Will Pinterest Replace Advertising?

What is Pinterest?

You may have heard of the latest social media phenomenon Pinterest.

Started in March 2010, Pinterest allows its users to create and share theme-based image collections.

According to the site, Pinterest’s mission is to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.”

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[VIDEO] B2B Social Media Statistics

Need to Justify Social Media ROI? 

Many companies need to justify their usage of social media by trying to determine an ROI. 

We understand that. 

And there’s nothing like a quick video to pack in some great examples and stats on how social media is changing the b2b marketing landscape across various industries. 

Read more

What is Inbound Marketing?

What The Heck is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is the process of attracting people to your website who actually care about what you have to say. It’s about creating content that people are interested in consuming. It’s about admitting that the old way of marketing – interruptive advertising – just doesn’t work anymore.

What is Inbound Marketing

It’s marketing and selling your products with authenticity and transparency.

It’s what people want. 

You may have heard Inbound Marketing referred to by different names. Some people call it Content Marketing or SEO or Social Media. The truth is Inbound Marketing is all of these things and more. 

Inbound Marketing is a Puzzle

Inbound marketing is like a puzzle – but not because it’s confusing. It’s a puzzle in the sense that it’s made up of many pieces. Pieces that should not stand on their own, but when put together, make total sense. To truly succeed online, business need to have a comprehensive strategy inclusive of all the pieces in the puzzle. Assembling the pieces together into one, cohesive strategy is the key to marketing success.

Four Core Pillars of Inbound Marketing

In order for your Inbound Marketing program to be successful, it needs to deliver in four key areas:

Traffic Generation

Generating more traffic for a website is like a recipe: you will need the proper mix of ingredients but there’s no one single formula for success. Rather, it’s a set of strategies and supporting tools working together. Those strategies are Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Customer-Oriented Blogging and Social Media sharing. All three working together will ensure an adequate supply of targeted traffic to your site. 

Lead Generation

So you’ve optimized your content, your’re blogging regularly and you’re getting some content shared on social media. Great start. But just because you have traffic coming in, doesn’t mean you’re getting any leads.

This is where premium content, landing pages and great calls-to-action come into play.  

Lead generation is a tacit quid pro quo between the marketer and customer. You have to convince your potential customer that what they’re getting (information) is worth more than what they’re giving up (their name and email address). Giving away useful customer-focused, problem solving content in exchange for information is one of the best ways to do this.  The amount of information you ask of them is directly related to how valuable the content you’re giving away. The more valuable the info, the more information you can ask of them.  

Once you have their name and email address, you can begin the process of nurturing leads toward sales. 

Sales Conversion

Would you consider someone who Likes you on Facebook a lead? Would you consider someone who downloads your whitepaper a lead?

The truth is that not all “leads” are created equal. 

That’s why managing your leads realistically while taking the long term view is a key part of converting leads to sales. Lead nurturing and segmented email campaigns are your primary tools for converting your leads into sales over time. 

Analysis & Measurement

One of the great advantages of internet marketing is access to data. With the proper tools such as Hubspot or Google Analytics 5.0, you can track almost everything about your site visitors.

The reports you generate should tie directly back to the goals you’ve set for the business. Is your goal to increase site traffic? Is your goal to improve traffic from social networks? Is your goal to increase conversion of your existing site visitors? All of these can be reported on analyzed. 

Remember, data doesn’t lie. It doesn’t matter what your boss wants to do or what some article says you should do. If the data shows that you’re not meeting your goals, change tactics and try again. Your inbound marketing program should be a continuous process of testing, measuring and tweaking. 

Making the Leap to Inbound Marketing

If your business is looking to consistently and affordably generate leads over time without annoying your customers, Inbound Marketing is something you should look into.

Spark Inbound Marketing is a full service inbound marketing agency that can help you make the leap to Inbound Marketing. We don’t promise overnight success but we do promise a system that delivers results over time.

Drop us a line, we love to talk about this stuff!

Google Now Rewards Quality Web Content. How Do You Measure Up?

Google Panda Changes the Focus to Quality Web Content

Everyone wants their website to rank high on Google’s search engine. And many web marketers have been successful at gaming the system to get their sites to rank higher.

But Google continues to fight back.

This past spring, they introduced a big change to their ranking technology known as the Panda Update.

The primary purpose of the Panda Update was to fight what had become known as content farms. Content Farms are low quality sites that offer very superficial, unhelpful articles on a wide variety of topics. People have grown weary of content farms because their content is not useful but ranks highly in the search engines.

