Monday, November 11, 2013

Facebook's "New" Star Rating for Small Businesses Set to be a Gamechanger

By Vin Ferrer / Social Media Strategist, NJ Marketing Agency, Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

Seeing Stars? Facebook's latest change is star ratings for desktop viewers.

Less than a week ago, Facebook began unrolling a new 5-star rating feature for small businesses. Like large online software services and utilities often do, Facebook unleashed these changes without warning or announcement. Small businesses nationwide need to be made aware of just what implications this rating system carries with it. So we're here to shed some light on the situation:

Why Did They Do This? 

The star rating system is not a new feature, but instead one that just got moved from the mobile to desktop version. Facebook users since 2012 have had the option to rate your business via mobile device. Some businesses may have utilized this facet more than others, but predominantly, users did not fully take advantage of this function. Mobile check-ins and ratings were areas where users went to other channels like Foursquare of Twitter to announce and discuss.

However, Facebook is a powerhouse thinker and innovator. They're out to steer you away from those utilities, competing for more eyeballs. And as a business, they are also in the data mining industry--selling your gathered profile information anonymously to third parties for a premium. A new rating system allows them to sway a bit more traffic their way and better refine those profiles. It also gets small businesses more serious about social media in the process.

What Do 5-Star Ratings Mean For My Small Business?

For small business brands who can't afford to payoff huge data management firms to instantly attain 5 stars (unethical, yet to be expected), the game just got a bit more complex.

The star rating is prominent, appearing in blue just below your company name and right above the smaller number of likes, people talking about this, and people who have checked-in metrics shown in light grey.

Now Facebook puts a great deal of strategic thought into their user-friendly-focused design, so we are safely able to view this change with a marketing lens. The size and location of the star rating suggests a new focus for Timeline visitors and a bit of a lessened emphasis on "Likes," which oftentimes can be emotionless and ambiguous. This article by TechCrunch explains why. The very light level of grey gradient used to denote the absence of a star or part of a star serves to put an initial emphasis on the amount had and not the amount lacking. However, the overall positioning of this metric (immediately left of the profile picture and just below the profile banner) negate that attempt at lessening a poor rating's impact. Combined with society's need for best in class, ultra premium quality, a "some rather than none" attitude will not suffice. Small businesses need to get as close to 5 stars as possible.

Businesses in good standing within their immediate online communities will be sure to achieve a high rating right off the bat. This star rating will coax a new need to better interact and meet the needs of customers through social media--something social marketing mavens like Gary Vaynerchuk believe should be treated with the same importance as an in-person customer interaction.  

What's Bound to Happen? 

One of two things will come from this:

More than likely, Facebook's newest metric will create a momentary jolt for small business owners and entrepreneurs, a call-to-action of sorts to get their services in gear and remedy a way to get that rating fully filled as quickly as possible. Big brands will enlist expert third parties to "fluff" the average and manipulate outward consumer appearance--in much the same fashion as those companies discovered to have been paying for fake YouTube views in an effort to add a few million views to their videos, thus boosting the potential impact of said videos. To keep up, small businesses will need to put a greater emphasis on brand reputation management and engaging in the already-present conversation about their brand.

Less than likely? Facebook will drop the rating system all together, try their best to shrug off the defeat, and find another magical metric for small businesses to have to deal with. Since the 5-star rating has been in place for so long, and given the added burden of meeting shareholder quotas, this major move is likely to stick.

What's a Small Business Owner to Do? 

Firstly, don't panic. While this new metric is slowly being unveiled, one segment at a time, it will ultimately be on everybody's plate. Knowing is half the battle, so good job for already making yourself aware. High-five!

Next, you need to recognize social media's importance if you haven't already. Now, an even more complex and substantial rating system is coming your way. You can meet this challenge head on, or watch it start sucking the life out of your online presence. Your choice.

Thirdly, you can have a big effect on this metric. If it's low, you might not be meeting the needs and expectations of customers. Turn the conversation back to them, ask "how can we better our brand?" and start steering your ship to that goal. The quicker, more appropriate, and more qualified service you can provide, the greater your customer satisfaction will be.

