Advertising

What Do Millennials Value In Customer Service?

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Millennial: (noun) a person born in the 1980s or 1990s usually plural.

Chances are, you parent one, hire one, work with one, or otherwise know one. There are many theories of Millennials as employees, but not as much is said about these young adults as consumers.

Did you know that Millennials have $200 billion of direct purchasing power and $500 billion of indirect spending (mostly the influence on the spending of their mostly baby boomer parents)?

And did you know that those numbers will continue to surge? That’s a lot of potential income you could gain---or lose---depending on how your company plans to market to and serve customers in this generation. So, it’s important to know, what do Millennials value in customer service?

1. Millennials won’t look to the person---they’ll look to the app.

Micah Solomon has an excellent column on serving customers at this age. Here’s one of the most interesting points:

“Millennials have different ideas of where humans should fit into customer service delivery. If an app or algorithm can deliver what they need, so much the better. Which is one reason most Millennials consult their smartphones first even when they’re in your store and a human a human paid to assist them is standing at the ready.”

He goes on to say that Millennials want to choose to interact; they don’t expect to do so based on bad user experience or “sloppy” systems. Give Millennials a good system to answer their own questions first.

2. Millennials want transparency.

Whether it’s a work, personal, or business relationship, Millennials expect their boss/employee/significant other/buyer/seller to be open and honest. In business transactions, this means being upfront about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t hide it from Millennials, because (with their seemingly permanently attached smartphones), they’ll share their experiences with anyone who will listen. And they’ll get heard.

3. Millennials are incredibly reachable.

Take a look at some of these statistics taken from “The Millennial Generation Research Review,” an article from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

  • Millennials are 2.5 times more likely to be early adopters of technology than are older generations.

  • They are more likely to use the internet, broadcast thoughts, and contribute content. Millennials stand out when it comes to producing and uploading online content.

  • In 25% of searches for the top 20 brands, results are links to user-generated content. This has huge implications for brands to become aware of others’ experiences of their product or service and ensure that it is in harmony with their brand strategy.

  • Marketing and advertising to Millennials should be placed around engaging content. Engagement is higher among Millennials than other generations for television and websites; on a percentage basis, it is greater online than on TV. It appears that Millennials are highly engaged with content they chose to view online and on TV, which amplifies the effectiveness of ads for Millennials.

The counter to that? Millennials know how to disengage, too, and they don’t hesitate to do so. That makes the way you engage with Millennial customers incredibly profitable (or detrimental) to you.

“They have the confidence to stand up for what they believe and the confidence, technology, and network to voice their opinions. With Millennials, brands know where they stand, sometimes even minute to minute. According to one survey, 86% of Millennials are willing to share information about their brand preferences online, making it a top personal identifier.” -U.S. Chamber Foundation

With tools like call tracking, you’ll have evidence to show you exactly how well you’re reaching this up-and-coming demographic. You can measure your marketing effectiveness with unique phone call tracking numbers and simple reports designed to help you improve the way you treat customers (including Millennials!).

4. Millennials won’t wait for you to respond.

If you snooze, you’ll lose them. In customer service, that means not only being accessible to help answer their questions and solve their problems, but being actively involved in helping them find a solution that pleases them, whether it’s over the phone, via email, or through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook or review websites like Yelp.

We love the way the way the U.S. Chamber Foundation says it, and we think it sums up customer service---Millennial style:

“It all comes down to trust for brands. The trust is deeper and more intense with this group, but the greater availability of information can also destroy it faster.”

Managing Interns Without Losing Your Mind? Yes, You Can!

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Ah, sweet summertime.

Sleeping in late. Watching ice cream melt and drip into sticky puddles on the floor. Long lunches followed by lazy afternoons. Unbridled laughter and exuberant chatter as friends recount stories of those hot summer nights.

And that’s just in your office.

Let’s face it---adults feel the same way about summertime as they did as kids: it's a season of “taking it easy.” And that feeling doesn’t get left at the door when they come to work. But, as a small business owner, you know you can’t afford to slack off (and neither can your employees). Here are six ways you can make sure your office productivity doesn’t take a leap off the high dive when summer begins.

1. Plan Beforehand

The first step in successfully managing interns and summer hires is to prepare for them. Game plan exactly what you want the next three (or however many) months to look like and what you hope to gain from the hire or hires. Think about what you want them to learn from you. It’s important to put some thought in to this and then write it down so you don’t waste time (yours and theirs) and money.

2. Make Your Expectations Known

As soon as your new employees arrive, tell them exactly what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. And this is important: be clear in stating your goals for their time with you as well as your company’s policies.

One article calls this setting the stage: let your interns know how their performance will be evaluated, how they will be paid, and who they can go to with concerns.

Giving clear instructions won’t just set the tone for the rest of the time these employees will be with you, it can also save you the money and hassle of dealing staffing changes and retention issues.

3. Give Them A Project They Own

Of course, it’s not fair to dog interns and summer hires if you’re not giving them anything to do. They are eager to show they can help, and you might be surprised at how insightful their fresh perspectives are in solving problems, identifying weaknesses, and improving strengths. The tasks you assign them don’t have to be important, necessarily, as much as purposeful. Do you have any less urgent, yet purposeful, tasks on your desk that you never get to? If so, consider delegating these tasks!

4. Guide Them

The other angle? Interns are with you to learn how the real world works---and how they can work in it. Giving them a few projects that matter will show them what it’s really like when someone depends on you to do a job well without giving you cardiac arrest if they make a mistake (and they will!). You’re in a unique (and pretty awesome) position to show someone who has no experience what the “real world” is all about, so take pride in it.

  • Institute an open-door policy: let them know from the beginning that the more questions they ask, the more they’ll learn, and that’s why you’re there.

  • Take time to give feedback.

  • Be honest when it comes to giving recommendations.

5. Guarantee Your Peace of Mind When You’re Not Around

One summer in college, I worked with someone who refused to answer the phone. Every time it rang, this employee either walked away or picked up the phone and set it back down---hanging up on probably hundreds of potential customers in the short time I worked there.

