Why the tourist drove past your business

Changes2005vs2013Photo credit: AP

You’ve probably seen this AP image contrasting the crowds at St. Peter’s in Rome over the last eight years.

The first photo was taken by Luca Bruno in 2005 during preparations for the public viewing of Pope John Paul II’s body – almost two years before the iPhone was first announced.

The second photo was taken by Michael Sohn in March 2013 as the crowd waited for the first balcony appearance of a newly-elected Pope Francis I.

No matter how you feel about mobile devices, smartphones, the mobile browsing experience, the quality of smartphone photos, the always-connected lifestyle and how these things relate to your personal life, ignoring the business impact of the widespread adoption of these devices is done at your peril.

So what?

Seems like just yesterday that I did a series of speaking gigs with groups of local business owners about social media, getting found via local web search, the growth of mobile and the impact of these things on local businesses. Fact is, it’s been closer to 18 months since that series concluded.

To their credit, some have picked up on what we talked about and are interacting with their prospects and clients via social media. At least one local business that I frequent offers occasional coupons for subscribers to their text message (SMS) based opt-in list.

While most local business sites display acceptably on today’s tablets, the story is altogether different on a phone, where a smaller number have made efforts to improve the experience of a website visitor using a phone. Let’s refresh why it’s important to deal with this.

It’s not uncommon to hear “So what?” when this topic comes up in discussion. That’s not the right question.

First impressions

Again, you must set aside your personal likes/dislikes about these devices because it isn’t about you. It’s about your customers.

If these customers are tourists whose first impression – and purchase decision – is tied to the usability of your site on their phone, it’s worth considering whether your site is helping them (and you).

You might be thinking “Well, they have smartphones, but do they use them for that?” It’s a good question. I can tell you 25% of visitors to the Columbia Falls’ Chamber website are using mobile devices – a number that grows every month. I’ve been told churches see an even larger percentage of mobile users.

So what do you do?

A mobile website checklist

Let’s talk about mobile website basics:

  • Do you have a website that is actually usable on a phone?
  • Does it clearly describe what you do, when you are open, how to get there (using Google Maps, et al) and how to contact your business?
  • Restaurants, is your menu visible on the phone or does it appear on a phone as tiny print because it’s in a PDF intended for desktop users?

To start this process, claim your business on Google Places for Business and setup a Facebook Page (not a Facebook user account) for your business. Both of these will give you a basic summary presence on mobile devices that includes hours, contact info and location.

Compare these two mobile search results:

flathead beacon mobile search result dmbdgoogle

The one on the left (without a Google Places listing) is tougher to read on a phone and requires additional screen taps to get answers to the basic questions listed above.

The one on the right (with a Google Places listing) gives you everything you need to make the next choice. One tap to call, get directions or view their site.

Which of those do you want your prospects to see?

Why’d they drive by?

When your website makes it easy for mobile phone users to learn about your business, it helps them decide what to do, where and when to go, and how well your business fits their needs/wants.

So why did the tourist drive past your business?

Three reasons:

  • They didn’t know your business exists, or they didn’t know enough about your business
  • The info they found didn’t help them make a decision.
  • The info they found helped them make a decision to go elsewhere.

The last reason is acceptable. You shouldn’t expect everyone to be your customer, much less to stop in simply because your business is easy to learn about and find online.

Marketing inside the Tasting Room


Puit d’Amour from St. Honoré Boulangerie

This past week, I had the pleasure of visiting the still somewhat chilly seaside of Oregon thanks to a handful of out of town appointments.

In between the productive parts of the week, we managed to visit a couple of western Oregon wineries.

While a good time was had by all, I found it interesting how different each winery’s tasting room experience was designed to sell.

The Fancy One

This winery, created originally as a farm by a Montanan from Butte, was a bit upscale, sizable and very clean. It was a long-established place, noting that “long established” means “since 1980 or so”.

They’re that new because ash from Mount St. Helens’ eruption killed most crops in the area, changing the soil for decades to come.

The room said “old money” (dark, massive woods). While there were a few sweatshirts available, the retail portion of the room was all about the wine. Lots of it. Information from two inconsistently dressed but very sharp wine servers was on target, friendly and as detailed as you wanted. They clearly loved talking wine.

