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Monday, December 31, 2007

Is Jessica Simpson the Next Suzanne Somers?

Jessica Simpson recently had the worst movie box office numbers ever for her movie "Blonde Ambition." It was released in her hometown in Texas and flopped. None of her films before it did well except The Dukes of Hazzard which had minor success. Despite failed films and poor CD sales, she keeps getting merchandising deals. I think she is in the process of reinventing herself. Given her lack of success in tradional show business, this is a good move.

American Express Remember the Thighmaster? Suzanne Somers famously used it in a low-budget infomercial which launched her new career as a health and beauty billionaire titan. She has books, clothing, exercise gear, jewelry, food and anything else you can stick a label on. Jessica Simpson is moving in the same direction. I just saw on TV that she now has a swimsuit line. Ms. Simpson also has hair extenstions, footwear, handbags, clothing, and beauty products. There is a trend here.

I was never a fan of Jessica's music, but I found her amusing on her MTV reality show. But her footwear line isn't bad and from the clip I saw on TV of her swimwear line - it shows promise. There are a couple of pair of her boots that I definitely would wear. Suzanne Somers has a great partnership with her husband of many years and they have created an empire together. I am not sure if Jessica's team has the same business prowess as Ms. Somers team; however, she is really moving into creating a full-on merchandising empire that could save her career and her bank account.

I question if she has the charisma and business sense to carry a full-line of products. Only time will tell. For now I wonder if people will continue to buy Jessica Simpson merchandise to keep her empire in growth mode. I do hope she chooses to devote her energy to her merchandise full-time and exits gracefully from acting and singing. It could be the big break she is looking for.

Resolutions for 2008 Business Marketing and Branding

If 2007 was a year that you didn't make the most of your ability to market your product or services, turn that around in 2008.

I have seen a number of articles in various publications and blogs about small businesses hiring public relations firms. The debate has been should they or should they not engage a public relations firm. Personally, I do not recommend pr firms for very small businesses. If a business is making under $250k a year, a pr firm is not the right move. Instead there are things that small businesses can do on their own to market and publicize to increase awareness. Here are some tips for 2008:

#1 Refresh Your Brand - Whether you own a storefront retail business or a company offering services do something to refresh your brand. This could be updating your signage outside of your establishment. I especially recommend this if you have had the same signage or logo for over 10 years, if that is the case you are definitely overdue. A brand refresh doesn't have to be really expensive. Work with a freelance branding expert or a graphic design student to come up with something.

Do-It-Yourself Email Marketing#2 Start an Electronic Newsletter - Most small businesses are not doing enough to connect to existing customers. Almost everyone has an email address today and many people are willing to receive information from companies they patronize. Start an e-newsletter and include features on products or services. If you run a business that can offer a special promotion - make sure you include one in every e-newsletter.

#3 Create New Referral Sources - Get out there and network in 2008! Cultivate relationships that can lead to referrals. Pick up a business journal in your area. If you live near or in a major metropolitan city, almost every big city has a business journal. Read it and look for events that could offer good networking. Start by attending events held or sponsored by the business journal. Check the local paper for business event listings.

#4 Refresh Your Website - Many small businesses are guilty of having static websites. (FYI a static website is one that you put up a while ago and have not added one new update or change) Your search engine optimization is dependent on your website having FRESH and RELEVANT contact. Work with your webmaster to post new information to your site.

WebEx MeetMeNow Online Meetings #5 Improve Customer Service - Great customer service is the BEST PR and MARKETING for your business. Even if you think your customer service is stellar, do something to add to it. Make sure you train employees to provide the best customer service possible. If you are in a service oriented business, have your representatives call your customers long after your work is done to make sure they are satisfied. If you have a retail business, do something extra for your customers when they visit your location. I can't talk enough about my dry cleaner who brings my clothes to my car for me each time. His customer service is why I drive out of town to patronize his business.

#6 Advertise Online - You might hear people talking about search engine marketing or SEM. SEM can tremendously increase the visibility of your website in search engines. The best part about this type of advertising is that you create your own budget! You can invest whatever amount of money in SEM that your business can afford. You can literally devote $25 a month to it. SEM is quite easy to do on your own. Search engines such as Yahoo! and Google provide step-by-step instructions to begin your SEM program. If you want more people to find your website, definitely start a search engine marketing campaign.

