Monday, June 29, 2009

Are You Pleasantly Surprised, and What Does This Have to Do with Toothpaste?

I recently attended an event where one of the key aspects was a "goody bag" that all participants received at the end. Having never attended before, my expectations were that I would really enjoy the event, and be so-so about the goody bag. Rather, the reverse happened. The event was not great, as it featured many vendors that did not thrill me, and other items for sale that were really not my taste. Liquor was a focal point of the evening, and since I don't drink, that didn't thrill me either. Plus, I was hungry and there was no food. Zero. Not a potato chip or a cookie or even a carrot stick to be found. You get the picture.

So, I left earlier then I'd planned, grabbed my goodie bag, and left. I did an initial review of the items and was equally underwhelmed. They included a book I will never read (not a fan of romance novels), some overly scented lotions, some elite M&M's (ok, I admit mild interest in this), and a strange powder in a tube that was supposed to be frozen in order to convert into a low fat refreshing snack. Hmm, not so sure about that one either. (It's still in the freezer. I'm observing it, like a science project.)

I was just about to write off the entire experience, when I came upon a tube of toothpaste. This in itself was not exciting. I just happened to need some toothepaste, so I put it in the bathroom and that night, thought I'd try it out. What was interesting was not so much the toothpaste, but its unique cap, which was designed in such a way as to open both from the top as a screw on, and on the side, as a flip up. This was a novelty. I stared at it again a few times, trying both ways out of curiosity.

It was only after noticing that the tube of toothpaste could be opened both ways, that I bothered to look at exactly what brand it was: "Colgate Max Fresh with Breath Stripes!" Interesting, I thought to myself. Would I ever use the cap both ways? Probably not, as I was more of a twist off then flap up kind of gal. Still, it was nice to know the option was there. So, the Colgate was the big winner of the evening, and the goody bag. I began to happily brush as I recited to myself, and now to you, the day's marketing lesson: offer your customers some choice where they least expect it, and they'll remember who you are.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It's All About the Chocolate

I'm excited about my latest article publication, and my latest venture in the food writing journey --a feature story in the June issue of Bay Area Business Woman that highlights the 3rd annual International Chocolate Salon held in March at Fort Mason in San Francisco. I am proud to say I have officially graduated from the world of Snickers and M&M's (OK, they have their moments as well), to the world of Dagoba, Chuao, and Theo.

I learned that in 2008, chocolate sales were a whopping $17 billion, and that organic chocolates are currently the fastest growing snack in the country, with US sales jumping to $94 million. Event highlights included spa products, exotic flavors like "sizzling bacon bars," (maybe don't try this at home), and fast growing celebrity brands like Cocoa Bella, Jade Chocolates, and the old favorite Ghirardelli. Highlights of the article include:

*Interview with Lisa Averbuch, founder of Loft Liqueurs, the country's only organic spirit company.
"I saw that there was a gap in the marketplace, and I had a great product in the making, so I just went for it," Lisa states. Her delicious flavors include lavender, lemongrass, and spicy ginger. I tasted the lemongrass and it was off the hook!

*Interview with Jeanne Lindberg, owner of San Mateo's Jeanne's Fudge, which also was very rich and yet light. I admit I am not a fudge fan, but after my taste test, I'm changing my ways and heading to Jeanne's.
"I've been told countless times by people that this is the best fudge they ever had," Jeanne says.

It was interesting that many of the chocolate entrepreneurs I interviewed had one thing in common: a "seize the day" approach that led them to go for it. This is a good business lesson for many of us. It was also interesting that even in a down economy, chocolate was clearly recession proof, with many of us treating ourselves to small indulgences.

A few tips on interviewing chocolatiers for tv or video (note: I have a vid in the works)
1. Introduce the chocolatier to the audience
2. Listen to the processes, themes, and ingredients that distinguish one chocolate from another.
3. Accept the offer (that you most certainly will get) to taste a piece, and pick the yummiest looking one (don't take too long, someone else might grab it!)
4. When you taste the chocolate, carefully savor the textures, and identify key ingredients. Some gourmet chcocolates, for example, contain olive oil. Explain what the chocolate tastes like to the viewer, and be specific.
Don't just say, "tasted great!" We know that already.

Have you written about any food trends, and what about guilty pleasures? And, what's your favorite brand of chocolate?

The Salon was sponsored by Taste TV, a leading new media food, wine, and lifestyle network.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

12 Essential Tips on Organizing Your First Webinar

I have participated in many webinars, and found them to be a great tool to get people together in an online learning environment. Webinars are a great way to establish your brand, increase online visibility, and establish your expertise.

I recently started researching best practices, so that when the time comes, I'll be webinar ready.

