It’s officially spring and thank goodness. We can finally put away the heavy coats and fuzzy blankets and enjoy the outdoors. But before you pull out the camping gear, make some time to do your online spring cleaning. It may not be something you look forward to, but it’s important and could save you from some nasty surprises. Here’s your handy checklist!

1. Do a Google search for:

    • Your company name and any frequent misspellings
    • The owner and senior staff by name
    • Anyone who has left the company in the past year
    • Any in-house brand names

Check each of the results on at least the first two pages for any inaccurate, unflattering, or other problematic information. Copy the URL (page address) of anything to you find, and paste it into a document you can send to us or to your own PR professional. DO NOT take any action if/when you first discover an issue. Firing back in an emotional state can make things worse.

Also check on your own website and any directories you’re listed in to make sure the address, phone number, products or services listed, are all accurate.

2. Change your passwords on all accounts, including business and personal banking, email, and social media. If you have online service accounts, such as a physician or lab, change those passwords too.

3. Search for your business name on all social media platforms. Facebook and Google, for example, creating pages for places, which are often businesses. If they’ve created one for your business, you want to claim it and take control of it, as soon as possible. Do a search even on platforms where you have created an account. Also review the pages of any senior staff that non-friends can view, particularly if they have posted who they work for.

4. Clean up your own social media pages. We now know that scammers are using platforms like LinkedIn to gather information. While it’s tempting to be connected to as many people as possible (sounds like good business), that may not be the case. If you have a personal account (rather than a business account), go through your connections and if you don’t know who they are, you can disconnect from them without them knowing. Instructions are here.

(If you also want to disconnect from friends on your personal Facebook page, instructions are here.)

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On business accounts/pages, it’s probably a better idea to just review the kind of content that others are posting. If someone is always trying to sell something, being offensive or inappropriate, or constantly complains on a public platform rather than calling you directly, you can take steps to delete these posts and people. You do need to be careful about this though, and we encourage you to talk to us first. There are pros and cons that need to be considered.

Now, where are those sleeping bags?

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Search engines like Google offer advertising on their results pages, allowing you to jump to the top spot. There is a fee for this, but you only pay that fee when someone clicks on the ad and is redirected to your website or to a specific landing page created as a follow up to the ad. Even when your website is optimized for search engines, there are times that you’ll want to also use search engine marketing.

You want to increase targeted leads quickly

It takes time for search engine optimization to make an impact on search results. If your site has just been optimized, if you’ve launched a new website or have moved to a new URL (web address), you can generate leads faster by advertising, as these listings are guaranteed to appear at the top of the results right away.

You want to broaden or narrow your market area

There are times when you may want to change the geographic area that you serve. For example, let’s say you are a lawyer and want to focus on cases closer to home for a few months. You can increase local leads by placing search engine ads for searchers in your home community. This will help you fill your roster with local cases, without completely stopping your website marketing to the larger area.

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You want to broaden or narrow your products or services

Using the example of a lawyer again, let’s say that you are well known for estate services, but want to attract a wider variety of work. You can place an ad that will show up whenever any of several key words are searched, such as “corporate lawyer,” “personal injury lawyer,” or “divorce lawyer.” You can also run ads like this during separate time periods, to get a better idea of what type of services are most sought after in your area.

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Search engine marketing offers great analytics too, allowing us to track the outcome of each ad and to make changes, so you get the results you want.

Paid ads jump to the top of the results list.

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As I was researching the last article on consumer trends for 2019, I sensed another theme that no one stated outright, but seemed to be in the middle (or maybe the muddle) of all the forecasts: there is an emerging group of mindful and deliberate consumers, who are demanding more from businesses than their typical products and services.

Integrity, social and environmental responsibility, are now expected from every company, and all of their executives. Transgressions are no longer judged in context of time or industry. Unfortunate comments, even those long passed, are damaging personal and brand reputations. Clothing manufacturers are being lobbied to reduce waste. People who can afford groceries are eating out of dumpsters to demonstrate the nourishing food that is tossed out regularly.

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More consumers are becoming activists to drive positive change, bringing attention to causes and to businesses they see as harmful to humanity. They are also driving major brands to use their influence to advocate for issues in the social and political realm.

A few daring CEOs have taken up the challenge, but the dichotomy in results is a lesson in risk. While there was an immediate backlash for Nike, who featured Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign, supporters quickly countered, making it a big win for the sports brand.

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For Dick’s Sporting Goods, who stopped selling assault weapons at its Field & Stream banner stores after the Parkland shootings, and lobbied for more federal gun control, it hurt rather badly. But, they haven’t backtracked and could turn things around long-term, betting that the anti-gun sports enthusiasts will prop up sales on new product offerings for more civilized activities.

Both decisions were a big leap from sharing profits with a charitable cause, which has been the more traditional approach to attracting socially conscious consumers. It will be interesting to see who else enters this politically-charged arena, and how they fare. The lessons for everyone though, are make sure your company is doing its part to be ethical, socially and environmentally responsible; and, know your customers.

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blank While there is lots of technical work that goes into search engine optimization, the content of a website is equally important. The more you know about your customers, the better able we are to produce content that search engines will match with your customers’ searches.

It starts with key words, and your front line staff are in the best position to keep track of what those are. Here’s an example. Let’s say you sell swimming pools. What do customers ask your sales staff most often? Have they already done some research? Do they ask about a particular brand? Do they ask for a particular feature? Do they use terms like “inground,” “fiberglass,” or “infinity?” Or are they more likely to say that they want a “backyard pool” that’s “easy to maintain?”

That kind of information helps us in a couple of ways. First, it gives us a place to start our research. If most customers come in knowing that they want either a fiberglass or concrete pool, we can find out which of those keywords is most searched in your market area. If the results show a ratio of 25 searches for fiberglass pools for every 1 concrete pool, we know that we want to focus on fiberglass. If the results are fairly equal, we’ll probably suggest that you have a separate page for each type, allowing us to optimize the individual pages for each key word.

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The other important factor though, is that key words also give us some insight into buyers’ “decision making criteria.” If they are asking about pools that are easy to maintain, we’ll create content on that topic. Since search engines look at far more than just key words, it’s not enough to use “easy to maintain” in a title or tag. You need to have quality content to go with that. So, what we’ll do, is develop a few paragraphs, perhaps an illustration or video, showing what “easy” means, and how that compares to other pool options.

Yes, we are experts in search engine optimization; but, you are the expert when it comes to your customers. And you can help us help you, by paying attention to how your customers ask for what they want.

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In the last two articles, we looked at seven seemingly innocuous situations and what was really happening. Now, we’re going to look at how scammers are still profiting from our basic trust in others, and what we can do about it.

