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The Right Message: Craft Your Company's E-mail Campaign (and Keep It on Track)

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You're in the businesses of reaching out to customers, and a well-run e-mail campaign allows you, the owner, to interact in a personal way with your consumer base. What's more, you can almost always anticipate a positive reception, when it comes to the messages you send, because the recipients have already opted in — they've given you consent and expect you to pitch them.

Still, the conditions under which this happy scenario operates require every owner to approach e-mail campaigns with a measure of care. Here's the upshot of the relationship, from one owner who understands it.

"E-mail marketing is all about permission and trust, building long-term relationships with prospects and customers," said Jeff Kear, owner of Planning Pod. And what builds those relationships? What keeps them solid? Well-timed content, delivered in a consistent and wisely paced way.

With that in mind, let's turn to some best practices that owners like Kear have made their own. The goal is a smart e-mail marketing effort, one that cares for your customers and gives them the kind of sustained and wanted contact they expect from your brand.

  1. A strong campaign starts with solid content. "You should focus on educational content that resonates with your target audience," said Kear. Meaning, tips, strategies, and case studies— all of this is the kind of material your list is likely to welcome. But don't neglect whimsy and inspiration. And remember that a fantastic photo of your brand at work can compel your readers to click through in ways that paragraphs of even the best writing sometimes can't. Point is, content is a kind of conversation and it can vary in terms of type and tone.
  2. Remember that your e-mail is a launch pad. In other words, don't give away all of your content in the e-mail itself. Build your missives so that they prompt a visit to your website, and then make certain they lead to a call to action — all of this aimed, of course, at conversions.
  3. Think about the big picture, write for the single reader. Approximately every day, Jon Rimmerman, founder of Garagiste, sends out a mass e-mail to his company's e-mail list subscribers. In them, he expounds upon the the small-batch wines that Garigiste sells. His messages are well-known for their nature: flush with humor, passion, and a profound sense of Rimmerman's voice. Most importantly, they read like a personal note. That's your goal, too.
  4. Consistency is crucial to e-mail marketing. You'll lose a lot if you fail to keep up momentum. "Many SMBs get on a roll and then get tired of sending out campaigns just when they are taking root," said Zan Jones, a marketing consultant. "In my experience, it takes 9–12 months to start seeing tangible results. Whether you send out weekly, twice a month, or monthly - stay consistent. It's okay to recycle content that is more than a year old — as long as you update it with a current story and repurpose it."
  5. Don't over-deploy! Your customers like to know your brand is there, but they probably don't want to be prompted all the time. "Don't stalk your customers and prospects," said Andrew Marino, founder of MorningStar Media. "Treat your contact list like a mature, responsible adult — with respect and with a message that pertains to them — and accept that your contacts will only get back to you on their timelines." Easy does it, that's a mantra for e-mail marketing.

All five of these points dovetail with numerous other e-mail marketing advice brands should also keep in mind: make your e-mail mobile friendly, A/B test content and approaches before sending en masse, learn your customers from the standpoint of optimal timing for the send.

Starting with these steps, you're focusing on content, consistency, and an integration of message and method. It's an excellent way to begin. Good luck with your campaigns, and keep those subscribers happy!

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Managing your business is hard enough. Managing your website should be easy. Slab offers high quality, custom designed, easy to edit websites. Talk to us about building your site, one that you can update yourself with ease. E-mail office@slabmedia.com, or call us at 617.566.3433.

Response Rules: 5 Ways Your Business Can React Properly to Social-Media Comments

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to negative feedback online, small businesses don't have to experience a Robin-Thicke level Twitter debacle to grasp the power of the socialmedia critic. Even a single negative comment can be a big deal.

And while most SMBs never have to worry about mass disapproval, they will inevitably encounter a dissatisfied customer or two. And that's a customer to be taken seriously. The trick to dealing with online comments? It comes down to supplying the right response, at the right time, in the right way.

To get to that goal, let's turn to some experts who've dealt with negative (and positive) comments online, and whose tips and advice should help chart your business's social-media course when the time comes to respond.

Moments of Opportunity: Talking to Online Critics

Part of the price of doing business in a digital world is inviting the voices of its digital denizens. Sometimes they're happy with your business, but the unhappy commenter is important, too. You can bet that future customers are paying attention to how you deal with them.

