Rhea Wharton

Gain an Edge Over Your Competition With These Research Tools and Tactics

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Nobody ever created a strong marketing strategy without industry context. Competitor research is the cornerstone of an effective marketing plan because it provides you with an understanding of how needs for your product or service are currently being met in the market. With this information, you can build truly unique positioning, identifying an unmet need and articulating how your offering serves this need better than any competitor’s. You can also evaluate which channels should be included in your marketing mix.

Below are four tactics my teams incorporate into competitor research for most clients we work with.

1. Sign Up for Competitors’ Email Lists

Email marketing technology is used by 82% of B2C and B2B companies, so it’s highly likely that your marketing plan will include an email marketing strategy.[1] Joining your competitors’ email lists can often be done through their websites and will give you insight into their email communication strategies, including:

  • Frequency of email touch points with prospects
  • Messaging, including subject lines and calls to action
  • Imagery used
  • Types of links they want their audience to click

Assess what your competitors are doing well and where their communication misses the mark and use this analysis to build an effective email marketing strategy for your company.

2. Gain Insight Into Their PPC and SEO Strategies With SpyFu

I thought SpyFu was too good to be true the first time I heard about it. It’s an online tool that lets anyone download their competitors’ most profitable keywords and ads for paid and organic search just by entering a competitor’s domain. This allows you to understand the search marketing strategy of competitors and more specifically:

  • Identify profitable PPC keywords for your industry
  • Find competitor examples to help craft effective ad copy
  • Outrank your competitors in organic searches by understanding their SEO keyword strategies
  • Run monthly custom SEO reports on competitors’ domain

SpyFu’s Basic Plan starts at $29/month for a month-to-month subscription.

3. Shop Their Stores and Talk to Their Salespeople

Shopping at both brick & mortar and online stores provides insight into how products or services are pitched and what the customer sales experience is like. While performing competitor research for a client last month, I visited competitor stores and learned:

  • How salespeople talk about the competitor product
  • The store experience, including overall vibe and how the product is displayed
  • What physical assets the salesperson gives customers so they can continue educating themselves about the product once they leave the store
  • What other products the salesperson pointed me to in an effort to upsell
  • Next steps recommended by the salesperson to help customers in the decision-making process

You can learn about the online customer experience as well by visiting competitors’ websites. Understand:

  • Shopping cart experience
  • What calls to action are used to drive individuals from information gathering to signing up for a newsletter or interacting with a sales rep
  • What types of customer support a competitor offers

4. Follow Them on Social Media

Should social media play a role in your marketing? Looking into competitors’ social media activity will help you decide this as well as:

  • Which platforms are likely to be most effective for connecting with your audience (based on competitor presence and following on each platform)
  • Potential size of the audience you could gain with a presence on the platform
  • Potential engagement level from this audience
  • What type of content will get the most engagement from prospects and customers

[1] Business2Community, “37 Email Marketing Stats You Can’t Afford to Miss [Infographic]”, http://www.business2community.com/infographics/37-email-marketing-stats-cant-afford-miss-infographic-01649370 – 32Hhg55HCTMpbjRc.97

6 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Loyalty Program Platform For Your Small Business

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When implemented correctly, a loyalty program is a great way to build relationships with your existing customers and consequently increase sales. As you select a platform for your loyalty program, consider the following questions:

Does the platform integrate with my point of sale (POS) system? To preserve a smooth customer experience at the point of sale, confirm that the loyalty program platform you select integrates with your POS system. This will ensure that points earned from purchases will automatically be added to each customer’s loyalty account versus you having to manually add them to the loyalty program platform after every transaction.

How will my customers sign up for my loyalty program? Some platforms allow customers to sign up in-store through a tablet or point of sale (POS) system, while others allow sign-ups through a website or mobile app. Consider which of these channels will be most convenient for your customers and be sure the platform you select offers these options.

Does the platform offer referral tracking? Rewarding customers for referring their friends to your business is a great way to increase your customer base. For many people, no recommendation is stronger than a word-of-mouth endorsement from an acquaintance. Nielsen, a global information and measurement company, states that 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising.* Take advantage of this by selecting a platform that can track customer referrals so you can incentivize your customers to champion your brand.

Do I want to be able to reward my customers for promoting my business on social media? Increasing transaction amounts and purchase frequency among current customers isn’t the only benefit to a loyalty program. A loyalty program can help generate broader awareness and new customers for your business. Loyalty rewards can be used to encourage your customers to promote your business on their social media profiles, which will help you reach their friends and followers. These prospective customers may have similar interests and tastes to your customers’, making them the perfect target audience for posts about your business. As you research loyalty platforms, check their social media integration capabilities to ensure that they support those social media platforms used by your customers.

What customer support is available with my platform subscription? If you’re a wizard at troubleshooting new software, good for you and please skip to the next question. The rest of us must weigh the importance of access to phone and live chat support against settling for a 48-hour response window for our support ticket submissions. Choose your platform wisely as not all customer support is created equal.

