Internet Marketing Strategy for Small Business

There are many resources about Internet marketing available on the web today, but few attempt to comprehensively explain the background, principles, and tactics necessary to build an Internet marketing strategy. Rasmussen College Online Marketing Manager Josh Braaten presented Turn Online Marketing Strategies into New Business on April 27, 2011 in Wausau, WI, as a part of the Wausau Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Week, sponsored in part by the Rasmussen College Wausau campus.

You can download the slides or view a recap of the Wausau Internet marketing event or view the rebroadcasted presentation below.


Hostess: The concept of growing your business using the Internet is vital to business success. Today, we will be discussing foundational strategies of effective online marketing, including search engine optimization, social media presence and more.

With us today is Josh Braaten, SEO Online Marketing Manager at Rasmussen College. Josh also is the Managing Partner of Big Picture Web Marketing in St. Paul, Minnesota. Josh excels in identifying online business goals and objectives and then creating projects and processes to support them. Combining project management methodologies with best practice knowledge of SEO conversion optimization and web analytics, Josh brings expert planning execution to his endeavors.

Josh holds a B.A. in Economics from St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota. He earned his Master Certificate in Applied IS/IT Project Management from Villanova University in 2007 and his Master Certificate in Interactive Marketing from the University of San Francisco in 2010. Please join me in welcoming Josh.

Josh Braaten: Hi. Thank you very much everybody. I would like to thank the Wausau Chamber of Commerce for inviting me here today. I'd like to thank the Rasmussen College Wausau campus for arranging this opportunity for me to come and speak, and I'd like to thank all of you for attending here today. We've got about an hour where we'll be talking about some of these online marketing strategies, and then we'll break for about a half an hour to talk about questions that you have, and I'll do my best to answer those.

First of all, thanks for the great intro, but I thought I would go a little bit further. I'm an Online Marketing Manager for Rasmussen College. I do mostly our search engine optimization, and I do our web analytics. I also am the owner and blogger of a boutique Internet marketing firm named Big Picture Web, and finally I'm an extremely frustrated Vikings fan. I feel I can say that here because you guys won the Super Bowl, and I'm sure you're all happy about that. Congratulations.

You all face so many challenges these days to get your business successful. You've got sales, repeat sales. You need to get referrals. You have to allocate your budgets, developing a marketing plan, executing the marketing plan, and that's before you even turn the lights on to your business in the morning, right? You have to wear so many hats, and now you've got this new hat of online marketer. For a lot of us, it's a new territory for us. And so, it can be a little daunting, but today's presentation is meant to help guide that path for you.

We've got three major sections to the presentation today, and that will cover our main objectives, which are, first, we want to examine the changing trends in media overall and the new business currencies that drove this change in the media landscape. Then, we'll also go on to define what is referred to as inbound marketing and understand the core principles behind inbound marketing. And then, finally, we will learn how to use some of these inbound marketing tactics to apply to your own business.

First of all, I'd like to just get into this decline of traditional media, and when I say decline I don't mean it's going away, I mean it's changed. It's not as important as it once used to be. You can see in the five year period between 2004 and 2009 that our habits for consuming media changed dramatically. We still watch the same amount of TV as we did five years ago. We love our TV, but we're using the Internet more than twice what we were five years ago.

In addition, a lot of our traditional channels, like print media and magazines, the radio, we're listening to them about 20 percent less in most cases. So we're using the Internet a lot more, and these other channels we're using a lot less. That's had really profound impacts on the way businesses operate. If you think about the printing press and the invention of the printing press and what a revolution that was in media, before the printing press basically the only books you could get were handwritten, and they were very expensive. Therefore, information and knowledge was very expensive. You couldn't afford it.

Then the printing press came out, and it completely changed everything. It democratized information, and it allowed access. The Bible was the first big project for the printing press, and then that was out and allowed them to get that information out. Really, that was the first form of mass media. You had the churches printing their Bibles and sending those out to spread the word, and they controlled that media. They controlled that message.

Fast forward to the invent of the Internet, and now it's like the printing press all over again, so the move from written books to printed books. Now, we don't even need to print books to share our thoughts. We can just simply go onto the Web, and in a lot of cases we can get a free blog or website publishing tools that cost, maybe, 12 bucks a month, and we're off and running. It's very interesting how these changes have affected the media. One of the things that did was we don't have four choices anymore.