I’m not sure how our supervisor found out this was going on, but I do know it took months. I imagine thinking about the potential lost profit made my boss ill. Temporary and summer employees are a golden example of how a tool like call recording can make a huge difference in your business. If my boss had known about call tracking and recording, she wouldn’t have had to wait months to find out about the dozens of callers who never got through (she’d be alerted almost immediately that there was a pattern of dropping calls). And instead of having to let go of a teary-eyed employee who didn’t know how to do a job (and who just hung up the calls), she could have used recording phone conversations as a training tool, not only for that employee, but for all future employees (to make sure the situation never happened again)!

6. Have Fun, Too

Managing interns and summer hires is a lot of work, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Not only do you get to help form someone’s first work experience (a huge life event!), but you can potentially gain an exceptional member of your team. Enjoy the experience, and then stay in touch with those who go above and beyond; use the training ground you provided for your benefit (not your competitiors’!).

With these tips, you’ll not only gain an outstanding employee, you’ll improve your company---and be on the way to becoming one of the businesses every potential employee wants to be a part of. Let us help you get there.

P.S. What’s the best (or worst!) summer job you’ve ever had?

6 Reasons Your Business Should Be Using Instagram

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If you think Instagram is only for sharing photos of cute babies, average-looking food, and a selfie (or 12), think again. With the right strategy, the photo-sharing platform can work for your business. Here are six quick reasons your business should be using Instagram.

1. You can show your products in a new light (er, filter).

This is the most obvious reason to use Instagram. By sharing through a visual medium, you’ll give your current and potential customers a look at your products in a new way. Get creative. For example, if you’re a car dealership, share photos of your in-stock vehicles---exterior, interior, cool features, even pictures of the vehicles “in action.” As your inventory changes, so, too can the pictures you post. And don’t worry if you’re not a professional photographer---Instagram makes it easy to have cool images with just a push of a button.

2. Your audience already likes---and loves---Instagram.

Instagram is on track to pass Twitter users later this year, making it one of Facebook’s best purchases ever. With 60 million new photos posted daily, and 58 percent of users checking for new content at least once a day, it’d be a mistake to overlook Instagram as something that is just a trend.

3. You can give your customers behind-the-scenes access to your company.

Don’t limit your pictures to “showcases.” Let your followers get a glimpse of your team and your company’s culture through behind-the-scenes photos of the group of people who are bringing them awesome products (and content). Not sure who should post? Why not everyone? For example, once a week, you could pick a different employee to share a “day in the life” through the lens of his or her job. Don’t limit it only to work-related things---let your employees’ personalities shine, and give your customers a glimpse of just how awesome your team is.

4. Hashtag #engagement.

One of the hallmarks of Instagram is just how easy it is to connect with users through hashtags. A hashtag is the pound symbol (#) followed by a word or phrase with no spaces that users can tag photos with. Once a photo has a hashtag, it’s made into a link that shows you all of the images under that hashtag. Here’s an example: Chick-fil-A took a picture of a cup of sweet tea on a golf course and hash-tagged #masters in honor of the Masters Tournament. That’s pretty brilliant, huh? Now, whenever anyone clicks on any #masters tags (there are potentially millions of them!), they can see Chick-fil-A branding. And because Instagram is a free platform, this doesn’t cost you a thing.

5. Locations and user shout-outs bring your customers to you.

Another awesome thing about using Instagram for business? Your customers become your brand advocates through location and @user tags. Instagram lets you pinpoint user locations in images, so anytime you click on a location, you can see all of the users who have “insta-ed” there. Similarly, users can use the @ symbol to tag other users to connect to each other.

In the car dealership example above, consider what this could do for your business. If you asked your customer (who uses Instagram) if he or she could post a photo at your car dealership (using locations) and tag you in it, you could gain exposure from all of his or her followers. With that customers permission, you could regram (repost their picture from your account), too, and give the picture a creative hashtag unique to your dealership (or even the dealership name). Now imagine doing this with all of your customers. Sounds pretty awesome, right?!

6. You can get a business edge (for free!).

Here’s the “so, what?” to using Instagram for your business; it’s free, it's fun, and it’s also measurable. To find out if your Instagram marketing is actually driving leads, you can include a call-tracking number or a unique website in the “about” of your account or within image captions. That way, you’ll know it’s both fun and productive to market your company! Based on the analytics, you can choose to post more of the type of photo---product photos, maybe, or behind-the-scenes shots---that your followers seem to engage with. The possibilities are limited only by your creativity!

Tell us, how do you use Instagram for your business?

How Do You Make Your Customers Say "Spoice"?

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SPOICE! SPOICE! SPOICE!

OK, I'll admit---I’m enamored with the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. And when U.S. Snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg won the first gold of the 2014 competition, his proclamation of “SPOICE!” resonated with me. Mostly because I had no idea what it meant.

In case you’re wondering, too, here’s the (un)official definition: Spoice, which rhymes with voice, is

“An exclamation of gratitude toward life (Urban Dictionary), or, a particularly high compliment to be paid to someone. “Her last name’s ever. First name Spoiciest.” @sagekotsenburg

What if you could translate the “spoice” of life to your customer interactions? Would you, pardon the pun, jump at the chance? Of course you would! Well, it’s easier than you think, and it starts with call recording.

Call recording gives you insight you can't get any other way.

It's the direct link to details about your customers, your employees, and your marketing campaigns that could potentially boost profits---and, conversely, going without it could cost you.

Call recording tells you about your employees,

so you can keep an eye on quality and liability issues. With call recording, you can easily recall the correct card numbers, account information, or price quotes given; that way, you can correct any data discrepancies as soon as they come up. Your business benefits as light is shed on specific ways you can improve how you train and evaluate employees, scripts, and your sales methods. With call recording, you can simply and precisely target and measure the success of individual advertising campaigns as well as your overall marketing strategy.

Call recording is a low-cost solution with valuable benefits.

Instead of throwing away dollars to purchase systems that still make you do the work to figure out what your customers are actually saying, call recording gives you complete, direct access to exactly what you want to know in real time. You don't have to hire a bunch of people to organize and archive your data, either. It's done for you---you don't have to train yourself (or an employee) to maintain a complex system. The low cost of recording your calls far outweighs the perceived lack-of-cost of trying to monitor your employees yourself or, even worse, not at all.

Call recording gives you insight about how well you serve your customers.

