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Value Vs. Viral : How to Retain Customers?

A lot of brands that use social media seem to be there with the express intent of making something go viral. With the widespread popularity of video platforms like Youtube, Vine, Instagram and even Facebook, it’s never been easier to get videos seen by millions of eyes, and a vast majority of these videos seem designed to “go viral”.

While this can be a very effective means of getting the word out about your product or service, relying on that as a means of building a customer base is unsustainable at best.
This is not to say that viral content isn’t a boon to any business practice. Last year, in what is arguably the most viral advertising video to ever hit the internet, the company behind the Squatty Potty footstool (designed to bring your knees up for better bowel movement and then slide away under your toilet for convenience when not in use) took the internet by storm with a three-minute long video featuring a princely narrator and a cartoonishly cute unicorn pooping out rainbow-coloured soft serve ice cream.

Now, while this ad was what put the company on the viral video map, they had already designed, built and marketed their product for a number of years, both through online distribution and with placement in stores like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond.
This shows that they had discovered a problem (bad bathroom posture leading to health concerns like constipation and hemorrhoids), did their research (signed off on by scientists from Stanford), and designed a simple solution (a stool that gets your body in the right posture for pooping!)

On the strength of this they were able to garner investor support when they were featured on Shark Tank in 2014, and landed a highly placed investor who believed in their product.
They initially put out an ad that was full of scientific data, diagrams, and well-meaning efforts to educate the public and their customer base about a useful product, and grow their sales. The second unicorn ad, it turns out, was simply a way to boost their fourth quarter sales by working with the Harmon Bros. production team that was behind the similarly themed “Poo-Pourri” viral videos. This was a decision that paid off, clearly, with the company seeing a spike in sales following the video, but that was simply building on the business foundation already laid by the company – by the time the video came out they had already made $8 million in sales for the year.

The lesson here is that the real best practice for sustaining and growing a customer base is to build value over time among your existing customers by creating a solid, marketable product and providing excellent customer service.

And when you do create spectacular marketing content, these are the people who, through an existing relationship with your brand, are more likely to share your content and help it go viral - which becomes the delicious cherry on top a tall cone of soft serve rainbow ice cream! 

Knowing Your Audience as a Predictor of Success

Aristotle’s greatest advice was “know thyself”. Sun Tzu in The Art of War said, “know your enemy”. But the cardinal piece of advice for any entrepreneur or startup should be “know your target customer”.

As a startup, you may have a great product to offer, but unless you do your research to see who exactly the niche audience for your pitch should be, you might find yourself selling your product to people who cannot see the value in it, and as such, will not allow you to grow and succeed.
Research and testing are the keys to knowing what your customer needs, and how to keep giving it to them!

Case in point, Netflix. The company that started out as an online DVD-by-mail rental company has since blossomed into a streaming colossus and production studio. One of the many factors in their success is how they keep viewers’ attention once subscribed. Netflix’s predictive algorithms have their customers’ preferences down to a T, even among multiple users within the same account.
Their subsequent suggestions based on this knowledge allow the customer to feel less overwhelmed by the myriad choices confronting them each time they sign into Netflix, not to mention making them feel more appreciated by the company. After all, most people simply want to be understood – and Netflix does an excellent job of predicting the best content for your next “Netflix and chill” session.

What do you have to offer? Who is your ideal customer? And once you have them, what are they telling you that they want? The age-old aphorism “the customer is always right” applies here – they are telling you what they want from you with every click, every purchase, every online review, and every customer service encounter.

Your ability to take this data and transform it into increased value for your customer will make the difference between doing fine as a business, and doing great.

Is Your Business Ready for Change?

They say the only constant in life is change, and for startups and businesses, that rule is practically written in stone. Today, social media marketing is that change and many businesses are finding that to remain relevant, they need to ride this wave wherever it takes them.
Below are 3 reasons to embrace social media (and tips on doing it well)

1. Visibility
If your business is not online, then for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist. When even the Yellow Pages is accessed via Google search, if your business isn’t taking advantage of social media to promote your products and services, there is no guarantee that your customers will be able to pick you out from all the competition. A good social media strategy allows you to stand apart and see a direct result as shown by your customers’ responses, whether it be sponsored advertising on Facebook, or dedicated brand promotion and customer engagement through Twitter or Instagram.
Using search engine optimization and Google Analytics on your website is another good way to know that your customers can in fact find you, while also allowing you to track how they behave on your site when they do. This allows you to learn and improve your products and services, while learning the best ways to place yourself in front of the right customers. 

