The Appletree Blog has moved!

If you’re looking for our latest blog – we’ve moved! We have finally launched our brand new website and our blog is now integrated into that site. We’re still posting two to three times a week and bringing you lots of useful advice and ideas.

Just go to www.Appletreeuk.com/Blog and you’ll find our most recent blogs – and any others you’ve missed, since we moved over there at the beginning of February.

See you there!

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What gaps are in your communication strategy?

Alice

The fourth assignment for my CIM Professional Certificate in Marketing involves creating a communications audit on the organisation I have based my assignment upon. After I had fathomed exactly what was required, I started to enjoy analysing every aspect of communication the organisation did, including the ‘external’ stakeholders involved, such as the media and pressure groups, the community and those involved in corporate social responsiblity.

This may all sound complicated, but there is no need to get apprehensive (unless you haven’t done much about communications in your business). First you need to work out all the different aspects of communication: websites, social media, blogs, PR, newspaper reports, articles written online and paper published, recommendations, networking (off and online), participation in events in the local social diary, corporate social responsibility and involvement in local groups. There are probably more you can think of, depending on your kind of business.

Go on the web and find out what other companies, especially your competitors, are doing to publicise the communication strategies they have in place. Sometimes a little light secondary research can reveal a lot about them, as well as yourself. How visible are you, both off and online? How much information do you make available about your company and the things that you do? How easy is it to find?

Then you need to work out the impact your communication strategy has on your business and your stakeholders, which includes past, present and potential customers, your competitors and suppliers, as well as the general public. How well do you communicate with them on the areas that are relevant to them? What kind of things do you need to tell them? How frequently do you perform this and what have the results been? Have you achieved your objectives from these ventures? What strategies do you have in place to continue, improve and achieve success in your future endeavours?

I have only just scratched the surface on this subject, but hopefully to get the strategic juices flowing. Being visible to the appropriate stakeholders could make a real difference to your business, not only to publicise what has been going on and any future projects, but to increase awareness, explain more succinctly exactly what you do and what you are aiming to achieve, increase networking opportunities and relationships that could evolve into joint ventures and other likely connections, and much more besides.

Let us know what you are doing within your communication strategy – it would be exciting to find out how successful you’ve been and what tactics you have thought up to set the communication wheels moving as smoothly as possible!

Online marketing may not be quick, but it’s effective

Alice

As the recession deepens (and all those BNI types who still testify that there isn’t a recession, wake up and smell the coffee), businesses are starting to appear a mite desperate. This is when marketing gets a raw deal, especially if the CEOs don’t really understand what marketing is all about.

Looking around and reading the signs, it is beginning to be obvious that companies are waking up that they need to market more online. But their lack of understanding shows that although they furiously update their websites with fancy new designs, they omit to think about the content or how they can communicate better with their customers, namely by interacting with them and getting their feedback through social networking.

If your company is still bogged down in the dark ages, the difference between marketing and sales will still be hazy, muddy and out of date. There is a new concept going about now that may not only confuse, but worry CEOs and Marketing Managers. There is this thing called customer relationship marketing (CRM), and the worst thing is that it happens over a long period of time!

But their balance sheets and cash flow statements are crying out, and the Accounts department report doom and gloom. What to do? The immediate response is to bombard the online marketing world with PPC projects, sales objectives and buy-now strategies. Money is pumped in to make a fast buck – and yes, it works! But only for the immediate future.

But they have forgotten about this CRM thing, which is apparently a real bind because it takes so long to happen. It’s may be really boring, but it is proving to be necessary. Gradually it dawns on them that marketing is a long-term affair, and communicating with prospective clients to really get to know them, understand their needs and desires, work out how they can help them, so that the company becomes a benefit rather than another faceless corporate identity, will have long-term results that can be worked on for many years.

And another thing, it doesn’t cost that much either. Certainly cheaper than a quick blast of PPC when they don’t really know what they’re doing. The ROI may be slower, but the graph is constantly rising, with no signs of those drastic peaks signifying boom and bust, or as Chantal puts it, feast and famine. CRM with its cousin data management will allow further marketing endeavours for future objectives.

And if you know more about what your customers are doing, thinking, saying or whatever, isn’t it easier to adapt your marketing strategies around this? And when the penny drops about social networking, Marketing Managers will begin to realise that here is a place to find out this data with the minimum of fuss and expense, with marketing research tactics at their fingertips and somewhere where people can exercise their natural tendency to chat, communicate, strike up a conversation and create a relationship. With all this at very little cost (except the time taken to monitor it), perhaps this online marketing lark isn’t so far fetched as it previously seemed.

Web-attractiveness isn’t necessarily good design

Alice

Reading through the LinkedIn Groups a question grabbed my attention. It was a lady who was obsessed with setting up a series of fancy designed monetized blogs. As well as wavering on which kind of blogging platform to use, she was very concerned about the design, as well as keen to start making money.

Unfortunately the thing about monetized blogs is that they take some time before they start to yield decent results. They need to be attractive to readers in order to build up a suitable following that would respond to the advertising, and they need to be visited regularly before there will be enough readers tempted to click on.

And web-attractiveness doesn’t mean a fancy template, it means good, varied, consistent and practical content. Plenty of websites have spent a fortune on the design, only to be sorely lacking in the information they contain, especially if it is out of date. Large corporates waste money thinking that by redesigning their website it will enhance its performance, but most visitors don’t notice, only caring about the information they need and want. OK, cleverly designed buttons that encourage a mouse-click may be successful, but what about the stuff they lead on to?