Good Luck in 2008 and remember to check for more tips for your business.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Holiday Hours and Seasonal Employees are Important for Your Business

This Christmas Eve, I found myself on a wild goose chase at 7pm trying to find establishments that were open for business. First stop – Whole Foods Markets. I got there around 7:15pm on Christmas Eve and they were closed. They appeared to have been closed for a while. There were no cars in the lot. Their normal Monday hours are until 10pm.

Second stop - a local restaurant. I wanted to use a coupon at a local pizza restaurant. I stopped in there at 7:30pm on Christmas Eve. We walked in and the girl behind the counter didn’t hesitate to say “Uh the dining room is closed – we closed it at 7 pm.” I mentioned my dine-in coupon and she said “sorry.” The regular hours for this restaurant are until 10pm. It would been nice if they offered to honor my coupon for take-out, alas they did not.

Third stop in my quest for a meal BEFORE 8pm on Christmas Eve was a desperate move. We were going to our local Wendy’s. We didn’t have to pull into the driveway of Wendy’s to see that the lights were off and that they were closed too. This was unbelievable as Wendy’s normally stays open until midnight.

So as we were making our fourth stop to a Chinese take-out restaurant, I noticed the 24 hours neighborhood Dunkin Donuts was also CLOSED before 8pm. The best part was a vehicle pulled into the Dunkin lot as I was waiting at a light. It seemed that patron was also in awe at the closure as well – he was just sitting there staring at the door as if it would magically open.

So we headed over to the Chinese take-out in the next town, but before we got there I noticed a nicer Chinese restaurant was open and ready for business. We got in and they were packed – I guess all of the hungry folks from my town ended up in there too. Of course, this restaurant was open for its normal business hours.

My point in bringing all of this up is simple, Christmas Eve is not a holiday, so try to keep your regular hours. If you want to give your regular employees time off do it, but do not sacrifice your business. Consider hiring seasonal employees who want extra money and will not mind working regular hours. There was no reason for any of the places to be closed so early. There are plenty of people who are willing to make extra money during the holidays.

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I remember about 15 years ago, certain retail stores would be open until midnight on Christmas Eve. That seems to be a thing of the past. So if your regular employees want more time off , give it to them. Make sure you bring in seasonal employees starting in November to learn the ropes so they can jump right in the jobs in December.

I was looking to spend money on Christmas Eve and nearly no one was open for me to do that. Don’t miss out on last minute sales and dinner seekers on holiday eves. Hire seasonal employees to keep you up and running. And pay your management extra money to stay their regular hours so the seasonal employees have leadership. I guarantee that if any of the four places I noted previously had advertised for seasonal employees, they would have gotten lots of inquiries. You can use online job placement services like or others to find people to keep your business open for regular hours during the holidays.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Advertise Your Business by Engaging in Charitable Giving

Small businesses typically have a limited budget for advertising expenses. There are many sophisticated ways to promote a business, without breaking the bank. One is to provide services for free to a local or regional charity.

Many nonprofit organizations, especially chapters of national organizations, are looking for opportunities to partner with local merchants. Offering your services for free to a charity can be a great way to promote your business. Charities need the same services as a for-profit business. In many cases, a non-profit organization is unable to pay for services that could help promote their cause or service. This is a great opportunity to provide pro-bono services that will advertise at the same time offer a tax deduction for your business. It is a win-win.

A company that has leveraged this type of opportunity is Constant Contact. Constant Contact is a provider of do-it-yourself email marketing. I recently learned that it has a program called Constant Contact Cares 4 Kids. Under this program, it has established a relationship with nonprofit organizations such as the United Way. Constant Contact provides its services free to 1300 local chapter affiliates. The benefit is that United Way local affiliates can market services and implement donation campaigns via email, at no cost, thereby reducing overhead expenses.

The United Way is a great organization for kids and Constant Contact
has leveraged the opportunity to help out a charitable organization that fit within its niche that offers great positive exposure. In return, the United Way has created a page on its website under its “partners” section exclusively for Constant Contact. The web page highlights Constant Contact by explaining the relationship as well as links and information about Constant Contact’s services.