Webinars can be stressful -- will my speakers show up? Will my slides run correctly? So here are some tips you will find useful to help ensure that your first webinar will run smoothly. If you think of your webinar like a party, where you want the company, food, and talk to be interesting, fun, relevant, and entertaining, you're on the right track.

1. Organize 6-8 Weeks in Advance
Organize your webinar at least 6-8 weeks in advance, particularly if you are lining up expert speakers. You will need time to coordinate the material they will be covering, establish who will be speaking on what specific topic areas, and what materials if any will be incorporated. Typically, a slide deck participants can follow along with is a key component of the presentation. Organize a master schedule with key dates for tasks to be completed so you can stay on track.

2. Publicize at Least a Month in Advance

You want to give potential participants a good amount of lead time so they can mark their calendars, and forward the information to friends or colleagues who might find the webinar useful. Fortunately, there are many free publicity tools out there to utilize (see next tip.) If you you publicize too far ahead of time, however, you may irk the people on your mailing lists with too much repetitive copy, so limit your timeframe to a month in advance, with weekly updates highlighting various aspects of the webinar to keep the topic fresh.

3. Take Advantage of Free Publicity and Marketing Tools

Fortunately, there are many tools out there to publicize your webinar, most of which you probably have used already or have in place. Use your blog, links to the blogs of colleagues and associates, e-newsletter, and social media communications to spread the word about your webinar, and make sure you link to your sign up landing page so participants have a clear way to register. It is very important to collect the names of those who sign up - these are the people are may become stakeholders in your future products and services. You can also add the webinar info and link to your e-mail signature, and create a short video, like a movie preview, that highlights the content of the webinar, which you can post to YouTube. Send out a search engine optimized press release that highlights your key speakers and content. If you do any speaking engagements or are in any networking groups, hand out flyers about the webinar and offer an incentive for signing up, such as a free whitepaper or e-book.

4. Practice Practice...Practice

Make sure your panel of experts does at least one run-through of the webinar before the live event. If you are running the webinar alone, practice on your own or preferably with a group of friends or colleagues who can help you tweak any problems. Sometimes during the practice session, you or your speakers might discover new topics or resources that should be integrated into the webinar content.

5. Organize Great Content

You're more likely to have enthusiasm and participation in your webinar if you offer unique and valuable content. If you've already participated in a dozen workshops on Twitter, chances are your potential audience has as well, so think of content that might be slightly under the radar but still current and valuable. If you've written several blog posts on how to save time using social networks and received great comments and feedback, this might be a great webinar topic. You might want to consider a series, if you have a larger topic that could be broken out into 3 one-hour segments. Also, remember that people's attention spans are limited, so spice up the program with polls that participants can vote in. Many programs offer almost instant results, and it is a great way to keep your audience awake. Remember to keep your slide deck simple, with clear, straightforward graphics and easy to read type with clear bullet points. Everyone uses different technology, and you need to use technology that will work for all participants.

6. Technology and Equipment Testing

Make sure the webinar program you are using is compatible with most computer formats, and that clear instructions for the user are provided at least a week before the webinar. Many people don't read the details on the first take, so repeat the instructions in several e-mails, and even on your first few slides, to help people get set up. Make sure you are set up correctly as well. Print out your slide deck just in case, and some like to use two computers if possible, one that has your master controls set up, and the other that shows what the participants are seeing.

7. Delegate a Note Taker
Many participant questions come up during webinars, and you will never get to them all. You should, however, assign a designated person to scan the questions that come up and make sure you address pressing or popular questions so you can satisfy your audience. Let your audience know how many people are on the webinar so they have a realistic expectation as to whether or not you will get to their question.

8. The Day Before
Make sure if you are in a shared office space with others, or a home office, that they are well informed about the webinar and know not to disturb you will it is going on. Place a Do Not Disturb sign on your office door. Also, make sure your area is quiet. Simulate all the conditions in which the webinar will take place so you can troubleshoot any problems or distractions. If your webinar is scheduled at the same time as your garbage collection or the next door neighbor's rock concert, you will need to make an adjustment. Make sure you get plenty of rest, and try to get a good workout in as well - this will help with any webinar related anxiety and stress. Communicate any last reminders or details to those involved with your webinar, including speakers, staff, etc.

9. The Day Of
Warm up your voice and drink plenty of water. You don't want to be coughing or have a dry throat in the middle of your webinar. Make sure you go to the bathroom before the start of the webinar, and keep a pad and paper handy to take notes on any questions or issues that may come up during the session that you will need to revisit.

10. Plan a Freebie for Participants

Live webinar participants are taking time out of their busy days for you, so you want to reward them by offering them a nice freebie, such as an access code to a special link with resources off your web site, an e-book, a discount off a future service, etc.

11. Survey Your Participants Afterwards
Feedback is crucial in running your webinars, particularly if you plan on making then a large part of your online marketing. Make sure you send all participants a quick survey at the end of the program, and read through user comments and critiques carefully. Use them to tweak your next webinar....and you're off!

