Category Archives: Business

Create Machine Made Brands

When most small business owners go about creating a business brand, they tend to think about hiring designers, graphic artists or other creative types to help. Or, to save time and money, they muddle through on their own, with a rudimentary understanding of what they think looks good. Now, thanks to innovations in machine learning, the next wave of business branding might actually be created by machines. Can a machine create a brand better than a human?  And what does that mean to your business as you build your own brand?

Can a Machine Create a Brand?

Branding and the 400 Milliseconds …What it Means to the SMB

I’ve often written about how important it is for small business owners to develop their own solid personal brand. It’s critical for building authority in your field, and engaging an audience. The same is true for your company’s brand, maybe even more so, in fact.  Consumer research shows that 90 percent of consumers expect a brand experience to be consistent across all platforms and channels, and first impressions are incredibly important.

It goes far beyond simple brand recognition; your brand elements build important emotional connections with your audience.

“People should feel something when they connect with your brand,” said online marketing guru Neil Patel in an interview with Jeff Charles.

Consistent and professional brand elements make it easier for customers to recognize your company and develop those feelings of trust that are so important in driving a purchase.

Yet for many small businesses, the cost of a professional branding solution is prohibitive. Brand strategist Pia Silva of Worst of All Design estimates that for a small business brand, you can expect to pay anywhere between $2,000 and $15,000. At that rate, it’s no wonder that many brands attempt the DIY approach.

Yali Saar, CEO of Tailor Brands, sees an alternative: “Every logo, and every branding element, is a combination of color, shape and meaning,” he explains. “Although your logo may seem like a small piece of your brand, it is the first thing your prospect encounters,” Saar explains. “And within 400 milliseconds, the human brain makes decisions about how it feels about what it perceives. You have that much time to make your first, and potentially lasting, impression.”

Saar’s believes his company has found the sweet spot where design best practices meet machine learning, to bring big-budget style branding design within reach of the small businesses.

The Science Behind Building a Brand

Your logo is not just some arbitrary symbol. As Saar explains, “A logo provides the visual representation of your business to your customers. It holds you accountable to the brand promises that you made. And it conveys this to your audience, helping ensure that they come back to use your business over and over again.”

Budget-route graphic design is too often subjective to really nail this down. I’ve heard so many small business owners talking about their own DIY attempts, based on what they like. They don’t necessarily take into account their brand promise, their relationship with their audience, or the emotions that need to be conveyed. A hired graphic designer often will probe these questions, but as I pointed out earlier, that route can be too expensive for small biz budgets.

What Saar has discovered is that these artistic decisions on color, font, size, placement and palettes can now be made intelligently, based on science and data, rather than subjective preferences. And that opens up a whole new level of branding for small businesses.

How Small Brands are Leveraging Design Science for Big Results

Can a machine really design better than a human? According to Jury Vetrov, who has been following the field of algorithm-driven design, the answer is a definite yes.

“The tools of the approach [for better web design] can help us to construct a UI, prepare assets and content, and personalize the user experience,” he writes, noting that it wasn’t until last year that “the technological foundations of these tools became easily accessible, and the design community got interested in algorithms, neural networks and artificial intelligence (AI).”

Vetrov is speaking specifically of website design; the same principles can be carried over into other forms of design as well. Machines are learning to be creative (, especially when given input into the intangibles like your company’s mission, language and purpose.

At Tailor Brands, Saar sees great potential in this intersection of creativity and data.

“Our users create a new design every 1.5 seconds,” he explains. “We ask for input about their brand, their mission, in an open-ended way that doesn’t limit their ideation.

“All of that creation means mounds of data,” Saar continues, “which helps us spot trends in branding that helps influence the next design. Our machines are constantly learning and getting better at what they do. “

It’s hard to overstate the importance of a solid brand look, no matter the size of your business or how long you’ve been around. From first impression to building engagement and growing solid relationships, your brand identity is crucial. Now, small business owners can leverage real science and put it to work for their company with brand elements that let them be amazing, faster than ever before.

