of internet revolution, poor online reviews can leave a nasty mark on your online presence. But sometimes, these unfavorable reviews show up even when your business has done nothing wrong, simply because the reviewer, for whatever reason, wants to inflict unnecessary harm on the business to be spiteful.

Regardless of the reason, justified or not, business owners know that you can’t please everyone; there are some customers that will never be happy, and one bad client is worse than hundreds of happy ones.

People are relying heavily on reviews found on online review sites like Yelp, and the quality and quantity of these reviews can dramatically affect your business’s ROI. With online reviews being a critical part of your business’s reputation, it’s important to understand the best ways to deal with negative reviews.

What to Do With a Business That Already Has Poor Reviews?

It’s time to embrace managing your business’s online reputation as part of your marketing strategy. Whether you want to believe it or not, reviews can make or break a small business. BrightLocal’s 2015 Local Customer Review Survey just found that 87% of potential customers won’t even consider a business with low ratings. So, what do you do if you already have poor reviews?

First, go to the source. Look past the review for a moment and determine what your business needs to do to improve. Was the review bashing your customer service? If so, did they mention or describe who the employee was that gave them poor service? It may be worthwhile to speak with that person to get their side of the story, and take further action if necessary. Your employees need to understand that you’re running business, providing a service, or product, and they must always act in a professional and friendly manner. 

One thing you should NEVER do is pay for companies to “remove” your bad reviews. We have remove in quotation marks because once it’s out there in the Twitterverse, it can never be fully removed. Unfortunately, most people who review businesses fall into one of two extreme categories: they either loved the business or they absolutely detested it. Most people who fall in between those two sentiments don’t tend to take the time to write reviews. What this means for you is, customers that had a terrible experience see to it that everyone knows about it. If they find out you’ve “removed” their review, they may continue to post negative feedback on multiple social media and review platforms. 

Instead of trying to buy the reviewer’s silence, try to handle the situation with great customer service. Respond to the negative comment publicly, address their issues, and offer a way to remedy the problem. This will not only show the reviewer, but potential customers looking at your reviews, that you’re paying attention and care about customer satisfaction. Oftentimes the reviewer can make amendments to their review. If you respond to a negative post, it’s not uncommon for the reviewer to update their review with a better rating and a less biased opinion. Conversely, this can work the other way, where a once good review turns sour based on more recent experiences.

Paying the Price for Paying For Reviews

Positive online reviews are the crucial lifeblood of your business’s online reputation. However, going to any lengths to get a good review — like paying for it — can land you in hot water. Take for example the true and cautionary story of Catskills hotel, Union Street Guest House. This boutique hotel wanted positive reviews so badly that they went so far as to create a policy where they’d fine guests $500 for every bad review. Below is their policy:

“If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500 fine for each negative review.”

So you may think that this hotel has a clear reputation full of positive four and five star reviews, right? Wrong. The internet has a way of banding together in certain unethical situations like this and the backlash from their ridiculous policy has led them to mostly 1-star reviews on Yelp and tons of negative PR. So, can online reviews hurt business? Most certainly. This hotel’s determination to land great online reviews by any means necessary resulted in an epic, widely covered, backfire.

Moreover, it’s most certainly not a best practice to write fake reviews, and will only temporarily deceive your customers. They’ll find out firsthand if your business is actually worth those stars. In fact, in New York, 19 companies were forced to pay $350,000 in penalties for misleading practices.

Lastly, don’t let one bad apple spoil your bunch…of reviews. Dilute negative reviews with positive ones. Of course, we’re not suggesting you go home and write a bunch of great reviews for your business under fake Yelp accounts. Simply encourage happy customers to share their experiences with others. Be careful not to outright ask for reviews, as this may lead customers to feel like they’re being used as a promotional vehicle. Instead, encourage engagement.

Many customers are more than happy to help out local businesses that they think are great. The BrightLocal study previously mentioned found that 73% of customers form an opinion after reading 1-6 reviews, and 69% believe that reviews older than three months are no longer relevant. So take a deep breath, that bad review will be watered down by great ones in no time.

