How to Drive More Business in the Most Important Fourth Quarter Ever

How to Drive More Business in the Most Important Fourth Quarter Ever

When it comes to boosting sales, few times of the year offer more revenue sales opportunities than the fourth quarter. Whether customers are thinking about Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day, Lancaster County residents are looking to create special ways to celebrate their traditions. With a little planning and marketing, businesses can find ways to end the year with a bang.

The fourth quarter is a critical time to boost profits and end the year on a high note in any year. It is also when many consumers open up their wallets and start spending more on festive food, luxury goods, and gifts for their loved ones (and themselves!) For some types of businesses, the fourth quarter can account for up to 75% of their annual sales. In challenging years like 2020, not only does the fourth-quarter shopping period hold more importance, but it also offers companies a chance to recoup some of the losses of the past months.

This year, all indicators show that many consumers are ready to buy more in the fourth quarter. Using September of 2020 as an indicator, many experts predict that a variety of retailers and service businesses may be well-positioned to benefit from pent-up demand after months of austerity.

According to Kimberly Amadeo in The Balance,

“The most recent U.S. Retail Sales Report shows that retail sales continued to rebound in September, rising 1.9% since August, and 5.4% since this time last year. Total sales for July through September 2020 were up 3.6% year over year. Sales have been increasing since June after record lows were seen in the spring during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.1″

The events of 2020 showed us how business could change dramatically in just a few months. Consumers became more dependent on digital communications and more open to all kinds of digital commerce, including food delivery, online medicine, and curbside pickup. This means that almost any type of business or retailer can now grow in cost-effective ways by embracing a wide range of digital marketing tools and tactics. During the shelter-in-place order of 2020, online shopping skyrocketed, with 50% of U.S. adults saying they purchased more online than before. The pandemic restrictions motivated many reluctant shoppers to try (and keep using) online shopping tools.

This shift to digital can be good news for small businesses. The wide adoption of digital technologies makes it possible for large and small businesses to get immediate results from tools like email marketing and online advertising, even for companies that lack a sophisticated website.

In fact, with so much change in the air, this is the perfect time for Lancaster County businesses to create (or improve) digital marketing strategies to help their companies get the most out of 2020 and beyond. Moreover, the holiday buying cycle continues to deliver the promise of a robust fourth quarter. From mid-October through early January, each year an extended holiday season motivates consumers to buy holiday gifts. This time of year also encourages people to bake more, cook more, buy more cookware, entertain, improve the look of their home with décor and furnishing, spend more time on personal care, or dress up their wardrobe. In fact, the holiday season provides a limited-time incentive to buy all kinds of goods and services.

This has never been truer than it is in 2020. After months of austerity and isolation, Lancaster County customers are ready for a little seasonal cheer. However, in any year, the holidays are an excellent opportunity to foster feelings of positivity and optimism. Shoppers are showing us that they are ready to celebrate local economies and start shopping locally.

Local is more important than ever. Even though it sometimes seems like big online retailers get all the business, it is not always true. Barron’s has reported that shipping resources are stressed because of the surge in online orders, and major retailers like Walmart and Amazon have not yet been able to staff up to meet the demand. Because of longstanding driver shortages, this challenge will continue long after the pandemic is over. Barron’s reports;

“The nation’s transportation network is already strained, given the major disruption from Covid and other longstanding factors like driver shortages. That could lead to higher costs for shipping companies, retailers, and—possibly—consumers.”

Importantly, during the holiday season, quick delivery is everything. That means this is a perfect time for local retailers to highlight their inventory and the immediate availability of goods. Slow or delayed shipments from big online retailers may give local consumers the incentive they need to lean more heavily on local retailers. This holiday season, shopping may bring different types of opportunities to Lancaster County businesses.

As more and more consumers become frustrated with shipping delays, the fourth quarter is often the perfect time to focus on acquiring new local customers and set your business up for continuing success in the next year.

While getting customers to switch has been a challenge in previous years, customers are now more willing than ever to try something new. According to a McKinsey & Company October 2020 survey,

“With continued pressure on household income, consumers are trying new brands and channels, seeking both better value and convenience. Compared to last year, consumers are more than three times as likely to trade down to lower-cost brands or retailers when shopping a standard basket of goods.”

Of course, consumers are not the only ones who have been hunkering down in the past months. Many businesses have had to close or reduce hours, conduct business digitally, or reduce capacity at their locations. Whether a company is still operating under restrictions or not, the fourth quarter is a great time to reach out to customers and “reset” customer and client relationships.

What can small businesses do to reach their local customers? ‘Tis the season to send out e-newsletters, email updates, promote updated hours or offerings, offer “thank you” deals, give loyalty discounts, preview sales, talk about new products, or offer special hours for loyal customers.

No matter which messages an organization chooses, holiday cheer is an effective way to humanize the business, allowing companies to spread goodwill and joy.

Start Marketing for the Holidays now

Whether a business reading this in November or July, the time to start your holiday marketing is now. That is because the best holiday marketing includes both long-term and last-minute components. Companies that take the time build digital marketing into their plans all year round are better prepared to take advantage of digital holiday strategies. However, effective strategies can also be applied to firms who are just starting out with digital marketing efforts.

The first step is for the organization to think about how their consumers buy their type of product or service. For example, restaurants or hair salons with limited capacity can focus on selling gift certificates for future visits. Of course, gift certificates make sense all year long, but they can also be promoted as last-minute gifts. Emails, digital ads, or videos are all effective ways to encourage this type of gift-giving.

Additionally, with some quick planning, businesses can have tremendous sales on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Using LNP Media Group’s suite of digital marketing tools, companies can create curbside pickup deals, online offers, extended hours for less crowded shopping, online-only deals, pay-per-click ads, and unique landing pages. This enables organizations to create promotions and offers that can run for a day, an afternoon, or even an hour.

While a survey by Service Management Group reported that 42% of respondents said that they plan to start their holiday shopping earlier this year, Lancaster County businesses still have time to leverage holiday sales. This survey reports:

“Holiday shopping will start early and be dominated by digital – When you consider the double-digit growth of digital holiday sales in 2019 and how the pandemic is impacting the in-store experience, it’s not surprising that 3 in 4 respondents plan to do most of their holiday shopping online this year. When asked to compare the timing of their holiday shopping to last year, 42 percent of respondents said they’ll start shopping earlier. With 61 percent of respondents planning to do most of their shopping before Thanksgiving, we found just 15 percent of respondents plan to stock up on Black Friday and only seven percent plan to take advantage of Cyber Monday. When we compare the timing of the two groups of shoppers, 62 percent of online shoppers plan to start shopping earlier whereas 44 percent of in-store shoppers indicate they’ll take advantage of Black Friday sales or do most of their shopping in December.”

Thinking beyond Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and even Cyber Monday can help businesses drive sales through the end of the year and beyond. After all, holiday shopping no longer stops on Christmas Eve. Consumers are now showing a growing interest in post-holiday sales when they look to use their gift money and savings on purchases for themselves and their homes.

Ready to start making digital a part of your holiday marketing? If you are looking for specific ideas to help your business boost sales this month and beyond, take a look at our list of holiday marketing strategies developed with Lancaster County businesses in mind.

Thanksgiving Digital Marketing Ideas for Lancaster County Businesses

Every year, Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November. This gives businesses plenty of time to ramp up for holiday marketing. Consumers preparing for Thanksgiving are looking for food and cooking supplies, but they also shop for clothes, personal care, linens, furniture, home décor, even carpets, and rugs. Any home furnishing store can tell you that many shoppers request delivery before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving also kicks off a string of annual sales that have become part of the holiday tradition for many shoppers. Black Friday used to kick off the morning after Thanksgiving. But today, many stores open at midnight, the evening of Thanksgiving, or run “early Black Friday” sales in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Pre-Thanksgiving shoppers look online before they buy. In fact, Google reports that 49% of these early-bird shoppers research before they buy.

What can Lancaster County businesses do to get their share of pre-Thanksgiving shoppers?

1. Serve up Search Engine Marketing or SEM

Not too long ago, SEM was a term used to describe pay-per-click text ads that appeared in search results. Today the definition has become broader and refers to a set of advertising opportunities offered by search engines and most often covers ad platforms provided by Google, the search engine used by almost 90% of all searches. In addition to paid search listings designed to drive website traffic, SEM now includes various ads or sponsored listings that appear on search engines and affiliated sites. Using search engine databases, marketers can place display ads on other sites. Retargeted ads, which send follow up ads to people who have visited a specific page on a website, is often considered a part of search engine marketing.

Businesses who want to use SEM to promote Thanksgiving sales or items can use pay-per-click ads, display ads sent to people who have searched for related terms, and even send retargeted ads to site visitors, offering them exclusive offers on the products they previously viewed on the website.

SEM also offers marketer the opportunity to include in-ad countdown clocks that highlight the limited time offers or sales or count down the time until your next deal, event, or Black Friday offers.

2. Gobble up Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing includes organic (unpaid) posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and more. It also offers paid ads or boosted posts. Social media is a popular way to share ideas and communicate with friends and family, so it is a natural place to place ads to reach people as they’re planning for the holiday. Most social media platforms allow companies to upload your customer lists and market to them (and people like them), but businesses can also choose their audience based on geography and interests such as Thanksgiving, How to Cook a Turkey, Home Décor, Best Sports TV and more.

Most social media platforms are also video-friendly. They can be a great place to post videos of a store, videos showing pre-sale walkthrough, or show employees explaining some of the deals and specials they are offering during the holidays.

Some ad platforms of some social media platforms also allow companies to promote multiple items in a scrolling catalog format, so advertisers do not have to stick to just one item per ad.

3. Video Brings Your Business to Life

When it comes to the holidays, customers want information and inspiration, and nothing does that better than a video. Videos can go on corporate websites or be used in ads or promoted posts. They can even be included in email marketing campaigns!

Working with a local professional video team has become an easy way to show customers how to cook a turkey, develop a menu, or find the best new cooking gadgets for this Thanksgiving. Videos are also a great place to share table-setting ideas, explain how to create a better game-viewing environment, share ideas on what to wear on Thanksgiving, give makeup and hair tips, post tutorials for kids’ crafts, explain how to get the family motivated for a pre-feast game of tag football, and more.

This is also a great time of year to produce a video that features team members giving thanks to customers for their support during these difficult times. After all, Thanksgiving is all about gratitude.

4. Send a Cornucopia of Emails

When it comes to emails, one size does not fit all. The good news is that sending highly targeted messages does not have to be complicated. Companies who work with an experienced email marketing resource like LNP Media Group can launch and analyze email marketing campaigns quickly and efficiently.

Selecting either the firm’s customer email list or by choosing to send to other databases, Lancaster County businesses can send targeted emails to a variety of audiences. Loyal customers may receive thank-you emails that invite them to take advantage of early access for sales and offers. Lapsed customers may get a “we miss you” email that includes a coupon or offer. A potential customer could receive messages promoting pre-thanksgiving sales, promotions, or even offer limited-time offers.

Additionally, today’s emails are more responsive than ever, so they can easily navigate on mobile devices or laptops. It is also easy to include videos, QR codes, or bar codes that enable businesses to track the source of your sales down to the email.

5. We are Grateful for Geo-Targeted Ads

Geofencing is a super-targeted way to reach Lancaster County consumers based on where they are. Marketers can send an ad or marketing message to consumers’ mobile devices after entering a predefined geographic area. These spots can be as small and well-defined as a parking lot, inside a store, or a competitor’s location. Using geo-location, companies can deliver promotions, ads, coupons, and more to mobile phones.

Want some examples of how this works? Using geo-targeted ads, local grocery stores can deliver holiday specials to shoppers, even as they are shopping in a competitor’s store. Retailers who want to attract people shopping down the street can send one-day sale offers to customers when they are in the area. Restaurants can send coupons to people while they attend a nearby event. Auto dealers can send limited-time deals to shoppers while they look at vehicles in a competitor’s lot.

6. Digital Makes Holiday Curbside Pickups Easy

Curbside pickup options have become standard for many types of services. Do your customers know that your business now offers this type of service? It is important to get the word out if you have created online options for curbside pickup orders.

Whether promoting takeout food, veterinary services, or oil changes, curbside service can make a business more accessible, convenient, and safe.

7. Don’t Forget About Print this Thanksgiving!

LNP Media Group offers a range of holiday options and special editions in print. The Thanksgiving edition of LNP is the largest and most anticipated newspaper of the year, stuffed full of holiday deals, coupons, and sales. Lancaster County businesses know that this annual tradition is a favorite with local customers, and print can work in tandem with digital for an even bigger impact.

Black Friday: Retail’s Biggest Day of the Year

When it comes to bargain shoppers, Lancaster County has come to expect the biggest and best deals on Black Friday.  As retail traditions continue to change, more Black Friday sales are happening in-store AND on digital media. While crowded sales have been part of the holiday tradition in previous years, when health concerns loom, it is time to develop creative ways to allow customers and clients to access the best deals without facing crowds. Online sales may also bring in more shoppers who were unable (or unwilling) to brave the crowds in years past.

Here are some ways businesses in Lancaster County can make the most of Black Friday using digital media.

1. Combine Search Engine Marketing with F.O.M.O.!

When joining the crowds is not an option, more and more consumers suffer from F.O.M.O. (Fear of Missing Out.) Smart search engine marketing (SEM) ideas can tap into consumers’ need to be a part of the action by posting scarcity counts such as “Only Four Left” or “Only Two Hours Left!

“Don’t want to mess with shipping? Not only can digital marketers program their ads by analyzing search patterns and purchase intent, but they can also limit ad delivery geographically so it’s easy for customers to drive to your location to pick up their purchase.

2. Email Marketing is a Black Friday Staple

Email marketing has been used to promote Black Friday deals for years. Today, new technologies and integrations allow companies to automate countdown emails (“Only 24 hours until the sale starts…”), reminder emails (“Don’t forget, sale ends in two hours”), and abandoned cart emails (“Did you forget something?”).

Best of all, LNP Media Group can offer local lists and help businesses access qualified email lists based on demographics and purchase intent. That means that companies can send their targeted offers directly to the inboxes of potential new customers.

3. Promote Your Deals on Social Media

Social media users expect to be notified of upcoming deals and promotions, especially when it comes to Black Friday. This is a great time for local businesses to invest in Facebook and Instagram ads.

4. Create In-store Excitement With a Walkthrough Video

Want to show your customers your best products? Want to create excitement and anticipation for a visit or online sales? Consider a professionally shot walkthrough video explaining Black Friday deals and showing customers all the great stuff they can access. If health concerns are an issue, it is smart for businesses to use videos to explain what they are doing to keep shoppers safe.

5. 2020 is the Year of the Curbside Pickup

For all those customers who do not want to brave the crowds, curbside pickup is a great way to marry online purchases with retail locations. Curbside pickups make it easy to fulfill orders without investing in complicated shipping programs.