Determine What Global Markets Fit Your Business Model

For any organization, no matter the size, going global is a major decision that can either make or break your business. If done right, expanding internationally can bring significant success and profit and be a driving force for your company’s continued growth. Small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, are keen on benefiting from the opportunities a new market presents. According to FedEx research, 65 percent of small businesses that are trading overseas have seen exponential revenue growth. But before deciding to enter a new market, organizations have to identify what that market is, based on the services they provide and their target audience. That’s why we’ve asked 13 members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) the following question:

“How can you best identify where you should be specifically expanding internationally based on your business model?”

Tips on Deciding Where to Expand Internationally

Here’s what YEC community members had to say:

1. Talk to Locals

“When we expand into a new international region, many factors go into the decision. One thing we’ve found very helpful is talking to locals and spending time on the ground if possible to get a feel for the area. Sometimes all the data trends in the world can’t tell you if a market will accept your business, but talking to people can reveal all sorts of valuable insights about the market.” ~ Diana Goodwin, AquaMobile

2. Start with Similar Markets

“Initially it will be helpful for you to start with markets that are similar to yours currently. If you’re in the UK, the next logical branching point would be Canada and the U.S. For Americans, it helps to hire a local consultant in the market you are considering expanding to. A good consultant will have enough insight into your product’s relevance and fit for that market.” ~ Nicole Munoz, Start Ranking Now

3. Research Google Trends

“Google Trends allows you to query different search terms by geography. If you know which keywords lead to your product, you may want to check which countries look up these words the most. This should be a strong indicator for you to determine where to expand next.” ~ Ariel Assaraf, Coralogix

4. Let Social Media Be a Guide

“I run a platform connecting great public speakers with organizations that want to book them. Due to the nature of platform businesses, it’s best if supply and demand for a given area are somewhat equal. Therefore, we used social media to see where interest was coming from for both speakers and organizations. Looking at comments, likes, and follows, it was clear we needed to expand to Nigeria.” ~ Lawrence Watkins, Great Black Speakers

5. Follow Customer Demand

“We rely heavily on consumer demand based on what the current buying trend is. Our marketing style makes the most of the various social media platforms because we target millennials who tend to buy products online more. While we check on the data on a weekly basis, we also never fail to see what our competitors are up to and determine if it’s feasible to incorporate it in our marketing programs.” ~ Daisy Jing, Banish

6. Use Big Data

“Use your own data and available data from other sources to identify the markets that have the most demand for what you offer and then see if you can align your infrastructure and resources to enter and serve those markets. Start with one market and grow from there to get the basics down.” ~ Zach Binder, Ranklab

7. Ask Industry Experts

“Industry experts will often have insights or inclinations about where the market is heading in your specific space. Find them online, and ask them. Then verify their opinions with other thought leaders. If enough people are saying the same thing, then it’s time to move!” ~ Krish Chopra, Nurse Practitioner Clinical Rotations

8. Listen to Your Customers

“When looking for the right market to expand to, use your logs to know where there is interest for your product. Either by analyzing traffic data or sales history, find out which countries are already displaying interest in what you have to offer. If your analytics show a higher rate of traffic in a particular territory, consider going after it. It will be easy when your customers already need you.” ~ Diego Orjuela, Cables & Sensors

9. Choose Countries with Stable Economies

“The country should be high in your target market, and should have a great percentage of smartphone use for marketing purposes. The English language should have at least some presence in the country as well. Choose countries with stable economies and with convenient ways to set up your business — meaning, not a lot of regulation.” ~ Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

10. Check Your Analytics

“I think international growth should occur organically. If you have a product that has enough reach to enter foreign markets, you’ll come to this realization via an examination of the analytics at your disposal. If you see increased traffic coming from IP addresses across the pond, in either direction, drill down and see whether that market is worth an initial investment. If so, tread slowly.” ~ Bryce Welker, Crush The CPA Exam