Best Practices for Dealing with Bad Reviews

So, you’ve got a bad review. The way in which you handle it can turn the bad review into a nightmare, or hopefully, a positive exchange in which the reviewer’s complaints are mitigated. Here are a few rules for handling bad online reviews:

  • Respond in a Timely Manner: Monitoring your reviews will allow you to respond to negative posts promptly. Reply directly on the comment to make things right. Offer apologies, and encourage the customer to give your business a second chance, perhaps with an incentive to come back, like a 20% off offer.
  • NEVER Respond in Anger: We get it — this business is your baby and you may get defensive if someone has a less-than-stellar experience. Take a moment to compose yourself before you reply to a negative review. Many businesses have responded in anger, and it has cost them dearly. Often times reviewers exaggerate their experience or make things up completely to heighten the severity of the review. This can be incredibly frustrating and embarrassing, but being professional and avoiding replies out of anger or aggression is important. Replying in a defensive or belittling manner can compromise your business’s reputation and worsen an already bad review. Instead, apologize and offer to make things better with a refund or special offer.
  • Issue a Response From the Owner/Manager: This will make the reviewer feel as if their opinion was important enough to be handled by someone in charge. It’ll also show the reviewer or potential customers that you take customer service and satisfaction seriously and you want to make sure all clients leave your establishment feeling happy.
  • Encourage Engagement: While you don’t want to flatout ask for positive reviews, you can encourage interaction by subtly driving awareness that you’re on review sites like Yelp, but stopping short of asking for a review. Ways to do that include posting signs and stickers around your business that encourage people to find you on review sites and including a call-to-action on your promotional materials that lead people to these sites. As long as you aren’t specifically soliciting positive reviews, you aren’t violating any official policies. Your main goal should be to get people talking.

The Moral of the Story

You crave success. You know that your product or service is exemplary, now you just need to get it into the right hands and have the people attached to those hands write you great reviews! But, the internet can be a harsh and dark place and sometimes that’s not what happens. Don’t let one bad review define your business. Address it properly and in a timely manner to diffuse any bad feelings.

You have happy customers, and you know how they feel about your business, but for reasons unknown to you, they aren’t writing reviews. So, it’s harmless to write those reviews for them, right? Wrong! Crafting fake reviews sets you up for all sorts of backlash; there are much better ways of getting good reviews.

Instead of desperately asking for, paying for, or removing bad reviews — take a look at your digital marketing plan and how you can begin to harbor organic, positive reviews. Ultimately, the moral of the story is simple. Provide a great product or service, the best customer service you possibly can, and do it consistently. Engage with your clients, value their opinions, even when they’re negative or constructive. Take those bad reviews as opportunities for improvement. Doing these things will naturally result in great reviews. And there is nothing more satisfying than earning four or five star reviews that you didn’t pay for.

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Why Fall Doesn’t Mean a Fall in Purchases – Tapping Into Seasonal Changes

We can learn a lot from the aspen tree. Unlike other trees, aspen leaves have flat stems which allow them to bend and not break. They also change with the seasons, going from a bright green in the summer, to yellowish-amber during the fall and when all the leaves have fallen, the bark of the aspen carries out photosynthesis which gives it energy in the cold winters, a process usually reserved for leaves. Being able to adapt with the seasons gives the aspen longevity; a lesson many businesses could learn from.

While fall is known for being that in-between time when consumer money spends more time in their pockets than purchasing your goods and services, many smart marketers have learned to tap into seasonal changes to offer deals and promotions in order to ensure fall doesn’t mean a fall in purchases. In this post we’ll discuss a few quick tips to get your customers spending with you this season.

Who’s Spending During Fall?

Most establishments experience some ebb and flow in business, and in many cases these fluctuations correspond with the seasons. Depending on your industry, you may notice that consumer spending peaks during certain seasons. For a lawncare or landscaping company that may be the spring or summer, or maybe as a small boutique, your busy season is around the holidays as people start to buy presents for loved ones.

Now that the warmer weather is starting to dissipate, you may assume that consumer spending is following suit. Summer is over, the kids are back in school, and vacation memories have already been made. It’s time to amp up your Q4 marketing strategies for a new season. Many people claim fall is their favorite season and with the anticipation of the holidays a few months away, consumers are in high spirits, and looking to get gifts crossed off their Christmas lists. 

The first day of fall, 2015 landed on September 23, and it ends December 21. This nearly three-month season is marked by cooler temperatures and shorter daylight hours. And contrary to what you may think, according to a 2014 Gallup poll, during the fall months, average daily consumer spending is up. The poll asked more than 14,000 U.S. adults about their discretionary spending, polling them on the amount they spent “yesterday” in stores, restaurants, gas stations or online — not counting home and vehicle purchases, or normal monthly bills.

What they found is daily discretionary spending averaged $95 in November, up from $91 in 2013, and well above the averages found in 2009-2012. Moreover, the October-to-November increase of $6 is the largest in six years. In previous years, spending has remained stable from October to November. Before 2014, consumer spending had increased by $3 or more — between these two months — only twice, in 2010 and 2013, since Gallup began this daily tracking in 2008. However, spending typically increases in December, with an average increase over the past six December’s of $6. 