First though, don’t feel bad if you’ve been the victim of a scam. I dare say it’s happened to all of us. It’s certainly happened to me. Scammers send out millions of email and text messages; impersonate millions of people; post millions of times on social media sites; and have vast networks of their own to create fake profiles and pages, and sell tidbits of information that are later compiled into complete portfolios of real people.

Because they are so prolific, they only need a few people to be fooled by each “project.” And that’s the main reason that we are fooled. Because a few of us do know someone named Maggie Jones, and a few of us did post photos to Facebook earlier today, and most of us don’t want to send a message back to a parent or boss saying, “How do I know it’s really you?” when the message came from their own account. And, as the previous article demonstrated, these internet pirates are getting more sophisticated and are using more personal information to target individuals. So, how do we thwart these criminals? Here are a few tips.

Be mindful of what information about you is available to the public. For example, our website gives the names and job titles for everyone at Internet Advertising. If I get an email late one night from James saying that he accidently deleted his password for a site he has to have finished by morning, my first instinct is to send him mine. But, what I should realize is that anyone would know that we’re colleagues, so I need to make sure the message is actually from James.

Understand that it may not have been you who got hacked. If anyone of your friends on Facebook inadvertently gave someone their credentials, the scammer can now see your feed. Be particularly cautious of posting information about your children, the school or dance academy they go to, when you’re leaving on vacation, etc. Post those cute holiday pics after you get home.

Know that information about you is being compiled. Limiting your personal social media accounts is one way to reduce the amount of info that scammers can collect from different sources. Do you really need accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Google, WhatsApp, YouTube, Yammer, Bebo, Pinterest, Reddit, and Flickr? The data being collected about you now also includes your interests, what you like, how you feel about politicians, recording artists, etc., etc. It’s valuable to marketers.

Change your email settings to not send immediately.  It is very easy to spoof an email address, and in many cases the only way to check that it’s the address you think it is, is by replying. If you are able to change your email settings to not send immediately, (in Outlook, go to File, Options, Advanced, Send and receive, and make sure the “Send immediately hen connected” is not checked), then you can prepare your response, click Send, then go to your Outbox and see what addresses it shows. Here’s an example:

This image shows the message I received from the spoofed James account. It shows that it came from his actual email address.

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Even when I click Reply, it shows that the message is going to James actual email address.   

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But when I go to my Outbox, it shows that the message I thought I was sending to James, is actually going to a totally different person.

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If you can’t change the settings and are at all suspicious, reply with a test message; e.g. “Give me 5,” then go to your Sent Mail folder and look at the address you just sent to.

Be suspicious of any message that asks for information or contains a link. Scammers use urgency, fear, and playfulness to try to trick us into taking action. They’ll also use the information that’s been compiled about you, your colleagues, and your family to add a familiar touch or try to scare you. In the early days, these scam messages had tell-tale signs like poor spelling, bad grammar, or fuzzy images. Some still do, and that’s a tip off, but many others appear to be legit. So, whether it’s an email message, a text message, a private message on social media, or even a post, if there’s a link, a request for login info or money, double check with who you think the message is from before doing anything else.

Don’t get sucked into “challenges.” And warn your kids and parents! One’s like the cinnamon or salt and ice challenges are downright dangerous. The newer “ten year challenge,” that asks you to post two photos of yourself, ten years apart, is suspected to be a huge data collection scam.

Use all of the tools available to you. Spend the money to purchase a security program from a reputable source. A free one could attack you itself. Turn on automatic updates for your operating system and software programs. Close any social media accounts that you don’t use at least weekly, and delete any apps you no longer use. Don’t share your login credentials, and if you feel you have to, do it by telephone. Take a minute to think, and trust your gut. Even if the message is urgent, give yourself time to process and consider the consequences if it is a scammer.

Do you have a tip for spotting scammers? Let us know, and we’ll we share it.

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Oh, those scammers! Just when we think we’re on to them, they come up with an even more sophisticated ruse. In the last article, we listed seven situations that would seem pretty normal. (Review them here if you missed it.) Now, we’re going to reveal what actually could have happened.

What went wrong:

The email from your boss asking you to send the HR files to a consultant wasn’t actually from your boss. When you accepted the network request from the forensic accountant, who isn’t a forensic accountant, they got access to the LinkedIn profiles of all of the staff at your company. They learned that you had just gotten a promotion and who your boss was. They also knew your boss was going on vacation, because she posted a picture on her Facebook page from the airport, on her way to the Maldives. Soooo, someone now has a whole lot of personal information about your admin staff.

The melting snowman from John, wasn’t from John. But we all know someone who is always late, so easy mistake. What’s actually melting down is your company’s internal security, and everyone in the office is now infected with spyware.

The vase for your wife’s birthday never arrives. You try emailing the seller, but the messages just bounces back as unknown. You contact eBay but soon realize that they were not involved in the sale, it was between you and the seller directly, so you have no recourse.

When you clicked the link in the email about the offensive photos on Facebook, you were directed to a page that looked just like Facebook, but wasn’t Facebook. When you logged in, you gave your credentials to thieves, who then diverted you to the actual Facebook and logged you in. It all happened so quickly that you didn’t notice a thing. They now have control of your page and may or may not tip their hand by actually posting offensive photos (or promotional content that appears to be from you, or links that are raising the profile of someone else’s ad campaign; none of which you notice because you don’t alerts of your own posts). What they may do is just spy on you and all of your friends, noting when homes are likely to be unoccupied, private messaging children for nefarious purposes, and all sorts of other info that can be sold and used by evil doers.

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That email with the free apps for your iWatch wasn’t from mi-things.com, so you gave your full name and credit card number to an impersonator who just bought themselves a $98.50 Amazon gift card with your money. When you’re statement arrives weeks later, you give it a quick scan and since you did do Christmas shopping on Amazon, it doesn’t catch your attention. If you ever do realize it wasn’t your purchase, the dispute period will be over anyway.

Dang nabbit!! Stay tuned for tips to avoid getting played.

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I’m pretty good at spotting a scam, at least I was. But it’s a new day in Scamville, and the residents have upped their game big time. The English is perfect. The graphics are masterful. And collaboration in the underworld is extraordinary. In our next three articles you’ll find out how we’re still getting taken, and how to avoid it.

Are any of these examples things you might do in a typical week?

Monday: Proud of your new promotion, you’re updating your LinkedIn profile when you notice a request to join your network from a forensic accountant. You don’t recognize the name, but being in the financial management business, you sometimes need independent professionals to conduct investigations, so you click the accept button.

Tuesday: You get an email from Hallmark saying that a friend has sent you a belated Christmas card. You figure it’s from John, he’s always late! You click on the link to see a melting snowman.