This relationship is brilliant because Constant Contact’s email marketing templates provide links to its own website, therefore, anyone on the United Way’s email campaigns are exposed to a Constant Contact product. In the end, this is a smart relationship for the United Way because it provides all of its local chapters a free marketing tool and Constant Contact is making a charitable contribution that gains them terrific exposure.

Small business such as printers, IT services, website development, public relations, marketing, caterers and many more can benefit from establishing a similar relationship with a nonprofit. So be creative, identify an organization in your community and start leveraging your charitable efforts for great branding exposure.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Ike Turner Leaves Behind A Personal Brand Tarnished By Scandal

Ike Turner died recently with baggage. Although Tina Turner's violent life with him was highly documented in her book and autobiographical film, Ike never owned up to abusing her. He led a life of rock and roll drinking and drugging. He never did anything to save his reputation.

For many, Ike Turner's legacy is one marred with violence and self-deprecation. He did not die a great music legend, he died a fallen star who wasn't man enough to own up to his dirty deeds.

Turner's personal brand was tarnished years ago and there was no public relations person or other star handler that could turn him around. He was a lost cause. I don't know a single song that Ike Turner did without Tina. Actually, only one song comes to mind when I think of Ike and Tina, Proud Mary. He didn't leave much of anything positive behind.

It is important to try to overcome scandal. Sometimes it is time to be contrite and try to seek the forgiveness of those who care about you. Many celebrities have been able to polish their tarnished image by admitting to wrong-doing and trying to move past the issues that have plagued them. Your personal brand is essential for your success. Be open about issues that you or your business face quickly. Don't deny something that is obviously true. Protect your personal brand by eloquently sharing your side of the story and then quickly move on.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Going Green is Good for Your Business and Brand

Thanks to Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth, going green is big with everyone these days. Even the folks who could have cared less about the environment and even poked fun at people who obsessively recycled are now trying to do something green. But being environmentally friendly is no longer just for individuals, it is for businesses too.

Believe it or not, you could probably increase your business if you did something "green." Why? Because there are business leaders who are green and looking to do business with other green businesses. It is a statement of your businesses committment to helping the environment, which could mean a lot to your potenital clients or even customers.

If you are doing anything green, publicize it. For instance, if you are only using 100% recycled paper products or operate your business in a certified "green" building, make note of it on your website and marketing materials. I recommend this especially if you are a subcontractor for large corporations. Many large corporations have environmentally-friendly initiatives in place. If your business has similar intiatives, you might be considered over companies that do not share the same values.

In today's competitive landscape, any edge up over the competition helps. It is not hard to implement a green program. It could be as simple as providing multiple trash cans at your business for employees and customers to separate trash for recycling. You can purchase recycled ink toner, energy efficient light bulbs and even install lighting timers to start your green program. If you have a business that utilizes company vehicles consider purchasing hybrid vehicles for your fleet. (Note: there are nice tax advantages for purchasing hybrid vehicles.)

Going green is good for your bottom-line and your company's branding. In the very near future, it could be what tips the scale to attain new business or even recruiting talented employees. Jobseekers who are passionate about living a green lifestyle typically want to work for companies who share their interest in the environment. No matter what your beliefs are about the green movement, it is here to stay. Consider finding ways for your company to take part in our green world and maybe save a tree or polar bear in the process.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Are Your Employees Brand Ambassadors?

When was the last time you "tested" your employees about their knowledge of your product or service? You might be surprised to learn that your employees do not know as much as you think they do or would want them to.

I have a client who tests her employees regularly by asking them questions about the services she provides. She owns a medical spa and she knows it is important that they know details about the services she provides. On one occassion, she found that that two of her six employees couldn't provide basic information about the medical procedures performed at her spa. Those employees were staff for more than three months. She immediatlely started to look for new employees.

You might find my client's actions drastic, but she knows how important it is for her employees to be brand ambassadors. Let's face it, employees are the main point of contact with your customers and clients. They must be able to offer the same level of knowledge of an owner or manager.