"When was the last time you worked with a business and didn’t look at the bad reviews first?" said Johnathan Grzybowski, marketing director at Dino Enterprise. "Knowing that we all aren’t perfect, we need to understand that it's not about what happens, its more about how you react to it."

And when you react to the social-media critic? "You should comment and show understanding,"Grzybowski said.

What follow are some expert approaches that will help you do just that.

  1. Respond quickly (but not instantly). As a business owner, your pride and reputation are on the line, but your first thoughts aren't always your best response, especially when it comes to a displeased customer. "After exhaling, reread the review objectively and understand what the poster wants or what is their mindset," said Ann Marie van den Hurk, principal at Mind The Gap Public Relations. "Take time to research the situation. Is it a valid review from an actual customer? Who is the customer?" Once you've assessed the situation, you're ready to take the next step.
  2. Engage publicly, but then privately. Splitting the difference between public and private is key to your response strategy. "The best technique is to address it with an apologetic reply, and then take further dialogue to private messaging," said Jonathan Sharpe, digital marketing specialist at DMG Bluegill. "An example response would be 'We’re very sorry to hear about your unpleasant experience. If you’ll send us a message with contact information, we promise to remedy this unfortunate situation.'" In this way, your audience witnesses your responsiveness, but then you're preventing further back-and-forth from muddying the waters of your social space.
  3. Don't argue. In the conversation that follows, online or private, protect your business while projecting the idea that you're open to your customer's experience. "Even if the complaint is untrue or exaggerated, try to make the customer feel heard by acknowledging their disappointment — without affirming the complaint itself," said Brittany Carey, digital account manager at 30 Lines. Try to get the customer to a place where they're no longer frustrated. Not every commenter will go there, but those that do are more likely to add a new note to their original complaint — one indicating that you've successfully solved their problem. And that's a key goal, when it comes to what you can gain from your responses.
  4. Let off-the-wall comments alone. Your impulse might be to delete comments that appear to be nothing more than trolling — or just plain old bad-mouthing. "As strange as this seems, the best plan is to let it be," said Sharpe. "Your social pages should have enough goodwill and positive interaction to make this commenter’s attack insignificant. When your page is engaging and fun for followers, those comments don’t hold much weight." Plus, you gain additional credibility when you show a tendency toward online transparency.
  5. Respond to positive comments. While negativity might be the initial concern of the SMB owner, don't neglect the good things your social-media audience has to say about you. This requires a balanced approach, too. Turns out love-fests don't work as well as a tiered system. "Replying to every positive comment takes away from the personal touch," Sharpe said. "The first move should be a 'like' or a 'favorite', depending on the medium," and then, "comments that go above and beyond should earn a response from the company."

It's about respecting your critic's right to speak up, but also addressing — and adjusting — the circumstances of their stated experience so that, in the public arena that your SMB now occupies, you've the chance to show off the best side of your business.

Following the above five steps can get you right up to a certain threshold with your customers. Reaching through that doorway and pulling an online poster over (or back over) to your side of the conversation? That takes a commitment to opening dialogues. Making the best out of whatever scenario has gone wrong is in your hands, one comment at a time.

SMBs and the Social Equation: Which SocialMedia Sites Work Best for Businesses? 

SMBs and the Social Equation Which SocialMedia Sites Work Best for Businessesnbsp

There's little question that small-business owners understand the power of social media and its importance to their bottom line. As of 2013, some 92% of polled SMBs (Small - Medium Businesses) said their social profiles were effective tools for their marketing and brand-building push.

"We use social media as a means to not only attract new people to our website and online community but also as a tool to nurture relationships with customers who choose to friend or follow the company," said Stephanie Ciccarelli, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Voices.com, an online voice-over marketplace.

"Sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have given our already social brand another outlet to shine and connect regularly and freely with our customers," she continued. "When someone follows you via a social channel, they are also granting you the opportunity to enter their world, as in permission marketing."

But what platforms are out front, which ones are SMBs turning to most often? To help illuminate some answers to that question, Slabmedia conducted an informal survey of 35 small businesses. Let's look at what they had to say.

SMB Survey: Social Media and Brands Like Us

Chances are, you haven't got a multi-million dollar advertising budget. If you own an SMB, and your line item for marketing is still a modest amount, you likely already work with social media to help fill the brand-growth gap.