The Spartan One

This tasting room had a simple, fuss-free entry off of their gravel parking lot behind the wine production area. There’s a bar, a few barstools and an area clearly used for packing shipments. All in the tasting room. The lone wine steward was reasonably well-educated about the wine but didn’t really provoke the conversation.

The Homey One

This one was very new, expecting to bottle their own wine from their own grapes for the very first time this year. Previously, they’ve made wine using grapes from nearby vineyards.

The tasting room was homey, if not a bit cluttered with every wine accessory and kitsch you could think of. A yellow lab was chilled out on the floor. A guitarist was just outside the tasting room’s open door, playing in shaded patio seating area. Unfortunately the wine at this place wasn’t very good. The staff was right at home, downright friendly and maybe even too at home if that’s possible.

The Experienced One

This winery was almost 20 years old. Their marketing materials (online) referenced comments by a well-known reviewer. The tasting room was small, uncluttered and while it had wine accessories, they include only those focused on a better wine experience (vs. coasters and talking corkscrews).

Staff was knowledgeable and friendly in an average sort of way. Nothing bad, but nothing outstanding.

What struck me

While we didn’t visit all of the wineries (there are quite a few), the ones we did visit took very different approaches to their goal – presumably that of selling wine.

In every tasting room, there was little to take home other than wine that would bring you back to them to buy more. Few items had a website address on them – at least those that you could take with you.

No one asked us for contact information, not even those who sold us a bottle of wine.

In some cases, there were Oregon wine country brochures and/or county-specific winery marketing association brochures, rather than winery-specific info.

Every winery but the “Fancy One” was out of “wine menus”. These are descriptive sheets about each of their wines that left you room to take notes and perhaps note which one you prefer over another and why. In two different places, the only one they had was leftover from a Memorial Day special event – in both situations, it was the last one they had.

Why is this important?

How will they choose?

Out of the 40+ wineries in that Oregon county, during our visit they often have but ONE chance to get a visitor to fall in love with their place, their wine, their mystique, and the grapes that only they know how to nurture.

These small facilities (small in the wine world) sell at most one wine in retail locations. Some sell only at the winery. That’s right – they have no retail presence.

Ordinarily, you’d want these visitors to ask their local store for your wine, but they often can’t. Their small production (number of cases produced annually) prevents widespread distribution. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you’ve got to get them loving your stuff quickly in that situation.

Think about trying to penetrate (much less stand out in) mainstream retail wine shelf space the next time you walk into a grocery that carries wine (or a wine center store). It’s like looking at the salad dressing bottle shelves at WalMart. Your eyes glaze over at all the choices.

When the mind is presented with a zillion choices, one of two things tends to happen. People take the default choice (Gallo?, Wishbone?) or they make no choice at all. Next time you’re in your local grocery, watch people look at the wine shelves. They’ll look and look and in many cases, they’ll give up and take a Gallo (or whatever they saw on TV recently, or whatever is on sale).

Why? Because no one stands out in that environment. That’s why you see more and more outlandish labels and wine names. They know their bottles are on a shelf with 200 others so they’ll do A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G to catch your eye.

What do you want me to do next?

Knowing that the competition (where you might not be stocked) often caters to “How much?”, why wouldn’t you try to hook folks while they’re in your tasting room? It’s the best possible situation for the winery. They can’t grab a Gallo. They can shop by price, but they still get to taste before they buy. They have experts to help them choose what fits their taste buds and their budget.

There’s something else critical about that the tasting room visitor: She walks in the front door with a sign over her head that says “I like wine and I’m willing to drive all the way here to try YOURS.”  Think about how often you get the opportunity to make a first impression on someone who has tipped their hand that strongly.

What does the winery want them to do next? Beyond taking home a case (or even a single bottle), they want these visitors to go home and order more of their wines online (if they can). They want them to ask their local store to stock or custom order them. They want their visitors want them to go to the DailyGrape and watch Gary‘s reviews of their wines and then order from him.

If that’s what you want them to do, you have to make it easy.

And now, it’s your turn.

Now…think about the “browsers” who enter your business. Think about the first time buyers and, where appropriate, the tourists who enter your business.

How do you “stick” in their minds? How do you help them return, even if all they can do is return to your website?

Wineries have to deal with customers in states (like Montana) who cannot (easily) have wine shipped to them due to arcane laws put in place (and kept there) by fear-driven trade associations.