Small business owners should regularly "quiz" employees on their knowledge of the products or services offered by your business. You can informally ask them questions during departmental meetings, perhaps give "prizes" to those who know the most. Make knowing the most about your company a competition.

Employees as brand ambassadors can increase the level of customer service and increase sales. Make sure your employees are well-versed in whatever services or products you offer.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Target Advertising – Niche Audiences Result in Brand Loyalty

Do you have a product or service that only appeals to a certain audience? Niche audiences can bring a stream of sales to your business – regularly. It used to be that if you had a product or service that didn’t appeal to the masses that your business would fail. Now with social networking, niche audiences can build brand loyalty and the best part about it is that your niche audience can be your foot soldiers!

Here is a really great example of taking advantage of a captive audience within a specific niche. I recently read in a media relations newsletter that a magazine that ceased publication nearly four years ago is coming back. The magazine is called, “Victoria.” It isn’t a fashion magazine or a gossip magazine, it is an elegant publication about living a simple yet elegant lifestyle. And it has rabid fans.

Since it ceased publication, fans of the magazine have been getting together virtually in online forums, sharing their love for the magazine and the information similar to what was in the magazine. The magazine’s publishers, Hoffman Publications, noticed that these rabid fans would be a perfect and CAPTIVE audience. “Victoria” will be back as a subscriber publication in 2008. Besides finding out that the fans were extremely loyal, publishers also learned that readers HATED the redesign of the publication months before it stopped publishing. The revitalized “Victoria” will be the pre-redesign version.

Another example of this is that CBS cancelled a program called, “Jericho.” Fans were so outraged they conducted a very organized campaign directed toward to the programming department at CBS. They went as far as sending large amounts of items that represented a theme from the show to CBS headquarters. End result? This program is coming back for another season for its rabid fans in January 2008.

Lesson learned? Even if your product or service has a smaller reach than desired, if you have clients or customers loyal to your brand, they will do some of the marketing for you. Social networking is a powerful tool for brand loyalty. If you have a website, think about posting a message board that your customers can use to talk about your product or service. If you are concerned about the material that will be posted, be sure to have moderating capabilities. Send your loyal customers information about your products or services using services such as Constant Contact.

There is something to be said about targeting a niche audience for brand loyalty. Take a good look at who your audience is and figure out how to best appease them so they go to market on your behalf.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Part 2: Small Businesses: Good Customer Service is Part of Your Branding

Good customer service also means good communications. Are you responding to your customers quickly? If you are not, your customers or ex-customers probably view your company in a poor light which to them is part of your brand reputation.

Over the last few weeks, I have made five or six cold calls to companies asking about their services. I called four printing companies, leaving messages clearly stating I was interested in their services. Only one called me back. (Here is another thing -absolutely no one was available when I called these places. I asked for a person - all I got was voicemail. This is not good.)

I was actually recommended to call one printer. I asked a small business owner and they vehemently told me that their printer was the best. Well that printer never called me back. I do not call back companies who fail to return calls.

Could they all being doing so well that they don't need my business? I doubt it. Maybe the situation is that the employees are not treated well and do not care about new business. This is also bad and an internal branding issue.

Bottom-line is that you must be responsive to new business inquiries. You must call or email back existing customers quickly to handle their requests. I believe that the printers I called didn't want my business. I won't do business with them - ever. There are other printers that will be glad to take my business.

Note: The one printer that called me back took five days to get back to me with price quotes. The owner actually mailed me a box with samples and the price quotes. I emailed her with my needs - she sent me snail mail. I was starting to believe she blew me off. If you decide to respond to email with snail mail - let your potential customer know. We are all very acclimated to receiving information quickly and we if don't - we assume our request has been forgotten.

Remember your customers are not mind readers.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Small Businesses: Good Customer Service is Part of Your Branding - Part 1

I can't tell you how many times I have stopped patronizing a store or service because of horrendous customer service. Whether your small business is part of a large franchise or you run your own business - your customer service is a major part of your small businesses brand.

I drive to a dry cleaner in the next town because my dry cleaner goes the extra mile with my order (no pun intended). He carries dry cleaning to my car and puts it in there for me. He runs my blouses through several times to remove stains - without me asking. His elite customer service is part of his brand. I could probably save money using coupons for a dry cleaner in my town, but I received bad customer service just ONE day and I moved on.

