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How to Manage the Online Marketing of Your Seasonal Business

Whether your business is only open during specific seasons and closed to the public the rest of the year or if you operate year-round, but experience peak and slow seasons, you will need to manage your business’ online marketing uniquely. In this post we’ll take a look at how to market your seasonal business all year.

Plan Ahead

Planning for a seasonal business doesn’t mean all of your efforts should be spent in your peak season. Being prepared in the slow times or off-season is prudent and will keep your head above water when your busiest sales season arrives. Take tax season, for example. This may not be the joyful event that everyone gladly marks on their calendars, but it is necessary.

Tax season is usually from January through April, making this a peak time for those offering financial services and tax preparation. So when should planning occur? It would be best to begin planning ahead in the summer and early fall. Marketing to new customers and establishing a relationship well before tax season will pay off greatly when the peak season rolls around by exposing your business to these customers and creating brand awareness for when they need your products or services.

Promote in the Off-Season

How can you promote your brand in the off-season to attract early buyers? Consider offering early discounts and promotions that incentivize shoppers to buy early. Let’s use the tax preparation company we were discussing as an example again. During slow periods you may offer customers free consultations or discounted rates for those who are looking to get a head start at putting their taxes in order. Email and social media marketing can be a great avenue for these promotions as they can reach a large portion of your buyers / fans and can be targeted to a specific audience.

Get in front of your established and potential customers all year, especially during off-seasons, to keep your brand and services offered top-of-mind. Offering personal deals in real-time will keep your business top-of-mind during the slow times when your customers aren’t necessarily thinking about your product or service. And remember, the internet connects your business with people worldwide, so what might be the off-season for you may, in fact, be the peak season for customers in other parts of the world.

Use Social Media to Keep Your Brand Top-of-Mind

Social media isn’t seasonal and using it as a part of your marketing strategy shouldn’t be either. Daily posts and updates will keep fans and followers connected and engaged with your brand. Using social media in the off-season can also be used to drive traffic to your site, which means you need to keep your content fresh and relevant!

Use Testimonials and Positive Reviews Year-Round

61% of shoppers read product reviews before making a purchase. This means you have to be ready to put your best virtual foot forward all year! Showcase positive reviews and testimonials you’ve received from pleased customers and display them on your website, landing pages, and social channels.

Develop a Seasonal Keyword Strategy

SEO matters all year for your business. In order to rank higher in search results, it’s important for you to focus on keywords that will increase traffic to your website during different times of the year. Choosing the right words to attract the right audience will ensure your brand is seen by as many people as possible.

Keyword research tools can help you decide which words are the most relevant for each season. Successful seasonal SEO will require you to research specific keywords, create campaigns, optimize ads for those keywords, and monitor your campaign’s performance. Keep up on current trends and remember that maintaining a year-round keyword strategy will require year-round work on your part.

Develop Content Year-Round

In line with your keyword strategy is the importance of developing content throughout the year. When your potential customers aren’t ready to buy they’re combing the internet looking for information that answers their questions. Your content needs to be updated, relevant, and offer valuable information to those shoppers. For a seasonal business, this means creating content throughout the year so things don’t seem stale. Think about a shopper visiting your blog and seeing that you haven’t posted anything in months. This is most certainly a turnoff for buyers and a great reason for you to maintain a content calendar.

A content calendar allows you to actively plan and consistently schedule content throughout the year. It also gives you a top-down look at your efforts to better optimize them with the seasons, holidays, and special events in mind. Think about the commonly asked questions or industry trends and utilize those to create information that your consumers will find value in.

Pay Attention to Your Competition

Do you know what your competition is up to? Are they creating excellent content and engaging their audience on social media throughout the year? Keep your eyes on the market and on your competition. Doing so allows you to stay abreast on industry trends and will give you inspiration and ideas regarding how to — or how not to — market your business during these slow times.

