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7 Local Business Incentives to Offer Instead of Amazon Gift Cards

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7 Local Business Incentives to Offer Instead of Amazon Gift Cards


The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

If you sell software, marketing services, or other goods to local business owners, it’s time to reconsider offering Amazon gift cards as incentives. According to ILSR’s 2022 survey of independent business owners:

  • 65% of your customer base views Amazon’s market dominance as a challenge to the existence of their business

  • 70% want the government to either break up or regulate Amazon

When budget is allocated to increase sign-ups or improve retention with a douceur, we want recipients to feel intrigued, recognized, engaged, welcomed, and understood. It turns out there are much better ways to sweeten a deal than sending a gift card with a logo on it that stands for a threat to the livelihood of the community we want to serve. Quotes from survey participants indicate how hard they are struggling, and how forgotten they can feel:

“Hard to understand how the growth and survival of small businesses has taken such a back seat in both political parties over the years.”

“Make Amazon […] pay their taxes. I have to pay mine, they should pay theirs.”

“We frequently have the opportunity to bid on school district purchase orders, and we lose them when Amazon’s prices undercut our margin.”

“Amazon is killing the independent office supply industry.”

“If our cities and towns lose small businesses, we lose essential and culturally significant institutions. If large retailers continue to … monopolize industries, we as individuals also lose the ability to make meaningful choices with our purchases.”

Clearly, with distress signals like these being emitted by the majority of the local business sector, the last thing that will make them feel championed is the sight of an Amazon gift card in their inbox.

Better news via awareness and allyship

The better news is that survey data like this empowers our agencies to ditch vague assumptions that “everyone loves Amazon” in favor of some truly nice, thoughtful, useful alternatives that will demonstrate awareness of clients’ reality! Here are seven Amazon alternatives to suggest at your next marketing huddle:

1) Free consulting with your experts

Experience has taught me that the one thing local business owners may appreciate more than any other incentive you can offer them is a little bit extra of your time. Yes, the time of the experts at your company is very valuable, and you need to charge for it, but you can make a sales campaign much stronger by bundling it with some gratis consulting. Generously helping small entrepreneurs power through a session of their most important FAQs also turns out to be a great way to forge new relationships based on meaningful conversations. You will find out that you learn a lot from the experience that can be of use to your agency. Win-win, indeed!

2) A local business book bag

Offer a tote holding a selection of excellent books for small entrepreneurs. Topics could include economics, tech, marketing, DEI, environment, advocacy, history, and something just for fun. Choose titles that you feel will be of real help to SMBs learning to set up, improve, and market their business. And don’t forget to throw in a copy of “How to Defeat Amazon and Why” by independent bookstore owner, Danny Caine.

3) A ticket to an online local business event or training course

Image credit: Lynn Friedman

Offer a free pass to a virtual conference which business owners can attend from anywhere, a ticket to a post-conference video bundle, or access to an SEO training course like Moz Academy. The chance to learn from experts can take a local business owner to the next level of proficiency in their marketing skills and contribute to their success.

4) Paid subscriptions

How about an offer to pay the company’s subscription for a year to whatever their local newspaper is? We all know these outlets are really suffering with 2,100 local papers having closed since 2004, and this promotion could help both the business owner and their community at the same time. Alternatively, a subscription to one of the larger national publications will give SMBs access to paywalled financial and marketing advice they might otherwise be unable to afford. If doing appeals more than reading, consider paying a few months’ subscription to software or tools to get the business moving forward with their operations or marketing.

5) Grocery gift cards

1 in 5 Americans don’t have enough to eat and of those going hungry, nearly 12 million are children. Even in households where people are still managing to get by, the 7.4% increase in grocery prices over the past year is being felt by most of us. When we refine these overwhelming statistics to a story about just one person, we can easily imagine a mother or father who has a good local business idea which they do not have the ease to pursue because the struggle to put food on the table is all-consuming. Offering a grocery gift card could be a very practical, inclusive, down-to-earth way to create that tiny bit of breathing room a small entrepreneur needs to take the next step in their business plan.