Ultimately, all of the benefits come down to this one. If you want to know what your customers really think, record your calls. You will find out the good, the bad and the ugly, and then, acting on what you know will help you close more business. Delighted customers become loyal customers---the kind who finish a transaction and know they will choose you next time, even if a new shop opens down the block offering lower prices.

When you're ready to record your incoming calls, it's easy to get set up. The process is outlined here, and we can help you with any questions you have about getting started with low cost call recording. It's a win-win---for you and your customers.

So really, with call recording, both you and your customers will be able to keep it spoice-y!

8 Tips To Composing A Successful Billboard

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"A Dream Died Here."

That's all the sign said, and that's all it needed to say to pique my interest. The billboard was off an exit about halfway through a several-hundred mile car trip, and those four words captured my attention from that mile-marker on; in fact, I'm still thinking about what that dream was, and what might have happened to end it!

Out-of-home advertising continues to be a cornerstone of effective marketing, making bold statements along highways and interstates and in close proximity to pedestrians and shoppers. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, billboard and other out-of-home media revenue rose 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, accounting for more than $1.6 billion!

But in order to stake a successful claim in the out-of-home media world, you can't just throw anything on a billboard and expect sales. Here are eight proven tips to composing a successful billboard.

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1. Know your product.

First, do your homework to understand your product or service and your competition. Without insight into what you're trying to sell, you'll have to work a lot harder to convey a diluted message. By understanding the nuances of your product and service, you'll be able to have more fun with the creative execution of the billboard, too!

2. Unify your message.

Once you know everything there is to know about your product, use that knowledge of the product to create the strongest single message you can. Though there are many things you'll want to talk about, resist that urge and focus on the best attributes. The message will most likely be a call to action, though it doesn't always have to be. I like what Jocelyn Broder says about laser-focusing your message:

"We oftentimes feel the need to get the entire gist in the first sentence.  I once saw a lead sentence with more than 80 words; that’s a paragraph! Long sentences are harder for readers to digest and when your message only has five seconds to do the job, it’s important to make the message easy. Take the time to pare down the words in the first sentence, make every word count and you may be surprised that people will continue to read rather than give up on the run-on lead sentence containing every idea and nuance of the message."

Once you've established your message, you can take it and apply it to the three components your billboard needs: a headline, a graphic, and a point-of-contact.

3. Be brief.

Even though you’ve got a 14-foot by 48-foot canvas, the copy in your message should be short; in fact, the shorter your message is, the more effective it will be. The golden standard for billboard advertising is to have no more than seven words; any more, and your audience won't have the time, or desire, to keep reading. Don't write a novel, write a headline.

In the example I shared above, it took only four words to grab my attention. We even pulled over to find out what "died"---it turned out to be a failed amusement village the owners are trying to revitalize through fund raising. Their wording worked on us, and I'm sure we're not the only ones!

4. Invest in design.

With a billboard, what you see is what you get, and that visual appeal can make or break your entire message. Don't skimp on this aspect!

  • Use large type. You want your potential customers to be able to read what you've said.

  • Don't get cute with fonts---keep it legible, and mirror the tone of your copy.

  • Pick a single, relevant image to use.

  • Use---but don't overuse---color.

  • Seek out a designer if you need one. (Sometimes you think you don't... but you probably do.)

5. Use only a single point of contact.

This one seems counter-intuitive... we want our customers to have every opportunity to reach us! But for out-of-home advertising, one method of contact is enough, whether it is a website, physical address, or phone number. For nearby retail or restaurants, location-based contacts make sense. "Left on exit 4B!" tells your customer exactly how to get to you.

For services, an easily remembered website or phone number can help drive customers to your business. Then, if you pair that contact information with a call tracking number, you'll know exactly how successful your billboard leads are, or you can use that information to adjust your advertising if necessary.

6. Target your audience.

I love this example of targeted advertising by Mini:

"As they pass digital screens along one of London's main roads, Mini drivers find simple, fun content aimed directly at them. Messages such as "Hey Cream Mini, what's your secret?" and ""Hello blue Mini driver" flash up on giant screens, thanks to software that recognizes the Minis as they drive by. There is also a team of "spotters" who had to pass a test to prove they could see and name a make of a MINI from 50 paces.

At gas stations along the way, Mini drivers are offered treats -- bacon sandwiches or smoothies in the morning and a tank of fuel or bunch of flowers on the journey home. Drivers can also choose to have their photo taken and displayed with a bespoke message as they approach the digital poster sites. The push is part of Mini's "Not Normal" campaign, which celebrates the individuality of Mini drivers."

What a fun and innovative way to single-out your customer and delight them! Not only does the car company celebrate its current customers, but it certainly gains the attention, and likely admiration, of a few potential Mini-drivers, too.

7. Think outside the box.

Some of the most successful campaigns break out of the rectangle to shock, entertain, and delight potential customers when the mode is appropriate to the message. Check out these galleries of award-winning Outdoor Advertising Association of America billboards to see how alternatives to the rectangle can set you apart from the competition.

8. Test, test, test!

The final step in composing a successful billboard is to track the leads its generating. By using specific call tracking numbers or website addresses on different billboards in different locations, you'll be able to point to the data to know which signs are performing best and bringing in new customers!

How has billboard advertising worked for you? Seen any awesome signs lately? Leave us a comment---we want to know!

Should You Run A Newspaper Ad?

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What's black and white and read all over? The answer is, of course, the newspaper.

But when was the last time you really read all over the newspaper? And for how many people is the paper still a part of their day?

The answers to these questions, I think, aren’t black and white, but there are a few ways to identify whether print is still a good buy for your business’ marketing mix.

Newspaper advertising isn’t all black and white

Ask almost anyone on the street about the state of newspapers, and they will probably say something along the lines of “It’s not doing too well” or even “Newspapers are dead.” This conventional wisdom has been backed up somewhat by the stories we see about newspaper journalism’s continued struggle to make a profit, shrinking newsroomspapers shutting their doors after decades (and in some cases, centuries, of business), and the rise of the internet.

That sounds pretty scary if you are thinking about running a newspaper ad. In fact, you may be tempted to stop reading here! But hold on, because it’s not all bad news for newspaper advertisers.