In one way or another, we all have situations like that, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take every step possible to make it easy to buy. How are you making it “easy to buy” even for your customers who have to exert effort to do so?

Let’s simplify that a bit: How are you making your stuff easy to buy?

What do you want them (your visitors) to do next?

An ethical lapse, or just not knowing any better?

~ THE EYE ~
Creative Commons License photo credit: KhayaL

Last night I was working on the web site for our local Scout camp.

Lots of Scout troops from out of state visit Glacier National Park every year.

Some of them use our local Scout camp property as a “base camp” for a week or two of treks they make into the Bob Marshall, Glacier Park and elsewhere.

One thing they depend on us for is referrals to quality local businesses for various outdoor adventures. We don’t have the staff, money or licenses to be an outfitter, so we refer them to professionals. Part of that process is providing these troops with contact info.

While looking up some websites to add to the “nearby activities” directory on the camp’s site, I noticed that when I searched for the name of one of the outfitters, a Google Adwords ad for their direct competitor appeared at the top of the page.

“How 1999…”, I thought.

What do I mean by that? It’s a reference to standard (and kinda dumb) stuff that businesses did online way back in 1999.

It could just be a dumb move. Or it could be unethical, which in this case qualifies as both.

Dumb and Dumber

I’ll address “dumb” first.

It could be that this business just doesn’t know any better and thinks they’re being clever by using their competitor’s name as a keyword to place their ad.

The “don’t know any better” thing doesn’t wash with me. Would they buy a Yellow Pages or newspaper ad with the other business’ name in it but put their own phone number in the ad? Of course not. Yet they do it in the hidden keywords of online ads and in their web site’s html source. The ad itself isn’t misleading, of course.

Like the Wild West, whatever you get away with online is legal and ethical, right? I mean It’s online, so the rules are different (if they exist at all), right?

Not hardly.

It’s obvious that outfitter-in-the-ad is advertising their business on Google Adwords using the business name of a competitor as a keyword. It’s equally obvious from the site’s meta info (source code that isn’t visible). The former is subject to discussion. The latter is uncool in any legitimate web marketer’s unwritten rulebook.

If “Joe’s Climbing Wall” had bought an ad to display when “climbing walls” or “climbing walls Glacier Park” is searched, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But that clearly isn’t the case. And no, this isn’t about climbing walls.

A big deal

You might not think this is worth talking about, so let me elaborate a little.

Imagine Ford’s reaction if every search for “Ford Mustang” resulted in seeing a Google search results page starting with Chevy Camaro ads and links.

Should I expect to see both companies in the ads and search results displayed when I search for “American sports car”? Absolutely.

The key here is that this isn’t what the searcher is looking for when looking for a specific business name.

Yeah, I’m yelling. A little, anyhow. Misuse of trade names – even at this level – will sooner or later get you bit. Misleading people in search results also annoys Google, who wants people to find what they are searching for the first time they search.

Placing Gain next to Tide on the shelf at your grocery is fair game (thanks Shane). It’s obvious to the consumer which is which in that case.

How’s your icemaker?

Even for the ethically challenged, using a competitor’s business name as an advertising keyword is a bad idea.

If someone calls your HDTV store and asks a question about the newest 3D TV models and your salesperson say “Well, our refrigerators all have in-door icemakers”, would you expect that prospect to have a positive reaction? How would you react to a totally out-of-context response like that?

It’s foolish.

Likewise, so is advertising your business using someone else’s business name.

The other shoe

What troubles me most is the signal it sends. It makes me question how the rest of your business operates. It could be an innocent mistake. It could be something the web developer did and didn’t share with the business. Further research indicates otherwise.

When it comes to sending Scouts out into the woods or on the water, that wonder extends to…

  • Whether your safety equipment is up to par, or in another ethical lapse, you just say it is.
  • Whether your staff is properly trained, or in another ethical lapse, you just say they are.

It’s the last thought you want in the heads of folks who funnel hundreds of young, out-of-state visitors to businesses like yours.

They can tell I read their email?


Creative Commons License photo credit: solidstate_

Over the last 2 days, we’ve talked about poorly thought through emails.

Today, one more email that should have been thought about a bit more.

Last week, I received an email from a guy whose email newsletter I receive. The subject of this random email? “I saw you open my newsletter, any questions I can answer?”