In other words, they were diminishing the search experience of their users. This was not acceptable to Google who prides itself on continuously improving the user’s search experience.

Panda sent many low content quality websites spiraling downward in rankings.

This sent web marketers everywhere scrambling to make sense of it and figure out what to do next.

Google’s Simple Advice to Get Ranked in Search

In their official blog, Google offered very simple advice to web marketers everywhere: “Search is a complicated and evolving art and science, so rather than focusing on specific algorithmic tweaks, we encourage you to focus on delivering the best possible experience for users.”

Pretty simple, huh?

How Does Google Define Website Quality?

How does Google assess the “quality” of a page, blog post, article, or any other piece of content?

In their official blog, Google provided the following list to help people assess their own website quality:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article? 
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature? 
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations? 
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site? 
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors? 
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines? 
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis? 
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results? 
  • How much quality control is done on content? Does the article describe both sides of a story? 
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic? 
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care? 
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced? 
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site? 
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name? 
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic? 
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend? 
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content? 
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book? 
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail? 


For a more graphical view, we recently blogged about an infographic on the importance of content for search engine optimization

Does Your Content Pass These Criteria?

Measuring up to the list above can be daunting…but not impossible.

But it does mean you have to change your online marketing focus. Before just producing a well optimized site was enough to get ranked, now that’s just the beginning.

Becoming an information hub that regularly publishes useful, interesting content is now the next level you must aspire to.

Google has raised the bar. Are you up to the challenge?


Search Engine Optimization at Spark

SEO nerds would be a good way to describe us here at Spark. If you need a little help, ask us a question, we’ve got answers.

Demonstrate Your Expertise With Content Marketing

Forget Claims of Excellence

Demonstrate Excellence with Content Marketing

Traditional media marketing was all about making claims of excellence.

Take a look at any TV or print advertisement: 

We’re have the best product in the whole-wide world….

4 out of 5 doctors recommend….

30 day money back guarantee….

All of these messages were trying to convince people that the reward was worth the risk of buying a product they knew very little about. 

The Web is Different

It wasn’t the marketers’ fault. They were limited by the technology of the time. The medium was the message.  That’s all there was. 

But that’s changed.

The web is a new medium. It’s not TV or a brochure or a billboard. It’s new.

  • It’s a publishing platform
  • It’s a content consumption platform 
  • It’s a sharing platform 
  • It’s an interactive platform 
  • It’s extremely accessible to everyone 
  • It’s extremely affordable to everyone 

All of these unique properties of the web give you a grand opportunity to reduce the risk people feel when considering your product. 

Show Them You Know

Instead of simply claiming your expertise, you can now demonstrate it. 

You’re good at your job. You know your field like the back of your hand. You’ve got war stories and battle scars.

Why not talk about it?

Client Success Stories

Do you have some great client success stories where you went the extra mile and got extraordinary results? Write up a client profile and put it on your web site. (change the names to protect the innocent)

Client Failure Stories

Do you have some unsuccessful client war stories? Write a profile on those as well. Why? It’s authentic. People aren’t naive. They know not every client experience is a good one.

Write an Opinion Piece

Do you have an opinion on an industry development? Write about it in your blog and encourage comments. 

Show Your Niche Expertise

Do have expertise in a particular niche of your industry? Write a white paper and allow people to download it.

Become an Industry Information Source

Do you keep up on industry news? Share the links on your blog or a social network. Become a source of information for your niche.

Authenticity Works

People want authenticity. Show them that you’re good at your job. Show them your company has great experience. Show them your battle scars. Demonstrate your expertise.

Show them and they will come. Just tell them and they’ll ignore you.


Content Marketing at Spark

Are you looking to demonstrate your expertise with content marketing? Do you have questions? Spark has answers. Give us a call and we’ll talk.

The #1 Thing You Can Do To Improve Your Business Blog

Stop Talking About Yourself

We see so many business blogs talking about themselves, their products, their next big release or the hiring of that big executive.  

The truth is that your customers don’t really care about those things. 

They care about themselves.

So if you do one thing to improve your corporate blog, do this:  

Resist the urge to talk about yourself and start talking about your customers and how to solve their problems. 

But That’s What I Do All Day…

I know that solving customers’ problems is what your company already does. That’s why businesses are formed in the first place. right?  No customers, no business. 

But we’re talking about marketing communication here. Just because you know in your heart that your company is amazing at solving customer problems, doesn’t mean that they know. 