Small Business Saturday: Local Business’s Biggest Day of the Year

In past years, local shopping venues have been swamped with Lancaster County shoppers coming out to support their local retailers, restaurants, and businesses. However, the “new normal” requires companies to think beyond in-store sales to keep customers engaged and coming back.

1. Search Engine Marketing for Local Businesses

Many local businesses think search engine marketing is too “big” for their companies, but search marketing is the new phone book. It’s where people go to find shops, services, and food that are “near me.” That is why SEM is such an effective way to promote Small Business Saturday efforts. A good SEM campaign will not only drive people to a business listing, but it can also focus on the uniqueness of a company’s products or services, feature photos of their staff, and even allow organizations to donate a percent of the take to a favorite charity.

2. Local Loves LancasterOnline

When it comes to local advertising in Lancaster County, LancasterOnline is one of the most “local” digital tools you can use. LancasterOnline offers high-impact display ads surrounded by local news, which means the ad message is delivered to the people Lancaster County businesses care about most – local shoppers. Marketers can ask an LNP Media Group rep to demo the reveal ad, a large format ad that appears above the digital masthead.  Sticky anchors stay on the screen even as the user scrolls down. Other high impact formats include skyscraper ads and HTML5 animated ads.

3. Find Your Community on Facebook

When it comes to small communities and groups with shared interests, Facebook is king. Although geographic targeting is available on most social media platforms, Facebook is a favorite place for friends and families to stay in touch. Promoting your local company on Facebook, along with Small Business Saturday offers, special hours, online options, and sales make perfect business sense.

4. Highlight Your Local Presence with Video

Smart local businesses use video to introduce local customers to their business and their neighborhoods! Using LNP Media Group’s professional video production services, companies can show customers their store, their deals, introduce sales people, and even feature customer testimonials.

Best of all, videos can be used on corporate websites, in digital ads, or in promoted posts on social media. They can even be included in email marketing campaigns.

5. Lancaster Loves Print

Lancaster County loves print media. LNP helps customers look for information, offers, and ads from local businesses. LNP usually offers special Small Business Saturday sections or magazines, often part of a holiday marketing package. Ask your LNP Media Group representative for details.

6. Email Marketing Allows Business to Target Local Shoppers

Want to reach people who are most likely to buy local? Need to limit your message by geography or interests?  As a targeted email provider, LNP Media Group can offer clients the option to add or exclude a smaller list of emails from a targeted eblast. These tools may be helpful for organizations that want to target subsets of new users, existing customers, or lapsed customers.

Is Your Business Ready to Participate in Cyber Monday?

In 2019 Cyber Monday sales exceeded online sales for Black Friday, according to a report by Adobe. Many of 2019’s sales offered the option to purchase items online and pick up in-store. Although this day seems to be dominated by big players, local businesses can prosper as well.

Any business that is interested in getting more Millennial customers in Lancaster County should consider investing in e-commerce capabilities. After all, Millennials make 60% of their purchases online, according to a recent survey.

Wondering what you can do to make Cyber Monday another big sales day for your organization?

1. Cyber Monday and SEM

Black Friday isn’t the only day that triggers consumers’ F.O.M.O. (Fear of Missing Out.) Search engine marketing (SEM) is a great way to keep consumers updated on inventory counts such as “Only Two Days Remaining” or “Only One Hour Left!” It is also a great way to create online urgency by promoting one-day offers.
And remember that if businesses limit their offers to contained geographic areas, they can ask customers to drive to a local location to pick up their purchases.

2. Combine Cyber and Local with LancasterOnline Campaigns!

There are so many ways to promote Cyber Monday deals on LancasterOnline. And any ad that is placed on this local news and entertainment site is clickable so that potential customers can click through to the purchase page.

3. Cyber Monday Gets Even More Clickable with Email Marketing

Whether a company chooses to create a unique email campaign or sponsor one of LNP Media Group’s e-newsletters, these businesses can reach thousands of online shoppers on Cyber Monday. Sponsoring an e-newsletter ad is an easy way to broadcast Cyber Monday deals, and the email ad will be clickable so that Lancaster County shoppers can click through right to the sponsor’s website and offers.

Attract Last-Minute Christmas Shoppers

The days leading up to Christmas are the perfect time to get in front of last-minute shoppers.  Google reports that the average American does about 53% of shopping the week before Christmas.  There are many great ways to take advantage of the rush.

1. Deck the Halls with Social Media Marketing

Social media is a great way to grab consumers’ attention and share information about the latest deals and specials.  Businesses that want to ensure they reach the right people at the right time should create social media ads. Facebook, Instagram, and others have sophisticated targeted tools that allow companies to find their best customers based on geography, interests, and behaviors that are often very detailed, including some purchase history. Social media also allow advertisers to run promotions quickly, even for just one day.

2. Email Marketing Ideas

LNP Media Group offers sponsorships on a variety of daily new emails that are delivered to local shoppers. We are also a targeted email provider, which means Lancaster County businesses can add or exclude a smaller list of emails from a targeted eblast. This may be helpful for organizations that want to target subsets of new users, existing customers, or lapsed customers.

3. Geo-Targeting Offers Precise Delivery Opportunities

When a business needs to reach customers in a very small, defined area, geofencing can help. This ad tools allows companies to send promotions, ads, coupons, and more to mobile phones when the consumer enters a predefined geofenced site. Organizations can get the attention of last-minute shoppers by sending geo-targeted ads to consumers when they are at the mall or in a competitor’s store. Some retailers send offers to people nearby to drive foot traffic to their location.

4. Curbside Pickup Makes Last-Minute Shopping Easy

Having a curbside pickup in place makes digital shopping faster and easier for customers. Make sure your customers know that they can placed an order online, for convenient pickup later.
And remember, when shoppers begin running out of shopping time in the week leading up to Christmas, curbside pickup can offer a valuable shortcut that consumers appreciate.

Ring in New Year’s Eve!

New Year’s Eve is a big party night. Whether a business sells food, party supplies, event spaces, or rental limos, digital marketing can help Lancaster County companies be a part of the festivities.

When it comes to New Year’s Eve, Millennials are the biggest spenders. According to Anna Hecht for CNBC.com,

“Millennials love to splurge on experiences. They’re often more willing to spend their hard-earned dollars on making memories than on buying tangible things. New Year’s Eve is no exception. For a fun night out to celebrate the start of 2020, millennials (defined here as those 23 to 38) are willing to spend an average of $228.10, according to a recent survey from ticketing site Eventbrite. The poll was conducted online from Dec. 5 to Dec. 9, 2019, with 2,086 U.S. adults 18 or older. Even though millennials are known to spend less than previous generations, the amount they’re willing to put toward a New Year’s outing is about $42 more than the average amount Americans as a whole say they’re willing to spend, $185.60.”

Millennials are also the group that is most likely to start their shopping process online. So if a business wants to reach Millennials getting ready for New Year’s Eve, this is a great time to invest in digital marketing.

1. Start the Celebration with SEM Ideas

Use search engine marketing to promote end-of-year sales. It is an excellent time to run promotions urging Lancaster County Millennials to spend their newly acquired gift cards or exchange unwanted gifts. Create a special landing page for deals shoppers can get when they use gift card sales or do returns.

2. Social Media Marketing Ideas

Social media offers the chance to use photos, videos, or slideshows to showcase a business. Whether the company is offering special New Year’s Eve dinners, snack ideas, the latest fashions, bags, or games for kids, social media can help. Create ads, place posts in feeds, utilize Facebook Marketplace, or create live events like Facebook Live to notify their customers of sales, limited-supply, or special deals.

3. Email Marketing Ideas

Want to fill up a venue? Need to collect RSVPs for your upcoming event? Email marketing offers dozens of ways to communicate event details, share event pages, and even collect RSVPs. Emails also provide easy ways to upsell existing customers by reminding them of add-ons or accessories to complement their initial purchases.

4. Curbside Pickup Ideas

More and more people are celebrating New Year’s Eve at home, so this is the perfect time to offer curbside pickup of meals, catering, party supplies, or even clean up services. Make sure to promote the fact that your business makes it easy and safe to shop via curbside pickup.

Are You Ready to Get Digital This Holiday Season?

The world is changing fast, and digital is becoming a more critical part of the shopping journey. From researching future purchases to buying something in-store, apps, websites, emails, and social media all play a role in most shoppers’ consideration process.

More and more, even old-fashioned holiday shopping includes digital components. Consumers look online to see when the tree farm is open, where Santa is appearing, where to get cookie decorating supplies, how to get tickets for the Polar Express, and even to find hand-knitted stockings for the hearth. The fact is, whether customers are looking for old-fashioned nostalgia or the latest electronics, they start their search online.

Whether a company has a digital marketing program in place or if they need to build it from scratch, LNP Media Group has the digital marketing expertise needed to build and maintain robust digital marketing programs designed to increase our clients’ sales without killing their margins.

Make an appointment to talk with our experienced digital marketing team.  We have a wide range of programs that make it easy for your business to build a website, improve your SEO, market on search engines, create professional videos, begin email marketing, and more.

How to Choose a Lancaster County Digital Marketing Agency

How to Choose a Lancaster County Digital Marketing Agency

It doesn’t matter if you live in Lancaster or other parts of the country. Businesses everywhere have recognized that the marketing world is changing fast, and digital marketing companies are at the heart of this exciting time. Thousands of companies in Pennsylvania and beyond are trying to adapt their sales funnels in ways that take advantage of digital marketing. The COVID-19 pandemic made digital communications more critical than ever, and companies quickly pivoted to offer online orders, better websites, click to order features, and enhanced social media marketing programs.

Technology can be pretty complicated, and digital advertising is no exception. That’s why so many business owners can get overwhelmed when they try to master this medium. Even companies that are highly skilled at using technology, computers, and apps can quickly get frustrated when it comes to digital marketing. And no wonder. Digital marketing services are one of the fastest moving industries in the world right now, and that means practitioners must continuously learn new ways to achieve results.

According to the 2019 Digital Marketing Report from Promethean Research,

“Digital agency competition has grown dramatically in recent years, and we expect it to continue throughout the next 3-5 years. This increase in competition is due in large part to a few key shifts in the industry…the days of just being present in the marketplace being enough to build a business are coming to an end. Brands are demanding specialists, and as technological prowess becomes an even greater differentiator, we’re seeing the market shake out the less capable agencies.”

Thanks to ever-changing technology and ad platforms, even a marketing agency can find it hard to stay up-to-date. That’s why so many businesses are now initiating searches for a reliable digital marketing agency to help them navigate through the recent explosion in online marketing tools and ad platforms. A competent digital marketing agency will not only manage your marketing, they’ll also help you stay on top of news regarding evolving technology audiences, which digital platforms they are using, what advertising tools are available, and how to get the best results from each digital media.

Add regulatory and international political issues to the mix, and things really get complicated. Because digital services are so widespread and are often so effective, it’s been used for good and bad purposes. In attempts to prevent abuse, regulators can force ad platforms to change in an instant. Recently (as-of August 2020) TikTok struggled with political accusations that almost resulted in losing the American audience and American advertisers. Facebook continues to deal with requests to remove or revise sensitive ad targeting data. And American and international legislators persist in their efforts to place restrictions on digital properties.On June 7, 2020, Elizabeth Schultz from CNBC reported,

“The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has imposed a combined $9.5 billion in antitrust fines against Google since 2017, and its boss hints Amazon and Apple might be next in line. Facebook, meanwhile, has been subject to probes from competition and data protection authorities across the E.U. since the region’s strict new set of privacy rules called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect last year. As U.S. regulators and lawmakers step up their efforts to rein in big tech companies, Europe offers some valuable lessons.”

This can be pretty heavy stuff. So it’s not surprising that digital marketing agencies are continually learning and evolving to keep up with the breakneck pace of change. And to make things even more complex, the backend ad platforms for digital properties such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter are changing even faster than consumer-facing interfaces.

But don’t let this complexity scare you. Digital marketing agencies are available to help Lancaster County businesses make sense of this fast-moving and sometimes confusing world. Whether you sell pizza, Porsches, or pediatric care, you need a smart marketing company to help you create flawless interactions with customers, clients, and patients online. No business is exempt.

According to an article by J. Clement in Statista,

“The Internet has become one of the most vital tools for communication, information, and entertainment in today’s globalized world. As of 2020, more than half of the global population is connected to the Internet, and while some regions still lack the infrastructure that is needed to provide sufficient online coverage, others are seeing internet penetration rates of close to 100 percent.”

Whether you’re considering placing ads on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Google ads, YouTube, or another digital ad platform, a digital agency can help. A full-service marketing agency knows what’s happening with the programming environment, how audience parameters are changing, why advertising methodologies are shifting, and who is coming out with the next big advertising innovation.

The advertising rules are changing every day. No wonder big and small companies in Lancaster County are seeking skilled experts to stay on top of these continual changes. When an organization hires a digital marketing agency, it is letting external specialists focus on time-consuming marketing tasks so that the organization can stay focused on other parts of their business.

How Can a Digital Marketing Agency Help Your Business?

The best digital agencies are ones that can act as a true marketing partner. These marketing companies understand how to reach their client’s short-term and long term goals. In order to help firms grow profitably, the digital marketing agency must have a “When you win, we win” mentality.

Good marketing services have many traits in common, including:

1. The marketing company knows how to find the newest and best ways to reach your customers.

Any good digital agency understands that the world is always changing. While it can be hard to keep up, this also means that new opportunities are popping up everywhere. A skilled marketing company keeps track of innovations and continually evaluates them for their clients.

2. Digital marketing is never a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Experienced digital agencies know that marketing services may need to stop or start quickly and are structured to meet these needs. They can scale marketing services up or down quickly, as needed. If a digital marketing agency tries to convince you to use a standardized program, that’s a red flag.

3. Responsible marketing agencies stay informed.

Your marketing agency must understand the value of new digital innovations quickly. They should be able to evaluate and suggest improved approaches or strategies proactively.

4. Your marketing company is producing the right content for the right platform or application.

Each platform uses different interfaces that train users to interact with ads in different ways. A smart digital marketing agency knows how to create content that is adapted to the preferences of each platform to maximize results.

5. The digital marketing company supplies rigorous reporting and optimization so you can make the most of your investment.

Reports are critical if you want to understand how well your investment is working. When your marketing services provide clear ROI, you have the information you need to increase or decrease marketing budgets confidently.

Look for an Experienced Digital Marketing Agency

Digital agencies are popping up everywhere. In fact, digital marketing agencies are one of the fastest-growing segments in business. But how do you find one that’s right for you?

Start by digging into their track record. Are they stable? Can they provide credible client references? Have they been in business for more than a few years? Looks for a digital marketing company that has a history of satisfied customers and a good track record helping companies to grow and succeed.