Target the Right Audience Using Segmentation

Segmentation targets subsets of your audience that are most likely to convert. These can be based on demographics, geographic location, lifestyle, and behavior. With a seasonal business, it’s vital that you understand who your target audience is so during peak and slow times you always have their attention.

Understanding your audience and segmenting your message correctly also requires you to understand where certain consumers are in their buyer’s journey. Some may simply be looking for more information where others have a lot of the information they need and are closer to making to decision and/or speaking to someone at your business. The goal is to be present at all times, and delivering relevant messages to your segmented audiences will help to increase the effectiveness of your marketing and ROI because these groups are already more qualified to respond to your advertising.

Digital marketing for seasonal businesses requires work! Business may slow down or come to a complete halt in the off-season, but your work isn’t done. Plan ahead of your peak and slow seasons, promote early, utilize the power of social media, develop a solid year-round keyword strategy, keep your eye on the competition, and know who your buyers are and when they buy. If you can work these tips into your seasonal marketing strategy you’ll be more better prepared to capture customers in Houston when things slow down.

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Why Marketing Matters Every Month of the Year (Even in January!) ​

It’s January. The once beloved Christmas trees are now abandoned on the curb, retail stores are no longer playing Jingle Bells, and gyms are packed with resolution setters. And for many small business owners, January means putting a break on advertising. After all, you spent a fortune getting your name out there during the holidays, and now you need to scale back, right? Wrong!

Marketing year round is essential to the livelihood of your business. And yes, that means in January, too. In this post we’re going to highlight why marketing matters every month of the year and why, in particular, advertising in January is important to set your business up for a successful 2016.

Why Marketing Matters Every Month of the Year

While many businesses, especially small ones, tend to cut or completely eliminate their marketing budgets in January, doing so can actually cost your company money. That is because there is nothing more important than remaining top-of-mind for your clientele.

When looking to make a purchase, consumers go through a buyer’s journey. This journey is an important framework by which to base your marketing strategy. To sum it up, a consumer goes through three core stages in this journey — awareness, consideration and decision. We say “core stages” because this journey has drastically evolved over time, especially in recent years. It’s important to understand that not all of your customers are in the same stage of their buying journey and as such, having a consistent and frequent marketing plan allows you to reach every consumer in the market for your product or service.

Maybe you’ve heard that 70% of the buyer’s journey is complete before a buyer even reaches out to sales? What that means is they’re becoming acquainted with, and considering your company, long before they reach for their credit card. Going dark in January means you could be missing interested customers. It’s essential to consistently distribute your message to develop brand awareness so that next time someone is in the market for your product or service, they have already been familiarized with your brand.

Even if your business is seasonal, there is value in continuously promoting. Take, for example, popular winter and outdoor retailer The North Face who, for the first time ever, beefed up their year-round marketing with a big spring push. The campaign, that emerged in April called “I Train For,” is a departure for the retail giant that used to only run big pushes during the fall and winter seasons. This shift came when the brand realized that customers use The North Face products year-round.

President Todd Spaletto shared that this new campaign “… set the table for us to make an unprecedented spring investment.” Their choice to extend marketing efforts beyond the fourth quarter has put them on track to reach their current revenue goal of $3.3 billion by 2017, up from $2.3 billion in 2014. Consumers have a strong connection to The North Face brand and “it’s important to maintain that connection with consumers year-round” said Mr. Spaletto.

Keeping a seasonal business profitable throughout the year is a challenge. While these types of businesses can be great, as they offer highly coveted services or products during a few busy months, the difficult flipside to that is the off-season. Seasonal business owners face a unique challenge of squeezing out as much profit as possible during a few short months, and it can often feel like a desperate race to outlast the dormant months ahead.

Some companies shut down their business entirely during the slow season, but others stay open to try and turn a small profit where they can. With marketing, and remaining top-of-mind, you can keep your doors open — and even turn a profit — during the offseason; here’s how:

  • Minimize expenses
  • Stay in touch with your customers
  • Keep marketing through all of your channels
  • Offer initiatives for off-season purchasing
  • Team up with other businesses
  • Switch up your product line
  • Plan ahead

Why Marketing Your Business in January Is Especially Important?