The Medium is Still the Message

In 1964, Marshall Mcluhan famously said, “The Medium is the Message”‘. He was referring to how the advent of different media itself has had profound impacts on culture, business and society at large.  

Back in Mcluhan’s time, marketing messaging was more difficult.   Buying media was expensive and kind of a big deal. You had to make the most of it. 

But the web age has changed the medium and therefore the message. 

Unlike TV, radio or print, the web now allows us to communicate endlessly for very little cost. 

Yet we are constantly amazed at how many companies still treat their web site as a precious brochure! It’s not. 

Bits are practically free. Go nuts!

Talk about how to solve your customers’ problems in minute detail. Every nuance and angle should be explored. Ask them questions. Share industry news stories.

Connect with them like it’s a cocktail party, not a speech. 

It’s The Customers’ Cocktail Party Now

Back in McCluhan’s day, if you wanted to learn about products and services you had to suffer through sales pitches, trade shows and advertising.  It was the media’s world and you were just living in it. You had no choice. 

Now you do. 

In a world of instant information and limitless choice, customers have the freedom to quickly explore a hundred different options before making one. 

Now the relationship is more like a cocktail party. And just like in a cocktail party, don’t talk about yourself too much. It’s boring. 

Hitting the back button on your browser is the modern day equivalent of looking over someone’s shoulder. 

So if you’re going to use your blog to sell something, don’t talk about yourself.

Ready to Play WIIFY-ball?

Next time you’re surfing the net, stop for a minute and listen to that little voice inside your head saying,  

“Why am I reading this web site?”

Is this web site worth my valuable time?

How is this site benefiting me?”

This is known in the Inbound Marketing industry as WIIFY – What’s In It For You.  Actually I prefer WIIFM – What’s In It For Me.

But the acronym’s not as catchy.

Whatever device you use to remember it, the point is the same.  

Use your business blog to talk about your customers because they’re thinking about themselves, not you or your company.

Do that and you’ll be miles ahead of the competition. 


Business Blog Consulting at Spark

At Spark, we advise our clients on business blogging all the time. If you’d like to get in on the conversation, drop us a line and we’ll get started.

Put Your Online Coupon Ducks in a Row

Sorry for that title. But you know that no online marketing campaign – of any kind – gets those terrific returns unless you plan for it. You need to know your market and what you want to communicate to it before any tactic will work, coupons included. We have explored how online coupons can be used to ignite business, and what kinds of business models there are for using coupons.  In this post, we review your planning steps to make sure the effort you put into an online coupon campaign is not wasted.

This is the fifth and final post in our online coupon series.  You can find the first four at these links:

Coupons can generate traffic and sales. Online businesses need to evaluate how using coupons fits into a strategic marketing campaign with benefits that exceed the costs of price competition.

While the strategic issues will be somewhat different for every business, the basic marketing considerations will shape how each business will implement the tactic. These factors are Marketing 101, but we too often hurry past them to launch a tactic.

Know Your Market

Enough said. But it is important to keep this front and center: the people in your market segment shape the way to make your offer, and this is nowhere more true than on the Internet.

Define the Objectives of the Online Coupon

Direct mail campaigns have been used for years to achieve a variety of marketing objectives:

  • Market share
  • Product introduction
  • Customer acquisition
  • Sales promotions
  • Inventory clearance, and more

You might have similar objectives for your online coupons, but the tracking and communication tools of the Internet can help to make the coupons even more effective. The exact content of the offer, and the timing, duration and placement of the coupon will vary depending on the objective.

Analyze the Economic Value

All online coupons have costs. There are costs in creating them, distributing them, tracking them, and especially in funding the discounts they carry. Often, using coupons will put you in a loss position on those specific items, so the offer is worthwhile only if the longer run economic returns are there. One of the most important reasons to use online coupons is to acquire a new customer, so the lifetime value of a customer is an obvious basic consideration. Do you know the lifetime value of your customer?

Choose the Timing and Duration to Achieve Your Objective

We believe coupons are most effective for short-term boosts in traffic and sales. Using a coupon as a permanent tactic is just a unilateral price cut, and that cannot be good for your business in the longer term. That said, there are businesses that continuously offer coupons, but rotate the offer among products or services. Or, you might have a variety of offers in a variety of channels to reach your market in slightly different ways, while always building the brand.

Tracking and Analysis Always Required!

If you take the trouble to launch a marketing campaign, it is essential to learn from it. Even if it fails to hit your objectives, you will know something more for the next time around.