It’s also important to share your goals with your potential marketing company. Digital marketing guru Neil Patel gives this advice,

“Every business is different, as is every digital marketing agency. Digital marketing agencies usually specialize in one or two areas. And while many of them are “full-service,” they typically prefer projects within their specialty. So the first step in choosing the right digital marketing agency is understanding your goals and what you hope to achieve by working with one. It may be easier to break this down into deliverables, the goal of those deliverables, and the outcome you hope to achieve. Knowing these things helps you communicate what you wish to get out of the project. And when an agency knows what you’re looking for, they know whether they can actually help you without wasting anyone’s time.”

Case studies are another tool a digital marketing company will use to demonstrate their experience. Any marketing agency should be able to supply case studies and convincingly justify their expertise. Do they have certifications such as Google Analytics I.Q., Google Ads Certified, YouTube Certification, or Facebook Blueprint Certification?

Finally, ask about staffing. In a world filled with remote workers and freelance contractors, it’s smart to ask whether the digital marketing agency completes work in-house or if work is outsourced. Do they keep regular business hours? What will your digital marketing company team look like, what are their qualifications, and will you have direct access to them?  Will your team be easily reached for questions and change requests?

What Do Digital Marketing Agencies Cost?

If you’ve never worked with a digital marketing agency before, you may be concerned about the costs. However, a good marketing agency will balance those costs by creating new revenue streams and by building your reputation in ways that attract more business. So before you hire an outside agency, make sure you understand your marketing goals and the value of that additional revenue.

The fees from a full-service marketing agency will vary, and will incorporate fees they are charged by Facebook, Google, and others. Pricing changes based on the marketing channels used, the types of services you need from your digital marketing company, their experience and expertise, and more. A young startup may be cheaper, but they may not be able to match the results of a more experienced marketing partner.

When considering cost, weigh your investment against the digital marketing agency’s expertise, flexibility, and track record. The scope of work is also a critical consideration. Scope of work, or a statement of work, should be a written document developed prior to the start of work, that includes the deliverables you are getting from your digital marketing company, the type of work they are doing, and the number of channels they are using.

As a general rule, the more time it takes to complete the work, the more the marketing agency will charge. Using more digital tools and platforms is usually more complicated and time-consuming, and therefore costs more.

However, the best way to gauge costs is to compare your investment to expected results. Any marketing effort should be a tool to increase revenue. It doesn’t matter whether your digital marketing agency is expensive or cheap. If they can’t improve your bottom line, they’re not worth it.

What do Digital Marketing Agencies Do?

While every digital agency is different, most lists of marketing services include some or all of the following specialties. Even if they don’t provide the services in-house, they may partner with trusted resources who specialize in one area of digital marketing services.  Here are some of the core competencies clients need.

Customized Marketing Plans

Some marketing agencies offer prebuilt plans that they use for every client. While this can be a cost-efficient marketing strategy, a one-size-fits-all approach rarely gives clients precisely what they need to meet their marketing goals. Digital marketing services should be able to create a unique plan of action designed to improve your results. Every Pennsylvania business has unique challenges and opportunities.

When you work with a digital marketing agency that creates customized plans for each client, you’ll pay for the services you need, and built in ways designed to help you succeed. Look for a full-service digital marketing agency that has cultivated several long-term relationships. Ongoing relationships are often a sign of competency and effectiveness.

In Lancaster County, it makes sense to look for a comprehensive marketing company with strong local ties, like LNP Media Group. As a full-service digital marketing agency, we create plans that use printdigitalvideo, and more to meet all your marketing needs.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization

If you want people to visit your website, SEO is absolutely critical. In the digital age, the website is the hub of a company’s communications. A hardworking website can be your best salesperson, biggest catalog, most helpful brochure, and most responsive customer service. And SEO is the most effective way to lead people to your site.

Ranking high on a search engine isn’t easy.

  • More than 7.8 billion searches occur each day.
  • Over 4 million blog posts are published on the Internet every day.
  • As of 2019, there were approximately 1.94 billion websites in the world.
  • More than 5 billion pages are currently indexed on the web.

With smart SEO techniques, your digital marketing agency can dramatically increase the visibility of your website and drive more qualified leads to click on your site.

When you interview digital marketing agencies, make sure they understand SEO and are able to execute SEO strategies such as creating interlinking and inbound links, website optimization, increasing indexability of files, performing technical optimization, increasing your sites mobile-friendliness, optimizing for local and “near me” terms, optimizing meta tags, and creating content in ways that increase your website’s search ranking.

Google Search Ads

Many full-service digital marketing agencies offer paid search advertising, also called pay-per-click or PPC. That’s because many businesses have found that paid search is one of the most effective ways to drive more qualified traffic to their website. When your full-service digital marketing agency effectively combines paid search with other marketing tools, your company can increase sales, awareness, and conversion results across the board.

A qualified digital marketing agency can help create paid search plans that are fast, flexible, and customized to your business needs. Whether you’re looking to increase awareness, leads, sales, or inquiries, paid search is one of the best ways to identify and convert qualified prospects.

Google is the largest search engine, accounting for almost 90% of all search traffic. So it makes sense to look for a digital marketing agency that is Google Certified or a Google Partner.

Google Display Ads

While paid search ads are effective, Google Display ads are another powerful tool to include in your marketing arsenal. A skilled digital marketing agency can use Google Display ads to offer a compelling way to engage with your website. Display ads appear on some of the millions of popular websites at a relatively low cost-per-click. Smart digital marketing teams will also help you determine if retargeted ads are appropriate for your business and can program ad delivery in ways that prevent your ads from appearing on websites that are not good fits with your company.

Integrated Campaigns

While some digital marketing agencies like to recommend only one digital medium, good marketing agencies will use a range of tools in ways that integrate with other online and offline marketing tactics, including print ads, social media marketing, and more. A skilled digital agency can provide consistent, integrated campaigns across all channels that help your enterprise meet its marketing goals.

Retargeting Ads

A retargeting ad follows a website’s visitors as they travel to other websites, intending to attract users back to their site, even after they’ve left. An effective digital marketing company can re-engage potential customers by delivering ads that encourage them to return and convert. This kind of consistent retargeting is an effective way to promote repeat visits to websites.

LancasterOnline

LancasterOnline is the #1 news website in Lancaster County, with over 1 million unique visitors each month, and over 10,000 paid subscribers. Digital ads on LancasterOnline ensure your company’s messages are surrounded by well-read, credible, respected content. A skilled full-service digital marketing agency can recommend the best ways to leverage this digital powerhouse, including interactive quizzes, sweepstakes, sponsored content, and contests. Sponsored (or collaborative) content from LancasterOnline is a way for advertisers to seamlessly integrate brand promotions in engaging and informative articles written by the LNP Media Group team. Marketing agencies can also help the client create business directory ads, reveal ads, homepage takeovers, sponsorships, and e-newsletter sponsorships. Your agency will identify the smartest way to reach highly-engaged, local audiences.

Social Media Management and Advertising

The majority of your customers already use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube or Twitter. Social media is a powerful marketing tool and continues to grow in influence and usage. In fact, social media marketing has become one of the most influential media available. Experienced digital marketing agencies will leverage social media marketing tools such as laser-focused audience targeting tools, tracking pixels, retargeting pixels, video marketing, in-app advertising, custom audiences, and lookalike audiences.

Advanced Audience Targeting

Using sophisticated targeting capabilities on Facebook, Instagram, Google Display, Twitter, YouTube, and more, your digital marketing company should be able to create precise, customized social media audiences who are most likely to make purchases from your business. By selecting the right combinations of demographics, interests, hobbies, locations, behaviors, and even your own email lists, social media ads can be delivered to highly-qualified audiences. A capable marketing company will monitor and optimize social media ads using a/b testing, detailed analytics, and performance dashboards.

Video Advertising

Video is fast becoming one of the most effective ways to share information and persuade people on social media. Online consumers spend almost six hours per day in front of videos. 85% of the U.S. online audience watches videos. Millennials watch more video vs. other age groups. And there’s a lot to view. In fact, more than 8 billion video views occur on Facebook alone, every day.

So it’s no surprise that video marketing is one of the most effective ways to drive consumer engagement. Social video ads are the #1 way consumers discover new businesses from which they later make purchases.

An experienced full-service digital marketing agency will be able to help you create high-quality, affordable video. LNP Media Group’s video team can shoot on location or in our state-of-the-art video studio in the heart of downtown Lancaster. We create videos on behalf of our digital marketing clients, but we also produce videos for other marketing agencies.

Mobile Marketing and Geo-fencing

All digital agencies should demonstrate a deep understanding of mobile marketing. Mobile internet use has exploded in recent years. Advances in internet speed, mobile display, and cell phone costs mean that mobile use will continue to grow in the coming years.

CNBC correspondent Lucy Handler reported,

“Almost three quarters (72.6 percent) of internet users will access the web solely via their smartphones by 2025, equivalent to nearly 3.7 billion people…2 billion people currently access the internet via only their smartphone, which equates to 51 percent of the global base of 3.9 mobile users.”

In addition to ensuring a mobile-friendly website, mobile marketing includes mobile-only ad delivery. Savvy digital marketing agencies use geo-targeted mobile advertising, or geo-fencing, to target audiences based on virtual geographic boundaries. Geo-fencing allows a marketing agency to identify where your target audience will be, then deliver ads to their mobile device once they enter or leave the geo-fenced location.

Content Marketing

Today’s full-service marketing agency must understand how to leverage content marketing strategies. In addition to creating consistent, compelling messaging, content marketing is a long-term strategy that focuses on building strong relationships through relevant, high-quality content.

Adept digital agencies should be able to develop and execute marketing campaigns that include professional, engaging content that leverages your business’s key selling points. These marketing agencies will use content to drive people to your website, social media page, or a customized landing page. Whether you want your prospects to fill out a form, opt-in to email newsletters, enter a contest, take a quiz, or request an appointment, top-level content keeps your customers moving through the sales funnel.

Your digital marketing agency should be able to integrate content marketing with blogs, videos, infographics, email marketing, paid ads, and user-generated content.

Email Marketing

Some digital marketing agencies don’t bother with email marketing. They don’t understand that email marketing is an effective and efficient digital strategy if you can reach highly-qualified prospects. In fact, people like reading about your offers in emails. 60% of consumers prefer to be contacted by brands through email. When recipients opt-in to receive email marketing, it’s not only 100% CAN-SPAM compliant, but also more effective: every $1 spent on email marketing has an expected ROI of $44.

A smart full-service marketing agency will ensure your email message reaches valuable prospects. For example, LNP Media Group offers access to 200 million highly-targeted, specific “intenders” who are ready to engage with your offer.

Make sure your agency’s marketing services include guaranteed performance.  LNP Media Group guarantees a minimum open rate of 8% or a click rate of 1%. If not met, the campaign will be delivered again at no charge.

Custom Landing Page Design

The average landing page conversion is about 2.35%, but well-designed landing pages can convert 11% or more. Make sure your agency’s digital marketing services include designing and programming custom landing pages to complement conversion-driven campaigns.

The most effective landing pages may include forms to capture leads and user data. Email or retargeting ads can drive to a landing page with a call-to-action and engaging content to drive conversions. Your digital marketing company should understand how to design useful landing pages and have experience with exceptional conversion rates.

Web Design and Optimization

A website is the beating heart of your digital marketing program. It’s one of the most potent and influential communications your prospects and customers will see, so make sure it’s working well and programmed to meet your marketing goals.

Today’s digital consumer expects a vibrant, professional, easy-to-navigate website. Slow load times, difficult navigation, non-working links, small text, and mobile issues can convince your prospect to leave your site and look for other options. If your agency’s digital services don’t include continual optimizations of your website, you’re missing a significant sales and marketing opportunity.

A good digital marketing agency not only creates attractive websites, but they also understand how to program for SEO, are skilled at including conversion tools such as forms or click-to-call buttons, and they know how to drive qualified users to your website.

If your website isn’t operating at optimal efficiency, it may be time to update or replace it. Choose a digital marketing agency with a history of building hardworking websites. Make sure your marketing agency can demonstrate that their sites are visited frequently and are meeting client objectives.

E-Commerce

Online commerce is more common than ever. More and more people are going online to buy everything from coffee to Corvettes. However, building an online commerce site requires deep expertise in online catalogs, SEO, e-commerce platforms, exceptional reporting, and associated marketing programs to attract or retarget site visitors.

When you’re looking for a digital marketing agency to help you create or improve your e-commerce, make sure they have a significant team at their disposal. Online commerce is rarely a one-person job. Ask about their experience building or optimizing other e-commerce sites, and make sure the digital marketing company has worked extensively with e-commerce platforms like WooCommerce, Shopify, Big Commerce, and Weebly.

Finally, ask about reporting procedures. Discuss your e-commerce goals, your limitations, what you need to know, and how you prefer to get reports. Any e-commerce program will need to be regularly monitored and optimized, so avoid marketing agencies with a “set it and forget it” attitude.

OTT and CTV

As any good full-service digital marketing agency can tell you, digital marketing isn’t limited to computers and mobile phones. More and more smart TVs are getting into the game with OTT and CTV.

OTT is an acronym for “over-the-top.” Marketing agencies use the term to describe the delivery of film, video, and TV content via the Internet and “over-the-top” of cable, in addition to or instead of standard cable or satellite services.

Connected TV, or CTV, is the term used by digital marketing agencies to describe the integration of Internet and enhanced web features that can be seen on new-generation TV sets and include streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTubeTV, and Disney +.

Despite its rapid growth, OTT and CTV advertising can be confusing, even for seasoned marketers. An experienced digital marketing agency will understand how to adapt creative and messaging while continually tracking analytics and budgets.

Whether you choose OTT, CVT, or both, make sure your marketing agency provides transparency, measurement, and skilled media targeting.

Transparent Reports

When you’re looking for a full-service digital marketing agency to manage your SEO, social media, website, e-commerce, email marketing, and marketing strategies, you want to find a partner who can help you reach more customers and generate more revenue. Efficient, transparent reporting plays a critical role in determining how well your digital agency is achieving your goals. .

A skilled digital marketing company will measure the performance of your digital campaigns by tracking a variety of measurements that can include clicks, views, shares, conversions, and even sales. By combining tools such as Google Search Console, Google Analytics, tracking code, UTM codes, and digital dashboards, a smart digital agency will accurately track your campaign metrics in detail and provide you with recommendations for improvement.

How a Digital Agency Knows if Your Campaign is Working

Before you choose a marketing agency, take time to discuss measurements. Your business deserves regular reporting delivered in an easy-to-understand format. All reports should include conversions or goals and connect performance back to fees and investments. However, each platform offers different types of reporting. Here’s an overview of basic reporting parameters.

Website Reporting

Your marketing agency should deliver website reports at least once a month. Those reports should include key metrics, including unique visitors or users. A unique user is a single person who visits a site. This number will differ from total visits, which includes multiple visits from a single person.