Wednesday: Your wife’s birthday is coming up and you found an antique vase on eBay that she’d love. Unfortunately, you didn’t win the auction with your $150 bid, but you just got an email message from the seller saying that the sale fell through and since they really need money, they’re willing to sell the vase to you for $100. You reply “yes!” and send the etransfer.

Thursday: You send out a tweet saying that you really love your new iWatch for quickly checking incoming messages and they are still on sale at mi-things.com.

Friday: You get an email from Facebook saying that photos you posted have been removed as offensive content. You’re shocked and really confused, wondering if your account has been hacked. You click the link in the email which takes you to the Facebook login page. You enter your details, go to your page and don’t see anything untoward, and no messages from Facebook. Must have been a scam.

Saturday: You get an email from your boss, who’s just started vacation, saying that he forgot to do something before he left. He asks you to send the HR files for everyone in the administration department to a consultant who he’s hired to review the company’s hiring process. He makes a joke about “other related duties” in your new job description. You login to the HR system and send copies of the files to the email address your boss provided.

Sunday: You get an email from mi-things.com with a list of links to 10 iWatch apps that they’re sure you’ll love. They are offering them to you for free, you just have to enter your name and credit card number to verify your mi-things purchase. You fill out the form because they got your card number when you purchased, so no harm giving it to them again.

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Do any of these scenarios seem familiar? In the next article, we’ll look at how your week benefited scammers.

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There are a lot of predictions about what customers want from us over the next 12 months. What’s interesting this year is that there’s not a lot that’s truly new, and nothing is really “out.” Instead, it seems that what consumers want is a re-balancing of what already exists in terms of how we interact with them. Here are some examples.

Personalization vs privacy

This is going to be an interesting one to watch since both personalization in customer experience and privacy of their data are noted as important issues this year. Can this world really deliver on both? Maybe. But we need to stick to reasonable questions. If you’re providing a free service supported by ads, say so, and go ahead and ask me what kind of ads I want to see. If you’re selling me something, tell me what the benefit is to me of giving you my personal info. And protect any data you do store like your life depended on it (because the life of your business does depend on it).

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AI vs HI

Real-time, real-world, human to human customer experiences are going to give some companies an edge in 2019. Balancing your use of automation with human intervenors is the task at hand. Robots in the warehouse might be a real cost savings, but chat bots trying to solve customer problems could send those customers elsewhere. Dividing your business processes into those that do or don’t need the human touch, will keep your customers coming back.

Virtual vs real world interactions

Isolation, loneliness, and depression are impacting those who are only connecting to others digitally. People are deliberately moderating or even unplugging entirely from social media in favour of face to face interactions. What’s more surprising though, is that brick and mortar stores are re-emerging as one component of a strategic mix of retail sales channels. Brands that build community both on and off line, will be more successful in also building loyal customers.

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Some other predictions to consider:

  • Symptom to solution apps and clinics will be sought after in the wellness category.
  • Conversational search terms will be important with the increase in virtual assistants like Google Home.
  • Live streaming and unscripted videos will become more persuasive than high production value.
  • Long form content isn’t out, but you’ll also need an abridged version for those who just want the headlines.

Learn more:

Forbes – 2019’s Top Trends To Watch: The Most Important Trends For Businesses And Consumers For 2019

CMO.com – Executives Are Eyeing These 2019 Consumer Trends

Business 2 Community – 8 Content Marketing Trends That Will Fire Up Your Strategy

Mintel – Global Consumer Trends 2019

Adweek – The Return of Retail and 5 Other Direct-to-Consumer Trends to Watch in 2019

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It’s exciting, isn’t it? Christmas is coming up fast, and a new year awaits us. We thought you might appreciate this round-up of websites to help you get ready and enjoy both.

So you can finish your shopping
Where you buy is up to you, but these two retailers will give you ideas.
Walmart gift ideas
uncommongoods

Help finishing up at work
No one wants to be even one minute late getting their holiday started! Go to www.noisli.com and put on your headphones to drown out the office noise, so you can focus. Need one last image? Try unsplash.com.And if that info you’ve been waiting for is in some weird file format, check out cloudconvert.com.

This site will tell you which glue to use when the assembly instructions don’t work: thistothat.com

Get to a live customer service person when the glue doesn’t work either: gethuman.com

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Instead of watching reruns on TV while you’re chill’n
geoguessr.com lands you in a random location on Google maps, and you have to try to figure out where you are.

ihavenotv.com has some great science related documentaries.

openlibrary.org is a digital book lending site with a wide range of genres.

When you’re tired of turkey (and/or broke)
myfridgefood.com will give you meal ideas based on items you already have in your house.

budgetbytes.com has tons of great recipes that don’t cost a fortune to make.

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Setting goals for the new year
Setting personal goals while you have time to ponder is a great way to start the new year on your own terms. Here are two links to get you started.
www.mindtools.com/page6.html
worksheetplace.com/mf_pdf/Start-stop-continue.pdf

Merry Christmas!

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The term “client” stems from the client-server model that has been the foundation of the internet forever. The client requests information and the server gives it to them. “Client” by itself can refer to the device or the human user, while “client application” is talking about the computer software the client device or user is using.

Conversely, “server” is the computer hardware, and “server application” is the software. But, client is also used alone to refer to client application. Clear as mud, right?

So here’s the deal, if someone asks you what “client” you use for mail, the answer might be “Outlook.” They might also ask what “application” you use for mail, and the answer would be the same. The point is that the client is of no use without the information from the server. Another example of a client is a web browser, again, totally useless if you’re not connected to the internet and able to retrieve data from a server.

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In contrast, a “software application” (or application software, or application, or software, sigh) is a computer program or group of programs created for a human user, which processes data in certain ways based on its programming and user instructions. It’s not a “client application” because it doesn’t need a server. Once you have it on your device, you put in your own data and select the functions you want the program to perform on that data, like Excel.

To make things even more complicated, we now have “web applications,” like Google Docs, which work the same, but actually live on servers rather than on clients. (Are you still with me?)

Even more recently, people are making a distinction between “application” and “app,” which is obviously an abbreviation of the former. But in the tech world, an app has only one function, like a clock, calculator, or game, while an application has many functions. For example, Microsoft Suite, is an application (but so is Word).

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Anyway, the purpose of this series on digital lingo is to make it easier for you to communicate with your tech team to get instructions, find a fix, or build something new. So, to summarize, Outlook is your mail client, which retrieves your mail from Shaw’s servers. You add up your expenses on the application Excel, then check the game scores on your hockey app.

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This term – net-neutrality – has been driving me crazy for a while. I’ve tried researching it before, and admit that my eyes glazed over before I could wrap my head around it. Now that it’s back in the news again, with California just enacting state legislation, I’m determined to at least get a grasp on the basics. Here’s what I’ve learned.

