3 Types of Tech Investments Small Business Owners Should Consider

small businesses should make tech investments
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According to a recent survey, the majority of businesses expect to make tech investments this year in areas like IT, cybersecurity, marketing automation, cloud technologies, and remote team collaboration. And while budgeting for technology isn’t always easy as a small business owner, most businesses simply can’t afford to skimp on tech — especially those operating online or working remotely amidst COVID-19.

Below, learn about three types of tech investments all small business owners should consider to improve their chances of success now and in the future. It may not be cheap, but you’ll save time and money in the long run.

Looking to revamp your business’s marketing and branding to increase sales? GB Marketing & Communications can take your business to the next level and deliver results!

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5 Ways to Improve Website Usability on a Mobile Device

As a seasoned marketer that has written many pages of copy for websites, it is refreshing to now see a new trend now underway. There was a time not too long ago when a website’s content layout could simply be maximized for viewing by ensuring it worked on Internet Explorer, or “IE”. The early days of Firefox were sometimes challenging when image displays or text wrapping would not work quite right … but, it didn’t really matter too much if only 2-3 percent of your audience were using that browser.

Today’s web browsing market is highly fragmented, a condition further exasperated with the proliferation of mobile “smart” devices. The dominance of IE is now gone (see: The End of an Era: Internet Explorer Drops Below 50 Percent of Web Usage). While desktop browsing is still the dominant format, mobile browsing has grown significantly, from virtually nothing three years ago to nearly six percent today.

So, what does this new evolving social behavior have to do with your business? Here are five considerations to evaluate:

  1. How important is your website for lead generation? If this attribute is key, then how “user friendly” is your site? For example, how well can you actually read the content? How many images to you have on each page, which thereby forces the phone to auto size your text to be way too small? Is your competitor’s site more “mobile-friendly”?
  2. How well does your website display on Safari, Android or Opera? These three operating systems comprise 94 percent of all mobile browsing activity. Given Apple’s current market share leadership for this segment (62 percent), it might be a problem if your site has issues with how it is displayed in this browser’s application. For example, is Flash on your site? Flash doesn’t work on an iPhone or iPad, so forget about a user being able to read or engage with this content.
  3. How fast does your website load on a mobile device? This is critical for mobile viewers, as they might be trying to multi-task with another activity while searching your site, such as waiting in line to see a movie, pumping gas, etc. This type of “burst” web viewing has a low threshold for delays when accessing web pages; they will simply turn off the browser or move on to another activity that can be completed quickly.
  4. If your “call to action” necessitates providing info, how streamlined is it? For example, if you are promoting registration for webinar or event, how many fields do you require to be completed? Anything more than 2 or 3 will start to push the limits of what can be accomplished on a mobile device, despite how well skilled your prospect is at typing on their smart phone.
  5. How quickly can information be found on your site? What extent do menu hierarchies play as part of your website’s navigation structure? Whereas a desktop-based viewer has a mouse that can be easily used to track through several tiers of menu choices with a single click, this type of navigation simply isn’t possible from a mobile device.

As a general comment, how often do you check how your website appears on an iPhone, iPad or an Android OS device? If you only own a Blackberry, how informed a decision can you really make, given Blackberry’s meager 2 percent market share within the mobile web viewing market?

Fortunately, options exist to address these challenges. First, it is possible to build a mobile website without destroying your existing site. The use of a .mobi extension can make this possible; viewers can then see a version of your website that has been optimized for mobile viewing. And, if you are really serious, then an App for mobile devices might start to make sense, as it really does offer a much better interactivity experience than trying to simply find information on the web.

What other suggestions do you have on how to better design website for mobile usage? I would be interested to hear your feedback.

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies.

5 Ways to Speak to Different Audiences

One of the challenges in getting your message out is that your audience is typically quite diverse, especially when dealing with a technology product. Engineers have one way of talking; Chief Financial Officers have another and end-users yet another. Effective marketing and business communications dictate that you offer a message for each of your targeted audiences to ensure your message is understood by all relevant stakeholders. You need to speak in their language.

Complex software or other technology sales are seldom performed in a vacuum or decided by an individual. Therefore, a consensus must be achieved before a final “buy” decision can be reached. For business communications in high-tech industries, you must address a wide, diverse group of individuals. Finding your audience for a cult movie such as the Rocky Horror Picture Show might be equally difficult!

