Small Business Marketing Blog

May 11, 2010

3 Marketing Tips to Learn from American Apparel

Shoppers lined up for American Apparel's Rummage Sale in San Diego's Gaslamp District on May 8, 2010.   471, 472, 473 clicked the attendant in the green shirt.  It was the number assigned to me, my teenage daughter, and her friend as we descended down into the basement of clothing retailer American Apparel in San Diego’s Gaslamp District.  When I first saw the crowds snaking along several blocks I thought they were waiting to buy tickets to a concert or Padres’ game. Little did I know I would be waiting in that very line for three hours before we would reach our final destination, the 3rd annual American Apparel Rummage Sale.

These days, not many retailers have people waiting in line to give them money. In fact, most are reporting their lowest sales in years. So how does a retailer like American Apparel, dealing with the same business pressures as everyone else, post an 8 percent increase in sales for the last quarter of 2009? From what I could see, it comes down to three things.

Consistency.  American Apparel is consistent with their brand (simple, quality, American-made fashions) and this builds trust because people know what to expect. In addition, American Apparel stocks a large selection in their stores and many of the styles are not available at other retailers.  This winning combination has garnered American Apparel a loyal fan base.  

Socially Connected.  American Apparel uses social media effectively to keep in touch with customers. Most of the people I asked in my small circle in line had found out about the sale on Facebook. But American Apparel does more than broadcast promotions on Twitter and Facebook, they also engage in meaningful conversations with their online followers. For example, in one of their posts they asked people who were planning on attending the sale what they were hoping to find, so they could make sure it was available. Another post offered tips for avoiding a long wait. It was evident they were using these real time online tools to improve the customer experience.   

Constantly Promoting. American Apparel’s Rummage Sale was obviously successful, but that did not mean the staff was going to rest on this one event, they continued to promote for the future.  While customers were waiting to get into the store, employees with clipboards walked around to see if anyone wanted to get on their email list and offered a gift when they signed up. They also scouted out the line for possible new hires.  I guess they figured if someone is willing to wait several hours to get into the store, they very likely would make a passionate employee.  And for a final hook, they tucked a postcard into my bag with a 15 percent discount for next time.

Even during tough economic times, when shoppers are looking for the best deals and most retailers tell you how hard it is to make a buck, hard work, good value, and strong promotion can still bring people into a store.  Take a look at the three ways that American Apparel creates the kind of buzz that makes it seem reasonable to wait in line for hours for the chance to buy something.  What can you do in the areas of consistency, connection, and promotion to improve your business?  It might take a little time, but with some concentrated effort, you can create a loyal fan base, and the strong word-of-mouth endorsement that has folks lining up to do business with you.


April 6, 2010

Don’t Let Your Social Media Sites Become Ghost Towns

Filed under: Marketing,Social Media — Robin Witt @ 8:28 am
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Socieal media sites can become ghost town without proper attention. No  fans or followers on your small business social media sites?  As a consultant I hear this complaint many times. There seems to be a misconception that if you put up a site, you don’t need to put any more effort into it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Creating a Facebook fan page or new Twitter account is just the first step.  To be successful long term, it’s important to avoid these three common mistakes.

Mistake #1—No goals. What is your desired outcome?  If you don’t know what you want out of your social media marketing, there is a very good chance you will fail. Like other forms of marketing, it requires clear goals, good strategy, and consistent effort to be successful.

Mistake #2—No plans.  Writing tweets, updates, and blogs all take time. It’s important to identify who is going to do it, when they are going to do it, and how much time they will devote to each activity. Planning this out ahead of time will save you heartache in the long run.

Mistake #3—No value. All the content you post should be aimed at your target audience. This is not about your interests, it is about attracting potential customers. With that said, does that mean you have to stifle your personality? Absolutley not, that is what makes you unique and real. You are not a robot after all! Just make sure you stay on message by keeping your ideal client in mind at all times.  

It is tempting to want to rush into social media because of the opportunities it offers small businesses.  Make sure you have clear goals, a well-thought out implementation plan, and a sense of what would be interesting to your clients before you begin.  If you fail to address these three areas your sites might end up being empty, lifeless ghost towns, instead of the vibrant communities they should be.