Remember the Saturn commercials from 10-15 years ago? They were an unknown brand. They built their brand on their customer service. Commercials showed customers enjoying themselves while shopping for a Saturn. They were treated with respect, given food to eat and were taken care of even after their purchase. Saturn focused on its "no haggle" pricing to appeal to consumers who just wanted to go into one of their dealerships to buy a car.

Start building your customer service branding by making sure the people who answer your phones are informed about your company and most importantly know how to work your phone system. It is easy to deter new customers if their calls are dropped because the receptionist doesn't know how to put calls through voicemail. Make sure temporary employees have access to phone directories and instructions on how to use your telephone system. Make sure they are told how to greet callers and guests.

Part II of Good Customer Service is Part of Your Branding will be about - New Business Calls.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanking Past & Present Employees is the Best Marketing

I recently learned that a major online brokerage firm, that acquired another firm two years ago, mailed bonus checks to PAST employees that were given packages due to the acquisition. Many employees of the brokerage firm were given significant packages to stay on through the transitional period before being laid off. The firm has now awarded the employees that stayed on during the transitional period with bonuses because they helped to increase productivity and revenues.

I find this gesture extremely important to the overall branding and marketing of the firm. Anyone who had ill-will due to the lay-offs will now feel very good about this company. The letter they sent was quite nice and thanked the former employee in the form of a $1500 gross check. How many companies share their success in the form of money with former employees? This is brilliant marketing and branding!And a great public relations tactic.

This holiday season, consider sending small tokens of appreciation to employees who left on good terms. Remind them that your company is good and cares about its people. It doesn't have to be a large amount of cash, as that could hurt a small businesses, but think of sending them holiday cards. If you can afford to splurge on a gift card, send them a $15-25 gift certificate thanking them for their service and helping your company become a success. The word-of-mouth on this will be tremendous. I have chosen not to mention the name of the firm above, however, former employees will be happy to share how wonderful your company is.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Small Business Charitable Giving Programs Make For Good Public Relations

The Wall Street Journal published a nice article about how small business owners have built charitable giving programs into their businesses. Some of the businesses made charitable giving a mission of the firm that hinged on the success of the company. I do not advise that any small business do that, however, having a charitable program is a good idea and can be a conduit positive public relations.

Think about calling a local United Way or Salvation Army and find out how you can get involved with a toy or clothing drive. Once signed up with a program, promote it to your employees AND customers or clients. Get everyone involved. You want your charitable program to be a success.

Before the organization picks up what you have collected whether it is toys or coats for the needy, stack them up in a small room to take a photo. Ask a few staff members to join senior executives for a photo-op. Use the photo to promote your charitable activities on your company website and client newsletters. You can also submit the photo to business event sections of local business journals. Most of the publications carry submitted photos.

If you have staff members that want to be more involved with your charity, ask if your staff can be on hand to volunteer and give out the materials collected.

Charitable giving is a great way to give back to your community and to promote your business. Link up with a local charity this season.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Customize Your Small Business with Branding

What is branding? It is how your customers recognize your small business. McDonald’s brand includes it golden arches and Ronald McDonald. Apple’s brand is ingrained in our minds by a simple partially bitten apple.It is so important to the company that it inverted the apple logo on the top of laptops and the back of monitors so that it can be viewed properly when people are using them - on the street and on the big screen.

So what is your brand? I find that most small businesses don’t have a defined brand. Entrepreneurs are busy trying to run a successful business and often neglect developing an actual brand. Well, it not hard to come up with branding elements. In fact, you can work on developing a brand inexpensively online.

Start with a logo. You don't have to spend a lot of money. There are companies online that provide ways for small businesses to create their own custom logos for a minimal amount of cash Create your LOGO in just minutes
with I have personally taken advantage of the free trial they provide to create a logo to use online. But you have to purchase the file in order to get a high-resolution logo to use in print. Try them out.

If you have an artistic side, you can use open source design software such as GIMP. I recently used GIMP to design a header for my retail blog. I admit it is nothing fancy, but I was able to do it on my own with GIMP. GIMP is a cross between Adobe Photoshop Elementsand Adobe Illustrator - except it is free. Download GIMP and play around with the functions available.

