When I started my media and information company in 2003, blogs were the hot social media, people were just beginning to use RSS feeds, and small-business owners still debated whether they needed a website. Twitter and Facebook weren't even a gleam in their creators’ eyes.
Fast forward a decade, and if anything, the pace of change has accelerated. These days, it doesn’t take long for last year’s hot trend to be passe.
To help you stay on top of what's hot—and what's not—and plan ahead for 2014, here's an insider's look at seven marketing techniques you'll either want to implement or put to rest.
Hot: Image Marketing
Image marketing is red hot. The phenomenal success of Instagram and the continued strength of Pinterest and Facebook make image marketing a must. Most small businesses will benefit from devoting some time and resources to creating and/or curating image content. Those in industrial or B2B businesses may find it a bit more challenging than other types of businesses to find relevant image content, but with some creativity, it can be done.
Tip: Take good quality photographs of your products in artful settings, and share them. Make them look interesting, and people will be more likely to share.
Tip: Warm colors attract, so try to include red, orange, yellow and bright green colors versus cool colors like blue and gray in your images.
Hot: Guest Blogging For Thought Leadership
Guest blogging has been a powerful tool to help business owners and experts reach out to new audiences and develop a following as a thought leader. While our own blogs are great, they may be limited in reach. Getting a quality guest blog post published on a popular site is a good way of marketing your business—it can lead to more search engine citations and direct traffic. It has other benefits, too: invitations to write on other sites, speaking engagements and more.
Tip: Always help promote your guest blog post with your own audience.
Tip: Avoid a wide-scale guest blogging campaign outsourced to firms that “spin” (i.e., plagiarize) existing articles into shallow, generic pablum and place them for you on other sites. Remember, it’s your reputation on the line.
Hot: Retargeted Ads
Retargeted ads (ads that remind people to come back to your site) can dramatically lift conversion rates. These ads focus on the 98 percent of traffic that leaves your site without completing a sale, subscribing or filling out a lead form. You can use a retargeting ad network like Retargeter.com, but you can also retarget through such mediums as Google AdWords, LinkedIn and Facebook ads, just to name a few.
Tip: Place frequency caps on your retargeted ads so you don’t creep visitors out by stalking them with ads for weeks or waste money on those who've already bought or have no intention of coming back anyway.
Hot: Responsive Web Design
A responsive design automatically “responds” to different devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and resizes to accommodate them. The vast range in sizes and types of devices makes responsiveness a must-have today.
Tip: Use the Google Multiscreen Resources tool to learn more about responsiveness, its impact on your site and how to implement it.
Tip: Don’t forget to make sure your technology is mobile friendly. For example, Apple devices and Flash technology aren't a good combo.
Not Hot: Non-Useful Mobile Apps
As soon as I write this, I know someone will tell me I'm nuts. I'm not saying all mobile apps are “out”—there are many apps that are useful and popular. Particularly useful are transactional apps that make it easy for people to conduct transactions or use your product. But don’t automatically assume your small business needs an app for its mobile strategy.
Tip: Consider whether an app truly adds value for your customers or makes it easier for them to conduct transactions on mobile devices. If not, skip the app and have your site redesigned to make it “responsive” for those using mobile devices instead.
Not Hot: Complex Infographics
Three or four years ago, an infographic was almost guaranteed to drive a lot of links and social sharing. Since then, a glut of infographics means that investing thousands of dollars to develop one may no longer pay off. A good one is still valuable, but poorly thought-out ones are a waste of money.
Tip: Think infographics that are square in size and simple. Very long infographics are hard to share because they get cut off in “Pinterest style” boxes that only show a small thumbnail.
Tip: Make sure the infographic has information that truly entices people to remark or converse. Don’t overdo it with dry statistics.
Not Hot: Failing To Consider POEM
Today your marketing messages will spread further if you use a combination of POEM, or paid, owned and earned media. Owned media is content and assets that your business creates and owns. Earned media is what happens when others mention and share your owned media. Paid, of course, is when you pay or advertise to promote content.
Tip: Consider Facebook-sponsored posts or Twitter-sponsored tweets (and similar sponsored social updates) to further spread your owned content and to generate more earned mentions.
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Photo: Getty Images