True net-neutrality means that all internet users and all internet data are treated equally. Everyone signed up with Shaw gets internet access at the same speed to all internet sites and services. You can’t pay more for higher speed, all services count against your data plan, and no particular websites, apps, or services are blocked or slowed down.

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Net-neutrality is a defense against being able to control access with money; which can, and is being done now in many countries, and between a variety of Internet Service Providers (or ISPs, like Shaw and Bell) and some online services. For example, one ISP in the United States offers free access (no data charges) to certain music streaming services who pay the ISP, rather than charging the consumer. Some ISPs slow down or “throttle” data being uploaded or downloaded from specific sites or services.

One of the reasons that the term is confusing is because there are varying degrees of net-neutrality. In Canada, for instance, ISPs are not allowed to alter access speeds based on websites, but they are permitted to charge more for higher speed access to any and all sites.

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California’s new law implements true net-neutrality, which the federal U.S. government, among others, object to, and are actually taking the matter to court. It will be interesting to see how that turns out.

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Your browser is the software that you use to access websites. Back in the day, Internet Explorer was one of the very few browsers in use.

Today, Explorer has less than 10% of global users, while the newer Google Chrome has somewhere upwards of 40%. Apple’s Safari, preloaded on all iPhones, has about 30%. Firefox comes in third, with about 18%.

There are pros and cons with each browser, but they basically all do the same thing. How they work though, is a bit different, so when we develop new websites, we test the site using all of the top three, and make any adjustments necessary to make sure that your site will appear properly.

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A search engine is an entirely different thing, but is so well integrated with browsers that it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference. While a browser alone will take you to a website if you have the address, it’s the search engine that helps you find the site if you don’t.

Google is, by far, the most popular search engine worldwide, although Yahoo is still around, and the newer Bing, also has its share of users.

If you market to a global audience though, you may want to look beyond Google for your search advertising. Yandex, for example, is the most used search engine in Russia, with an estimated 55% of users. If you’re marketing in China, the search engine Baidu has 302 million monthly active users.

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Beyond those mentioned, there are many, many, other browsers and search engines available. Some are focused on privacy. Some are needed to get you into the “deep” or “dark” web. There’s even a search engine built specifically for finding suppliers of illegal drugs. What’s interesting about this is that the internet sites that show up in a Google search, for example, makes up a very small percentage of what’s actually online.

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The digital world has a vast number of terms that most of us never need to understand. There are some though, where a common understanding can help us communicate better with the technical folks that we rely on to do those techie things for us. We’re going to look at some of those over the next few weeks.

First up, operating systems. An operating system is the core software, or computer programming, that runs a digital device. It’s basically the equivalent of the human body’s nervous system. Some parts of it operate in the background, like breathing, and some parts are only active when an input command is given, like picking up a cup of coffee.

The most used operating systems for desktop computers and laptops are Windows and Mac. Those are likely terms you know, as they are well branded. If you normally use one, then try the other, you’ll soon realize how different they are in terms of accessing files, using short-cut commands, or even formatting a document.

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Smart-phones also have operating systems. The most used at present are iOS and Android. Apple iPhones use the “i” Operating System, abbreviated to iOS. Android is used by almost all of the other smart-phones, including Google’s Pixel, Samsung, and LG. There are many opinions on the pros and cons of these two systems, but most agree that the iOS offers more privacy and security, while the Android system is more customizable and compatible with other devices.

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If you’re buying a new computer or phone, do your own research before shopping. Switching from an Apple operating system to Windows or Android, or vice versa, can be a painful process. There are a few links below to get you started.

Android vs iOS

Windows vs Mac

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I drove by a church the other day that had a sign out front, like many do. I thought it said “Help available,” followed by a phone number. I realized a few seconds later, that the sign actually said “Hall available.” An insignificant misread, but it made me think of how important branding is to context.

Whatever social media platforms you use to engage with customers, short messages are usually best. A mutually understood context, makes those messages far more understandable and meaningful. Here’s an example. You get a Twitter message that says, “New lawn model is awesome!” Without context, it may not make much sense to you. But, if the message is from John Deer, a well-known manufacturer of lawn mowing tractors, you know what it means, and whether or not it is of interest to you.

Branding, in this sense, means much more than visual identity. It means that the people you are communicating with know what you sell, your reputation, and something about your brand’s character. (Like, John Deer people get excited about lawn mowing tractors!)

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What this means for marketing, is that early on, you need to teach your potential customers about what you sell and your brand character in as many ways as possible. Engaging with customers in conversational dialogue on social media is great, but don’t forget about other parts of your business, like customer assistance in the buying cycle, dealing with returns and complaints, and the content and tone of your website and blog.

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My misunderstanding of the church sign is also a good reminder that an intensive campaign is in order whenever you introduce a new product or service that goes beyond what others expect from your brand.

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With the kids being back in school, it’s a good time to review your rules and strategies for keeping their smartphone use positive and productive. Unfortunately, that is not the aim for evil trolls who find their way into the lives and minds of many a young person. So, let’s deal with that first.

These first three links are articles about phone apps that are dangerous, if not highly suspect, and could very well be on your kid’s phone right now. Please read.

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These next three articles talk about apps that help students keep track of homework and project assignments. Avoid those last minute all-nighters this year.

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These last two articles discuss tracking apps. One to track physical location, and one to keep an eye on online activity and behaviour. Sometimes, keeping kids safe means spying on them.

Remember to do a review of the basics as well, like location sharing, data usage, and in-app purchases.

Like most other tools, smartphones are great when used with care.

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René Descartes uttered the famous phrase in the 1600s, and I have to wonder what he would think about the world today.

Particularly the fond habit of some very well-known people to tweet instead of thinking. What is it about these highly intelligent individuals that compels them to act so very stupidly in front of a world-wide audience? I don’t have an answer for that, but we can still learn from their mistakes.

  • Twitter is not your mother. Your mother is on your side, no matter what. Twitter will judge you.
  • Twitter is not your priest. Confessions tend to be interpreted as excuses by the Twitterverse, so the fact that you’re bipolar, an addict, or were bullied as a child, will not result in the forgiveness you seek for your bad behavior.
  • Twitter is not your bartender. Random, late night epiphanies should not be tweeted.
  • Twitter is not your mirror on the wall. You are not the fairest of them all anyway, so don’t ask.
  • Twitter does not have an open mic night. Even if you think you’re funny, there are no jokes that will not offend someone, somewhere, somehow. Don’t even.

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So, how can businesses use Twitter effectively? The first step is setting an objective. Are you looking for new leads? Want to increase brand loyalty? Provide customer support on a more economic scale? Once you’ve set an objective, then you need to create a plan to meet that specific goal.