For business owners, January is a month that can offer great advertising deals. Since marketers are not hyper-focused on advertising after such a strong push during the holidays, many media outlets offer exceptional promotions and heavily reduced pricing for those that not only run in January, but book advertising for future months.

Another, albeit unique, aspect to consider for 2016 is the political campaign. With election day slowly creeping up on Americans, political campaigns will be buying ad space across all media. In fact, an NPR article cited that political ad spending will top $4.4 billion this year, up from $3.8 billion in 2012. These campaigns have huge budgets and will push smaller advertisers out of the way. Think about about your marketing early to ensure you’ll get the best rate possible and be prepared to be flexible with your run times.

Another reason marketing your business in January is crucial is because frequency is king. Keeping your advertising consistent and frequent will keep the momentum going strong from the holiday season and allow you to remain relevant into the new year. In marketing, one of the concepts that many business owners (yes, even seasoned veterans) lose sight of is frequency of their message. In other words, how many times your core audience needs to be exposed to your message before it triggers a response.

All too often, small business owners will try something once, expect instant results, and then draw the conclusion after a couple of weeks that it was or was not effective. This is comparable to a diet when someone gets discouraged with the results after one or two weeks, drawing the conclusion that the weight loss program doesn’t work for them. Building your brand awareness and a strong reputation is a journey, not a one-time test; it takes an investment and patience to reap the benefits. But most importantly, it takes frequency, even in January.

Yes, your message needs to be compelling and timely, but ultimately advertising and marketing work gradually over time. Frequently, business owners do big marketing pushes during their busy season when in reality, they need to create multiple touch points — exposure you can only accumulate with frequency. In fact, a widely accepted statistic is that it takes 6-8 touches to generate a viable sales lead. So keep your message consistent and your advertising frequent, and you won’t have any issues generating new leads.

A Marketing Minute

There are six simple words that are the kiss of death for small businesses: “Out of sight, out of mind!” We know you’ve heard of it, but it doesn’t just apply to those unanswered emails and texts, in today’s world these six words are the end all be all for business. It’s so important to create top-of-mind awareness with your marketing efforts, and to do so, you need to allot funds to your marketing budget for every month of the year. Yes, even in January!

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Houston Small Business Marketing Tips and Tricks…from the Pros!

As a Houston small business owner, you’re always looking for ways to get the word out about your products or services. Marketing budgets are tighter than ever these days, and you need as much bang from your marketing buck as possible.

Odds are that you’re not alone. Many Houston small businesses are now striving to get an edge over the competition and adjust to the city’s growing population and changing demographics. The effectiveness of marketing and brand recognition can often make or break an entire business.

So what exactly can you do to stay ahead of the marketing curve? Here are six small business marketing tips from the pros that you can start using today to make a significant impact both now and into the future:

1. Use Automation & Technology

Automation is great because it takes a lot of the manual work out of your marketing efforts. Many platforms now allow you to create emails and marketing that are sent out once triggered by a specific action from a prospect. Also make sure to leverage analytic tools to monitor web visitors and social media automation services, like SocialSync, to autonomously post updates. In fact, many experts believe that the future of small business lies in automation, not just for marketing but HR, payroll, and inventory management. By having a solid technology strategy and automating as much as possible, you’ll be able to focus only on the most important aspects of your business.

2. Understand Your Audience

Marketing is a conversation, and before you start talking to someone you should know everything you can about them. As a business owner, do you know who exactly you’re targeting with your marketing? Have you done any market research or surveying to determine not just who your market is, but what their motivations are? You can leverage some of the following strategies to better understand and define your target audience: online analytic tools, database marketing, and product analysis.