6) Philanthropic options

When your customer base is independent business owners and not the rich, it’s good to remember that multiple studies indicate that the less people have, the more they tend to give. A philanthropic offer could be the perk that helps a local business choose your service over a competitor’s. I’ve seen some good marketing lately. Salesforce, Timberland, Clifbar and Microsoft are planting millions of trees. 4Ocean pulls a pound of plastic refuse out of the sea every time you buy from them. Everlane’s 100% Human clothing collection is underpinned by a 10% donation to the ACLU and Bombas gives clothing to homeless shelters for every piece of apparel you buy. Buy a toothbrush from Mable and they’ll match it by giving one to a child, buy bedding from SolOrganics, and they’ll give you a few bucks to donate to the charity of your choice.

The ROI of cause-driven marketing varies. One survey found that 87% of people will buy a product because the vendor aligns with a cause that matters to them. If your agency has an authentic conviction about a particular cause, extend the opportunity to do good to your potential customers so that benefits flow beyond the narrow confines of a single transaction.

7) General gift cards

If you feel that a gift card to a large, general marketplace is really the best fit for the

audience you’re trying to attract, Etsy has historically been more in keeping with the small business ethic than Amazon. Etsy’s sellers are nearly all small entrepreneurs, with over 90% operating from home and over 80% identifying as women. If you tend to associate Etsy with random crafts, check them out again. There are all kinds of useful office supplies, executive gifts, custom tech goodies, and other items on offer that would be appreciated by most business owners.

Unfortunately, the April Etsy seller strike due to the marketplace raising merchant fees by 30%, despite the brand pulling in record profits, is dimming the once-shiny small business rep of the brand. If this concerns you, you might consider a GoldBelly gift card, with its emphasis on gourmet food, an Ultimate Green Store gift card for a wide selection of eco-oriented merchandise, something from the GiveandGetLocal directory, or simply a pre-paid card from Visa, American Express or another vendor to allow the customer to spend where they choose.

It really is the thought that counts

It was Winston Churchill who said that we make a living by what we get but that we make a life by what we give. When your agency is seeking to give something to the local business community, survey data like ILSR’s can help you choose a gift that will make customers respond with that magic phrase, “This company really gets me.”

A final tip is to reach out for potential partnerships with other companies once you’ve narrowed your selection down to the gifts you’d most like to offer. Vendors will sometimes come up with a good deal for you if you’re using their product or service as part of your agency’s promotion, which can be a great opportunity to further grow your own B2B relationships.

Local business owners are already longing to make a life beyond Amazon, and with a little thoughtfulness, you can demonstrate your brand’s awareness and support.



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MARKETING

State of Content Marketing in 2023

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State of Content Marketing in 2023

I just pressed send on the manuscript for my book to be released in September. It’s called Content Marketing Strategy (snappy, eh?), and Kogan Page will publish it.

Last week, marketing professor Philip Kotler wrote the foreword. I won’t spoil it, but he mentioned the need for a strategic approach to owned media.

He writes, “(T)he company doesn’t carry an account of showing these marketing assets and their value. As a result, the company cannot show the CEO and company board members a return on owned assets or content.”

Luckily, my upcoming book shows exactly how to do that. Funny how that works out.

In any event, all this struck me that now is an opportune time to look at where the beloved practice of content marketing stands today.

First, let’s go back to 1999 when Kotler published Kotler On Marketing, one of his more than 70 books. The latter 1990s – a time of tumultuous change – fueled most of the thinking for the book. But he knew that it was merely the beginning.

Kotler concluded the book with a section called “Transformational Marketing.”  In the next decade, he wrote, “marketing will be re-engineered from A to Z. Marketing will need to rethink fundamentally the processes by which they identify, communicate, and deliver customer value.”

Well, it’s taken over two decades, but it’s finally happening.

Consumers have changed, but marketing operations are just starting to

In case you didn’t notice, almost every marketing conference these days starts with the same four or five requisite slides:

  • Digital technologies, such as search and social media, empower consumers today.
  • Consumers research, engage, buy, and stay loyal to brands in ways that have fundamentally changed.
  • First-party data and privacy are of the utmost importance.
  • Artificial intelligence begins to threaten the idea of the usefulness of search and pressure companies to deliver better and more personalized experiences.