March 26, 2010

Small Business Marketing: What Can We Learn about Social Media from Alice in Wonderland

Filed under: Social Media — Robin Witt @ 8:39 am
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Maze represents learning in a new place.For small businesses looking to get started with social media networking, the thought of connecting with customers on Facebook and Twitter can feel like being thrust into a whole new world. This is similar to what happens to Alice when she tumbles down the rabbit hole and ends up in Wonderland. Besides not drinking the tonic and forgetting to bring a Smart Phone, we can learn a lot from the misadventures of Alice and the other characters. Here are three mistakes to avoid when you find yourself in a new space.

Don’t be in a rush. It’s easy to feel like the White Rabbit thinking you are late for an important date if you are not yet participating in social media marketing.  It’s true that you don’t want to delay in getting started with this new opportunity to connect with prospective customers, but don’t let that cause you to skip your homework.  Social media marketing is more than just setting up your networks. Many Twitter accounts and Facebook Fan Pages look like ghost towns because they were built without a plan in place. Don’t let this happen to you.  

Know where you are going. There is a well-known scene where Alice asks the Cheshire Cat for directions and he tells her that it all depends on where she wants to go.  Alice replies that she isn’t really sure, to which the wise Cat replies, “Then it doesn’t really matter which direction you choose.” Clearly identify your goals with social media.  Do you want a large number of followers, more traffic for your website, or something else? Unless you decide what your goals are ahead of time, you will not know if you are getting closer and if you need to change your game plan.

Learn the culture.  Each platform has different expected practices and if you don’t follow them you risk people calling out, “Off with your head!”  Well, maybe not that drastic, but a sure way to lose followers is to barge in without knowing what you are doing. Take time to learn about this new environment. The important thing is to approach social media as a place where you are sharing information, ideas, and helpful advice.

Whenever you are in a new environment  it takes time to learn new skills and practices. Social media marketing presents a wonderful opportunity to reach new and existing clients, so it is worth the extra time and effort to get on the right path.

March 23, 2010

Social Media Marketing: 3 Time-Saving Tips

Filed under: Business,Marketing,Social Media — Robin Witt @ 11:00 am
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Saving TimeNot having enough time is one of the biggest concerns clients tell me about when they are considering social media marketing for their small business. The thought of adding tweets, blogs, and other interactions to an already jammed schedule can seem overwhelming  to many. The result is some business owners become paralyzed taking no action at all to market themselves in this area, while others think about finding to an outside agency to do it for them. Both of these ideas are short-sighted. Unless the reason you don’t have time is because you have too many customers, doing social media by someone inside your company presents a wonderful opportunity to get closer to existing and potential customers. The trick is to use your time wisely. Here are 3 tips that will help you to get started with social media in a time effective manner: 
  1. Develop specific goals.  This begins by identifying what you want social media to do for you.  Do you want to create a large follower group, drive traffic to your web site, or provide a resource for existing customers?  All of these are possible goals for social media. Once you identify the end result, you will be able to develop a more targeted plan and approach. If you don’t, you will spend more time than necessary.  Different goals require different actions.  Get clear on your desired outcome.
  2. Define your target audience.  Second, identify your ideal client. It is tempting to say that everyone could benefit from your product or service, and that may be true, but trying to target messages to such a broad audience will generally result in scattered efforts.  Instead, clearly define who your best customer is.  See them clearly and then choose content that would be most interesting to them.  This precision will help you to sort through content quickly to find the best items. The clearer you are in this area, the more focused, targeted, and successful your strategy will be.
  3. Get experienced help.  This third tip will generally save new users the most time.  Trial and error is an effective way to learn, but it takes a lot more time. Small business owners can dramatically decrease their ramp-up time by finding an expert who knows what the time traps are and how to avoid them.

Even under the best of circumstances, getting started with social media takes anywhere from 1-3 months before new users see results.  Don’t delay the process with unclear goals, undefined customer segments, or a go-it-alone attitude.  With a little bit of help, small businesses can be up and running with social media and enjoying the benefits in 4-6 weeks.   The extra planning up front saves time and achieves better results in the long run.