Lastly, endure! Nearly all social media initiatives take time to see fruition. If things don't seem to be changing, don't lose heart but instead try an alternative way. Think about enlisting qualified experts to capture your voice and manage your content creation or your entire channel for that matter.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Marketing: The Ultimate Investment

By Vin Ferrer / Social Media Strategist, NJ Marketing Agency, Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

Quick tips and tricks are a dime a dozen in business. Yet very few are actually worth their weight.

The reason why most don’t work fully (or even at all) is because they are dead on arrival, doomed from the start. They harp on a business’ ability to leverage its greatest asset.

And the biggest asset that a business has is itself. Its outward projection to the world of its value, mission, and identity. Simply put: its brand.
When it comes to marketing your brand, you need to go all in. You need to commit. You need to invest in making your marketing efforts integrated and appropriate.

Now think big for a second. Red Bull is a perfect example. Started as an energy drink company, Red Bull as a brand now stands for an action-packed lifestyle that strives to be larger than life. It pushes the limits. Its stylish and sexy. It drops from outer space at 800mph speeds.

Yet at its core, it is still an energy drink seller. Nevertheless they chose to invest in themselves, their brand, and their marketing efforts. Because of successful marketing, they have a brand that’s an out-of-this-world success.

Now think of Nike—the king of successful marketing. From humble beginnings as a shoe company (their shoes were made using a waffle iron), Nike worked meticulously to market their products with unique messages in line with the brand they hoped to create. Superior athleticism, indomitable spirituality, and refined modern style are some of the calling cards they’ve come to be known for.

They were making shoes in their kitchen and a few years later being associated with the biggest names in sports. And it was all because of marketing.

Now back to you, your brand, your customers, and your goals.

You need to tell a story. You need to form a relationship with the customer. And that’s called marketing.  

If you offer a quality service, product or combination then you’ve nothing to fear. Take hold of the conversation, and start off with social media. It’s the most cost effective use for your marketing dollars. Next, look to establish a true presence with a fresh logo, site design, and other collateral thereafter.  

Stationery, business cards, and brochures should all integrate your logo flawlessly and communicate your brand’s voice with compelling copy. Keep your brand in sync and integrated across all media, and one day you’ll be having billboards made up to advertise your awesomeness.

Being flaky and deceitful isn’t going to get you there. Think about the straight-shooting politician who’s later discovered to be cheating on his wife. World War III happens, from which his once hallowed reputation can never recover. Unless you’ve got millions stashed away for such an occasion, listen up. You need to be authentic and honest. You need to get this right.

Bring the personal touches to the spotlight, shine a light on some noteworthy insights, and carve out a voice that’s original and on point with the identity you want for your company. Brands big (like 7/11) and small recognize the power a smart marketing effort can have in ensuring their future.

Make the right decision and invest in your brand. Look past the short-term expense and see it for the long-term investment that it truly is. You’ll be creating a value for your products and services that is one step closer to priceless.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Top Examples for Plumbing Truck Wraps

By Vin Ferrer / Social Media Strategist, NJ Advertising Advertising Agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

For the less glamorous services available in today's market like plumbing companies, differentiation may be a tall order. Still, this presents a unique opportunity for some well-placed and implemented creativity to help separate your brand from the rest of the competition.

The fundamentals of the business remain the same: a commitment to friendly, efficient, timely and effective service will gain you word-of-mouth notoriety. However, an easy way to spur that word-of-mouth along is with a properly executed truck wrap design or fleet branding effort for larger businesses.

Take a look at some of the eye-catching truck wrap designs we've created for plumbing companies and contractors. They certainly do scream quality, professionalism, and positivity--all before you even experience their service. When a company can do that without even lifting a finger, you can be sure business is moving in the right direction!

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 Here's a retro-themed truck wrap design for a plumbing, heating and air company near Chicago. 
It took home silver at this year's New Jersey Art Directors Design Awards. 

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 Here's one of our best plumbing truck wraps, designed for a Florida HVAC & plumbing service.

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 We had some fun with this unique lettering design for a Minnesota plumbing company.

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 A truly Americana-type retro design for this California-based plumbing & HVAC company.

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 Time-honored values and modern efficiency is communicated in this NJ-based plumbing company truck wrap.

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A modernized retro design for the fleet branding of this NJ plumbing & HVAC company.

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 This Las Vegas HVAC & plumbing service has a truck wrap that really pops off "The Strip."