Coupons have grown up online. Even if you have not used them in the traditional marketing channels, consider them anew as part of your internet marketing strategy. As a source of new customers and new relationships, coupons may prove to be one of your most powerful tactics.

Groupon Re-Tools Coupons for the Internet

The most basic think about Groupon is that if you are a subscriber, a deal a day comes your way via email (or maybe Twitter). Over 35 million people now subscribe to Groupon’s local area offers in over 160 cities in the U.S. and over 100 more in about a dozen other countries. Groupon recently rejected Google’s offer of $6 billion and is reportedly preparing for a $15 billion IPO during 2011. The company is a money-making machine, taking in a sizable share every time a special offer is purchased.

Is Groupon Right for You?

Groupon seems to work best with local retail businesses like hair salons, restaurants, and clothing stores, but it can be used for many other kinds of products or services. A more analytical way of putting it is that the system favors businesses that can offer a commodity on a volume basis at price points that can attract a lot of people. That said, the price points don’t eliminate the luxury or premium goods segments – if you can handle volume and have local outlets, Groupon might work for you.

Why it Works

Business owners take a steep discount to have a deal of the day available for 24 hours, but they make no upfront payment. Offers are not activated until enough people buy it, ensuring that the deep discount is partially compensated by volume. Since small businesses have been overwhelmed by responses, Groupon encourages limiting the number of coupons available (unless you happen to be a huge national chain like the GAP which could handle 445,000 redemptions). Businesses report acquiring many new customers through Groupon.

How it Works

Groupon expands city by city, starting by recruiting highly rated local businesses that it believes will be successful. It attracts local subscribers, and then pushes a daily email to them with the offer of the day. You can purchase online or on mobile device (iPhone or android app). Once enough people have purchased (the deal is ‘tipped’), you can redeem the offer. Print the coupon to present for discount, or show the vendor your coupon on a mobile device.

Relationships Build Groupon

Personalization helps target offers to you, though you can always browse your city
for more. Groupons direction of evolution is toward more and more social integration as it runs hard to stay ahead of the many competitors it has spawned (including Google).

Groupon has a lot of competitors, the largest of which is LivingSocial. But it is much larger than any competitor, and growing rapidly. If Groupon is active in your market, it is a powerful marketing tactic you should consider.

5 Great Online Coupon Networks

It seems like a new online coupon network pops up every day. Marketers are a creative bunch, so new twists on methodology add dimensions to the nonstop competition.  In this post, we look at a group of 5 of the bigger networks, followed by a short list of wannabes.

This post is the third of 5 about online coupons. You can get the previous two following these links: online coupon overview and reasons to use online coupons.

Online Coupon Giants

  • Groupon.  This is the 800-pound gorilla in this category. Google is reputed to have bid recently for Groupon, with a purchase price as high as 6 billion dollars, and was rejected (and is now preparing its own coupon network called ‘Google Offers’).  Groupon has a powerful business model that incorporates a pricing structure that allows a business to pay only for actual sales and leverages the social networks of participants to reach new customers. Groupon has a slew of competitors headed by Living Social, but they are all far behind in this competition.  We’ll be publishing a more in-depth piece on Groupon in a few days.
  • Google Places.  If you have one or more local businesses, chances are you have a Google Places account (if you don’t, set one up before the end of the day). In the very first screen of your Places account, Google invites you to “Attract new customers by creating an offer for your business”.  These offers will display with your listing in localized search results, and they will also display on mobile devices (unless you toggle off that distribution). You will have the options to add an offer code and image if you wish.  Google will even give you a preview of what the printed coupon that customers will bring into your stores will look like.
  • Valpak.  Valpak has been a giant direct marketing firm for a long time. Now they have an online distribution network you can access to promote your business to the geographic areas you choose (note that Valpak is not your only option in this category – a brief search will yield many coupon networks).  For a local area, just visit the general contact screen and you will be sent to a form that will be submitted to a representative in your area.
  • RetailMeNot.  This large network has mainstream stores like Barnes and Nobel, Victoria’s Secret and Banana Republic. You can either select coupon codes (which link to the vendor’s landing page), printable coupons, or grocery coupons. A nice feature is the map display of coupon opportunities available in your neighborhood. RetailMeNot has recently added a social component to allow bargain hunters to interact directly with each other. You can use your favorite social network login, like Facebook Connect, to participate.
  • Coupon Cabin.  Coupon Cabin is one of 8 online coupon outlets in a group run by Network Solutions. These systems capture email addresses and send customers coupon codes for online redemption at participating vendors OR printable versions for in-person redemption.  Coupon Cabin has hundreds of vendors, many of them making online offers only.