February 20, 2010

Marketing Lessons from a Roller Derby Playbook

San Diego Derby Doll, Lila Troncone, aka Lilamonster

San Diego Derby Doll, Lila Troncone, aka Lilamonster

I love stories about girls kicking some booty, so it was merely a matter of time before I brought home the roller derby movie Whip It. It’s a fun, coming-of-age story about a small town Texas girl who discovers herself when she joins a local roller derby team. The characters are warm and believable, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised how much you’ll like it.

I think you’ll also be surprised when I tell you that I was able to find some lessons and ideas that could apply to social media marketing!

A cool name is just the beginning.  Picking out a fierce derby name like Smashlee Simpson or Babe Ruthless is fun but it will not win you any bouts. This is one of the things the derby coach told the newly enlisted team members. If you want to win, you have to do the right actions. The same is true for social media marketing. New businesses can get caught up in picking out the color for the Twitter background, but then don’t take the time to find exciting content or keep up-to-date on conversations.  Social media marketing requires daily interaction with friends or followers and to be constantly on the look-out for content the client would find valuable and interesting.

You have to make contact. To be successful in roller derby, you have to eventually make contact. It wouldn’t really be roller derby if everyone just skated around without pushing, shoving, and the occasional hip-check.  It is the same with social media.  You have to be prepared to mix it up a bit.  You can’t expect to engage in an authentic conversation without getting your hair messed up.

Work the strategy. Early in the movie the featured roller derby team (The Hurl Scouts) never wins a game.  Why?  According to their coach, it’s because they’re not disciplined and they don’t follow the playbook. They thought if they just laced up and got on the rink, it would somehow happen all by itself. Guess what, the coach was right. Shooting from the hip rarely works, especially long-term. With social media marketing it is important to know what you are trying to achieve and how you are going to get there.  

For a fun experience, requiring minimal effort, you can’t go wrong with the movie Whip It.  Having a successful presence on the internet will require more effort and tenacity. The important thing is to keep going and not be afraid to take a few hits.

Photo courtesy of Lila Troncone, San Diego Derby Doll.

February 4, 2010

Don’t Be a Social Media Faker

Filed under: Social Media — Robin Witt @ 12:21 pm

Man in disguise trying to be someone else.In the 1989 film, When Harry met Sally, Meg Ryan shocked Billy Crystal by simulating an off-the-charts orgasm in the middle of a crowded diner. The purpose of Ryan’s over-the-top performance was to show how easy it is to fool someone if you really try. While this made for a hilariously memorable moment, faking it in real life is generally not a good idea. This is especially true if you are a small business owner using social media marketing. While it might be tempting to have an outside source do your tweeting, blogging, and Facebook, “faking it” misses the whole point of social networking and will not get you the results you desire. Here’s why:

People buy from people they know. How can people get to know you if someone else is doing the writing? When networking on Facebook and Twitter, customers want a real person to talk to, engage with, and ask questions. Be that person! 

People buy from people they trust. If the blog says it’s from you, make sure that it is.  You don’t want to start your online relationship with a lie.  Many people are already skeptical. When we see a YouTube video, the first question we ask is, “Is it real?” People don’t really expect you to be amazingly fascinating every time, but they do expect you to be honest and authentic with them.

People buy from people who take the time to get to know them. One of the ways we let people know that we value them is by spending time with them. When it comes to business, who is more important to you than your customer?  Show customers you care by taking the time to personally communicate with them. The good news is that they’ll appreciate it and you’ll learn a lot about them in the process.

Don’t put your most important relationship into the hands of an outsider.  With the transparent nature of the web, everything about products and services can easily be compared. This means there needs to be another compelling reason for customers to do business with you. By engaging in social media marketing, customers can get to know you better and trust you. It also provides business owners with opportunities to learn more about their customers. This information puts them in a better position than the competition.

January 19, 2010

Fall in Love with Carbonita Detail

Filed under: Marketing — Robin Witt @ 5:20 pm
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Starting a new company is risky business even in the healthiest of economies. So when two ordinary guys in Southern California came up with the idea to start Carbonita, a new auto-detailing company, they knew they would have to do something remarkable if they hoped to be successful.