Every plan should start with research – listening in on what others are saying about the topic and perhaps about you. Remember that Twitter isn’t a billboard for your ads; it’s a way to have conversations with people you’d never otherwise come into contact with. Follow accounts of those in a similar business or on a similar topic, who have a large number of followers, and subscribe to relevant hashtags.

The next step is creating content that your target audience is interested in. Yes, you can Tweet out some tips or links to that content, but you also need to find people who are looking for a solution you can provide. Here’s an example based on our business. By listening in to others conversations, we find a thread of dialogue from those who are unhappy with their graphic designers. Someone then asks a specific question: Does anyone know a design team that goes beyond the fads and uses actual research or psychology? That’s our opportunity to jump into the conversation with: One of our consultants has a degree in psychology and works closely with our graphic designers and web developers to create compelling visual and narrative content. Message us to set up a free consultation.

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In general, sharing your knowledge, news about new products, or an industry expert’s predictions for the future, are all interesting. Note, that these types of tweets are neither opinion nor personal.

Twitter is a great tool and can be used very effectively to promote your brand and reputation. It can also hurt it immensely. Like all powerful tools, follow the instructions and use with caution!

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In this last installment in this series, we’re looking at geo-targeting – the ability to choose the location of users who will be shown our ad.

Up to this point, all of our criteria (age, gender, interests, platform) to narrow our audience to our target market have remained global. I won’t say that there aren’t any, but I sure can’t think of a single brand or product that would benefit from advertising in every place on earth, which makes it a huge waste of money.

Geo-targeting in general, lets you specify a continent, country, or city where users have to be in order for your ad to be shown. All of the platforms we’ve talked about can do this. Better yet though, some platforms allow you to get even more precise, and, some let you deliver ads based on user movement. (I’m not naming names here because there are continuous improvements.)

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So, for example, we can now target people who meet our other criteria, and who live in a certain city or within a specified distance from our business location. We can also target those who don’t live, but are travelling in our location. And, we can mix and match criteria. Here’s a great example of a precise target: a man, aged 46 to 55, who has visited several auto dealers’ websites in the past month, and recently visited a car dealership in your city. Time to reel them in to your dealership with a great offer!

This targeting ability not only means advertising to the right audience, it also allows us to show our ads when they will be the most relevant to our audience. You can target travellers looking for restaurant or neighbourhood locals for a salon special. You can even set up different ads for different criteria – enticing locals to come to your physical store and a different add for online shoppers across the country; or different ads based on age, gender, interests, etc.

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Being able to get the right message, to the right audience, at the right time, is what makes digital advertising so effective. If you want to put this power to use for your business, just give us a call.

Continued:
Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 1
Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 2
Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 3
Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 4

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In this short series, we’re discussing the tremendous value of online advertising. Last week we looked at targeting age and gender, and now we’re going to add platform and interests.

Based on information from spredfast.com and statista.com, I’ve created a chart with number of users and a rough estimate of user profiles that match our target of men aged 46 to 55, for six of the most popular digital platforms. I need to note that there are many (many!) other sites and platforms on which to advertise, so I’m using these only as examples.

The Google user data is only for their search engine, and still has the most users by far. While the percentage in our age group is lower than some others, the volume of users makes up for that. They collect data from search as well as other sources, so can target gender and age fairly well. Their forte though, is tracking interests, what they call “affinity,” based on keywords used in search, sites visited, ads clicked on, etc.

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Facebook also has a huge number of users. About half are men, and about 60% are in our age group. In addition to tracking an individual user’s “likes,” “groups,” and ad clicks, you can also target based on conversations using keywords like “new car.”

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According to Spredfast, YouTube is the best place to reach a male audience. While men are certainly the majority of users, they don’t have quite as many in the age group we’re looking for. Still, user tracking would allow us to target men in our age group who watched car related videos, subscribed to a car related channel, or even a car brand channel.

Instagram has the next largest user volume, but our chart tells us that it is the least likely to deliver a high number of users in our target group. I’m going to say pass.

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Twitter is popular with men, but not so much with our age group; and, may not be the best format for a car ad anyway. Pass.

LinkedIn has far fewer users, but a majority are men. While our target age group is estimated only at 20%, we are still in a pre-retirement age range. In addition, LinkedIn is the most popular platform with Fortune 500 CEOs, and we can target income range, so I’m keeping this one on the list.

So we’ve narrowed it down to Google, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn; targeting men, age 46 to 55, who have an interest in cars; and, we’re going to add income of $100,000+, because we can.

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Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 1
Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 2
Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 3
Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 4

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The reason online advertising is so effective is the precision with which we can now target people who have the characteristics of our ideal customer.This short series explains how digital targeting works, and the first two factors we’re going to discuss are age and gender.

While making assumptions based on stereotypes is unfair on an individual basis, it remains the starting point for targeted advertising. The majority of fifty-five year old men are not likely to spend $300 on a kitchen mixer, even if it can also make noodles. There’s a pretty good chance though, that fifty-five year old men may be very interested in the newest Mustang convertible.

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Now, we flip that. What are you selling? Who is most likely to make such a purchase? And, within that group, who are the best customers? Example: you’re selling the Mustang convertible. You know that 85% of buyers are men between the ages of 35 and 55. You also know that the 35 to 45 year old group are the ones that cause you the most headaches, want a deal you just can’t offer, complain later about the most minor of issues, are rarely satisfied, and may be hurting your reputation with their ranting. So, your ideal customers are men 46 to 55 years of age.

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If you want to advertise on Facebook, narrowing your audience to men in that age group is no problem at all. But is Facebook the best platform for selling cars to this group? Stay tuned.

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Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 1
Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 2
Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 3
Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 4

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If you value your privacy, this article may disturb you. If you’re looking for new customers, rejoice! We’ve talked many times about various aspects of target marketing and its importance in getting a strong return on investment.

While “marketing” covers pretty much every type of publicity, I want to focus here specifically on advertising – the paid placement of a thoughtfully crafted message – how targeting works, and how precise it can be.

First, some basics. We recently interrupted our Serial Killers of Business series to let people know what was happening around the European Union’s new privacy laws and why consent was being actively sought for the use of cookies.

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Cookies are a tiny bit of programming code that is placed on your device when you access a website, app, or really, any online activity. That cookie then tracks what you are doing – your IP address, which pages you view, which auto part you ordered, etc. On social media sites, like Facebook or Instagram, the site captures more data about you (e.g. your age, gender, high school you attended), and it captures data about the conversations you have, which posts you’ve viewed, which ads you’ve clicked on, what you’ve “liked.”

