Posted by: Kristen Hicks | September 12, 2011

The Hicks Marketing Blog Has Moved

The Hicks Marketing blog has moved to:

http://www.hicksmarketing.com/blog/

Keep up with posts dedicated to analysis of issues and ideas related to online marketing, copywriting and working as a freelancer.

To learn more about Kristen Hicks and find out how to get in touch if you feel your small business could benefit in a greater emphasis on online marketing and good copy, visit the Hicks Marketing webpage.

Posted by: Kristen Hicks | September 6, 2011

HicksMarketing.com is Now Up!

The new website for Hicks Marketing is now complete and accessible to everyone at:

http://www.hicksmarketing.com

You can find information on the services provided by Kristen Hicks, including:

These are all crucial tools to gaining and maintaining customers in today’s marketplace.

I’m eager to get started helping your small business increase and improve your internet presence.  If you want to learn more about online marketing and find out how I can help your business, contact me.

You can now easily get to the Hicks Marketing Blog at: http://www.hicksmarketing.com/blog

Posted by: Kristen Hicks | August 24, 2011

Personal Marketing Successes


The idea of demographics plays a large role in many marketing campaigns and can be helpful, to a certain degree, but most people don’t fit neatly into the ideas marketers and others have of different demographics. For example, as a woman in my 20’s who has no interest in jewelry, no plans to reproduce in the near future and who is neither currently on or looking for a diet to try, many of the advertisements that are designed to target someone of my age and gender have scant influence on me.

That being said, there have  been occasions where I’ve encountered marketing for which I absolutely was the target audience. I enjoy experiencing the kinds of advertising that work on me as a consumer, both because it reveals something about myself and helps me grasp what others are likely to respond to as well.

One of the best examples I’ve encountered comes from a box of tea from the company Inti Zen.  The boxes for each type of tea they sell include a quote on the inside, in Spanish (with an English translation), each having some kind of general relationship to tea or to the particular type of tea included.  Their quote for the jasmine flavored mate tea is from none other than my favorite writer, Jorge Luis Borges:

In case it’s too small to read, it says:

“A mi se me hace cuento que empezo Buenos Aires:
La juzgo tan eterna como el agua y el aire”

or, in English:

“I think the founding of Buenos Aires was a mere fairytale:
I believe it eternal, like the water and the air.”

The image pictured above the quote is a traditional mate gourd, use of which is common in Argentina and some other South American countries.  The image and quote manage to tie the experience of this product to a larger cultural meaning: it makes me think of poetry, my favorite writer, Argentina and the cultural role that yerba mate plays in South American society (drinking yerba mate from a gourd is often a communal experience, it gets passed around from person to person, and mate is known for providing a level of energy similar to coffee, but healthier).

Probably most consumers who buy Inti Zen tea don’t get as much out of this reference, but for me it’s a profound marketing success. A simple cup of tea comes to represent more than it is in and of itself and due to this (and because the quality of the product merits it), I’ve been a loyal customer of this brand ever since I first tried it.

The second example is a television advertisement I saw several years ago.  Sadly, my attempts to find a clip of the commercial online was unsuccessful, so I’ll have to do my best to recount it from memory, forgive any inaccuracies in my memory.  The commercial showed a man driving from bookstore to bookstore, not Borders or Barnes and Nobles, mind you, but smaller, more independent looking bookshops. Eventually he makes it to one where he finds what he’s been looking for: a first edition copy of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. When he goes to check out, he just happens upon…Kurt Vonnegut, himself, who signs the book for him. It was one of those Mastercard “priceless” spots, that manages to do an especially good job of figuring out an experience and item that a book lover would deem priceless.

My third example, pictured at the top of this post and related to my first example, is today’s Google doodle, an image designed to commemorate the 112th birthday of Jorge Luis Borges. Not that Google really needs marketing–when the name of your product becomes a verb commonly used in every day conversation, the marketers job is pretty much done–but, the team that creates the Google doodles do a great job of endearing users to Google even more. Other great recent examples include the recent Charlie Chaplin and PacMan doodles.

Marketing that hits so personally is relatively rare because it means a necessarily small audience. Most tea drinkers don’t have the interest in Borges and Argentine culture that I do, so it’s not the most wide reaching strategy to try to appeal to an interest in something so relatively obscure.  The upside is it provokes feelings that are deeper and will stick around for longer than an ad with wider appeal that feels less personal would.

Posted by: Kristen Hicks | August 16, 2011

Search Engine Use and Consumer Behavior

“86 percent of consumers say search engines are very important in the buying process.”