The plan was to get the word out about the new company in the shortest amount of time by using multiple marketing channels, This strategy included traditional marketing; such as going door-to-door and performing a few services for free. In addition to the usual promotions, Carbonita also got active in social media. This winning combination helped Carbonita go from doing two details the first week, to more than 100 in only six weeks. While the company is still in the beginning stages, entrepreneurs can learn from Carbonita’s strategy.

Marketing Lessons from Carbonita

Be an expert. There is not a shortage of car detailers who have a bucket and want to make a buck, but that does not mean they understand the science of car paint finishes. Carbonita demonstrates their expertise by being certified and educating clients. In addition, they post tips and updated information on their company blog. Recent blog topics include why I need auto detailing in the first place and why bugs are bad for your car.

Stand out from the crowd. Carbonita uses an eco-friendly approach to auto-detailing. The entire process uses less than a pint of water to completely wash the average car and all of the cleaning materials are biodegradable. They also use super fuel-efficient Smart Cars to drive out to customer locations instead of the usual gas-guzzling trucks most competitors use.

Connect with the customer. One of the social media platforms Carbonita has been most successful with is Twitter. Because of Twitter’s ability to engage in two-way conversations with prospective customers, more people have found out about the service and have been willing to give Carbonita a try. They also use Twitter’s real time capabilities to answers questions.

By using multiple marketing channels, engaging in conversations, and most importantly, delivering remarkable results, Carbonita have been able to ramp up sales in a short amount of time. This has also given them the opportunity to live their company philosophy: to remind people why they fell in love with their car in the first place.

For more information on Carbonita, visit their Website or follow them on Twitter.

January 12, 2010

Do You Speak the Language of Social Media?

Filed under: Social Media — Robin Witt @ 10:33 am

Social Media is like learning a new language.There is a lot of confusion about social media these days and especially how it can be used for business marketing.  This has resulted in a wide discrepancy among  businesses with some being very fluent in social media, while others are still just getting started learning the language.

What’s your level of social media fluency? Here are four ways to evaluate your proficiency:

Native speaker in social media. This is a business who seamlessly uses all types of social media to tell their brand story. One excellent example is Stone Brewing Company near San Diego. The craft-style brewery and slow food restaurant in Southern California has really taken to social media. With six Twitter accounts, the Stone Blog, Greg’s Vlog, and a compelling story, Stone consistently dishes up interesting content for it’s more than 18,000 Facebook fans and 11,000 Twitter followers.

Social media as a second language. This is a company that recognizes the value of social media and is able to incorporate into the overall marketing strategy.  A good example of a company at this level is children’s bookseller, Chinaberry Books. They are having great success with their fairly recent expansion onto Twitter.  

Broken social media. This is a company that has tried to get social media marketing going, but it flopped. It could be for a number of reasons: poor strategy, too pushy, not committed, or didn’t know how to add valuable content. I am not going to name any companies here, but you can look at the skeleton Twitter accounts for examples of businesses that just gave up.   

Social media alien. This business owner is still on the sidelines thinking about it, but not actively learning.  They may be waiting for more conclusive ROI, or waiting to see if this new language is just a fad.  They don’t realize that social media is part of today’s language of business.

If you are not yet fluent in social media marketing, there is still time to get involved, but don’t wait too long.  I’ve listed two books below that can help you get an introduction into this new resource for attracting and retaining customers.  And if you have already tried, or want to be more efficient with you time, you can hire a consultant like myself who has already worked with others to learn this new language. The important thing is to begin. It is a new year with new possibilities. 

Looking for more information?  Check out Inbound Marketing, where authors Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah talk about “digital citizens” and describe qualities you should look for when hiring inbound marketers.  In Trust Agents, authors Chris Brogan and Julien Smith share the characteristics of “digital natives.”  Both books are good reads that will give you additional information on improving your own social media literacy skills.

December 31, 2009

Social Media Marketing in 2009: White Lies and Half Truths

Filed under: Social Media — Robin Witt @ 8:27 am
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Social media marketing in 2009 included some white lies and half truths. In a year when Twitter was named the most popular new word in the English language, there was a lot of buzz about social media marketing in 2009.  The jury is still out about whether social media is a beneficial marketing channel for businesses. Critics and fans squared off at one end of the spectrum or the other, concluding that social media is either a complete waste of time, or the answer to everything.  Now that we are at the end of the year looking back, it is a good time to sort through all the hoopla about three key claims.   