In fact, once you read past the headlines, there are some convincing facts that point in the direction of newspaper advertising, like this one from Nielson, which says that “respondents rate newspapers (in print and on the internet) as the most effective advertising source among various media” and this one, which says that “of all media, newspaper readers are the most highly engaged with the content and advertising newspaper readers are highly engaged."

Small business owners should take note of this survey, too: "when looking at advertising effectiveness directly, with such metrics as “usually notice ads”, “likely to purchase” or “best place for Black Friday shopping,” print newspapers came in at 41 percent, above radio’s 34 percent and the Internet or TV/TV online, which had 33 percent and 32 percent, respectively.”

Here's more:

  • 86 % of consumers used media to help plan shopping or make purchasing decisions in the past 7 days.

  • Newspapers ranked first as a source by 59% of adults, followed by in store displays, direct mail, television, magazines, e-mail, radio and search.

  • 80% of newspaper readers report looking at advertising when reading the paper.

  • 41% of adults report that newspapers are the media most used to check out ads; more than all electronic media combined (internet, television, catalogs, magazines and radio). Shoppers rate newspapers first of all media for: Bringing sales to attention; Most valuable for planning shopping; Most believable and trust worthy; Look forward to this type of ad; Prefer for receiving advertising information.

  • 82% of readers used a preprinted insert in the past 30 days. On average, adults keep inserts 4.4 days. Uses include 59% to compare prices, 55% to compare one circular to another, 52% saved until visiting the store, 43% showed it to a spouse, friend or family member, 43% to make an unplanned purchase, 42% took it to the store with them.

  • Even if they don’t read the newspaper, consumers want to know what’s inside. 36% of adults who said they had not read a newspaper in the past week, used a newspaper during that same week to check sales in local stores (19% ), clip a coupon (15%), and check movie listings (10%).

I think Adam Burnham sums up the data about advertising in newspapers well (emphasis mine):

"Readers of newspapers pay for the advertising. I apologise to all of my content peers, but we charge a premium price for the Sunday edition because it is filled with advertising. And people pay that premium price so they can see everything that is on sale in the market. This is a developed behaviour that is not going anywhere.  So when I say newspapers have a future, I can think of no stronger argument than this. And if you disagree, ask some of the big box retailers that tried moving away from Sunday inserts. That move didn’t last long."

So, should you run a newspaper ad?

Now that you’ve seen the pros and cons of running a newspaper ad, it’s up to you to find out if newspaper ads have to potential to be successful for you.

According to this article, newspaper advertising is more successful when it is hyper-localized, and according to this article from Entrepreneur.com, targeted to people who are in the market to buy immediately.

Pay attention to your target audience, and don’t let your biases get in the way of the research.

One small business owner, in a discussion about the value of running a newspaper ad, said it this way:

Avoid one of the biggest marketing mistakes, which is assuming that your tastes and preferences and habits are those of your target market. What you do or don't do has no impact on what your target market does or doesn't do.

I think she’s right. Whether you read the paper at 7 a.m. every morning or haven’t read page one in years, your habits don’t matter. It only matters what your target audience will do. It’s up to you to determine if putting an ad in the newspaper has a high chance of success, so make sure you do your research.

If you’ve decided that you should run a newspaper ad, make sure it has the best opportunity to work for you. Here are a few things to pay special attention to:

  • Ad placement: As much as you can, make sure your product or service is being featured in a place where your target audience will be reading. Don’t stick your travel agency’s ad in the real estate section or tree-trimming service with the local restaurant menu page. Talk to your newspaper representative if you are concerned your ad isn’t in the right place!

  • Ad design: One of the most common reasons newspaper ads fail, according to this article, is that they get lost in the paper. “Small businesses tend to run small ads with mediocre copy and no illustrative materials, such as photographs or art."

  • Integrate a coupon or incentive: 21 percent of readers say the main reason they subscribe to a local newspaper is for the coupons! That means one out of five of your potential customers want to buy a paper only because they think you’ll reward them for doing so. So do it, and add a unique call tracking number to see your results (which we’ll talk more about now!).

Now, track your ads.

After you’ve done all of the hard work that goes in to planning and implementing an ad, you can’t afford not to track the results. In the quote from the small business owner above, she goes on to say that “small business people often don’t take the time to measure ad results. Without measuring results, they have no sound basis for improving their creativity, their copy, their offers, or even their choice of media.”

I completely agree with her! After all, you want to make sure it’s been worth it! You can do this easily by adding a call tracking number or website address that’s unique to your ad, which will show you per call and click exactly how effective your newspaper ad has been.

Then, you’ll be able to use the analytics to determine if you should run a newspaper ad again or if you should invest your advertising resources elsewhere.

Now that you’ve read a little bit more about our take on newspaper advertising, we want your feedback! If you’ve chosen to run a newspaper ad, how has your experience been?

10 Creative Advertising Ideas For A Tight Budget

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I recently visited a new local shop I’d been eager to visit since finding out about it through a web search. I knew the store had just opened, and I was really impressed with its selection and how helpful the owners, a mother-daughter duo, were. As I was paying for my purchase, the owner asked me how I’d heard of her shop, and I told her I’d found it online. “Really?” she said, “I just don’t think all that online stuff is going to make that much of a difference, but my daughter said we need to put it out there, so she took care of it. I honestly don’t see what the value is.”

Cue brakes screeching.

Right about then, her daughter chimed in. She said something along these lines: “Mom, how many of the people we’ve talked to have said they’ve found us the exact same way? You can’t say it’s not working. It obviously is.”

They asked me a few more questions about where exactly I saw the promotion for the store. As we wrapped up our conversation, the daughter wrapped up my purchase, stuck in a business card and a flyer with information about an upcoming sale and told me to look for them on several social media sites she actively uses.

Neither woman asked me for my opinion, but if she had, I would have echoed exactly what the daughter said. It is imperative for small business to advertise, not only online, but in as many ways as you can afford to.

In fact, you can't afford not to advertise!

Tom Egelhoff says it this way:

“If there is one mistake small town businesses make more often than any other it's, "What ever is left over, we'll use for advertising. Marketing and advertising is an investment, not an expense. I know it sure seems like an expense to me when I'm writing the check, but trust me it's not. Without enough money put aside for advertising your sales can go down and you suddenly have less and less for promotion."