More Online Coupon Networks to Check Out

http://www.grocerycouponnetwork.com/ Printable grocery coupons very similar to the traditional coupons you get in the Sunday supplements (remember newspapers?).

http://www.godaddy.com/ecommerce/savings-network.aspx Domain and hosting giant GoDaddy also runs a proprietary online coupon network. I guess Network Solution’s coupon business attracted some attention at GoDaddy.

http://www.couponnetwork.com/ CouponNetwork.com offers printable coupons that can be personalized to feature “your favorite stores”.

http://www.theshoppingnetwork.com/ The Shopping Network is a more traditional brand name aggregator, but it offers “coupons/discounts” in the main navigation.

http://www.couponcraze.com/ Online coupons for redemption at a variety of ecommerce outlets for products from software to vacations.

Come back for our next installment, where we take a closer look at Groupon.

8 Good Reasons to Use Online Coupons

This is the second in our series of 5 posts about online coupons. Take a look at the introductory piece about online coupon basics and then read this one.  The next installment in about a week.

The most important, basic reason to use online coupons is to get or keep a customer. In fact, this is the basic rationale for all marketing.  Coupons can be used to get or keep customers in a number of ways that correspond to the conditions in your business.

However, coupons are often used to motivate sales through discounting. While discounts can lead to customer acquisition, you have to maintain the distinction between motivating short-term sales and building a customer base. Since low price is the lure for online shoppers in most categories, it is tempting to use coupons in price competition just to boost sales. But if you do this, you have to be very careful to make your business case for discounts with the thought in mind that you may be setting a price ceiling, not a floor.

But businesses that rely on continuous discounting create the expectation among shoppers that “full price” is for suckers only.  Why would you use a coupon campaign?

Here’s How to Use Online Coupons

We see two basic ways to use online coupons to get or keep customers.  The obvious one is to motivate purchases through discounts or other offers. The second, increasingly important in the relationship-building that online marketing promotes, is getting and keeping a customer.

Reasons to Use Price to Motivate Customers

Clear inventory: Stimulating sales in the short term to clear inventory to make room for new products or new models, or simply to boost top line revenue, is a classic use of coupons.

Increase market share: Increasing market share in a well-defined niche is where the price competition bites hard. Depending on how well differentiated your product or service can be, you will be going more or less head to head against your competitors. If discounting is easy (and your discounting is easily visible), this can be a very costly form of customer acquisition characterized by a dive to the bottom price-wise. Online coupons can still help increase market share if your markets are already highly price competitive and/or your competitors are not using them.

Counteract cyclical downturns in sales: Many businesses have predictable seasonal variations in sales. Coupons can be used to boost business in the downturns in order to maintain production capacity, cash flow, or other business requirements that can justify reducing the revenue per sale.

Get customers in the store to get additional sales: You need to have customers in the store in order to make sales, right?

Use Online Coupons to Build Relationships

Capture a new customer: The lifetime value of a repeat customer may justify deep discounts for the first sale or lead. The requirement is to have a strong customer retention program in place to extract this value. Customer retention will be the subject of other posts because building online relationships is one of the bedrock principles of online marketing. But smart marketers know that customer retention is not only key to building a brand and sales directly, but it also leads to new customer acquisition through viral distribution. Its importance cannot be overstated.

Introduce a brand or product to a new market segment or location: Breaking into a new market is hard because potential customers already have 100% of their mind share allocated. New customer acquisition in these circumstances can be spurred by offers conveyed through third party coupon networks (Groupon is the innovation leader in this category) that have their own set of loyal visitors whose eyes you can borrow – for a price.  These third party networks can help you “get found.”

Introduce a new product or service to existing customers: Online businesses have a huge advantage in their solid connections to existing customers via email, texting, Facebook and Twitter. These channels are low cost and highly targeted ways to alert your best customers about new products and services, perhaps coupled with introductory discounts or other offers. Using a coupon in this situation may be ideal if you want to require an action on the part of your customer to confirm or reinforce the relationship.

Build a brand: Coupons can help reinforce the power of a brand. Since this is always a function of placement and repetition, coupons might be one component of a brand awareness campaign taking place in multiple online channels.

Our next post on coupons will look at 5 successful coupon sites, and we’ll toss in 5 more that are not so big but illustrate ways to use coupons.  The business models vary, so you need to be aware of how they might work for your business.