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Websites, not as easy as they look

I've had a holding page for a very long time now. Not a website, just a link to my twitter and LinkedIn feeds, but enough to show I'm a real person (sort of). Like one of the cobblers children, I never had time to consider building something for myself, while helping others with their marketing and online adventures.

Then [gawr-juhs] came along and behold, I am soon to be a real entity, with an official site. It's a bit like walking in your first pair of heels - you've seen it all before and it looks easy enough but it takes time to walk gracefully. Despite years of experience I'm finding my own website build much harder than I'd expected.

It's definitely a work in progress, so I thought I'd share my journey and what I've learned so far.

Problem #1
Writing about yourself sucks.
 
Whether you're a 'solopreneur' or an SME, writing about yourself is tricky and quickly becomes a list of facts and features which might make a CV proud, but will put your customers to sleep.

Solution
I had a friend interview me and summarize what she heard. Speaking your answers saves your vocabulary from business speak and helps you perfect your pitch all at the same time.  Genius.  Finding someone supportive to work through this exercise with, is a great way to test your differentiators and discover whether your unique selling points really exist. (I can highly recommend http://www.aweebirdie.com/)


Problem #2
First impressions count.
 
You can generally control what you wear, say and do when you meet a new client in person, but online your website or more specifically the page people land on, can be make or break in helping them decide to read on or bounce. You have approximately 3 seconds to make an impact. Eek!

Solution
Think about the websites that are most appealing to you. How much of the appeal is visual? Which elements of the layout, look and feel, grab you? Now, imagine your ideal client. Think of them in as much detail as you can. What's likely to turn them on/off? It might help to consider alternative websites they could be visiting, so that you can replicate navigation, location of search and any other key elements. I had an excel sheet with 3 columns - sites I like, why I like them, what level of importance my clients might give them.  If you're part of an SME, it would be worth asking several team members to go through the same exercise.


Problem #3
A perfect website is never live. 
In other words, you can spend months 'tweaking' the finer points and remain invisible to the world in the process, or you can work on a 'good enough' policy and refine in situ.

Solution
While your website is an important part of customer perception you can thankfully supplement your efforts via blogging and social media. Remember that different audiences read different media and in my own experience, my RSS feeder regularly delivers information, which lets me by-pass a number of worthy websites.

Good luck to those of you who share my pain .......
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Piracy. An irrational fear?

I've lost count of the number of times I see small businesses hide their best work behind member only logins and forms which would take an entire lunch hour to complete. Why the secrecy? In a word - piracy. The fear that once out there 'people' can freely distribute the information, sharing it with their friends, quoting it in their presentations and potentially never crediting their source. That's all possible, but even if it happens, is it really such a bad thing?

I always encourage businesses to give some information away. I know that might make you stop reading, but stay with me. When I find some useful free stuff on a website, my perception is always 'well, if they could give that away, they obviously have a lot more to say on the subject'. Giving, adds credibility to you and your ideas.  It puts you in the position of thought leader, encouraging your readership to find out more. This blog is about proving my marketing worth and hopefully at least some entries will succeed.

It's the lamp element. Help others to see something new. Share your thoughts, your ideas, your predictions, while your business is still small enough to reap the benefits of the publicity, even if that doesn't come in the form of direct accreditation http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/8841-angry-birds-maker-doesn-t-sweat-piracy?.

So, vow to make at least one great piece of content to give away each month. I've listed some of my favourite 'giver' examples below, to get you started.  Most use pdf's to retain an element of publicity, but all are crafted to be shared and I haven't even touched on the SEO benefits that brings.

1. Hubspot free ebooks and case studies http://www.hubspot.com/
2. MarketingProfs free articles all packed with links for further research http://www.marketingprofs.com/
3. Econsultancy blog, reports and presentations http://econsultancy.com/uk

Happy downloading.

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What makes us choose?

We make hundreds of choices every day.

Some are completely down to us. Snooze button or get up now? Car or bus? Start that big project or give in to the distraction of email and just one more caffeine break?

Others involve third parties, helping us to make up our minds, through marketing and brands. Buy coke rather than Pepsi. Nike versus Reebok. 

Marketing gives products and services an irrational value. It adds personality, helping you to decide that product X will meet your needs better than any available alternative. In the end, you make the choice, but it's heavily influenced by how marketing has shaped your perception along the way and the brand promises i.e. what you've been led to expect from a product/service, that you've bought into.

As you encourage your customers to choose, your marketing should evoke specific reasons to help customers justify their decisions.

1. Why would customers buy your products over the competition?

Its worth revisiting why existing customers made their purchase - ask them, either personally or via a service like surveymonkey http://www.surveymonkey.com/. Try to narrow this down to specific words. Perhaps the great customer service builds trust, or it could be the prestige attached to being able to afford a particular service or be in the same league as others held in esteem.

2. What one attribute could your company/product/service be known for?

Volvo cars are associated with safety. Virgin is a brand that does things differently and is therefore regarded as innovative. An internal poll might give some fascinating insights, but be sure to ask suppliers, distributors and anyone else involved with your company, as well as your customers, for the most balanced view. It's fine to mean different things to different groups, but you should find there's an overarching trait that everyone agrees on. 

3. Build your marketing around your findings

Sounds like a no brainer, but so easy to overlook.  Since Volvo have established 'safety' in the minds of their buyers, their marketing plays to the FUD principle (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt).  Example http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=8ZDv-hB2NHk.  It's important to note that they lead with a solution to customer safety fears rather than building on the fear, which would result in negative connotations for the brand.  

Emotional triggers are powerful things so use them wisely.
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Burns night communications

"Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm."

It's the first verse of Robert Burns 'Address to a Haggis' and unless you're Scottish, it might as well be written in martian.

Do you speak to your target audience in a language they understand?

I've been reviewing a number of small business websites recently and there's a lot of over hyped business speak out there. Everyone is 'results focused', 'world leading' and 'delivering exceptional value' in the 'fast paced environment'. Some are 'engaged in intersecting the world of traditional media with social media'. Which means what exactly?

Think about how you would describe your product/service if you were having a conversation, then look at the language used to do the same job on your website, powerpoint presentation and sales materials. Have you flipped into business speak just because it's in print?

In our modern world you can write as you would speak. Craft communications to be understood by your target audience and don't be afraid to let a little personality shine through.

Enjoy your haggis!



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