So, if the idea of sinking a chunk of change in to advertising makes you queasy, relax. There are many methods to effectively advertise on a limited budget as well as tools to measure advertising effectiveness. You can spend a reasonable amount with success, and make sure your advertising budget is doing its job well.

10 Low-Cost, Creative Advertising Ideas

  1. Use the internet! I wanted to tell the shopkeeper whom I spoke with that 85 percent of her potential customers use the internet to find local businesses. She was willing to write all of those potential customers off, but she (and you!) can’t afford to miss out on them! It’s not as costly or as complicated as you may think to utilize this powerful resource. Set up online accounts on your local business directories, and encourage your customers to leave reviews, and you've done your business a major service in just a few steps.

  2. Create a website. Your website should (at least) have your phone number and email address, and, if you own a retail shop, the address of your storefront. Ensure potential customers know exactly where they can find you.

  3. Use social media and location-based services. Google+, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and 4Square are all free methods of advertising, and your business doesn’t have to be on every platform. Using just a few of these outlets well can make a difference. In the next three years, more than 179 million people are predicted to use these outlets in North America alone. That’s a lot of potential customers!

  4. Advertise on Google.

  5. Volunteer! Get involved in your community, and position your company in a positive light to those closest to you by showing that you care. You’ll build trust in your brand, you may see that word-of-mouth marketing and referrals increase your business with minimal cash investment. Lead a clean-up day at a local park, or visit a local school and see if there are any ways you can share your time and talents with the students there.

  6. Participate in or donate to local charities. Sponsor a fun run or community event and wear your company T-shirt so attendees can associate you, their friendly neighbor, with the good your business is doing.

  7. Teach a class on business in general or something related to your specific skills. Many community centers, libraries, churches and colleges offer one- or two-session classes that you may be interested in leading. You’ll be able to network with those interested in and involved with your business community, and you’ll be perfectly positioned to share your own successes. You may even learn a few things from your students!

  8. Find out if direct mail is right for you, and if so, use it! According to one IBM study, "selling time can be reduced from 9.3 to 1.3 total hours with direct mail advertising. A Sales and Marketing Executives International Study showed salespeople went from eight orders per 100 cold calls to 38 orders per 100 when direct mail was used." And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

  9. Utilize business cards. They're a small-but-mighty tool you probably already have!

  10. Send out press releases to your local newspaper when your business does something new and innovative or exceptional. Keep your content fresh and your headlines catchy, and your local news outlets may do your advertising for you.

Think of this list as a best-of-the-best list of the hundreds of creative advertising ideas on a tight budget. After you implement these ideas, you’ll want to prove their success. Scrutinize their effectiveness by adding a call tracking number to every ad and piece of collateral you hand out or publicize, and then take that information and invest more in the ways that were successful so you can continue to grow your business. Don’t be afraid to try methods you’re unfamiliar with; they may bring in more leads than you expected!

Now it’s your turn. Which of these methods sound most appealing to you? Let us know about the success you’ve had with low-cost, creative advertising ideas!

3 Mistakes You Don't Want To Make In Your Radio Advertising

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I never listen to the radio. At least, that's what I thought when I started writing this.

Then, I started researching facts and figures. And after getting over the astonishment when I read that 93% of people age 12 and older listen to the radio every week, I realized I'm probably exposed to radio more than I think. I started remembering car rides and trips to the grocery store. And then I thought about all the radio ads that I could recall. And I realized, Wow, radio is a part of my life and I didn't even know it!

Radio is just about the most accessible media source out there. You don't have to pay for it. You just have to be able to pick up a signal. So, I guess it's no surprise that so many people are listening in.

So, what does all that mean when it comes to advertising? Check out these facts and figures from the Radio Advertising Bureau.

  • Consumers spend 22% of their total media time with radio.

  • 84% of drivers cite radio as their primary in-car entertainment device.

  • Radio retains more than 93% of its lead-in audience during commercial breaks.

The statistics make it seem like it's a worthy marketing channel. My opinion? It absolutely is... as long as you don't make these mistakes.

1. Marketing to "whoever's listening."

One of the biggest mistakes you could possibly make in radio advertising is not thinking about your target audience. Putting a commercial together and scheduling it at the cheapest times available won't get you anywhere.

It's crucial that you think about who you're marketing to and when they'll be listening. Entrepreneur.com has some great tips for pinpointing your audience.

Write a one-sentence target audience profile based on the demographics of your prospects. This should include their age, gender, where they live and other factors, such as household income. Then share this information with the sales reps from the stations you're considering. They'll tell you what percentage of their stations' listeners match these demographics and at what times of the day or during which programming you'll reach your best prospects.

Once you've decided who you're marketing to, create your spot with that target audience profile in mind.

  • What would entertain them?
  • What would grab their attention?
  • What background music should you choose?
  • What gender and what age should the script-reader/actors be?

All of those questions are directly related to your potential customers, so make sure you aren't choosing what to do based on your own preferences. Maybe even polling some people in your target audience would help you figure out your answers.

2. Repeating your call to action over and over... and over (and over) again.

While it could be argued that repeating your phone number or website address helps listeners remember the information, it tends to do more harm than good. (It's actually kind of annoying.)

In his article, Seven Tips For Radio Advertising Success, Paul Suggett makes a good point.

If someone you don't like comes up to you in a bar and gives you their phone number a dozen times, will you call it? On the other hand, if someone is funny, charming, beautiful, or a combination of all three, and they give you their number just once, will you call? Of course. This is about creating interest. Grab their attention, make them want to know more...

Worry less about the call to action, and more about the "meat" of your radio spot. Emphasize your brand and it's benefits. If you succeed in winning the listener over with your "charm," they'll take the necessary action to follow up with your request. In fact, 28.1% of radio listeners initiate online searches based on something they've heard on the radio. (That's a pretty big number, considering that some radio listeners can't even search online until hours later!)

3. Not utilizing some form of analytics to tell you whether or not your ads are working.

If you don't have a call tracking number, or a website address unique to your radio ads, you won't have any idea how your radio marketing is performing. That means you won't know what it's costing you per lead or per click, you won't know whether or not it's worth it to keep running the ads, and most importantly, you won't be able to sleep at night–because you just don't know!

Analytics are your best friend when it comes to spending your advertising money. You can even go so far as to put specific call tracking numbers or website addresses on different ads at different times of the day, so you know which ads perform better. The possibilities really are endless.