Social media is free. While it is true that Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube don’t have a monetary cost, to say that they are free, is not entirely accurate.  Instead of cash, business owners will be spending their time, energy, and talent to engage customers on these sites.

Social media is easy. There is a sense that if you build it, they will come. What small business owners have been finding out is that establishing a presence on different networking sites and drawing followings is the easy part. Having interesting content and maintaining the momentum to keep it going is another.   

Social media is the new mass media. Social media doesn’t replace mass media, it complements it. The important thing to understand is how social media is different than mass media and not make the mistake of shouting out an advertising message to everyone.  Customers are getting really good at tuning out traditional marketing and at the same time are spending more time on networking sites like Facebook which added 200 million new users in 2009.

So don’t think of social media as a quick fix or some marketing magic trick. Steer clear of these half truths and white lies and you’ll be fine.  Social media marketing is different than traditional marketing, but in some ways it is the same, requiring strategy, discipline, and time to see the results of more customers and sales.

December 22, 2009

Small Business Marketer: Avoid Social Media Marketing Scorch and Burn

Filed under: Social Media — Robin Witt @ 5:12 am
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For small businesses wanting more customers and sales, social media appears to be a profit launching pad, especially if we can figure out how to go viral. This is every business owner’s dream because who doesn’t want instant success and of course, that’s all we hear about.  The reality is social media is not a magical elixir that will fix the ills of a poor marketing plan, nor is it a way to get rich quick. Although social media marketing is different in many ways from other forms of marketing, it still requires consistency, focus, and a well thought out plan to be effective.  Here are three tips to help you get started.

Begin with the end in mind. What is the purpose of your social media marketing plan? Are you trying to find new customers?  Drive traffic to your website?  Both? Write down your goals and track your progress. It may seem obvious but you would be surprised how many smart business owners skip this important step in their rush to get started.

Decide who your target audience is. Who are your ideal customers and what are they interested in? This should always be foremost in your mind. It is easy to get off track and have a diluted message if you don’t remember who this person is. Once you’ve identified your ideal customer, their profile becomes the guide for the content you post and what activities you use to engage them. 

Take your time. A big part of social media marketing is developing relationships and interesting content, both of which require time and attention. It is much more involved than just setting up networking sites. Many small business owners are eager to get started with social media, but often get frustrated when they don’t see immediate results.  Relationships take time to develop.  You can’t rush the process.  That is why it is so crucial to know where you are going and to make sure that your efforts going in the right direction.  

Social media is a powerful marketing tool for small business, but it will not fix a wimpy or non-existent marketing plan. With all marketing efforts it is important to know what the desired outcome is and how success will be measured; otherwise you can waste a lot of time and not get the results you are looking for.

December 20, 2009

Getting Started with Social Media Marketing: Look Before You Leap

Filed under: Social Media — Robin Witt @ 12:07 am
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For small business owners ready to get started with online social media marketing, it’s important to remember the benefits of going slow at first, so you can go fast later.  For owners and entrepreneurs used to moving at a fast pace, this can be a challenge.  Still, it’s important to understand the intricacies of each of the different platforms before moving forward. 

There is so much to learn about Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, especially in a business context. While it is tempting to just get started, a trial-and-error approach ends up being  time consuming and rarely produces good results. With a little bit of guidance, you can accomplish a lot more.  I found this out personally when I first got started. I had the good fortune of attending a social media workshop and was able to accomplish more in a one-day session than I had in the previous four months.

Successful people use personal trainers, get advice on investing, and seek out mentors.  Use the same approach when you’re getting ready to use social media. The amount of help could range from a one-day class, a guided three-month launch, or an all-inclusive program. A good coach or consultant will get you started on the right foot by educating you throughout the process.

Successful small business owners know that this is the time to take the social media plunge.  Just make sure you get some help before you jump into the deep end of the pool.  A social media consultant will help you learn more to get maximum results.  In the long run, you’ll save time too!

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