3. Utilize Traditional Networking

There’s still nothing like face-to-face interaction when it comes to making a lasting impression. Networking with other Houston small businesses can pay dividends in the long run, as referrals and respect in the business community are great forms of marketing themselves. In addition, by networking with other business owners you’ll be able to learn from one another, swap ideas and figure out what’s working and what’s not as it relates to your marketing. Here are some astounding statistics that illustrate the power of face-to-face networking:

  • 84% of business people said they actually prefer face-to-face meetings
  • 74% said they were influenced by looks and a handshake
  • 77% said they prefer in-person conferences because they can read body language
  • 95% said face-to-face was essential for long-term relationships

4. Leverage Real-Time and Social Media

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, new stories and topics are trending every day and can sometimes change dramatically by the hour or minute. If the topic makes sense as it relates to your business, go ahead and inject yourself into the conversation. You can build on this to use social media as a brand-building tool for your business. Answering questions, providing customer service, and engaging individual customers will make a huge difference in your social media marketing efforts. One caveat: be careful which topics or events you choose, as you don’t want to come across as insensitive. You’ll want to shelve any potentially risque humor, or anything that could be deemed offensive or inappropriate.

5. Target Your Marketing

As a small business owner, not targeting your marketing is something that you can’t afford. By understanding your audience and specifically targeting different segments, your marketing efforts will deliver a much higher ROI. You’ll also be targeting individuals that will be much more responsive to what you have to say, and therefore receive better feedback. If you’re unclear about your target market, you can start by identifying and analyzing your existing customer base. First, start with general traits such as gender and age, then drill down to find more specific commonalities and motivations.

6. Optimize Your Website for Mobile Users

Not just some, but all business need to be thinking about the mobile user. Google’s latest algorithm update now penalizes websites that are not optimized for mobile use, making it something you literally can’t afford not to do. In case you don’t believe us, check out these statistics from Smart Insights:

  • More than 20% of Google searches are performed on a mobile device.
  • In the United States, 25% of internet users only access the internet on a mobile device.
  • 61% of people have a better opinion of brands when they offer a positive mobile experience.
  • 25.85% of all emails are opened on mobile phones, and 10.16% are opened on tablets.

If you feel like your marketing efforts are stuck in the stone age, use a few of these small business marketing tips from the pros. Small businesses are constantly evolving and by putting some of these tools and tips into action you’ll be able to realize both short and long term results.

Do you have any marketing tips to share that might help other Houston small businesses? Make sure to let everyone know in the comments!

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How to Attract New Customers When Marketing in Houston

Are you wondering how to attract new customers to your business in Houston? Maybe there’s a secret that other businesses know about that you don’t?

Don’t worry, marketing to Houstonians isn’t necessarily rocket science. All it takes is the ability to assess what you’re doing now, and make the changes that are necessary.

When you’re done reading this blog, you’ll have some ideas for how to attract new customers to your business in a few easy steps. Let’s get started:

1. Start by Understanding Your Targets

Developing accurate personas of your target audience will give you a good start as to who you should be marketing to. This should go hand-in-hand with specific big-picture, strategic goals for attracting new customers. Some good examples of goals are: increasing membership signups, raising overall revenue, or developing a greater presence on social media. Your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based (SMART).

2. Understand Your Customer’s Journey

Determine the steps your consumers requires that you take time to find the answers to their questions, and make that fit seamlessly with how you market to them. Ask yourself – at which stages different aspects of your marketing plan will ultimately reach them?

A visual map can be very helpful in this process, allowing you to see what different avenues customers often take towards making a purchase. The benefit is that you’ll be able to determine which pathways are potentially most profitable, and fill in any gaps you might have along various legs of the journey.

3. Hire Experienced Staff Members

As a Houston business owner, the reality is that you just can’t handle everything yourself. You’ll need to hire experienced staff members and leverage the expertise of these trained professionals. Ideally you’ll want to identify them as early in the process as possible, even if they have to do more than one job to begin with. Here are some of the skills that you should probably consider must-haves if you want to attract a significant amount of new customers with your new team:

  • Strong written skills
  • Graphic design
  • A basic understand of web development
  • Lead generation
  • Social media management
  • Email marketing.
  • Digital marketing (Heads up – three of the hottest skills in demand for 2015 have been SEO, pay-per-click (PPC), and content management.)