When I was growing up in rural Minnesota, I only had three channels on TV. I didn't even have all four of the major networks because we lived so far out in the countryside we didn't get ABC. Those were the only options that we had, but now we've got 150 channels on TV, more if you have the premium subscriptions. You've got radio, satellite radio, Internet radio, podcasts. You've got every Internet blog website you can think of, and so there's so much more media out there. As a result, the media of yesterday is not as effective.

We are losing our interest in the most traditional channels, and we are now more interested in the channels that interest us, which are the channels that are produced for us. Mass media has been successful for so long because they appeal to the common denominator. Shows on TV are successful because they appeal to the majority of Americans. On the Internet, you can have very specialized interests, and you can have a niche and you can create that niche. Basically, you are a publisher within that niche.

Let's say you have a passion for paper manufacturing. You can basically become a publisher in the area of paper manufacturing, and you are your own channel basically. That option did not exist even ten years ago. So, the changes are really profound, and the fundamental drivers of this change are what I like to call the new business currencies or the new media currencies. That's attention, trust, and permission, very important concepts.

First of all, all of these new channels that we talked about have created an explosion in content. We have more options now than we ever had in the past, and as a result, we simply can't consume all of the content out there. There's not enough time. In addition, our habits have changed in how we consume that content. So, for example, we don't have to listen to commercials anymore because there's Sirius XM radio that has no commercials, or there's TiVo where we can basically just record our favorite programs and fast forward through that advertising.

In addition, if I missed a TV show, I can either go to Hulu the next day and watch that, or you can do like I did and order all five seasons of "Mad Men" and have them come on Netflix and watch them all in one weekend. It's a great weekend. Then, finally, our attention has shifted because not only have there been more options, but there are better options in certain spots.

Take, for example, the Huffington Post online newspaper. They don't print. They don't send it out anywhere, and they're purely online. A very popular news source, and they just sold for $315 million to AOL. So, the ability to gain attention is harder and harder with each day that we have with the more content that's out there. So one of the first keys to new media is gaining attention, and we'll talk about that in a little bit.

Next up is trust, and trust is such an important concept. In the old days, trust was easy because you basically had your radio. You had the newspaper, and you had TV. If you bought advertising and if you had an effective PR agency, they would control the message for you. There were only so many channels of media, and people can't afford to put their own personal opinions out there. So it's only the corporations, the companies that can afford to advertise in those spaces. As a result, if you controlled the message, you protected your brand, and you were able to retain that trust.

Today, that's not the case. Every ma and pa blogger out there can now single-handedly bring a company down if that company is not honest and respectful and transparent in how they do their business. Take, for example, this study from Edelman. If you do not trust a company, you are more than likely to believe negative information about that company if you hear it. Contrast that with if you hear good information about that company, you're only about 15 percent likely to believe that information, even if it's true.

On the flip side, if you trust a company and you hear positive information, you're more than likely to believe it, whereas if you hear negative information, you're less likely to believe it. You're only about 25 percent likely to believe it. Facts aren't enough. You need to have that trust there, and for companies to succeed now, the way to build trust is through some of these online marketing channels that we'll get to talk about.

Then finally, there's the case of permission. When I was growing up, we had telemarketers calling all the time, and I was really excited because I got to answer the phone. I had a high voice back then, and they would say, "Hello, young lady. Is your mother home?" Embarrassing for me, but yeah, it was great because we had telemarketing. Then people got bored with that. We got too many calls during dinner, and then we put ourselves on the do not call list. Then we added ourselves to the cell phone do not call list. Then, a law came out in 2005, called the CAN-SPAM Act, basically saying that now we need to grant permission before people will even e-mail us marketing.

The landscape for permission has shifted dramatically. If you want to do business with someone, it's not enough just to send them a postcard or to just call them coldly and say, hey, let's do business. You have to earn that trust. You have to earn that permission. You have to gain that attention. Those are three very valuable business currencies that we'll talk about as we get into the different principles of Internet marketing.

These new currencies have driven a dramatic shift in how marketers invest in their businesses. This one might be a little hard to see, so I'm going to walk it through. Basically, this is a study done in September of 2010, by Marketing Sherpa, and they asked marketers, "What percent of you believe that you'll be increasing your budget, your spend, your advertising spend in these marketing channels?" You can see on the right there that websites, search engines, social media, e-mail, and public relations all have a much more positive increasing budget than they do have people planning to pull out of those channels.

