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Business Books You Won’t Find in the Business Section

I love to read all kinds of book. These days I read a ton of business as a bit of an occupational hazzard, but I love to find those non business books that contains tons of unique ideas that I can apply to business.

Business books

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

I wrote this month’s column for OPEN Forum and shared ten such books that have had major impact for me – 10 Vital Business Books That Aren’t Technically About Business

I also asked the question below innocently enough on Facebook and got so many great recommendations I thought I would extend the conversation here on the blog.

Please jump in and add your favorite non business book that taught you a lot about business.

Will Credit Card Companies Cash in on Couponless Geo-Location Targeting

I checked into my office on Foursquare the other day and I got a message showing there was a special offer. I thought, that’s odd, I didn’t create a special offer.

When I clicked on the offer is was a special from American Express telling me that if I used my American Express card to buy $10 worth of something I would get a matching $10 credit from American Express.

At first I was confused, but then I saw that a number of restaurants listed around my business also had the same offer. Apparently American Express had struck up a deal with Foursquare (and as it turns out any number geo-locations services) to offer specials directly through Foursquare at locations that accepted American Express (data that American Express would obviously have)

This program has been developing since a June roll out, but it appears Amex has really ramped it up to every imaginable category of business.

As I thought about this a number of things came to mind, but the most important one was that a credit card company had essentially taken over a geo-location service.

Now, I’m not suggesting that’s a bad thing. (For the record, American Express is a client and I happen to think very highly of the folks at the OPEN business unit.)

I am suggesting, it’s an interesting turn of events and here’s why:

  • Merchants benefit without having to do anything, but of course, accept the Amex card.
  • Shoppers benefit without having to do much more than check in and  sync their card
  • Foursquare benefits because all of a sudden it’s worth $10 to check in at a lot of places

The full benefit to Amex is evident only to those that know the numbers, but my guess is that this is a cheaper and way more directly targeted way to get to a user than paying for TV. Plus, when someone checks is on Foursquare when out with a bunch of friends and announces they just got $10 off, I’m guessing some non Amex toting friends take note. This play also positions Amex squarely at the front of the hip line and will likely help remove some of the stodginess that they’ve been shedding for a few years now.

This combination of location, mobile, commerce and local business to reach the end user is quite possibly the digital media story of the year.

5 Trends That Will Shape Small Business in 2012

This post originally appeared on American Express OPENForum.

It’s time for my annual prediction of small-business trends.

No matter what business trends are reported in the media, small businesses will always adopt them more slowly and in ways that don’t follow the hype.

Small Business Trends

JasonLangheine via Flickr CC

Small-business owners don’t care what’s cool. They care about what’s practical and what seems obvious—and that’s not always what gets buzz. (I’ve been pretty much spot on with most of my predictions for small-business trends in 2011 and trends for 2010.)

Here are my predictions for 2012. Some of these might not seem as obvious as those in previous years. But, welcome to the odd world of small business.

Social networks evolve into markets

As social networks become more important in the lives of their users and the level of social behavior continues to evolve, they will become much more than outposts. These sites will move toward wholly functioning, self-contained marketplaces.

A growing number of people simply see the Internet as Facebook (and Facebook is OK with that). Other marketplaces such as Amazon, Etsy, Buy.com and eBay are moving toward socializing your product search and becoming decision engines.

This behavior signals the need for small-business marketers to view some outposts as destinations. Consider building a store on Facebook, Shoply, Amazon, Buy.com, Etsy and eBay.

Ramp up your participation in these markets and educate yourself about them. Stop looking at them simply as transaction enablers. These sites are growing into major cities and you need to claim and increase your holdings there before they become overcrowded.

Content becomes conversion

Most small-business owners have come to see content as strategy, rather than merely words to be produced. Blog posts, white papers and in-person and online seminars  create awareness, build trust, educate and illustrate core stories.

That much is now a given in marketing now, but content adoption, expectation and use will evolve next year. I believe you will see a lot of content, social media-driven and otherwise, that is designed to convert rather than to simply inform.

Expect free content to get better and paid content to be part of the logical path. Expect video sales letters and automated online seminars. You’ll see members-only content, ROI calculators and content-enhanced products becoming the norm.

Mobile powers local

Last year, I predicted that mobile would finally land for small business. We’ve talked about mobile as a marketing channel for years, but it seemed it wasn’t happening.

Finally, mobile has become an important medium. This is in part because of smart-phone adoption and in greater part because of the shift to mobile behavior. Every age demographic is using mobile devices to locate local businesses and those people intend to purchase.

Mobile websites, mobile offers, mobile payments and geo-location will become essential elements of the small-business local-marketing toolkit. Even Near Field data exchange, which had a science fiction ring just a few years ago, will be part of that picture.