What makes a website or blog successful is good content, coupled with excellent navigation that guides the visitor in the right direction. Visitors should enjoy their experience, be easily gratified by finding what they are looking for, benefit from the information gleaned and be suitably impressed to bookmark, subscribe and regularly return for more.

When a visitor lands on your website or blog, they immediately want to establish this is the right kind of website they are looking for, without stopping to admire the fancy graphics and beautiful colours. A good design enables readers to immediately find what they want, and doesn’t hinder or distract them from their purpose. The overall result should be readable, legible, uncluttered and easy to use.

And the content should also encourage a desire to return, react to the call to actions and succumb to the sign up forms. Although an excellently written book may be read many times, it can’t compare to a blog that is regularly updated with new content, satisfying both its human readers as well as the search engine robots, who play such a necessary part in promoting your content throughout the web.

Failure to check your website could prove costly

Chantal

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has announced that its remit is being extended to cover marketing on websites.

From March 1 2011, marketing communications on your website and in other places under your control – like Facebook and Twitter – will have to meet the non-broadcast advertising rules as set out in the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code.

You need to make sure that your website is legal, decent, honest and truthful – which it really ought to be, anyway!

If you’re not sure if you comply or not, CAP has a range of training and advice resources. You can sign up to CAP services to make sure you’re up to speed with how the extended remit will affect you and how you can avoid being in breach of the rules.

More details and advice are at http://www.cap.org.uk/The-Codes/CAP-Code.aspx.

What is the difference between Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0?

Alice

For those who are still confused by my title, Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 are the various stages the internet has evolved, and how it has affected electronic, email, online or digital marketing (the various terms for marketing on the internet also suggests how technology and its concepts have rapidly changed).

Web 1.0 deals with static websites. These were originally set up to be online brochures, a representative of your business on the internet where people could go to find information.

A space was provided on the web which was filled with an attractive (if applicable) website that hardly changed since its conception, except for a few additional alterations and updates, sparsely accomplished due to cost and reliance on webmasters. The concept was simple, and at first confined to those who could afford it or had access to it.

Web 2.0 deals with interaction. Now there are all sorts of websites that allow their visitors to add their own contributions, that are regularly updated with new information, encourage participation, call to action and regular methods of following or subscribing.

This concept of interaction has been spread to social networking and sharing sites, a phenomenon that has expanded hugely to become almost a part of our daily lives, a requirement to be constantly up-to-dated with what’s going on, become a trend setter or act as an innovator to start off the next big thing.

Then there is the ability to update your website through CMS (content management systems), in whatever format it is in (website, blog, blogsite, forum, status update or whatever), by yourself whenever and wherever you like (on any suitable hardware, software or media), and also by others through leaving comments, feedback, contributions and advice.

Web 3.0 is no longer a concept of the future, it is already here. The use of smart and android phones have commanded a change in internet use. It’s not just that websites have to adapt to be effectively seen on people’s mobiles, but the technology behind them as regards data gathering, customer segmentation and promotional targeting.

Data about consumers are gathered from a myriad of sources: mobile use, payment cards, loyalty cards, telephone voting systems for popular television participation shows, the list is endless. Today’s technology allows marketers much easier access to all sorts of information that would have taken ages and with much higher costs than before.

This is mostly permission based (a requisite much more heavily policed in the States), but unfortunately subjected to technically advanced fraudsters and spammers. Even so, marketers have to find new ways of promoting their products to overcome apathy and avoidance of regular advertising, and technology provides constant answers to beat the increasingly rapid changes of today’s society as it adapts to whatever is thrown at it!

Will Facebook take over from websites?

Alice

The short answer is No. This question is asked because, with some businesses, it appears that their Facebook page is getting more hits than their website, but let me assure you these statistics appear to be deceptive.

But let’s start at the beginning. To succeed on Facebook depends on your product (and that includes services) and the kind of customer you are targeting. Certainly in the States, where social networking takes on a totally different culture than in this country, Facebook has a much larger presence and some businesses are thriving on there, but to what cost?

Facebook is an excellent medium to excite initial interest in your company and what it has to offer. As a social networking site it is, of course, interactive and new content is automatically placed on subscribers’ walls. It is ideal for defining problems, socially empathising with them, and with effective communication tactics gather a suitable following. But, as with all social media, selling and marketing is not tolerated; once you’ve captured your audience your Facebook should act like a squeeze page, directing them towards your website where the necessary marketing activities can be put into practice.

Social networking is all about forming relationships and interacting with these new connections. A Facebook page should perform as a microsite, a landing page, a community portal back to your website. It is excellent for lead generation, and your website should collect these likely candidates through its newsletter signup or whatever method you have, so you can communicate your marketing to them later over time.

Unlike your website, Facebook is only temporary. How long will it last before it disappears, changes or is taken over? Although you may have effectively branded your Facebook page to suitably reflect your corporate image, it is still not ‘yours’, Facebook owns it, hence all the adverts in the sidebars. You don’t have control over the navigation as in your own website, and you have to abide by Facebook’s terms and conditions. Your website is a medium to reflect your own image and brand, let alone market and sell your product or service, whereas your Facebook page is purely promotional, a social networking voice for interaction, networking, feedback, customer collecting and lots of fun and creativity!