You have online display ads and telemarketing pretty much even. People are still a little unsure of that. You've got some people investing, and some people pulling out of it. It's a little less clear there. But then you have channels, such as direct mail and broadcast ads and print ads, and people are pulling out of those like crazy. So the money is going from these traditional marketing channels into online marketing channels because they work, and they work to build that permission, that attention, and that trust that's necessary to earn customers in this day and age.

What is inbound marketing? You hear that phrase kind of tossed around a little bit. There are a lot of different definitions, but my very own personal definition that I've developed throughout the course of all of my learning and research is that inbound marketing is earning new customers by gaining attention, trust, and permission before the sale through the creation and sharing of engaging, entertaining, and/or educational content.

In a nutshell, all of the other channels that we talk about – search, social, blogging, webinars – everything like that can quickly tend to overwhelm us. Those are all just tools. The underlying message of all of that is create content that is interesting, that will engage your customers, and will teach them something, and they will reward you with their business.

A lot of different names for inbound marketing these days, so we'll go over just some of the nicknames. Some of these aren't exactly inbound marketing. They're very close or subsets of, but for the purposes of this discussion today, we want to talk about them as if they're all one. You'll hear them referred to as online marketing, Internet marketing, new media marketing, content marketing, viral marketing, and so on. We'll just assume that inbound marketing is all of these today.

Let's dive right in. For the next 45 minutes, we're going to talk about every single channel you can possibly use on a tactical level, and there we go. Just kidding. We're not going to do that. This is one of the biggest mistakes that companies and even individuals do as they're starting to build their brand online. They think, okay, well, obviously these tools are free. They're cheap. They're easy. I'm just going to go right in and start using them, and I've got my Facebook page up and my Twitter page up, and where's the business. It doesn't come in, and they wonder why.

Before we even talk about tactics, it's really important that we take a step back and we talk about the principles behind online marketing and inbound marketing. You'll see different processes or different people talking about these same principles, but by and large you're going to see that these are the same, whoever you get your online marketing information from. I like to think of it as a simple five-step process that repeats itself in the form of a cycle.

First, you identify, then you listen, then you create, share, and measure. Those five steps over and over again, regardless of tactic. Let's talk about what that means. First of all, identification. Our customers are online, but where are they? The identification process is about finding your online audience, people that are interested in what you have to say. Then, step two is to listen before you even start to create anything or start to try and market your business. You've really got to get in touch with the needs of your customers.

Third, create. So once you understand the needs of your audience, then you can publish what you know. You share that content that you've created, and that solves the problems of your potential customers. Then, finally, you can measure everything or nearly everything online as a way to see how effective you were in this process. You do it over and over and over again, and it's a continuous process of improvement.

Let's dive into some of these concepts a little more deeply. First of all, step one is to identify your audience. People are everywhere online, and it's pretty easy to find them if you have the right tools and the right approach. First of all, there's a soul searching mission of trying to find out who's your ideal customer. Are they men? Are they women? Are they young? Are they old? Are they interested in rock music? Do they like walking their dogs? What do they like to do?

Oftentimes, if you can find out what motivates that customer, if you find out who that ideal customer is, you can also find out where they hang out. For example, everybody loves Facebook. Everybody's on Facebook, so that's a really great place to start a search for anything. But then, beyond that, you can go even further. For example, if you know that your customer is a marketing executive or somebody in the flaxseed manufacturing industry, are there any flaxseed or flax websites or forums or industries or other online sources that folks in that industry gather at? Once you find those websites, then you can begin to do the next step, which is to listen.

But really, what you're searching for is online resources related to what you do, communities where your potential customers gather, and you're also looking for influencers. So, maybe competitors, maybe vocal individuals in the Web, but really understanding, okay, if I'm in the flaxseed manufacturing, in that market, where do all of those people hang out online? Once you do that, then you can listen.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they get online is they start to broadcast everything. They've got that Twitter account. They've got that Facebook account or that fan page, and you just want to start saying, hey, buy my product, come check us out. Do this, do that. But really that is an easy way to alienate your potential customers. Ultimately, that's kind of the old way of doing marketing. That's pushing your message out to people. Hey, I'm pushing this out to you, and I want you to be my customer. Be my customer. Be my customer. Whereas the inbound way is to first understand what your audience's needs are.