Inc.

The way people think about shopping has changed in recent years. More and more consumers turn to the internet first before making a purchasing decision. In the same study referenced in the Inc. article above, almost half of the respondents also turned to social media in the shopping process and another 24% visited company websites.

This is likely not a surprise to most people. If you think about the most recent purchases you’ve made, perhaps with the exception of gas and groceries, it’s likely you’ve turned to Google at some point in the process. When it’s so easy to look up user reviews, perform price comparisons and make direct purchases for many items online, why wouldn’t savvy consumers turn to the internet for their shopping?

The best way to make sure that your small business doesn’t miss out on the 92% of people in the United States using search engines is to embrace online marketing. Use search engine optimization, pay per click services and more to increase your internet presence and make your business easy to find for potential customers.

Posted by: Kristen Hicks | August 8, 2011

Learning Search Engine Optimization

Over the past couple of months I’ve been hard at work researching as much as I can about Search Engine Optimization.  There’s a wealth of resources available to help a person learn this skill, many of which are free.

Based on my experience, the best places to start are with Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide and the Beginner’s Guide to SEO from SEOmoz.  The guide from SEOmoz in particular is very in depth and gives a lot of tips, as well as tools for performing search engine optimization and references to resources for further and more in depth research into the particulars.

Some of the initial tips I’ve learned are:

  • One of the most important tools for search engine optimization is an understanding of keyword quality.  Google’s Keyword Tool is extremely valuable for understanding what types of terms people are searching for in your industry and how competitive those terms are, so you can determine the best keywords to target and design your website accordingly.  SEOmoz also provides a Keyword Difficulty tool to help you identify the phrases likely to be too competitive to be worth trying to target for a smaller business.
  • Use your title and description meta tags well. Making sure the primary keywords you want to target are represented in your webpage’s title tags is one of the first steps to strengthening a page for SEO.  The meta description tag, while not playing a direct role in how likely your page is to rank high in search results, can play an important role in how likely users are to visit your page once they see it listed.
  • Avoid displaying important information within images, flash animation, java or videos. Often the flashier visual touches on a website are overlooked entirely by the search engine crawlers.
  • Make your website easy to navigate–this is important for human users and search engine crawlers. Make sure none of your pages are hard to find and the most important ones are linked to from many, if not all, of your other pages.
  • For a small business, avoid targeting general search terms as you’re likely to be outranked by larger businesses with more resources and brand recognition.  Using geographic targeting or a focus on specific product offerings in your keyword choices can lead to better results.
  • Make sure the copy on your website includes the most important keywords you want to target–but not to the point that the writing becomes awkward or stilted. The usability and consumer appeal of your website must not be lost in your efforts to get in noticed by search engines. In fact, having a well designed website with useful content that people like is one of the most important ways to encourage others to link to you, which is one of the main things search engines look at in determining page rank.
  • Learn html, at least at a basic level. You can’t make the necessary changes to a webpage if you don’t know the basic structure of the language with which webpages are built.  I was completely intimidated by the idea of learning html up until I started to do and and learned, it’s really not all that difficult. This website’s been the main one I’ve turned to, but this one and this one were also recommended to me as good resources for beginners.

There’s much more to it than what I’ve included here, but these seem some of the most important lessons for someone starting out to pick up.  There are lots of blogs and websites with regular pieces about tips and tools for good SEO, SEOmoz and Search Engine Land seem like two of the most established with regular updates.  Google also has their own blog with some information.

It seems that most SEO consultants regard each other as more of a community than competitors, which leads to many of those with experience offering up their expertise to anyone willing to seek it out.  This means there are ample resources for increasing your knowledge and expanding your skill set in this industry.

Posted by: Kristen Hicks | August 2, 2011

Google Adwords Certification and the Value of PPC Advertising

I officially completed my Google AdWords certification last week and am looking forward to working more with AdWords to deliver valuable results to small businesses seeking greater awareness and increased sales.

Some of the great values of PPC (pay per click) advertising, as opposed to other forms, is that it ensures that clients are only paying for the advertising in cases in which:

a) The searcher is actively seeking out information on a product or industry related to yours, as determined by the keywords you’ve chosen

b) After performing the search, they choose to click on your link, based on the information in the ad you’ve provided, which ensures that they get to your website and,

c) They are performing online shopping behaviors that are easy for you to track and analyze over time to improve your techniques an return on investment

Further, a 2009 Channel Advisor survey on consumer behavior found that 81% of respondents begin their product searches on Google.  If you’re not showing up in a Google search, via the organic results or the paid ads, you’re missing out on a lot of potential customers.