The challenge is how do you accomplish this task?

First, you need to realize that you can’t speak to each of these different “personas” at the same time, in the same venue. Not only would this be complicated to write, but it would also be difficult to read! Your best course of action is to pick different media or channels to conduct your varying messages.

Here are five different venues for your consideration when speaking to your different audiences:

  1. Write a white paper that offers a detailed explanation of how your product works, how it is used, why it is better than the competition, etc. Point is that this is a venue that highly technical IT or engineering audiences can understand your message or communications
  2. Record a video interviewing your president, speaking to how he/she/they is committed to the direction of your company, the research that has been done to ensure the product is delivering maximum value … busy “C” level executives might have time to listen to a 4-minute video of your president
  3. Get a placement of a contributed article in a publication that speaks to return on investment (ROI, return on assets (ROA), etc., to entice potential senior financial management audiences to read and understand the financial impact of purchasing your product
  4. Post a blog entry for middle management or “line of business” personnel to read, on a topic that concerns actually using your product, or what specific challenges can be addressed … getting more into the “weeds” of what your product does
  5. Be a sponsor at a trade show with a booth, staffed by employees. This type of venue offers a different “slice” of who you can speak with about your product, but one audience that it is quite effective at reaching is your partners, who might also be exhibiting or attending. This is  an important audience to speak with, both from a future partnering perspective as well as to convince them that your product is viable in the markets you serve

Teachers understand this task, as seldom do each of their students learn the same way. Some might be visual learners; others learn by doing and some may learn only by reading. Marketing or business plan writing is no different. Marketers must recognize that quite often a different language and medium must be chosen to communicate with each of these different stakeholders. Business plan writers must know what type of investor they are writing for, to then better understand what level of industry terms and jargon should be included and what should be defined better, for novice readers.

Who do you write for? I would be interested in hearing what other venues have worked for you in the past.

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing business plans and marketing strategies.

5 Ways to Shorten Copy

“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

Blaise Pascal, (1623-1662) Lettres provincials

It would appear the challenge or writing concise communications has been with us for a long time.

Today, shorter copy is needed more than ever. Just look at the success of Twitter, the “ultimate” short copy communications platform. Messages are mostly limited to 140 characters per tweet, requiring a new mastery of short communications.

Upon reflection at my own writing, I probably could do better. So I came up with five reasons why my communications might be too long, to try and write with greater brevity.

  1. Too many examples – When presenting complex topics, the inclusion of examples to help explain a concept is sometimes necessary. If your objective is to teach, then providing more content may be right; in a business communication, perhaps it might better to offer a link or source for an example that already exists.
  2. Too long an introduction – Perhaps your topic or challenge being solved is complex, or there are different nuances to the business challenge, and you need to be sure to explain what variation you are solving, requiring a longer introduction. I can’t think of a shortcut here, other than trying to condense your topic down to a paragraph or less.
  3. Too many industry buzz words – This is tough when seeking to improve Search Engine Optimization. The more industry terms, the better your chance of showing up higher on Google. Links to other web pages might help address this challenge.
  4. Too many editors – This is a tough one. Often I have two or more stakeholders invested in my document with different points that must be included. More time to perform more edits is the solution, but, sometimes deadlines contradict this goal.
  5. Too worried about missing a key point – When tasked with writing an important document, such as a business plan, as they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Considerable care must be taken to be sure all relevant points are included. Keeping a prioritized list can help address this challenge; if a point has already been made, perhaps it doesn’t require duplication in a later section. Alternatively, future communications can be added to address omissions.

In the end, the path to shorter copy is to spend more time … time planning to identify the most concise wording, and time writing more efficiently using shorter phrases that are edited several times. In the end, your goal is to make a lasting impression – getting your content read and understood – which is simply easier with a shorter message.*

*Note the first version of this post exceeded 700 words; final version has 450.

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies.

5 Questions to Ask Before Writing a Press Release

In the world of marketing communications, writing a press release plays an important press_releaserole in disseminating information about your company or product. Most importantly, if done correctly, a press release will get other websites, news sources and editors to communicate your message as a third party, important from a validation perspective. The more times your message is told, the better chance your target audience can receive your message.