11. Determine Your Reason for Expanding

“Typically, companies enter new markets for two reasons: 1) To access a customer base; 2) To access a specific capability required by their business – for example, labor or natural resources. How you enter that market depends on your reasons for doing so. If you want local customers, establish sales teams on the ground, but if you are only after labor, you can work with a local partner to accelerate.” ~ Patrick Linton, Bolton Remote

12. Look for Gaps

“Look for gaps. For example, under-served markets or markets that are getting a trend late. Have a short list and then conduct research on all options. Do things such as taking to locals, researching culture and business practices, and don’t assume you know what they want. If you can test the waters before taking the leap then definitely look to do that first.” ~ Baruch Labunski, Rank Secure

13. Leverage Partner Relationships

“Working with partners is an effective strategy both for penetrating new verticals and expanding internationally. Keeping an open line of communication with our partners enables us to identify new strategic markets to break into and localize our efforts to drive business growth. Like many organizations, partners play a role in our growth and success.” ~ Neill Feather, SiteLock, LLC

Know The Hidden Mystery Behind Happy Customers

The internet has introduced insane levels of competition to virtually every industry. And, as one could expect, higher levels of competition mean better service for customers. Ultimately, this widespread competition has conditioned customers to expect convenience. If you can’t provide this, they’ll go elsewhere.

Customers Crave Convenience

How much do you know about millennials? Maybe your children are millennials, or perhaps the kid in the cubicle next to you is one. They get a bad rap a lot of times, but much of the negativity surrounding them is based on misconceptions. They’re different than previous generations, but millennials aren’t all selfish and lazy. However, they do want one thing: convenience.

Millennials love their technology and have been brought up in a world where they have unlimited access to whatever they want. Everything is just a click or a download away. While you may not agree with this mentality, blame the environment – not the individual.

Millennials are not only becoming the majority in the workplace, but they’re also increasing their buying power in the marketplace. Starting this year, millennials are expected to spend more than $200 billion annually. Over their lifetimes, they’ll spend a collective $10 trillion.

So when you hear that millennials love convenience, your ears should perk up. This isn’t something to fight or run from. You need to prioritize convenience or close up shop.

4 Ways to Improve Customer Convenience

As you try to real millennials and win them over, you have to make things as easy on them as possible. Here are some different techniques you may find helpful.

1. Try the 1-2-3 Method

There’s power in the number three. People like to see things grouped in 1-2-3 fashion. The reason for this isn’t exactly clear, but it’s something that the world has accepted as “right” for a number of years.

Whether it’s The Jackson Five singing their hit song ABC (“It’s easy as one, two, three…), Christianity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the three-act structure in screenwriting, or sayings like “blood, sweat, and tears,” the number three is pervasive in society.

If you want to make something convenient for your customers, try the 1-2-3 method. With this approach, you help customers understand a process or complete a transaction in just three steps. Here’s an example from The Clunker Junker. As you can see, they simplify the process of having a junk car removed into three parts: (1) accept the offer, (2) schedule the pickup, and (3) get paid.

Could you do something similar? For your business, it might look like turning a five-step checkout process into a three-step process. For another business, it may involve creating an online account in three stages. Whatever the case may be, there’s a chance for you to use the 1-2-3 method and make things easier on customers.

2. Be Reachable Via Multiple Touchpoints

From a customer’s perspective, there’s nothing more frustrating than needing assistance and not being able to get in touch with your business. If a customer has trouble finding contact information or can’t get a hold of you quickly, they’re going to lash out or run away.

Is your business reachable via multiple touchpoints? You may not have the resources to have a 1-800 line or fully staffed call center, but there’s no excuse in 2017 for not having a CRM system, email support, social media support, or even live chat support.