What this shows us is that consumers are getting over the slump of the recession and starting to spend more money on discretionary things like restaurants and novelty items. It’s simple to forget that fall is really the “holiday season.” Winter doesn’t start until December 22, and by then, most consumers will already have all of Santa’s gifts purchased. In fact, while Christmas  and Kwanzaa are technically in winter, Hanukkah, a holiday celebrated by 5.5 million Americans, is in fall this year (Dec. 6-14).

It’s also important to note, partaking in Black Friday isn’t for every business. In fact, a study found that early holiday promotions are actually eating away at Black Friday sales. Many big box stores like Target, WalMart and Macy’s have extended their Black Friday sales to start earlier. “Their purpose is to make sure they get their share of the wallet before the competition,” said founder of ShopperTrak, Bill Martin. The research company expects sales to rise 3.8% this season. “It’s becoming a bigger part of how retailers do business,” he said. Furthermore, based on a ShopperTrak chart, 7 of the 10 Top Traffic Days and Top Sales Days land in the fall.

So consider reaching all those proactive holiday shoppers by starting your holiday marketing early. Brands have already begun lining up promotions in store, online, via newsletters, and for some, their mobile apps, meaning there will be deals aplenty for shoppers this season.

Focus on Savings and Keywords

No matter your industry, positioning your marketing with seasonal weather trends in mind can help throughout the slower season. Life is expensive; and people are always on the lookout for promotions, ways to save, and exclusive offers for the upcoming holiday. This is where tying fall activities into the mix comes into play.

Use buzzworthy keywords to reach the right audience. Knowing your demographic is half the battle. Once you know what your customer wants and is looking for, tie that into your promotions. For example, wouldn’t it be clever if a local coffee shop offered a complimentary cup of coffee for customers every time the Dallas Cowboys won? Now you’re tying in consumers’ love of football, with their desire for a warm beverage on a cool fall day. And once you’ve got them in your store, they’ll end up getting a donut to dip into that coffee, or hang out for a while, grab another drink and maybe even lunch?! And all it cost you was a small cup o’ joe.

Promotions like that not only create goodwill in your community, they bring in new business. Sharing your #CoffeeForCowboys promotion via social media channels will also encourage customers to engage with your brand, posting a picture of their lovely latte and scone, checking into your shop, and sharing their positive experience with their friends and family on social media.

Embrace Fall Holidays and Activities

Think Halloween festivities, the comeback of football season, and everyone’s favorite time to break their diets — Thanksgiving. These major fall events can be tied into promotions. For example, during the Thanksgiving season try sending out thank you cards or emails offering your customers savings in gratitude.

Just like any season, one’s profits during the fall can fluctuate. Instead of dreading this time of year, embrace the changes and use the uncertainty to your advantage by offering unique sales. For example, a creative hardware store owner may offer a special promotion revolving around the snow, or lack thereof. As a gimmick to lure buyers, create engagement, and start conversations, the store may offer to refund the entire purchase price of a new snowblower if a certain amount of snow does not fall that winter. If the snow does fall, however, all sales are final, and the shop was able to sell all their snow blowers at full price.

Businesses that offer creative seasonal promotion like this usually do their homework before they make seemingly outlandish offers. So, based on previous data, the hardware store owner might know that only twice in the last 100 years has the designated amount of snow not fallen, and therefore their odds of having to buy back the customers’ snowblowers are extremely small.

Autumn has a lot of other smaller holidays that are sprinkled throughout the season as well.  Columbus Day, Daylight Savings, Veterans Day, First Day of Fall, and Small Business Saturday are a few great ones. These are the perfect opportunities to offer one-day deals or flash sales.

Using seasonal imagery is another great way to grab attention. The changing of the leaves, pumpkins, crafts, the reds, browns and oranges—these are all fall staples.

Final Words on Fall

The imagery associated with the season is recognizable and gives way to fun concepts for themed campaigns on your social media channels, content and website. Sales and promotions should be part of your marketing strategy this season, as there are so many great ways of incorporating fall activities into your offers. This could mean a promotion you announce in your newsletter, a coupon code you post on your website, or a sale graphic you promote via social media. For ten great and simple fall promotions you can steal for your small business, check out this article from webs.

Using a little creativity can go a long way during this festive lead up to winter. We hope these ideas give you some inspiration for your fall marketing efforts that you and your customers can both benefit from. If you’re looking for even more marketing tips and tricks for the change in seasons check out our top ten list of holiday advertising mistakes many Houston businesses make.