So, before you sit down to write your press release, ask yourself these five important questions:

  1. What is the news I am announcing? There must be something you are announcing that comprises the “news” of the announcement. It isn’t ok to just regurgitate existing content from your website, collateral or brochures. There must be something newsworthy to announce, such as a new product, customer or region, an award or a management change. This requirement can sometimes be a challenge, but, if you don’t have any news to announce, no one will be interested to read your press release.
  2. Who are you writing your announcement to? In other words, who is the target audience or “persona” of your press release? Traditionally, press releases were written for the press; these documents would then become a basis for writing an article summarizing the announcement, or might be a trigger to write a more detailed perspective on the announcement. Today, this is not necessarily the case. Many press releases are now issued directly to the public via news websites. You need to think about whom the person is that you want to read your release. For example, just to name a few, are they engineers, teachers, business leaders or IT programmers?
  3. What are the 3 points of the story? Unless you specifically focus your thoughts on what these key messages are, chances are your target audience won’t get the right message.
  4. What do you want your readers to do next? In other words, once you have identified your topic and audience … in a perfect world … what you would like them to do next? Go to your website? Attend a conference? Purchase your latest book? How is this announcement going to help your business? How will you sell more product or service, as a result of this announcement? Think about what your desired call to action is, and then ask for it, or point readers in a direction so they come up with your desired action as a logical conclusion after reading the announcement.
  5. Could my mother understand this release? In other words, is it filled with industry jargon, abbreviations and other difficult words to understand, or, is your message clearly stated using terminology that is understandable to most readers? This question may appear to be in contradiction to item #2 above … if I am writing for a technical audience, isn’t it ok to write in a technical manner? Yes, and no. It is a reasonable assumption that if you are announcing technical news for technical readers, then some level of technical wording is probably appropriate. But, the flip side is that you also want other editors and websites to host your story. The person in charge of deciding if your press release goes on their site may not be very technical. If your release is too confusing, they will simply elect to “pass” and go on to the next news announcement. In the end, your press release must make sense to the laymen, regardless of target audience.

What do you think? Have I missed any other critical questions?

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies.

Avoiding “Article Vomit”

Q: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?

A: No, if no one is there to hear it.

In the same way, you may have the greatest product or service, but if no one knows about it, then all your work has been for nothing (and your marketing prowess could be called into question). As a marketer today, you must incorporate the Internet in your marketing communications … which means you need to understand Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

As a concept, it isn’t hard to comprehend. Your prospects will typically go to an Internet browser when considering a product purchase, performing a search by keywords of what they seek. Some will already have an idea of what your product is called or what your industry terms are. Some will not, so will search by the challenge they face. It is up to you to know which is relevant, and then build search engine optimization into your marketing communications to match these search profiles.

Search Engine Marketing
Keep SEO a top of mind item when preparing marketing communications

The challenge is that you are competing for these words with often hundreds or even thousands of other sites, many that have dedicated staff working every day to improve their rankings. This is an onerous task to those just getting started. There is a first mover’s advantage. Those building their keywords and search phrases first tend to secure the top rankings and can defend them effectively. The best offense to a well placed competitor is to further refine your keywords to be more specific to a smaller sub segment of the market you are trying to reach. And, create a lot of new content.

There is another angle … game the system, known as “Black Hat SEO.” A recent approach has been to post a lot of content on different sites with links to your site, to help increase your ranking. This is against Google’s policy – it is artificially raising your rankings. JC Penny just got busted for it (read more here), and now their site has been black listed from Google. Just last week Google announced they are changing their search engine algorithms to put a stop to this type of behavior, penalizing sites that really are only comprised of “Article Vomit,” as Chris Knight, CEO of Spark-Net Corp coined, as stated in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

There is really no substitute for continuing to add new content. New information, commentary or announcements – especially with links coming from other websites – is a great way to demonstrate to Google, Yahoo!, Bing and the others that you are an authority in your field. This is one of the biggest reasons why blogs have become so popular. They are a great way to show frequent new content that is specifically tied to the needs of your target market.

So, next time you are writing a press release, web page or piece of collateral, think carefully about how your document might be found on the World Wide Web. What need you are serving and what problem are you helping to address? What words would be used in a keyword search on that topic? Then, go back and finish your piece. After all, if no one finds it or reads it, it might as well have not existed!