A responsible digital marketing company will also include details of those visits that should consist of time spent on the site, the average time spent on a page, how many pages were viewed on average per visit, and the traffic source (another website, search, social, etc.)

Your digital agency must share the bounce rate (people who visit then immediately leave) and the click-through rate (people who click on links to key destinations.) Ask for numbers of new and returning visitors.  And if your website features e-commerce, links to e-commerce, or submits leads, ask your marketing services to include an ROI for click-throughs.

Social Media Key Metrics

All social media platforms provide a variety of measurement tools, which allows your digital agency to provide detailed reporting. Social media reports should include unique visitors to your page, number of followers, and increases or decreases compared to the previous month. Platform reports should also include views, comments, likes, or shares.

For organic posts, smart digital marketing agencies will report on the best-performing content and make recommendations for future content.

Digital services need to analyze cost per click, costs per thousand reach or impressions, and the click-through rate in all social media ad reports.

Email Marketing Metrics

When you work with a full-service marketing agency on email marketing, reports will include and open rate, clicks, and cost per clicks. Good marketing services will compare your campaign’s performance to industry averages. And if clicks are associated with sales, leads, or participation, your digital agency should provide real ROI.  If your agency provided the email list, make sure your reports include evaluations of list quality and, when appropriate, recommendations to improve targeting or list quality.

SEO and Search Marketing Metrics

Digital agencies use SEO and search marketing to increase site traffic, so any report should include clear measurements on increases in site traffic. Effective SEO will move you up the search engine rankings, so make sure your reports map out the ranking per keyword, as well as views, organic traffic, direct traffic, and details on the number of calls and how locations requests were completed.

e-Commerce Metrics

When you invest in an e-commerce program, you’re looking for sales. Any digital marketing agency should provide clear, concise reports for online sales, including conversion values and revenue. Your digital agency needs to include clicks and views in their reports, as well as data on new and return customer traffic.

Which Lancaster Digital Marketing Agency is Right for You?

We all know digital activity has exploded. In the last decade, billions of consumers have installed in-home Wi-Fi, visited websites, read blogs, opened social media accounts, clicked on emails, viewed online videos, watched CTV and OTT ads, and purchased online. Digital marketing is mainstream. Your grandma has a smartphone and Facebook account, and your two-year-old spends time on an iPad.

At the 2017 Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Annual Leadership Meeting, P&G’s Chief Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard, told audiences in Hollywood, Florida, “The days of digital getting a pass are over.” After spending time explaining why digital marketing agencies must get better at reporting, he made it clear that digital advertising must make direct connections between marketing efforts and business impact.

However, three years later, many digital marketing agencies still don’t explain how their digital strategies are helping their clients’ business.

When you’re looking for a marketing agency, make sure your agency team is able to report on clicks and impressions. Challenge your digital marketing agency to tie marketing to tangible business outcomes.

How can you do that? Make sure your marketing agency is staffed with seasoned experts who understand the entire marketing journey, not just the task at hand. Discuss turnover and the stability of the company.  Ask questions. Look at reports from other clients. Find people who fit well with your team, your business, and your working style.

When you’re ready to look for a new marketing agency, consider LNP Media Group. We’re part of a 200-year-old tradition of content creation and advertising. We’re backed by a trustworthy company with deep employee reserves and reliable resources. We know Pennsylvania and Lancaster County, but we also understand business strategy, e-commerce, web development, video, social media, content marketing, offline marketing, and more. Ready to talk? Click here to set up a time to talk about what we can do to help you grow your business.

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Everything Your Lancaster County Business Needs to Know About Social Media Right Now

Everything Your Lancaster County Business Needs to Know About Social Media Right Now

When it comes to social media, it pays to stay up-to-date. That’s because all types of social media are changing quickly, and what worked well last year might not perform as well in 2020 and beyond. Lancaster County businesses and organizations need a way to keep track of what’s going on with the top social media platforms; YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat.

NOTE: If you’re reading this in 2021 or beyond, things may have changed significantly since we first penned this article in September of 2020, so be sure to check in with our LNP Media Group team before making any marketing decisions.

Changes are happening faster than ever in the social media world. Before digital, it could take decades for a new medium to mature. But today’s media giants can emerge in just a few years. For example, it took fifteen years for Facebook to grow into the world-dominating social media platform that it is today. Google-owned YouTube was created in 2005 and moved into the number one social media spot just a few years ago. But TikTok, currently a top social media platform, was launched in 2016, and by 2018 it had already reached over 500 million users.

As each new social media platform is created, the media world holds its breath to see if this new entity will dominate or dissipate. After all, for every big success like TikTok, there is a string of failures. Companies like DailyBooth, FriendFeed, iTunes Ping, Google+, Google Buzz, Meerkat, Friendster, Yik Yak, and Vine all came and went in a matter of years. Other companies were absorbed when larger, more prominent entities purchased them.

While strong competitors continue to enter the marketplace, YouTube and Facebook (and Facebook-owned Instagram) manage to continue to dominate the social media world. According to a 2019 Report from Pew Research,

“Facebook – which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary – remains one of the most widely used social media sites among adults in the U.S. Roughly seven-in-ten adults (69%) say they ever use the platform. (A separate 2018 Center survey showed Facebook use among U.S. teens had dropped in recent years.) YouTube is the only other online platform measured that matches Facebook’s reach: 73% of adults report using the video sharing site. But certain online platforms, most notably Instagram and Snapchat, have an especially strong following among young adults.”

Yes, YouTube and Facebook are well-established and very profitable. But they don’t rest on their laurels. These giants stay strong because they are constantly innovating in ways that allow them to compete, provide value, and stay relevant. As new apps and innovations tap into new needs, wants, and desires, the existing social media giants innovate quickly to offer similar products. Sometimes these innovations are a big success, like Instagram Stories, and sometimes it simply fails, like Google+.

With so much happening in the world of social media, it can be hard to keep up. Happily, for Lancaster County businesses, LNP Media Group has made it easy for you to stay current with today’s social media offerings. In this article, we offer easy-to-understand guides to the top social media platforms, including what they are, who’s using them, advertising opportunities, new features, and the controversial aspects of each.

YOUTUBE

It’s hard to imagine a world without YouTube, but this video giant has only been around since 2005. It was easy to see its potential early on, which is why, within a year of its founding, Google purchased the wildly popular video publishing platform, and continues ownership today.

YouTube is a social media platform that makes it easy for people to post videos. This user-generated content is combined with relevant ad and commercial information. While leading media companies create top-notch content specifically for YouTube, the bulk of the platform’s appeal still lies in the value of user-generated video. Whether you want to look for 5-year-old math geniuses or 90-year-olds explaining Depression-era cooking, YouTube has something for everyone. In fact, more than 2 billion people use YouTube each month. Hundreds of new videos are uploaded every minute. By YouTube’s own estimate, the social media monolith provides about two-thirds of all the content on the Web. But as big and significant as YouTube already is, it is still seeking to expand and grow. Recently, YouTube launched YouTubeTV to compete with cable and streaming services like Hulu.

YouTube is also in the final phases of testing “Shorts,” a video app reportedly designed to compete with TikTok. According to sources at YouTube,

“We’re testing out a new way for creators to easily record multiple clips directly in the YouTube mobile app and upload as one video. If you’re in this experiment, you’ll see an option to ‘create a video’ in the mobile upload flow. Tap or hold the record button to record your first clip, then tap again or release the button to stop recording that clip. Repeat these steps until you’re done capturing footage up to a maximum length of 15 seconds. Creators will also have the ability to adjust the recording speed and also set a countdown timer for their multi-segment video uploads. If you’d like to upload a longer video, you’ll still be able to do so by uploading from your phone gallery instead of recording through the app. We’re starting these experiments on mobile (both Android and iOS) with a small group of people while we gather feedback.

While YouTube offers a wide range of advertising tools and offerings, businesses can benefit from YouTube without placing paid ads. Many companies host YouTube “Channels” and post information and how-to videos. Some firms choose to host their website videos on YouTube to reduce site download time.

While some businesses use YouTube videos as a way to post infomercials or self-promoting videos, YouTube videos from media giants like Bon Appetit, Vanity Fair, Autocar, and even Playboy are now big money makers for the ailing print publishing industry. When these kinds of content providers choose to become part of the YouTube Partner Program, they can keep a percentage of the ad revenue generated by their videos. And since many of these channels get over a hundred thousand views each month, those revenues are substantial.

Some media sources such as comedian Mike Falzone also require channel memberships for premium content, sell merchandise on the platform, use Super Chat & Super Stickers, and generate YouTube Premium Revenue.

EXAMPLE OF CHANNEL MEMBERS

https://www.youtube.com/user/mikefalzone 

But organizations don’t have to utilize a celebrity with more than 100,000 followers to get customers from YouTube. Even if the company is not in the Partner Program, they can place ads on YouTube. There are many advertising options to choose from, and they’re changing all the time. The best-known YouTube advertising options are skippable in-stream ads and non-skippable in-stream ads. But advertisers can also choose from a range of ad options. Discovery ads appear next to related YouTube videos, as part of a YouTube search result, or on the YouTube mobile homepage. Bumper ads usually convey very short messages. These non-skippable ads are scheduled to play before, during, or after another video. (This type of advertising is called a donut ad in broadcast.)

Masthead ads aren’t available to everyone, but they are YouTube powerhouses. Masthead ads allow advertisers to run a featured video without the sound for up to 30 seconds at the top of the YouTube Home feed. However, advertisers must meet specific criteria to qualify for Masthead ad access.

It’s important to remember that different ad options each come with varying production specifications and ad requirements. For example, some types of ads allow clickable links, so those advertisers need to have a hard-working landing page in place. Some ads require a video, while others can be created using text and graphics only.

Some video ads are set up to require the user to see the entire ad; others can be skipped after a few seconds. For marketers who have purchased a skippable ad, it’s smart to make sure that the core message is clearly communicated in the first 3-5 seconds.

The point is, it’s smart to select the YouTube ad tools that are the best choice for the marketing goals and budget before the content is created. Once a marketer chooses an ad format, they’ll know which types of information, images, video, text, or calls-to-action need to be considered as they produce their ads.

When it comes to targeting audiences, YouTube offers a deep set of audience demographics and psychographics, including keyword contextual targeting, topics, video remarketing, affinity audiences, life events, and custom-intent audiences that allow marketers to reach viewers as they’re making purchase decisions using keyword searches as qualifiers. It also allows advertisers to create duplicate audiences, create audiences based on connections, and create audiences based on website traffic. Using the audience targeting tools properly will help a wide range of industries get the best results for any type of YouTube ad.

When placing ads or videos on YouTube, it’s also important to understand that many types of YouTube content allow comments, and those comments can be vulgar or abusive. The video’s creator is responsible for monitoring comments. However, for marketers who want to protect a brand (or a client) from being associated with abusive or offensive language, potential comments may be a concern.

FACEBOOK

More than one billion people are active on Facebook each month. Started in 2004, Facebook is the most popular format for sharing personal news, photos, and personal information. Although Facebook encourages videos, most posts are still using photos or images in personal posts and ads.

Facebook is an attractive format for advertisers looking for clicks because Facebook users have been well-trained to “Like” and click on posts and advertising. It is a reliable and cost-effective way to create awareness and drive. This social media platform is set up to run inexpensive, short-run ads as well as pricier, ongoing campaigns. This means that the ads users see are usually a mix of locally-owned businesses and national advertisers.

Although most Facebook ads use still images, the use of videos is an easy way to make Facebook ads more compelling. Authentic and less polished images and videos often outperform stock or slick, high-budget commercials.

Facebook has easy-to-use tools that allow advertisers to create slideshows that play as videos and offers some free stock photography to advertisers.

However, Facebook believes that text or logos in images or videos diminishes the Facebook usage experience, and they often penalize advertisers for this. Advertisers who put text or logos on videos or images may find that Facebook will distribute their ads more slowly, or not distributing them at all.

However, Facebook ads do come with descriptors, headlines, and space for text so that the ad message can be explained.

Facebook ads also allow comments, so it’s essential to carefully monitor the advertisement and hide or block comments and users as needed.

The Facebook Ads Manager tool offers precise targeting, positioning, and analysis. However, some categories are not allowed to advertise on Facebook, including alcohol, tobacco, gambling, firearms, adult content, some types of loan businesses, and many other controversial categories. Additionally, any advertising that is promoting political or issues-based content will need to go through a strict ad authorization process. Any ads that refer to social and political issues, finance, health, or body image will take longer to place, and longer to approve. Facebook will reject many messages that would be acceptable in other advertising platforms.

Facebook allows advertisers to create duplicate audiences, create audiences based on connection, and create audiences based on website traffic.

An experienced ad professional can help you identify potential issues in advance to ensure your ads run as expected.

INSTAGRAM

More than 1 billion people use Instagram every month. Instagram is owned by Facebook and shares an ads manager, which means you can target ads in the same ways, and the same advertising restrictions hold for Instagram. However, Instagram works very differently than Facebook.

Influencers, people with thousands or even millions of followers, often sell the chance to feature a product or service on their feed. These placements can cost as little as $20 for a low-level Influencer, to $1 million for a mention on a top-tier influencer’s feed.

While Influencers are undoubtedly a significant factor for marketers, Instagram also offers video and image ad opportunities for advertisers that can be placed using the Facebook ads manager tool.

Importantly, for most posts, clicks are not allowed (some exceptions apply for accounts with followings of 10K+.) Advertisers looking for click-throughs from Instagram should invest in ads.

Comments on Instagram tend to be much more favorable than on Facebook, but negative comments can appear. Because most people comment via phones, hearts, and emojis are common.

While videos and Stories have been a part of Instagram for a while, Instagram recently introduced Instagram Reels, which offers the same kind of easy-to-use, sometimes over-the-top video editing tools and effects tools already in place on TikTok and Snapchat.

 

 Image courtesy of Instagram.com

TIKTOK

Estimates report that more than 800 million people use TikTok each month. This easy-to-use app has only been around for a few years, but because it makes it easy to upload, customize, and share videos quickly, it has rapidly grown to one of the most popular online platforms. TikTok fans claim it’s one of the easiest ways to make everyday events fun, funny, and sharable.

According to Maryam Mohsin on the Oberlo blog in July 2020,

“TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms in the world which presents an alternative version of online sharing. It allows users to create short videos with music, filters, and some other features… What helps TikTok stand out among the competition is that it’s more of an entertainment platform, instead of a lifestyle platform. And what makes it so attractive is that practically anyone can become a content provider because of the simplicity of using the app.”

While TikTok is wildly popular among teens and Millennials, older users are not as familiar with the app. The interface shows two feeds side-by-side. The feed on the left is called For You, and is a predictive learning feed, which means it is designed to deliver videos based on your preferences and previous viewing patterns. The right-hand feed offers popular and trending videos, as well as some wild cards, which means the content can be surprising or even unwelcome.