2. Customer Engagement
This is a big one. Social media has made it easier than ever for customers to tell businesses exactly what they want and how. They do this through patterns of behavior while browsing or purchasing goods or services through your business website, but also directly, through social media. 
Social media has brought back the ability of word of mouth to make or break a company’s image, because most customer service interactions with brands take place on public platforms like Twitter. According to J.D Power, 67% of customers have used a company’s social media channel for customer service, and 42% of them expect a response within 60 minutes. 

The savviest companies know how to use this to their advantage for the best customer service interactions. An example of this is the airline, JetBlue, which is renowned for quick and efficient customer service responses on their dedicated support Twitter feed. They are known to respond within minutes compared to the average 5.1 hour response rate cited by Simply Measured in a recent study done of the top 100 brands. 

Another great example is Xbox which holds the Guiness Record for “Most responsive brand on Twitter” (who knew that was a thing?) This is a feat achieved by having 27 dedicated Twitter support staff known as the “Elite Tweet Fleet” who respond almost round-the-clock to customer issues, while keeping their 400,000-plus followers up to date on new releases, tech and games news.

3. Cross Promotion
Different social media platforms can be used by businesses in fresh and unique ways depending on your services being offered. 
Instagram, for instance, allows for an ongoing stream of visually engaging content that reflects your business image and brand identity, while taking advantage of trending topics through relevant hashtags. 
Twitter allows you to quickly and directly connect with customers to resolve complaints or receive compliments. Facebook and Tumblr allow you to engage with a variety of user demographics, and newer platforms like Vine and SnapChat allow brands to participate in the latest social media trends in order to maintain brand visibility and relevance across the board.
The best thing about social media is how versatile it allows your business to be when it comes to engaging with your customer base. Once you understand what content works best, and where, you become more than simply a source for purchasing a given product or service. 
With an effective, wide-ranging social media campaign, your business can transcend the boundaries of your products and become a touchstone for an entire way of life, in much the same way Red Bull is now synonymous with extreme sports, and the Virgin group with innovative business practices.
The question now is, are you ready to make the change?

How Much Should You Spend On Marketing?

One area that entrepreneurs and start-ups may ignore is marketing.  Marketing is an essential part of any business plan, but is often neglected because we erroneously perceive marketing to have no tangible results. It is however a vital part of your business and your start up growth.  A Good marketing campaign includes brand development or refinement and will expose your product or service to your target audience in a meaningful way, it can also have measurable desired outcomes when properly tracked and proper metrics are used.

How much you should spend on marketing depends on what stage your start up is currently in, and is an investment with measurable results; you get back what you put in.  The first step is defining your target audience and learning about your target audience. Secondly, you should study how your competition markets and advertises their product and/or service, doing this will not only inspire and refine your own marketing strategy, it will also highlight new and creative avenues to target your audience. It is important to remain realistic when studying the competition, especially if your competition is more established. Start-ups are initially cash strapped so having a tight and realistic budget is imperative to your long term success.  Your marketing budget should take into consideration the amount of time you or your team members will take away from other tasks to focus on marketing.  Here are a few methods you can use to determine your marketing budget:

1. A Percentage of  your Total Operating Budget
This number will vary greatly based on several factors.  The business that you are in, the product that you offer, and the stage your start up is at will all play a role in your marketing plan and budget.  There is a long-standing rule that on average you should spend somewhere between 1 and 10 percent of the annual sales or projected annual sales.  If your start up is brand new and potential clients have yet to recognize your brand, this amount should be higher and more along 15 to 20% of your operating budget.  Always be realistic about what your start up can afford, and try to save money by doing some of your marketing yourself.
 