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies.

Another Evolving Social Behavior to Consider in Your Marketing Communications

Words are flying out like endless rain into a paper cup;
They slither while they pass; They slip away across the universe.

– John Lennon & Paul McCartney

The words and way we communicate today is obviously very different than in the past. In fact, over the past 5 years, the increasing usage of Twitter and texting has been nothing short of spectacular. Twitter reported that more than two billion tweets were sent just last month. Wow!

What is interesting is that as a new communication medium is launched, we keep compressing the time frame to contact someone and expect a response. Back in the 1960s when the Beatles were writing their legendary songs, the only way to talk to your girl was on a rotary dial up phone – an answering machine didn’t exist. If you had to reach someone, you simply kept calling until they were home. Then, along came the answering machine. Now you could leave a message and probably get a call back later that day or the next. By the early 2000s, email broke through the next threshold where a response could be expected within 24 hours.

Today you can text or twitter someone, and if they don’t reply back within a few minutes, some might be offended. Worse, they might think you lost your phone or are in trouble! The time required to reach out and talk with someone anywhere in the world has been compressed from days to minutes with texting and twittering. And, not only has the length of time for response been compressed, the actual content of the message has been shortened from having a 30 minute phone call to sending a 140 character tweet.

twitter-logoAs with other technology advances (see “Evolving Social Behaviors Necessitate a Change in Marketing Communications“), a new social behavior has also evolved with this communications transformation. The concept of where and when to meet someone for dinner, a movie, etc. has changed. Now, it is acceptable to simply suggest a general area and time for your social interaction … details can follow later. And, if you are running late, no sweat; texting has made it socially acceptable to be late, as long as you communicate your delay to the affected party.

But, as a marketer, it is highly unlikely that your target audience will be as forgiving.

If you approach your marketing communications in the same way, you might not be very effective. To start, if you are meeting with a client, you are the one that is expected to be prompt and on time; if your prospect is late, then that isn’t a problem. The same holds true if you are advertising your product’s availability or a promotion. Even if it is a 20 minute special, your decision to text your prospects about your current offer might not be seen as relevant or appropriate in their minds, causing frustration on their part from your message.

Or, it might be just fine. Let me explain. A twitter user or company that sends out a 140 character message that is perceived to have significant value to a recipient will be welcomed, such as a tweet announcing free concert tickets to the first 100 people that arrive at a certain location. But, the line between what is appropriate and what is not is a fine line, with the potential of alienating your target audience if you get it wrong. Best to choose those 140 characters very carefully!

Personally, I am offended at every one of the marketing or sales texts that I have received, such as to call now to refi my home mortgage. Seriously, is this a message that I need to drop everything regardless of where I am and immediately start a refinance process? This is an excellent example of an evolving social behavior that must be addressed by marketers, and not abused. It may be totally inappropriate to expect an instant response from your prospect, even though today’s technology could support it.

It is critical that we, as marketers, choose a medium and expected time frame for response that matches our offer if we are to avoid alienating our prospects. For example, if I am offering a service targeted at residential real estate agents, then an email might be most appropriate for matching the time to reply to the offer, especially considering that most real estate agents now carry smart phones capable of reading and responding to emails. A text, however, sent to an agent out in the field while showing a prospect an open house might be disruptive, annoying and ill timed. Be careful when exploring these new communications mediums. Given the ease of today’s mass communications, a poorly executed marketing communications can go viral in an instant, causing potential long term damage to your brand or company.

Texts and tweets now fly out like endless rain while they slip away across the cyber universe … best to be sure your message is relevant and time appropriate when trying to reach out across your universe.

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies.

Sometimes The Best Marketing Communications Can’t Reverse a Brilliant Contract Agreement

I can feel the pain the marketing team for the wireless division must be dealing with at Verizon, even more so now the news was just announced that AT&T had indeed signed a 5 year agreement to distribute Apple’s now infamous iPhone.  So, Verizon is locked out through 2012 before they can think of carrying the now icon status phone.