This video from Social Media Marketing is a good tutorial for advertisers and new users.

This platform advises marketers, “Don’t make ads. Make TikToks!” However, once you begin using the ad creation tools, you’ll see similarities with many other social media platforms. As with Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Snapchat, you must choose from a set of standard campaign objectives. On TikTok these include reach, traffic, views, app installs, and website conversions.

TikTok started in China, so many of its ad tools and content delivery options are still focused on Asian markets. While international marketers can choose from a variety of placements, U.S. advertisers must stick with the TikTok basics. The ad placement tools are similar to those used for Facebook and will feel familiar to most social media pros. TikTok does not restrict categories, which is significant if you’re selling alcohol, tobacco, guns, gambling, or adult content.

As of this writing, the TikTok ad placement interface is changing weekly. They are working to make it easy to place ads to smaller audiences in smaller geographies, with the apparent goal of offering all of the ad flexibility of Google and Facebook.

TikTok demands video content for ads, but the platform offers an extensive library of stock video clips to edit and design templates that you can customize using your own videos or product images. This video creation tool is relatively new, and like other parts of the interface, changing weekly. Their goal is to make TikTok the easiest platform for advertisers to create and post video ads.

Recently TikTok has been accused of misusing data, with investigations pending. Want to know more about the August 2020 TikTok Trump Controversy? Click here.

LINKEDIN

LinkedIn is a job-oriented social media platform. While it boasts that more than 670 million people use LinkedIn each month, many of these people use it to increase job connections or look for new employment. As a rule, the audience is not as engaged on LinkedIn as on some other entertainment or socially-driven interfaces.

LinkedIn is trying to change that. It transformed itself over the past few years from a job site to a platform that offers all kinds of professional and industry news and advice.

LinkedIn also offers unparalleled access to users by professional title, place of employment, industry, self-reported salaries, and even educational degree. However, LinkedIn often requires minimum spends and charges a higher cost per thousand or cost-per-click compared with other social media platforms.

LinkedIn has added in-app ad placement to its ad suite, so marketers can send paid messages to LinkedIn users even when they are not on the platform. While advertisers don’t usually obtain high click-through numbers, with the right ad set up, they can expect highly-qualified clicks.

When advertisers want to send social media ads to their databases, they can upload the lists onto the platform, called a custom audience. Platforms like Pinterest and Facebook have a hard time matching work emails to their user databases because people often enter personal emails when creating new accounts. Companies with an extensive list of business emails will find that LinkedIn offers higher match rates. People with LinkedIn accounts often use business emails in their profiles, which allows LinkedIn to match a much higher percentage of business databases.

LinkedIn also allows advertisers to create duplicate audiences, create audiences based on connection, and create audiences based on website traffic.

TWITTER

More than 330 million people use Twitter each month. This social media is a valued source of news, tech, celebrity, and political updates. Posts, called Tweets, are created to be very relevant to the moment it is posted. Old tweets age quickly, and become outdated, sometimes within minutes.

Twitter can be an effective way to promote a celebrity or politician, communicate news and

information, talk about business resources, or launch the latest innovation. But when it comes to other marketing categories, Twitter ad performance can be lackluster.

Experienced Twitter ad pros can help you get the most from this fast-moving platform. The ad placement platform is structured to be similar to Google and Facebook ad managers. Twitter advertisers can use images or videos and can choose from a wide range of precise targeting tools. Like Google, Facebook, and other social media platforms, you can upload databases to create custom audiences, create duplicate audiences, and create audiences based on your followers or website traffic.

PINTEREST

More than 330 million people use Pinterest each month, and about 70% are female. This format has developed strong followings in certain categories, including (but not limited to) home, DIY, crafts, food, cocktails, books, fashion, travel, health and fitness, parenting, photography, mommy blogging, and design. This image-based platform has been compared to an online scrapbook, an idea book, and an aspirational, wish-list platform.

While Pinterest isn’t right for every advertiser, a well-executed campaign on Pinterest can deliver astronomically high impressions and impressive click-through rates. In addition to image ads, Pinterest also offers Shop the Look Pins, Recipe Pins, Product Pins, and other features that make this a smart advertising format for many types of businesses.

All Pinterest ads begin as a post or “Pin.” Unless the advertiser hides or removes the Pin, a Pinterest ad can continue to perform weeks, even months after the campaign is completed. Because the Pin can continue to work after the ad spend is exhausted, many marketers include a set of searchable hashtags in the text to make it easier for an interested buyer to find the information in the future.

SNAPCHAT

 

With more than 200 million people using Snapchat each month, this media platform ranks fifth in the U.S., but it dominates when it comes to young audiences. Snapchat reports that it reaches 90% of all 13-24 year-olds and 75% of all 13-34 year-olds in the U.S.

In January 2020, Maryam Mohsin reported in the Oberlo Blog,

“When it comes to communication style, Snapchat mirrors how people interact with each other face-to-face. The interactions are temporary, and not stored anywhere, much like real life. This enables users to share photos and videos that last a short time before they disappear forever- leaving no history that can come back to embarrass them later… it wasn’t long before Snapchat caught the attention of brands and marketers. With the potential to reach out to younger audiences, Snapchat is a great platform if your target market consists of millennials and Gen Z’ers.”

Like most social media ad platforms, Snapchat offers advertisers ways to drive website traffic and app installs. It also offers ad formats that promote calls and texts directly to a business. Instead of clicking, users swipe up to get to a site, download an app, make a call, or send a text to a company. Videos are the preferred ad medium on Snapchat, but advertisers can also use images.

Snapchat also allows users and businesses to create filters and lenses for posts (also called Snaps) that make it easy to create interesting effects.

For anyone not yet familiar with lenses, this video from Lens Studio explains,

Social Media Controversies Abound

Whenever companies grow very large in size, profits, or influence, governments take notice. And social media is no exception. In recent years, a long list of social media executives have been called to speak in front of committees about processes, technology, business ethics, monopolies, and even interference with elections.

Most recently, TikTok was targeted for sharing databases with the Chinese government. In response, President Trump has demanded that TikTok be banned from the U.S. Although the enforceability of such a presidential order is in debate, controversies around social media platforms continue. 

President Trump also offered to allow TikTok to continue in the U.S. if an American-owned company agrees to become the majority owner of TikTok. Microsoft has been in negotiations with TikTok, but the viability of such an acquisition, especially on an accelerated timeline, is in question.

On August 14, Eric J. Savitz reported in Barrons,

“The Trump administration threatened to shut down TikTok in the U.S. in an expanding war on China’s tech sector. TikTok parent ByteDance, a China-based company, has been seeking a buyer for the unit. Microsoft (ticker: MSFT) confirmed holding talks on a potential deal and said it expects to conclude negotiations by Sept. 15. Other megacap tech companies would likely face antitrust scrutiny from a TikTok deal; it would be hard to imagine regulators approving bids from Alphabet (GOOGL) or Facebook (FB) given Congressional and regulatory scrutiny on the power of the social networks. There have been reports that Twitter (TWTR) has explored a combination, but the math would get difficult given Twitter’s relatively modest market cap at under $30 billion. TikTok is expected to fetch as much as $35 to $40 billion.”

TikTok is not the only social media platform that has run into controversy. As social media platforms grow in prominence, power brokers at every level are taking note.

Instagram has no major government investigations in place, but parents across the United States continue to be concerned about the platforms ability to accelerate mean behavior among tween and teen peers, which may include posting inappropriate photos or videos, online bullying, posting nudes and attributing them to another person, and of course, the privacy and safety of minors.

Instagram struggles to provide safer ways for young users to interact with the platform and has experimented with hiding Likes and Shares in some countries as a way to reduce the social pressures associated with posting.

Twitter has recently come under investigation. As of this writing, the FBI is looking into Twitter hacks that took over the accounts of several prominent U.S. politicians, that point to more significant security concerns. Although the recent Twitter hacks seem to have a monetary motivation, the investigations are also part of a larger effort by the U.S. government to remove foreign influence in the American political process.

According to a story released by Reuters on August 14, 2020,

“The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is leading a federal inquiry into the Twitter hacking, two sources familiar with the situation said, after hackers seized control of accounts belonging to Joe Biden, Kim Kardashian, and others in what appeared to be a bitcoin scam. Earlier the FBI had said: ‘We are aware of today’s security incident involving several Twitter accounts belonging to high profile individuals. The accounts appear to have been compromised in order to perpetuate cryptocurrency fraud.’

YouTube continues to struggle with content creator transparency issues that affect ad revenue sources. Content protection issues have also resulted in battles with the FTC over content parameters.

On February 27, 2020, Julie Alexander reported in The Verge,

Concerns over transparency and a lack of communication between the company and an increasingly frustrated creator base grew over the last year. In an April 2019 letter to creators, (YouTube CEO), Wojcicki said the company will “be making a big push to meet creators where they want to communicate — through social, video, and one-on-one sessions.” In Wojcicki’s November letter to creators, the CEO acknowledged that the company heard “creators say it feels like an inconvenience when we run experiments or make changes,” adding that creators “ask why we’re trying to fix something that doesn’t seem broken, and they want more of a heads up.”

Facebook continues to struggle with regulations surrounding inappropriate content, bad actors, and data management. And many digital businesses, including Amazon, Google, and Facebook, are facing anti-trust suits and charges of monopolizing the market.

On July 29, 2020, Andrew Hutchinson reported in Social Media Today,

“As noted by House Judiciary Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (D-RI) in his closing remarks: ‘This hearing has made one fact clear to me: these companies as they exist today have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up, all need to be properly regulated and held accountable. We need to ensure the antitrust laws first written more than a century ago work in the digital age.’

“That, really, is what’s at the core of this investigation, whether the existing laws are as applicable as they could be in the current, digital age. That also applies to copyright regulations and content ownership provisions. Many of these laws were written in a time of physical media, or publisher-controlled broadcasting. The digital landscape has changed everything in this respect, and is still changing every day – and as such, it’s important that the laws reflect the current state of the market, and elements like anti-competitive activity.”

So, What’s Next?

Marketing leaders today have more media choices than ever. In addition to print, outdoor, and broadcast, digital innovations have made hundreds of new marketing options a reality for even the most frugal mom and pop operation. Whether you have an ad budget of $100 or $100 million, you can create effective campaigns using digital tools.

If you choose traditional or digital media, some of the same rules apply. Start by knowing your audience. Understand who is your best market, where do they live, what do they do, and what’s important to them. Without this information, any marketer will struggle to succeed.

Secondly, set realistic, attainable goals for your business and your ad campaign. Create ROI measurements and goals. What is a new customer worth to you? What will they spend with you during the first visit? Over a lifetime? Once you establish the value of a new customer, you can create a reasonable acquisition cost to acquire them.

For example, if you’re selling sandwiches, and a new customer is worth $150 of profit to your business over the course of a year, it won’t make sense to spend $150 to get one new customer. If you spend $1,500 on an ad campaign to get ten new customers, your ROI measurement might show that you have just broken even. Conversely, if you spend the same money and get 20 new customers, it may not feel like a big win until you realize you’ve doubled your marketing investment.

Using the same logic, if you’re making $10,000 in profit on every new car that you sell, it may make sense to spend up to $5,000 to get a new customer.

The next consideration is context. When you place an ad, make sure your ad will be surrounded by content that is compatible with your brand and your customer’s expectations. A butcher shop may not want to appear next to posts about the virtues of veganism. Lawn care services don’t want to appear next to videos touting high-rise living.

And the next factor is production costs. In addition to placing an ad, you’ll also need to create content. That may be a cost-effective solution, like using existing photography, or it may require an investment in high-quality video. Factor the time and expense needed to create materials in your marketing plan.

Timing is also part of the mix. With digital media, you’re able to choose the day or times of day your ad will run. If you’re a shop open Monday-Friday 9-5, you may decide to run ads when you’re open. If you’re a late-night club, you may want to run ads when your late-night clientele is out and about. You have more flexibility and control with digital media, so research your options.

Finally, make sure you understand the ever-changing nature of social media. They continually improve their ad delivery algorithms. Additionally, the people that use social media come and go; being very active one month and almost absent the next. Regulatory factors come into play. And as competitors fight for market share, innovations, new tools, and features are continually introduced, tested, integrated, or discontinued.

Things are always changing on social media, and it’s tough to keep up. That’s why you need a smart digital marketing partner like LNP Media Group to help you take advantage of new developments and avoid mistakes. Our team stays on top of social media platforms, ad choices, innovations, and discontinuations. Contact us to discuss your business and advertising goals and let us help you make social media a part of your marketing mix.

 

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Digital, Traditional, or Both? Why Your Business Needs a Multi-Channel Media Campaign

Digital, Traditional, or Both? Why Your Business Needs a Multi-Channel Media Campaign

If you’re like most marketers in Lancaster County, you are spending a lot of time thinking about which media platform is best for your business or brand. Should you invest in newspaper advertising? Is it time to launch a digital campaign? What about local magazines? Outdoor? TV? Here in Central Pennsylvania, marketing pros and business owners must continually work to find the best value for their advertising dollars.

To add to this complexity, new media and ad platforms seem to pop up every day. The sheer volume of advertising and marketing choices, new and established, can be overwhelming. Each new program, platform, or publication offers its own strengths and weaknesses, pros and cons, and challenges and benefits for your brand and your business.

With so many choices available, your organization’s marketing campaign is probably already multi-channel in some way. But did you know that utilizing multiple communication channels in the right ways, in complementary combinations, can really help you improve returns on your investment? When done right, multi-channel marketing can increase awareness, drive engagement, and produce more leads and conversions. Connecting with your target audience in ways that fit how they use media can help improve your business’s sales and profits.

First Things First. What are Traditional and Digital Media?

Media and advertising platforms now fall into two basic categories – traditional and digital. Traditional media existed before the rise of the internet. Newspapers, outdoor billboards, magazines, TV, direct mail, couponing, and radio all fall into the traditional marketing category.

Digital media not only includes everything you see online, but it also includes technologies enabled by the internet. Most of us categorize online advertising as including search engine optimization (SEO), paid search ads, social media marketing, smartphone ads, online videos, and websites. But did you know that podcasts, digital billboards, geofencing, and streaming programming are also considered part of the digital marketing world?

While it may be tempting to choose one over the other, strong marketing efforts use the power of blending; use traditional and digital marketing together to get the most reach and impact.

Taking a multi-faceted approach to marketing allows your business to take advantage of the strengths of each media. You can customize messages and creative to leverage those strengths and fortify the impact of your message and increase your reach.

For example, traditional print marketing offers benefits that digital marketing lacks, such as touch, feel, and even smell. Print media has a long shelf-life, large-format ads, and is seen as very trustworthy. Traditional print is still preferred to reach older, wealthier households with plenty of disposable income.