On top of that, there was no email body text.

That’s right. An email that says “I saw you open my newsletter” with no other text.

Where’s the spy cam?

So how can emailers figure out that I opened an email? Several ways. Legal ones, of course.

Emailers can tell if you opened your email if they include an image in the email that has a unique “web address” (like http://www.website.com/markriffeyopenedmyemail.jpg). If you open the email, that image is loaded from their web server.

Like any web server, it logs when a file is loaded into a browser (or elsewhere). If the name of the image is unique (or there is software on the server to make it appear that way internally to them), then it can record that someone (not necessarily you, but probably you) viewed that particular image.

It doesn’t see onto your computer or anything like that, it simply notes that a computer somewhere (yours or someone else’s) asked it to load an image file name associated with you.

Emailers can also tell if you opened if you click a link in the email – not because there’s a spycam – but because links in the email are customized by their email software to make them unique to you. Same principle.

These links still go to the page you wanted, of course.

All of this is decades old technology, but we haven’t gotten to the dumb part: The discomfort of the subject line of the email.

Discomfort leads to unsubscribes

A programmer (as others might) knows how the emailer might know I’ve opened (not necessarily read) their email, but for anyone else, saying “I saw you open my newsletter” is inviting them to unsubscribe.

Saying it to a programmer is kinda dumb (not that the emailer knows that). Saying it to anyone else could be fatal to their email list.

Be very careful with those who have chosen to value your thoughts enough to subscribe to your blog, newsletter or email address.

You can lose it all in a heartbeat with one inopportune comment.

Tending Your Garden

Mmmmm Harvest... - Fort Collins, Colorado
Creative Commons License photo credit: gregor_y

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of speaking about websites at the monthly Columbia Falls Chamber of Commerce lunch meeting.

While it’s not exactly opening for the Stones at Madison Square Garden, it’s an honor because it’s a group of mostly local business owners whose success is important to me.

I was asked to talk on the subject “So, Ive got a website…now what?”

While it’s a valid question, it’s not how I want you to be thinking about your site. See, a fair number of business owners think about their site as “Something I gotta do” rather than something that is part of their strategic efforts to win business.

Please don’t do that.

Your website (like your advertising, hiring, etc) is not a checkbox that you mark off and have done forever after you’ve finished it the first time.

Your website, like those other things, is like a garden.

Be the Farmer

When you have a garden, it requires a process to start it and continued maintenance to help it produce.

You till, you plant after the last frost, you water, you weed, you chase off the deer and rabbits. After doing those last few things all summer, you enjoy the harvest before the first frost (mostly). All of these things happen on a schedule.

Your business is no different. You perform various activities on a schedule because it’s strategically wise to do so.

You don’t plant a garden and then walk away from it for months at a time and come back expecting it to feed you. Likewise, you shouldn’t expect that of a website. Both require strategic thought and upkeep.

What to plant?

Let’s back up a little though… In your website garden, what do you plant?

Would it help to consider the roles you want your site to serve?

Depending on what you do, your website may carry a heavy burden that makes it seem an impossible task. Don’t let that stop you from starting a site.

You might have to start small and incrementally expand the roles it fills.

Some possible roles…

  • Brochure. Far too many small business websites stop here.
  • Greeter
  • Customer service department
  • Order processing
  • PR person
  • News source. What’s new. If you havent changed your site’s content in 5 years, what does that say about your business?
  • 24 hour answering service
  • Reservations agent
  • Waiter
  • Maitre D
  • Marketing dude
  • Trade show booth

How well does your site fill these roles? Did I miss any?

The toughest question facing many small business owners is “What should I put on my site?”

Why do people call you? What info do they need?

If you look at the roles your site serves, the questions and answers become obvious. You deal with them every day.

Weeds

A big mistake I see made with small business websites is that they are created and then ignored (or close to it).

You wouldn’t do that to a garden…why would you do it to a strategically important part of your business?

You wouldn’t ignore a client at your doorstep or on the phone, so why do it online?

Some example weeds include…

  • A site that offers no way to interact with a visitor or let them contact you.
  • A site that fails to give visitors a reason to come back regularly.
  • A site whose address (URL) isn’t included on your other business materials, signs, vehicles, brochures, business cards, etc. I shouldnâ??t have to mention this but I STILL SEE it.
  • A site that doesn’t offer information to help the customer get more out of their investment at that business.