You get it. Consumer expectations in the age of the social, mobile, and AI-driven web are different than they were.

However, the continuing challenge in 2023 is that content and/or marketing operations in enterprise companies are only beginning to evolve. Most marketing departments have remained as they were when Kotler wrote his book — they still work from mid- to late-20th century hierarchies, strategies, and processes.

Most marketing departments still work with mid- to late-20th-century hierarchies, strategies, and processes, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Content marketing isn’t new, but a content marketing strategy is

For hundreds of years, businesses have used content to affect some kind of profitable outcome. But the reality is this: Whether it was John Deere’s The Furrow from the 1800s, Michelin’s guide to car maintenance in the early 1900s, or even Hasbro’s GI-Joe partnership with Marvel in the 1980s, content was not — and is not for the most part now — a scalable, repeatable practice within the function of marketing. In short, companies almost always treat content marketing as a project, not a process.

That fundamental change will finally take hold in 2023. It could happen because of the digital disruption and ease by which you can now publish and distribute content to aggregate your own audiences. It could happen through the natural evolution that the ultimate outcome – more than the marketing – matters more.

As we roll through 2023 and beyond, content — and the exponentially increasing quantities of it produced by every organization — deeply affects not just your marketing strategy, but your business strategy. Content in marketing is now bigger than simply content marketing, and it should be dealt with as a component of that business strategy throughout the enterprise.

#Content in marketing is bigger than #ContentMarketing. Treat it as a component of the business strategy, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

In 2023, the No. 1 focus of my consulting and advisory practice these days: help companies transform content into a repeatable, scalable, and measurable function that drives value through a multi-channel strategy. It’s bigger than publishing a blog, creating a lead-generating resource center, or sending an email newsletter. Today’s content marketing team is being absorbed into marketing because marketing and its various operations are fundamentally transforming into a content-producing machine.

It is not good enough to produce content “like a media company would.” The goal must be to operate as a media company does. Your job is not to change content to fit new marketing goals. Rather, your job in 2023 is to change marketing to fit the new business content goals.

Your job in 2023 is to change #marketing to fit the new business #content goals, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The unaware builds a case for the aware

The term “content marketing” continues to evolve. Even today, I run across those who still call it “brand publishing,” “custom content,” or “inbound marketing.”

My take matches with what Kotler described in 1999. I always thought the term “content marketing” would become part of “marketing” more broadly. In 2023, that happened. So, returning to the lexiconic debates of 2013, 2014, or 2015 doesn’t seem terribly productive. Content marketing is just good marketing, and marketing is just good content marketing.

That said, two kinds of companies do well at the broader view of content marketing. Some of them, such as Cleveland Clinic, Red Bull, Arrow Electronics, HubSpot, and REI, have purposely devised content marketing strategies as differentiating approaches to their marketing. They are succeeding.

Others, like Amazon, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, and Peloton, backed into a smart content marketing strategy. But executives at those companies probably don’t recognize it as such. If asked (and some have been), they would say acquiring or launching a media company operation was just a smart business strategy to diversify their ability to reach their consumers consistently.

They’re right, of course. Many have yet to read books about content marketing, been influenced by the Content Marketing Institute, or even recognize content marketing as a separate approach (as far as I know). And they are also succeeding.

Consider this proof: As I write this article, six companies have a market capitalization of more than $1 trillion. Four of the six wholly or partially use the business model of media creation to further marketing and business strategies. Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon are all, in part, media companies that also sell products and services.

Why would you not avail yourself of that same model?

The future looks cloudy and bright

As for the overall state of enterprise content marketing, it’s in transition, as all marketing is. As a focused project-based approach, working in ad-hoc ways across a business, content marketing appears to have proven its worth. Hundreds of entries every year to the Content Marketing Awards feature myriad case studies using content marketing techniques in strategic ways to profitably affect business results.

And yet, it remains to be seen whether you can make content marketing a scalable, repeatable, measurable function within marketing.

As to what the discipline’s future holds? At last year’s Content Marketing World, one of my favorite events, the Executive Forum gathered senior leaders from brands succeeding with content marketing. As we talked about the future, one participant said: “The only certainty is change. I can’t tell you where or when, but I do know there will be change, and this is the principle we build on now.”