4. Evaluate Your Web Presence

Do you exactly how well your website is performing?

Have you recently updated your site to something responsive or, at the very least, mobile-friendly?

How does your site appear to viewers?

Is it dated, unattractive, or hard to navigate?

Determine the functionality of your website. How easy is it for visitors to find the information they’re looking for?

Are you looking at page views to see which content is being looked at most? By doing this, you can position that information better on your site to serve the viewers needs. It’s also a good idea to take a look at your competitor’s websites for ideas and inspiration. Think about what they’re doing right, or better yet, what they’re doing wrong, and use this as a means of improvement.

5. Utilize Marketing Automation & Email Workflows

Today’s marketing automation and email tools enable you to create content that targets specific points in your customer’s path to purchase. This keeps customers engaged and allows marketers to personalize their messages, further strengthening the bond between customers.

More importantly, it allows you to scale your marketing efforts by reaching more people at once without your email blasts seeming like spam. Outline the different steps in the path of your buyer’s journey, and automate each step with the appropriate materials and responses.

6. Create Content for Your Audience

The goal here is to be useful and provide value to your target audience. Blogs, white papers and case studies tailored to their common needs can be very powerful in terms of connecting with potential customers.

Creating content with a strong keyword strategy also has the benefit of improving your ranking in search results. Identify some key areas of interest for your audience and develop different types of content that speaks to them and that they would find useful.

Remember, people like to get their information in a number of different ways. Utilize eBooks, case studies, video content, and infographics to serve your prospect’s needs. In fact only 30% of companies say they are effective at content marketing, so this would make a great way to get a leg up on the competition.

So –  you’ve learned some basics of how to attract new customers in Houston to your business. Sometimes success starts with small, basic steps. With a bit of persistence and ingenuity you’ll be attracting more customers than you can handle.

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How to Turn Your Houston Marketing Frown Upside Down!

Are the results of your marketing efforts getting you down? The world of marketing is always in flux, and in Houston it isn’t any different. In this post, we’ll give you four tips to get you to the top of your Houston marketing game in no time flat. Let’s begin!

Ensure Your Site Is Mobile-Friendly

When Mobilegeddon rolled out in April 2015, a lot of businesses weren’t ready for it, especially the small ones. However, it took some time for the effects to really be visible. After six months, there was some solid data to consider, and for the non-mobile-friendly, the numbers weren’t good.

On average, they fell five ranks on search engine results pages (SERPs), which would be painful enough for businesses already ranking well. For businesses that barely made the first page, it’s disastrous. In fact, 77% of mobile searches occur where desktops are likely available, such as home and work.

People prefer to use their mobile devices, and when nearly 70% of clicks go to the top three returns and more than 50% of searches are performed from a mobile device, you can’t afford to not be mobile-friendly. We mean that quite literally — you could be losing thousands of dollars monthly.

How to Do It:

The task of re-designing your site may seem daunting, but ultimately it’s worth your trouble. Google recognizes three different mobile formats: responsive, dynamic (sometimes called adaptive), and mobile-specific redirect sites (e.g., m.YourWebsite.com).

While a separate mobile site seems like the quick and easy path, it isn’t going to be a long term solution. Why? Because more and more devices are coming in a wide variety of sizes. A dynamic design will offer the same content on the same URL, but use different HTML sets based on what meta data it reads from the browser you’re using. It’s effective, but harder to index by Google-bots; it also requires you to spend more time and money individually designing an appropriate number of HTML options.

We strongly recommend the responsive design — it has the ability, within one set of HTML to adjust to any screen or browser size as it’s encountered (i.e., respond to device parameters). That makes it very easy to index, and much cheaper to pay for.