Conversely, digital complements traditional media buys by providing reach and targeting, especially if you’re looking to reach a younger demographic. Digital media also gives consumers the ability to click to place an order, learn more, or sign up for offers. These actions, taken online, are called engagement. Engagement is the term used when a consumer moves beyond viewing into interacting. Liking, sharing, clicking, commenting, and buying are all forms of engagement.

Why Multi-Channel Marketing is More Important Than Ever

The media world is in constant upheaval. As digital marketing and resources continually change, the types of media and advertising tools available to business owners in Lancaster County have exploded. While advertisers in past generations could choose among a handful of media platforms, today’s marketers have hundreds of options. Instead of being limited to newspaper, magazines, radio, outdoor, TV, or direct mail, marketers must now choose among options that include websites, blogs, social media ads, social media channels and pages, organic content, instructional videos, online display ads, business listings, retargeted ads, pop-up ads, search engine listings, paid search (PPC), SEO, podcasts, streaming radio, subscription TV, connected TV, streaming video, gaming, text message marketing, email marketing, abandoned cart reminders, native marketing, affiliate ads, in-app advertising, location-based marketing, promoted search, and more.

With so many choices at your fingertips, websites and search engines now seem like old standards. But even these digital staples are continually evolving and changing. As each new technology enters the market, such as a breakthrough social media platform or another way to deliver clickable ads, that additional technology changes the way consumers read, think, and consume media. For example, in the beginning, Google offered AdWords which are paid search ads that showed up on the side of the organic search listings. As other ad options entered the market and the technology raced forward, Google added features and options that allow advertisers to run search network campaigns, display network campaigns, shopping campaigns, and video campaigns. Instead of limiting results to search engine results pages, Google advertisers can measure success by the number of sales or leads, website traffic, product and brand consideration, brand awareness, reach, and app promotion.

That’s why multi-channel marketing has become the new norm. Today, few businesses stick with one traditional or digital media choice. That’s why it’s so important to understand what multi-channel advertising is and how to integrate it into your marketing plans.

Multi-channel marketing uses a variety of media channels and tools to reach your best customers. It has also been called cross-channel marketing, cross-platform marketing, and agnostic marketing. By using different channels, tools, media, or platforms, marketers strive to reach consumers at the best time, to be placed next to the best content, to reach customers in the right frame of mind, and to drive prospects and clients to notice and adsorb the ad message or take the desired call to action.

With so much media at their fingertips, it’s no wonder that today’s consumers are more likely than ever to research products and services online before purchasing. People spend time looking at features, options, costs, and even warrantees before buying products online or offline. 82 percent of smartphone users say they look up reviews or information about a product or service before they make the decision to buy. In fact, most brick-and-mortar store owners are already aware of the impact of this ever-increasing online research. Maybe that’s why 99 percent of businesses have reported that they plan to increase their digital marketing budgets. These businesses understand that online marketing messages are now mandatory if they want to reach all those prospects and customers who are spending time researching online.

Of course, with so many choices for news and information, your potential customer doesn’t stick to just one media and neither should you. Your business should think about the buying journey. Which media do they use to become aware of your product? To research it? To get promotions? Think about what your potential customers expect from a newspaper, a podcast, or a social media post, and tailor your message in ways that facilitate engagement and continue to move your customer toward the desired action.

When you consider where your customers are as they identify a need and move through the marketing funnel, you’ll be able to evaluate media more critically and be more selective about the placements that make sense for your business. Creating multi-channel marketing campaigns allow organizations to reach customers at different times, with tailored messages formatted to the platform and designed to fit with the customers’ expectations on the platform.

While better targeting definitely benefits businesses, it also helps consumers. Mashable reported that 72% of consumers say they respond best to an integrated marketing approach. Delivering relevant information to people at the right time is a helpful service. Providing the wrong messages that are poorly timed may be perceived as a nuisance. Perhaps that’s why consumers respond best to ads that make sense within the platform.

Even though digital advertising has become a critical part of the marketing mix, the best marketing campaigns often include traditional components. Traditional media tools like newspapers and magazines not only increase brand awareness, but they also increase brand trust and credibility. Well-crafted ads in traditional media entertain and inform the buyer.

For example, newspaper ads offer lots of space and access to an older, affluent audience. For some businesses, this is the right place to load up on graphics, detailed product or service information, or testimonials for the product or service. Newspapers also continue to be a valuable source of coupons for all ages of consumers.

When marketers place their ads and messages in more than one media platform, it helps build frequency. Frequency allows your customers to absorb the message and develops preference. An old rule of thumb is that consumers must see at least three messages from an advertiser before they begin to have brand recognition. When your ads and promotions show up in many places, you create frequency without feeling repetitive. The dynamic formats allow customers to select the ways they want to interact with your brand.

When placing ads or creating content, it’s also essential to factor in editorial context. What content surrounds your brand? Can you choose the type of content your ad appears near? Many businesses in Lancaster County want their advertising to be surrounded by credible, responsible content that enhances the trustworthiness of their brand. Newspapers and their associated online news sites can deliver trustworthy context in a way that social and other digital media cannot.

When Central Pennsylvania advertisers align their marketing messages with a credible news source that people trust and respect, they enhance their own credibility and trustworthiness. That’s why newspapers, online news, and broadcast news are still some of the most valuable advertising placements for any brand or business. 

Do people really trust the value and accuracy of information from news sources?

 

Can you trust the accuracy of the news?

 

The following chart from a 2019 Gallup study illustrates how people’s perceptions of trustworthiness change across platforms.

When your ad is surrounded by trustworthy content, it pays off for your brand.

Which Media Should You Choose?

Creating the right multi-channel marketing plan can be intimidating. After all, today’s marketer has exponentially more media and placement choices than their colleagues did just 15 years ago. The experts at LNP Media Group can help businesses evaluate and place advertising with all of the following media channels:

Some Types of Media Tend to Work Well With Others

Wine and cheese. Dinner and a movie. John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Some things just go together. The same holds true for multi-channel marketing. Many Lancaster County businesses don’t have the resources or the budget to invest in all the different types of media out there. And the good news is they don’t have to. Instead, local businesses can evaluate some popular pairings, selections of media that are often used together to get extraordinary results.

To help your business get started on your multi-channel media campaign, here are some good media combinations to get started.

  • Website / PPC / Print
  • Online News / Email Marketing / Social Media Advertising
  • Online Video / Social / Google Display
  • Online Commerce Website / Print / PPC
  • Newspaper / Geofencing / Email Marketing
  • Podcasts / Email Marketing / Online News
Media Complementary Set: Website / PPC / Print

Campaigns that include a website, PPC, and print are core components in many Lancaster County business marketing programs. If your company or organization wants to get more people to understand what you do and how you do it, developing a good website is critical. Effective websites usually include compelling explanations of your work, describe why it’s important, and tell your prospects and customers how to get started and how to get in touch. Other popular elements are newsletter sign-ups, blogs, coupon codes, explainer videos, and company profiles. Websites also give marketers the chance to write the kind of long-format content that really digs deep into who you are and what you do. You can also publish articles that relate to your industry, share product lines, specifications, usage suggestions, and solicit comments or reviews.

However, no matter how good your website is, if no one sees it, it’s not going to help your business thrive. That’s why it’s so crucial that your website is built and programmed in ways that promote higher search engine rankings. This process is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO. To achieve strong SEO, seasoned pros will complete a long list of methods and tactics that ensure your website shows up when people are looking for your type of products and services. SEO also requires ongoing changes and updates to your site, so it’s smart to set aside an ongoing budget for this process. And while including SEO into your site may seem like a no-brainer, you might be surprised at how many website builders and businesses skip this step.

According to Michael Guta in an April 9, 2020 report in Small Business Trends,

“The data on the latest SEO strategy trends comes from a new report from The Manifest titled, “Top 5 SEO Strategies for Small Business in 2020.” And according to the 501 respondents in the survey, 70% don’t have an SEO strategy. When you consider 75% of people don’t scroll past the first page of Google search results, it drives the point of why SEO should be a key strategy by small businesses and businesses of all sizes. As the author of the report, Kelsey McKeon, says, now is a great time for small businesses to start performing SEO. Primarily because they are having to adjust to the COVID-19 crisis by cutting costs. The cost-effective nature of SEO makes it the ideal tool for saving money and improving your digital presence.”

Once you have a robust website up and running (and your SEO is going strong,) you’ll want to encourage even more people to see it and check it out. Paid search (also called pay-per-click or PPC) is a smart way to get traffic to your website.  Formerly known as Adwords, Google Ads PPC ad extensions offer businesses many options that can help achieve real multi-channel marketing. For example, the Click-to-Call Extension adds a phone number to ads, which makes it easier for online users to call your business.  The PPC Offer Extension lets advertisers include coupons with a PPC ad, which allows users to print out the coupon and bring it to your store.

Showing up at the top of the page is a crucial step to increasing web traffic. That’s important even if most (or all) of your sales happen offline. In fact, according to Google, 78 percent of local searches result in offline purchases. No matter which type of paid search ad you choose, utilizing paid search is the first step to moving your business into the top listings on a search engine results page, so people see your business first when they are searching for services like yours.

In April 2019, Search Engine Land reported,

“Even though we live in a digital world, consumer journeys that begin online rarely stay there. This is especially true when the consumer journey involves a local mobile search…By focusing on driving offline conversions from search, delivering personalized high-quality consumer experiences, and analyzing results, marketers can tap into the power of offline to convert consumers from shoppers into buyers and optimize marketing ROI.”

Which brings us to print. Advertising in Lancaster County’s only county-wide newspaper, LNP, is a great way to reach a broad audience and increase awareness. It’s also an excellent place to promote your website. Think of your print ads as another tool to drive people to your business online and offline. Whether you want to get people to your website or your brick and mortar store, ads in LNP can appear in print and on LNP’s companion news website, LancasterOnline. Like Google paid search ads, print ads can drive people to call, to use a coupon, or to visit your website.

Media Complementary Set: Online News / Email Marketing / Social Media Advertising

People love online news. Did you know that over 1.5 million unique users access stories on LancasterOnline every month? In fact, LancasterOnline is the leading news website in the Lancaster County and surrounding counties, attracting more visitors than any other Lancaster County news or information website. So placing ads on LancasterOnline is a no-brainer. But don’t stop there. Make sure you set up a relevant landing page that helps people take action when they click on your ads.

A dedicated landing page is a separate web page created to help businesses get user information and may exist for a limited time. For example, an ad promoting a homebuilder might lead to a landing page that encourages users to sign up for a free report on how to plan a new home. A video promoting a new restaurant might click-through to a landing page with a coupon for a meal discount. Useful landing pages not only provide a seamless user experience, they can also help capture leads and user data.

Tech Times, July 30, 2020, advises,

“To create a maximum effect, you should send people who click on your ads to a specialized landing page that connects them directly to the banner, messaging, and offers. This is because online advertising includes a set of steps that start with the banner, and the click is the next step. The third and equally important step is to drive clickers to act via a clear and convincing post-click experience.”

You can use the emails you’ve collected from your landing page to create custom audiences on social media. By uploading your email list onto select social media platforms, you can create customized audiences based on your email lists. Best of all, platforms like Facebook and Instagram also allow you to create a “lookalike” audience based on the attributes of your email list. This means that your business can now send ads and messages to more people who behave in the same ways the people in your email list do.

Once you have an email list, it makes sense to start email marketing. It’s time to create email campaigns that help you meet your brand and sales goals. Whether you want to nurture leads, increase loyalty, or encourage additional purchases, email marketing can help.  In fact, the emails you capture through your LancasterOnline ads and social media ads can be used for email marketing campaigns for weeks, months, or even years to come.

Media Complementary Set: Online Video / Print / Social Media

One of today’s most effective marketing tools is video. People love watching videos, and online media gives users millions of ways to watch: on websites, in social media, on YouTube, and on video apps like TikTok.

In fact, video has become so prominent that LNP Media Group started offering video production to clients in 2017. LNP Media Group clients can now create long or short videos to use on websites, social media, or embedded in digital ads to get more attention and to tell more vibrant, visual stories.

The rise in video marketing shows no signs of slowing.  According to Eric Hamilton in a July 8, 2020, Tech Times article,

“The consumption of video content on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube keeps following an upward trend. An astonishing one-third of internet users, as many as 1.9 billion people, use YouTube. That is a good enough reason for marketers to not only include ‘video marketing’ in their overall marketing plan but make it a focal point and strategize interesting video marketing campaigns.”

While online videos are hard-working marketing tools, they also work well as companion pieces to print ads and sponsored content in print. While videos are great ways to create engaging, emotional short stories, print allows businesses to expand on ideas, create offers, and even offer cutouts.

When you marry print and video campaigns, you get the best of both worlds, but when you add social media to the mix, you take your marketing to the next level. That’s because social media is a naturally complementary media for a print-video campaign. Social media channels like Facebook offer the opportunity to use video ads along with longer format descriptions. Social media supports both images and video, even within the same campaign.

While Facebook does not offer as much space for text as newspaper print ads, social media ads can target very specific consumers, so you can make sure your most valuable customers and prospects see your message.

CASE STUDY: Local Heroes Campaign

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, quarantined people quickly felt isolated and alone. Penn Medicine worked with LNP to create a symbol for Lancastrians to use to show their unity and dedication to social distancing.

This ad ran in March, asking LNP readers to post the red rose in the front windows of their homes to show support for neighbors and the community. “Social distancing is tough, but it works. Stay home and take good care of yourself and your family. If you take a walk, make sure you look for the red roses posted in the windows of homes around your neighborhood. It’s a little reminder that we’re all in this together.”

The same message was delivered on LancasterOnline, which also offered printable red rose cutouts. By running ads in print and online, this integrated campaign from Penn Medicine promoted community spirit and highlighted healthcare heroes. An article about local women, both retired healthcare workers, making masks for local healthcare workers.

This sponsored article ran in print and on Lancaster Online.

The video of the interview with the women also ran on the popular LancasterOnline Facebook page, complete with the Penn Medicine logo.

Penn Medicine reached more people, more demographics, and achieved much higher reach and frequency by embracing a multi-channel approach.

Media Complementary Set: E-Commerce Website / PPC / Retargeted Ads

If your business has a website with an online e-commerce component, this combination is for you, especially if your focus is a very specific customer type. B2B sites that sell parts, supplies, or services to an industry vertical will find this is an especially effective multi-channel marketing option.

LNP Media Group is experienced in helping e-commerce websites optimize listings, information, and SEO in ways that make these sites more visible to search engines and help them rank higher against selected keywords. Whether you’re selling five items or 5,000, our team can help you with paid search and retargeted ads.

E-commerce sites must address organic search, or SEO, first. Once that’s taken care of, paid search (also called pay-per-click or PPC) is the next step to more visits and more sales. By using the keywords that are most relevant to your site or your products, your paid search ads will appear when people search for products or services that you offer, and will click through to your e-commerce site.