Of course, this was a risky move on Apple’s part, to lock in a distribution partner for a relatively new product in an untested market.  But, clearly each party recognized the importance of helping each other out – from the development plans and specs to which features should be offered or not.  In the end, it was a brilliant move.

So, what do you do if you work in the marketing communications department at Verizon?  As a marketing and business plan writer, I can relate.

First thing is to bridge the “product divide” by offering as close to a product replacement as possible, which they clearly have done with the Android.  But, for those of you who have actually gone into the store and tried using the Android followed by the iPhone, you know that there really isn’t much of a comparison.  In the end, I personally chose the iPhone based on ease of use, product design and the simple fact that my 3,000+ song library will seamlessly connect with my new phone.

What do you do next?  One option is to re-define the debate.  For example, a new importance or decision factor could be introduced into the mix that might cause a reconsideration of the purchase.  For example, the network coverage of Verizon could be argued as being more comprehensive – clearly this is also a strategy they have pursued.  Further, I would suggest that this strategy could be exemplified by noting that all the data traffic that the AT&T network now has is starting to clog it up, such that iPhones are now not being sold in New York anymore.  But, the downside to this type of strategy might lead some to conclude that “everyone is now going to AT&T, so what am I doing at Verizon?”

New features is another angle, to them message that “if you want X, then you need to go with Verizon.”  For example, perhaps there is some type of value added service or partnership that could be established to offer a new value to those with Verizon, such that the loss of not using an iPhone is less of an impact.  Then, plaster the market with this new offer.  How about advance, limited screenings of new movies that can be seen on your Verizon phone through a special user interface that is securely offered to just Verizon customers?  Or, perhaps there are a series of local events that could be sponsored by Verizon that their customers are exclusively invited to?  The communications could then be focused on the fact that the phone company you choose should be based on more than what a particular phone they offer.

But, in the end, it is a long, uphill battle for the Verizon marketing communications team for now, at least until the end of 2012, or until when that contract can be ended.  My guess is that considerable efforts are now being done to try and “woo” Apple into breaking their AT&T contract, and that AT&T is spending an equal amount of time to ensure the agreement is air-tight … which is probably an excellent use of their time.

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies.

Evolving Social Behaviors Necessitate a Change in Marketing Communications

I would propose a correction to one of Benjamin Franklin’s famous quotes.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

benjamin_franklin_nothing_certain_but_death_and_taxes_and_technologyI think he missed a third certainty:  technology advances.  Since early inventions such as the cross bow or sword to the digital society of today, social patterns have changed as new weapons, inventions or technology advances are introduced into a culture or society.  Early warring nomads with a weapon advantage expanded their geographical reach to take precious resources, land and women … and as a result, these actions then changed cultures.

Today’s technology advances can be attributed in part to the proliferation of digital data that is increasingly universally available – viewable to an audience of one, or to a much larger group.  The way we interact, communicate and entertain as part of our social lifestyle has changed, and will continue to do so, as a direct response to this technology advance.  As marketers, we must also change.

For example, the changing technology advance of the digital video recorder (DVR) has triggered a new social behavior of fast forwarding through commercials.  Commercial communications effectiveness as a branding or lead generation tool has declined, reducing the return on investment of an advertising spot.

These types of changes necessitate a questioning of prior lead generation and business development techniques.  By examining emerging social patterns, new opportunities for marketing communications can be revealed, often better than the approaches they replaced.  The objective of a marketer hasn’t changed.  What has changed is the medium and method of attempting to influence a purchase decision to be in favor of their product or service.

The key is to reach out to where people are socially interacting, to then be part of that community, which will then assist with your marketing objectives.  This is why social networking communities are so hot right now, and why every marketer is under pressure to understand this medium and figure out how to monetize a revenue model tied to this activity.

Look at the Internet, as a form of lead generation, and an example of how good can come with the digital revolution.  Google is a very profitable company because their ad revenue model is highly effective.  Never before have marketers been able to pin point prospective customers by filtering search activity by selective words and phrases, with very calculated return on investment to better fine tune spend rates and ad performance metrics.

One of the toughest challenges to deal with in times of technology advances is when your own business or industry becomes a victim in the steadily advancing society.  No one wants to be the next buggy whip manufacturer, yet in order for change to occur, there must be a thinning of the herd to make room for a new wave of advancement and enlightenment.

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies.