Open up your market

There has never been a better time for small businesses to be selling online. E-commerce is booming in almost every sector while at the same time, CMS solutions make it possible to build and manage a highly professional online shop at a fraction of the cost.

Online shopping is big business. Last year, Australian shoppers spent $19.3 billion with an average of $834 per person — one of the highest online spends in the world. However, a recent report claims that only half of Australian business websites have e-commerce features to enable them to sell their products or services online.

Consumers have come to expect online ordering from even the smallest businesses. Our own research found that 56% expect small businesses to offer online shopping capabilities. With so many small businesses already cashing in on eCommerce, you could already be losing out to your competitors if you don’t sell online.

Even customers who don’t wish to buy online still expect to find product information on a business’ website — 62% said they browse online before purchasing a product in store.

If you haven’t considered selling online, just think about the size of the audience you’re missing out on. E-commerce allows you to sell your products to anywhere in the world, meaning you are no longer restricted to the local area. This equates to incredible potential for increased sales and profits.

Many small businesses have realised this potential, and have chosen to sell their products on eBay, Instagram or even via their Facebook page. This does not give an impression of professionalism. The main benefit of eCommerce is that it allows the smallest businesses to compete with the largest — you’d never see a large, successful business sending their customers to eBay to buy their products. It’s best to have an eCommerce solution integrated with your business website. This means you can manage your whole sales process through your site, from advertising your products to taking payment and organising delivery. The good news is it’s not as complicated as you might think to create an eCommerce website.

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Branding, what we learn from the big boys

Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small, retail or B2B. An effective brand strategy gives you a major edge in increasingly competitive markets. But what exactly does “branding” mean? How does it affect a small business like yours?

Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors’. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.

Are you the innovative maverick in your industry? Or the experienced, reliable one ? Is your product the high-cost, high-quality option, or the low-cost, high-value option? You can’t be both, and you can’t be all things to all people. Who you are should be based to some extent on which your target customers want and need you to be.

The foundation of your brand is your logo. Your website, packaging and promotional materials–all of which should integrate your logo–communicate your brand.

Brand Strategy & Equity

Your brand strategy is how, what, where, when and to whom you plan on communicating and delivering on your brand messages. Where you advertise is part of your brand strategy. Your distribution channels are also part of your brand strategy. And what you communicate visually and verbally are part of your brand strategy, too.

Consistent, strategic branding leads to a strong brand equity, which means the added value brought to your company’s products or services that allows you to charge more for your brand than what identical, unbranded products command. The most obvious example of this is Coke vs. a generic soda. Because Coca-Cola has built powerful brand equity, it can charge more for its product–and customers will pay that higher price.

The added value intrinsic to brand equity frequently comes in the form of perceived quality or emotional attachment. For example, Nike associates its products with star athletes; hoping customers will transfer their emotional attachment from the athlete to the product. For Nike, it’s not just the shoe’s features that sell the shoe.

Defining Your Brand

Defining your brand is like a journey of business self-discovery. It can be difficult, time-consuming and uncomfortable. It requires, at the very least, that you answer the questions below:

  • What is your company’s mission?
  • What are the benefits and features of your products or services?
  • What do your customers and prospects already think of your company?
  • What qualities do you want them to associate with your company?

Do your research. Learn the needs, habits and desires of your current and prospective customers. And don’t rely on what you think they think. Know what they think.

Because defining your brand and developing a brand strategy can be complex, consider leveraging the expertise of a non-profit small-business advisory group or a Small Business development center.

Once you’ve defined your brand, how do you get the word out? Here are a few simple, time-tested tips:

  • Get a great logo. Place it everywhere.
  • Write down your brand messaging. What are the key messages you want to communicate about your brand? Every employee should be aware of your brand attributes.
  • Integrate your brand. Branding extends to every aspect of your business–how you answer your phones, what you or your salesperson’s say on sales calls, your e-mail signature, everything.
  • Create a “voice” for your company that reflects your brand. This voice should be applied to all written communication and incorporated in the visual imagery of all materials, online and off. Is your brand friendly? Be conversational. Is it unique? Be more formal. You get the gist.
  • Develop a tagline. Write a memorable, meaningful and concise statement that captures the essence of your brand.
  • Design templates and create brand standards for your marketing materials. Use the same colour scheme, logo placement, and look and feel throughout. You don’t need to be fancy, just consistent.
  • Be true to your brand. Customers won’t return to you–or refer you to someone else–if you don’t deliver on your brand promise.
  • Be consistent. I placed this point last only because it involves all of the above and is the most important tip I can give you. If you can’t do this, your attempts at establishing a brand will fail.

The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media

Whether you’re new to social media or just looking to close a few knowledge gaps, we’re glad you stopped by. By now, we’ve all heard how valuable—even essential—social media can be. Whether your current sentiment leans more toward enthusiasm or trepidation, there’s no way around the fact that social media is a far more complex field than it first seems. Diving in without a sense for what it’s like can be overwhelming, and building a network that provides real value takes both savvy and hard work, but fear not—we’re here to help! We hope you’ll find this to be one of the most comprehensive social media resources available, and that no matter what your skill level is, there’s plenty in here to help you improve your social presence. What are we waiting for? Let’s dive in!

What is social media?