Here’s the key, though. You can’t just offer an additional checkpoint for the heck of it. It’s better to have a limited number of touchpoints that you regularly respond to than to have a bunch of different ones that you never pay attention to.

3. Do Research for the Customer

There’s a massive amount of information online and many customers are fatigued by the idea of doing their own research. The process of searching for information, filtering out the good from the bad, and then cross-referencing different sources is just too much. If you really want to make your brand convenient, you can do this research for them.

This could look like crunching a bunch of numbers and developing a free case study or report that looks at the effectiveness of different products in the industry. Even if these reports don’t always favor your products, at least you’re building trust with customers and positioning your brand as a resource.

Progressive is a perfect example. As you probably know from their extensive marketing campaigns, they let customers compare car insurance rates on their website in just minutes. Sometimes they have the best price, other times they don’t. But customers visit the site because of the convenience and many are more willing to do business with Progressive because of this tool.

4. Eliminate Friction at Checkout

If there’s one thing customers really hate, it’s getting to the point of checking out on an ecommerce site, only to discover that they have to jump through lots of different hoops to complete the transaction. You can make your ecommerce site more convenient by eliminating unnecessary friction at checkout.

The worst mistake you can make is requiring customers to register an account prior to completing a transaction. You can always make this optional at the end of the purchase, but mandatory registration on the front end is a massive conversion killer. If you really want to make a positive impression, one-click checkout is preferred.

Put the Customer’s Needs First

As important as it is to offer customers convenience, it’s equally important that you understand what convenience is not. Convenience doesn’t mean stepping back and automating everything. Millennials still want interaction – they just want seamless interaction.

“Don’t get it twisted- this generation’s affinity for technology is not a rejection of humanity.  To the contrary, millennials desire and expect deep connections with others,” says Tamar Frumkin of Salesforce. “They are social, collaborative, value diversity, share experiences and appearances with friends and expect brands to engage with them as peers.”

Now’s the time to start putting the needs of your customers first. They want personable convenience. If you can offer this, they’ll reward you in the form of brand loyalty

Learn More About Influencer Marketing Secrets Revealed

Every marketer has their little tricks up their sleeves when it comes to promoting their brands. Usually they follow by the same general model, adapting the same practices to different projects, or to fit certain needs. There is nothing wrong with this method, but it won’t work if you don’t add in new ways of marketing as they become more successful with customers.

Influencer marketing is a clear example of this thought in practice. Social media has been a powerhouse in promotion for years. But where that new means of marketing meets more traditional forms of endorsement advertising has been growing, though many people are still shaky on how to properly apply it to their campaigns.

Why Influencer Marketing?

Businesses keep doing the same mistake again and again: They discover a traffic generation strategy (in the vast majority of cases that’s Google search) that works for them, start growing exponentially and then instead of reinvesting into discovering more growth opportunities they keep feeding from that single source until it stops working for them.

Unlike most of online marketers may think, Google search is not the only source of traffic and awareness. There are more ways to generate clicks and sales:

  • Word of mouth;
  • Email marketing;
  • Email marketing, etc.

The power of word of mouth should never be underestimated. People buy from people and via people’s recommendation. That is where the power of influencer marketing comes into play.

Influencer marketing is essentially the newer form of celebrity endorsement. We all remember sitting around Saturday morning and seeing a commercial for Proactive come on the screen, with a flawless skinned A-list actress trying to convince us that she had a problem with acne at some point in the past.

Think of influencer marketing as a more down-to-earth, simple version of that idea. You are taking the equivalent of celebrities in the digital realm (YouTubers, social media stars, bloggers, etc.) and having them push your brand into the spotlight. They endorse you to their fans which can be in the literal millions, and you reap the benefits.

The bigger of those benefits is creating a solid, trusting customer base. That base includes the influencer(s) that you have managed to snag. It is a mutually beneficial relationship that can vastly increase your conversions.