One national survey of 2,292 small-business owners revealed that 88% of SMBs with social profiles list Facebook as a top social-media channel for business outreach, followed by LinkedIn (39%); Twitter (31%); Google+ (22%); Pinterest (20%); and YouTube (17%).

But how do the national stats square with what Slabmedia found, in its survey? Our results, based on the responses of 35 SMBs to the question "what are your business's top 3 social-media platforms", were as follows.

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And so, we see Twitter with lead by a 6% margin over Facebook. LinkedIn comes through in third place, and then Google+ and Instagram round out the top five. The category of "other" — accounting for 11% of the voting — includes Tumblr, YouTube, Foursquare, Vimeo, Yelp, Scoop.it, SlideShare, Quora, and Flickr, all of which garnered 2% or less among the platforms cited by our polled owners.

The Blog: Still a Place for Brands and Customers

Among the respondents, another message came through as well: blogs still matter.

Chris Cooper, co-owner of Active Movement and Performance, a personal training studio, said that his company's emphasis on Facebook and Instagram goes hand in hand with the way the business's blog allows staff to elaborate on services and topics of interest.

It's a key point to make, and it's backed by stats. That is, 95% of small businesses in a recent e-Strategy Trends report said blogging is also part of their effective marketing toolkit."Our blog gives a bigger area to discuss what is going on in the news relating to health, fitness, and nutrition," Cooper said. "Our blog also enables us to educate our clients — and really any readers — on what to do. We also provide weekly motivational posts to kickstart the week."

Blending the blog with the shorter-form environments of social-media platforms is good advice for SMBs. If the overall strategy is outreach, and finding your customers where they go to chat, then bringing them into your sales funnel from those location means drawing them back to a website where calls to action can lead to that one important result — not just the fostering of interest and loyalty, but an actual conversion at the end of the conversation.

Retrocraft Design: Crafting a Custom E-Commerce Solution

Retrocraft Design Crafting a Custom ECommerce Solution

Here's the problem, when you're an up-and-coming seller of uniquely restored classic and mid-century furniture: you have this incredible inventory but it's incredibly difficult to ship. Still, you still want your web-savvy clientele to shop your wares online and be able to buy from you.

"It's just way expensive and way complicated," said Lisa Berland, co-owner of Retrocraft Design, regarding her company's experiences of packing and mailing its pieces of often-delicate furniture. "There's so many things that can go wrong with shipping. And they do."

Retrocraft Design has been making its brand of reclaimed, restored — and at times rediscovered — furniture-treasures since 2010. Berland and her sister, who co-owns Retrocraft as well, come from backgrounds in art. Four years ago they set up shop in Concord, Massachusetts. Since then, the company has grown: they moved to a bigger studio, in 2012, and further expanded that space, this year.

While they don't neccessarily want to ship the unique pieces they create, Berland said Retrocraft still very much wants online shoppers to to find, buy, and acquire what they make. So, she's crafted a clever workaround to the e-commerce puzzle that her furniture shop faced.

Show-rooming in Reverse

Retailers know about show-rooming. It's when consumers visit a brick-and-mortar shop, price inventory — even test it out and get a sense for it, in the real world — and then go home to buy the goods from whatever seller they can find who's got it for the cheapest price, online.

In a sense, Retrocraft Design has reversed that process. Wary of shipping nightmares, Berland maintains the studio's inventory in a categorized and often-updated virtual collection showroom. Visitors can click on one of the many well-made photos of Retrocraft's items, see additional details and images of it, price it — even pin it to their Pinterest page — and then buy it via PayPal. The customer gets a PayPal invoice by e-mail, completes the transaction, and Retrocraft sets the piece aside for pickup.

"From the very beginning we knew that we couldn't afford a retail space," Berland said. "So, we just decided that we're going to do this. The whole point of this exercise is to drive people to our website, and then to drive them from our website to us — to physically come to us."

And it seems to be working. Retrocraft Design has experienced a 50% increase in sales, year over year, since 2010.

On the Grow: Retrocraft Looks Forward

Next steps for the company? According to Berland, it'll be a slight increase to their in-studio staffing and then a possible partnership with decorators who'd tap Retrocraft for pieces to include in a given project.

Also, don't rule out Brooklyn. "A lot of our market seems to be the kind you find in Brooklyn," Berland said. "We're always getting inquires from there, people saying 'don't you ever come down to New York?'"