Please contact me, if you’d like to get started with pay per click advertising for your business.

Posted by: Kristen Hicks | July 21, 2011

Maintaining Customer Satisfaction

We all have businesses that we’ve had exceptional customer service experiences with, and others that we immediately think of when the subject of bad customer service comes up.

Customer service is actually a fairly crucial aspect of marketing, as it has a strong relationship to maintaining a positive brand and encouraging the kind of word of mouth recommendations that are invaluable to small businesses.  With consumers’ growing reliance on review websites like yelp.com and the ease with which someone can broadcast a bad experience with a company via social media, there is extra pressure on businesses to make sure current customers are happy with the goods and services they provide.

So how does a business encourage positive word of mouth and avoid the kind of experiences that send customers ranting and raving to their friends and online social networks?

  • Keep it personal – Have you ever gotten stuck in phone message loop, seemingly endlessly pressing buttons without ever getting to an actual person?  How often have you tried to send a question or complaint via an generic online form or e-mail address and never gotten a reply?  I’ve never known anyone who was more satisfied with an automated customer service experience than with getting a response from an actual human being.  In the effort to increase efficiency, many businesses have opted for methods that isolate and anger customers.
  • Make providing feedback easy – This is valuable on multiple levels, as it keeps you informed of ways to make your business and products better and lets your customers know you’re interested in listening to their suggestions.  Most of us have at some point had an idea for how to make a product we like better, but it’s rare that people seek out the information to communicate that to the company.  On the other hand, if providing that feedback is easy and takes little time or effort on the user’s part, then there’s no downside to providing it.
  • Don’t oversell – Don’t say or imply that your product does something more or better than it does.  Don’t say a new product or update will be ready by a specific date unless you can make sure it will be.  Sometimes user expectations will exceed your promises in spite of your best efforts and there’s little to be done about that, but you can make sure you’re not actively creating higher expectations than what you can provide.
  • Listen – Don’t just make it easy to provide feedback, pay attention to it and make changes based on it.  Not every customer’s going to feel the same way and sometimes what people want will be in contradiction, but pay attention to the most common suggestions and ideas and act on them.
  • Try to establish and encourage a community – Whether this be via a forum, a blog with enabled comments, social media or meetings with customers at conferences, if your customers can talk to each other and you and know they’re part of a larger conversation and community, it keeps your company and products top of mind and gives them a greater investment in their relationship with your business.
  • Don’t deny or dodge responsibility for mistakes  – This seems to be largely the purview of particularly large companies that train their customer service representatives to never admit an error or apologize.  When I’ve encountered it from a company, I never go back.  I know to many business owners and marketers, the idea of offering an apology or admitting an error is blasphemy, but for many consumers, it’s meaningful to know a company can acknowledge a problem with sincerity and it lets the customer know you’re going to work to avoid repeating the mistake and improve things moving forward.
Posted by: Kristen Hicks | July 12, 2011

The Netflix Model

Before good marketing is even an option, a business or individual has to have a good product or idea to bring to the table and, in my opinion, one of the best business ideas in recent years has been Netflix.  I don’t think it’s overstating things to say that Netflix has revolutionized the way people think about watching movies and television.

Speaking for myself and many of my friends, the idea of spending the money every month for far more mediocre content than we’d want via cable to be able to access the handful of shows and channels of value to us seems absurd now that there’s an alternative option.  I think the current availability of streaming content on Amazon, iTunes and Hulu can likely also be attributed to the existence of Netflix and it’s made it much easier to be selective about our viewing choices and pay more directly for the entertainment we enjoy.

I’m far from the only person impressed by the ingenuity of Netlix, as evidenced by similar business appearing in the book industry and for the movie theater experience.

I feel these businesses, in combination with the way people experience Google and Amazon, are heavily influencing how people interact with marketing and what we expect in the consumer experience.  The recommendations on Netflix and Amazon absolutely draw consumers to products they wouldn’t have thought to consider, but are likely to enjoy.  In the same way, Google’s brilliantly designed to ensure that businesses can get the information and products users are interested in more directly in front of them.

One the rare occasions I do spend some time watching cable and take in tv commercials, or when I think about the billboards I pass on the highway, they all strike me as so wasteful.  Why spend the money on a form of advertising that will reach a large audience, but only appeal to a small portion of it, when internet marketing has opened the way to a more targeted version of advertising? I recognize that there are still some types of products for which these forms of marketing may make sense, but I feel the vast majority of businesses would be better served in an exploration of the online options for bringing greater awareness to their products and services.