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 One of our best mascot-themed  plumbing truck wraps & fleet branding designs immediately shows a rock-solid brand promise.

Graphic D-Signs, Inc - The Small Business Advertising Agency is a New Jersey based advertising agency serving the marketing needs of small business with logo and branding creation, web design and online marketing, print design and collateral development and traditional advertising and consultation services for Plumbing contractors and other small businesses of all industries.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Crowdsourcing Your Logo: Pretty Much The Worst Idea You’ve Ever Had

By Vin Ferrer / Social Media Strategist, NJ Marketing Agency, Graphic D-Signs, Inc

Imagine this.

You’re an auto mechanic working seven days a week to make ends meet. You save for a few years, purchase an old Thunderbird, and spend the next three years fixing it up at nights and between shifts. You finally finish working on it, and instead of hitting the road, you turn the keys over to a stranger.

They immediately drive into a tree.

Crowdsourcing your logo is exactly the same thing.

Any hardworking business owner, entrepreneur or self-respecting worker for that matter knows the true value of what they create. They spend time on the things that matter, that drive business, and that create ROI. Yet many still can’t seem to understand the importance of the finishing touches. Your logo is that finishing touch, which should accompany the customer through every part of their experience.

Your logo is your outward brand representation to the world. It’s your calling card and your handshake. It’s a slick paint job on that T-bird, covering the muscle-powered machine of a business that took years to perfect. A random passerby shouldn’t determine how it looks.

Such has been the case for some big businesses, most notably Yahoo!, which held a “30 Logos in 30 Days” campaign to discern its current logo. While at first glance this may seem like a great way to engage your followers and fans, the approach is spectacularly flawed. Here are the main reasons why:

The Average Joe isn’t a Logo Designer— A well-crafted logo is a strategic tool, blending aesthetics and business strategy. The ability to design one isn’t something innate, it’s an expertise garnered over years of training, experience, and practice with logos. That’s why it’s called logo “design” and not logo picking. They don’t grow on trees. 

Bad Logos Cost More Money–The quick fix is a popular notion nowadays; this is why there is such a boom in convenience-related products and services. People can’t wait. But the smart individual realizes how costly shortcuts can truly be.

Most likely the design factory is using quick templates and clipart to create their logos. They may even go so far as to flat out copy an existing logo they find online. Not only will their victims not be able to copyright their own logo, but they may also become engrossed in an expensive infringement suit.

While a well-crafted logo might cost more in the beginning, a poorly designed one will cost way more in the end.

Quality Takes Time— Look on at any piece of valuable art, gourmet meal, or Top-10 highlight on ESPN. There you’ll find the culmination of years of hard work and steadfast dedication. Why shouldn’t your logo be of the same high caliber? If you’re willing to wait out the necessary steps, it can be. But recognize, that it won’t be done in a day or a week. The old adage “Rome wasn’t built in a day” certainly holds true for this case.

If it’s going to last, all bases need to be covered through some extensive research, versioning, and forecasting. A design shop churning out hundreds of different designs at the drop of a hat should be a red flag.

The Crowd Doesn’t Know Your Needs—Why do lawyers spend so much time with jury selection before a trial? Because they want the best combination of people that will ultimately side with their perspective on the case at hand. They have their own agenda—winning the case—and their own motivations, goals and bottom-line needs.

Your business is the same way. It has its own particular needs, financial aspirations, and industry requirements. How can you expect a third party unaccustomed to your world to understand that?

Simply put: you can’t. You need a professional who knows how to speak at length about fonts and color patterns, whose storied portfolio boasts success stories similar to what you’re after.

In the age where businesses are trying to become more personable, more human and humane, and more insightful, the branding is make or break. Your logo is the face of that brand, and it’s in your best interest to ensure that it’s approachable, appropriate, and appeasing.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Google’s New “Hummingbird" Algorithm & What Small Businesses Need to Know

By Vin Ferrer / Social Media Strategist, NJ Marketing Agency, Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

It’s safe to say that business takes place in both the physical and Internet world, not just in separate ways but also as one.

Getting in front of your desired audience takes diligence, a working blend of organic SEO and well-placed content, and an individual or team with superior knowledge of the SEO game.