As for my take, Kotler’s idea of transforming the marketing function seems to have gotten lost along the digital road traveled by marketers. In so many cases, marketing – and especially content – remains just an on-demand service function within the business. Its sole job is to produce ever more voluminous amounts of content that describe the value of the brand (or its products or services) so that sales can sell more efficiently, customer support can serve more effectively, and all manner of customer interfaces are more beneficial to both sides.

However, and maybe because I need to rationalize now that my book is finished, I passionately believe it’s finally time for marketing to reclaim its ability to create value — not just reflect it in the polished shine of your traditional products and services.

Almost 27 years ago today, Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote an essay called Content is King. In it, he said that “(C)ontent is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”

It certainly was one of his more prescient moments. Nearly three decades later, his words have proven true. The essay title has become the rallying cry for thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs who now make their living on creating, managing, optimizing, and measuring content on the internet. (A Google search for “content is king” nets more than 1.7 million results.)

But it’s the last line of his essay that I find the most visionary: “(T)hose who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products – a marketplace of content.”

That’s what content marketing is for me in 2023. It’s just marketing – optimizing the value of ideas, experiences, and products in a marketplace of content.

Time to get to work.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just five minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

Watch previous episodes or read the lightly edited transcripts.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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27 Best About Us and About Me Page Examples [+Templates]

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Your about page summarizes your history, values, and mission — all in one place. That’s a tall order for just a few paragraphs. If you’re feeling stuck, turn to these about-page examples for inspiration. 

about us page example: laptop held in palm of hand

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MARKETING

MarTech’s marketing operations experts to follow

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MarTech's marketing operations experts to follow

Marketing operations is what makes the magic happen. These are the folks who see that your martech stack doesn’t get stuck. They are the maestros, modelers and makers who make sure the trains run, the data is digestible and that you have the programs you need. Where would we be without them? That’s too scary to think about. Here’s our list of MOps experts who have the ear of the profession.

Darrell Alfonso

Darrell is director of marketing strategy & operations at Indeed and the former global marketing ops leader for AWS. He’s the author of “The Martech Handbook: Build a Technology Stack to Acquire and Retain Customers.” In addition to speaking at many conferences, Darrell was named one of the Top Marketers in the US by Propolis 2022 and among the “Top Martech Marketers to Follow” in 2020 by Martech Alliance. He’s a regular and popular contributor both to MarTech and the MarTech conference; you can find all of his articles at this link.


Eddie Reynolds

Eddie has been in business a long time, starting his first company when he was 14. “A pretty minimal enterprise,” he told one interviewer. “I had a tax ID number, a legal entity, and a company name. I even had the IRS coming after my dad for sales tax that I failed to report properly.” Today he is CEO and revenue operations strategy consultant of Union Square Consulting. He publishes The RevOps Weekly Newsletter and the podcast RevOps Corner. Eddie’s large LinkedIn following attests to the quality of the insights he shares there on  sales, marketing, service, and admin roles. 


Sara McNamara

Sara is an award-winning marketing and sales operations professional whose work has been recognized by awards from the likes of Salesforce (Pardot), Adobe (Marketo), Drift, and LeanData. She is a Senior Manager, Marketing Operations at Slack and a martech stack (+ strategy) solution architect. That and her passion for leveraging technology and processes to improve the experiences of marketers, sales professionals, and prospects, explains why she’s a regular guest on MOps podcasts.


Ali Schwanke

Ali is the CEO and founder of Simple Strat. The firm specializes in helping companies get the most out of HubSpot — from CRM strategy and setup to marketing automation and content creation. She is also host of HubSpot Hacks, “the #1 Unofficial YouTube show for HubSpot Tutorials” and has been a guest speaker at the MarTech conference.


Mike Rizzo

Mike’s career in marketing operations showed him that there is a real and significant MOps community. That’s why he founded MO Pros/MarketingOps.com, the fast-growing online community for people in marketing operations. He is also co-host of Ops Cast, a weekly podcast. 


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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman

Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for CBSNews.com, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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