Curb appeal

Most people don’t care so much about their garden’s curb appeal, unless it’s a flower garden.

How are you presenting the information your site’s visitors want?

Think about describing your favorite national park to a friend.

  • You can write a description.
  • You can talk about it.
  • You can show them photos.
  • You can show them videos.
  • Or you can take them there.

Which has the most impact?

While the last one is ideal, it isn’t always possible, so aim for the next best thing.

It’ll depend on what info you are trying to convey, but short videos are likely the most powerful.

The impact difference between text  vs. photos and video is substantial. The investment is cheap. Most people won’t have to invest in a fancy camera and software because their cell phone will capture photos and/or HD video. Some of them will upload directly to YouTube (etc).

Critters who visit

Mobile browser use continues to grow like crazy. How does your site look in a mobile browser?

For some people, it doesn’t matter all that much. In the last 10 months, our chamber website has had only 150 visits by mobile browser users. The reasons are obvious because of the type of info a chamber site contains and the content sought by typical site users.

Your site might be exactly the opposite. If I had a restaurant, motel or tourist attraction, I’d be sure my site worked well from mobile browsers so that people could use it from their phone while traveling. If your site is one that would be used frequently by a person on the go, failing to have a mobile-friendly site is like putting a fence around your garden to keep the bees out during the bloom.

Location, location, location

Location-sensitive mobile web applications (Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places, et al) are growing in lock step with mobile browsing.

Taking advantage of them is a great idea…unless your garden has been neglected and overrun with weeds. Until the site is in tip top shape, your time is best spent on making the best possible content available to your visitors given the roles your site serves.

Even if you don’t take advantage of location-specific mobile applications, there are several location-specific things your site should address. Is there a map to your business? Is your business registered with Google Places? (formerly Google Local) If you’re in a tourist area, how close are you to big ticket items? What can you help them enjoy? How hard is it to find out all the stuff a visitor wants to know? How hard is it for them to make an online reservation?

Pests

All over TV and elsewhere, you see businesses referring to Facebook-based web pages.

While it’s OK to have a Facebook page for your business, I don’t recommend that its the ONLY site you have. Keep in mind that your Facebook page is also yet-another-garden to tend. Don’t spread yourself too thin or the weeds will take over.

So…how’s your garden doing? Is it primed for a great harvest?

Does your business fit the Facebook profile?

Facebook
Creative Commons License photo credit: _Max-B

One of the reasons that you see some businesses flocking to Facebook is that their advertising (and sites they connect to) are now capable of scanning your profile’s musical and movie preferences and passing  them anonymously to a site you visit so that selections can be made easier for you.

In markets where a Facebook profile is a good match to your marketing needs, the new profile scanning feature lets Facebook partner sites *anonymously* “see” your likes and use them to fine tune your shopping, listening, viewing and other experiences at other sites – but only if you give your permission (you’ll be prompted at sites which use that data).

It automatically tries to show you stuff that will be of interest, just like a good retail salesperson would. The difference is that it happens online.

The same thing happens in retail businesses and restaurants every day. Think about “Norm” from Cheers. Do you know what he likes to drink? Anyone who has ever watched Cheers – even once – probably knows what he drinks.

If Norm put “beer” in his Facebook profile, would he suddenly become paranoid because a liquor store website automatically showed him the beer page when he opened their site? Probably not.

That’s how this feature works with sites that have this feature setup. This same feature is also the topic of a lot of privacy discussions on the net. More on that shortly.

In your Facebook advertising

Facebook is also launching advertising that is even more context sensitive. Like Google’s Ad Sense ads that appear on pages all over the net, these Facebook ads will come up based on info in your profile and content on the page.

Don’t look at this as a bad thing.

As a business owner, it’s good for you because it allows you to target people more likely to be interested in what you do.

As a purchaser of consumer and business products and services, it means you’ll see fewer ads for junk you have no interest in. Note that I said “fewer” not none.

Despite the fact that I have no need for some products and services; magazines, TV, radio, newspapers and other media sources pound me with ads all the time for things I’ll NEVER buy.

Most of this happens because they don’t pay enough attention to the media buys they make. Too often, they sell the wrong things at the wrong time of day, on the wrong channel/station or in the wrong paper.