The recent uproars about data being sold, traded, or stolen, is because this allows bits of data to be combined into an even more comprehensive profile. We, of course, do not approve or participate in any illegal or immoral practices; but we do recommend taking advantage of information that is freely offered and used with consent, and there’s plenty of that.

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Starting next week, we’re going to illustrate targeting ads based on five factors: age and gender, interests and platform, and location. So dig up what you know about your ideal client and you’ll see how that information can be used to significantly increase the value of your advertising dollar.

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Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 1
Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 2
Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 3
Why Online Advertising is so Effective – Part 4

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Oooey, gooey, chocolate or fruity, (sadly) those aren’t the kind of cookies we’re talking about. We’re talking about the kind that websites use to track your activities on their site, and sometimes on other sites as well.

If you’ve done any internet surfing lately, you’ve likely seen more popup notices than usual, stating that the site uses cookies. You may also have received emails or other notices asking you to accept a new Terms of Use or Privacy Policy for a site that you have an account on. That’s because of a new privacy law in the European Union (EU).

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Following a number of significant data breaches around the world, in May 2018, the EU enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The Regulation applies to anyone who collects any type of personal data from residents of EU, including the data that cookies collect.

While its intent is similar to BC’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), the GDPR is more protective and more specific in a number of areas. These include “affirmative consent” for data collection (hence the cookie notices), stringent storage requirements, and the right to “be forgotten.”

While I have to say that we are not legal experts, here’s our understanding of the central issues.

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EU Business Activity: If you have an office or agent in the EU, offer products or services to people in the EU, or monitor the behaviour of individuals in the EU, the new law applies to you. This means that if you sell anything to anyone in the EU, you need to ensure that you are fully compliant with the GDPR, and it may be worth your while to engage a lawyer to assist, to avoid significant fines.

If you do not currently fall under that definition, ensure that your home page states your business area; and be aware of the issues below.

Cookies and Analytics: Most websites use cookies to track users by their IP address. Some sites personalize information based on previous use of the site, and information such as referral source and pages viewed, are used in analytics. The use of cookies and analytics should already be in your Terms or Use or Privacy Policy on your site; however, many users would not think to go looking for these documents, the links to which are often in small print in the footer. Under the GDPR, an IP address is personal information, and you have to get affirmative consent for collection. What many sites have done is to display a brief message that links to more detailed information. This example says, “We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site and to analyze traffic. By continuing to use realtor.com/international, you agree to our use of cookies. View our Privacy Policy for more information.”

Beyond this, if you do not do business in the EU, don’t have anyone from the EU signed up for your newsletters, and do not buy, sell or trade data, your PIPA-based Privacy Policy should suffice.

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If EU Traffic Increases (or you want to expand into the EU): It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your analytics to monitor traffic from EU countries. If that number becomes significant, or if you are getting inquires, or people from the EU signing up for your newsletter by providing an email address, you will need to meet some additional GDPR requirements.

Legitimate business activities, including things like email marketing, are permitted under the GDPR, but how you store and use the personal information you have to do that is more onerous than PIPA. There are also additional requirements for such things as notifying customers if there is a breach of data, within 72 hours.

Bottom Line: If you are fully compliant with PIPA and do not do business in the EU, just make sure that you have a “cookie” notice and keep an eye on your analytics. If you do or want to start selling in EU Countries, have a compliance officer or a lawyer advise you.

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Pepsi thought they could contribute to social justice by having Kendall Jenner give a can of pop to a police officer.

Starbucks thought they could advance race relations by encouraging you to chat with your local barista. Dove didn’t mean to comment on race in their ad “White is Purity,” but, ya, they did. Pushing the limits of making an emotional connection with their audience, McDonald’s suggested a young boy could reconnect with his dead father by eating a Filet-O-Fish. And let’s not forget the 9/11 memorial mattress sale.

We live in an exceptionally sensitive world folks, which brings us to the top of our list – offensive advertising. Those big brands weren’t killed, but certainly lost a lot in recovery. Smaller businesses may not be able to withstand the backlash.

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The problem is, none of these ad creators intended to offend anyone. They thought their ad was clever, topical, funny, engaging. Well, yes, it might have been, but it was also offensive! It happens though. The people working on the ad just don’t see the downside. The narrative they create makes sense for their objectives. So how do you avoid these costly and potentially disastrous mistakes?

It’s on you. The brand is going to take the hit, so it’s the owner, president, CEO – whoever’s at the top of the org chart – that needs to take a closer look at any ad before it gets released. Don’t even try to blame the ad agency, or anyone else. That will only make things worse for you.

Get different perspectives. And by “different,” I mean: people who were not involved in creating the ad; as diverse a group as you can find; and, trusted people outside of your organization.

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A banana is never just a banana. I know. This is the point where you throw up your hands and say, “someone is always going to be offended,” so let’s just go with it. DON’T DO IT. Your most valuable asset – your brand reputation – is at stake. Send the ad team back to the drawing board.

Beware of placement. Some great ads become terrible ads due only to their inappropriate placement. Like the large poster that says “Come closer” on the far side of the subway tracks. Be sure to request approval of the placement, including venue and adjacent ads.

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Never play on heartache. Yes, one of the objectives of a good ad is making an emotional connection with your target audience. Do not take that to mean that you can reference heartbreaking personal situations or tragic events. If you want to support a cause of any sort, get permission and collaborate with representatives.

It is a field of land-mines, but you still need to advertise. Keep it simple. Focus on your strengths. Think it through carefully.

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Can you keep a secret? If you collect any information about your customers (and who doesn’t?), the answer better be yes.

Whether it’s a loose lipped employee, a hacker’s thievery, or the offer of pure profit, losing control of customer data is one of the fastest ways to sink a previously thriving business, putting Data Breaches at #2 on our serial killers list. There are simply no excuses anymore. Even if you haven’t broken any laws, public sentiment will take you down fast.

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It’s your responsibility to thwart hackers.
Those who hack to steal data are criminals. No argument there, but it doesn’t matter. You will still be blamed. Your only defence is keeping sensitive data in a rigorously controlled environment, with multiple layers of security. And in the mind of the public, all of their data is sensitive. So, ask yourself, what information do you really need? How long do you really need to keep it? Is having that information worth the risk? I suspect most of you are thinking “who would want the data I have?” Yes, you’re a small business, or yes, you’re a clothing retailer, or … Believe me when I say, everyone is at risk. If you don’t have a plan in place specifically to protect information, or you don’t know what measures are in place, call us right now!

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Putting it in the fine print doesn’t cut it anymore.
Terms of Use and Privacy Policies are long, often filled with legal jargon, and rather a nuisance for customers who just want to get on with their task. No one reads them. The problem is, everybody knows no one reads them, so using the fact that a customer has agreed to your terms is no longer a valid defence. There is an expectation of privacy around credit card numbers, medical issues, and any other information a client provides to you for the purpose of doing business with you. So again, ask yourself what you really need to know, what you need to keep, and how you get rid of personal data. Learn more about the laws in your province or state, and reconsider and update your privacy policy.