How To Boost Conversions with Influencer Marketing

Now that you understand why influencer marketing is so great, we can start looking at ways to incorporate it into your campaigns and get those conversions really growing. These are by no means exhaustive, but consider them your starting point. It won’t be long before you begin to see results, and can build on them.

Know Your Influencers Well

There is no point in trying to target an audience, much less find an influencer to help you do so, if you don’t really know who you are talking to. Before you begin you need to really understand the demographic you are catering to. Not just who they are, where they live and the basics (age, gender, education and income level, etc.). You need to know what they want, need, and don’t even realize they need.

Who do they watch you YouTube? Do they prefer Netflix or Hulu? Do they use Tumblr? Reddit? Facebook? Snapchat? Instagram? Do they like dogs or cats better? Do they put ranch on their pizza? It might seem like overkill, but the better you know your audience the more direct your trajectory will be when finding the perfect influencer to reach them.

Talking to your audience is almost always the first step to understanding them better. I’ve always been an advocate of surveying tools to help you better understand your niche community. Moreover, surveys provide so many opportunities beyond the obvious audience research. For example, you use them to actually build connections with influencers (by providing them with various perks in exchange for taking the survey). And afterwards, you can turn the results into a solid linkable brand asset and invite all the participating influencers to spread the word. That’s what Moz has been doing, quite successfully, with their “Search Engine Ranking Factors“:

  • Invite niche influencers to participate
  • List those influencers as contributors on the landing page
  • Build trust and turn your brand into the niche knowledge hub which, in turn, brings more conversions because buyers now know who they are buying from:

Featured tool: I know there are a few obvious surveying tools out there but I’ve recently discovered Wyzerr which is probably new for most of the readers. It lets you build fun interactive quizzes that are actually enjoyable to take, so you are likely to get many more responses with it:

Work out a Flexible and Effective Rewarding Strategy

I have just mentioned perks above and this is something you need to put some thorough thought into.

I am approached by so many companies on a daily basis: they invite me to check their tools out, participate in expert interviews and compete their surveys. Sadly, there are so few companies who actually get the “rewarding” part.

Don’t get me wrong: Not all influencers will insist on being rewarded. Most of them will simply want you to be polite. No one likes being used. Never demand.

That’s why I emphasized being flexible in the heading above. Don’t go to each influencer with the same cookie-cutter approach: Some of the influencers will want to be paid while others will get offended when you offer them a pay. Some possible perks include:

  • Exclusive access to your tool;
  • Free trip to your conference or meetup;
  • The opportunity to get featured together with other prominent niche influencers, etc.

Don’t miss the opportunity to thank your influencers after your campaign is wrapped up. Simply sending out a thank-you card or a branded coupon card can go a long way. It can very cost-effective too. Stock photography can come for free (here’s a good list) and designing a card is easy with sites like Canva.

Remember a proper “Thank you” notice is yet another opportunity to engage those influencers in sharing your brand around. As an example, here’s me sharing Buzzsumo’s gift basket because I was truly surprised and excited:

There will be different rewards for different influencers, so there needs to be a tool that could help you manage the process properly. Salesmate helps organize and scale your influencer onboarding. It lets you clearly see which step of influencer onboarding your managers are at and what works for different influencers in terms if incentives:

Salesmate integrates well with all my favorite apps too, so it’s nice to be able to keep everything under one roof.

Important note: When working on your rewarding strategy, keep in mind the legal aspects of online endorsement. Kerry O’Shea Gorgone gave a solid outline of disclosures influencers should be using when endorsing anyone online:

Learn The Power Of Micro-Influencers

You don’t have to always be looking to get the guy who has a million Twitter followers to promote your brand. How about the gal with 100k? Or that teen blogger who has managed to build a steady ad-revenue through their beauty blog? Influencers come in all sizes, and that is where micro-influencers come in.

They don’t have the reach of the most popular social media mavens, but they have a dedicated audience and are often easier to secure. Plus you can build a relationship with them that goes beyond just marketer/talent.