Does the platform support multiple store locations? If you’re a single-location business with plans to expand, choose a loyalty program platform that can support multiple store locations. Customers will not be thrilled if they have to switch platforms because the one you originally chose during your startup phase doesn’t have the features you need as you grow.

* “Global Consumers’ Trust in ‘Earned’ Advertising Grows in Importance”

Want to Increase Event Attendance? Leverage Your Presenters’ and Sponsors’ Networks

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If you’re a small- or mid-sized organization, promoting a conference can seem like a Herculean task. The trick is to promote smarter. You can segment your own database, create promotional content to share with your email database and social media followers, and send press releases to your media contacts. If your outreach stops here, however, you’re overlooking some strong allies: presenters and sponsors.

Both these groups have an incentive to collaborate with you.

A presenter would prefer speaking to a packed auditorium at an event that creates buzz rather than speaking to a smattering of attendees who are marginally engaged in the event topic. Her network of followers could produce the additional attendees she needs. Think about it: your presenter wants the event to be a success because it elevates her credibility. If she can say she spoke at a popular event, it increases her chances of being invited to speak at other events.

Sponsors have agreed to partner with you because your event can help them achieve their own marketing goals.  By aligning themselves with your event and organization, they can increase their brand awareness, grow their donor base, or increase sales to a new audience.  Attendee numbers are one metric used to gauge an event’s success, so if these are high, it reflects well on sponsors.

Both presenters and sponsors have networks who would likely be interested in the event topic. Promote your event through their email newsletters and social media channels, and you can increase your reach exponentially. Below are three steps to help you make the most of your collaboration with presenters and sponsors to increase event attendance:

  1. Ask whether they’d be willing to partner on promoting the event to their networks.
  2. If they agree, find out which channels they are willing to promote through (social media, email, media) and how large their networks are for each channel. This will help you decide which channels you’d like to prioritize if you are given a choice.
  3. Make their lives easy: your presenters and sponsors are busy and are doing you a favor by working with you. Come up with a schedule for sending them content, and draft all content to the appropriate length for the channel they’ll be deploying it to.

Harness presenters’ and sponsors’ motivations for participating in your event, and you will not only grow your event audience- you will develop new contacts who may be interested in your own organization’s message and product.

Tips for Choosing the Right Online Survey Partner for Your Business

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First time building a survey? Below is a list of questions that I wish I’d had in my back pocket when I built my first survey. Consider these questions as you research online survey partners. Whether you’re polling the general public, current customers, or people who have worn knee-high socks with their Birkenstocks in the past year, you can confidently choose a partner who will help you get the accurate insights you need.

Survey Design

  • Will your internal team be building and designing the survey? – If your business doesn’t have the in-house expertise to build a well-designed survey, most survey partners will assume the responsibility of designing and building the survey for an additional fee.
  • Does the partner deploy surveys with both quantitative and qualitative questions? Does including them both in the same survey affect price? Quantitative questions have concrete answers, are usually accompanied by a set of answer choices, and are easier for survey respondents to answer. Qualitative questions are open-ended. Because of this, they are harder for survey takers to answer and harder for you to analyze, but can often provide deeper or more specific insight than quantitative questions. Some survey partners let you include both types of questions in a single survey without hiking the survey price, while others charge more for including both types of questions.

 Statistical Validity

  • How many people do you need to poll? – It depends. What are you trying to achieve with this survey? Are you trying to test a specific hypothesis or find statistical significance? The survey company will be able to answer this question for you after you’ve described your objectives. Factors, like the number of people in your target population and how representative of the target population your survey results need to be, will affect the answer. The assumption that a larger sample size represents a target population more accurately than a smaller one is not necessarily true.

Survey Fatigue

  • How do you avoid survey fatigue? – You’ve put so much time into designing your survey! The last thing you want is survey respondents zoning out halfway through and selecting the first multiple choice answer for all remaining questions because they got bored. This would skew your results. Survey length can be optimized to reduce respondent fatigue or invalid answers. According to SurveyMonkey, 25 – 30 questions or 6 – 7 minutes in length is ideal for their respondent population. These numbers vary depending on the online survey provider, so be sure to ask what length the partner recommends before building your survey.

Let’s Talk Money

  • Is pricing guaranteed at any incidence, or does the rate have to be above a certain percentage to guarantee the pricing? – Being picky is going to cost you. If you’re surveying a very specific audience, it’s probably going to be more expensive. Incidence rate is the percentage of potential respondents that qualify for a survey based upon given screening qualifications. For example, if the qualification that a potential respondent needs to meet to be eligible for the survey is being female, the incidence rate will be 50% (assuming that half of the population is female). A lower incidence rate means that a survey partner has to screen a higher number of potential respondents, which may increase your cost.

 Clean Data

  • When do you clean your data? – Some providers will proctor surveys while they are live and disqualify respondents who are providing invalid responses (e.g. gibberish answers to free response questions or selecting the first choice for all multiple choice questions) so they are not counted in your final tally of respondents. This is called live proctoring. Other providers will remove these respondents’ answers after the survey has closed. The main difference between these approaches is timeline- if you need your data quickly, you may want to consider a partner who offers live proctoring.