Has anybody ever read "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Steven Covey? Yeah, I see some heads nod there. Fifth habit, seek first to understand, then to be understood. How do you expect to market your product if you don't understand the needs of your customer? The listening process is easy. Once you've found where your customers hang out, it's a process of just listening. You go to that industry blog or that discussion forum, and you just observe. You'd be surprised what customers tell you.

It's the best market research possible because you'll see people saying, well, here's my problem. My problem is this, or gosh, I wish I knew how to do this, or boy, I wish I knew a way around this. Fill in the blank, whatever you do, whatever you sell. Whatever your business exists for, there are customers that are voicing their problems actively.

If you understand that, then you can get into their frame of reference. Well, how can I help them? Well, they're saying these are all the problems, and my specialty happens to be their problems. So then, the next step is to create. You found the problems. You found your audience. You know what their problems are, and the next step is to create content that will solve those problems for them.

When I was going through my Internet marketing Master Certificate course, one of my favorite instructors had a rule that he said. Content should subscribe to the three Es, entertainment, engagement and education. Anything that you create and publish basically on a website or through social media or through a blog should be either educational, entertaining, or engaging. Some sales messages in there, but first and foremost we should be looking to educate people, to engage them and entertain them.

When we do that, we are basically building inbound equity. Every single time you create content, it's another brick in your online store. Even if you don't have e-commerce on your store, it's another brick in your online business.

You found your folks. You found out where they hang out. You know what their problems are. You've created all this wonderful content, and now it's about solving problems. You've got these people out there with their problems, and you can reach out to them through social media or through search engines so they can actually search on their problems to find the content that you've created. They'll look at you and say, "Boy, I love that business. They solved my problem."

Maybe if you're in the construction business and somebody says that they're trying to fix their screen door, whatever, and you put on an article on how to fix a screen door, boy, that's awesome. The next time they want to put an addition on their house, they know about you because you've shared that content with them and you've solve the problem. The idea is to solve problems. They're sharing your content, and then as a result building relationships through the solving of those problems.

Then comes my favorite part, measuring everything. When you create a new blog post or create an article or you publish a web page or you are active on social media, there are tools that allow you to measure. You can say, well, if a hundred people went to my website and five people bought my product, that's five percent of all the people on my website end up being a customer. That's pretty cool.

Now, I'm going to try something different. We'll see what happens next month. Well, then next month you get 200 visits and ten customers. Okay, great. Well, my efforts this month, I got a lot more traffic, but the content is just about as compelling as it was last month. I got new customers at the same rate. In the end, I got more customers. It goes a lot deeper into that, but the important concept here is that for the first time we have the ability to know what happened with our marketing.

Oftentimes, you might have a TV commercial or you have a radio ad or you'll send out some direct mail, and while there are ways to create special phone numbers or there are ways to create special URLs for people to find and say, well, yeah this call came from this number or this TV ad or whatever, it's not perfect and it's not universal. Whereas with the Web, if I send you a link and you click on it, I can put tracking in there so that I know you came to the website, not you personally. There are rules against that, but a person came to the website from here. They did this, and this happened. So you know that.

Not only do you know that, but you're able to make better decisions moving forward. Instead of just releasing a commercial and then another commercial or another post card or another flyer, you can actually say, "Well, gosh this one went out and it performed like this. What can I do to make it better?" Then, the next time you develop a theory about how you can make it better, you push it out there. You can see the results, and there you go. So you have the ability to measure, to improve whereas you haven't had that before.

Those are the principles. Identify, listen, create, share, and measure. Before you do any online marketing, before you create that Twitter account, before you create that Facebook fan page, before you go and redesign your website, please take a while to really understand those principles of inbound marketing, because if you do that, then all of these tools become very exciting because you say, "Well, gosh, I'm going to use the social media tool to listen. I know where people are on social media. I'm going to identify where they, and then I'm going to listen to them. Then I'm going to go to my blog and create a blog post that solves their problems. I'm going to share it with them through those same social media channels. Then, I'm going to measure everything so that I know how I did." That way all of these tactics of Internet marketing become a lot less overwhelming because they're not just a bunch of new tools on the Web. They are specific tools that you can use for principles that are much easier to understand.