A pop-up shop in Williamsburg would be just the thing, wouldn't it?

The Redesign-Revenue Link: Charting a Path to Better Websites (and More Money)

The RedesignRevenue Link Charting a Path to Better Websites and More Money

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If you follow the evolving arc of web-design ideas, you'll likely have already heard of conversion-boosting overhauls that include more calls to action, pre-rollout testing, and mobile optimization for tablet and smartphone users.


But does all of this really lead to increased revenue for the businesses that rebuild their sites?

Evidence tells us that it probably does. Taking the time to improve the digital experience for inbound customers has often led to success stories, based on case studies and owners' accounts. Examples of redesign benefits can speak volumes about the value of an overhaul.

  • Following a redesign that emphasized call-to-action rich pages for TravelGuidesFree.com, a recent WiderFunnel case study showed a 58% lift in lead generation for the company — along with doubled revenue per visitor.
  • Two Leaves and a Bud Tea Co. worked with customers, wholesalers, and employees to identify ways to remake the company's web elements. MarketingSherpa reports that, with the help of a reinvigorated social-media and content-marketing campaign, Two Leaves' redesign contributed to a conversion hike of 63% — and revenue for the company rose some 34%.
  • Swags Galore, an online curtain retailer, revamped their site, last year, to showcase more photos, provide better order-status info, and integrate with social media. "Well, wow," says Melinda West, president and CEO, in an e-mail interview. "We achieved a 60% increase in revenue in 2013 versus 2012. The first quarter of 2014 we are up another 30%. We are selling more items, converting more sales, and our average order has increased."


So, if you're thinking about a fresh approach to your online presence, let's look at what a shortlist of steps can include — key points for your own redesign plan, increased revenue in mind.


Redesign: Revenue-Driving Changes

A website redesign can help boost conversion and revenue for your business, but there are several strategies you'll want to consider when planning and implementing the change. What follow are five steps to start with, from vision building to going live.

  1. Talk to your customers. Take a tip from the Two Leaves example, in the previous section. Interview your clientele, find out what they like about your site, but also find out how competitors' sites work better (or worse). "By getting into the minds of our visitors, we've been able to steer them where they want to go, and where we want them to go, which ultimately leads to more conversions," says Lauren Herskovic, chief operating officer at Admissionado, an education consulting company. Her company implemented a website redesign, two years ago, and it's resulted in a 300% increase in traffic, she says. Once you've talked to your customers, ask your suppliers similar questions. Then ask your staff. Begin your virtual-world redesign with real-world insights.
  2. Clarify and communicate your vision. Your website redesign should include a message that tells people why they're in the right place. Craft a single-sentence mission statement about your product and/or service, who it's for, and why you're the best provider. Put the statement somewhere prominent on your landing page. As Stephen Woessner puts it, help your visitors to "self-select as prospects".
  3. Simplify your users' experience. Visual-web strategies can drive traffic and revenue, say experts, but clutter can counteract that effect. Remember that graphics for the sake of having image-rich environments seldom serve as well as visuals that communicate the themes and goals of your products and services.
  4. Activate customers with calls to action. Every page on your site can provide an opportunity to direct traffic toward revenue-making decisions. For your visitors, calls to action indicate what those next steps should be. Redesigns are a prime opportunity to build a more complete CTA "narrative" into your pages. And that should help boost revenue.
  5. A/B/n test before deployment. When TravelGuidesFree redesigned their website, they worked with four variations of page construction and flow. From grids to lists, and beyond, they then deployed randomly selected visitors to each iteration and tracked what happened. Understanding what works for your customers, and what does not, saves time and money when it comes to finding the right redesign for your clientele.


Finally, your website overhaul should reflect the needs of the multi-device consumer.

"Instead of designing for a single screen size, we are now designing for multiple screen sizes, from smartphones to tablets to desktops," says David Ciccarelli, founder and CEO of Voices.com, an online voice-over marketplace that he helped redesign, last year. "Taking on this project and completing it in-house, using information found in books and online, we discovered our responsive Web design effort propelled Voices.com to a 140% surge in mobile transactions and a 180% increase in revenue."

Those are percentages with which most SMBs can work. Revisiting your website, along the lines of increasing revenue and conversions, can put your business in line for just that kind of growth.

