A new Internet gold rush has been taking hold with the emergence of social networking, blogging, podcasting, and other Web 2.0 experiments. Media companies and Internet giants have reacted promptly by acquiring many of the new players to take advantage of these new advertising vehicles and evolve their endangered models.
Yet advertisers themselves have stayed on the sidelines to a great extent. Small businesses, especially, have reacted cautiously to Web 2.0 marketing, fearing its hype and its inherent risks.
John Jantsch and I started discussing this reluctance. We decided to explore the issue through the eyes of a small business, and have tried to distinguish between hype and sound new marketing practices. John is a marketing coach and creator of the Duct Tape Marketing small business marketing system. John's personal blog has been named "Best Small Business Marketing Blog" by the readers of Marketing Sherpa for two consecutive years.
What we discovered are five emerging trends that every small business should be aware of. We still think that small businesses should be cautious and look to use new media or Web 2.0 in highly personalized ways, using sound marketing principles. However, here we share these trends through examples of small businesses that have been among the first to capitalize on Web 2.0, and subsequently have reaped early benefits.
Trend No. 1: Establish a blog as your primary Web presence
Customers value who they do business with sometimes as much as what they buy. Blogging provides you with a more personal environment, where you can both promote your product and present a more personal view of your business.
Blogging also allows you to initiate an ongoing conversation with your customers and build a long-term relationship. Blogging is especially important in professional-services small businesses, where the person is the product and where word-of-mouth and recommendations are the primary sales driver.
Horsefeathers, a restaurant in North Conway, NH, publishes a blog about food, wine, local events, and restaurant news as a way to keep customers connected and loyal.
Cornerstone Wealth Advisors in Overland Park, KS, created a blog about investing and other financial matters, and uses it as the jumping-off point for several practice groups.
Patti Thompson is the president of Way-Fil Jewelry, located in Tupelo, MS. She serves as the appraiser, designer, and one of two bench jewelers. She writes a combination of personal anecdotes, stories about her store, and appraisal posts ("What is gold sodium thiomalate?") She also links her "Diamond Diva" blog to her eBay store.
Trend No. 2: Take advantage of emerging hyper-local blogs
With the number of blogs exploding (a blog is created every second!) and readership skyrocketing, the blogosphere is reaching a sufficient scale to address hyper-local content. A similar phenomenon happened earlier in the Internet space when readership and Web sites reached a tipping point, offering relevant content for very small customer segments, such as a city, and provide local search.
This new trend in blogging makes local advertising for small businesses relevant: for example, restaurants, hotels, real estate brokers, or accountants.
Blogging Ohio, which is part of Weblogs Inc., is a great example of this trend. Posts focus on specific towns in Ohio. Lake County, OH has also started a local community blog and local sponsored links such as area restaurants, hotels, and country clubs.
Trend No. 3: Use Web 2.0 marketing to market to bloggers
Bloggers have become a growing and influential customer segment with strong economic power. As this customer segment reaches critical mass, some small businesses have understood the opportunity to target them and build marketing approaches that appeal to their specific tastes and preferences.
Bloggersfuel is a great example of this focused marketing. Bruce Frcek has developed this blog to keep bloggers up to date on what is happening in the specialty coffee industry and with its online store Boca Java, and to hear directly from bloggers on ideas about blogging and coffee.
Daily Greencine publishes a blog around independent and alternative cinema that gets 80,000 visitors each month and helps drive traffic to online rental and video-on-demand store, GreenCine. The blog helped double the store's revenues.
Trend No. 4: Leverage emerging Web 2.0 advertising platforms
Web 2.0 startups are positioning themselves as aggregators of advertising and provide new platforms to promote small businesses.
AdCandy allows consumers to develop advertising slogans and suggest product improvements for their favorite brands. Pro'tech'd, a small company making iPod covers, uses AdCandy to run a contest letting visitors create their ad campaign and slogan, thus helping raise awareness for its brand in its target customer segment.
Zixxo allows small businesses to create and manage their own online coupons and syndicate them out to local consumers through partner Web sites and RSS feeds.
Trend No. 5: Explore emerging audio and video marketing (podcasting and vlogging)
The recent massive growth in these new formats will develop new advertising media that can be particularly appropriate for specific small businesses.
Chaz, a yoga instructor in Louisville, KY, has been using podcasting on iTunes for a series of instructional videos that promote his yoga techniques and his studio.
Dave Seitter, a construction attorney in Kansas City, MO, has created a monthly expert teleseminar and converted it to a podcast.
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