We're going to switch gears now, and we're going to get into the actual tactics of inbound marketing. You can see here this is a screen shot from one of my very favorite sources of information on the Web, SEOmoz. It's very good for search engine optimization information. There are so many different types of inbound marketing. There are the more well known ones, like search engine optimization and social media and e-mail, but then there are also more obscure ones that you probably never think to use. Webinars, okay, maybe we've seen some, but we've never though to have one. Podcasting, right? Does anybody here listen to podcasts? Okay, great. That's awesome to see. I love podcasts.

But there are so many different types of inbound marketing channels, and we're really going to focus on a few today, some of the main ones. Let's get right into it. We're going to start with social media, and I think this is one of the first channels that people can use in online marketing because the barriers to entry are few. The cost of entry is nothing, and the utility that social media has is [inaudible 0:27:29]. Now, you'll notice that one of the principles here is grayed out. The reason for that is while every principle somewhat applies to every marketing tactic, there are some marketing tactics and channels that support certain principles better than others.

For example, with social media, you're not going to use the measurement tools to get Facebook and Twitter all that much. You're going to rely on your web analytics, which we'll talk about a little bit later. But social media is amazing for identification, for listening, for creation, for sharing. Let's talk about that a little bit more.

So identification in social media, Twitter and Facebook and almost every other social media website in the social network that is out there has a search engine, and you can search for just about anything. For example, I love the web publishing software named Squarespace. It's a content management system. It's a software that lets me blog and build websites. I've got a search that I perform on Twitter for anytime somebody mentions the word Squarespace, and I can see every one of those tweets that happen. I see some comments that are positive, some that are negative, and I see a lot of folks that say, boy, I have this problem with Squarespace, or boy I wish I really knew how to do this with Squarespace. That gives me really great ideas.

That actually feeds into the next step, the listening part. Through those social networks, I've identified those audiences through those search engines, but then the results of those searches allow me to listen and understand what their needs are. Then, when I blog, I blog every Monday and my content just about writes itself because the people that have created these needs, they're saying, well, gosh, I wish I knew how to do this. I wish I knew how to do that. Basically, my editorial calendar writes itself because I know how to do these things. There are plenty of people that are asking how to do that. Why don't I just write an article that helps them do that and then share it through those same channels?

As far as social media goes and creation, I debated on whether social media was primarily like a creation channel, but there are plenty of people that create interesting Facebook posts and tweets. You don't always have to create an article and share it through social media. Oftentimes, a tip on Facebook or a tip on Twitter can be great content to create as well. So you don't have to get a website and create a bunch of stuff. You can just start off easily with some of these social media channels and use your posts and updates and tweets to create that content.

Then, finally, sharing it. Once you have the information, social media is a great sharing channel. If you're doing your job connecting with people, identifying with people, following them, having them follow you back, then the more you share, the more they'll share that for you as well.

Why use Facebook? I think that chart speaks for itself. Everybody is on Facebook. Is anybody here not on Facebook? That's interesting. There's always usually someone. My stepmom is a perfect example. She hates it. She will never get on it. She yelled at me for putting a picture of her up on there once, too. Facebook has exploded in growth since its start in '04. At this point now, we're up to 700 million users. There are more than twice as many people on Facebook as there are in the U.S. It's crazy, isn't it?

Next is Twitter. Now, a lot of people are skeptical of Twitter. It's new. It's fun. It's interesting. Maybe some people just sign up to be narcissistic, like Charlie Sheen. He had a Twitter account and he had like 1.2 million Twitter followers in a day. That's not typical. Your mileage may vary, but there are 27 million people projected to be on Twitter by 2013. The nice thing is that while this is one of those examples where you have a channel that people are adopting more and more and more each day, and if there are no people yet in your industry in that area, then it's a ghost town.

You can corner the market if you're the only person talking about how Wisconsin is the number one exporter of canned cream corn. If you do cream corn, if you produce that, you can own the market in social media for cream corn because there's nobody there yet. It's counterintuitive for a lot of people. Why should I be on Twitter? Nobody wants to be there. But if you use that knowledge to your advantage, you can be the only person there and you can become the source of information for whatever it is you do.

Let's talk about a subject near and dear to my heart, search engines. I love doing search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising, and I find that this channel is extremely good for number one, identification and then creation and sharing. How can you use search engines in the identification process? Well, oftentimes when we have a product, we've looked at that product, dealt with that product. It's taken us years to understand what that product does and how it can help our customers, and we have looked

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