“Social media” is a way for people to communicate and interact online. While it has been around since the dawn of the World Wide Web, in the last 10 years or so we’ve seen a surge in both the number and popularity of social media sites. It’s called social media because users engage with (and around) it in a social context, which can include conversations, commentary, and other user-generated annotations and engagement interactions.

Publishing content has become exponentially simpler over the last several years, which has helped skyrocket the use of social media. Non-technical web users are now able to easily create content on a rapidly growing number of platforms, including those that are owned (hosted communities, blogs, etc.), rented (social networks or third-party communities), and occupied (commenting, contributing, etc.). Today’s web has shifted from a “one-to-many” to a “many-to-many” method of engagement, and we love it. For businesses, the shift in web consumerism and accompanying rise in social media brings both opportunity and responsibility. The sheer amount of data that customers make available through social media alone has web marketers jumping for joy. The real magic, however, lies in the opportunity to grow lasting and scale able relationships with your organization’s customer base through social media. This is also where your online responsibility to your customers begins to take shape. Just as your customers’ behavior has shifted, so have their expectations for yours. Whether your business is listening and engaging or not, customers are having conversations relevant to your operations. It’s better to be part of the conversation, right? We sure think so!

Is social media just a fad?

Over the last several years, there has been an explosion of growth in popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and many others. It’s safe to say that the era of social media is just getting started, and the need for social media in business will only become stronger over time. The whole world has seen the impact of the expansion and adoption of social media tactics, and the rising stats speak for themselves.

How can social be a springboard for success in other marketing channels?

 Keep in mind that neither your customers’ experience nor your brand starts with Twitter, Facebook, or your blog. Social media should take your existing brand and solidify it, galvanize it, and bolster it. Your efforts in social media should be an extension of everything else you do in all departments of your company. Capturing your company’s voice and sharing it with the world through social media will open up unique opportunities in all other channels of inbound marketing, including SEO, branding, public relations, sales, and more, channels of inbound marketing, including SEO, branding, public relations, sales, and more.

Relationships

To get the most out of social media, make the relationships you build with it your end goal. That might sound a bit utopian for anyone who is grounded in more traditional and tangible business measurement and metrics, but take a step back from the bottom-line, ROI-seeking aspect to look at the big picture for a minute. The relationships built with customers are the foundations upon which other aspects of your business can and will flourish.

Feedback

Information can be shared through social media at an amazingly fast pace, and users are increasingly turning to social channels to share information in real-time. This information often takes the form of opinions, so if you’re listening for the right cues from your audience, social media can become an invaluable source of insights and feedback. Incorporating social listening into product development work can act as an early warning system, save on customer service costs, provide valuable development feedback, and even help identify ideal beta testers without much expense.

Integration

Social media is not something you can simply “tack on” to the rest of your marketing, branding, PR, and advertising efforts; it needs to be a fully integrated part of the mix. In doing so, you can create a cohesive and scalable experience for your customers. Think of it as a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Also, it’s not as hard as it sounds.

Be sure to integrate social media into your marketing efforts as early as possible to help amplify and solidify your work rather than waiting until the end of a planning cycle to explore social options. If a social presence is clear from the start, your branding will benefit from additional customer touch-points, PR will see a lift in impressions and reach, and customer service can proactively listen and activate where necessary.

As you can see, a social presence can have far-reaching impact for your organization when it is executed in an authentic and thoughtful manner. By making social engagement a core part of your operations rather than an afterthought, you have a better shot at fully leveraging its power.

 

Australian businesses and social media

Proportion of businesses that have a social media presence

More businesses now have a social media presence than has previously been recorded. Forty eight percent of small businesses, 54% of medium                businesses and 79% of large businesses are now on social media. Facebook continues to be the most popular platform by far, with LinkedIn and              Twitter relatively prominent, particularly in medium and large businesses where Instagram and YouTube are also common. Other platforms do not       have widespread appeal, although almost one in five large businesses use Google+. Four percent of small businesses, 2% of medium sized businesses     and 2% of large businesses claimed to have removed a social media presence this year. The main reasons were that it required too much time or that      there was no return on their investment. Seventeen percent of small businesses not currently using social media anticipate adding a presence in the       next year. This is also true for 13% of medium sized businesses and 29% of large businesses.   Those with no intention primarily said they don’t see a   benefit to their business from using social media.

 

   Path to purchase

Among the 14% who use social media platforms to research something they want to buy, holiday, travel and accommodation stood out (21%). There were also double figure mentions for clothing and fashion (12%) and appliances or electrical equipment (11%). However, as indicated in the previous section, clothing and  fashion are being researched far less through social media than in the past two years. Now such research via a mobile device has
clearly overtaken the computer. Purchases increased to 59% (from 49% last year) but they had been higher in 2014 at 63%. There has been a gradual increase since 2013 in the proportion who made their purchase online, from 50% to 71%.

Advertising on social networking sites

Attitudes towards advertising on social media remain polarised in a number of respects. There are still over a third of people who are happy to see ads (34%, was 38% in 2015) and over four in ten click on them occasionally to find out more (43%, was 42%). It is still the case that a slight majority (53%) take no notice of such ads, but this has come down from 69% in 2014 and 55% last year. Likewise, most ignore sponsored posts from businesses they don’t follow, but this incidence has fallen from 72% to 67%. A new statement included this survey reveals that over four in ten will inspect a brand’s social media presence before making an online purchase if they had not previously purchased from that brand’s website. Most importantly 43% click on ads on social sites to get more information.

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