A friend, who has operated a carpet cleaning company in Orange County, California, for over 25 years, related to me the following dilemma: after a couple of decades of operations, his business dropped precipitously — he lost virtually all of his staff and his major clients that included the L.A. Angels baseball stadium. He needed to explore ways of regaining some business momentum or close the doors. His constraints? Very limited capital. Whatever he had left he needed to keep afloat. Prior to this catastrophic event – whether created by the economic slowdown of 2008 or the presence of major competitors, he handled the marketing the od-fashioned way – yellow pages and handouts. Even though my senior management decisions generally include tools from my business/legal training, I always find myself dealing with digital footprints, since it is paramount that the startup or young company is “found” by third parties, and, indirectly, assumed to be a “real” company. Nowadays, once any company is introduced to anyone, people can easily search information on the company with their smartphones seconds after meeting. In other words, it is paramount that the company creates a viable digital footprint. My solution: create an inspirational digital footprint and then strategize a digital marketing campaign to increase his sales. First, the old fashioned marketing of phone books is dead. Verizon sold that business at bargain rate prices realizing that the white/yellow pages are no longer needed to access phone numbers. The telecom carriers also created additional revenues when yellow pages would publish tombstone ads for premium telecom customers. Some companies changed their names to “AAAAA” Towing, since eyes gravitate to the first few lines in a towing service section in the phone book. The other would be selecting a memorable 800 number like “1-800-car-tows.” All of that print strategy is dead today. What did I recommend to my friend’s new business strategy?
First, build a simple, but compelling website that is Search Engine Optimized. Instead of changing the corporate name to “AAAAA” Towing to be the first company in that category, nowadays you have to be first website found when searching for towing companies within “XX” miles. And the SEO design does not favor alphabetic listing – it relies on the parameters established by the search engines that include meta-data, links, and unique content. A website must also include a “call to action” on its first page, how do I contact the company on that website? In my friend’s case, his website included a phone number and a link, it described his services, and picture images of the company’s carpet cleaning truck. I can go on and on, but there is a lot of literature out there on designing websites for maximum exposure. Given that the world now has millions upon millions of websites, finding any service is like finding a needle in a haystack unless you design the website with SEO in mind. Otherwise might as well name the company “ZZZZZ” Towing, since if you are not first found in the search engine, might as well be last.
Second, design and build collaterals. What do I mean by collaterals? Outside of the URL, the company must build a presence throughout collateral websites, for example, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. The collaterals must contain the “Look and Feel” of the company’s own URL, in order to be consistent throughout the board. That means including the logos, images, or any other information consistent to the original URL. Recently, I was contacted by a Swiss group. How was the company found? Via Linkedin. Hence, you never know where a lead might originate. And this contact came about a couple of weeks after the Linkedin company profile was completed. Had the collateral never been created for the company, the Swiss group would have never found this company on the Internet. Maximize the use of each collateral. Linkedin, as an example, allows the company to include essential information on the company and add events. One can also include sponsors. Then the collateral contains information such as size of the company in employees and revenue, additional events/announcements over time, etc. The profile provides an excellent synopsis of the company. Design and populate that profile with great images and content.
Third, keep adding marketing information on the company through promotional channels. Promotion in the old days meant sending someone out to a corner handing out leaflets. Now you leverage the Internet to create what I brand as “virtual promotion.” I mention in earlier blogs the use of “twitter” campaigns targeted to the specific audience. Another promotion is writing PR announcements that reflect notable events about the company. Now I see in the high tech industry is “blogging” or writing articles that loop back to the company. Even VC firms have their directors or partners describe through blogs about their perception of the business, etc. And I can see why: the blogs resonate to the readers, they indicate subject matter expertise, and they personalize the individuals to the readers. Other promotional channels include sites like “Yelp”. And these need to be monitored closely since Yelp allows feedbacks by the user. And some of these feedbacks can be also be negative, not just positive. But all of these promotional channels can be identified through search engines. For example, I can easily find my friends carpet cleaning business quickly when I type in “carpet cleaning,” “orange county”, and California. The other tidbits will include a yelp link, comments on the service, blogs, etc. Just to confirm that I want to hire that carpet cleaning business, I want to discover its “reputation.” In a search engine conference I attended, the speaker noted that the average Internet user does visit a website about 7-10 times, depending on the cost of that service. What he meant if the product or service costs more, the visits increase. The inverse is true. The rationale being that people do a virtual due diligence about a company prior to making a final purchase. That due diligence includes searching through and finding the promotional channels. And if a company has videos attesting the quality of that service, such promotional channels will be part of the customer’s due diligence.
Finally, after your digital footprint is created, then you must monitor the results. Google, Bing, and Linkedin all have free analytic packages. See the key word, free. Each provide information as to where geographically you website has been seen, how often, and other basic information related to that site. These analytics provide the company with the tools to see which promotional channels have been effective, whether the website is optimized, and other things. The beauty of the Internet is that virtually all of the tools I described, the channels, have zero costs to startup or small company. And all of this work can be done online. Again, I describe myself more of a management consultant and attorney, who is interested in establishing fast growth strategies of a company. Yet I am well versed on digital footprints since I see such tools to be critical to fast growth strategies for any young company. I get involved on the overall design, selecting logos, and drafting the content. I even shot the photography and videos as well. Everything is done to create a professional ongoing website and collaterals.
How successful has my Orange County friend been? Now I see him adding video testimonials. He has witnessed meteoric growth with digital footprints. He has adopted digital marketing strategies like a duck to water knowing well the effectiveness of great digital footprints. The footprint has help identify new customers, their profiles, and their needs. That is why I always urge every startup company to build quickly that digital footprint: to accelerate sales and, if done right, they always win.