Oh, and small-business owners will get over their fear of using SMS in smart ways.

Customer service goes community

The cable provider Comcast launched Comcast Cares, a social media push to repair a poor customer-service perception. It set the bar for how brands need to engage with their customers in the always-on, always-public world of social media.

As the toolset evolves with players like ZenDesk and Get Satisfaction, businesses of any size can provide incredibly high-tech support without losing high-touch service.

Small business will embrace the community in a peer service-provider model and start providing service in public-facing, brand-building ways. They will embrace tools that turn customer service into a shared community model, where customers help answer questions and evangelize the products and services.

Search moves to apps

My use of search-engine technology is slowly being replaced by the use of apps that provide me with answers relevant to my personal needs. My guess is that while you may not have taken note, you’re using search engines less and answer engines more.

This trend highlights the marketers’ need to go beyond SEO and PPC and move deeper into social networks, mobile marketing and app-based local marketplaces.

Apps inside social networks provide answers. Apps inside social-bookmark sites serve up interesting reading. Apps in content-curation tools like Storify provide relevant context for content. Apps on mobile devices, such as Yelp’s, help you find bars and restaurants. Apps using QR readers give you deeper information on companies and products. Apps are delivering sports scores, movie times, videos and images.

How to Attract and Retain Customers

The title of today’s post mirrors the topic of discussion I am leading during today’s New York Times Small Business Summit for AMEX OPEN.

It’s certainly a big topic, but I love that attract and retain are used in the same setting because they are certainly linked arm in arm in a business that wants to build any kind of marketing momentum. In fact, you could argue, and I do, they are one in the same.

Far too often marketers spend all of their attention on the chase and the sale and not enough on the retain and remarkable experience. The funny thing is if you get great at the later, the former will take care of itself.

Actually, I’m not a fan of the word retain, it seems a bit like satisfy. The real magic is referral and that comes from something a little more over the top.

Here’s the system I plan to share today.

You attract by building know, like and trust:

  • You must know whom you are ideally suited to attract
  • You must be able to communicate a difference that makes you stand out
  • You must create content that addresses a need of a narrowly defined customer
  • You must advertise and generate word of mouth buzz surrounding your content
  • You must be in so many places and linked to so many sources that you are easily found
  • You must build a team of strategic partners, sponsors and customer champions willing to help prospects find you

You retain customers by focusing on repeat and referral

  • You must study every potential customer contact point and turn it into a remarkable experience
  • You must develop a customer orientation process as part of your lead conversion process
  • You must communicate fully, often and truthfully during transactions and service
  • You must build follow-up routines that include opportunities to share additional education, training and content
  • You must create a process that allows you to measure and communicate the value you product or service has delivered to a customer
  • You must stop what you are doing often and show appreciation fully
  • You must find ways to bring your customers together and facilitate building community for them
  • You must expect to receive a referral from 100% of your customers and help them bring value to others they would like to help

Accomplishing everything on the both lists above is the secret to success for any business, regardless of industry or geography – there’s actually nothing very hard about it, the key is intention.

If you intend to thrill every customer, you will attract and retain.

Facebook Is Not the House

These days I can’t get through a presentation on the use of social media in marketing without someone inquiring whether they should use Facebook as the primary web presence for their business.

“I mean, it’s free and look at all these cools tools you can add to your Fan Page.”

Let me be very clear on my thinking on this: Facebook is not the house, Twitter is not the house, your social profiles spread far and wide are not the house.

Your hub, your blog, your website—that’s the house. Build the house, fix the house, decorate the house and invite the party to the house, because it’s the one thing you can own and control. It’s an asset you can grow rather than space you simply rent.

Your activity in social media is all about building a persona and brand that draws people to the house, whether you’re a plumbing contractor, consultant, or someone that wants to create a path to a better career. Build rich and engaging hubs on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or wherever your prospects hang out, but remember you’re always going home.

Focusing too much attention on your Facebook play is like spending a bunch of time decorating and fixing up a neighbor’s house while they are traveling Europe for a year or two. It may be a nice place to throw a party or entertain, but you don’t really own it.

An issue of control

The greatest reason I take this stance is because of control. You don’t control what’s being said, contributed and added to a social network profile like Facebook. You get to rent the space, but anytime Facebook decides it wants to remodel, you have no say.

A lot of smart online folks are raving about Facebook’s recent addition of a commenting tool that integrates with blog commenting systems like WordPress. There are a couple features with this tool that, on the surface, are alluring—comments made on your blog are automatically posted to the person’s Facebook profile for example.

However, here’s what should be the deal killer for anyone considering this tool. The comments don’t sync with your WordPress database, which is another way of saying Facebook now owns your blog comments. Facebook has done nothing that demonstrates them worthy of this kind of trust.