So, what's been your experience with radio? What's working for you? What's not? We want to know! Leave us a comment below.

Should You Advertise In The Yellow Pages?

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My family recently moved to a town in the rural Midwest. The first time I’d ever been to this town was our moving day, and I knew exactly two other people in town: my husband and toddler. After a thousand-mile trip, we were ready to settle in and enjoy our first meal in our new home: a box of pizza. I didn’t know any of the pizza places, and certainly not how to contact them, so I grabbed my phone and did what I always did: searched the web. To my surprise, and for the first time in my life, Google failed me. The only results were from the city 30 miles away.

Then, I remembered the yellow phone book our landlord left in the kitchen. I opened it up, determined not to let my small family starve, and saw multiple pizza places listed in the Yellow Pages. I sighed, relieved to know we might make it through our first day and thankful for the pizza on its way.

That was actually the first time I had used the Yellow Pages. But since we’ve been here, I have thumbed through the pages dozens of times to find out contact information for our local bakery, to compare quotes at our appliance repair shops, and on one sub-zero night last winter when my husband was out of town, to ask an HVAC repair man how to re-light our pilot light.

The Main Advantage

According to this article, my story is common among consumers making ready-to-buy decisions, especially in non-urban areas.

"It's the true local, local buying decision resource," said Ken Clark, YP Talk publisher. "When you get into tier two and tier three markets with smaller towns, you may not even get a mobile signal, so print Yellow Pages is still an ingrained way of life."

The Yellow Pages have the distinct advantage of being delivered to everyone in a community, guaranteeing your ad reaches its target audience. They’ve been used successfully to advertise restaurants (like in the story I shared above), medical services, legal services and repair and maintenance shops. The scope of Yellow Page advertising has also grown from the traditional phone book-only to offerings including digital and direct mail advertising options and limited call-tracking features.

Admittedly, I only used Yellow Pages a few times since my family moved. Once I became familiar with my new home, I didn’t need the book as much. I’m still much more likely to search the web than I am to pull out the phone book, and it seems I’m not alone. Research across all markets shows that Yellow Page advertising effectiveness isn’t black and white.

A Few Perceived Drawbacks

Many business owners (76 percent according to Yelp) think yellow page phone books are irrelevant and can’t help their business.

Yellow Page advertising is expensive! Making your ad stand by increasing ad size, or hiring someone to design the ad, for example, compounds that cost.

Many business owners don’t want to publish in a printed phone book when they can spend less marketing online and, in many cases, yield better results. Research shows that most consumers do an internet search first (80 percent of the time) when compared to looking through the Yellow Pages.

Pay-per-call advertising isn't as great as it sounds. As I mentioned earlier, Yellow Pages offers pay-per-call advertising, which sounds good, until you take a closer look. With this service, customers are assigned a call tracking number and pay on a per-call basis, usually between $15-20 per call, if the call lasts longer than 12 seconds, which Yellow Pages considers a substantial lead. The drawbacks are pretty obvious: can you really count any 12-second call as a lead? The only way you'd know is if you were able to record the calls to see what those customers were actually saying, which assigned call tracking numbers from Yellow Pages don’t allow. But consider this: if you were to advertise normally in the Yellow Pages and get your own call tracking number specifically for that purpose, it’d be much easier to identify if your Yellow Page ads were successful, because you'd know both how many people were calling your specific number and you’d be able to go back and listen to those calls to determine if they were new customers or not.

You’re stuck with your Yellow Page ad for a year. Because it is a printed book, you can’t change your ad, or remove it altogether, if any component changes. Similarly, if your ad isn’t generating the leads you expected, you can’t stop advertising and reallocate that part of your budget.

So, should you?

Ultimately, deciding if you should advertise in the yellow pages comes down to strategy. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the Yellow Page advertising question.

If you’re in a market like mine, Yellow Pages could be successful for you. If you do decide to advertise in the Yellow Pages, using a unique call tracking number can help you determine whether your Yellow Page ad is actually working for your business and allow you to adjust your marketing plan accordingly (instead of paying more for a service that will actually cost you more and give you less information!).

Or, maybe, according to research you’ve done on your target market, you’ve found you’re better off utilizing a different marketing mix. And that’s great, too, if it’s growing your business!

Have you advertised in the Yellow Pages? What has your experience been?

5 Genius Reasons To Use A Toll-Free Number

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Quick: what do you remember about the last three ads you saw or heard? Can you even remember the companies or what they were trying to sell? When I think about how successful a business is in attempting to sell to me, I’ve found that most times, I don’t have a very good memory about the business itself. Whether it’s that I am distracted, or just not immediately drawn to whatever good or service is being advertised, nothing is setting these businesses apart from their competitors. Therefore, my brain skips over the ad, and the company’s message is lost in translation.

But, I’ve noticed that those few ads that really pique my interest have one thing in common: the advertisers plainly, frequently, and often humorously, share how I can reach them if I want to know more. Even more interestingly, this is often done through sharing one small (but important!) piece of information: their toll-free numbers.

Easy, right? And effective, too! Here’s why using a toll-free number means business:

1. Toll-free numbers grab—and keep—your customers’ attention.

Do you remember the opera-singing Vikings who demanded, “It’s my money, and I need it now!” If you’ve seen this ad, then you’re probably humming the tune right now. Or, maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about; if not, check out this video, but beware: it may be stuck in your head for weeks to come!

It’s for a firm called J.G. Wentworth, and the entire gist of the spot is to point their core customer group to calling their toll-free number. According to financial analyst Lance Margolis, “the appropriate combination of quality television commercials and excellent financial services spelled success and national recognition.” But I’m going to go one step further. The ads were catchy not only because of the quality television commercial, as Margolis said, but because of the key pieces of information provided in the 30-second spot.

As ridiculous as the premise of Opera is, the ad is a good example of direct branding, in this case the 877-CASH-NOW phone number, said Carl Marucci, the managing director and senior editor of Radio and Television Business Report.

It was catchy, yes, but also an extremely effective means of sharing a toll-free number that ultimately drove the commercial to viral success: winning national and international awards and, most importantly, driving record inbound phone and web volume to J.G. Wentworth’s sales center.