Posted by: Kristen Hicks | June 17, 2011

The Value of the Humanities

I went to an expensive liberal arts college on the East Coast, the kind you often hear derided in articles questioning the value of expensive higher education that reaps limited professional rewards.  I’ll be paying for this education for many years to come and do wish I’d better understood the full implications of my loans and their interest a little earlier in the process, but even if I had, I’d have gone to the same school and sought out the same classes and experiences.  I’ll never regret the education I got, although I may bemoan those loan payments every month.

So, what makes it so valuable?  Why do I feel that I got so much more out of four years studying literature, philosophy, film history and foreign languages than I would have learning a specific trade that would have more directly led to job security and a steady income (and likely much less debt)? For me, that question’s complicated, but easy to answer: I feel like it made me a better person and a better thinker.

On the professional end, it made me better at writing, communicating my thoughts well and analyzing problems.  It  gave me a much greater confidence in my sense of self and ability to take on life.  Every job I’ve had since college I’ve been able to: pick up a great variety of tasks; balance many responsibilities at once; handle my time well; think creatively about the best way to address the issues placed in front of me; and, perhaps most importantly, get along with and work well with other people.

I remember once being asked by a colleague who preferred reading non-fiction what I felt the value was in works of fiction and to me it seems so obvious: fiction teaches you empathy.  We live in a society where it’s so easy to fall into the common trap of us vs them, to think about people in terms of how their existence affects us politically without seeing them as individuals, or to not think of them at all (when was the last time you thought much about what a prison inmates life is like, for example?).  This is much harder to do if you spend a considerable amount of time letting your mind be taken over by characters in different contexts than your own.  It teaches you to make more of an effort to understand the world as it looks and is for others and it makes you care more about the experiences of people you have no direct relationship to.

I think that really speaks to part of what makes the humanities so important.  It teaches people to see the world in a more big picture way, to consider how our actions and decisions influence people beyond us.  I wish more of our society saw fit to value this as much as I do.

This post was largely inspired by a couple of articles that I’ve come across in the last week or so.  This article in the New Yorker talks at length about how an education in the humanities compares to other focuses in higher education.  This piece from the Chronicle gives current students a chance to explain why they embraced the decision to study liberal arts rather than something more “practical”, and they all speak poignantly on the subject and, hopefully, prove some of what they’re saying to any possible skeptics in the process.

Posted by: Kristen Hicks | June 9, 2011

Reconsidering Time as a Freelancer

One of the primary reasons I made the decision to trade out working as an employee for taking on contract work as a freelancer was due to an increasing sense that too much of my time wasn’t really mine.

When for most of the week I gave the same 8 hours to someone else’s business and about the same 8 hours to sleep (this is pretty non-negotiable for me, I’m not nearly the capable person I want to be if I’m working off less than 8 hours of sleep), the windows of time that were left over started to feel too limited.  This was especially true once factoring in the little energy that was left over at the end of the work day; not to mention the non-professional obligations that can sometimes feel like work, such as errands, cooking, cleaning and the like.

I made a realization at a certain point that the amount of hours spent working was less of an issue for me than the lack of flexibility in those hours.  If I have a little more freedom to define when I work and where I work, that opens me up to being able to travel more to visit friends and makes me more likely to fit something like exercise and errands into the day before I reach the points of low energy that would often previously begin right at the end of the workday.

The trade off is that where I used to take it for granted that I would have a couple of hours to wind down and do something relaxing before falling asleep each night, I now find myself often doing some form of work until much later into the evening.  My life isn’t nearly as compartmentalized between work time and my time, as those distinctions have in and of themselves begun to blur.

I’ve found it useful to do some reading of how other people in similar positions have chosen to approach handling time effectively as a freelancer.  Here are a couple of resources I’ve found useful:

43 Folders: Who Moved My Brain

The Art of Non-Conformity: The Flip Side of Self-Employment and Freedom (there’s more on this in the Unconventional Guide to Freelancing as well, if you purchase it)

A lot of this boils down to planning well and avoiding distractions, even some that we can tend to think of as productive, like checking e-mail.

It’s also important to get a sense of the times of day you work the best and your personal rhythms so you use the time you’re working most effectively. I’m still figuring this part out to a certain degree.

Finally, it’s important that you budget time for yourself and activities that aren’t work.  Make sure you’re not letting your social life or preferred relaxation/entertainment choices slip away into work time.

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