2. A Percentage of Sales
This method is better suited to a start-up that has been operational long enough to have sales and sale forecasts.  Basing your marketing budget on realistic sales expectations is effective because it can be based on actual unit sales. A problem with this method is when faced with a decline in sales spending on marketing is usually decreased as well, and this can be a mistake because focusing on marketing may help recover your sales.  The general rule for this method is to spend 7 to 10 percent of each sale or anticipated sale on your marketing.

Your spending on marketing should also be based on an accurate anticipated return on your investment.  Over spending can substantially harm your business, but not spending enough can be equally detrimental.  Your marketing budget should be constantly re-examined. Using measurable metrics to determine what works will help refine your budget and tailor it to your specific needs. 

Why Try Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free data gathering, analysis, and reporting tool for websites and mobile applications. It is one of the most popular analytics tools and is widely used. It gathers data on the activities that your website visitors take, such as how long they are on your website for and what links they have clicked.

So, why should you care? Google Analytics is extremely effective and its interface for administrators is simple to use for everyone. It allows you create events on a website, web application or mobile application, that you want to keep track of. When a visitor clicks on a particular button, you can keep track of that specific event using event tracking. If a visitor hovers over a menu item in your navigation menu for a certain amount of seconds, you can keep track of that event as well.

Another nice feature is the conversion funnel. This is useful for ecommerce sites where a visitor is buying a product or service. The conversion funnel will keep track of where the visitor came from, the pages they visited before choosing the product/service, and whether they bought the product/service or not. This is immensely useful because, for example, you can see that customers always come to your product page through a search engine which means you should optimize the SEO of your other product pages. Or you can see, for example, that certain products are not popular,  which could indicate a problem with your order or shopping cart page, or your marketing and placement of the product on the website.

Google Analytics lets you drill down the data about your visitors by the web browser they use, their location, whether they used a mobile device such as an iPhone or Android tablet, how longer they were on your website for, which link they clicked to exit your website, where they were referred from (search engine or link). What's cool is that you can see all of this data being gathered in real-time! That means as soon as someone visits your website, Google Analytics will show information about that visitor. This helps you learn about your target audience so you can fine-tune your branding and website usability accordingly to help you increase your conversion rate.

A new exciting feature is Google Content Experiments. Although it takes a bit of time to set up, it is invaluable as it allows you to A/B test your website. When a visitor visits your site, there is a 50% chance they will see the A content and 50% chance that they will see the B content. For example; you can see if more visitors are buying your product when the buy button says “Buy!” or when the buy button says “Buy This Now”. You can use Google Content Experiments in Google Analytics to test headlines for articles or descriptions of products and even product images. I have seen this used on an e-commerce site to make sure that the best product name is used and to test if, for instance, if implementing a Halloween theme increased sales.

Ease of set up and use, integration with other Google products like Content Experiments and Google AdWords, and accessibility across various platforms such as mobile and desktop web browsers make this application a must-have tool for start-ups.

5 Free Things to Improve your Online Presence

1. Add your business listing to online business directories. While adding a basic listing is free most of the time, some online directories will try to get you to sign up for a paid listing by calling you to "confirm" your listing information and then suggesting one of their monthly SEO plans that are "perfect" for your business model. You can gently let them know that you are only interested in the free listing.

2. Create your social media pages and add all your business contact information to them (including your website).  It is important to keep all your information consistent across your pages because it will help improve your website's google ranking. Share relevant and interesting content frequently and encourage your network to like, subscribe, and share your content. Although it is tempting to share the same content across multiple social media avenues, it is important to share unique content so your audience has a reason to follow you on all your different social media outlets.

3. Claim your google my business page at www.google.ca/business and add your business to google maps and google+. It is important to remain consistent with your information here as well. For example, if you have your address listed a certain way on your website, ensure to list it exactly that way across all your pages.

4. Create original search engine friendly content on your page and share your own links on social media. Write short articles or update your blog on your particular field of expertise with original search engine optimized content weekly, then share your articles on your social media pages. This will get your website more visibility because people are more likely to visit your site if they can read a short educational article. Include relevant high quality images to keep your audience's attention and get more clicks. 

5. Sign up for google Analytics and start tracking your progress!

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