2. A toll-free number is all about location, location, location; but not like you may think.

With a toll-free number, you can do business anywhere and provide your clients a single toll-free number to use to reach you. If you have team members working from locations across the country, or if you don’t need your customers to know where you’re located geographically, toll-free numbers centralize your business to the customer and signify both a local and nationwide presence.

You own your number, so as your business grows and changes, transferring the toll-free number is easy and automatic; your toll-free number will work wherever you do.

3. The toll-free number you choose is unique to your business needs.

Think back to the earlier J.G. Wentworth example. What set the company’s approach apart from its competitors was knowing its business well enough to utilize its strengths; for instance, its use of the toll-free number 877-CASH-NOW. In choosing its toll-free number, the company not only provided viewers a good experience, but drove people to action in a way that resulted in record-setting business. Toll-free numbers give you the features you need to ultimately improve your bottom line, and they are tailored to your business’ needs with the flexibility to grow over time.

4. Your business’ toll-free number isn’t just digits. With it come the features you need to control and improve your business.

Call tracking data, used in conjunction with your toll-free number, shows how your business is succeeding in its efforts, and also gives you the ability to see how the money and time you’re spending can be used more effectively to share your message. Without excellent data to back up creative messaging, it is purposeless, and, to your company, without value.

5. Authority and Credibility.

It’s true of most relationships in life and absolutely in business: we want to partner with, work alongside, and give our business those we have faith in. Toll-free numbers, on a smaller scale, begin customer relationships well by first establishing trust and convenience. For a smaller company with an excellent reputation but that is relatively unknown, the credibility of a toll-free can draw in customers who may have initially shied away. It then becomes the company’s duty, through top-notch service and product, to leave the customer saying “wow!” and sharing his or her experience with other potential customers.

At first blush, it may seem like an insignificant detail to include a toll-free number as a prominent part of your campaign or branding material. But it’s not! For me, and for many potential customers like me, a toll-free number is that small but significant feature that we remember about your company. Ultimately, a toll-free number has the potential to differentiate you from everyone else and increase business, and therefore, your bottom line!

Direct Mail Marketing - Flushing Money Down The Toilet?

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Is Direct Mail Marketing Effective Or Is It A Colossal Waste?

"I sent out a boatload of postcards, and you know what? I only got 3 or 4 calls. What a !@#$%^* waste! Direct mail marketing is a rip-off."

I heard my real estate friend utter these words with obvious frustration about his latest direct mail advertising campaign. (Yeah, I'm pretty intuitive about stuff like that.) He just wasted a ton of money for nothing. That's about the worst feeling in the world if you own your own business.

My friend's not the only one feeling a little disillusioned with direct mail. I've heard similar stories from plenty of other business owners and the tune all sounds the same. Sent out a bajillion postcards, and nada, and so on and so on.

From just this sampling of my personal experiences, you might conclude that direct mail marketing simply doesn't work in 2013.

The Lowly Dodo Bird - Image by Daniel Eskridge (danieleskridge.com)

But, if direct mail advertising has gone the way of the Dodo bird, then why do I keep getting direct mail from huge, incredibly successful companies every week offering me some pretty wonderful stuff? Are the big boys just so loaded with cash that they can afford to flush it down the toilet? Do they succeed just by the sheer repetition of their brand?

Of course, there are the expected players in the direct mail marketing game, Land's End sends me their catalogs, Capital One wants me to get their special credit card, the local Chinese place wants to give me free chicken fried rice on Thursdays, and so forth, but I got a piece the other day that took me by surprise. It wasn't the design, or the offer that startled me. It was the company that sent me the little white envelope.

Google.

Google uses direct mail.

Wait a minute. If a tech-only company like Google, with the vast powers of the internet at its disposal is using direct mail, maybe we should take a second and peek behind the curtain a little and see what's going on.

As it turns out, about 9 out of 10 companies surveyed in 2012 rank direct mail marketing as their number one marketing channel (hat tip). Read that again. Nine out of ten! Companies like Disneyland, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and Google, are all spending considerable effort on their direct mail advertising campaigns (more). In fact, United States advertisers like these guys spend an average of $167 per person on direct mail. Yes, my list is comprised of huge companies with plenty of money to burn, but they are also profit-driven companies. If a marketing tactic doesn't benefit the bottom line, it's thrown out the window.

Here's what they know: compared to all other marketing efforts, their direct mail campaigns have the highest rate of gaining new customers. According to one survey of companies, direct mail reportedly accounted for gaining 1 in every 3 new clients, dwarfing the runner-up, email, and blowing away the much-loved channel of search engine marketing.

Let that sink in for just a second.

Far from the mantras you may have heard that "print is dead," direct mail seems quite alive and well. Surprised?

How effective is direct mail, then?

DM News reports that in 2012 the average response rate for direct mail was 4.4 percent for both B2B and B2C mailings, which actually surprised them a little as well. Now, let me clarify a few things. As far as I can tell, based on the wording, this result is for direct mail of all kinds, some of which gets pretty creative. This isn't just the ubiquitous postcard, or the spammy "Open to see what you've won" kind of stuff. I'm guessing there are sweet boxes, packages, and genius type stuff, that most of us simply aren't going to be able to replicate. Also, this measures responses. At this point, we're not discussing the actual "conversion rate" of turning a prospect into a customer. Still. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Let's talk possibilities.

What if you could manage just a 2 percent response rate for your direct mail marketing campaign? Would you feel like you're flushing money down the toilet then?

Let's walk through the costs and returns of a small-ish direct mail campaign. In terms of cost, we need to determine how much you'll spend to get one customer. That's called Acquisition Cost.

I wanted to make this exercise as close to real numbers as possible, so I did my pricing at PostCardMania.com. (Of course, these numbers can vary widely, so don't send me hate mail if my numbers are off a little.)

Let's say you decide to do a mailing of 2,500 large format postcards (6" x 8").

Large Format Postcard - Direct Mail Marketing

You'll need to purchase a list from a data company, ballpark it at $100. The prices vary depending on the kind of data you need.

Then, your postcards will cost $600 to print them, about $625 to mail them, and $125 for address printing (unless you're a masochist and want to put all the labels on by hand),

Your total is about $1,650. So, for 2,500 cards, your cost per unit is $.66.

So, how many customers can you get?

