An Expert’s Guide to Online Marketing

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Small Business Expert

Essential hints, tips & business advice for startups & entrepreneurs.

Want to increase your small business’ sales, expand market share and boost your year-end profits? Consider doubling down on custom marketing programs and online solutions. Thanks to the magic of high-tech, from unique value-adds to creative contests, giveaways and online deals, a variety of novel campaigns can quickly be assembled to match any budget. Looking to give your enterprise the gift of record growth? The following expert online marketing guide – complete with hints, tips and strategies for entrepreneurs, startups and local neighborhood stores – can help you bolster your balance sheet without breaking the bank.

Social and Affiliate Programs – Given word of mouth’s growing influence on today’s household purchasing decisions, it pays to turn fans of your business into evangelists. The best way to recruit them: Incentivize conversation by providing eye-catching offers and savings, and compensate those that generate direct leads with exclusive discounts, gifts and cash rewards. Using software tools such as those offered by providers like Extole, DirectTrack and ReferralCandy, you can create customized referral programs for almost any industry. (Refer a pal, get $20! Click here to send Facebook friends a code for 60% off!) Distributable via social networks, widgets, apps and email, white-label solutions not only offer wide flexibility across devices, platforms and promotions. They also make it easy to track ads from click to purchase, and conscript an army of credible sales associates working on a strictly commission basis.

Mobile and Location-Based Marketing – Over 420 million smartphones were expected to sell in 2011 alone according to IMS Research, many containing built-in GPS devices that actively monitor users’ locations. Letting you speak to customers at the right time and place when they’re in a shopping mood, mobile and location-based marketing services like Geotoko, Placecast and Xtify can potentially help close more deals. Providing users with discounts, giveaways and specials via text message, pop-up alert or email, you can also integrate marketing with services like Foursquare and GoWalla to tie campaigns to specific stores or locations. From unique apps that send notifications even when closed to search engines that serve up special offers based on zip code, choices continue to grow. Letting you reach customers right when they’re weighing their options, location-based services can help you steal a sale right out from under a competitor’s feet.

QR Codes – Another handy feature many smartphones and tablets with built-in cameras such as the iPhone and iPad enjoy: The ability to scan Quick Response (QR) codes. These high-tech symbols, which operate similar to retail barcodes, can beam over instant savings or provide access to useful online information. Add them to signs, print ads, business cards and brochures, and customers can quickly access coupons, download menus on-demand or even see how low your prices compare to rivals’. Simple bonuses they offer might include providing free seasonal recipes to go with every dining set, complementary festive music downloads for that new stereo or videos showing products you’re selling in action. Letting you offer everything from suggestions on complementary accessories to go with that scarf to driving directions, potential applications are endless. Just be sure each offers customers meaningful rewards and tie a call-to-action to programs (take our survey to win a beach vacation!) to maximize performance.

Discounts and Deals – With value still paramount for millions of households, many entrepreneurs are increasingly coupling door-busting offers with regular distribution through daily deal services. Providers like Groupon, Living Social, Amazon Local and Google Offers can potentially put savings in front of millions for a slice of each purchase. Letting customers register to receive arresting bargains on spas, restaurants, movie theaters and more via email, all offer opportunities to help marketing programs connect with households trying to stretch every dollar. You can even set minimum purchase quantities required before discounts activate. Likewise, savvy marketers are also leveraging bargain-hunting services like FatWallet, RetailMeNot and DealsPl.us to reach today’s most price-sensitive buyers. Providing discount coupon codes, printable vouchers and unique presents for gift shoppers themselves (free holiday sampler with purchase) can help entice cost-conscious customers back into the fold.

Custom Content and Publications – Resourceful entrepreneurs can also give shoppers the gift of more precious moments to spend with friends and family by providing time-saving hints and advice. Email marketing services ConstantContact, iContact and MadMimi let you send custom digital newsletters (and even expert online marketing guides – how meta!) straight to shoppers’ inboxes for a fraction of the cost of print mailers, and enable content sharing through social networks. Popular service MailChimp even allows gorgeous, customized mailings to be sent free in small quantities, while upgrades allow you to track viewers’ social media profiles and send targeted emails via Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or LinkedIn. Couple with links to bargains, storefronts and online videos (free to upload and host on providers like YouTube, Vimeo and Metacafe, then embed on your own site) to enhance SEO and user engagement. Beyond highlighting your expertise, all can enhance your reach, keep holiday bargains top of mind and help alleviate shoppers’ stress while building brand awareness.

 

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About author

Johner Riehl

Johner Riehl is a freelance writer focusing on families, technology and online safety. As founder and editorial director for FamilyFriendlyApps.com and FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com, sites that provide reviews and recommendations geared towards families, he examines hundreds of family-friendly games and apps every year. He’s also host of Parent Savers, a podcast aimed at helping parents of newborns, infants and toddlers. TWITTER: @FamilyTechDad

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