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Three must-have tools for SMBs

In many ways, developing a marketing strategy in the digital age is more complicated than traditional methods. On the bright side, digital marketers will never have to devise advertising campaigns from scratch again.


If you're a small business owner, there are more effective, yet affordable tools at your disposal than at any point in history. Do you want to know which channels your customers frequent? Certain applications can provide this information. Are you in need of a free website to promote your message? There are plenty of those out there, too.


At times, selecting the right programs to use can feel like finding Waldo. If you're struggling to decide, here are three tools that, above all else, you simply need to use.


Four steps to making online marketing leap

If you've been listening to me, you've probably taken to heart some of the lessons about the key components you need for your company to achieve online marketing success: a strong website, social media strategies and an SEO campaign.


If you have all of these things in order, take a moment to pat yourself on the back. That's a big first step.


Now, it's time to kick-start your campaigns into further action. This requires some extra steps and leveraging of new technologies - but don't worry if you might be struggling with this.


Growing your business: Take the road less traveled

If you've been listening to marketing experts, you probably have some core pieces of your advertising plan in order by now - an interactive website, a Facebook page and Twitter account, SEO strategies and more.


Those are all essential features to have to keep shoppers coming back. They're also imperative if you hope to increase your customer base going forward.


At the same time, there's a good chance your competitors have developed their websites, are using social media and have devised SEO strategies, too.


As everyone becomes accustomed to these "best practices," it will be harder for consumers to tell companies apart. That means you're going to have to use some innovative techniques to leave the competition in the dust.


Building your brand from the foundation up

The process of building a brand isn't all that different from constructing a house.


Okay, it might be slightly different, but there are at least a few similarities. For instance, both take a lot of preplanning and a solid foundation, after which everything else is strategically placed on top.


A lot of people talk excessively about the importance of research when it comes to brand development. Research is essentially like a blueprint for marketers were you need to outline:


* Exactly who your target audience is 

* Who your closest competitors are

* Your current strengths and weaknesses


Once you understand these elements thoroughly, you'll have the pieces in place to develop your branding strategy. 


To blog or not to blog

You've probably always been warned against caving in to peer pressure. If you have kids, you probably told them the same thing: "Just because everybody's doing it, doesn't mean you have to," or something of that ilk.


Well, there's at least one instance where you should cave into peer pressure: blogging.


If you've held out on blogging, I completely understand. It's definitely a time-consuming process, and one that could require seeking outside help. But if you want to succeed with your digital marketing strategies and drive traffic to your website, you're likely going to need blogging to accomplish that.


Here's why:


Brand recognition is easier than you think

Am I right in saying that you can recite Giant Glass' entire jingle by heart?


You know the one I'm talking about: "1-800-54-GIANT. Who do you call when your windshield's busted? Call Giant Glass."


Regardless of your opinion on the song, it's undoubtedly an example of excellent brand marketing - as soon as the jingle comes on, you know immediately what company it's for. Kind of like seeing a gecko and knowing you're about to see a Geico commercial, or that the talking baby equates to E-Trade. 


If you're a small business owner, you probably don't have the funds at your disposal to bombard your customers with TV and radio commercials. That doesn't mean you should give up on trying to promote top-notch brand recognition. You'll just have to find other ways to do it.


Developing an effective video ad: It's not as hard as you think

Every marketer is searching for the best ways to improve customer engagement. So far, video advertisements have proven to be one of the most effective methods. 


More than 40 percent of all advertisements consist of video, making it the most common form of marketing these days. There's a reason for that - videos are among the most proven commodities.


Last week, I touched on the surprising effectiveness of video marketing, including the fact that the majority of people already watch them regularly. Next, I want to discuss best practices for constructing video ads that will be likely to engage your customers.


Boost marketing campaign and website performance with data analytics

Achieving online success with your customer base requires a multitude of steps. You need effective advertising strategies and quality SEO keywords, which will drive traffic to your website. Then, you need a top-notch site that both engages your customers and is organized in a way that makes it easy for them to find what they're looking for. 


Much like a staircase, a single missing step can lead to major problems. 


If you've ever had issues with your online campaigns in the past, you've probably wondered exactly where things are breaking down. Is it your advertisements, SEO strategies or website that's causing the breakdown? Or is it some sort of combination?


The X Factor: Effective video marketing

Over the past few weeks, I've talked a lot about different online marketing strategies you should think about using - social media sites, pay-per-click, continuing to advertise through email, and so on and so forth. Until now, I haven't given nearly enough attention to another extremely effective measure: video marketing.


Arguably the biggest difference between traditional marketing and online campaigns is that, in the latter's case, successful strategies require that you find ways to engage your customers. They're tired of you constantly telling them why they should buy a product; now they want to be entertained, they need visuals and they want to have a voice in the matter.


Video campaigns provide you with the chance to accommodate all of those desires. 


Kill two birds with one stone

By now, you've probably heard so much about social media marketing that you're getting a little sick of it. You've been told that social networking sites are a gold mine, that they're a great way to communicate with customers, they're effective for targeting your messages and improving the likelihood you come up in local searches. 


And those are just the benefits I've talked about. 


If it's any consolation, social media marketing has proven to be more than worth the hype. In fact, a recent study, which polled a group of SEO experts, found that social marketing is the top driver of website traffic for small businesses. SEO was also found to be a large traffic generator for small businesses.