That’s one reason why people get tired of advertising – they see messages about things they don’t care about and aren’t interested in, so they see it as noise.

Keep it private

One last comment about all the uproar about Facebook privacy: Why in the world would you post anything on Facebook that you aren’t comfortable sharing with the world? That’s just silly, and no more wise than tossing your checkbook out in the driveway. Share appropriately.

Wake up those sleeping dogs

Contentment
Creative Commons License photo credit: flattop341

Every day, I get automated emails. Just like you do.

Most of them are so boring that we never read them, even though they might contain information we need to see.

For example, I recently received an email from Mozy, the online backup service:

Thank you for using MozyHome!

Your credit card ending in xxxx was billed $4.95 today for a monthly subscription to .

We appreciate your business.

– The MozyHome Team

Now contrast it to this hypothetical one:

Dear Mark,

Hard to believe that we’ve been protecting your data for xx months (or since mm/dd/yyyy).

A few stats for you:

  • Your first complete backup was on 09/16/2009.
  • You have 31,266 files on our system, which take up 118 gigabytes of space.
  • Your last successful backup was 12 days ago.

12 days ago seems like a really long time to go without backing up your stuff. Think “I have to redo the last 12 days worth of work”. Ouch. Avoiding that pain is why you signed up for Mozy in the first place, right?

The last thing we want is for you to lose your important data.

You might want to reboot your computer to force Mozy to start again. If that doesn’t get backups rolling again, please contact our support center (it’s open 24 x 7) and we’ll help you fix it.

Yes, this is an automatically generated email, but someone had to write it. That someone was me, and I appreciate what your business does for my company. Thanks for using MozyHome!

Joe Smith
A MozyHome Team Member

PS: Our billing system is obligated to tell you that your credit card ending in xxxx was billed $4.95 today for your monthly MozyHome subscription. $4.95. Not bad for backing up 118 gig of your stuff, eh?

PPS: Even though he works here and wrote this email template, Joe can’t see any of that billing or usage information. Naturally, neither he nor anyone else here can see your files.

The point: Don’t waste opportunities to communicate with your customers. Use them strategically.

Rotate between a small set of templates, perhaps seasonal ones, so that the messages don’t become 100% repetitive and again – go without being read.

Illustrate the value you provide in a way that the client actually cares about and show them that you’re taking care of them even when they aren’t thinking about you.

Take along your uglier brother

In today’s guest post from TED, Dan Ariely talks about why we make decisions and how we are influenced.

There are several pieces of this presentation that apply directly to traditional or online direct marketing of the stuff you do and sell, much less knowing a little more about what makes your internal decision tree tick.

Use what Dan discusses to analyze what kind of decisions you offer your customers and prospects. It’s all part of that “What do they buy the least of that they really need the most?” question. Part 2 of the question might be – “…and how do you get them to buy what they *really really* need?”

Right message, right person, right timing

Recently, someone came to my website and went to the trouble to paste this message into my contact form:

Hi,

My name is Ben Bigelow and I am currently working with the Cisco TelePresence team. We are working in conjunction to create awareness for the recently launched â??Why I Want Cisco TelePresenceâ? video contest at http://www.whyiwantciscotelepresence.com/contest/.

This new contest is designed to entice individuals from around the world to submit their ideas about why or how they would like to use Cisco TelePresence.

Winners in two categories, Productivity and Shaping the Future, have a chance to win $3,000 each. Winners will also receive 5 hours of Cisco TelePresence at a Cisco Location (www.ciscomeetingonus) to connect with colleagues, peers, friends around the globe.

It would be great if you are willing to post about the video contest and encourage your readers to create their own videos.  They donâ??t have to be Ridley Scott or Cecil B. DeMille â?? all they need is a home video camera, some passion and a tad of creativity.  Most digital cameras can record short form videos, and the site is set up for easy uploading and includes a simple pass along feature.  We appreciate anything you can to help raise awareness for Cisco TelePresence and how it benefits entire organizations.

Thanks!

They included their name and what appeared to be a real (albeit non-Cisco) email address. The IP address even resolves to the same town where Cisco’s headquarters are.

But what didn’t they do?

They didn’t bother telling me what Cisco Telepresence is.