12. Do Post Webinar Marketing
Write up a highlights story about key themes, questions, and issues that came up during your webinar, and publish it in your blog, newsletter, and social media sites. If you had a great attendance, be sure and mention this as it's a great magnet to get attention for your next webinar or other event. Use your mailing list to obtain a few user testimonials you can use in your marketing for you next webinar.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Online Marketing: Can You Be Nice and Still Sell?

Recently, I've noticed a growing trend in sales and marketing talk...the idea that we can sell stuff online and still be nice. A new audio series I recently discovered is basing all its materials on this. An entrepreneur and small business woman prides herself on selling to people by hardly trying, and making the process nearly invisible.

The implication is that the traditional sales person isn't so nice, or rather is obnoxious, or aggressive, or almost forces you into buying something because you're deathly afraid of what will happen to you if you don't. Many entrepreneurs are building their online brands around the fact that they offer the "soft sell." They don't want to rush you. They want you to be comfortable in their world. They are willing to wait years before you will even entertain the thought of buying their course or e-book, and they will slave away for months working on free downloads to offer you first so they earn your trust. They want buyers to comment: "Wow, you're offering this for free? You must be nuts!"

Or, they want you to buy, but don't want you to think of it as buying. You are affirming a relationship, claiming a stake in the future, validating someone, or some thing, else. Investing in yourself.

As both a seller and a consumer, I agree I want to feel trust from the person I'm buying from, but if the product looks appealing and fills a need that I have, I don't need to wait 10 years to buy it, and I don't need to feel like the seller is going to be my best friend. Also, there is going to have to be a sense of urgency. The product is going to have to fulfill a need that I have now.

A great example of a "nice" online seller is They do everything but place your item in your shopping cart for you. They track what items you research and offer you information about similar items. They tell you about upcoming sales and promotions in your area of interest, and similarly, what books others bought that match your search. They offer user testimonials on the third-party sellers they use, and discounts on shipping. They let you track your order, and have a fair return policy.

So whether the online seller is a company or a person, and even though I may wait until that last moment before the sale is over or the product goes offline, I will still buy it if I perceive it to be of value. I want the seller's online persona to be credible, clear, and concise. I want a specific description of what I'm getting and what will happen if I'm not satisfied after I order. If it is an individual seller, I am uncomfortable if they appear to be rushing me, or if they appear desperate. And even though their next car payment or mortgage may hinge on their sales success, I don't want to hear about it. If their product is that good and does what it says it will, no one needs to be worried.

So, is this a soft sell, or just a "get real" sell? Think about the last item you bought or sold online. What does it take for you to make successful sales, and what criteria do you need to make a purchase?

Monday, June 15, 2009

What is Your Communications Menu?

Over the weekend, I attended a local carnival. I had been to the same carnival the year before, and remembered that it really wasn't the rides that interested me, nor was it the raffle, since each ticket was a minimum purchase of $50, although this was for a chance to win a Toyota, or $15,000. Nor was it the games, since I already own quite a selection of stuffed animals and cannot rationalize one more bear or giraffe, as cute as they are.

So why do I keep going to the fair? Because the variety interests me, and as an observer, I enjoy seeing what others like to do. It's not only kids, but parents and people of every age making a run for the ferris wheel, or the dunking booth, or even just hanging out in the front row where the musicians play. There are people trying hard to listen to the emcee for the day, who describes all the activities and promotions, while others could care less and keep talking over any announcements. There are people who buy the high priced raffle tickets, giving them a perceived value. And then there are those who will only take what is free, such as a balloon, a pen, a coupon, or a magnet or sticker.

Then, there is the food. Hot dogs, burgers, chicken, fish. Steak, tamales, corn on the cob, salads, pasta. Cotton candy. Ice cream. Fudge. Pizza. I noticed at my table alone, not one person was eating the same thing, and they all seemed equally pleased. Some people were looking for the same food they had the year before, and were quite stubborn about it. Some children surprised their parents by wanting chicken instead of a hot dog, and some parents wanted to try something new.

So what does all this have to do with communications? A lot. It's important for those of us who run small businesses, to pay attention to the fact that their audiences are going to want to experience what they have to say in many ways. Some will want a coupon before they try anything, while others may take more of a leap of faith if the product or offer looks good enough, and you have established some basis of trust. Some people may want to chat quite a bit before they even think of buying anything (think social networking), while others are more ready to make a decision and just want the instructions (click my link to....)

The truth is, if the carnival only offered the same kind of rides, the same foods, and the same booths, no one would go, or if they did, they'd be headed back home in an hour. Do you only offer a newsletter, when you could offer a blog or podcast as well? Do you only do printed communications without trying video, or slideshows?