Keep this very important distinction in mind—you’re not a Facebook customer, you’re part of the product that they sell—and that makes all the difference in how they view you.

But, fix up the house

I hope you understand that the real house isn’t the physical real estate that I’m calling your blog or website, it’s the way you interact with customers, your email correspondence, your words, your consistency, your ease of use, your responsiveness, your use of video—all the things we’ve come to collectively call your brand.

There’s little value in working hard to attract people to the house if the foundation is cracked or the chairs aren’t cozy to sit in. You can certainly blow a bunch of cash on expensive art for the walls, but the real money might be better spent on making the house as guest friendly and comfortable as possible.

It’s just different in there

Here’s the other thing about relying on social networks as a primary commerce tool. It’s not an effective pipeline for most marketing related calls to actions. So, even the gentle come by our open house will likely fall flat.

I’ve experienced countless examples of people with huge followings promoting a book launch of even free webinar with little or no response while a mention on that same person’s blog makes the cash register ring loudly.

The porch is the bridge

Since social media relationships are so easily formed and mostly casual in nature, you must go to work on building reasons for people you engage in these settings to gather on the porch first. Do that and you’ll start to form the personal engagement to move them to the party—your blog or email list.

Most people’s marketing efforts in social media fall flat for that single reason alone. No matter how engaging your efforts seem on Facebook, they’ll never match the power of your email list or loyal blog following.

It’s not enough to get followers and fans, you must create the bridge that leads them to the house and that’s a step that eludes the social media first mindset.

Facebook and Twitter have an appropriate place in the overall brand and business building efforts, but you’ll never find your social media efforts paying off unless you invest appropriately in the house.

This post originally appeared on AMEX OPENForum

Discuss Small Business With The White House Today

white houseJoin me today at 2pm ET for a Tweetchat surrounding the live broadcast of OPENForum’s Q and A with Karen Mills, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Small business owners posed questions for Mills and OPENForum’s Scott Roen will moderate the discussion.

In light of the recent Small Business Jobs Bill, tight lending environment, and impending changes to how small businesses deal with health care, I thought it might be interesting to hang out with some other small business owners to chat live on Twitter during the event.

Here’s how you can join

1) Bookmark this page – http://openforum.com/whitehouse – and fire it up at 1pm CT today in a browser window.
2) Login or Join Tweetchat (free tool that facilitates this kind of thing) – enter #OPENLive as the hashtag and the join the conversation
(Yes, you will need to have two browser windows open and do a bit of multi-tasking, but you can do it!)

Here are two recent articles on the Jobs Bill that I found interesting.

FYI – I contribute to OPENForum as a blogger, but this discussion is not sponsored in any way by AMEX. I just thought it might be useful.

How to Create a Killer Local Partner Team Program

This article originally appeared on AMEX OPENForum

eeEverybody needs a little help from their friends. Businesses large and small can benefit greatly from the partnering mindset, particularly hyper local businesses.

The partnering mindset is simply a business point of view that suggests a great deal of the organization’s marketing mix will involve seeking out and activating business partners with the same ideal client target.

Understand that this thinking in full form takes in a bigger view than simply referring business to each other.

A total local partner mindset is an approach that starts with your product and service offerings and carries through to both making and give referrals as a total team effort.

There are a number of components involved in the creation of an effective program.

Recruit and introduce – the first step is to recruit your team and introduce them to your program and business. One of the best ways to identify good teammates is to ask your current customers to name other businesses they like to buy from. You don’t want just anyone as a partner, these need to be people you can also confidently refer business to.

Next, send them a letter outlining your plans and inviting them to tell you the best way to introduce their business to your customers – that usually gets their attention.

Create content opportunities – Invite your partners to contribute to your newsletter, act as a guest on your podcast or blog. Giving your partners exposure by way of content gets them exposure and you content. Consider taking this up a notch and create a group blog optimized for all of the partners.

Conduct video interviews – Set a meeting with your partners and use the opportunity to record an introduction video so you can have content to run on your website letting the world know about your partners. This will show you mean business.

Acquire special offers – Get your partners to contribute a product or service that you can use as a way to enhance your offering. Free business cards for every logo purchased or free flowers when you make a reservation for dinner, free tickets to give away in y our marketing, or free HVAC check-up when you get some plumbing work. This is a great way to promote your partners while adding real appeal to what your marketing. Make sure you create real perceived value here.

Make referrals – Make it a habit to consciously go out of your way to refer business to your partners. Don’t wait for people to ask, do it as part of your Monday routine. This is how you become someone that lots of great providers want to partner with, but you also increase your value to your customers by consistently helping get what they need in every aspect of their life.

Rate and review – If at all possible become of a customer of every one of your partners. This will make you a much more authentic referral sources (as a user) and allow you to test and filter the truly great experiences. Follow-up on this by actively writing reviews and ratings on Yelp and other online sites.