Managing your business is hard enough. Managing your website should be easy. Slabmedia offers high quality, custom designed, easy to edit websites. Talk to us about building your site, one that you can update yourself with ease. E-mail office@slabmedia.com, or call us at 617.566.3433.

Feeding Your Audience: Pacing and Sustaining Your Artist's Website 

Feeding Your Audience Pacing and Sustaining Your Artist039s Websitenbsp

Photo: Creative Commons: Oteo

For artists and creative professionals, keeping your home on the web fresh, dynamic, and engaging often takes a backseat to the work and craft of the art at hand.

Perhaps that's as it should be, most of the time. But the nature of the well-made and maintained artist's website is that it helps grow your audience. It can even generate sales that support your work while you're tucked away in the studio or out on the road.

Musicians, writers, photographers … whatever your medium, the trick to bringing your audience back to your online pages over and over again is to provide a consistent stream of new material with which they can engage. But how much content is enough to do the trick, and how do you balance the attention you need to pay to your site with the demands of your current projects?

To highlight some strategies that can help, let's turn to some artists who have figured out their pace for running a website right, all the while keeping the core of their creative work strong and on track.

Creative Websites: 3 Tips for Artists

Your work as a creative professional is always intertwined with the relationship you've built with your audience — longstanding and new members combined. It has to help tell the story of your work and your place within it, and it has to do so at the pace of the Internet.

But it doesn't have to be a slog through the same old 800 words of writing, every time. Here are three keep-it-simple approaches that successful artists say work for them.

  1. Use content to make content. "As artists we want our websites to be dynamic without sucking up our creative time," says Sarah Allen, author and blogger. "One strategy is to view our web content as a response to someone else's content or current events … we can read news articles or blogs in our niche and use those as a jumping off point." For example, if you're a filmmaker, mainstream events such as the Academy Awards can generate plenty of opportunities to update your pages with (say) short analysis pieces that look at a scene or shot from a contending film. And the naturally keyword-rich subject matter makes your topical content more findable and shareable as well.
  2. Don't limit yourself to words. Artists often think they have to compose diary-style entries or write essays about their medium to capture the dynamics about which we're talking. Not so. "I integrate Instagram images from my life into storytelling lifestyle posts," says Dana Claudat, designer and feng-shui consultant. And consider this: globally, consumers will press play on enough online video to account for 69% of consumer Internet traffic by 2017. With that in mind, grab your smartphone and make a weekly or twice-weekly update from the studio for your audience. Post 'em and get back to work. People, as it turns out, are watching.
  3. Let your audience drive. Once a month, Xiomáro, a fine-art photographer, sends out an e-mail to his subscribers — and also posts on all his social-media accounts — inviting them to engage with him on his site. This helps create content, but it can also lead to more than that. "It might be an offer to download a free e-book from my website, clicking a link to see new photographs I have posted, or picking their favorites for an exhibit I am planning," Xiomáro says. "The call to action is always accompanied by an announcement for a discount on a particular photograph. This drives visits to the website and often results in purchases."

Content Management: Keeping Updates Simple

And then there's the act of updating. That is, if you don't code, and your friends don't code, you'll want an intuitive and affordable content-management system to get all of this done.

"The number one thing I recommend for music artists running their own site is to find a CMS geared towards musicians," says Rebecca Martin, who produces EDM and hip-hop under the moniker ItGirlIncognito.

Geared towards musicians — or artists of any kind, in fact — means that your CMS should be replete with ways to add and share content without having to dive into the guts of the code that runs it all. But while keeping your website updates as close to drag-and-drop as possible is a desirable CMS feature, be certain your system is flexible enough so that you can wrap everything you post in a theme that is unique to you — ideally one that you or a designer make for your site, and your site alone.

Point is, what visitors find at your online home should suggest key elements of your aesthetic as an artist. This helps to create experiences that better echo your work in the studio or on the stage. Because your online pages are as valid an expression of your artistic and professional goals as any performance, publication, or gallery showing. Embrace your online work, and keep it going — but keep it going within the framework of small, time-conscious steps. As an artist, your work and your audience deserve it.

Managing your business is hard enough. Managing your website should be easy. Slabmedia offers high quality, custom designed, easy to edit websites. Talk to us about building your site, one that you can update yourself with ease. E-mail Slabmedia, or call us at 617.566.3433.