Some people may respond more to visuals, and make a decision based on how great they think a product looks, (think cool e-book cover graphic), while others are more auditory, and may rely more on buzz, or hearing an audio recording of what you or your product offers.

So, when you have decided on your business message and your products, think about offering a variety of means that people can choose from in order to make the experience relevant to them. The more variety you have, the more comfortable they'll be likely to feel in making a purchase , subscription, or commitment to the services and community you offer. Maybe, like me, they need to try the carousel before the flying space ride, and maybe they need to sample the fudge before buying the whole cake. The important thing is that they stay with you, and that they keep coming back. If you offer the variety they need, it won't be long before they try something new, and better yet, let you now how great it was.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Twitter: It Is What It Is...Or Isn't It? Important Articles from the Twittersphere

The More Followers You Have, The More You Tweet.
Or Is It The Other Way Around?

An interesting article in Tech Crunch suggests that the more followers we have, the more we tweet, and not coincidentally, the more we tweet, the more followers we get. Sysomos, a social media company in Toronto, looked at 11.5 million Twitter accounts and concluded that the top 10 percent of Twitter users produce 86 percent of the Tweets (which closely matches a Harvard Business School study that estimates the top 10 percent of Twitter users do 90 percent of the Tweeting). It is even more concentrated than that. The Sysomos data indicates that the top 5 percent of people on Twitter account for 75 percent of all Tweets.

More than half of all users (55 percent) use a Twitter app
The most popular way to use Twitter is through its Website (45 percent), followed by TweetDeck (19 percent). Twitterfon and Tweetie are the two most popular mobile apps and the No. 3 and No. 5 most popular ways to use Twitter overall, with 4.5 percent and 3.7 percent market share, respectively. Twitterfeed, which people use to submit RSS feeds to Twitter and which was purchased today by Betaworks, was the No. 4 client with 3.8 percent share.

Twitter Tools to Organize Your Tweeps
"Followholism," or the need to keep track of who we are following, is becoming a growing issue, with over 12 million users and growing. Mashable organizes a toolkit that can help you take control of Twitter and organize your followers, including Tweetcloud, which provides a cluster of key words the user engages in so you can assess whether the topic interests you enough to follow, and Twitter Karma, which filters through those who are not following you, even though you are following them.

How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live

A June 5th article from Time magazine online points out that while Twitter may seem superficial, it has an underlying depth that has surprised us. It offers the thrill of real time reporting, whether it's about urgent international events, or what someone just had for breakfast, and the 140 character limit seems to be the great equalizer for all of it.

"Websites that once saw their traffic dominated by Google search queries are seeing a growing number of new visitors coming from "passed links" at social networks like Twitter and Facebook. This is what the naysayers fail to understand: it's just as easy to use Twitter to spread the word about a brilliant 10,000-word New Yorker article as it is to spread the word about your Lucky Charms habit."

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Scan Your Books and Digitize Your Library with Google

Anyone silently (or otherwise)freaking out (like I am) over the number of books they have piling up and maybe even taking over their homes, can find some relief with the new Google Books application. It allows you to scan your books with an electronic scanner, feed the information into Google, and allow the search engine to find a match, which shows up as a listed menu item after the search has been completed.

And if you think that's cool, there are a number of interesting things one can do after that, such as run a search if, say, you can't remember what book you read recently had a chapter about the Civil War, or a recipe for pumpkin pie. I also like how you can theoretically archive your entire collection and take it with you if you are going on a trip, or even moving. How great would it be not to have to pack up hundreds of books?

In this video, the incredibly succinct Matt Cutts from Google shows how to scan books using an electronic scanner (under $70 from Amazon), and watch how the barcode magically appears with all the relevant book information. You can even ask the program to display the book covers as well.

I'm sold, and am going to try this asap. My only next questions are: what will I do with all the extra space my books were taking up? How will I find the time to scan 500 of my favorite books? Can they sinc all this to the Kindle?

Get started today and order your handy bar code scanner right here, I've conveniently found it for you!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Crying Foul

I recently received a series of e-mails promoting an online marketing course. The communications were sprinkled with curse words and foul language, for no particular reason that I could discern, except perhaps to make the text standout. It was written by 2 women supposedly experienced in marketing and online sales, but after reading through e-mail after e-mail of rapidly deteriorating "pitches," I unsubscribed and could not wait to close the window fast enough.

Several new blogs I have seen promoted also feature crass language and cursory words in the title and tag lines. I am not exactly a prude when it comes to language, but I have never seen the benefit of anyone expressing themselves this way, either in verbal or written communication, and I really just find it alienating.

Are we in such competition to garner online sales and revenue that we will stop at nothing? What happened to succint, fluent, and elegant copywriting? That's the course I want to take, and the blogger I want to follow. Let's hope this isn't what the evolution of web 3.0 will turn into.