They didn’t describe the problems it solves, reminding me of the pain I’m in telecommunications-wise, and why I should be interested in finding out more, much less spending some money with them.

Instead, they asked me to make a video about a product I’ve never heard of. Makes absolutely no sense.

It’s not WWII

If I was already a Cisco Telepresence user and perhaps a product champion in their eyes, this message might have made sense.

Instead, it just felt like a German WWII bomber flying over dropping plane loads of pamphlets from 10,000 ft that explain how I’ve lost the war (you know, as I march on Berlin).

Don’t do that.

Take a close look at the marketing messages you’re sending out, regardless of their cost.

Are you sending the right message to the right person at the right time?

Are you sending a message that is in context with the relationship you currently have with that person?

It doesn’t matter if the message is delivered via email, telephone, tv, radio, newspaper, magazine, Twitter or whatever – the problem is the same if the message isn’t fine tuned for the situation.

Is real-time fast enough for you?

I thought I’d provide a few Twitter stories for you today – call it Twitter Thursday if you like.

First, a baker who uses Twitter to notify people what’s baking, what’s ready, etc. Customizable via the BakerTweet website, it takes a twist of a knob and a push of a button and you’re done.

Obviously you could use this to talk about your daily special, what beans you’re roasting and so on. Whatever the fanatic wants – tell them about it.

Only 3 million dollars

Dell has stated publicly that their @DellOutlet Twitter account has earned them about $2 million since they started issuing Twitter-only promo codes and other deals. Dell Outlet uses Twitter as a way to message out coupons, clearance events and new arrival information to those looking for Dell technology at a discounted price

But then, one of the folks responsible for the tweeting did a little more math, researching where those Twitter followers go after chasing a promo code for a refurb machine.

Some of them go to the regular “Buy a New Dell” part of the store. Another million in sales from “some of them”.

609,000+ people following the @DellOutlet account.

Wouldn’t you like to be able to send a special offer to 609,000+ people who might be in the market for whatever you sell?

That’s what @DellOutlet gets to do all day long.

Another story offers some ideas about using Twitter for business.

On a more serious note

While the mainstream news was largely useless (if not ignoring) the stories breaking during the early hours of the Iran election demonstrations and violence, Twitter was one of the few tools that people in Iran could use to tell their story.

Cell phone networks were being blocked, internet access was cutoff or filtered, all in an attempt to cut off Iranians from the outside world and vice versa.

But the internet finds a way. Soon after, people found a way to access the net, often through hidden proxy servers and dial up connections.

If you were on Twitter a few nights ago, you were able to witness what was going on through the eyes of those experiencing it.

Not a reporter, but students hiding in dorms and others trying to avoid being beaten or killed.

Via Twitter.

Over the next day, the mainstream media struggled to catch up. Photos eventually showed up on the Boston Globe site 24-36 hours later, but those watching for posts containing “iran” in them had been hearing the story in real-time from people experiencing the violence and uproar – for more than a day.

Real life in real time.

Twitter has turned out to be such an important communications tool for Iranians that Twitter moved a major network upgrade from the middle of the night U.S. time (when most upgrades like this are done to avoid impacting U.S. users). They shifted it to 1:30am Iran time, solely to try and mitigate the downtime’s impact on those who are using it to try and survive, much less report what’s going on there.

The same kind of thing happen during the Mumbai bombings.

If you still don’t get it, try this

Think of something that is really, really important to you.

Maybe it’s your market, industry or some such. Maybe you’re into Forex trading, Tiger Woods, the NFL or fantasy baseball. Maybe it’s your faith or your favorite breed of dog or one of a million other things. Might be serious as cancer, might be something silly like Britney.

Google it, but add site:twitter.com to the search. Or just go to twitter.com and do a search.

See anything there that interests you. I’ll warn you, not all of it will be high-quality stuff.

Here’s the secret: See if there are people there who do or know things that provoke you to join their conversation because they know the topic that interests you. You might find experts who you would never be able to reach otherwise.

Think back to my story about swapping messages with Robert Scoble as he toured Ansel Adams’ studio at Yosemite with Ansel’s son, answering my questions in real time.

Real time is prime-time

What’s real-time about your business? What do the fanatics in your market do when they need more info about what you sell – or just more of what you sell – RIGHT NOW?

They might just be on Twitter.