Create events – Figure out how to bring your partners together to network and create deeper engagement. Let each partner have a day where they educate everyone in the network. Create workshops and offer to conduct them for your partner’s customers. Develop a day devoted to topics that your partners can present useful information on and have everyone promote the event.

With just a little bit of creativity any organization can tap the awesome power of a partner network as a substantial lead and customer generator.

Image credit: Merelymel13

7 Insanely Useful Ways to Search Twitter for Marketing

This article originally appeared on American Express OPEN Forum and is one of the most retweeted articles I’ve ever written so I thought I would share it with you here.

7 Insanely Useful Ways to Search Twitter for Marketing

As a marketing tool Twitter gets much more interesting and useful when you can filter out 99% of the junk that doesn’t apply to your objectives and focus on the stuff that matters.

The basic search.twitter.com functionality is fine for searching things that are being said about your search terms. The advanced search function offers more ways to slice and dice the stream, but still leaves some room for improvement as it only searches what’s being said and where. From a marketing standpoint who is saying it might be more useful.

Now that the search engines are all pretty geeked up over real time search you can create some very powerful searches and alerts combining Google and Twitter.

1) Target by occupation

Let’s say you have a business that sells an awesome service to attorneys. A simple search on Twitter will turn up thousands of mentions of the word attorney, but many of them will be from people talking about this or that attorney or the need to hire or not hire one. That’s probably not very helpful for your purposes.

However, if you cruise over to Google and use a handful of operators from the Google shortcut library (more on that here) you can create a search that plows through Twitter and gives you a list of all the users that have the word “attorney” in their title (username and/or real name) – Click on this search phrase and see what happens – intitle:”attorney * on twitter” site:twitter.com – what you’ll find is a handy list of attorneys of one sort or another on Twitter.

Without getting too technical, this search basically asks Google to look in the title attribute of profile pages on Twitter – obviously you can use any word to replicate this. The * tells Google to find the words “attorney on Twitter” without regard to order or other words – “on Twitter” appears in the title of every profile page so we need that term to make sure we search profile pages only.

2) Target by bio

In some cases searching through the optional biographical information can be more helpful than the username or real name fields. Maybe you’re looking for a very specific term or some of the folks you are targeting only reference their profession in their bio.

Google search to the rescue here again. This time add the intext attribute, the word bio and our key phrase to search bios – So a search for web designers would look like this – intext:”bio * web designer” site:twitter.com. When you look at this list you might notice that none of the people on the list would have been found by searching in their title, as in the first tip, for web designer. Try it both ways to test for best results.

3) Target by location

Location search by itself is simple using the Twitter advanced search tool – if you want a list of people in Austin you would use this in Twitter – near:”Austin, TX” within:25mi and Twitter would use the location field to show you Austin Tweeters.

But . . . let’s say you wanted to target salons in Austin or maybe the whole of Texas – it’s back to Google to mix and match – (intitle:”salon * on twitter” OR intext:”bio * salon”) intext:”location * TX” site:twitter.com – we search the title, bio and location to get a very targeted list of Salons in Texas on Twitter. Note the OR function for multiple queries.

4) New sign ups

Another handy thing about using any of the searches above is that you can also use the exact operators to create Google Alerts. By going to Google and putting in your search string as described above you’ll get everything they have now, but by setting up an alert you’ll get an email or RSS alert when a new attorney (or whatever you’re targeting) joins Twitter – I can think of some powerful ways to reach out to that new person just trying to find some new friends!

5) Keep up on your industry

Some of the best information shared on Twitter comes in the form of shared links. In other words people tweet out good stuff they find and point people to it using a link. I love to use a filtered Twitter search to further wade through research on entire industries, but reduce the noise by only following tweets that have links in them and eliminating retweets that are essentially duplicates – “small business” OR entrepreneur OR “start up” filter:links – this gets that job done and produces an RSS feed if I want to send it to Google Reader. Don’t forget the “quotation marks” around two or more word phrases or you will get every mention of small and business.

6) Competitive eavesdropping

Lots of people set up basic searches to listen to what their competitors are saying and what others are saying about the competition. I would suggest you take it one step further and create and follow a search that also includes what the conversation they are having with the folks they communicate with – not just what people are saying about them, but to them and vice versa – from:comcastcares OR to:comcastcares.

7) Trending photos

Photos have become very big on Twitter and the real time nature of the tool means photos show up there before they show up most anywhere. If you want to find an image related to a hot trend, or anything for that matter, simply put the search phase you have in mind follow by one of the more well known Twitter image uploading services such as TwitPic and you’ll get nothing but images. So, your search on Twitter might be – olympics twitpic OR ow.ly (You can add more photosharing sites to expand the search).

There, Twitter just go way more interesting didn’t it?