If you can generate a 2% response rate, that means that you'll hear from 50 people from your direct mail efforts.

If you close the deal with 60% of them, that means 30 new customers for your business. So, you spent $1,650 to get 30 customers.

Your Acquisition Cost per customer is $55 each.

Schweww. You tired of math yet? No, I didn't think so. As a business owner, you are acutely aware that you have to do the math if you're going to succeed.

So, let's see if we're making good use of our advertising dollars.

At first, you may think that $55 per customer is way too much money to spend on a customer. And I guess it is, if you're selling a $2 product that your customer will only buy once. That's why we need to do one more set of calculations to figure out how much one customer is worth to you.

Let's call this the Lifetime Value of a Customer.

In a nutshell, to calculate the lifetime value of a customer, start with the average amount of a purchase.

Let's keep it simple and say that you're selling one product for $50.

Further, let's pretend that on average a customer will purchase from you twice each year.

At this point, you could calculate how much value your customer has per year, so all we need to do is dip into your books and make a rough determination of how many years your customers continue to do business with you. For our example, let's say the average is about 5 years.

That means that your the lifetime value of your customer is $100 x 5 years = $500. (I like round numbers like that).

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So, let's recap. You spent $55 per customer, and a customer is worth $500 to your business. Just divide your lifetime value of a customer by your acquisition cost and you've got your return.

ROI On Direct Mail Marketing

You've made 909% return on your investment. Not bad at all. Spending $1,650 on your direct mail campaign will bring $15,000 worth of business over the next 5 years.

Direct mail clearly works in this scenario!

Now, before you rush out and start direct mailing every living thing, let's talk about a few strategies that will help you make this response rate a reality.

1. Define your audience.

Spend time figuring out who you need to talk to. Don't settle for a shotgun approach. That's what led my friend to his awful response rate. He simply didn't define his audience clearly. Once you have your audience defined, work with a list data company to create the right list for talking to that audience. Be willing to spend more for a highly targeted list.

2. Match your offer to your audience.

If you're going to spend money to talk to your audience, make sure you're saying something that they need to hear in order to respond. In other words, if you're going to make an offer that they need to respond to, make sure it's something they want. I know that seems pretty obvious, but it's surprising how often that basic element is overlooked.

Be sure to make an offer that's actually special, and not something lame. It's important that your offer have a deadline as well, so your customers won't set it aside with good intentions of calling you later.

3. Provide multiple ways to respond.

Not everyone responds the same way to an offer. Give your customers several ways to follow up with you.

Create a special landing page on your website, and give it a unique 800 call tracking number, or even a local number. Create a special video that helps further the connection with your future customer and put it on the landing page, along with a contact form and that custom tracking number. That way, you can tell who's coming from which direct mail piece.

Give them a way to mail something in for those who love the mail.

And, of course, make sure you have a unique call tracking number that is a part of the main call to action on your direct mail piece.

4. Test small.

Here's one of the beautiful things about direct mail advertising. You can test a smaller demographic, and see how different messages work. You can send different messages to subsets of your main list. Then, once you've determined the winner, you can go all out with your larger mailing. That's working smart!

5. Track everything.

I hinted at this in point #3, but it's imperative that you track what you're doing with direct mail marketing. Grab a phone call tracking number and then look at the analytics to see which campaign messages worked better than others. If you're going to use landing pages, make sure you create a separate tracking number for your landing pages.

6. Think long-term.

Many of us are looking for "one-hit wonders" that magically deliver customers to us. While direct mail does seem to offer some nice rewards, the best marketing happens consistently. Consider multiple mailings to the same list over a period of time, building on the message you've created.

So, you've done everything you need to generate a great response rate. You won, right?

Well, actually, no. You still have one final task of converting those responses into customers.

That's where it's critical to train those who are answering the phone to get this part right. Your sales team will be the first human interaction those potential customers have with your business, so make sure they know what to do. One powerful way to make sure they're handling this all-important role well is to make sure your recording your sales calls, so you can review each call as needed to see how things were handled.

With all of that wrapped up, you have a successful, effective direct mail campaign on your  hands. Now, get out there and git 'er done!

What are some stories that you can share about how direct mail has worked for you?

Turbo Charge Your Business Cards With Call Tracking Numbers

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Have Call Tracking Numbers. Will Travel.

It's hard to imagine a more common marketing tool for small business than the humble business card. As a small business owner, you probably hand these little puppies out like candy to everyone you meet. You've probably found yourself pinning your business cards to bulletin boards at the grocery store, or giving a few to the stylist at your hair salon, or subtly slipping them into birthday cards for your family. (Well, that may be a little extreme, but humor me for a second.) Why do you give them out so much? Because you're serious about getting the word out about your amazing business, right?

Have you ever wondered if all of that effort is paying off? I mean, sure it's fun to hand out your cards all willy-nilly, but wouldn't it be amazing when you get a customer call to be able to see that it was a result of your hand-to-hand marketing efforts?

I thought so, too.

If you're like me, you have your website address on your business card. That's fantastic because it helps you with branding. But, what if you put a QR code on the back of your business card that takes the user to a specific, private page on your website where you have a video welcome, or some cool little intro to yourself? That's super cool, and it would be helpful for you to know how often people access that information. For bonus points, you can create a page with a form where the user can give you their email or phone number and download something that they would find helpful.

All that is great.

But let's be honest. The most frequent action that people take with your business card is to pick up their business and give you call.

You Give Out Business Cards Because You Want People To Call

So, how are you going to measure that? Yep. You guessed it. Call tracking numbers. Instead of putting your main business number on your business card, pick up a local call tracking number and put it on there instead. Then, when they call, your call tracking service will register the call. When you're ready to see how your business card effectiveness is doing, you can log in and take a look.

 Check out Moo.com

Check out Moo.com

Bonus tip: When you're ready to increase response, consider using the back of your business card for a special call to action or teaser headline that will make you stand out more in customer's minds. It's a cross between branding and action-based marketing. If you like that idea, why not create several different calls to action? Companies like moo.com make creating beautiful and customizable business cards fun!

If you decide to go to a trade show or some special event, why not get a special business card printed up with a unique phone tracking number on it as well and measure the effectiveness of your efforts?

When it comes to marketing, you want to measure each campaign's effectiveness as much as possible.