Just asking can get you into trouble.
Housing renters in BC have started complaining about the information being asked of them on rental application forms. I’ve had the experience myself of being asked to complete such a form simply to book a time to see the place. I get that the property managers don’t want to waste their time showing a suite to me if they’re never going to let me rent it. But I’m also pretty reluctant to give them all my personal and financial info, housing and employment history, etc.., if I don’t even like the apartment! It’s a great example of what should come first, and a reminder that if you collect such info, and “rent the suite to someone else” so to speak, it is your responsibility to destroy that information – the emailed version, the one you saved to your device, the one you printed, the one you sent to the owners, etc.

My best advice here is to take a step by step approach to asking for information. Only ask for what you need to get to the next phase of the interaction, and only keep what you absolutely need.

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Create a Data Breach Response Plan now.
Remember that misplacing a phone or laptop that can access data could result in a data breach. Keeping a customer file in a car unattended could result in a data breach. These types of situations require an investigation to determine whether or not a breach occurred; and if you cannot say with absolute certainty that a breach did not occur, you need to make the appropriate notifications.

Sending an order confirmation to the wrong email address is a data breach. Leaving a detailed message at the wrong phone number or at a number accessible by more than one person (e.g. home number instead of cell number), is a data breach. Most of these type situations are far from disastrous, but may still require notifications, and should certainly be investigated to make sure they don’t happen again.

Bottom line: Do your research to know what you are legally required to do if a breach is suspected, then create a plan that meets those, as well as the ethical standards of your brand, and the expectations of your customers. Give us a call if you want some help.

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Remember that CEO who had to resign after kicking his dog in the elevator? Or the one who had to resign after commenting that his clothes were only meant for certain body types?

Or…? In fact, there have been so many public relations nightmares in the past few years that it’s hard to give it a name. Most often, it’s the “poor choices” of a manager or employee, but the publicity can also stem from an unhappy customer, or even a troll spinning fake news. You can fight back, but you’ll need a stellar reputation as a solid foundation. Coming in at #3 is Bad Behaviour, either from your company or attacking your company.

Protection Strategies:

  • Control Your Brand – If any of your employees, management included, are identifiable on their off hours, by a uniform, fleet vehicle, or public recognition, make sure you have policies in place to protect your brand. That expensively wrapped car is great advertising until it cuts someone off in traffic, causes an accident, or parks over the line marking the stall. If you want your brand volunteering in the community or such, be sure that you have control of the situation and that employees know that they are still “at work” and all rules of behaviour apply.
  • Deal with Unhappy Customers – A friend of mine is the ultimate consumer advocate. Whether it’s been her personally or something she’s witnessed, bad service or a defective product is not tolerated. I’d estimate she contacts somebody’s manager about once a week. When the problem is taken seriously and quickly resolved, she remains loyal and promotes the brand. If not, everyone in her very wide social media circle hears about the unacceptable occurrence and response. My friend is one of an increasing number of consumers who demand excellence. With obvious abuse as the only exception, do whatever it takes to keep your customers happy.

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  • Keep “Social” Media Professional – Social media has such a casual and spur of the moment feel to it that it’s sometimes hard to remember that your posts can have very negative consequences. Readers are unlikely to have the full context leading up to your comment; impetuous remarks can be made without the poster understanding the whole story; and just about any opinion will be construed by someone as inappropriate. Corporate social media accounts are potential explosives that can work for or against you. Posts need to be planned, carefully considered, and reconsidered, to ensure they are purposeful and will land with positive benefit to your company.
  • Don’t Overreact – Whether it’s a bad review or an outright lie, be careful not to overreact to a negative narrative. Consult a professional (like us!) before you do anything. Getting into a war of words on the internet will work against you.

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In the last article we talked about having a contingency fund for cash flow crunches. Unfortunately, lack of cash flow is only one of many possible issues can spell disaster for a business. Calamities without Contingencies, #4 on our list, should be a wakeup call for any entrepreneur or manager that hasn’t written a Contingency Plan. There are several different types of issues that are more or less important, depending on your business, facilities, and number of employees. Here, we’re going to focus on a few operational disruptions, but we hope you’ll investigate further. Public Safety Canada is a good place to start.

Threats to Plan For:

  • Utilities – What will happen if the power goes out? What if you don’t have water or the sewage system backs up? Are you dependent on natural gas? In each of these scenarios, plan for short, medium, and long term outages, considering what you could do in advance to mitigate the impact. For example, have all of your computers plugged into a battery backup system, allowing files to be saved and computers to be shut down properly – procedures that should be documented in your plan.
  • Natural Disasters – Fires, floods, and earthquakes are happening with increased frequency, and sometimes in areas with little history of such incidents. Your plan should cover protecting your business assets, including employees, to the extent possible, as well as alternatives to getting back up and running as soon as possible. Also think about your major suppliers, distributors, and customers. What if they are impacted?
  • Illnesses – This has been the worst flu season in North America, and flu is just one of many contagious diseases that can impact on the work place. Employee illness can be an even greater concern if you have staff that travel frequently, particularly overseas. Your plan should consider the sudden loss of workers, and the cost/benefit of mitigating risk with paid sick leave, or foreign travellers staying home for a day or two following their return.

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Equipment – How quickly can you make repairs or replace essential equipment? Consider production, transportation and communications. Remember that you may need to protect yourself from disasters that happen to your vendors and suppliers as well.

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Everything seems to be running smoothly. You’re busy, which means you must be making money. A fabulous opportunity lands in your lap and you just need a bit of cash to make it happen. That’s when you suddenly realize, you don’t have any. Sometimes it’s just bad timing. Whatever the reason, you have no money in the bank and it’s frightening. The businesses that die from lack of cash flow, are the ones who don’t see it coming or ignore it when it happens. There are things you can do to get over that hump.

Protection Strategies:

  • Setting up a contingency fund and saving a percentage of every dollar you earn, is a great way to protect your business from cash shortages. Borrowing from yourself is easy and interest free. Just make sure you pay it back, so the fund is always there when you need it.
  • If you don’t have a fund, consider borrowing, with the understanding that it may be a long shot unless you have assets for collateral or receivables greater than the amount you need to borrow.
  • A better option might be to make some really quick sales. To do that without spending money takes effort, but is possible. Here are a few ideas:
  • Use social media to announce a deep discount flash sale that starts immediately and ends within 48 hours. Don’t sell at a loss, but keep your profit margin low to generate a greater volume of sales, and some quick cash.