It all comes down to how engaged their community is rather than how many followers they have managed to build!

Tools like Klear and Twitonomy will help you both discover and analyze the reach of niche (micro-)influencers. They both work for Twitter. Here are more ways to discover influencers beyond Twitter.

You may also want to up your social media engagement by investing in Facebook ads and target your influencers’ followers. You’ll be sure to generate many more leads from your advertising campaign if you incorporate your influencers’ identity (logos, pictures) into your display advertising. Of course, you need to get influencers’ permission first.

Aim Higher: Focus on Building Loyalty

Brand loyalty is always a must, and influencer marketing really helps you to build it. They already have a relationship with their audience, and they are putting you forward as trusted within that relationship.

You are reaching them through someone they already know they can and should listen to. If you can prove to them that trying your brand out was a positive decision then you have a chance to hooking them for life.

Influencer marketing campaign shouldn’t really focus on the actual ROI (conversions or sales). There’s much more to it: The long-term goal should be to build trust which always results in a natural increase in conversions.

Building a brand ambassador program is a natural extension and a goal of an influencer marketing campaign.

Jeff Bullas (speaking of influencers) did an awesome breakdown of how you can use brand ambassadors by utilizing visual content

Creating an Online Marketing Strategy to Consistently Bring in Customers

Creating an online marketing strategy to get more customers can be a great step for your business. But creating an online marketing strategy that will help you consistently bring in and keep customers can help you keep your business going for the long run. For tips on creating an online marketing strategy that will work for the future of your business, check out what members of the online small business community have to say.

Use These Essential Elements for Your Inbound Marketing Strategy

There’s a lot that goes into creating a successful inbound marketing strategy. But there are some factors that are absolutely essential, like the nine elements mentioned in this post by Joanne Chong on the RankReveal blog.

Learn About Conversions to Get More of Them

When it comes to making sales, conversions are paramount. But there are different types of conversion strategies to consider. In this Kissmetrics post, Sherice Jacob outlines the different types and explains why they matter so you can create a strategy to improve your own conversion rates.

Write Better Content with These Pro Tips

Content marketing can be a powerful way to attract potential customers. But you need your content to be powerful if you want actual results. This Digital Current post by Rebekah Radice includes some tips from the pros about writing better content. And members of the BizSugar community shared thoughts on the post here.

Develop a Powerful Social Chain

If you are able to build powerful social connections online, you can improve your chances of making constant sales for your business. This post by Pamela Swift on includes information about building a powerful social chain for your small business.

Consider the Top Email Marketing Tools for Your Business

Email marketing is an essential part of any ongoing online marketing strategy. But there are plenty of different solutions to consider. Vinay Patankar compares some of the top options in this Process Street post.

Decrease Your Ad Spend Without Compromising Results

Paid advertising can provide a major boost to your online marketing efforts. But it can also get expensive. In this post, Neil Patel shares an insider’s guide for how you can decrease your ad spend by more than half.

Use Mobile Marketing to Elicit Behavior Change

Mobile technology has changed the landscape of online marketing. And it can also help you elicit specific behaviors from potential customers when used properly, as this Noobpreneur post by Ivan Widjaya explains.

Test and Perfect Your PPC Strategy

Making the most of PPC advertising can take some trial and error. But if you know how to test different approaches, you can perfect your own strategy. Learn morein this Search Engine Land post by Andreas Reiffen.

Use Tailored Tweets to Find Relevant Content

Twitter isn’t just a great marketing tool. It can also help you find content that’s relevant to your business. And tailored tweets is a feature that can help, according to this Inspire to Thrive post by Lisa Sicard. You can also see commentary on the post over on BizSugar.

Get an Endless Supply of Blog Post Ideas

If you use blogging as part of your online marketing strategy, you might sometimes find it difficult to come up with new ideas. But you can consistently come up with new ideas using the tips in this DIY Marketers post by Marsha Kelly.