For example, for a client selling parts online, LNP Media Group created a paid search campaign that used parts numbers and descriptions as keywords. This strategy enabled the client’s ad to appear in the top three paid listings at the top of the search results page when people were looking for those specific replacement parts.

According to Ronald Dod in an April 9, 2020 article in Search Engine Land

“When a site runs PPC advertising, they appear at the top of the search results, thereby being the first thing that searchers see. When coupled with SEO efforts, a brand can potentially consume a large portion of the SERPs (search engine results pages), showcasing adverts at the top and organic listings below. Therefore, if a searcher skips over the ad section and goes directly to the organic rankings, they will find the business there as well. This effectively allows sites to gain double the exposure they would if only one of these strategies were employed, thereby increasing the chances that the user will click-through to the brand’s site. Moreover, given that a particular company is so well-represented in the SERPs, this provides consumers with enhanced confidence that the business is a reputable one that provides quality products or services. By combining PPC and SEO, organizations can more effectively guide prospects to their site and encourage engagement among consumers.”

Once a user visits an e-commerce site, it’s smart to send retargeted ads to visitors to remind them of their shopping history, and to draw them back to the website to complete their purchase or purchase again.

Media Complementary Set: Newspaper / “Near Me” Optimization / Geofencing

When it comes to local marketing, people rely on hometown newspapers for tips and ideas. Online and offline, LancasterOnline and LNP are leading resources for finding local businesses, entertainment options, and services in Lancaster County. If you want to attract nearby people to your business, LancasterOnline and LNP are great places to start.

These two leading news sources also offer the advantage of providing highly credible, trustworthy content that is appropriate for all audiences. As mentioned earlier in this article, surrounding your advertising messages with reliable content is a good way to increase your business’s trustworthiness.

Another way to attract local people to your business is to ensure your website is optimized for “near me” searches on mobile.  A “near me” search describes the activity of searching for a thing that is close by. Examples include:

  • Find a pizza place near me
  • Dentist near me
  • Auto repair near me
  • Homes for sale near me
  • Lawn service near me
  • Hair salon near me
  • Fun shopping near me
  • Fine dining near me

According to Norman Rohr in November 2019 on wwd.com,

“‘Near me’ searches — localized mobile searches for brands, business locations and products close by — have exploded. Today, 65 percent of all Google searches happen on a mobile device, and 70 percent of these mobile searches are “near me” searches. This means that some 46 percent of all Google searches have a local intent. More than ever, as search engine and smartphone technology has advanced, consumers are prioritizing proximity and convenience.”

While you might think that merely being “near me” would qualify your company to show up in a search, it’s not that easy. Importantly, optimizing your online presence for near me searches is often time-intensive. But because it’s becoming a primary way of finding nearby businesses, local companies need to take the time to leverage this type of mobile activity.

statistics

Source: ThinkWithGoogle

Effective “near me” strategies include completing and optimizing your business listings, using proper schema markup, acquiring backlinks with geographic anchor text, optimizing location terms in your SEO, and making your site mobile friendly (since almost all “near me” searches happen on mobile devices.) And don’t forget about preparing a list of queries that people might ask smart devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Finally, consider adding geofencing to your “near me” marketing mix. Geofencing allows advertisers to send a message to consumers’ mobile devices after they enter a predefined geographic area. When people are within the chosen perimeter, geofencing delivers your ads to them, but only while they are in the defined area. This ad tool allows you to deliver your message within a “fence,” so you reach consumers in the right place.

For example, you may want to capture people at a nearby event to get them to come to your restaurant. Or you may wish to send specials or ads to car buyers when they visit a competitor’s car lot. You choose the time and the area and the geofencing campaign will post the mobile ads. It’s a smart way to get more people to your location.

Media Complementary Set: Podcasts / Email Marketing / Online News

If you haven’t listened to a podcast yet, you are now in the minority. 55 percent of Americans have listened to a podcast and listenership continues to rise. That’s because the number of podcast listeners has grown almost 40 percent in the past three years. They’re a great way to reach commuters and people in places where listening makes more sense than watching or reading, such as during walks, at the gym, or while doing housework or yardwork. Almost all podcasts accept advertising in the form of sponsorships. These podcast sponsorships can be a smart move for businesses looking to find a way to advertise within focused content targeted to certain consumers.

Toby Lett explains on Performancein.com,

“Digital audio advertising has one major advantage over other forms of media in that it doesn’t require a screen, so it allows advertisers to reach consumers when they are engaged in other activities. Pre-lockdown, many assumed podcast audiences were most likely to listen when driving or traveling by public transport. Still, recent experience has shown podcast audiences also listen when exercising or doing household chores – activities which make them hard to reach through visual channels. Also, podcast listeners in particular can be difficult to access through other digital audio channels, with over half of listeners saying they don’t stream music, for instance. “

Because most podcasts are listened to via headphones or in vehicles, this platform offers a “one-on-one” feel that many listeners appreciate. Podcasts ads are often delivered by hosts, adding credibility and trust to your message. Podcasts also target people at a time when they’re focused on listening, so if your businesses benefits are best delivered via audio message, this is a great time to reach focused listeners.

Email marketing offers that same focused, one-on-one feel. Emails are personal delivery devices, with messaging that can feel intimate and personal. Emails also provide the chance to share detailed information and even audio or video files.

The third component of this plan is online news advertising on sites like LancasterOnline. News websites are a natural fit for focused messages delivered in a more personal, targeted way. Like emails and podcasts, news sites can accommodate audio messages, but they can also feature video ads for a more engaging experience.

Ready to Start Creating Your Multi-Media Strategy?

These examples are just a few ways you can combine traditional and digital, news media and technology. No matter which media you choose, when trying to capture the attention of a niche audience start by understanding your target market. Know the demographic you want to attract and the offers that will capture their attention and drive them to act.  Your multi-channel media strategy should be a plan of action that helps your organization reach its prospects and customers in ways that increase and improve your conversion rate.

Listen, we get it. Multi-channel marketing is complicated, ever-changing, and often overwhelming. New options are being created every day and sometimes it’s hard to figure out how, when, or why digital and traditional resources work. Increasingly, combinations of media, tools, and platforms are needed to obtain the reach and frequency required to make an impact and drive sales.

But you don’t have to go it alone. LNP Media Group has strong expertise in multi-channel marketing and we can help you combine all the parts of your marketing strategy in ways that help them work together. Contact us today and let’s start talking about ways to expand and strengthen your marketing program.

E-commerce: Now Your Business is Always Open

E-commerce: Now Your Business is Always Open

Many small businesses are limited by their location. They are limited to the customers that live or work near them. They are limited by the hours in a business day.

The cost of additional staff and additional operating expenses may make extended hours undesirable. Even their geography can make all night operations unpractical, unprofitable, or unsafe. For many small organizations with finite resources, 24/7 business hours are impossible.

However, with e-commerce sites, many types of businesses can allow customers to shop and learn about their products and services at any time of day. e-commerce enables the company to take orders and send communications, even when the shop is closed. No wonder so many small businesses have started making e-commerce sites part of their strategic plans.

In March of 2020, many small businesses became more interested in e-commerce solutions. The COVID-19 crisis mandated the shut-down of many types of brick and mortar businesses. While many of those enterprises were able to bounce back after all the restrictions were finally lifted, many companies found they had to shut their doors forever. For other organizations, an E-commerce site helped defray or eliminate losses while Americans stayed at home and social distanced.

For many firms, the pandemic accelerated the need for a strong e-commerce site. However, the argument for websites that handled shopping or transactions was already well developed. In fact, the use of e-commerce sites has been growing in importance over the last ten years. And it’s easy to see why.

E-commerce sites have become easy to use. Online transactions have become more secure. Customer shipping options have become more affordable or even free. As a result, online sales increased by nearly 15% in 2019 alone, and that growth is predicted to continue or accelerate over the next five years. That means that for anyone selling products or offering services, e-commerce may become a viable way to increase revenues and expand reach without opening more locations.

On April 24, 2020, Emarketer reported,

“Whether by desire or by necessity, consumers are moving their spending online. And some of these consumers, who rarely or never bought online, may not go back to shopping like they used to. As a result, brands are increasingly pivoting to a direct-to-consumer business model and many e-commerce businesses are experiencing sizable growth. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, e-commerce sales represented the bulk of overall retail sales growth in the US—$600 billion in online sales accounted for 56% of overall retail growth last year. And projections say e-commerce sales may go as high as $6.5 trillion in 2023.”

While online shopping used to be a novelty limited to tech-savvy Millennials, today it’s the norm. From tweens to retirees, all ages have become more enthusiastic about online shopping. With grocery purchases, apparel shopping, and even car sales happening online, e-commerce has become a necessity that shows no signs of slowing down.

It’s easy to see why. e-commerce sites allow consumers to shop when it’s convenient for them. Busy parents can order necessities at any time of night or day. Third-shift employees can buy on their schedule. At the end of a workday, Americans can now relax in an easy chair and take care of shopping needs from the comfort of their living room. Compare that with rushed trips to stores in rainy weather, and the appeal of e-commerce is clear.

While some people avoided online shopping for years, 2020 changed all that. A tsunami of people began learning how to use e-commerce sites out of necessity. This need to get comfortable with online shopping fast, regardless of your aversion to websites in the past, made transactional websites even more popular. Unprecedented world events combined with technology trends to create unexpectedly strong demand.

Retailers who were undecided about adding online shopping to the mix became more motivated to create an online presence with e-commerce functionality. Technological advancements made it easier than ever for all sizes of companies to develop scalable, sustainable revenue streams that expanded a business’s geography beyond a neighborhood or township. In theory, a small shop with one location could now have a worldwide presence in a matter of weeks. But best of all, once an e-commerce site gains traction, it can serve as a buffer from the idiosyncrasies of the market. Businesses with online components and options are better positioned to weather recessions, pandemics, or other world events that can impact face-to-face sales.

But even without factoring in major disruptions, e-commerce makes good business sense. After all, more and more consumers say e-commerce is their preferred way to buy. In a recent UPS study, almost 70 percent of participants reported that they preferred shopping online.

On April 24, 2020, in The Washington Post, Sindya N. Bahnoo reported,

“The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the die-off of America’s storefront retail at a frightening speed, forcing independent stores to close on short notice and deepening the advantage of online behemoths like Amazon and Walmart. But a few independent retailers have rapidly pivoted toward e-commerce, in some cases using strikingly low-tech analog systems to retaliate against Amazon, which itself went live as a small online retailer of books 25 years ago. These businesses may not beat Amazon at its own game, but with some creativity and customer goodwill, they might survive the crisis and come out with some much-needed upgrades.”

While COVID-19 wreaked havoc, it also created new opportunities for small businesses. While building an e-commerce site can feel like an intimidating undertaking, following LNP Media Group’s step-by-step guide may simplify the process. For many companies, it’s easy to start small and scale up as demand increases. Over time, your e-commerce website may rival your bricks and mortar locations for sales and profitability.

But how to get started? We’ve outlined several e-commerce development steps to help small businesses think through the process and prepare for the world on online commerce.

Step 1: Define Your E-commerce Niche

While Amazon makes money selling everything, most retailers do better by sticking to a specialty or niche. Customers are more likely to choose you over big brands if you’re an expert in your field and offer specialized products and services developed for a narrow audience.

While it’s tempting to be all things to all people, it’s smart to start as a specialized business, with a limited product line. Once your online model is up and running, and profitable, you can expand into other areas with confidence.

Step 2: Research E-commerce Models

Before you get started on your new website, make sure you know what kind of sites are already out there. Start your journey with research. Spend time online. Look at what your competitors are doing. Explore what e-commerce looks like for other industries.

After all, growing any online business is an investment, and will require your time and your treasure. Research will increase your understanding of what works and reduce the chance that you choose a problematic model or one that discourages customer interaction.

It’s also important to remember that no one structure or type of e-commerce works for everyone. A store selling lamps will operate differently than an IT consulting service. Pizza shops have different needs than furniture stores. Pharmacies have specialized transactional requirements, while floral shops may have delivery restrictions.

The good news is that today’s e-commerce platforms provide customizable software that empowers almost any type of enterprise to offer complex online shopping functions. A decade ago, e-commerce solutions were generally costly and required the help of an experienced IT team and maintenance by an in-house development team. The old platforms were hard to scale and difficult to integrate with other marketing platforms like your existing website, your email programs, or your social media.

However, today’s platforms are flexible, intuitive, and comparatively inexpensive. Even the most basic e-commerce platforms allow users to customize products, pricing, inventory management, and promotions. And most come with easy-to-access reporting systems that can enable real-time monitoring of sales and inventory

It’s also wise to think through your customers’ payment preferences. Some platforms exclude payments from third-party vendors such as PayPal, which could slow sales.

Subscriptions provide a steady revenue each week or each month. For example, it may make sense for a lawn service to offer subscription rates, with services delivered in pre-determined intervals. Medical or health care products are also good choices for subscription deliveries.

Step 3: Choose an Online Shopping Program

E-commerce is defined by the inclusion of payments online. There are many online payment and e-commerce platforms out there that can be used to create a new site or to integrate into an existing company website. Some of the most popular names in e-commerce include Shopify, Woo Commerce, Big Commerce, Ecwid, Jimdo, Weebly, and Volusion. CRM programs like Squarespace and Wix also offer e-commerce programs. Even Square, the iPad-based cash register program, offers sleek integrations that allow businesses to create online stores or online ordering for in-store pickup.

Most of these platforms operate on a monthly fee basis. However, just reviewing flat rates can be deceptive. That’s because costs may depend on whether your site is self-hosted vs. hosted, and the estimated traffic and number of transactions. Most of these platforms charge a processing fee that can add up quickly. Conversely, other platforms are too simple and limited to just a few functions. Others may charge for bells and whistles that you won’t need to meet your online shopping goals.

Almost all online shopping platforms offer basic features such as a shopping cart, a search bar, and a customer login. They will allow you to use your company’s logo and brand colors. They will have data encryptions features that ensure your customers’ data is secure and to make hacking very difficult. Most platforms allow you to group products into categories and add images for each product or service. You should also be able to set prices, offer promotions, and manage your email lists within the platform.

Good e-commerce platforms also give you many ways to manage your database, grouping it into pre-selected segments such as regular customers, people who have not purchased for a while, and people who began to order something, but then abandoned their online cart without purchasing.

Most platforms also offer automated email follow up or integrations into email programs such as Constant Contact or MailChimp. That means you can use the programs together to create a robust shopping, purchasing, and follow-up program.

It may sound complicated, but all it takes is time online, investigating how similar businesses operate, and thinking about what you do and don’t want to offer online.

It’s also critical to ensure that the e-commerce platform you choose will integrate with your website. Most online shopping platforms feature a wide range of tools and integrations that allow you to customize the shopping experience.

Other plugins are available to handle accounting need such as sales reporting, estimated taxes, and P&L reports.