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This team needs to maneuver through your competition, financial resources, and a well-intentioned strategy to make SEO work for you. However, they must also work with Google – the constantly changing, unforgiving, always updating key to the searchability of your business online.  

Enter the "hummingbird" algorithm: Google's latest system overhaul meant to make their search engine even more accurate and efficient. The update boasts a deeper focus on user context and the multiple meanings words may have.  

An example of this might be if you searched “best place for dinner in town.” Instead of searching out entries to those listings that best contain your particular selection of keywords, it may search based on the underlying meaning – using your geographic location to locate brick-and-mortar establishments that have achieved a high consumer ranking. A number of other factors will also be used to forecast and put forward results based on the tremendous wealth of data Google sifts through, from a variety of online locations.

Going forward, a better emphasis will be placed on every word of a search query instead of simply the main keywords involved. The mission of Google is to better serve the consumer searching out a query, and this new algorithm is intended to do just that.

This system overhaul for the mega search engine is sure to not be without its fair share of kinks, and even though it was launched a month ago, Google only saw fit to announce it this week. For a more tech-savvy listing of the algorithm additions check out this story.

Small businesses may have already experienced a fluctuation in their search rankings; however, with this new-found knowledge, they can make strides to alter their SEO strategy accordingly.

A steady stream of high quality content is bound to still yield positive effects in SEO as this is one of Google’s hallmarks. The small business owner would do well to enlist the services of content creators or at the very least create such themselves to grow or maintain a positive online community and appearance.

Friday, September 13, 2013

CQC: The Content Quality Cycle & How Your Small Business Needs to See It

By Vin Ferrer / Social Media Strategist, NJ Marketing Agency, Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

"Content is king" is the moniker most social media experts propel nowadays. High quality (original, timely, & compelling) content is what's going to get your business the Likes, Followers, Pins and everything in between needed to make it an online powerhouse. This, in turn, will lead to new leads, clientele, and the next level of future success.

So what does that look like for small business?

It may seem like your spinning your wheels at the beginning of launching a social media strategy. Try as they might, most small business owners can't afford to spend time reviewing the latest update or piecing together the need-to-knows from an analytic report. Thankfully, we're here to break down an easy framework for how your content growth should reflect your business growth (with the goal being vice versa). We like to call it the CQC, or "Content Quality Cycle."

The CQC is an organic process, a cyclical flow of content to your online visitors. It's five easy steps that repeat each time your business matriculates into the next level of advanced service or product offerings. It's an easy way to begin to take charge of your social media output and start competing with the big dogs. Here's how:

1. Start with What You Have

The best content is fundamentally original: your company's own mission, ideas, products, services. Ideally, it will change the world. Realistically, it's an 87' Chevy sitting in the garage waiting for someone to show it some love. Basically it's the bare bones of what your business is all about. This is where you must be upfront about your core brand identity and what you bring to the table for consumers.

For example, McDonald's is a fast food restaurant with a variety of food and drink options, at locations worldwide. Sure, they aim to create an experience around it, but at the end of the day, they serve fast food.

2. Optimize for the Appropriate Channels

Here's where you need to put on your marketing cap and get in touch with your brand's voice. Is it young and cutting-edge or seasoned, witty and resourceful? Are you already an authority, or a promising hopeful? You'll need to answer this and speak to your customers in the same voice across different channels. With this voice in place, start refining your content into bite-sized pieces for the web. Blog postings, whitepapers, Top 10 lists--these are the basics to get you started on crafting something people want to read, hear or see.

Once you've got it created, it's time to broadcast it through the correct stream. Want to display a series of images? Pinterest works excellently, and a Facebook album could too. Must it be mobile? Instagram or even Vine might be your best bet. Is time of the utmost importance? Dish it out via Twitter.

Before going channel crazy and signing up for every social media site under the sun, relax and think about your end game. Who is your ideal consumer (demographics/psychoanalytic/etc)? The better picture you can paint of him/her/them, the better you can refine your content.

3. Start Delivering in a Routine Fashion

Throwback Thursday. Superbowl Sunday. The Fourth of July. All these events guarantee essentially the same thing: a special occasion and a point in time when it will occur.

You need to do the same with your content marketing strategy. Stop thinking about the best time to post and start thinking about an overall content creation protocol that fits your busy schedule. Write some posts over the weekend, snap a few candid shots Monday and Tuesday, and spend an hour or so surveying the other online thought leaders in your industry. Pretty soon you will start to see that you have enough content to maintain a substantial online presence.