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  • Use social media or a direct email to clients to announce referral incentives, sharable discount codes, buy one – get one, or similar inducements, again with a short timeline.
  • If you belong to a networking group, tell them the problem and offer them the best discount you can. Most people are happy to help a friend, particularly if they get something out of it too.
  • Pop-up stores are pretty popular these days, and if you can find a busy location that doesn’t require you to pay for the space up front, you can hold a sale on products, or services to be provided in future.
  • Use any excuse you can up with, and all the contacts you have, to encourage immediate sales – your birthday, customer appreciation, etc.

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We continue to hear from clients puzzled by the lack of sales generated by their website. What they don’t understand is that having a great site simply isn’t enough these days. With more than one billion websites on the internet, competition is fierce in almost every imaginable category. That means that a great website is a must, but only the first step in an effective marketing plan. That brings us to the #6 killers of business – not doing enough advertising.

Internet advertising has a simple process:

  • set your goals
  • create an advertising plan
  • implement the plan
  • revise the plan until the goal is met
  • if results drop, change tactics
  • if results exceed capacity, expand capacity or drop advertising by 10%

Your plan should include Search Engine Optimization (SEO); Search Engine Marketing (SEM); and for most businesses, Social Media Marketing (SMM). In a few rare instances, internet advertising should be supplemented with more traditional formats, such as newspaper ads, but be sure to set these up so the benefits can be measured.

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In days of old, formulas for determining an appropriate ad budget ranged from 50% of expected revenue for start-ups in a highly competitive industry, to 2% for well-known and profitable brands. With internet advertising, we prefer to use a different approach. What is a customer worth to you over their lifetime? So what is it worth to convert one of those customers – 10%? 50%?

Once you’ve determined your budget for internet advertising, it really is best to leave the implementation to a professional team (like ours ☺). We have in place and people dedicated to monitoring results. That allows us to tweak up the ads to get progressively better results over time, reducing the amount you need to spend.

Wondering if you’re doing enough advertising? Give Nick a call at 604-556-0211 for a free evaluation.

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Your website is the core of your marketing strategy, or it should be. It can also be an essential part of your sales cycle, and form a part of your operational activities.

So just having a website isn’t enough to keep your business competitive. Coming in at #7, An Ineffective Website can set you on the road to ruin.
Whether you sell online or provide a service or product in-person only, your website needs to be considered and constructed as an integral part of your business model.

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Protection Strategies

  • Include your website in a flow chart of your business model: This is one of the best ways to focus the potential of your website with how you do business. Remember that “website” doesn’t just mean a story and sales pitch with a few photos. When you say website, think “internet enabled technologies.” Send internet users to your website for a purpose; give them the opportunity to begin the sales cycles, even if it’s just making an inquiry; and, provide decisive buyers with the ability to provide additional information needed to move to production.
  • Consider how your employees, vendors, and others who are part of your business process, can use internet technologies to improve productivity. Is your inventory online? Can orders be place?
  • Include basic information and keep it up to date: Be sure your public facing content answers the basic questions of who you are, what you offer, when you are open, where you are located, why they should do business with you, and how to contact you. If changes occur, update your website AND do a Google search for ALL other sources to make or request updating.
  • Make sure your site is “mobile responsive:” This means that your website can be navigated and read on any type of device. Most searches are now done on a smartphone, so this is really important.
  • Include all “decision-making criteria” for your products or services: Whether you’re selling sweaters or cleaning services, tell people what they want to know to be able to make a decision. If you’re not sure what those criteria are, ask a few colleagues or friends what they’d want to know before buying.

Contact us for a free evaluation of your website!

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Marcie’s great, isn’t she? She does all the ordering, pays all the bills, fixes the printers, and seems to be the only one who can get that old safe to open.

Then, without warning, Marcie’s gone, and she’s not coming back. That would be #8 on our killer’s list, Loss of a Key Employee.

“Key” has nothing to do with seniority, and may more often refer to someone who doesn’t have a high profile in your company. What they do have is knowledge that you may never be able to replace. And while you’re trying to open the safe to make the deposit to pay the bills, no one is attending to your customers.

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Protection Strategies

  • Create a failsafe system for passwords: No one in a business environment should have sole access to critical systems. Assign someone to maintain a master list of all passwords; and think beyond computers, to include phones, alarm systems, credit card accounts. Ensure that the list is updated regularly and that a copy is passed to a second person.
  • Cross-train employees on business critical systems: Your bookkeeping system is a great example. This is where you create invoices, receive payments, receive invoices and make payments; all of which is critical to staying in business. If the one person who knows how to use the system (or the password!) was gone, how long would it take you to get back on track? If you have any custom built software, be very afraid. So, make sure you have a backup person. Train them on the basics and make sure they can at least access the system if you have to call in a professional.
  • Talk to your bank about low risk contingencies: Basic business banking, like making deposits, is getting more difficult. Cash deposits, in particular, may not be accepted from someone the bank staff is unfamiliar with. Find out if you can add account representatives for deposits and inquiries, without giving them full signing authority. Make sure at least two people do have that authority though.
  • Identify unique knowledge and share it: Marcie probably takes great pride in being the only one who can fix those quirky printers and open the old safe. Be sure to thank her appropriately for her dedication while you learn her secrets. Write them down, even though you hope you never have to use them.

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Patience no longer exists. We live in a world where instant gratification is the expected norm.

If you are going to make your clients wait more than five seconds for anything, you’d better have both an explanation and a strategy. Coming in at #9, Making Customers Wait is a relative newcomer to the list, but one worth worrying about.

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Protection Strategies

  • Focus on your core business and your “unique sales proposition” (USP): If you can’t deliver as quickly as Amazon, you’d better be able to beat them on several other factors, like quality or price.
  • Build contingencies into your supply chain: Whether you are a manufacturer, retailer or service provider, be sure that you know what the essential components are for doing what you do in the time period promised. Consider people, places, and things and have a backup plan.
  • Under promise, over deliver: I don’t know who said that, but it’s a great idea because tolerance is about managing expectations. If you think it will take a week, say 10 days. If you can deliver within the week, you look like a star. If it takes 10 days, well, that’s what they expected anyway.
  • Ensure there are performance minimums in your vendor contracts: Losing a customer when it’s not even your fault is pretty frustrating, but not as frustrating as a customer hearing you say it’s not your fault. Make sure you can count on those who represent you, and if you can’t count on them, replace them.
  • Get rid of your waiting room: If I have an appointment with you at 2pm, I expect to be in your office, not the waiting room, at 2pm. If at 2:45, I’m still in your waiting room with a bunch of other people who are also waiting for you, I will suggest that we all up and leave you for someone who respects us. (That gives you a hint about my age, because a millennial will be expecting to video conference you.)

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