Some programs offer robust email marketing tools as well as sophisticated list management features. Others offer shipping add-ons or customer loyalty widgets.

Before you make your decision, make sure you understand all the ways you can use the platform to manage your e-commerce business.

Step 4. Make Sure Your E-commerce Site is SEO Friendly

Traffic from search engines will become your site’s most significant source of new customers. That’s why many e-commerce businesses live and die by how well they manage their Search Engine Optimization or SEO. A site with strong SEO will rank high on search engines against selected keywords. Ranking higher on search engines means that customers can find your business when they’re searching for products or services like yours.

While that sounds simple enough, SEO is actually relatively complex and can take up a lot of time. But because top-ranking sites consistently attract more click-throughs than lower-ranking sites, SEO is well worth the time and effort.

Google’s Free SEO Tools

While SEO should be a long-term business strategy, newcomers to e-commerce can get started by using simple strategies and following best practices. For example, Google offers many free tools to help websites improve their SEO. Setting up Google Analytics and a Google Search Console is relatively simple and free. These tools will help you track traffic to your website and understand how to improve your site so it can rank higher against your chosen keywords.

Google recommends you submit your sitemap to Google through your Search Console account. Most e-commerce platforms, such as Woo Commerce or Shopify, and CRMs like WordPress or Square Space, automatically generate sitemap files. These list your website’s individual pages. These site maps help search engines index all the pages on your site, which is one way to improve SEO.

Google Search Console also reports crawling errors. Search engines like Google index websites using programming bots which “crawl” the website and its pages. When a bot attempts to reach a page or website but fails, it reports a crawling error. Crawling errors hurt your SEO, so it’s smart to fix broken links, missing pages, or other crawling errors immediately.

Follow Google’s official recommended practices to help you avoid the e-commerce and website practices that may end up hurting your site’s SEO.

E-commerce SEO Starts With Keywords

Keywords are the building blocks of any SEO effort. To rank on search engines, you start by choosing the words or phrases you want to rank against. For example, if you’re a salon, you might want to rank for “Best Lancaster Salons” and “Lancaster County Beauty Salons.”

How do you know which words and phrases to use? Google’s Keyword Planner is an excellent place to start. This tool will show you the search volume for any keyword or keyword phrases you submit, so you get an idea of whether the keywords are used regularly, or if they’re too generic and used too frequently for unrelated topics. For example, while “cars” might seem like a good keyword for your business, people searching for cars might be looking for automobiles, Disney movies, or 80’s pop bands. Using terms like “Used Buick in Lancaster” might be a more specific and relevant term for your business.

Spending time with Google’s Keyword Planner helps marketers understand how people search for products and services and will allow you to get more targeted in your keyword choices.

A Word About E-commerce Page Optimizations

Website platforms have many tools that can make it easier for search engines’ bots to find and index your site.  H1 tags are one of these tools. Use one H1 tag on each page to serve as the main headline. Preferably the page’s H1 tag will also contain at least one the site’s main keywords or keyword phrases.

Another way to boost SEO is to keep page titles under 60 characters to prevent them from being truncated or cut off in the search results.

A meta description is the preview text that appears when your site shows up in a search. Having the right meta description in place can increase your click-through rates. While Google has reported that there is no official limit on characters for meta descriptions, most experts say that using 155-160 characters is optimal.

While some sites automatically generate URLs, they can also be customized. To boost your e-commerce site’s SEO, be sure to include some keywords or keyword phrases in each page’s URL.

Google Image searches account for nearly 23% of all web searches. Each time you add an image to your site, you can create alt tags and file names for each image. Make sure each of your file names and alt tags have descriptive names and try to include keywords or keyword phrases.

Step 5: Create Relevant Content

A well-planned content marketing strategy not only helps your site become more visible to search engines, but it also makes the site more relevant and engaging for your customers.

Content can describe your products and services, but it can also show customers how to use your products in new or unusual ways. For example, grocery stores can include recipes and storage tips. An auto repair shop can include tutorials on checking oil or putting air in tires.

Answering Frequently Asked Questions or FAQs is another way to boost SEO while meeting your customers’ needs. And all content should be developed with keywords and SEO in mind.

In G2, Andrej Kovacevic emphasized,

“…a whopping 70% of marketers are currently investing in content strategies, and 72% cite having a good content strategy as a major key to their success. For small businesses, content marketing is arguably even more vital. That’s because smaller companies often don’t have the marketing resources that larger firms do, and content marketing delivers some of the highest overall ROI for every marketing dollar spent. It’s also a long-term strategy that can continue to pay dividends for a long time after it’s put into effect.”

As a rule of thumb, blocks of content and blog posts should aim for 500 words and up. While quality trumps quantity every time, this is not the place for short, snappy prose. Take your time to describe and explain everything thoroughly, so you give search engines and consumers plenty of time to understand who you are and what you sell.

Google penalizes you for plagiarism or duplicate text among websites or webpages, so make sure your text, product descriptions, and blogs are your own. If the text lives anywhere else online, even on your company’s other websites, social media, or other websites or social media, consider rewriting it. Google and other search engines won’t index duplicate copy, which means repeated descriptions could hurt your SEO.

If a page on your e-commerce site becomes inactive or products are removed, it’s smart to add a redirect that page, which will send users to a different but still relevant page. Not only are inactive pages frustrating for consumers, but they also make your site look uncared for, and hurt your SEO.

Step 7: Make Sure Your E-commerce Site is Mobile Friendly

Almost 60% of searches are completed on smartphones. Much of e-commerce also happens on a mobile device. Because mobile is becoming the dominant tool for accessing the internet, it’s more important than ever to make your site completely accessible on mobile devices. Many e-commerce programs and CRMs such as WordPress offer responsive or adaptive templates that automatically reconfigure to meet the needs of the device.

As you create your e-commerce site, remember that many of your images will be seen in smaller dimensions on a smartphone, so keeping images simple makes sense.

Your site should also download quickly. Site download speed is a significant ranking factor, for both desktop and mobile searches. Google offers PageSpeed Insights to measure your site’s download speed and can provide advice on improving speed.

Step 8: Think Through Customer Service

While many business owners understand how customer service works face-to-face, online customer service can be more complicated.

E-commerce offers a new set of customer service challenges, including service issues, software glitches, and other things that are often out of your control.  E-commerce platforms with 24/7 service reps are worth the extra cost when you need answers immediately (and not three days from now.) Make sure you understand what kind of customer service is offered with any e-commerce platform you’re considering.

You may also want to consider amping up your own online customer service with pop-up chat options, chat agents, and other ways to contact your team (or outsourced customer service reps) with questions or concerns.

Step 9: Don’t Skimp on E-commerce Site Security

Online security and data security is one of the hottest issues in online commerce today. As a result, most e-commerce platforms and CRM programs include robust security standards. However, it’s also essential to make sure that any site that allows consumers to input any type of data, whether it’s an email or a credit card, uses HTTPS encryption to ensure a safe and secure checkout experience.

According to Google,

“HTTPS helps keep your browsing safe by securely connecting your browser or app with the websites you visit. HTTPS relies on encryption technology—SSL or TLS—to secure these connections… HTTPS web connections protect against eavesdroppers, man-in-the-middle attacks, and hijackers who attempt to spoof a trusted website. In other words, encryption thwarts interception of your information and ensures the integrity of information that you send and receive. Because older hardware and software often don’t support modern encryption technologies, users of these devices may be more vulnerable to security threats.”

It’s also important to make sure that any e-commerce platform you choose is PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant. The PCI Security Standards Council recently updated standards, as noted in this June 2020 press release,

“Established to protect PINs (Personal Identification Numbers) and the cardholder data stored on the card (on magnetic stripe or the chip of an EMV card) or used in conjunction with a mobile device, PTS POI Version 6.0 reorganizes the requirements and introduces changes that include:

  • Restructuring modules into Physical and Logical, Integration, Communications and Interfaces, and Life Cycle to reflect the diversity of devices supported under the standard and the application of requirements based upon their individual characteristics and functionalities.
  • Limiting firmware approval timeframes to three years to help ensure ongoing protection against evolving vulnerabilities.
  • Requiring devices that accept EMV enabled cards to support Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) to help facilitate the EMV migration to a more robust level of cryptography.
  • Enhancing support for the acceptance of magnetic stripe cards in mobile payments using solutions that follow the Software-Based PIN Entry on COTS (SPoC) Standard.”

Step 10: Get Ready to Ship

For e-commerce sites that ship their products, this step is critical. Your ability to sell or get repeat business may hinge on the decisions you make about shipping.

Free Shipping Pros and Cons

Free shipping has become standard on many e-commerce sites. That’s because free shipping is one of the most effective ways to drive purchases and reduce shopping cart abandonment. However, while you may offer free shipping, as any online merchant will tell you, shipping is not free for the merchant. If you want to offer free shipping, you’ll need to factor those costs into your e-commerce pricing strategy. How do you do that?

  • Increase product prices to cover costs for shipping to keep healthy margins.
  • Cover the full price of shipping, thereby reducing your margins.
  • Bump up the product price enough to partially cover shipping costs which means the customer will pay for a part of it, and you will pay for part of shipping.
  • Offer free shipping based on a minimum order amount. Not only is it easier to cover the cost of shipping for larger orders, but this strategy can also help you increase your average order size.

Flat Rate Shipping

Some e-commerce sites charge one rate per order, regardless of order size. This makes sense when your product line is made up of items of similar sizes and weights.

Real-Time Carrier Rates

Many e-commerce platforms, such as Woo Commerce, offer real-time integrations with carriers like UPS and the USPS to automatically calculate shipping based on their order. Small, light packages cost less. Big, bulky packages cost more.

Local Delivery

When your customer base is local, and your products are expensive to ship, local delivery is a smart option. Many e-commerce retailers use their own delivery trucks and employees to offer free local delivery for larger orders such as mattresses, appliances, boxes of office paper, or other heavy, hard-to-ship items.

Step 11: ABC…E (Always be Collecting Emails)

Opt-in forms and email database management is at the heart of any successful e-commerce site. Collecting emails and sending out proactive messages via email is one of the most effective ways to gain new customers, nurture existing clients, and find new prospects.

The best way to grow your email list is to include opt-in forms throughout your e-commerce site. Why not ask them to sign up for your news, deals, and information at a time when they’re already engaged on your e-commerce site?

Opt-in forms don’t need to be pushy or unattractive. With a little effort, you should be able to create forms that look great, support your brand, and drive opt-ins. Here are a few hints for creating hard-working opt-in forms.

  • Place them in the site’s header, footer, and in the navigation bar. While these locations may have lower conversion rates compared to a dedicated landing page, consistent placement on every page is a good long-term strategy. Over time, the number of subscribers these locations generate adds up.
  • Create an opt-in pop-up form. When you set pop-ups to trigger based on exit cues, you can catch your visitor before they leave, without slowing down the purchasing process. These are called exit-intent pop-ups and are usually triggered when a visitor moves their cursor off your website to a search bar or back button. Most e-commerce platforms have simple plugins and add-ons that can help you find the best way to create effective pop-up opt-in programs.
  • Include opt-ins on blogs.While your content may have been developed to educate your customers, it’s also a common place for newbies to enter your e-commerce site. Why not capture their emails and try to convert them into customers in the future?
  • Offer high-value lead magnets. Instead of promising “news and deals,” why not create a special piece of content designed to attract new customers? If you’re a florist, create a video about how to select flowers for weddings. Bike shops can create pdfs with maintenance checklists. Grocery stores can send out mini cookbooks with valuable coupons included. The idea is to offer specific, high-value information designed to appeal to your best customers and prospects.

Step 12: Leverage Email

Once the visitor has left the site, email is one of the best ways to reach out to them to continue the conversation. If you have captured their information via opt-in forms or received their email as part of an order, now is the time to ramp up your email marketing efforts.

Make the Most of Emailed Order Confirmations and Receipts

Order confirmation emails or emailed receipts have some of the highest open rates. The open rates can be as high as 90 percent, depending on the industry. Why not take advantage of this high attention rate to start making your next sale?

Of course, the content your email receipts must tick all the usual boxes; what was ordered, cost, shipping address, and expected delivery time, but after these are taken care of, try suggestive selling.

  • Upsell related or companion products.
  • Send out an offer to get a second item at a discount.
  • Offer an ongoing discount if they establish a subscription purchase.
  • Give them a discount code or coupon to use toward a future purchase, preferably to be redeemed within a limited time frame. Bounce-back offers are proven ways to build customer loyalty.
  • Offer them the chance to send the same item as a gift purchase, at a discount.

Improve Your Shipping Confirmation Emails

Shipping confirmation emails also have high open rates, so make sure you’re setting them up to work as hard as possible.

  • Make it easy for your customers to track their orders. Include the expected delivery date and tracking number linked to the shipping company so people can click once to see exactly where their order is in the delivery process.
  • Suggest the customer refer a friend by forwarding a link to the product they purchased. Incentivize word-of-mouth marketing by implementing a referral program with rewards.
  • Include product suggestions that match a customer’s purchase. Make sure you’re asking shoppers to purchase something they’ll actually be interested in.

Email Marketing Boosts E-commerce Sales

While email receipts and shipping orders are valuable communication opportunities, email marketing can address your consumer in every part of the marketing funnel. Developing an email list, setting up a cart abandonment campaign, developing bounce back offers, and sending nurture emails will help you drive consistent, qualified traffic to your site that will boost sales.

Digital Marketing to Promote Your E-commerce Site

In addition to SEO and email, today’s e-commerce website has a wide range of marketing tools from which to choose. Google ads and Google display ads are an effective way to identify your site traffic and send ads to them based on their viewing habits. Known as retargeting, this marketing strategy uses automation and pre-programmed logic chains to send the right information to the right person at the right time.

Social media ads on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, and LinkedIn are also cost-effective strategies to help you find customers and increase online sales.

Paid search engine listings are another way to ensure your site shows up in front of people who are searching for products and services like yours.

Video marketing is another way to get people excited about your products. Once you create product and service videos, you can place them on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, and LinkedIn as posts or as paid advertising.

And don’t forget to promote your e-commerce site in all of your traditional marketing programs. Promote it in-store signage, in print and broadcast ads, on your business cards, and even on your delivery trucks. Make sure all your existing customers know they now have a new way to order.

The Takeaway

Starting any business is challenging. Keeping an existing company profitable can also be a real challenge.  E-commerce is intimidating to many business owners because it has many hidden problems that can be hard to identify. While e-commerce can be scary, it’s a smart move if your firm teams up with an experienced online shopping expert that can help you avoid the pitfalls and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

If you’re considering moving away from the traditional storefront model, or diversifying your business with an e-commerce site, or want to offer your customers more ways to buy, choose a digital marketing partner and an e-commerce platform that makes sense with your products, service, goals, and budget. LNP Media Group is an experienced e-commerce marketing partner. We’re here to help you map out your path to online success. Contact us today for more details.

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