Make it easy on your online community and post in a routine manner. Keep it truthful, high quality, and on topic for the best results. Look to your audience for feedback and new angles for future content. It will take some time, probably a few months at least, but you will start to see a steady increase if you stick to your guns and keep consistency.

4. Shift from Presence to Thought Leader

After several months of establishment, it's time to up the ante. Make a move towards becoming an expert in your field by way of content. Further refine your content output and cut out what's not working. Spend some extra time and see what's working for your competition. Then see if you can put your own spin on it, and really make it pop.

Did your main competitor write a blog post on back-to-school shopping tips that got a significant amount of shares? Strip that idea down, add in your own images and thoughts, change the angle, and publish a better post on the best back-to-school shopping guide you haven't seen yet. Go above whenever you can to differentiate your expertise or value proposition.

Do your homework, think outside the box, and back up opinions and inclinations with resources (links to articles, clips from videos, etc.) Remember, in order to establish dominance you must first maintain relevance.

5. Monitor Results

If you have been pushing down on the content marketing pedal for several months and have been getting some solid engagement and feedback, the success will start to show. You'll begin to see leads referencing conversations that started on social media or that point to a particularly insightful post they read. A continual output of high quality content will have created a steady generation of effective WOM (Word of Mouth) buzz - the ultimate goal of any online campaign.

Consumers turn to their social spheres for credited insight and opinion on the products and services they engage with. A testament to a successful social media campaign will be the offline conversations it generates amongst your target market segment. There are tracking tools that exist which can pick up on some instances of these conversations, but the truly effective conversions by conversation occur in the physical realm.

As your next level clients begin to roll in and you continue to maintain your output, there will naturally be a need to upgrade your efforts. The key here will be a continued emphasis on listening. Engaging with your customers appropriately will help you keep incoming business going.

Of course, it always helps to employ a social media management service to maximize this outlet's potential.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Before You Waste Money on a Truck Wrap, Read This!

By Vin Ferrer / Social Media Strategist, NJ Marketing Agency, Graphic D-Signs, Inc.

All it takes is a quick 5-minute drive through town and you're bound to see it.

A company truck, cruising amidst locals and commuters—usually with a ridiculous or bland advertisement—is quite literally your brand on wheels. Unfortunately, this effective means of mobile marketing is often reduced to a 5-ton waste, mostly because of poor execution.

Small businesses stand to reap the most from these in-area beacons of their brand, yet more often than not, poor execution of a truck wrap gets them negative impressions.

The problem is this: consumers make judgments on the quality of your business when they see your company trucks, cars, or other vehicles. An old and busted Buick with your logo suggests an old and busted company. Conversely, a slick looking truck wrap on a newer, well-kept model emits an aura of being a well put together business that’s going places. Proper fleet branding can land you new leads, notoriety, and in turn, new business opportunities.

One of the more expensive facets of marketing and operations, the company fleet may seem like the place to err on the side of saving. The less appealing model may seem like the proper choice because of the smaller price tag. However, business owners should consider this: the amount of money you are going to save on gas is the amount of money you are going to lose on marketing.

The clients we’ve worked with on fleet branding and truck wrap design have always experienced a noticeable growth in sales. Since consumers are always on the lookout for the next big thing, a stylish truck wrap with your brand’s integration is something that can garner immediate attention once it hits the roads.

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Our Award-winning truck wrap for Timo's Air Conditioning and Heating (Palm Springs, CA)

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Prestige Plumbing, Heating & Cooling (North Aurora, IL)

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At Your Service Heating & Air (Spartanburg, SC)

If your worried about the cost-effectiveness of your fleet branding efforts, consider the tremendous ROI that some of our clients have experienced. An increase of over 800 percent in leads is nothing to shake a stick at, as one of our HVAC clients enjoyed soon after implementing our design. 

Not to mention the long-term marketing value this facet of marketing allows, take a moment to recognize the potential available. You have a chance to turn heads on a daily basis with your fleet branding.

Immediate differentiation, top-of-mind awareness, and positive impressions are always the result when effective truck wrap design is employed. If your progress has stalled, it just might be the key to kick-starting your success.