How do you know if you’re mobile-friendly? And if you’re not, how do you fix it? There’s a few aspects you should be looking at.

  • First, use Google’s Mobile Friendly Test and Mobile Usability Tool to see what changes Google says need to be made.
  • Next, check the options provided by your content managing system (e.g., WordPress, Joomla, SquareSpace); Google has tips about some of these as well.
  • Then make sure you don’t use Flash, mismatched fonts, or non-optimized images (i.e., extremely large file size).
  • If you already have a mobile site, ensure all of your redirects go to the proper URL’s or you could inadvertently downrank yourself.

However, in most cases, you’ll probably be coordinating with a web designer to redevelop your site or make any needed changes. However, if you are handling your own website, here’s a few tools to help you on your way:

Ensure Your Team Is Thinking Mobile First

Unfortunately, even when your site is mobile friendly, your marketing creative may not be. Whether you’re the one that handles marketing or if you have a team that develops it, you need to ensure that your marketing is designed with mobile in mind first and foremost. Here’s a few reasons why:

How to Do It:

Marketing that isn’t targeting mobile audiences first is missing out on a larger and larger chunk of your audience. So what does creative need to concern itself with?

First and foremost, how easy is the marketing to absorb on a mobile device? Marketing also needs to be designed to work within a responsive platform and adhere to some of the same guidelines (e.g., image file sizes) that your website does.

Secondly, you need to determine what kind of marketing is going to be most effective for reaching your audience. Banner ads must be effective and native advertising is not only on the rise, it’s successful.

Most importantly, you need to have your marketing in the right place at the right time.

Ensure You’re Effectively Targeting Your Audience

Unfortunately, this seems to remain a difficult thing for marketers. According to one study, more than half of the respondents found it difficult to determine proper target personas. You may think it’s unnecessary, considering Nielsen reports roughly 59% of ad impressions reach their audience.

There’s a key problem there though — it’s measuring ad impressions instead of what’s actually important: conversions. Personalizing calls-to-action will boost conversions by 42%, while personalizing the shopping experience across all marketing and media channels boosts conversions by 40%.

How to Do It:

Reevaluate your audience by examining what your products and services fulfill in terms of customer needs. Use this to focus your segmentation.

Really break down your data, all of your data across all channels, and filter that to determine which segments are reached most effectively, on what channels, for what budget.

Take full advantage of listening tools and targeting software, especially if you can make targeting in real time.

Lastly, you should always validate your targeting and retargeting. It ensures you really are hitting your targeted segment.

Ensure You’re A/B Testing for Effectiveness

The fact is, A/B testing can take time, but that time is offset by the advantages it offers you. This tool helps you sharpen the focus and personalization of your targeting. Why? Because you’re constantly testing variations for success. This will allow you to determine something as simple as whether or not one layout reaches one segment better than another, while it fails with a different segment entirely. Similarly, you can test channels, and how successful one choice is for reaching a targeted segment per channel. Marketing isn’t one size fits all, and there’s only one way to figure out what’s going to work for your needs.

How to Do It:

First, make sure you’re evaluating the right things the right way. Don’t stick to a format because it’s the way your company has always done it. It may be time to overhaul everything, whether it’s your website or your marketing.

If you’re working on your marketing, take advantage of the Google Website Optimizer. In fact, Google AdSense has a great method for A/B testing.

Furthermore, review the offerings from Optimizely and VWO. Be sure you select an A/B testing method that suits your business needs most effectively. Also, review case studies from businesses that are similar to yours, and from businesses that are just as successful.

Create a plan for A/B testing content and marketing, and apply it either immediately or on future projects. The results will help shape your efforts toward higher success.

If you put these four aspects into motion, you should see an uptick in the success of your marketing efforts. Of course, at Cox Media Group Houston, we’ve got the experts and tools you need to take your marketing to the next level. Whether you need a hand putting these steps into place or you’re looking for more advanced advice, we’re ready to help.

Responsive Website

 

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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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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.