How do you come up with a logo? You can start off with something that represents you or your business. Maybe it could be a play on words or something from your childhood. Shawn Fanning, founder of NAPSTER and the genius behind music file sharing, named his "company" after the nasty nickname kids called him when they made fun of his hair texture. Sure he got into some trouble with his company initially, but now it seems Fanning had the last laugh on that one.

Try to be creative and not cliche. If you own a plumbing business just don't throw a wrench and sink together and call it a logo. Try to stand out from your competitors. Tap into your customers, maybe have a contest for suggestions and giveaway a prize like an iPhone 8GB. Maybe ask some design students at a local college to assist you. They need the exposure and they will be cheap (if not free.)If you decide to do either of the two, just make sure the person who designs the logo you wish to use signs a release to give you full-rights to their art for all uses.

Happy Branding!

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Small Business Need Proper Marketing and Branding Too

Just because your business is small, you don't have to have SMALL marketing. Recently, I was driving through town (I was a passenger)and I looked at the window of a neighborhood consignment shop. It looks like it has the same decor and signage it had at least 15 years ago. The window was junky with clothes hung in the window without rhyme or reason.

But I was most horrified as a marketer to see a handwritten sign advertising 20% off all clothing. It was written in script with a green marker that seemed like it was one letter away from going dry. The best part about this, the shop owner made two of these "signs" by hand.

It is 2007, most people have a computer and a printer. It is not hard to open a word processing program in Microsoft Office 2007 Small Business
and type a simple flyer in a large font of your choice. You can even have fun with type color or drop in some clipart.

The bottom-line is you do not have to spend a lot of money to market your business effectively. Simple touches like typed printed marketing pieces in your front window gives your business a different type of appearance to your customers. Go the extra mile for your business. Even if you printed signs from five years ago, it may be time to refresh them.

But a profitable business should never display handwritten flyers, unless you run a restaurant and only then it is acceptable to have handwritten specials. BUT even restaurants have an alternative these days to handwritten specials. There are electronic marquees and programs that run from a computer on flat screen monitors.

Invest in your advertising and marketing - it could mean more patronage and profits.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

eMarketer:Online Holiday Sales Will Be Up for 2007

Online retailers and providers. Get your holiday markting programs in order ASAP. Although you may be hearing that all consumer spending will be down - e-Marketer things online sales will be just as good as last year:

This was reporterd in the e-Marketer newsletter today:
eMarketer predicts that online holiday sales will reach $31 billion this season, up 18.5% over last year.

“It’s true that this year’s growth rate will be a drop-off from last year’s growth of 25%,” says Jeffrey Grau, eMarketer Senior Analyst and author of the new report Online Holiday Shopping, “but it is far superior to the low single-digit growth rate forecast for the overall retail industry this holiday season.”

According to eMarketer’s estimates, online holiday season (November and December) sales this year will account for 23% of annual retail e-commerce sales, or roughly the same as last year.

Do you have your holiday season marketing plans in order?

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Can Your Small Business Handle Telecommuting?

The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting story today about how companies are accomodating more telecommuters.The story highlighted companies that are hiring employees right out of the gate to fill managerial roles as telecommuters. Small business could benefit from having full-time telecommuters.

Employees who telecommute are usually more productive (I know I am) and the WSJ cites that companies can save money on office space. Also, to make a small business attractive to top talent, a telecommuting program could be leveraged for advertising available positions. If finding the best people in your industry has been a problem, promote telecommuting in your advertising and marketing campaigns. Telecommuting is often an amenity larger companies have a perk and to be able to offer it at a small business will make working at your company much more attractive.

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  • Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    Web Rage from Customers is Bad for Your Business

    The Wall Street Journal’s Business Technology blog published an item on how web rage is – well – all the rage on company websites. The reporter interviewed an adjunct professor who said “don’t sweat it” about small numbers of angry customers posting rage filled posts to corporate websites. This is bad advice.

    If you are a business-to-consumer company, your reputation is everything. Maintaining a good reputation is the best branding and public relations a company can do. Having angry customers spewing nasty comments about your products or services can become viral.

    The internet is a breeding ground for word-of-mouth rage. Plus, then there is the search engine problem. Someone well-versed in SEO can easily write a very nasty post to your company website that could get picked up on page one of search engine results for your company name. The last thing you want is for new clients or employees to read rants from dissatisfied clients, or worse employees, associated with your company’s domain name.

    Whether in large or small numbers, outspoken dissatisfied customers are bad for your company brand. Before you provide forums on your company site, consider whether you want to open up the customer experience to EVERYONE which will include negative feedback.

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    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Survey: Retailer Holiday Giftcards are Still Best Deal Released These Findings on Gift Card Sales:

    A Consumer Guideline for Giving Giftcards

    Bankrate Releases 2007 Holiday Gift Card Study
    November 12, 2007: 08:15 AM EST

    NEW YORK, Nov. 12 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Bankrate, Inc. today published its Fourth Annual Holiday Gift Card Study. Bankrate surveyed 31 issuers of gift cards, including American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa; major retailers; and the six largest shopping mall operators. The study examines new trends, expiration dates, fees, and dormancy policies associated with gift card purchases.

    "In some cases, the $100 gift card you buy for your loved-one could be worth nothing when they try to make a purchase," said Ellen Cannon, managing editor at "A few minutes spent reading the fine print, can make a big difference in the gift you're actually giving," Ms. Cannon stated.

    Key findings of the survey are:

    -- Best deal for consumers are still retailers' gift cards. They have no
    fee to purchase and no expiration date.

    -- All of the shopping malls and the big four charge fees to purchase a
    card as well as impose expiration dates. An expiration date means
    after that date, a monthly fee will be charged until the value of the
    card is spent or the balance is $0.

    -- More customized cards are available. American Express offers nine
    types of cards such as for kids, teens, movie-lovers, newlyweds. Best
    Buy has 15 different cards, including "Happy Fun Day" and "Geek Squad."

    -- Partnerships for added incentives. Some American Express gift cards
    have incentives attached, such as a free box of popcorn at certain
    movie chains when you use the gift card.

    -- Gift cards now being offered by many different types of businesses,
    including nonprofits and state parks.

    -- Gift card malls -- those kiosks in drugstores and grocery stores --
    continue to proliferate. The variety of cards offered also expands.
    Besides Starbucks or T.G.I. Friday's, new gift cards for golf or spa
    visits that can be used at hundreds of places across the country.

    Monday, November 12, 2007

    Smart Holiday Advertising for Small Businesses

    The holidays are basically here and this is a great time to reach out to your clients and customers. The number one reason is they are expecting you to reach out to them at this time. It could be that you send them a card to wish them happy holidays or you can simply send electronic communications.

    There are a few services that make it quite simple for small businesses to reach out to clients and customers without breaking the bank. For e-newsletters, small business can use customizable newsletters online via vendors such as Constant Contact.

    Constant Contact provides Do-It-Yourself Email Marketing.
    Using an array of templates and designs you can customize a e-marketing campaign. They also offer the opportunity to start with free for a 60 day trial. I use this service for a client's newsletter and it really provides a simple way to layout a newsletter with minimal time. During the holidays, I also use Constant Contact to send holiday promotions. Try out Constant Contact's Email Newsletters - 60 Day Free Trial.

    Another simple way to reach out to clients and customers is to send a holiday card. You would be surprised how holiday greetings can help your company bring in customers and clients you may have not seen in a while. Holiday cards are easy to customize through services such as Vista Print. Vista Print is a online company that provides custom printer direct to consumer. For the holidays they are offering FREE Deals for the Holidays which can make your holiday greetings economical for small businesses.

    Holiday cards can wish your clients and customers good tidings for the season, but it is also a great time to advertise special offers for holidays. If you custom print your holiday cards with a message, why not add a special offer. The special offer should require that the customer bring in the card to receive the special. This serves two purposes: you find out how well your card promotion worked and you also can gauge how proactive your clients and customers are. Vista Print is running a special for 50% OFF HOLIDAY CARDS! Some of these specials are for a limited time.

    I personally have taken advantage of Vista Print's Free Business Cards promotion. The business cards I ordered came in a timely fashion and they were printed as I designed them.